Hail, Caesar! (2016) review

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson. Runtime: 1hr, 46 min.

I love the work of Joel and Ethan Coen because of their sense of humour and great tales. The pair of directors follow up Inside Llewyn Davis with a period piece set in the 1950s, Hail, Caesar!

The film follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a fixer at Hollywood production lot Capitol Pictures. He navigates through arising issues, like a production needing a new star actor.

He also has to navigate through the rare kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of the production company’s biggest movie of the year, Hail, Caesar!

It’s a cool commentary on the capitalism of Hollywood in the 1950s. There’s lots of communism in the film, and a group of communist writers, especially David Krumholtz, are quite amusing. It’s a good companion piece to their 1991 film Barton Fink, also set in 1950s Hollywood.

Caesar is mainly notable for its hilarious moments. From clever banter between Ralph Fiennes’ character Laurence Laurentz and Alden Ehrenreich’s wild west actor Hobie Doyle to a fun discussion between religious figures of how to properly portray Christ in the film; these stand as memorable scenes.

Hail, Caesar! Baird Whitlock

George Clooney as Bair Whitlock in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

There’s also an entertaining musical number featuring Channing Tatum. He steals multiple scenes in the entertaining romp. It might be surprising to hear a Coen film described as a romp as they’re known for darker humour.

The Coen brothers resist and don’t go nearly as dark as they could have, which is atypical but likely necessary since it is just a harmless comedy musical with a bit of mystery (but nonsensical mystery).

But it seems to be their first feel-good feature, in the traditional sense. Simply because with what may seem like a caper doesn’t amount to much.

I saw the film on Feb. 7 and I’m still trying to decipher what the heck the point of the film is. That’s why I think it’s a good companion piece for Barton Fink, because I didn’t think that one made a hell of a lot of sense, either.

It feels like the point of the film was to keep you entertained throughout so you wouldn’t notice that the actual story-line is as fragile as one of Hobie Doyle’s spaghetti lassos. But the laughs are the only thing saving the film from a near-disaster.

Hail, Caesar! Scar Jo

Scarlett Johansson in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

Josh Brolin gives a fun performance as Eddie Mannix, where he goes from sneaking cigarettes and confessing at Church to him getting a job offer so he doesn’t have to make long hours or solve problems for the Hollywood types.

He navigates through getting director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes) a new star for his drama (in the form of Hobie Doyle, who can only act on a horse) to helping save the reputation of a starlet, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson).

It’s an episodic story-line, but the laughs offered throughout make it well-worth it. Caesar is also stunningly shot by Roger Deakins, using a 35mm film to shoot the period piece. Some scenes are more breathtaking than others, notably the aforementioned Tatum dance scene.

But my favourite, in terms of cinematography, was the scene with Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid in an aquatic dance number, surely emulating a scene from 1952’s Million Dollar Mermaid.

The said scene is shot with a live orchestra – though, it doesn’t have nearly the same mesmerizing effect as when it was matched with Jamie N Commons’ Rumble and Sway in the film’s trailers. The score by Carter Burwell is good.

Hail, Caesar! Channy

Channing Tatum in his big musical number in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

Tilda Swinton appears in an amusing dual role as identical twin gossip columnists trying to get the scoop on the daily on-goings of the studio. They want to run a column on an on-set story about Baird Whitlock on the set of On Wings as Eagles (amusingly, the title’s utterance cues an eagle’s shrill).

Clooney is funny as Whitlock and the ensemble cast is great. Alden Ehrenreich is also a lot of fun as the B-movie Western actor Doyle. Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) offers soothing narration, and Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill are good in their one-scene appearances.

Despite the fact that Hail, Caesar! has sporadic greatness, it is a blemish in the Coen canon because of how average it can be. By the end of the rather anti-climactic film, I couldn’t help but ask: “That was it?”

3.5 out of 5

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Labor Day (2013)

Labor DayReleased: January 31, 2014. Directed by: Jason Reitman. Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith. Runtime: 111 min.

Warning: If you don’t want to know a lot about the film before seeing this, there might be more minor spoilers in this review than my usual review. But I guess there’s always that spoiler risk when reading a review. Anyway, enjoy! 

Jason Reitman’s newest film “Labor Day” is set in 1987 in a town with a lot of nice landscapes. It follows Adele (Kate Winslet), a depressed single mother who has been divorced for a few years now. She’s both depressed about the divorce and about the fact that she feels as if she has lost love forever. Her depression has gotten so bad that she only goes out of the house for a monthly trip to Price Mart. Her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) is starting 7th grade on Tuesday and he needs a new shirt, and they might as well do their supplies run. It doesn’t go as planned when Henry runs into a wounded man (Frank, portrayed by Josh Brolin) who menacingly yet not-so menacingly demands a ride to their house. He ends up being an escaped convict – ruh roh! As police search the town for him, he takes refuge in their home and the mother and son learn his story while their options become increasingly limited.

There’s tons of drama and some suspense sprinkled on each day in an attempt to keep everyone interested. The suspense is practically just a lot of people visiting (especially for someone who’s practically a recluse!) in a town where the people can be perceived as helpful or really freaking nosy. Some of them don’t even knock before they come in. That’s inconvenient for someone who has a fugitive in their home. Since the suspense is so simplistic, and the story is so simplistic and predictable (for the first two-thirds, at least), it only rarely increases the heart’s bpm. To add to the drama and the attempted suspense, this is a cheesy romantic flick, extra cheese.

The depressed Adele sees Frank as a chance to love again. You know, because it’s statistically proven that Stockholm’s syndrome is nicest on labour day. Those leaves are just so dang romantic! And don’t get me started on the peaches! Oh the peaches! A kind neighbor (J.K. Simmons) brings by a whole basket of peaches and they can’t eat them all! They’re only three people; so what do they do? They bake a peach pie! The way Jason Reitman directs the scene with Brolin directing Winslet’s shaking hands running through the peaches is horribly reminiscent of that pottery scene in 1990’s “Ghost.” When it’s with pottery it’s okay, but when you’re guiding someone’s hand mixing peaches up, it’s getting silly. It’s not as awful as the scene where Brolin feeds Winslet some beans, though. Winslet has to be fed because she is tied up, because Brolin is still a big bad kidnapper.

Come on guys, it's baking time!

Come on guys, it’s baking time!

Brolin portrays a relatively kind character, for someone who was convicted for murder. We see his crime through flashbacks that are randomly shown throughout the film; it’s not as if it’s shown and then right after he’s waking up from a nightmare, and it’s not like he’s sitting down Adele and Henry and telling them what happened.

Frank teaches Henry how to do things that a father figure teaches their son. It’s nice that Frank tries to be a father figure, but it’s just a weird situation with so much attempted sweetness shoe-horned in here. Personally, I see Frank as one of those stepfather figures I’d want the hell out of my house.

I’ve bagged on this film a lot so far, so here are some things I liked about this. I enjoyed this one incredibly random character named Evelyn (I had to look that up because I don’t think they actually say her name in the movie) looked her up; she befriends Henry, and she’s just comic relief on random days. Tobey Maguire’s narration is also good; I think he has a good, calming narrative voice. Another good thing about the film are the performances; I think the actors are talented, but just acting in a different, but very strange film where the basic emotions are anxiety and depression in the beginning, and things get more inspiring and sensitive as it goes along. It’s always welcome to have these bursts of enjoyment in a slow-moving, bland snoozefest.

You might like it, but since I am not all that familiar with Reitman’s style, I could have easily confused this for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Yep, it’s one of those. Since we know love is such a sweet thing, there’s not much use for a flick like this. There are a few things I took from the film, though: 1) If you go to Price Mart often enough, you’ll pick up someone who’s a pretty good handymad; and 2) You learn a tip if you ever harbour a fugitive: You should keep him inside and not play sports with him in the backyard or do chores in the front yard; because it defeats the meaning of hiding someone.

Score: 40/100

Men in Black 3 (2012)

Men in Black 3

Men in Black 3

Release Date: May 25, 2012

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin

Runtime: 106 min

Tagline: This summer, he’ll have to find the answers… in time.

Men in Black, talk about a series that has given us numerous aesthetically unpleasing creatures.

After Boris the Animal, the last of the extinct Boglodite species, escapes from a high-security prison on the moon, he causes much distress for Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent J (Will Smith). He goes back in time to eliminate the person who arrested him, and took his arm – Agent K. When Agent J learns of this, he goes back in time to stop Boris from killing K, in order to restore the timeline and history itself.

Within a few minutes, J starts to gain the trust of the Young K (Josh Brolin). They set out to track down Boris, the wickedly ugly alien who started this whole quagmire in the first place. They follow a series of clues, that eventually leads them to a Griffin, an innocent-looking creature that can see many different timelines that aren’t visible to the human eye. J learns that he is not only hiding some things from K, but that K is also hiding a few things from him. With this whole experience, they must learn to communicate and enhance their trust even more.

Oh, what a privilege this film is. For those lovers of the classic original, they will fully appreciate this, because we all get to see Agent J and Agent K’s relationship build all over again! It’s obvious that the younger K has no clue of any part of J’s life, because J is his future partner. Though, for J, it’s a whole different story. J may have gotten to be with K as a partner for fourteen years, but K never really opens up to him. He’s given a chance to try to get to know him, when he was at least fun. Boy, oh boy, is Josh Brolin’s imitation of Tommy Lee Jones ever fun! He hit that impersonation spot-on. He might as well be one of those comedians that could impersonate just about anyone.

In terms of memorable sequences and a memorable story, this is a little better than the original. Also, this certainly obliterates the Men in Black 2. It’s so fine, that most fans will just totally dismiss the first sequel as a fart in the wind (or, they’ll just dismiss it as if Will Smith just used his neuralizer on them). This is a great instalment to the series. It gives those sci-fi alien fans of the 1997 classic a trip to nostalgia-land, while it gives an awesome taste of alien comedy and action to the new generation. Oh yeah, and they just had to put in 3D. Damn money grabbers. Regardless, this is a series that has delivered us* both comedy and a superb load of action.

* no, not from evil – well, I guess from evil aliens! 

For anyone who has not seen the original or its sequel, never fear – you’ll be able to follow this with ease. This is a stand-alone sequel. Though, it might be a smart idea to watch the other two. The emotional scenes in this feature won’t be nearly as effective for those newcomers to this magnificent series (with the exclusion of the second, but no one needs to remember you, you little wayward ass). Sure, you may get a little emotional, but there is no way you’ll be as sad as a series veteran. You are only beginning to know Agent J and Agent K. And the majority of the film, one’s the future guy and the other is the past man. But those who have seen every film in the series, they have taken a three-film journey with these characters – and they are much more emotionally invested with them than you are.

Josh Brolin impersonates Lee Jones so well, if you weren’t looking at the screen, you might get into a heated battle with someone saying “That is so Tommy Lee Jones speaking!” vs “That is Josh Brolin!” Also, the chemistry between Brolin and Smith is so fine, you may just swear they’ve been doing the films together all along.

Men in Black 3 owns a good story and some awesome action sequences. It also owns an overly comical villain, but that is probably his purpose. Someone could easily get emotionally invested into the characters of J and K, to a point where they feel like real people. Well, if one can accept the unreal premise of them being professional alien “police”. It’s an entertaining sequel that, essentially, offers a good time and a nice nostalgic trip. It’s nothing bigger than that, but it certainly isn’t anything less.

80/100