Take Ulysses from Homer's "Odyssey," turn him into a dusty but peculiarly dapper hillbilly escaped from a Mississippi chain gang, circa 1937, and whaddya got? Only the funniest, most inspired movie of Coen Brothers illustrious comedy careers.
Taking screwball cues from Depression Era Hollywood and usurping their title from the "message movie" Joel McCrea's frustrated director wanted to make in 1941's satire "Sullivan's Travels," this picture's writers-directors Ethan and Joel Coen cook up a masterpiece of a scruffy romp about a no-class fugitive trying to get home to his wife before she re-marries to a colorless, straw-hatted dandy who holds more promise as a provider.
And who did the Coens get to play their uncouth Cajun hero, Ulysses "Everett" McGill? Why if it isn't George Clooney in a perfectly jaunty performance that seems to channel both the roguish comedic charm of Clark Gable in "It Happened One Night" and the earnest zaniness of Cary Grant in his screwiest comedies.
Continue reading: O Brother, Where Art Thou? Review
At the center of any good biographical feature film is a great performance, like Jamie Foxx's body-and-soul channeling of soul music's original ivory-twinkling innovator Ray Charles in "Ray." But a great performance does not make a biopic great. To rise above the kind of "true stories" that are the fodder of several assembly-line TV movies every year, a biopic needs to be like Ray Charles -- departing from formula and daring to be different.
Director Taylor Hackford (who once helmed the Chuck Berry concert film "Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll") doesn't manage that in "Ray," a film that feels more like a two-and-a-half-hour highlights reel from Charles' life. But as a primer on that man's life (musical brilliance, adultery, addiction, and lip service to lyrical controversy and segregation struggles) -- and for a film with a prefabricated story arc and little detail (Charles fathered 12 kids, only three or four of which are even mentioned in the film) -- "Ray" could be a lot worse.
At the very least it has a passionately devoted, dead-on lead actor -- Foxx not only nails the blind soul king's swaying jitterbug body language, but also seems to capture his very essence as a man and musician -- and a whole lot of fantastic, toe-tapping, heart-pumping R&B.
Continue reading: Ray Review
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.