HAIL CAESAR Review — Classic Coen Kookiness

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Hail Caesar reviewBy Staci Layne Wilson and James Mandell

The Coen Brothers have done it again – made an ensemble crime caper comedy that’s pure tinsel town gold. Hail, Caesar! harkens back to Joel and Ethan’s salad days of the 90s, bringing to mind The Hudsucker Proxy and Barton Fink (and maybe a note of O Brother Where Art Thou?, which was released in 2000).

Set in the 1950s in Hollywood’s heyday, and centered around Capitol Pictures’ fixture and fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), we see what goes on behind the scenes as a plethora of pictures are all being shot on the lot at the same time. There’s a rootin’ tootin’ Western featuring cowboy crooner Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich); a drawing-room comedy of manners directed by regal Brit Laurence Lorenz (Ralph Fiennes); an ambiguously gay sailor-themed song and dance frolic headlining hoofer Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum); a synchronized swimming spectacle starring diva diver DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson); and of course – the spectacular swords-and-sandals epic, Hail, Caesar!, starring the studio’s biggest and (not) brightest, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). All is going great guns until Baird is kidnapped, held for $100,000 ransom, and Mannix has to save the day all while keeping everything under wraps.

I love the Coen’s command of the ensemble comedy. Really, nobody does it better. In addition to all the leads, there are crackling cameos by Tilda Swinton (times two, as twin-sister gossip columnists), Wayne Knight (as an extra in the title movie-within-the-movie), and Frances McDormand (as C. C. Calhoun, an editor who channels Isadora Duncan). And there’s more! It’s a who’s who of “look who that is!” at every turn.

But the ensemble is a double-edged sword, as clunky as Clooney’s gangly gladius (which allows for lots of sight-gags throughout the flick). While I did indeed enjoy the movie and will gladly see it again, I feel that some of the auxiliary cast and side-stories softened the impact of the kidnapping and cover-up. I would rather the Coens cut a few cameos and focused more firmly on Brolin and Clooney.

All in all, Hail, Caesar! is cinema well worth your time – and is sure to delight fans of old-school Coen kookiness.

Rated PG
1 Hour 45 Minutes

Get times and tickets at Fandango.com.

And here’s another Hail Caesar review from James Mandell :

The Coen Brothers long ago proved their mettle in virtually creating the Quirky Movie. From Fargo to Raising Arizona, Intolerable Cruelty to The Big Labowski, they’ve yet to meet a character they couldn’t heap a basket o’ idiosynchro-batics onto, which never fails, however lamentable, to entertain. You’re bound to walk out of a CB screening chatting up the top ten oddities you just witnessed and are usually the richer for ‘em. But they’re also somewhat of an acquired taste, and to me, that’s a measure of true artistry: expressing your creativity boldly, which makes for some wild swings.

In this wonderfully clever romp, Josh Brolin plays a beleaguered film studio chief fixer, navigating the treacherous waters of philandering stars, power-hungry gossip columnists and organized commie infiltrators on a film lot in 1951. George Clooney is the carefree star who suddenly goes missing, and a stellar supporting cast, including Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson all play juicy characters that make a Brothers C movie something A-listers crave to be called for.

Much of it was shot on the Paramount lot and it reeks of the last vestiges of the old studio system, including stage-hopping to different ongoing productions, with perfectly executed send-ups of classic song and dance, cowboy and synchronized swim numbers (hats off, Scarlett).  Not since O Brother, Where Art Thou have the guys had this much fun depicting how frantically scotch-taped together a whole system can be.

I wore a baseline grin through every minute, but was struck by how quiet the packed screening was during some hilarious scenes. I think it helps to have been fascinated by the old Hollywood – to enjoy watching a good black an’ white from the 40’s and embrace its history — to truly appreciate this look-back love letter.

There are affectionate touches everywhere, including a killer slant on some vintage film tech that nearly does (real-life Coen wife) Francis McDormand in. The central story touches on the making of a film within the film, itself a droll send-up of a Christ-on-the-Cross (with union lunch breaks) sword-and-sandal epic. But the mastery of the script and its deft direction is in the alternating brushstrokes of earnest humanity that play on our ultimately clueless, ever purposeful resolve.

HAIL CAESAR Review — Classic Coen Kookiness

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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on StaciLayneWilson.com

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