Hail, Caesar!

Our first review post-Oscars is the Coen Brother’s newest feature film, Hail, Caeser! Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, and Alden Ehrenreich, it is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking.

From IMDB: Hail, Caesar! follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a Hollywood fixer for Capitol Pictures in the 1950s, who cleans up and solves problems for big names and stars in the industry. But when studio star Baird Whitlock  (Clooney) disappears, Mannix has to deal with more than just the fix.

6 out of 10

I knew something was up when this movie was set for release in February. We all knows what happens when movies are released in February. They either suck or are rom-coms. Or Deadpool (more on that next week!). Unfortunately for Hail, Caesar!, it fell into the first category. Suck may be a rather strong word, so for a Coen Brothers film with a slew of stars— Brolin, Clooney, Fiennes, Johansson, Tatum, Hill, Swinton, McDormand, to go through pretty much the entire cast— disappointing might be the most appropriate adjective. 

I will say, there are plenty of really funny moments, largely due to the commitment from the cast to the period. The period style is maintained throughout, buoyed by great costumes and production design but solidified by some really solid performances all around.The entire cast does a very good job; there is no true weak point. Everyone does a fantastic job of staying in the era and dramatizing the time period. Clooney and Fiennes were both hilarious, poking fun of the 1950s Hollywood with perfection. Tatum’s musical number was a sight to behold. Even newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, playing young movie star Hobie Doyle, holds his ground and is pretty funny in what ends up being a sizable role.

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But the acting can only get it so far; the screenplay was relatively weak, incorporating many characters who ended up being useless (namely Johansson and Hill). I kept expecting them to have something to do with the conclusion of the film, but they literally just disappeared. The plot was very scattered; there were a lot of characters without a purpose and a climax that made absolutely no sense and was uninteresting. What was the deal with communism? I still don’t understand. Hail, Caeser!’s primary issue was its failure to amount to anything as a film; the ending was not satisfying nor did it make any sense. A movie with a great cast and so much potential was ruined by its failed storyline, a shame because the Coen Brother’s are usually so good with that.

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The Coen Brothers style is prevalent, from the quirky dialogue to the signature Roger Deakins cinematography. And I personally am a huge fan of them, so the eccentric nature of the film was not unexpected. In fact, I think without that signature style, the film would have lacked any charm at all. Hail, Ceaser! is a Coen Brother’s film that is funny and decent entertainment for six dollar movie Tuesday, but not a movie that I’ll remember years from now.
~Vig

8 out of 10

The Coen Brothers are some of my favorite directors making movies today. With films like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, they make some of the most wonderfully strange and critically­ acclaimed movies in the last thirty years. Now there latest film is Hail, Caesar!, takes place in 1950s Hollywood, focusing on Josh Brolin’s character, who is the head of the fictional Capitol Pictures and his adventures. The trailers focused on the production of the film “Hail, Caesar” and their troubles as their leading man, played by George Clooney, is kidnapped by a odd group of people.

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But the film is more about a day in the life of Brolin’s character in its craziness, and moreover, the Coen Brothers’ love letter to this interesting period of cinema. Brolin links us in between incredible set pieces like Scarlett Johansson in a fantastical swimming dance and Channing Tatum in a sailor’s’ musical number. And it is quite interesting to watch. The film has been getting some mixed reviews from fans who are confused about what the movie is and its unsatisfying ending. And I did walk out wanting closure, with a few plot elements that are picked up and put down before being fully explored, but it made me thinking about the film in a way that I wouldn’t have before.

I also found myself laughing consistently throughout the film. It isn’t like normal comedy with big over the top gags, but is more understated and happens in the really quick dialogue. Many well known actors, like Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton, come in for little scenes and are hilarious in the simplicity of these characters in the overall world of the film. It also appears like really famous actors, like Brolin and Clooney, are genuinely having a really great time acting in this film.

The film is lensed by great cinematographer Roger Deakins, who once again knocks it out of the park by putting real vibrancy in the world and making the set pieces actually feel like you are watching a film in the 1950s, which is truly incredible.

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Overall, the film is definitely not the Coen Brothers best in its meandering through 1950s Hollywood, but I found myself incredibly engaged until the abrupt ending. It is another strangely structured and plotted Coen Brothers film that may have some audiences feeling sour when they leave, but is definitely not one to fully dismiss in its ambition. And being a huge fan of their offbeat style, I fully enjoyed it.
~Seth

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Foxcatcher

Up next is five time Academy Award nominee, Bennett Miller’s biographical drama Foxcatcher, based on the real life story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, and Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher is rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.

Foxcatcher follows the unique relationship of wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) and millionaire coach John du Pont (Carrell) as they train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark attempts to step out of the shadow of his more famous brother, Dave (Ruffalo), but du Pont, obsessed with victory and pride, becomes increasingly paranoid, leading to tragedy that no one could expect.

7.0 out of 10

The big buzz around Foxcatcher after its initial film festival release was Steve Carell’s stellar performance in a dramatic role. And in case you don’t know, “stellar dramatic performance” and “Steve Carell” don’t really go together. He was apparently so good that people were saying he was a shoo-in for Best Actor and that the film had a great chance at Best Picture. Yes, I did hear this chatter way back when. As you know, the film didn’t quite get there, failing to garner a Best Picture nod. This is largely due to a story structure that is unable to maintain intensity. However, largely thanks to a trio of stellar acting performances, Foxcatcher did get nominated for five Academy Awards, including two for acting and a directing nod (in the process, becoming the first film in 7 years to be nominated for Best Director but not Best Picture). 

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As mentioned, Foxcatcher has a really strong cast, anchored by Channing Tatum and supported by Steve Carell (well, according to the Academy, led by) and Mark Ruffalo, the latter two garnering Academy Award nominations. Tatum, known for rather silly roles (21 Jump Street, Magic Mike) or cheesy romantic roles (Dear John, The Vow), really steps into his own as Mark Schultz. He has so much determination and his character’s transformation throughout the film is evident. Ruffalo, looking totally sporting a shaved head and full beard, is at the top of his game, portraying Mark’s caring brother David as genuinely as possible

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Then there’s Carell, who has completely transformed his image with this one film. I recently watched The 40 Year Old Virgin and re-watched a few episodes of “The Office” and my goodness, how different he is. Not only is his physical transformation incredible (shout-out to Makeup and Hairstyling!!!), but his mentality is incredible. To be frank, he is a complete psychopath (as the character requires). It is not hard to be seduced by John du Pont’s false persona, one that feigns support and kindness, only making Carell’s dive in absolute insanity even more dramatic and intense to watch. Probably his greatest acting performance ever, though I say with complete seriousness that it might be a step below his turn as Michael Scott

Now, despite those incredible performances, Foxcatcher was unable to remain interesting for the entire duration of the film. It is broken up into three parts, the first an exposition that is understandably slow, the second of which is the Olympics and fall of Schultz, and the third of which rushes into a frantic, emotionally dense ending.

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The shift between the three parts was a bit rushed, without any build up to slur them together. For example, du Pont’s shift to absolute insanity was entirely implied rather than illustrated. In real life, du Pont did some really bizarre things. He apparently burned a den of baby foxes alive and drove around in a tank on his estate, with allegations of sexual abuse flying around everywhere. But none of this was really used in Foxcatcher, even though it could have made du Pont even crazier, making the middle section of the film all the more engaging.

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Ultimately, Foxcatcher is hindered by its poor pacing, focusing too much of the film on establishing a dark, brooding tone. And this dense, admittedly interesting tone ultimately isn’t enough to make up for the lack of progress in the story. It’s rather stale for a long period of time and nothing exciting really happens till the very ending, which (without spoiling) is tragic, and an exciting conclusion to an otherwise dull movie. However, there’s no denying the strength of the strong acting trio of Tatum, Carell, and Ruffalo. Even Sienna Miller, my new favorite actress, is in it! Yet, with such inconsistent pacing, it’s hard to label Foxcatcher as anything but a disappointment, especially with all the potential it had.
~Vig

7.0 out of 10

I have to admit I was a little surprised when Oscar nominations came out and Foxcatcher was not among the tiles contending for Best Picture. It had certainly generated the requisite Oscar buzz with winning performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, and it scored a pair of high profile nominations with Carell for Best Actor and Benet Miller for Best Director (the issues in that category are for a whole other discussion). Personally I don’t think Foxcatcher deserved to be nominated, but it certainly has some merit as a dark and cautionary film.

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Thematically it is very similar to Whiplash, a Best Picture nominee and personal favorite, in that it tackles the merits and pitfalls of controlling and abusive student-mentor relationships. We see a controlling, strong personality in John Du Pont, played by the surprisingly capable Steve Carell, contrast with the weak and underdeveloped personality of Mark Schulz, played by the surprising Channing Tatum. Despite these differences at the core of each character we also see a need to impress others and to fulfill familial expectations, a quality which bonds them but then ultimately drives them apart as Du Pont ventures further and further into the deep end.

These two performances were really what drove the movie. It was a joy to see Carell excel at a dramatic role, and he certainly deserves his Oscar nomination (though he has virtually no chance of winning and personally I think he should have been placed in the Supporting Actor category). Normally Carell is pigeonholed as the ridiculous, awkward guy in comedy films and shows, a role that he is suited for but that limits his talents as an actor. I know a lot of people who aren’t big fans of his, but I think he was exceptional in “The Office” and hilarious in Anchorman, and I sincerely hope that directors will take notice of Carell’s work and continue to cast him in dramatic roles. He certainly exceled at his creepy, off-color role as John Du Pont.

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Channing Tatum was also quite exceptional. His performance was incredibly convincing as Mark Schulz, the manipulated wrestler living in the shadow of his brother’s Olympic glory; it was so convincing in fact that I almost forgot that this is the same man who walked out of a limo at prom with doves flying out behind him in 21 Jump Street. Credit the filmmakers for taking the risk to cast comedic actors in a dramatic film.

Where I lost interest in the film was its pacing. Yes, Du Pont’s manipulation and controlling of Mark required significant buildup, but the third act of the film, it’s climax, was far too short and too rushed. The first two acts were almost entirely dedicated to building the film’s tone, a brooding and dark atmosphere, but I think it was significantly enough established within the first third. I really wish Miller had shortened the middle and drawn out the end.

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Perhaps the most disappointing aspect about this movie is that it left me with wistful thoughts of what could have been. I went home after watching the film (at Garden Cinemas, which for those of you in the massive readership haven’t been there is by far the best theater in the area, though there is some occasional noise leakage from screen to screen) and searched up some information on the real story. I found that Du Pont was even more deranged and even crazier than then film depicted. Normally we criticize Hollywood for exaggerating history, but in this case Miller went the other way. In reality, Du Pont drove a tank equipped with a machine gun across his property. He attempted to sexually assault a few of his students. He blew of a den filled with baby foxes. He paid his wrestlers to check for ghosts in the attic. Where was this in the movie? Including these elements and eliminating that dragging middle could certainly have made Foxcatcher the final Best Picture nominee of the year.
~Will

22 Jump Street

All hail the return of Korean Jesus! Up next is the highly anticipated 22 Jump Street, sequel to the popular 2012 comedy 21 Jump Street. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, it features Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube. It is rated R for strong language, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence.

After the events of the first film, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) take on their next task when they go deep undercover at a local college. However, the two begin to question their partnership after Jenko befriends a kid on the football team, and Schmidt invades the Bohemian art major scene. Now, before solving the case, they have to figure out whether they can even have a mature relationship.

6 out of 10

I came to this movie having just sat through, or perhaps more appropriately, suffered through the James McAvoy film Filth and was thus in serious need of an amusing experience to lift my spirits. Fortunately, that is exactly what I found in 22 Jump Street, a movie that although it does not hit the same heights as the original, is a very suitable follow-up full of gags. 22 Jump Street is a movie made completely for the viewer. You may reasonably question what I mean by this: aren’t all films made to be watched? Yes, but sometimes, especially during my viewing of Filth, I question whether the director is really doing this for the viewer or is simply indulging his or her own artistic fancies. There is no question of this in 22 Jump Street. It delivers exactly what you want, comedy, while filling in the rest with serviceable plot and character development and some bold action sequences. Whereas in the first film the best comedic moments came from the parody of modern high school culture, here I found the biggest laughs in the jokes parodying the original and the film itself. This gave the film a refreshing lighthearted mood. The director seemed to be saying that yes the premise is ridiculous and everyone knows it, so let’s just enjoy the ride.

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That said this was not a classic movie. Sure you could argue it wasn’t ever trying to be, but even within the realm of lighthearted comedies this is not a standout entry. It does everything fine, but it doesn’t do anything amazingly or even particularly cleverly. To be fair, I was chuckling throughout but no single joke took longer than a split-second for me to fully grasp. This is just standard fare for Hill and though the setting and characters may be different, this is effectively the same humor he has been dealing in since Superbad 7 years ago. Honestly, Hill. Rogen and co. could probably have written the script for this movie in a single afternoon.

Another grievance I have with the film is that it doesn’t really say anything important. One trend that I really admire in modern cinema is seemingly simple movies with some moral message. Pixar has done this for decades but now every studio seems to be getting in on the moral action. But beyond the obvious truth that modern sequels tend to be derivative of the original, this movie lacked a basic message.

But I do not want to disparage this movie too much. It is a fun ride and if you enjoyed the first entry you will find more than enough to entertain you. And arguably more importantly, it didn’t ruin the legacy of the great first entry even if it could not reach its heady heights.
~Nic

8 out of 10
Here’s the short version:
I like 21 Jump Street. 22 Jump Street is 21 Jump Street. Therefore, I like 22 Jump Street.Ah, damn! I still have to write a whole review though so here’s the four to five hundred word version:The very best part of 22 Jump Street is that its shining moments are not exact, carbon-copies of 21 Jump Street. There’s definitely a bit of originality there. But the worst part (And its not exactly awful) is that a lot of its jokes use the same blueprints as 21 Jump Street.21 Jump Street (The drama) was about two narcs solving crimes at schools (After agitating them, of course). 21 Jump Street (The movie) was about making fun of the old T.V. show and then some. It expanded its horizons into the movie industry in general.22 Jump Street is about…making fun of the old T.V. show and then some. Its (Right down to some hilarious cameos and satisfying meta-humor) the same concept. Same plotline. Mainly the same characters and some of those “Have I seen that before?” jokes that comedy sequels are unusually good at churning out.

But I still laughed. And, by God, that is what I’m measuring this by. It may have the same designs but it has just enough variety in its execution that comedies like The Hangover 2 don’t have. It’s also self-aware. Self-awareness really carries this one: this movie knows exactly what it is versus what it’s expected to be. The very best example of this comes right before the end credits when we get hit with a barrage of potential sequel clips; each plagued with the usual cliches that we’ve forgotten we’ve all (Regrettably) paid to see before.

Yet another thing that carries this movie is the relationship between our two stars: Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. If I’m not mistaken, these two are actually friends in real life which doesn’t surprise me very much. I’m just as invested in our leads as ever and you oddly continue to care about their friendship (But not too much that it oversteps its bounds).

And because you’re so invested, there’s another thing that (Again, surprisingly) works: the action. I swear to God that I care more about the action that happens in 21 and 22 Jump Street than 90% of the blockbuster action films I have seen in between the two. The action is actually good. It’s not the whole movie but it’s entertaining enough so that you don’t stop caring.

In conclusion, 22 Jump Street is worth it. If you’re willing to cope with the deja vu and the same structure as before then you’ll certainly enjoy the bits of original execution it has to offer. Would I like to see a sequel or two? I know better than to trust Hollywood with such a daunting task as making a good comedy three-quel but why not?

Just keep Ice Cube involved somehow.
~Zach

IMDB: 7.2
Metacritic: 71
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%