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

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Hey there viewers! We’re back today with the much anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron. Directed by Joss Whedon and starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth, the film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.

Avengers: Age of Ultron follows the creation of artificial intelligence by Tony Stark in hopes to keep the peace. However, when things go awry with the robot, named Ultron (James Spader), Earth’s Mightiest Heroes must stand up to the task of taking him down and keeping the world safe.

7.0 out of 10

Both Screenwars and Joss Whedon’s highly anticipated blockbuster release, Avengers: Age of Ultron, are back and ready for action after a productive siesta – albeit the robot-crushing crew are better prepared for earth-threatening battle…

But regardless of Screenwars’ aptitude in fighting the Marvel supervillain, the Avengers are still subject to our critique; instead Zach and I suit up with word processors, thinking caps, and a family sized bag of Doritos to battle our nefarious nemesis – a film review.

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Age of Ultron certainly lived up to the visual expectations of its prequel, and again the film crew put on a fabulously flashy show of special effects that depicted everything from the glistening and idyllic Stark Tower to the wasted war zones of Eastern Europe. Hundreds of metal clad (yet surprisingly fragile) robots were brought to life on top of a flying city where a hulking green giant and magically gifted twins, among other incredulous beings, energetically battle as the entire setting crumbles to pieces. In all, Avengers is again a successfully exciting example of special effects that won over the audience’s fixated gaze for a lengthy two hours and twenty-one minutes – which is however, quite the movie marathon.

The plot of the film certainly lent itself towards the movie’s entertaining qualities as well. The very beginning of the film dropped you right into the action, picking up again where Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off with the Avengers attempting to finish off the resurgent forces of Hydra. Without giving away much… the movie progresses and leaves few opportunities for viewers to become bored or be prompted with questions, and in between the fighting scenes sit well delivered jokes and jibes, including the amusing gaffe were the other Avengers, try as they might, are unable to pick up Thor’s hammer. The plotline is nuanced enough to yank the audience into the story, yet it does not require any quantum mechanics-esq thinking to understand the events. Not long after the avengers assemble, Ultron makes his grand and violent first appearance.

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As Marvel villains have come and gone from their big screen spotlights, they adhere to a rough character template where they exact frightening but obviously fictional harm against humanity; rarely do these costumed villains establish real fear in the hearts of movie-goers with their predictable evil-doer monologues. However Ultron became the first villain to cause a stir in my gut, and a quiver in my popcorn clenched hands. James Spader’s metallic and penetrating voice struck the audience; the modulation of his tones created a character devoid of compassion or feeling. The performance was ice-cold, and the spooky, partially burned iron-man mask of his first iteration paired up with the voice acting created a truly haunting character. The evil plan, although typically merciless and far fetched, was helmed by a daunting, truly scary Ultron, whose later robot forms are progressively crueler looking and wield glowing red eyes that channel the lava-like contempt and hatred from within this villain.

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Although I found the enemy to be actually frightening for a change, this chilling nature of his also made the struggle between the heroes and Ultron more compelling. Never before was the righteous path of the beloved Marvel heroes so important and so necessary; the heartlessness and fear-inducing persona of their opponent demanded victory for humanity. The makers of the Avengers did not disappoint, and their efforts created a thrilling and entertaining spectacle out of an often ordinary and only moderately eventful Friday evening. Of course, Age of Ultron is no fine art; instead it is the graphic graffiti to the Mona Lisa, or the skateboard routine to the ballet dance concert. You won’t depart the theater with great wisdom or any novel realizations… but you will be windswept from one hell of a ride.
~Simon

7.5 out of 10

Disney has some great high-class problems going this week: it failed to live up to it’s two hundred and ten million dollar opening by only coughing up a measly two hundred million dollar opening, an issue which we all can relate to I’m sure. Sucks right?

Alas, Age of Ultron (The long-awaited sequel to the first Avenger’s installment) is still a thumper of a film when it comes to the stats: it’s maintained its number one slot on the box office mast for two weeks now and, if the overseas numbers are any indicator, it won’t be leaving there in the next century.

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So, while Disney’s CEOs decide whether they’ll buy yachts or 747s, let us determine how well Mr. Joss Whedon has fared in his latest comic adaption. In my humble opinion, pretty well.

By pretty well, I mean it wasn’t exactly earth shattering. It wasn’t the universe-quaking sequel portrayed by those dark teaser trailers nor was it quite the “Empire Strikes Back”-esque darker chapter Whedon claims he was going for; it was more of the same thing and it was fun. By the end of the movie, we’re pretty much exactly where we were at the end of the last Avengers.

AOSTA, ITALY - MARCH 24: Jeremy Renner is seen filming on location for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy.  (Photo by Photopix/Getty Images)

This was pretty much a carbon copy of every Marvel film. I won’t bother to detour from spoilers because, if you know Marvel’s well-played formula, you know exactly how this will end. There’s a goofy yet intimidating villain, a romantic tease with Black Widow, some cool Iron Man technology, Hulk smashing his teammates, Cap. being folksy, Thor being epic, and Tony Stark (Who has basically become a one-liner machine) giving up the suit it. Of course, there’s table setting. Oh, yes, buster, there’s more table setting than ever. You better get used to it.

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But absolutely nothing’s wrong with the list above, especially if your expectations are properly calibrated. If anything, it’s all done even better than in the first go-around. This time, it feels like a story and not just a shopping list of plot points. There are great scenes of our characters just hanging around and interacting (Whedon has such an excellent grip on these guys, by the way) and said heroes fall neatly into their natural roles in the team. Whereas the first felt somewhat fragmented, this felt like a multipart comic book with just a little chop in some of the action sequences but nothing that detracts too much.

There’s still some odd stuff in there however. It feels a few rewrites away from ascending to an excellent level status definitely. There’s a bit of a shoehorned romance between two of our heroes and some weird little detours in the story and tone that don’t get much resolution. The new characters are a little hit and miss with Vision being the ace in the hole and the “enhanced” (Fox owns the word ‘mutant”. Sorry, Disney.) twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, being just okay. The former doesn’t quite measure up to the Fox’s X-Men version’s enjoyability but thatt’s a bit of an unfair comparison.

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I find myself saying this with more and more Marvel movies but, if you don’t care for the usual Marvel formula, sit this one out. Otherwise, you’re in for some more terrific Avengers antics and more than enough sequel-teasing.

Still waiting on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 though.
~Zach

What did you think of the newest fixture in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe? Feel free to let us know in the comment section below.

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

This week we’ll be tackling the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest feature, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson, it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gun-play and action.

The next installment in the Marvel Universe involves Captain America (Evans) and Black Widow (Johansson) carrying out an array of missions for SHIELD with the help of the Captain Nick Fury (Jackson). However, as the movie carries on, it becomes apparent that something isn’t right with the organization. Old enemies return, alliances are tested and the captain must survive with constantly shifting circumstances, with the mysterious force of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) breathing down his neck.

9.5 out of 10

Marvel’s most recent fixture is bigger and badder than anything we’ve seen to this point. It’s a 2 hour, 15 minute roller coaster ride that keeps you engaged and on the edge of your seat the entire time.

Captain America: The First Avenger was pretty terrible. It was boring, the action was cheesy, and overall, the connection to Captain America he is known so well for having was missing. Steve Rogers is a character we’re all supposed to be able to empathize with and the first one failed to make his story captivating enough for us. The second one, despite him no longer being a scrawny, regular man, makes it easier for us to enjoy his story. It isn’t ruined by poor pacing and a fruitless plot. Everyone has been in a place where they don’t belong; we can empathize with his struggles of trying to fit in with a completely new time period. We can’t quite say we can understand, but we feel bad for him. And that’s what makes this movie so good. We want Captain America to win, and we feel great everytime he succeeds, and we’re scared everytime he gets knocked down. He’s an extremely likeable character, unlike Thor and Iron Man with their cockiness.

That’s enough with all the analytical, meaningful bullcrap; the real fun in this movie is in its action and integration with the Marvel Universe. Like I said earlier, this movie is a fast-paced ride from beginning to end. The action sequences are well-choreographed, and as a result, a lot of fun to watch. The car chase scene with Nick Fury is extremely badass. The character of the Winter Soldier? Badass. Black Widow? Badass, if used in the right context. The whole movie is a lot of badassness if you ask me. The comedy is not excessive either. It wasn’t forced or overused like it was in Thor 2, nor was it radically underused like the first Captain America. The above average writing mixed with the immensely enjoyable action is what made this movie so good.

One of the arising worries many are experiencing about the Marvel Universe is the introduction of so many excessive characters that it just becomes too overwhelming. That could have easily become a problem with the debut of two dynamic characters in Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). However, the characters are so nicely constructed that it’s not a problem. The Winter Soldier was undoubtedly my favorite character in the film. He was dark and vicious, yet still showed signs of humanity throughout, which kept him relevant. Not to mention, Black Widow actually wasn’t a boring, irrelevant character just there for her sex appeal in this one. She was actually pretty freaking cool. I applaud you, producers!

This story did something Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 could not do; it moved the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward. Its plot was fresh and relevant, allowing it to be a good film even without the superhero part attached to it. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t say anything further, but it was a huge risk taken that will really pay out in the long run for MCU, setting up new villains, new heros, and new plot lines that can be explored and utilized in many future Marvel movies.

Overall, this movie is probably my favorite Marvel film so far. It is fun, relevant, action-packed and accomplishes an overarching goal that makes the Marvel universe more interesting than ever before. God Bless You Captain America 2.

9 out of 10

A couple of months ago (While talking Thor 2), I talked about my fear over the fact that the Marvel Universe could very well be spending these next few years spinning its wheels until we get to Avengers 2. Phase I played out more like a solid drum roll while Phase II is just running the clock with very cool, but unsubstantial, stuff to keep us occupied until Joss Whedon finishes, well, whatever he’s doing in Seoul.

But The Winter Soldier really killed it here. It became the best movie of Phase II by leaps and bounds and managed to occupy a spot (Probably fourth or so) on the top five Marvel movies ever (Not just the Disney ones). It moved the universe forward, built up more suspense, yet also managed to satisfy and keep me excited for the time being in the best way possible.

Let’s start with Cap. and the rest of the gang. Cap. has it bad when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Not as bad as Hawkeye. Wherever he was during this, though.). He was probably the least fleshed out of the Avengers members and doesn’t get a lot of good material since his only plight is, as Tony Stark put it so eloquently, being a “Capcicle”. The Winter Soldier knows full well that Cap. is a boy scout and builds the story around it. In fact, he’s less of a boy scout and more of a regulator and a judge, somebody who has to involve himself in SHIELD’s clandestine activities while also trying not to become Nick Fury Jr.

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Captain America (Chris Evans)

That is, after all, what makes The Winter Soldier so great. It has a lot underlying political stuff without being heavy handed. Cap’s struggle against whether surveillance is right may be relevant but its not entirely topical which puts it a tier below The Dark Knight which dealt with similar issues.

The surveillance stuff doesn’t just work on a thematic level but also on a story level. Without giving too much away, the fear that the characters are being under constant watch gives this a sort of claustrophobia and grants the story with a sense that our heroes are being gradually cornered. As Vig brought up to me a while back, the Marvel Universe seems to be giving us a ton of villains while slowly killing off or retiring the good ol’ good guys. I hardly think it’ll be anything that sinister but, if it’s handled well, it could definitely lead to a universal plot point that could trump all plot points.

The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)

The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)

The Winter Soldier pulls a lot of big big moves off smoothly while keeping all of the action pretty small scale. No cities are really torn through, just a couple of SHIELD bases yet this managed to excite me for the next Marvel Installment more than any of the previous ones. As always, keep it coming, Marvel, I (Along with DC) would love to see if you could keep this up.

IMDB: 7.8
Metacritic: 70
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Her

The 4th Best picture nominee that we’ll be taking a look at is Spike Jonze’s Her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson, this sci-fi romance is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.

Her explores the life of depressed, recently divorced writer, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) who decides to buy the new ‘OS1’; an operating system with a conscious. Theodore slowly finds himself falling in love with Samantha (Johansson), his operating system. Samantha struggles with all these new emotions she has never experienced before, while also trying to come to terms with being nothing more than a computer. On the other hand, Theodore finds himself both joyful and doubtful with himself and his relationship with an OS.

9 out of 10

As I’ve displayed before, I have the tendency to get excited by movies based on the trailers alone, and Her is a prime example of this. And more often than not, I tend to be disappointed by the movie. Thank goodness Her was not one of these movies.

I’ll get the more literal aspects of the film out of the way first. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a tremendous performance as the conflicted Theodore Twombly, and could have easily earned a Best Actor nominee if the race wasn’t so stacked this year and if he hadn’t… Completely trashed the Academy Awards a year ago. Likewise, leading lady Scarlett Johansson was phenomenal in her voice only role as Samantha. Even though we can’t see her, we can feel and understand her struggle. It’s real. The screenwriting has been heralded and with good reason. The story is innovative and creative, and the dialogue is beautifully written, yet human.

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It’s really hard to describe the beauty of this film. The direction, specifically the artistic direction, is absolutely stunning and I’m honestly kind of disappointed that Spike Jonze didn’t get a Best Director nod for this. Visibly, the film is gorgeous. Yes, the brilliant color scheme filled with oranges, reds, and yellow did have a purpose. It contributed to the warm mood of the entire movie. When the colors changed and became darker and more drained, so did the tone. Jonze uses the colors for the purpose of setting a tone, which is extremely important in a film such as this one, as it relies on emotions, both characters’ and audience’s, in order to succeed.

That’s another thing this movie does so well with; evoking emotions. It’s such a deep film, and somehow something we can all connect to, whether you’re older and in love, or younger and ignorant. Being a teenage boy, I can proudly say my only love has been with my phone and my Playstation, but I still manage to connect with this film. In this new future that Jonze has wonderfully created, technology is so important. Theodore Twombly relies on Samantha to check his email, schedule meetings, and later on, forget about his loneliness. In today’s world, where people are so enamored with technology, it’s not hard to actually make a connection with this movie, even if you are a teenager like me.

Though I loved the movie, it still had it flaws. At around 90 minutes, I admittedly found myself a little bored at the 90 minute mark, and that’s because the movie doesn’t really have a concrete structure (meaning it doesn’t have a set introduction, climax, conclusion, etc). It’s more allegorical, as it’s one of those films meant to inspire and send a message rather than present a compelling story. This is not a movie that will appeal to everyone (even though I said everyone can connect to it), and it’s not unlikely that you could get bored by the movie. It does tend to repeat itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this movie pointless—it’s not—it’s just trying to get a different type of point across.

The relevance of this movie to you is based on how much you can individually connect to it. If you aren’t fond of the emotional, heart-gripping stuff, I’m not so sure this movie is for you. I would still recommend you check it out, because it is a fresh new perspective of love and the technologically oriented 21st century, told in a beautiful, eye opening fashion.
~Vig

7 out of 10

(NOTE: Some parts of this review may seem harsh but, at this point of the year, I’ll be grading it in comparison with its fellow nominees. AKA. The score is weighted.)

Last week, I joked at the end of the review about having not seen “the movie about that guy who falls in love with Siri”. Cruel as that description may sound, I’m also 100% sure that that exact sentiment went through your head when you first saw the trailer for this. Whether it remained there permanently or shifted over time is your own choice. You know that. I know that.

But, most shockingly, the Spike Jonze and his entire crew understood that. And he usually pinpoints the exact moments where it should be joked about perfectly. Thank God for self-awareness. I could easily see this film fading into oblivion at any random, pretentious film-fest.

Here, though, the self-awareness swiftly saves it from that but that doesn’t necessarily excuse some of the other shortcomings of the movie. Let’s start with the positive then ease into the negative (I love a good flatlining just as much as any amateur critic).

First off, it’s a beautiful film. Shot in a mix of Shanghai and Los Angeles, it occupies a unique backdrop while remaining self contained (Just like any other provoking movie should). It’s muted colors and use of shades often reinforce the feelings of emptiness and isolation. Yet, as the love story develops, it unloads a barrage of colorful shots while also managing to mix some natural settings beside its urban habitat.

We also get some great work between Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix here. Joaquin has to do plenty of scenes alone, in complete silence but actually says more than any lines written in could. Johansson faces a similar situation; she has to utilize only her voice for this and she still has a presence. Even in scenes where she isn’t involved, Siri (It’s actually Samantha but this my review darnit!) has a positive attitude that influences Joaquin’s character so much that it still weighs over every scene he’s in alone.

But, as great as those great things are, it still managed to offset me somehow. I didn’t leave this movie thinking “Wow! That HAS to win!” but I also didn’t quite leave it profoundly impacted either and part of that is that the movie opens up a can of worms that it really didn’t need to.

Her would’ve done an impeccable job if it had stuck to an analyzation of either modern relationships (Like 500 Days of Summer) or of how technology gives us a false comfort (Even in a somewhat dystopian fashion). I have no doubt it could do both and it tries to, but also piles on an existential layer that really seemed off to me. Hollow in that fill-in-the-blank, do-it-yourself great movie way.

Yes, Siri’s search for humanity felt somewhat misplaced to me. Joaquin’s character should have taken up way more time, development and exertion than that plot. Instead, we get a repetitive cycle of fights between him and Siri.

And because it spends so much time with those weaker more out of place scenes, I didn’t quite get the impact that I wanted in the final quarter or so and that confined the movie to being lukewarm rather than red hot. No matter how good a first lap can be, all it takes is a couple of seconds to lose the lead.

But should you not see it? No. It’s very worth seeing, it just might not be as great of an experience as its factors set it up for.

I really wish I could place my feelings about it more but I’m still developing over it, even now. Who knows? Maybe it may click and all make sense for me at a random moment. But, for now, its trailing a bit in the Best Picture race.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 90 
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%