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

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.