Skip to main content

This is bad. Bad for movie stars everywhere.

Trailers
Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers’ broader comedies tend to get a mixed response from critics, who prefer their blacker, more caustic affairs (A Serious Man, Barton Fink, Inside Llewyn Davis). Probably only Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou? have been unreservedly clutched to bosoms, so it remains to be seen how Hail, Caesar! fares. The trailer shows it off as big, bold, goofy, shamelessly cheerful and – something that always goes down well with awards ceremonies – down with taking affectionate swipes at Tinseltown. Seeing as how the unabashedly cartoonish The Grand Budapest Hotel swung a host of Oscar nominations (and a couple of wins), I wouldn’t put anything out of the question. Also, as O Brother proved, punctuation marks in titles are a guarantee of acclaim.


I’m an easy sell for Coens fare, though. Burn After Reading is very funny, particularly John Malkovich’s endlessly expressive swearing. Intolerable Cruelty makes me laugh a lot, particularly Clooney’s double takes and checking his teeth. I can even find good things to say about The Ladykillers (despite the fact that they, of all people, should have known the futility of remaking it). That the brothers get a kick of making deceptively lowbrow fare, sharply written slapstick where their protagonists are invariably morons (or think they’re much smarter than they are), is something to be celebrated, rather than pining for them to chart a more respectable course.


Of course, The Big Lebowski had an appreciative but hardly rapturous reception when it was first released, and now it’s certainly the most popular – although sometimes the lines between a big cult movie and one more widely popular are difficult to distinguish – of their pictures. Outside of that, the plaudits generally come down to Blood Simple (in some respects their “straightest” picture), Fargo (although it’s one I have no great passion for) and No Country for Old Men (no arguments there, it’s an absolute classic). With 17 features under their belts, there’s now more than enough room to claim neglected gems (feted as it was A Serious Man seems destined to be most under seen, along with The Man Who Wasn’t There, one I find less satisfying).


Perhaps the key for their comedies to muster a following is the creation a lasting milieu; Raising Arizona did it with it’s live action Road Runner aesthetic, Lebowski with its’ spaced out Raymond Chandler vibe, O Brother played on Preston Sturges pictures by way of Homer with a nostalgic sepia tint. In contrast, Cruelty, Ladykillers and Burn never set out such an indelible backdrop and world. The Hudsucker Proxy, much as I like it, only half succeeds, absolutely catching fire whenever Jennifer Jason Leigh’s fast-talking screwball journalist is in the frame (and Bruce Campbell in his best Coens role), but rather stagnating with Tim Robbins’ open-browed shmuck.


So Hail, Caesar! seems to be ahead when it comes to setting, broadcasting an instantly identifiable parody of ‘50s Hollywood, from unwisely cast sword and sandals epics to lavish musicals and ho-hum cowboy pictures. It also seems to have been bubbling under forever (since 2004 at least, when it concerned actors in a play about ancient Rome), announced as one where Clooney’s incomparable skills at playing an idiot would be call upon once again, the third in his starring “Numbskull Trilogy” (although presumably Burn makes Hail his fourth).  The central character now appears to be Josh Brolin’s fixer Eddie Mannix (less Ray Donovan and more only slightly less a numbskull than Clooney’s Baird Whitlock, by the look of it).


The Coens have reaped rewards from going to the movies before, most notably in Barton Fink, but this time they’re really going to town on casting absolutely whoever they feel like, and for that it recalls Burn After Reading.  We have returning faces (Clooney, Brolin, Tilda Swinton, ScarJo, and Frances McDormand). This is Brolin’s first comedy with the pair, and he looks like he’s really enjoying himself.


Certainly, the trailer’s an expertly edited piece, possibly the best this year, a medley of great dialogue, sounds, gestures and inflections of the sort you know were all on the page waiting for the actors to bring to life. All set to the infectious accompaniment of Jamie N Commons’ Rumble and Sway. You get the impression everyone just loves working for the brothers, digging into indelible dialogue and characters.


Clooney’s obsessed with his teeth again, and his staccato delivery as Whitlock (great character names, obviously) suggests a Shatner-esque ham. (“A truth we could see, if we had but… If we ha… Ha…”) The sight of Brolin, clock-watching, clutching his briefcase, scuttling away from Swinton’s nosey journalist (having to split her time between Wes Andersons, the Coens, Terry Gilliam and Jim Jarmusch must be such a chore), is priceless (“20 million readers want the truth, Eddie”; “Truth, yes, hmm”) Best of all is the pun on the kidnappers’ name, making it sound as if Eddie has stepped into a science fiction B-picture (“Mr Mannix? I know it sounds screwy, but someone’s calling from The Future”; “Good Lord!”)


I’ll be upfront and say I’m not ScarJo’s biggest fan, but she looks like she’s on good form here, playing up the silver screen siren and attempting to fluster a marvellously cast Jonah Hill (“You must have very strong forearms. Is it hard, squeezing it like that?”; “It’s part of the job, miss”).


Of the other newcomers, Fiennes doesn’t have as instantly iconic a role as he did for Grand Budapest, but his delivery is all there, Alden Ehrenreich gets a great line (“This is bad. Bad for movie stars everywhere”) and Channing Tatum does what he does best (playing a loveable moron, by the look of it). 


I’m actually most intrigued to see some of the less prolific thesps making hay with Coens lines; Clancy Brown’s reaction to Clooney drying is just dynamite. I have no idea what Christopher Lambert will be like (he’s sitting on the crane chair), but I’m dying to see. Likewise Dolph Lundgren’s Submarine Commander. Its as if they’ve purposefully rounded up a bunch ‘80s B-legends (and are big fans of Highlander).


So where will this stand in their numbskull quadrilogy? On the face of it, and if trailers reflected quality, I’d say it’s vying with O Brother. It looks like it will be one of the most pure “fun” movies of 2016. Forget about Batman vs Superman and Bridget Jones Baby. And Ben-Hur (at least two of those, I already have). This is the must-see of the year (and not long to wait; it’s out in February).



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***