Posts Tagged ‘Coen Brothers’

Quick Review of Hail, Caesar!

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Dwight and I saw Hail, Ceaser!, the latest Coen brothers film. While I enjoyed it (like all the Coen Brothers films I’ve seen), I’ve got to rank it among their lesser films.

It’s the tale of a 1950s Hollywood studio troubleshooter (Josh Brolin, disappearing into the role as usual) trying to solve various studio problems. Aquatic star Scarlet Johansson is unmarried and preggers, a big no-no for the era. Missing a male star for a sophisticated urban romantic comedy, the studio promotes game-but-out-of-his-depths oater star Alden Ehrenreich. And in the main plotline, George Clooney, the star of the title, Ben Hur-like movie-within-a-movie, has been kidnapped (by, as it turns out (spoilers!) communists).

There’s tons of A-List talent in the film, but it’s Ehrenreich who steals the show. His apparently dim cowboy star Hobie Doyle has hidden depths, and it’s his powers of observation that actually unravel the final part of the film. (And if that’s him doing his own singing, he also has a great voice.)

Things I like about the film (more spoilers):

  • I like that Johansson’s character ends up marrying Jonah Hill’s character, as it strikes me as the sort of marriage that could work out really well. She gets “the most reliable guy in the world” instead of another bum and he gets to marry far above his league. I could totally see their characters as a Hollywood power couple and Hill taking over Brolin’s troubleshooter job 20 years down the line (assuming the office survives the end of the studio player system).
  • I like Hobie’s character arc. I’ve seen more than one writer refer to “lovable but dim Hobie,” and the people writing that are either morons or the didn’t watch the movie, which goes a long way to prove that Hobie is anything but dim.
  • I like that the Hollywood communists are actually in league with the Soviet Union.
  • I like that the commies don’t end up with the money.
  • But there are problems. One is that we don’t actually think any of our ostensible protagonists have anything at risk, and thus we don’t fear for any of the sympathetic characters. But the main problem with Hail, Caesar! is that it’s a movie with lots of swell scenes that somehow add up to less than the sum of their parts. There’s an On the Town singing-and-dancing sailors number so well choreographed and executed Gene Kelly would be proud. (Turns out that Channing Tatum is an excellent dancer.) The Ester Williams water number (complete with mechanical whale) is a jaw-dropper as well; it must have cost them several million just to stage that one scene. Those scenes are so great that the lack of real payoff for watching Naive Commie 101 Bull Sessions is all the more disappointing.

    Honestly, I think I would enjoy the Coen Brothers throwing their full weight behind doing their version of any of the imaginary movies in here more than I enjoyed Hail, Caesar! (with the possible exception of Hobie’s B-Western Lazy Old Moon; that did indeed look pretty dire). I like “watching the movie sausage get made” movies, but I think it’s much more interesting watching the sausage get made on a single film.

    Charles Portis is Still Alive?

    Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

    Evidently so, according to The New York Times, which semi-interviews and profiles him in advance of the Coen Brother’s True Grit opening.

    And if you haven’t read the original novel it’s well worth doing so. Not my favorite western (or even my favorite western made into a John Wayne movie, as Glenden Swarthout’s The Shootist edges it in both respects), but certainly in the top five. Of course, I only recently started reading Lonesome Dove, so I’m far from an expert…

    Movie Review: Winter’s Bone

    Sunday, November 28th, 2010

    Winter’s Bone
    Directed by Debra Granik
    Written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell)
    Starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Lauren Sweetser, Shelley Waggener, Ashlee Thompson, Isaiah Stone, Garret Dillahunt, Tate Taylor, Ronnie Hall

    It’s interesting that the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of True Grit (which was a very good Charles Portis novel before it was a John Wayne film) is coming out in December, since Winter’s Bone is, in many ways, much the same story. Except instead of tracking down the man who killed her paw with Rooster Cogburn, Ree has to track down her paw Jessup herself, and instead of her paw farming he cooks meth, and instead of justice she needs to bring him back because he put their house up for bond and skipped bail, and instead of 19th century Indian territory, she’s traveling deeper into the 21st century rural Ozarks. But the heroine in each case is just as strong, smart, determined, stubborn, and winning.

    The movie has been getting enthusiastic reviews across the country, and deserves them all; it’s astonishingly good. It’s also set very far away indeed from the places and people that Hollywood loves to focus on. I’ve never been through the Ozarks, but I have relatives who live in the sticks, and the details I do recognize (the trampoline, the dogs) make the rest ring true. The poverty on display here is very different from that of the urban poor, but seems just as bleak and grinding. “He’s cooking meth now,” Ree says to a friend. “They all are” she replies.

    Jennifer Lawrence’s turn as Ree is at least as good as Ellen Page’s turn as the title role in Juno, and maybe a little bit better. Not only does she have to find her father, but she has to take care of her crazy, helpless mother, her two younger siblings, cook the food, cut the lumber, and do everything else to keep her family scraping by. She needs every bit of that determination when she goes asking her daddy’s no-good friends where he is, going ever deeper into the back country to question ever-more-hostile members of her own extended family, and she knows when she’s being lied to. The deeper she goes, the darker it gets, as it begins to look likely that not only are they going to lose the house, but that her father is probably dead, and the people that killed him might be just as willing to kill her too. And yet she still keeps going, too desperate and stubborn to quit. Or just too strong. If there’s any justice in Hollywood (I knew, foolish idea), Lawrence will be an Oscar nominee.

    Another exceptionally strong performance is that of John Hawkes as Jessup’s brother Teardrop, who starts out as a frightening, scuzzy drug abuser, but by the end of the movie is…well, still a frightening, scuzzy drug abuser, but one with a strong sense of family. “To tell the truth, you always scared the hell out of me,” Ree tells him late in the film. “That’s because you’re smart,” he replies. Hawkes has been in about a hundred things, but this is a career-making turn, and another Oscar-worthy performance.

    Director Debra Granik (who co-wrote the excellent script, and of who I was completely unaware before this film came out) turns in direction worthy of her main character: strong, direct, and deeply unsentimental. There was much made of Kathryn Bigelow being the first woman to take home the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker. That Oscar was, I think, well-deserved. Winter’s Bone is a better film. I’d be astonished if it wasn’t an Oscar finalist this year, as I’m pretty sure that (sight unseen) there can’t be ten better films out this year.

    There may not be one.

    Here’s the trailer:

    And, since I mentioned it, here’s the trailer for the Coen brother’s True Grit: