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

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.

And my father was a real ugly man.

Marty (1955)
(SPOILERS) It might be the very unexceptional good-naturedness of Marty that explains its Best Picture Oscar success. Ernest Borgnine’s Best Actor win is perhaps more immediately understandable, a badge of recognition for versatility, having previously attracted attention for playing iron-wrought bastards. But Marty also took the Palme d’Or, and it’s curious that its artistically-inclined jury fell so heavily for its charms (it was the first American picture to win the award; Lost Weekend won the Grand Prix when that was still the top award).

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…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.

Doctor Sleep (2019)
(SPOILERS) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times be difficult due to the overt referencing, it’s an affecting and often effective tale of personal redemption and facing the – in this case literal – ghosts of one’s past.

It’s like being smothered in beige.

The Good Liar (2019)
(SPOILERS) I probably ought to have twigged, based on the specific setting of The Good Liar that World War II would be involved – ten years ago, rather than the present day, so making the involvement of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren just about believable – but I really wish it hadn’t been. Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay, adapting Nicholas Searle’s 2016 novel, offers a nifty little conning-the-conman tale that would work much, much better without the ungainly backstory and motivation that impose themselves about halfway through and then get paid off with equal lack of finesse.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

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…

The sooner we are seamen again, the better.

The Bounty (1984)
(SPOILERS) How different might David Lean’s late career have been if Ryan’s Daughter hadn’t been so eviscerated, and his confidence with it? Certainly, we know about his post-A Passage to India projects (Empire of the Sun, Nostromo), but there were fourteen intervening years during which he surely might have squeezed out two or three additional features. The notable one that got away was, like Empire of the Sun, actually made: The Bounty. But by Roger Donaldson, after Lean eventually dropped out. And the resulting picture is, as you might expect, merely okay, notable for a fine Anthony Hopkins performance as Bligh (Lean’s choice), but lacking any of the visual poetry that comes from a master of the craft.