Hail, Caesar! (2016)

★★★★

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Hail, Caesar! PosterDirectors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Release Date: February 5th, 2016 (US); March 4th, 2016 (UK)

Genre: Comedy; Mystery

Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenreich

Hail, Caesar! might as well be a sequel to the Coen brothers’ early-90s writer’s block masterstroke, Barton Fink. The filmmaking duo are back on familiar turf, their gaze once again fixed upon their own industry, only this time it is an exploration of post-screenplay life. Set in 1951, a decade after Fink, we re-enter the mania of motion pictures during a time of internal and external struggle; as studios lose control within the self-contained confines of Hollywood, the real world is dealing with political crises and threats of nuclear decimation. Thankfully George Clooney, Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson are on hand to spread some joy.

Even those wary of their thematic craftsmanship or storytelling abilities must hold the Coen brothers’ world creation to the highest of standards. Here, the duo conceive Capitol Pictures (another Fink throwback) in all of its glory: bombastic sets tinged with old charm; backlots bearing their own gravitational pull that revolve around the movie star present — when interested parties hear Baird Whitlock (Clooney) will be starring in their feature, the reaction is an audible “oh my”. And office doors get in on the excess, wearing flashy, golden-chrome nameplates. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, fresh from stunning work in Sicario, shoots the grandiosity with skill and a sense of cosiness. It all just looks right.

The studio system is on its last reels and given the aforementioned extravagance, it is plain to see why. The social zeitgeist is one of populism, of westerns and biblical epics designed to quell the moviegoer’s fear of Communism and nuclear war if only for a few hours at a time. On a side note, Hail, Caesar! and Trumbo might make a worthwhile double-bill as here we are introduced, teasingly, to the Communist cause without ever delving far into its core. The Coens are interested in the production line, the behind-the-scenes craziness, of which there are many components — too many for such political allegiance to warrant thorough analysis.

Eddie Mannix is the common thread binding those components, superbly played by Josh Brolin (straddling the line between aloofness and competence). He is not a moral man, or so his cigarette-decrying priest would have him believe. He is a studio fixer, that is, a liaison between star and head financier. As the story progresses Mannix increasingly takes the form of a walking, talking manifestation of movies as life’s be all and end all, therefore false pretences must be upheld and personalities must be moulded to suit the needs of a fearful America. “The public loves you because they know how innocent you are,” Mannix informs Johansson’s DeeAnna Moran. She is pregnant and single, which is obviously a problem.

Less of a problem is the town’s new personality ready for shaping, that of proverbial cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). He is an amiable up-and-comer who has plied his trade horse-riding and lasso-snapping, though the Capitol leaders wish to broaden his appeal. Of course, the kid has no experience in dramatic acting, especially not in delivering the mirthless chuckles and ruefulness ordered by his new, pompous director Lawrence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes in fine cameo form). Regardless, Hobie will be the next big thing because that’s what Mannix wants, and on the basis of his performance, Alden Ehrenreich will be too.

The movies we see in production adhere to a culture of emboldening, where lighting cues are so obviously artificial you cannot help but laugh when they announce themselves, and where acting is defined not by subtlety but by overemphasis. Clooney, playing the easily cajoled A-lister Baird Whitlock, is a master at such overemphasis: an early scene in which he is drugged by two plotting extras, the real life version of Pain and Panic from Hercules, ought to rouse significant amusement at the behest of his delayed water guzzling. It is a delay brought on by the actor’s strenuous effort to convey the hilarity of a joke, of course.

Whitlock spends the entirety of the film wearing the same gladiatorial costume and Clooney answers by sauntering like a Roman solider, sword a-swinging. We get those idiosyncratic moments, Coen watermarks, side quests not related to the central storyline but that are an absolute hoot to watch: two of the best in Hail, Caesar! involve a raucous religious rabble and an impromptu enunciation lesson. There is a sequence in the third act during which the piece knowingly gets ultra-meta: a late-night drive is montaged, scored by brass, Dutch angles invoked. It is like watching a movie within a movie about classic Hollywood movies.

Perhaps the need to accommodate as many kooky industry strands as possible means the film can’t be as richly textured as the Coens’ previous outings (although there are similarities with Barton Fink, deep thematic layering isn’t one). However, you are hoisted along with so much momentum by waves of nutty humour that it is almost impossible not to revel in it all. You find yourself gleefully anticipating the next big, showy scene, expecting it to topple the last in levels of arrant silliness — a high bar awaits tap dancing Tatum, though he sails through with flying colours.

Mannix spends time considering whether or not to ditch his Hollywood gig and assume an executive position at the aerospace organisation, Lockheed. A salesperson from the company occasionally appears, looking to coax Mannix into signing on the dotted line. “I’m sure the picture business is pretty damn interesting, but I’m sure it’s frivolous too,” the Lockheed man says. He’s right, in a wider world context, on both counts. Fortunately, thanks to movies like this and filmmakers such as the Coen brothers, that which is interesting far outweighs that which may be frivolous.

Hail Caesar - Channing Tatum

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures

Reeling Them Off (June 2013)

Today I am going to talk about a few random bits and pieces — from film news to upcoming releases to recent movies I have watched. I reckon I will do this type of thing more often, rather than relentlessly bore you with four or five separate blog posts. About once or twice a month sounds about right.

“There goes my plans to do a live-action Garfield The Cat movie.”

Sony recently announced that, not only will we be getting The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but we will also be given extra helpings of the franchise by way of a third in 2016 and even a fourth at some point in 2018. Talk about optimism, eh? Well perhaps rightly so, because I think it is safe to say that, just like last year’s Spidey reboot which garnered over $750 million at the box office, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is likely to line many a pocket come next year, vindicating the somewhat premature announcement of a further two instalments.

One of the main problems with telling your audience that there will be another two films after the upcoming one, is that it sort of diminishes the importance of the next Peter Parker saga. Surely a Spider-Man film is not a Spider-Man film without Spider-Man, which would more or less exterminate any suspense during upcoming potential death scenes, as we know Spider-Man cannot die (at least, not yet)? Of course, there are ways around this — Alien: Resurrection being a somewhat distant example — therefore I guess the impending, or lack thereof, death of Spider-Man is not a huge issue going into part two. I have every expectation that the outing will be a solid one, much like the first, and will hopefully continue what is shaping up to be a successful reboot of the previously fledgling franchise.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is scheduled for release on the 18th April, 2014 in the United Kingdom.

Sticking with the subject of upcoming films for a moment, I would like to talk briefly about a few on the horizon. Firstly, the premier trailer for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street — where Leonardo DiCaprio plays New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort — hit the internet a few days ago and, to be honest, it is not exactly what I had expected beforehand. My vision of the film was that it would be one focused far more on drama, with a more serious tone (who knows, this may well still be the case) however the trailer seems to give off a refreshingly comical ambience. This sits well with me as, being a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio and his previous work with Scorsese, I reckon it will be interesting to see the two delve into a more comedic setting for the first time together. The trailer certainly made me laugh, and we are in the more-than-capable hands of a wonderful director and an exceptional cast, so this one should not disappoint.

The Wolf on Wall Street is set for release on the 17th January, 2014 in the United Kingdom.

“It’s good to be The Rock.”

Time for a dip into the rumour market and it turns out that the most electrifying man in sports all of entertainment, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (or just The Rock to all the cool people, like me) is being touted as one of the stars of the upcoming Terminator 5 film. The Rock, as he shall be known from here on out in this post, has had an excellent past few years in the film industry, and these have been capped off by a simply outstanding first half of 2013. In fact, the semi-retired professional wrestler, who’s four films this year have already grossed over $1 billion combined, has had a movie in the US box office top ten for the past seventeen weeks in a row — stretching all the way back to late February — and this run does not look like stopping any time soon with Fast & Furious 6 still going strong. The Rock has become something of a franchise resurrect-er recently, having taken stagnant franchises such as Fast & Furious, G. I. Joe and Journey to the… and giving them the shot in the arm required to reinstate themselves again. Being a massive professional wrestling fan myself, I have loved The Rock for over a decade and hope to see his acting career continue to thrive.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in Hercules: The Thracian Wars, which is due for release on the 25th July, 2014 in the United Kingdom.

Just a quick note before I continue. Even though I have never watched The Sopranos (I know, I know) it is always extremely sad to hear about the passing of an actor, let alone one of such significance to the world of television. One day, i do hope to watch The Sopranos in order to truly appreciate James Gandolfini, but until then I do not think it is really my place to talk about the man as an actor — although I am sure I do not need to anyway, having read about his greatness on my Twitter feed. All I will say is may he rest in peace.

The other day I re-entered the realm of Netflix, something that was long overdue. I decided to watch a film titled The ABCs of Death, based on what I had heard about it. To begin with, The ABCs of Death is not a film — it is a collection of 26 short stories, each of which convey a depiction of death based a word associated with a letter of the alphabet. The ‘film’ is directed by 26 different directors from all over the world, and thus there is no real narrative to it and the audience already knows the eventual outcome of every short-story — death. There were a few entertaining letters, such as Q and T, and a number of the clips made me laugh due to their sheer ridiculousness — I am thinking H in particular — but on the whole the clips just did not make much sense and some of them were a bit too over-the-top in terms of violence and, well, other stuff. It is one of those things where you kind of have to watch it due to the intrigue, but afterwards — if you are like me — you will probably be regretting wasting over two hours on it.

“Chairs are for wimps.”

I finally got around to watching a few films I had wanted to see for while — The Breakfast Club, A Few Good Men and Broadcast News — and I loved all three of them, particularly The Breakfast Club. John Hughes has a way with making films which ensures they remain relevant so many years on: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains & Automobiles are two classics which more than hold up in 2013, and The Breakfast Club is no different. For a courtroom drama, a type of film which can sometimes venture dangerously close to the boring mark, A Few Good Men kept me grasped throughout, with the tension slowly bubbling as the film progressed, and it boasts a number of excellent performances from the likes of Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. I watched the television show The Newsroom, starring Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer, last summer and in anticipation for this summer’s upcoming season two, I decided to watch Broadcast News, a film about three colleagues and their relationship with each other and their job. It struck me how similar the two are, even though they are created on different platforms, as both contain vibrant, witty scripts and bubbly, likeable characters (Holly Hunter and Emily Mortimer’s characters are incredibly similar).

Oh, and I also got around to seeing Die Hard. I now get the hype surrounding Alan Rickman in this film, although I do not quite get the hype surrounding the film itself. Maybe I should have watched it ten years ago, before being lambasted with similar “Cowboys and Indians” (“in The Towering Inferno,” as Mark Kermode likes to put it) type films over the last decade.

Anyway, I think that will do it for today. If you have any comments just write them below and I look forward to doing some more of these in the future!