Saturday, February 06, 2016

Hail, Caesar!

Written, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Hail, Caesar! is the story of a Hollywood fixer who tries to find a Hollywood film star who had disappeared during the production of a big Hollywood movie. The film is an exploration into 1950s American cinema as well as the world of gossip, scandals, and all sorts of shenanigans that went on in 1950s Hollywood as it is narrated by Michael Gambon. Starring George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Alden Ehrenreich, Jonah Hill, Alison Pill, and Ralph Fiennes. Hail, Caesar! is a witty and off-the-wall film from the Coen Brothers.

Set in 1950s Hollywood, the film revolves around a studio head whose job is to clean up people’s messes and make sure they’re protected by scandal where he copes with the recent disappearance of a major Hollywood star who had been abducted by a mysterious organization known as the Future. It’s a film that plays in the few days in the life of this fixer who makes sure that everything goes well as he deals with all sorts of things such as an un-wedded pregnant starlet, a cowboy film star going into costume dramas, and a job offer. The film’s screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen doesn’t just explore the turbulent life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he tries to juggle his life in work but also a family life which he is fond of despite the demands of his job. While the character of Eddie Mannix is a real-life figure who was a fixer in real-life, the situations that he encounters do play into some of the things that go on in Hollywood. Yet, what the Coen Brothers do is create some exaggerations as well as some shenanigans.

When the actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets abducted by this mysterious group, this is where the story really begins to take shape as the script also play into a world that is changing. Not just through the emergence of television and the new ideas of films that are coming but also what is happening underneath as it relates to a growing scare that would shape 1950s America. There lies this conflict of not just the world that Mannix wants to protect but also the emergence of a new world order that threatens it. Along the way, there are these characters who part of Mannix’s world that are have this public fact that people know and love but if anything about who they really are become known could be the end of them. Even as many of them might seem like these typical film stars but either they’re smarter than they actually are or are part of something bigger.

The Coen Brothers’ direction definitely owe a lot of the Golden Age of Hollywood in not just the type of films they’re presenting where many of the stars of Capitol Pictures are in. It’s also in the way the studio system was back then where they’re sort of disconnected from the real world as a way to escape from the harsh rigors of reality. Shot on location in Hollywood, the film does play like a Hollywood film that is a bit off-kilter yet manages to be very lively and full of energy. Especially in the soundstages where filmmakers and actors do their work and not worry about anything yet not everything is going great. Especially for the starlet DeeAnna Moray (Scarlett Johansson) who is coping with the early stages of pregnancy as she has trouble being in a mermaid outfit. It’s among the many quirks and bits of humor that the Coen Brothers put in as it showcases not just how silly the world of Hollywood is as it includes the kind of films that are made including a western where its lead actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) finds himself cast in a costume drama.

Many of the compositions are simple in terms of wide and medium shots as well as some close-ups where some of it play into what kind of films are being made. The Coen Brothers also play with aspect ratios where many of the films that are being made are shot in the 1:33:1 Academy aspect ratio as the widescreen format wasn’t prominent until later in the 1950s due to the advent of television. The film would also play into an intimacy into this group that Whitlock was abducted by where it also has a sense of parody into who these guys are and what they represent. Some of which would set the tone for what would come in Hollywood but not to someone like Mannix who still believes that he is doing what is right no matter what forces are coming. Overall, the Coen Brothers create a very zany yet exhilarating film about a Hollywood fixer trying to clean up some big messes amidst an ever-changing world.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the usage of grainy black-and-white film to recreate the costume drama to the array of lighting styles for the soundstages as well as some naturalistic exterior lighting for scenes in the day. Under the Roderick Jaynes alias, the Coen Brothers do some excellent work with the editing as it plays into the editing style of the times such as dissolves and some rhythmic cuts as well as some stylish cutting that would play into the suspense. Production designer Jess Gonchor, with set decorator Nancy Haigh and supervising art director Dawn Swiderski, does fantastic work with the different array of sets created for the many films in the soundstages as well as Mannix‘s office and the home of this mysterious group known as the Future.

Costume designer Mary Zophres does brilliant work with the costumes as it doesn’t just play into the period of the early 1950s from the many dresses the women wear but also some of the clothes of the men including Doyle’s cowboy get-up and the Roman period costume that Whitlock wears. Makeup artist Julie Hewett and hair designer Cydney Cornell do terrific work with the many different hairstyle of the characters that include the look of Moray as well as the look of the many women in the film including the twin gossip columnists Mannix has to deal with. Visual effects supervisors Dan Cregan, Dan Levitan, and Dan Schrecker do nice work with the visual effects for some of the set dressing for some of the exterior scenes as well as a few old-school tricks for sequences in some of the films that are being made. Sound editor Skip Lievsay and sound designer Craig Berkey do superb work with the sound from the way many of the recordings in an editing room or in a soundstage sound like to scenes outside the studio where it plays into the chaos that Mannix is dealing with. The film’s music by Carter Burwell is delightful for the many different array of music from bombastic orchestral music for the epics to country-western music for the cowboy movie or something more snazzy for the musicals as it includes original songs written with Henry Krieger and Willie Reale.

The casting by Ellen Chenoweth is phenomenal for the mass ensemble that is created in the film as it features notable small roles from Wayne Knight as a suspicious extra, E.E. Bell as a bartender in a musical number, Clancy Brown as Whitlock’s co-star, Robert Picardo as a concerned rabbi who frets over the epic movie, Alex Karpovsky as a photographer for the Future, Natasha Bassett as a starlet Mannix deals with early in the film, Christopher Lambert as a European filmmaker that is rumored to be the father of Moran’s baby, Emily Beecham as a young actress in a costume drama, Veronica Osorio as a Carmen Miranda-actress in Carlotta Valdez that Doyle is set up with for a date, and Heather Goldenhersh in a wonderful performance as Mannix’s secretary Natalie who is Mannix’s right-hand woman of sorts. In the roles of members of the Future, there are David Krumholtz, Fisher Stevens, Fred Melamed, and Patrick Fischer while John Bluthal is terrific as a philosopher who tries to convince Whitlock to join them. In the role of the Future’s leader, Max Baker is superb as the team’s leader as someone that wants to crush Capitol Studios as well as do something that would change America.

In small but very memorable roles, there’s Alison Pill in a radiant performance as Mannix’s wife who helps him decide what to do while Jonah Hill is fantastic as a man named Joseph Silverman that is willing to help out Mannix and Moran. Channing Tatum is excellent as Burt Gurney as a musical actor that is so full of charm in the way he sings and dances while also being a bit ambiguous as it relates to activities outside of acting. Frances McDormand is hilarious as the editor C.C. Calhoun as it’s a very funny one-scene appearance where McDormand helps Mannix over the fate of a film and what should be cut. Tilda Swinton is amazing in a dual role as twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker as two twin sisters who hate each other as they both try to get a story from Mannix over what is happening where one is trying to bring real news while the other wants to uncover scandal.

Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as filmmaker Laurence Larentz as this man who makes prestigious costume dramas who deals with having to work with the very inexperienced Doyle under the orders of the studio. Scarlett Johansson is great as DeeAnna Moran as this Esther Williams-type of actress who deals with being pregnant as well as being unmarried having already married twice where Johansson brings a lot of humor to her role. Alden Ehrenreich is incredible as Hobie Doyle as a singing cowboy actor who is a real cowboy as he deals with being put into a costume drama where he has trouble saying lines without his Western drawl as well as being a lot smarter than people want to believe. George Clooney is marvelous as Baird Whitlock as a leading man who gets abducted by a mysterious group where he realizes what is going on as he ponders whether to be part of this group where Clooney also gets to be funny. Finally, there’s Josh Brolin in a remarkable performance as Eddie Mannix as this fixer who tries to clean up all of the messes for a film studio while dealing with the chaos of his work where he also ponders about taking on another job as it’s Brolin in one of his best performances to date.

Hail, Caesar! is a phenomenal film from the Coen Brothers. Featuring a great ensemble cast, a witty premise, and some amazing technical work. The film isn’t just a lavish tribute to 1950s American cinema but also a hilarious take on that period that includes a funny view of the growing scare in America. In the end, Hail, Caesar! is a sensational film from the Coen Brothers.

Coen Brothers Films: Blood Simple - Raising Arizona - Miller's Crossing - Barton Fink - The Hudsucker Proxy - Fargo - The Big Lebowski - O Brother, Where Art Thou? - The Man Who Wasn't There - Intolerable Cruelty - The Ladykillers - Paris Je T'aime-Tulieres -To Each His Own Cinema-World Cinema - No Country for Old Men - Burn After Reading - A Serious Man - True Grit - Inside Llewyn Davis - The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Auteurs #9: The Coen Brothers: Part 1 - Part 2

© thevoid99 2016


ruth said...

Hi Steven! I quite enjoyed this one and I don't always say the same about the Coens' movies. I always love movies about making movies and that's perhaps why I enjoyed this a lot more. I also think this could be the Coens' most accessible film. I might review this later this week, I just had a fun time reviewing one of my faves of the year.

keith71_98 said...

Fine review Steven. I wish I had the same enthusiasm for it. I'm a HUGE Coen brothers guy but this one didn't fully click for me. Some truly great scenes and some signature witty conversations, but too much felt underserved and wedged in.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-I think of it as one of their most accessible works as I had a lot of fun watching it. Plus, I think some of the films in that movie could be made again with the right material. I'm now convinced that Channing Tatum could be this generation's Gene Kelly if he's given the right movie to do so.

@keith71_98-Thank you, I knew it was going to be a silly film from the Coens which I expected but I had a lot of fun watching it. Any film for me that passes 5 laughs or more gets a plus and I also found it intriguing considering many of the historical context about what was happening in the film.

ruth said...

I'm still not a fan of Channing but I guess he's a good dancer. Probably more of a performer than an actor, if you know what I mean. I was quite impressed by Alden Ehrenreich which was hilarious here. He and Brolin are the best performers here I think, oh and Ralph Fiennes' too, his bit w/ Alden had me in stitches!!

thevoid99 said...

Actually, I think Channing is a much better actor than people give him credit for. It's taken me a while to realize that.

Alden was impressive as I just love every scene he was in. He was a real standout and I just love what he could with a spaghetti noodle. I would definitely see him in a singing cowboy movie.