on December 10, 2003
After The Big Lebowski, the Coen brothers refined their approach to movie-making. They stuck with the idea of including any idea that was funny and slightly strange, but this time they imposed a plot that made sense. Like Fargo --- which was supposed to be based on a true story but really wasn't --- Oh Brother Where Art Thou is based on the Odyssey (a seemingly true story that they could use when it served them, or dump when it didn't). Then they added the Depression, southern politics, and lots of music.
If this had been written and directed by anyone else, it would have been a mess. But with the Coen brothers, it's a musical comedy disguised as a screwball period piece. It helps that the casting is perfect. From the three principal actors to the major secondary characters (like John Goodman's Big Dan Teague/Cyclops) to the smaller parts (like the governor's two dim-bulb campaign managers and the radio station owner) every actor is funny and perfectly in sync with the tone of the film.
The Coens added quite a bit of computer effects and all of it works. The obvious example is the color-grading. The short documentary on the DVD shows how computers were used to wash out colors and tint different scenes. Then there are small parts, such as the underwater shot of Dapper Dan cans and a dog floating by. Those cans are computer-generated, and the dog was composited into the shot. You don't notice this stuff until the third or fourth time you see it. Once you notice, it makes the movie even better.
This is one of the best Coen brothers movies, and one of the best movies of the last 10 years. The music is so good, you'll be humming every tune the day after you see it. It's very funny and beautifully designed, as well.
on May 7, 2004
While my favorite Coen brothers' film is "Miller's Crossing," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is my favorite comedy by these two mavericks.
Loosely based on Homer's "The Odyssey," earning an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay even though the Coens' admitted to reading only the Cliff Notes, "O Brother" is the Coens' tribute to American bluegrass music. For some reason, this movie was shamefully snubbed at the Oscars, but George Clooney earned his Golden Globe award for best actor.
Clooney plays the fast-talking Clark Gable wannabe, Ulysses Everett MacGill. Unfortunately for Ulysses, his mouth runs about five steps ahead of his brain, and his delight in the clever, hyper-articulate use of the English language cannot mask his delightful naivete. In a performance of sly self-mockery (can you think of another major film star who would so earnestly ask for a hair net to sleep in or speak movingly about being a "Dapper Dan Man"?), Clooney steals one heck of a show.
Ulysses escapes from a chain gang in Depression-era Mississippi with his sidekicks, the hot-blooded Pete (John Turturro) and easy-going Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). Allegedly going to find some treasure before a river gets dammed, sinking the treasure beneath a deep lake, this trio begins a bizarre journey across the Deep South.
Along the way they meet guitarist Tommy Johnson, who followed an American musical legend by selling his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for the ability to play the guitar, Big Jim Teague (the Cyclops), three Sirens, a blind seer, Baby Face Nelson, a spelling-challenged rifle-toting youngster, and Governor Pappy O'Daniel (conveniently relocated from Texas to Mississippi). Recalling the ultimate road story of the Odyssey, "O Brother" breezes from episode to episode with delightful ease.
As ever with Coen brothers' films, the movie looks wonderful and feels authentic. You can feel the oppressive heat of the Mississippi sunshine, you choke on dusty roads, and you glory in the greens and yellows of the languid countryside. Unlike so many films set in the Old South, characters are fully-realized (even if hilariously flawed) rather than caricatures. The minor details of daily life in the South (a mild oath from Ulysses gets a stern warning -- "Watch your mouth, young feller, this is a public shop") are delightful touches.
Of course, the true star of this movie, other than Clooney, is the soundtrack. Almost solely responsible for the recent Bluegrass explosion, "O Brother" lovingly grounds this musical genre in its appropriate time and space, and the songs form a perfect accompaniment to the rest of the movie. When the congregation sings is gospel tunes, or Pappy O'Daniel leads the Soggy Bottom Boys (what a name!) in a rendition of "You Are My Sunshine," the powerful force of music resonates throughout this delightful film.
One of the best movies of recent years, it's hard to understand why "O Brother" was so snubbed by the Academy. Like other recent snubs (e.g., "Shawshank Redemption," this movie is sure to generate more critical acclaim as it ages.
Whether it's for the wonderful acting, terrific writing, or amazing soundtrack, "O Brother" should be in your collection!
on March 12, 2004
I liked many things about this film. The stereotypes of Southern culture we've all grown up with were cleverly caricatured...the fat but good-natured politicians, the fat and ill-natured ones, the Ku Klux Klan, chain gangs and their cruelty, the simpleminded and uncultured poor. Then there is the denatured moonshine on Saturday night, and the good-natured "You-are-my-Sunshines" on Sunday morning. And that odd Southern combination of careful etiquette with downright meanness ("Well Suh, I'll thank you to get off my porch a'fore I blow you ta Kingdom Come.") Southern populism with all its racial contradictions- low culture brought to a high art.
And let's not forget the music! "Land sakes alive... them Soggybottom Boys shore can sing"! All of this is tied together in a most appealing way with Homer's Oddyssey- the blind oracle on the railroad tracks, the Sirens singing in the river... This movie is really different! Nostalgia for the Old South brought back full force, leaving you feeling guilty for liking it, just the same.
on February 29, 2004
This might be the funniest and wackiest Cohn bros. film I've seen yet. I even enjoyed the Blue Grass sound track, although I'm more of a pop, classical, and jazz kind of guy. But the music was great, too, and it really added to the overall ambience of the movie.
Some of the scenes are just classic, such as the Baby Face Nelson gettaway with the cows, the KKK "dance of the sugar plum fairies," (as I call it), the scene with the "river sirens," and the scene at the concert where the Soggy Bottom Boys finally sing their hit song to the entralled crowd, which the guys can't figure out.
I recognized the actor who played George Nelson from The Practice TV show but hadn't seen any of his other work before, and I thought his over-the-top portrayal was really amazing considering he plays a stolid, respectable lawyer and very different character in the TV show.
I was also amazed at how well George Clooney pulled off the dancing and high-stepping at the concert and political rally. He proved himself to be a pretty competent hoofer in the great tradition of hoofer actors (like Bob Hope, James Cagney, and Gregory Hines, etc., although of a different style).
So overall, another very funny, wacky movie from the Cohn bros. that certainly won't disappoint the fans, and with a classic Blue Grass sound track that really fit the movie well.
on August 19, 2014
“So unlike the movie “the Defiant One’s” with (Tony Curtis & Sidney Poitier) shackled together as one,
we get three misfits shackled together, who’s tired of crushing rocks in a prison in Mississippi,
sweet tongued Ulysses Everett McGill, (Clooney) and bad-tempered Pete (John Turturro) with sweet,
dimwitted Delmar, my favorite (Tim Blake Nelson) (who, may I remind you, directed '”Leaves of Grass”
and starred as well with “Edward Norton” you have got to see that, Norton played two of himself, great movie)
Who burst out on a riotous odyssey with close calls and near misses,
watching Clooney doing his dance was so funny, I just love the movie, I never even give this the time of day,
when it came out, now I think I’ll watch it a couple times more in the future, T.b.Nelson is so good,
dapper-Dan George Clooney sleep with a hair net, my god that was funny,
English 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio.
Runtime 107 Min.
Subtitles. English. SDH, Spanish. French.
If You Can’t Love This, There Is No Hope.
on December 8, 2003
There really is nobody in mainstream American cinema to touch the Coen Brothers. Young aspiring screenwriters must look at most big Hollywood movies and think, Oh gee, I could write better than that so easily. Then they must look at what the Coens write and think, Oh gee, I could never write like that. As screen writers, the C. Bros are giants in a race of pygmies.
At the heart of their work are three of the finest films ever made in the United States, made consecutively, "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski" and this. One of the glorious things about these three films is how different they are. "Fargo" is a police procedural and morality tale set in the snowbound backwater of Minnesota, "Big Lebowski" a glorious send up of film noir set in the asinine wilderness of Los Angeles. "Oh Brother" is a musical epic, an enchantment, set in Depression era Mississippi. If the idea here is to signal which movies are not simply worth seeing but specifically worth buying, where a movie worth buying is a movie that will delight not just on a single viewing but repeatedly, on viewing it again and again, all these three movies are eminently worth singling out. I've seen them all several times now and they just get better. Many movies get to be classics because of just one or two scenes that have some peculiar magic. This movie is composed almost entirely of such scenes.
In essence it's a comedy and seems to spring from an almost infinite well of comic invention. Here we get George Clooney as Ulysses Everett McGill, the smooth talking "Odysseus" character with his loquacity and vanity, John Goodman as Big Dan Teague, the one-eyed "Cyclops" (with an neat pun on that word's murky second life as a term for a KKK officeholder) bible salesman and thief, Michael Badalucco as George "Baby Face" Nelson the manic depressive cow-hating bank robber, Stephen Root as the strangely manic blind recording engineer and radio station manager in the middle of nowhere, Wayne Duvall as Homer Stokes the KKK-affiliated candidate for governor with his performing midget, Charles Durning as Menelaus "Pappy" O Daniel, the incumbent governor, terrified of losing, Holly Hunter as Mrs "Penelope" McGill who has told her army of children that her fallen ex-husband was run over by a train, Ray McKinnon as her suitor who, inverting the Homeric source, is more than a match for Everett in a bout of fisticuffs, Lee Weaver as the "Tiresias" character, the blind driver of a handcar, and Daniel von Bargen as an avenging angel, the sheriff, who is also at once The Devil and the Greek God Neptune. All the above act like people who never expect to be offered a better-written part and many of them never will. Quite good comic films could be made from one twentieth of the cinematic ideas on display here. The Coens just have such an abundance of them, they toss them off, exult briefly in them, and them move gaily on to the next. If there's one quibble, it might be Pete and Delmar, McGill's companions, who have escaped with him from a chain gang. While Walter Sobchak in "The Big Lebowski" was not merely an idiot but a magnificent, outrageous idiot of Dickensian dimensions, these two, though certainly well enough acted by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson, are much closer to being stock comic characters whose plain unembellished dumbness is intended to render them funny. If "Big Lebowski" is a better comic film, as I think it is, I'd single that out as a reason why.
As well as the Coen's, the movie's magnificence owes a large debt to T Bone Burnett who put the music together. It's very much a musical and the soundtrack is pure heaven to listen to, especially those items involving the marvellous singing of Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch. Though if there is one slightly off note here too, it is Ralph Stanley's "O Death" sung by a hooded KKK chief who turns out to be Stokes. Not only is credulity strained in supposing Stokes could have a singing voice remotely like Stanley's but it seems far too cool a song to be found on the lips of so desperately uncool a character. But again now I'm splitting hairs. This is a classy, classy movie and a pure joy to watch.
on December 6, 2003
Best movie ever, in my opinion. I'd give it 6 stars if I could. I'm no fan of George Clooney, but in this movie he was awesome! And don't be fooled by the title- I thought it was a Shakespearean movie, but it's actually set in the Deep South in the 1920s or so.
The Coen brothers' screenplay is genius, flawlessly combining elements of Homer's Odyssey and the history of the Deep South (I especially liked "servant of the little man" and "who made the color guard colored?"). The three main characters- Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturro- are all very good and extremely different. The movie is full of hilarity from beginning to end, straddling the line between fantasy and reality without ever becoming ludicrous. Half the fun consists of how gross all the characters look/act (but in a funny way), as well as the strange pronunciations (you might want to turn on subtitles in order to understand some of the dialogue). The other half lies in the absolutely brilliant screenplay, filled with unexpected twists and turns at every juncture.
Today's comedies are so often full of either cheap, lowbrow gags or overly dark humor. This movie has neither, and furthermore contains a number of wonderful historical and mythical references- glued together by stunning performances from all actors involved. I've watched this movie again and again, and it never loses its charm. Some of the later scenes involving Holly Hunter (as the nasty ex-wife) are not particularly funny and, in my opinion, inferior to the rest of the piece. Nevertheless, this picture is the best comedy I have ever seen. See it now if you haven't already!
on December 2, 2003
I haven't seen many of the Coen Brothers' films, although one of the two I have seen is one of my favorites ("Fargo"), and the other I've seen is one I don't care for very much ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?"). One of the films has a lot of humor, the other doesn't. One of the films is extremely entertaining; the other is just sort of boring.
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is a retelling of Homer's "Odyssey," or "Homer's Odyssey," since you never see the title without the name preceding it anymore; Homer's name is practically part of the title, now. Am I digressing?
It starts with three runaway convicts, Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), Pete (John Turturro), and Delmer (Tim Blake Nelson). Everett - as his chumps call him - has a strange fascination with his own hair, and Dapper Dan hair cream. "I'm a Dapper Dan Man!" he proclaims after being offered another brand of hair cream by a store clerk (who unfortunately doesn't carry Dapper Dan but looks as if he couldn't give a hoot either way). And, in another one of the film's few funny scenes, we see local police picking up a trail on the threesome after a bloodhound finds a tin can of Dapper Dan and a hairnet lying by a diminished fire.
The trio has escaped from jail in hopes of finding an ancient treasure not delved into by the film so very much. Along the way they meet an odd assortment of characters, including a black guitarist who sold his soul to Satan so that he could learn to play guitar; a baby-faced criminal trying to make a name for himself; and a bulky thief (John Goodman) who steels what little fortunes the men have achieved by singing on the radio under the combined name of The Soggy Bottom Boys.
Along the way they also encounter Everett's wife (Holly Hunter), who claims he was hit by a train, tells her seven children this, and refuses to acknowledge him as her husband. With the law in hot pursuit of them, the boys have only their brains to fall back on - and they don't have much of that available for use.
The plot's not the problem with the film (per se). It has fun with itself; the bluegrass music is perfect for the film and makes you feel like you're in Mississippi. The problem is the way the film has a million different ideas going on that it never seems able to make sense of. The film takes spiritual detours that pay off at the end, but nothing is ever truly resolved. In one scene towards the overdue finale, Everett gets down on his knees and prays to God to deliver them from their doom. Suddenly a gigantic tidal wave roars through and demolishes their surroundings, leaving them alive and bobbing on the water's surface.
I've read "The Odyssey," but even with all its weirdness in mind I don't remember it being this weird. It's been a while, yes, but I don't remember a giant tidal wave and I certainly don't think it belongs in a feature film with enough wasted ideas. At least "The Odyssey" was weird for a reason - "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" could certainly do without the strangeness.
Every time George Clooney is on-screen you'll be having some minimal amount of fun at least, but when he's gone and the film takes its time rooting through some unimportant sub-plots, it gets to be a real bore. It's not even two hours long but it feels like it's three.
The plus side? Depression-era Mississippi comes alive, and in some scenes the dry filming makes you thirsty for a glass of cold water. Not only that, but just as in "Fargo," the Coen Brothers are able to make us feel a sort of attachment to the characters - but even with Everett's funny infatuation with hair gel, he's not in the same league as Marge Gunderson, and he never will be.
The first time I saw this movie in 2000 (the year of its release), I absolutely hated it. Back then, perhaps I was expecting something too close to "Fargo." Maybe I just wanted something better. So with last night's repeat viewing, I made sure I wasn't expecting anything. I made sure I put away all pretensions. It still didn't impress me.
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" does have some good parts, but for being a comedy it certainly doesn't have very many laughs, and for being a lightweight, uplifting drama it seems too caught up in darker ideas that don't need meddling with. And, apart from everything else, it's just plain weird. It's a whole lot different than "Fargo," which might sound good since change is often welcomed from director(s). But whereas M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs" was different than "The Sixth Sense" in a delightfully splendid way, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is sort of like George Lucas' latest installments into the extended "Star Wars" series. They may be different, but they're definitely not any better.
on November 19, 2003
The story is set in Mississippi during the Great Depression. The silver tongued Everett McGill ( George Clooney)busts loose from a prison farm. However, he is still shackled to his two chain-mates from the chain gang - the bad tempered Pete ( John Turturo)and the sweet and dimwitted Delmar ( Tim Blake Nelson). With nothing else to lose, the trio sets off in search of buried treasure that will help them all start new lives. Everett claims that he stole and buried over one million dollars in cash. The only problem is that they only have four days to find it before it is lost forever at the bottom of a reservoir. But as luck would have it, they keep running into strange situations, and even stranger people. The trio steals a car, and eventually pick up a guitar playing hitchiker. To make some extra money, they stop at a radio station and pose as a music group called "The Soggy Bottom Boys". The record that they cut soon becomes the hottest record in the reigon. However, the adventure does not stop there, as they encounter many more strange characters that include : a blind prophet, a bank robber ( Michael Badalucco), a crooked one-eyed bible salesman ( John Goodman), and Everet's ex-wife ( Holly Hunter)who is about to get re-married. This crazy adventure filled with close calls, near misses, and betrayals will have you laughing every step of the way.
Oh man, what an oustanding film. This film succeeds on so many levels. The first is the story itself. Watching the three run into one thing after the next will keep you entertained for the entire film. Next, is the amazing cast. George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturo are all spectacular in their roles. All three are extremely different, but will make you laugh the same. The supporting cast is quite good as well as features performances by Holly Hunter, Michael Badalucco, John Goodman, and Charles Durning. But perhaps the best thing about the film is the amazing soundtrack. It features a wide variety of different artists and each song is spectacular. Dan Tyminksi provides the singing voice for George Clooney on "I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow". This is the Soggy Bottom Boys song that serves as a template for the bluegrass laden soundtrack that also features : Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, The Whites, John Hartford, The Cox Family and Gillian Welch.
The acting is spectacular, the music is amazing, the story is extremely well rounded, and it is down right hillarious. The DVD is outstanding. You not only get great picture and sound quality, but outstanding extras as well. The DVD offers a behind the scenes featurette, the " I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow" music video, and so much more. Definately a must own
on October 5, 2003
homer's odyssey... in '30s america? this is truly an amazing show with lots and lots and lots of terribly funny moments. incredible writing with exquisite photography and music score. admittedly, i haven't even read homer's story, which this movie is based on but what few i know of it is wackily portrayed by the coen brothers.
and my, my, my... george clooney keeps on making better and better movies. never actually thought he could make it past er but well, he did.
i especially love the way they make the travelling prophet a recurring character in this movie and how it finally tied up in the end. although on second thought there seems to be a lot of characters going in and out of the movie at bullet speed - and at first seems like they're just in for the fun - until the end when they all had a part to play.
i get a headache just thinking of all those characters i try to keep up with. but hey... everything makes sense in the end... and what a fulfilling end it was. makes me feel squishy all over. just joking... it's an amazing movie, nonetheless and it introduces me to a whole new musical genre.