Saturday, November 2, 2013

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?I watch a lot of movies and have seen all of the "classics" and O' Brother Where Art Thou rates among the best of them no kidding! Twenty years from now, they'll be airing this film on AMC and TCM alongside the likes of North by Northwest, The Wild Bunch and How Green Was My Valley.

The story is completely engrossing and the cinematography is stunning. Realize that filming took place in June/July when the Southern countryside was a lush, verdant green. That bone dry, depression-era dust bowl aesthetic is a wonder of digital editing.

The Coen brothers have done two things that are all too rare in Hollywood these days. First, their screenplay is original (yes, it's loosely based on Homer's Odyssey but to evaluate the film solely on this narrative framework is to overlook the other aspects of the film). Second, they've produced a film that captivates not with multi-million dollar action sequences and the latest Moby track but with great dialogue and an authentic blues/bluegrass soundtrack (well worth buying) that is as much a character in the movie as the three principals Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), Delmar O'Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) and Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro). The eclectic cast (that also includes Charles Durning, Holly Hunter, Stephen Root and John Goodman) turns in superbly acted performances across the board. Clooney, who all too often plays 2 dimensional characters, gives an award-worthy performance in what is unquestionably his best role to date. Those not familiar with Nelson or Turturro will be impressed by these wonderfully skilled actors.

I will say that a lot of people have told me that they didn't care for this film, which I find incomprehensible. I'm not sure what more you could ask for in a movie.

I'm a big fan of the Coen Bros., including Raising Arizona, and esp. Fargo, so I was expecting to enjoy this.

What I was not expecting was that I would be absolutely enraptured by it. I was so enveloped by the sense of place, the razor sharp acting, the constant self-inflicted misfortune, and especially the music. The music! What a stunning, skillfully rendered and executed soundtrack. I didn't realize what I was missing all these years, ignoring bluegrass the way I did.

Well, back to the movie.

I don't have to repeat all about the movie being based on Homer's Odyssey... oops, just did. Well, that aside, I spent some time thinking about what touched me and made this so enjoyable, more than nearly every other movie I've ever seen. I found many things.

Of course, the casting is delightful. Where do you find people who can pull off Clooney's sidekicks the way they did. If I met John Turturro or Tim Blake Nelson on the street, I would probably be just shocked to find they aren't doltish hillbillies! John Goodman is a perfect cyclops, in a goofy, ominous, hulkish way, and Christ Thomas King, who I believe is really known for his guitar playing, still plays the understated Tommy Johnson beautifully, as if it makes perfect sense to meet the devil at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere and sell your soul to him for a good dose of guitar skill. I could go on and on about the cast, but you won't find a sour note in there. You'll be convinced that none of these people could live anywhere but the Depression ear South. Before I move on from the cast, something that goes unmentioned a lot, is the brilliant performances by some of the bit players, such as Frank Collison as Wash Hogwallop, Stephen Root as the Radio Station guy, and Millford Fortenberry as the Geographical Oddity storekeeper. It may seem easy to do a small part for a little time, but this really underscores the Coen Bros. talent for getting a pitch perfect performance from every actor, no matter how small the part.

Much has been made of the music... and rightly so! I suppose it was less than surprising to learn that the music was actually a large part of the genesis of this movie. You could almost say that this is a musical of sorts, not of the broadway style, but some sort of hybrid, as only the Coen Bros. can do. My favorite musical moments are probably nearly the same as everyone else's, such as Man of Constant Sorrow. How can you not just love that song? The Sirens singing Didnt' Leave Nobody But the Baby with the way they used those rags for their loose-boned and sultry rhythm would certainly be tough to resist :) O Death at a KKK rally, what a sendup that was! The horrifying ridiculousness of that strangely choreographed scene was reminiscent of everything from the Nazi's Nuremberg rally to the Wicked Witch's guards from the Wizard of Oz (tell me you don't hear an echo of their "Oh we love--Noooo one" at the beginning of that scene.) But I have to admit I was strangely moved and affected by my favorite scene, Down in the River to Pray, the baptism scene. There was something beautiful, serene, and noble about those people in white, moving toward a turning point of purity and devotion down to be immersed in their new life. I loved it, utterly.

You may have noticed by this time that I haven't really mentioned Clooney but in passing. There's a reason for that. Probably the one thing that most deeply moved me was the character of Ulysses Everett McGill. Though it's not obvious at first, I think Everett is a beautifully developed, complex character. As the movie went on, I began to see him as insecure, loaded with good intentions, but without the inner strength to carry them out, full of regrets, yet a slave to his own passions and his desire to be admired. When we begin to realize that what Everett's looking for is to get his wife back, the whole situation seems just delightfully silly at first. But underneath, Clooney manages to display McGill's sensitive and wounded heart. He's terribly insecure and masks his insecurity with too much talk and a know-it-all attitude, as well as his addiction to Dapper Dan and his own appearance. A very telling scene is in the Geographical Oddity shop, when he obviously wants to tell off the shopkeeper who can't get his car part or his Dapper Dan for two weeks. He's mad and looks to storm out, but instead he crumbles and buys the pomade and hair nets. I think a lot of people miss that one. Everett is lost in a mess of his own making and is desperate to find that one rope strong enough to pull him out of the hole he's in. I think we all know people, or have one time *been* people who have become mired in their poor decisions and are further derailed by their attempts to circumvent the consequences. When people like this get that one opportunity to escape their pattern of failure they often miss it, but once in a while they grab hold and make it. I'll let you see what really happens in the movie, but George Clooney and the Coen Bros. have wrought a beautiful, tragically flawed, yet good and loving at heart protagonist and should be long recognized for it.

I cannot recommend this movie enough, aside from what I've mentioned, it is loaded with fun and frolic, good and evil and the strange, enormous grey area in between, tragedy and triumph. Some of the lines and gags in this movie are priceless and the sort of thing you find yourself saying to friends at odd times just to crack things up (Do Not Seek the Treasssure!) It bears multiple watchings well, as there are so many little details to pick up on, and its fun to find the direct Odyssey references within, some of them less obvious than others.

I'm not sure it's ever been so easy to give a movie five stars.

Buy O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Now

The Coen brothers have a cult following, but until I saw this movie, I didn't count myself among the masses that love the Coens. However, with this movie, this brother team has cemented their reputation as serious and skilled filmmakers with a lot to say and a stylish way of saying it.

This movie is a loose retelling of "The Odyssey" by Homer, set in the Depression-era Deep South. George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson make an unlikely team of escaped convicts who embark on a journey of the weird and wonderful. Watch for the appearance of many famous Odyssey allusions, such as the Sirens and the Cyclops (among others). The Coens' quirky take on this classic tale is delightful and perfectly executed, and the script is beautifully and humorously written. The sets and filming are artistic and a bit mythical, and the casting choices are just great. The film is peopled with interesting characters, in classic Coen brothers fashion. Look for great supporting characters played by John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, and others.

And that's not all! Interwoven in this film are great depression-era songs and some original songs, with excellent music direction by T-bone Burnett. Who says Moulin Rouge is the first movie in a long while to take the musical format? This movie is just as much a musical as Baz Luhrmann's much-hyped movie.

I really believe that this movie reaches heights that previous Coen brothers movies (even Fargo) haven't reached. In addition, I believe this movie was slighted by the Academy during Oscar time. This movie was one of the best films of the year, and excelled in every aspect a film can be awarded for.

Read Best Reviews of O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Here

The Coen brothers serve up a beautifully filmed and nearly perfectly executed movie with many scenes and songs that linger in ones head. It shows both the dark and light of the South in the depression, and reminds us of the power of the music that tried to help everyone get through the rough times. The warmer sounds of songs like "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and "I'll Fly Away" are yearnings for that better place far away. The premier song, "Man of constant sorrow", is a great blues\bluegrass piece, with both performances by Clooney and Cohorts being enjoyably funny. But perhaps the most impressive song and visual in this film is the baptism scene, when our heroes are suddenly surrounded by white clad Christians floating through the beautiful Southern woods like fireflies all singing a building gospel hymn "Down to the river" a very mesmerizing moment.

The performances are great. Clooney has an energetic wild eyed zeal and pulls of some great rapid dialog as Ulysses. Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro do well as the slow witted traveling companions. Daniel von Bargen (probably known best currently for his role as the Commandant at the military school on "Malcom in the Middle") fits the old image of the sherrif perfectly with his cool mannerisms, black outfit, sunglasses (the only person wearing them) and black hat.

While generally funny, the film also has reminders of the effects of the depression on already poor farmers. It also doesn't forget racial issues in the form of the KKK and how many of its members could make themselves out to be "normal decent folk" during the day when they weren't hiding in bedsheets carrying silly names. Some people take offense at the KKK scene in the movie, but I thought it pointed out the silliness of these people dressing in these costumes and thinking they were superior while also showing that enough stupidity gathered together can do some pretty terrible things. It can be an uncomfortable scene, but it does contribute to the story (and shows, through our heroes, that not *every* white person in the south was a bigot).

Ultimately, this movie was an enjoyable experience for me. I could even call it uplifting, as it's beautiful photography and soundtrack have caused me to start liking the South again and appeciate more of the Gospel and Bluegrass from the time. I love listening to "I'll Fly Away" from the soundtrack and picturing soaring up over the dusty roads and fields through gold tinted lenses.

Want O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Discount?

Producers/writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen evoke the essence of such classic films as "Sullivan's Travels" and "I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang," with their Depression Era comedy, "O Brother Where Art Thou?" directed by Joel Coen and starring George Clooney. Borrowing the title of the "meaningful" film that successful comedy filmmaker Sullivan wanted to make in the 1941 Preston Sturges film "Sullivan's Travels," and finally-in reality-making it, is only the beginning of this clever, funny tale based on Homer's "The Odyssey." The hero here is one Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney), who along with two others, Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), escapes from a chain gang, commencing an "odyssey" for the trio wherein they ultimately traverse many of the railroads, back roads and tank-water towns scattered throughout the good State of Mississippi. It becomes an adventure of the first magnitude as the three cohorts encounter situations and characters that are humorous and sometimes poignant, and-for the audience-always fun. It's a richly woven tapestry of Americana (including plenty of traditional music) that is bound to leave an indelible impression in the mind of the viewer. Leading man Clooney has one of his best character roles yet-it's a Clooney we've never quite seen before-and he is more than up to the task. Invested with the mustache and rugged good looks of Clark Gable, and with his natural charisma working overtime, he creates a likable, articulate character that stands out in marked contrast to just about every other character in the film. And he's a joy to watch; his Ulysses is a real kick from start to finish, and it's a performance that is worthy of an Oscar. Turturro, as well, creates one of his most memorable screen characters, drawing heavily upon the naturally quirky side of his own personality and accentuating his own unique physical traits which lend themselves so well to the embodiment of Pete. And Nelson does the same with his Delmar; like Turturro, he successfully captures the soul of the character, both physically and emotionally, and-it must be mentioned-both actors (with Coen's help, of course) manage to avoid the trap of making their characters mere stereotypes, and it's one of the reasons they are so engaging: These guys are the genuine article. The extraordinary supporting cast, all of whom individually create truly original characters in their own right, includes Holly Hunter (Penny), John Goodman (Big Dan), Chris Thomas King (Tommy), Charles Durning (Pappy O'Daniel), Del Pentecost (Junior O'Daniel) and Michael Badalucco in a memorable turn as George "Babyface" Nelson. Not content to sit on their laurels, the Coen Brothers constantly seek to expand the boundaries of their personal cinematic universe, and they succeed splendidly with "O Brother Where Art Thou?" It's a rousingly warm and witty and-most importantly-highly entertaining and creative film that takes the viewer on an unforgettable journey. The Coen's distinct imprint, like the cinematic equivalent of The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, is stamped on every frame of the film, and it's like an assurance of quality and a good time to be had by all. There's magic in the movies the Coen Brothers make, and this one goes far toward proving what anyone who has followed their movies over the years knows already: Nobody does it quite like Joel and Ethan. This one is not to be missed.

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