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.

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.


Inherent Vice

Up next is a look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s next feature film, Inherent Vice. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, and Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice is rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.

In 1970, drugged up Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) investigates the dissappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, only to stumble into more trouble than he originally thought he would encounter.

4.0 out of 10
I have dedicated 18 hours of my life to the movie Inherent Vice. 6 hours waiting in line to see it at New York Film Festival, 2 and a half hours seeing it, 2 hours reading the beginning of the book, 4 hours watching movies that were used for inspiration (The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep), 2 and a half hours seeing the movie when it was released in theaters, and an hour skimming the screenplay afterwards. Why? Because I love Paul Thomas Anderson and I really wanted to love Inherent Vice (Spoiler alert: I didn’t).

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The first night that I saw Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson (man, myth, and legend) introduced the movie himself, along with the entire cast. He introduced his film as a “Saturday night movie” and told us to “kick back and relax”. That is the worst advice he could have given. This movie requires a a pencil, a notepad, and NO bathroom breaks if you want to know what is going on. If I am being totally honest I still only have a broad understanding of the plot. I do, however, understand where PTA is coming from. In the movies that inspired Inherent, The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep, there are so many characters mentioned and so many events happening so fast that the audience only really keeps up with the basic plot of the movie instead of the case itself because of the rock that was the protagonist (in both cases, also a wise-cracking PI). The reason these movies succeeded and Inherent did not is because there was no anchor. Doc is emotional, drug abusing, and has a friend that disappears (???). His character is the looking glass the viewer sees the movie through, making us feel vulnerable and confused. The protagonists of the movies PTA was trying to emulate were very solid, making the movies solid.

Starting from the first scene I had no idea what was going on. There was a narration and then Katherine Waterston’s character mumbled through the set-up of the entire movie and left. After that there are Nazis, mental hospitals, and disappearing friends (???) for two and a half hours. In every single scene a new motive or character is introduced which gets hard to keep track of from the get-go. PTA has called this the kind of movie you might need to see twice, which I think is complete bullshit because that is not a kind of movie, it’s just bad filmmaking.

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Inherent Vice isn’t all bad though! The giant cast is without a bad performance, especially Josh Brolin who was absolutely brilliant as a “civil rights violating” cop whose partner’s death left him bitter. Most importantly though, it’s, of course, beautifully shot by Robert Elswit on 35mm. I could genuinely watch it on mute just for the visuals. There is a 470 foot dolly shot following doc and chasta (Katherine Waterson) running through the rain that gave me goosebumps both times I saw it in theaters and all of the times I’ve watched the scene on youtube.

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Every director has a dud. This is PTA’s dud. But being the actual genius he is, he will dust himself off and dazzle us all with his next movie. That is to say, Inherent Vice has not turned me off of Paul Thomas Anderson and agreeing with me shouldn’t turn you off of his work either.

PS: After writing this review I’ve now spent 19 hours of my life on Inherent Vice.

6.0 out of 10

There are some movies that just kind of chug along as though there’s no audience to please: they’re usually inhabited by some wacky characters that fit the pace as well and the plot takes several detours on its way to a (maybe) unsatisfying destination. These types of films truly never fail to earn my begrudging respect as you almost kind of have to like it when the creators of a movie just kind of…went without one care in the entire, whole wide, increasingly critical world. Usually though, there’s but one factor that can make these slower endeavors at least somewhat enjoyable to me: style.

Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice.

And Inherent Vice has got itself some style. Definitely a weird style but it’s the quantity of style plenty of movies sorely lack nonetheless so I guess the question of this review is largely whether it scraped enough style together to create an enjoyable experience. Before we dive in, I’ll go over the plot as best as I possibly can:

Private Investigator Doc Sportello has to deal with a series of odd cases that are tied together through one mysterious criminal organization called the Golden Fang. He is eventually forced to navigate himself through the seedier underbellies of Los Angeles to get to the bottom of all these issues. Doc encounters a slew of oddball characters in an onslaught of resulting strange events and additionally starts to revamp his relationship with his ex-wife Shasta along the way.

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That’s kind of the best I can do. I’m not even trying to shield you from spoilers too too much, it’s just a film that dips into a lot of events and characters with differing levels of success. In all honesty, I’d probably need to give this all a second go-around to give you a more detail-rich synopsis which I am honestly unwilling to do because this whole two hour and twenty eight minute crime-comedy-mystery-drama-romance-amalgam was just so incredibly taxing.

So, let’s keep this complex movie simple, shall we? Was it good? Like many people who saw it, I’m not too crazy about it but I didn’t think it was bad either. Like I said before, the only thing that can save a movie that simply does not care is style and this film had quite a distinct taste and modus operandi that (as far as I’ve heard) fit its eponymous source material accurately. Its strange characters are pretty memorable and well-portrayed as well and I’d rather have notable characters in a winding plotline than a series of bland ones in a tight plotline.

But around the third plot pit-stop, I started to get, for lack of a better word, pissed. Yes, I said it can be admirable when a movie just kind of goes but there is an audience and they have shelled out an $11.50 to watch your film so, please, put a bottleneck on the amount of stories you intertwine with your protagonist’s! Seriously, every time I started to like a well-crafted character during this, another one popped up to take his place. The story (ies?) got ridiculously crowded and any coherence sought out suffocated under the film about one fourth of the way through.

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If you’re incredibly (incredibly) tolerant to a writer or director’s whim and you’re willing to afford a movie a lot of wandering because of how well-done it can be, Inherent Vice is the one for you. But if you want a story that beelines to an exact conclusion with calculated characters, don’t dig through the case files of Mr. Doc Sportello.