Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hail, Caesar! Review

A love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood in nearly every aspect.
If I'm being perfectly honest here, I'm a film critic that has never taken a single history of film course in his life. It isn't that I'm not interested in the subject, but I've always put a much stronger focus on learning about acting and the nature of acting on stage, screen, and everything in between. Everything that I know about movies comes from either watching a hell of a lot of movies, or researching on my own films that interest me and why they were so important. I couldn't tell you thing one about film in the 60's or 70's, but I can tell you all about how Stars Wars revolutionized cinemas to this day and why film genres like disaster movies, kids movies, superhero movies, and westerns became popular and why they faded away from popular consciousness.

So when I see a movie like Hail, Caesar!, I get really excited about it, mostly because I love throwback features about people making movies, or people making plays, or people making art. That's one of the reasons why I love Birdman so much or why a movie like Ed Wood resonates so much with me. Hail, Caesar! is a love letter to everything about Hollywood in the 1950's, from the rise of Westerns, to happy go lucky musicals, to aquatic ballets, to even the shady underground of Hollywood involving crime, communism, and everyone not nearly as hunky dory as the era would make you believe. And at the same time, the Coen Brothers manage to make the movie an absolute joy to watch. Even though this is just the second movie I've seen all year, this may end up being one of my favorites of 2016.

The story is essentially a day in the life of Eddie Mannix, a real life Hollywood studio executive and "fixer". We see Eddie deal with meetings about the studio's upcoming mega blockbuster Hail, Caesar!, we see him talk to various actors while on set and relocating them to different projects, and seeing him question whether or not he wants to be a studio executive. The main crux of the story though revolves around the disappearance of Baird Whitlock, the star of Hail, Caesar!, who is taken away by a shady group of men calling themselves "The Future" and demanding $100,000 for Baird. Eddie's gotta find Baird before Hail,Caesar! finishes production, and it'll take a ton of people to find him.

I'm astounded at how great of a cast the Coens were able to assemble here. Not only do you have Coen mainstays like George Clooney and Josh Brolin, but then there's Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, and Christopher Lambert just to name a few. The cast is jam packed with fantastic actors, all of whom give a stellar performance.

George Clooney, a Coen staple, plays Baird Whitlock in what is perhaps the movie's most enjoyable role. He's a dolt, but he's someone who is dead certain that he's right about anything and will try to sound as intellectual as possible with "The Future", only to look like an even bigger idiot for him. When "The Future" start talking to him about their ideals and goals, Baird relates to them in a weird analogy that makes sense to him, but everyone else just kind of shrugs their shoulders and move along with the plan.

Even better are the little movies within the movie that are all unique and are fantastic to watch. We see Alden Ehrenreich as a soft hearted cowboy singing a song about the moon while a drunken prospector curses out the moon for some reason in the Western they're shooting, but then we see Alden walk onto the set of a posh Rodgers and Hammerstein musical where he can't act to save his life. The whole joke is that during this shoot, Alden, who plays a "singing cowboy" kind of actor, is forced to be a British musical celebrity in the musical, but he can't shake his western accent, which drives the director insane. It's a lot funnier on screen than I'm making it out to be, but it had my dying with laughter.

In fact, there were a metric ton of scenes in this movie that I loved and wish I could talk about. Tilda Swinton playing identical twins who are both journalists is fantastic, as in Scarlett Johansson being a beautiful actress on screen, but turning into a foul mouthed prima-donna off screen. Or what about an entire musical number dedicated to Channing Tatum as he sings a group musical number that's eerily similar to "Nothing Like a Dame" from South Pacific? And then there's a scene where "The Future" all row out to sea like George Washington crossing the Delaware with a little puppy on board. I was dying with all of these moments, and I was having an incredible amount of fun.

I've heard people call Hail, Caesar! boring, and I can see where they're coming from. The movie is certainly slow paced and there are a lot of moments of silence where the characters just talk with very few punchlines, but I didn't mind that at all. In fact, that silence made the funnier moments even more potent. Seeing Eddie Mannix talk to four religious leaders for three minutes straight about the depiction of Christ in Hail, Caesar! was hilarious solely because it was just those five men arguing about who exactly Jesus is. There wasn't any music and it took a long time to establish the mood, but it was by far the best scene in the movie. Hell, all of these scenes could be the best scene in the movie because of how well acted, well shot, and well paced the movie is.

I know it sounds like I'm gushing here (and I am), but this is honestly just another Coen Brother's movie in my books. The Coens have this knack for making simple movies in theory, but are really complex from a cinematic and storytelling perspective. If I could make any direct comparison to any other Coen Brother's movie, I would probably say this is closest to a mix of Fargo and Burn After Reading. Both of those movies have this odd comedic vibe that's hard to peg and really shouldn't be too funny, but they become pretty charming and respectable. And that's how I would describe Hail, Caesar! as; a comedy I can respect.

The worst thing about a bad comedy is when the jokes aren't funny. You're sitting through hours of torture just waiting for a laugh. Hail, Caesar! is a comedy, but it's not a constant laugh track, lowbrow comedy. At the same time, it isn't a super intellectual comedy where you have to know everything about 1950's Hollywood in order to understand it. It's a movie you just need to sit down, watch, and the jokes will come naturally. The jokes come from character interactions and weird little asides, not from huge set pieces trying to force the audience to laugh.

I know that Deadpool and Zoolander No. 2 are coming out this week and that this movie will most likely be swept under the rug, but please try to see Hail, Caesar! Even if it's on DVD, see this movie at any costs. It's not a movie that everyone will love, but I certainly got a lot of amusement and joy out of it.


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