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.

hail caeser 2

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.


The Grand Budapest Hotel

Hey everyone! This week, we feature a new pair of guest writers who you will start to see more often. They’ll tackle Wes Anderson’s latest masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrian Brody, and F. Murray Abraham. It is rated R for language, some sexual content, and violence.

The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of Gustave H (Fiennes), a concierge at at a famous European hotel, and Zero Moustafa (Revolori), a lobby boy who becomes Gustave’s confident and close friend. The story revolves around the theft of a valuable, priceless painting and the battle for a family fortune, all while displaying the continually changing climate of between-war Europe.

7.5 out of 10

In 7th grade I spent a night cocooned in bed, colorful earbuds hastily shoved in, watching The Royal Tenebaums on Youtube and praying my parents wouldn’t come into my room and tell me to turn it off. I was transfixed. Since then, I’ve often cited Wes Anderson as one of my favorite directors and that admiration ended up beginning several of my most prized friendships. Needless to say, I was excited about The Grand Budapest Hotel. Back in October I watched the trailer the day it came out and talked about the film in at least 20 different conversations until it was released. Unfortunately, despite (or maybe because of) my high expectations, when I eventually walked out of the theater a couple weeks ago, I felt a bit empty and disillusioned.

To give credit where credit is due, the film was everything viewers look forward to from Wes Anderson. The production design was superb. From baby pink square boxes tied with ribbons and filled with toppling pastries, to the contrast of the candy purple uniforms in the electric red hotel, to the absurdly adorable funicular, it was all perfect and clearly meticulously planned. The humor was right on key. In one scene Zero, the film’s main character, attempts to show off his poetry skills to his mentor, M. Gustave H while in the middle of a jail break. There are witty lines slipped in throughout the film—the fabulous type that if you aren’t careful you might just miss, but if you catch it you’ll be repeating to your friends for years. However, most likely due to Wes Anderson’s ironically huge appeal as a “less know” “artistic” director that people like to brag about appreciating, the Will Ferrel-movie level of laugher in the theater ruined some of the subtly.


Despite the similarity in many regards to most of his previous work, I was excited by a couple of new ideas Wes Anderson explored in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Although I’d categorize it as a light hearted film, good for a date or family gathering, there was a ridiculous amount of death. At least seven characters with names and purposes are killed by the end, as well as five other men who pop on screen briefly, and one very fuzzy cat. In typical Wes Anderson style, none of the serious, worldly conflict is taken in the least bit seriously, and I really enjoyed that. Take it how you will, but there was something giddy-worthy about the heaviness of death being casually tossed out the window. Wes Anderson constantly reminds us not to take him seriously and therein lies the charm.

He also plays with age and time in a new and different way. The beginning and the end of the movie take place several years after the majority of the film. Many of the most vivid and exciting characters die before this later, dreary time, and so they are preserved in the excitement and beauty of the magical sub-reality. Delicate layers of age and time are created in the movie in that it starts with a girl reading a book, the author of the book is an old man, the old man was once a young man who went to a hotel, at the hotel he met an old man who was also once young, and once upon a time, when that old man was young, he had an adventure. In this way a depth is created that makes the story feel a bit like a family heirloom.

And yet, as I’ve said, I didn’t love it, which for a long time confused even me. I believe the reason is that I felt there was very little real substance to the film. There was no real emotional impact, no powerful message or intense provocation. Even the storyline was a bit hard to follow and twisted to the point of meaninglessness. One could argue that this type of story is part of Wes Anderson’s charm, and I did appreciate many aspects of this film, but, to me, you can’t wrap a pointless screenplay in a pretty pastry box and ship it out as a masterpiece.

4 out of 10

It is a common criticism levied at some modern films that a film’s trailer is more satisfying than the film itself. Generally this criticism tends to apply to lowbrow action or cheap comedy films, rather than the work of arguably one of the greatest directors of this generation. But in The Grand Budapest Hotel I believe I have found such an odd case. The trailer is sublime: it provides considerable laughs in only two minutes while hinting at a darker and intriguing side to the film. Most importantly of all, it is imbued with the striking visual style so commonly found in Anderson’s films. The world of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s style bears more resemblance to a pastry shop than to the actual world: completely filled with bright, fluffy colors. It is hardly necessary to say the trailer had me salivating for the full package.

Sadly though, what was so appealing for a little more than two minutes became tiresome after an hour. The only experience I can liken how I felt watching this movie to is a particularly misguided tasting menu I once unwisely sat through. Each course has some merit to it but they all leave you with the expectation of something richer, more exciting, more substantial to come. And though each of the ten courses seems to be teasing its arrival, the substance never actually arrives. Anderson takes on a similar journey in this movie as he guides us from beautiful scene to beautiful scene without ever giving the viewer what they want: some narrative of consequence to chew on.

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes

My other primary qualm with the movie is the casting. There have been few movies in the past few years or indeed ever with as accomplished a cast as this one. This may lead you to believe it is a good cast but it is not. Anderson seems to have managed the in some ways quite admirable task of bringing together almost ten truly class-A actors and not getting a single fantastic performance out of any of them. Ralph Fiennes is arguably the greatest disappointment. Fiennes is such an accomplished actor and has inhabited so many classic roles that it took me more than a week of reflection following seeing the movie to realize that really he is not all that suited to the role. This sad miscast mars any of the humor his character may have provided. One reprieve from the mediocrity is Tilda Swinton who does a wonderful job as a manic client of the hotel though her appearance is far too short to provide much comfort.

Tilda Swanton

Tilda Swanton

Quirkiness is rarely a bad thing in movies. In fact it is this movie’s quirkiness that makes it watchable at all. But quirkiness is not an excuse for a movie devoid of much plot or meaning. A good example is the quite casual deaths of almost the main characters in the film. Quirky? Yes. Containing any more emotional depth or nuance than the exaggerated collapse of Juliet in a middle school production of Romeo and Juliet? Sadly not. This movie begs the question of whether Anderson will ever discover the form on which he was able to combine quirk in substance in a ratio that does not leave one dissatisfied and hungry for the next course.

IMDB: 8.1
Metacritic: 88
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%