Friday, February 5, 2016

Hail Caesar

Those feisty Coen Brothers are at it again.  This time they have given us a film that is a send up of the early 1950s in Hollywood, at the height of the Communist scare.

Like most of their films, there is a zany component, an off-kilter recreation of an ugly piece of American history.

Though fictional, some of the characters are spoofing actual Hollywood celebs of their day. For example, Scarlett Johansson plays an Esther Williams' clone - a swimming sweetheart with a broad Brooklyn accent and a penchant for indiscriminate love play.

George Clooney does a comic turn as Baird Whitlock, the suave leading man of his day.  Turns out Mr. Whitlock is none too swift in the brains department, as we Texans would say. But, boy, can he turn out a  performance when properly motivated...

Alden Ehrenreich plays the popular cowboy star of his day, complete with riding and roping tricks, and cowboy songs.  The fun comes when he is cast in a drawing-room drama with actors using English accents. I laughed like a fool.  But our cowboy turns out to be a hero off the screen as well. (I think we'll see more of this talented young actor.)

Ralph Fiennes plays the conflicted (in many ways) director who is forced to use the cowboy in his drama, complete with British accents.

Jonah Hill plays straight man as the studio's go-to guy for solving difficult situations that could ruin the career of a star or a valuable director. Depending on your point of view, he ends up either the happiest or saddest man of the story...

Channing Tatum does a surprising job as a song and dance man in a big production number complete with acrobatic moves and tap shoes.  I didn't know he had it in him! But his character has more depth as the plot progresses.  Still all of his scenes, even the ones in which he's not being a movie star, are shot like scenes in a film of that era...if that doesn't make sense just see the film.  You'll understand. I LOVED the shot of him silhouetted in the moonlight holding his little dog.

Oh yes, I loved the dog...

Tilda Swinton does a classic turn as battling twin gossip columnists, Thora and Thessaly.

And what would a Coen brothers film be without Frances McDormand? Look for her in a hysterical bit as a distracted, cigarette smoking, film editor, ensconced in her dark little office late at night when the studio head comes to visit her. I'm not sure, but I think a case could be made that one bit in this film eclipses her, "Nope, I'm goooonnna baaaarrrff" moment in Fargo. She is always a delight.

Wayne Knight (Newman of Seinfield) does a great "Lurking Extra #1" - I'm not kidding that's his character name in the credits.  He's a hoot with his nervous tics and comic timing.

Robert Picardo of Star Trek Voyager fame does a great job as a Rabbi brought in with other clergy leaders by the head of the studio to give the all-clear to their production of the story of the Crucifixion of Christ, which they called Hail Caesar.

And speaking of the studio head, Josh Brolin does a wonderful job as Eddie Mannix, the hard drinking, trying-to-quit-smoking, stressed head of the studio.  The movie really belongs to him as he moves through the action trying to solve problems at the studio, not the least of which is the kidnapping of his biggest star, Baird Whitlock...

The latter event ends in a bizarre way only the Coen brothers could conceive.

I have to tell you, I laughed like a lunatic in this one.  It is a pluperfect hoot.  Not a minute of it is serious, even when Lawrence Laurent (Fiennes) is attempting to direct his drama.

The audience in the movie theater was not huge, but I saw it at a time when most people would be at work. The age of the patrons skewed older, retirees, yep, like me.  There were a lot of us laughing, but some of the people in the audience clearly didn't get the joke.  That's okay, I understand.  Satire isn't always readily evident to those whose minds don't bend that way.

Hail Caesar is another gem from this talented team of brothers.  It's a great way to forget about your problems and suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours.

Check it next review will be Pride + Prejudice + Zombies which also opened today in general distribution.

Until next time...

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