Archive for March, 2016


HailCaesar-1The Coen Brothers have now ascended to that special realm of film royalty for film buffs everywhere. It is a realm which grants their work a certain level of excitement, with many of us simple followers looking on at their next film as another potential masterpiece. It is a realm which now grants them a certain level of safety from critics, as the thought of the Brothers making a bad film is something that is inconceivable to many. It makes going in to Hail, Caesar! an interesting experience; I had probably subconsciously already decided I liked this film even before going in. And I do, it offers the Brothers at their campiest and produces both a hilarious satire and a touching homage to Golden Age Hollywood (I’m a sucker for anything set in the Hollywood of old). Yet while it is enjoyable, it probably should serve as a reminder that not everything the Coens touch turns to gold.

The year is 1951. Josh Brolin stars as Eddie Mannix, head of physical production at Capitol Pictures (the same fictional studio in Barton Fink). Not only must he deal with a number of large scale pictures at once, he must also wrangle the big personalities found amongst the cast and crew. While he contemplates a job offer at a sensible airline company, Mannix must also seek to find movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who has been kidnapped from the set of his latest prestige picture, biblical epic Hail, Caesar!, by a group known only as ‘The Future.’  HailCaesar-2

The plot is one that is made up of many character threads intertwining all around the focus point of Brolin’s Mannix. Hail, Caesar! sees the Coens once again work with an ensemble cast populated by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Throughout the film, we have turns from the likes of Scarlett Johansson as an actress pregnant out of wed-lock, Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly-esque musical star, and Ralph Fiennes as a well-mannered high-class English director. Everyone on board the cast clearly had a wonderful time in less exposed roles, allowing them to forge memorable moments throughout without having to carry the weight of the narrative on their shoulders.

Much of the weight of the narrative falls to Brolin, whose Mannix must deal with a number of situations at the studio, with Whitlock’s kidnapping being simply another thorn in his side. It provides Brolin with a character that allows him to display his strengths as a performer, as he is a man capable of providing charm, intimidation and confidence. Even if the character himself is a bit bland, it is a terrific performance. Clooney once again plays a Coen nitwit after turns in the likes of O Brother and Burn After Reading, as his movie star spends company in the time of ‘The Future’, who may or may not have a Communist Agenda. The HailCaesar-3highlights of a cast which also includes fleeting appearances from Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jonah Hill, are Fiennes in an excellent comedic turn and bright new star Alden Ehrenreich as a fresh faced cowboy actor forced to star in pictures out of his comfort zone (the scene between Fiennes and Ehrenreich is likely to go down as the funniest of the year).

The narrative of Hail, Caesar! is by far its weakest point, as the proceedings are very loosely sketched together in-between extended moments of homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It would be a problem, if it were not for the pitch-perfect casting and the impeccable means in which Joel and Ethan have re-created filmic styles of the post-war Hollywood period. The film at its centre, the epic Hail, Caesat! is a wonderful pastel-hued riff on Christ pictures such as Ben-Hur (but more notably Richard Burton’s The Robe), while we are also treated to extended scenes of Ehrenrich in a cowboy picture complete with drunken prospector, a Busby Berkeley-esque aquatic dance number with Johanssen as a Mermaid, and an outstanding musical number with a tap-dancing Tatum. It is in moments like this that the film truly thrives and exhibits the best work from regular Coen collaborators, particularly Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Carter Burwell’s period perfect score.  HailCaesar-4

Hail, Caesar! quite possibly represents the Coen Brother’s finest technical achievement, but there is ultimately no way of shaking off the knowledge that this film is something of a release for them, the light comedic affair they make to blow off steam in-between more dramatic pictures. The truth remains, however, that the Coens blowing off steam is often better than what most directors put out when they are on their A-game. Hail, Caesar! is campy, airy, inconsequential, beautiful, and uproariously entertaining. If it won’t be remembered all too highly in the pantheon of the Coen’s, it will at the very least stand as one of their more proficient homages to the film-making styles  of old.

4/5- The Coens head to Old Hollywood and bring an outstanding ensemble cast with them, delivering their campiest, most technically assured feature yet.

 

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Catch-Up Reel.

Greetings all! I have been somewhat lax of late with my publishing, and I aim to rectify that with this mini-review article being the first in what I hope will be more productive, regular business. I have seen plenty over the course of these past three months of 2016, so I figured the best way to catch up and start afresh is to give a quick two-cents and rating of the films which have populated the early months of 2016. They have all left their mark, for better and for worse. 

Deadpool (Dir: Tim Miller) 

The latest addition to 20th Century Fox and Marvel’s X-Men franchise sees the two companies finally realising one of their shared characters in a faithful fashion that we have never quite seen in the franchise thus far. Deadpool is a character who has been wronged by the studio in the past, making this victory lap all the more sweeter. Deadpool is a character coloured by his potty-mouth, fourth-wall breaking, general irreverent Deadpool-2behaviour, and that has all made it to the screen in all its gloriously smutty possibilities. The glee of Ryan Reynolds performance fuels the, at times, formulaic plotting (the weight of the ink of Studio Execs script notes can certainly be felt in the final act). But the humour remains sharp, with the R-rated touches feeling fresh and essential to a character and a movie that does well to run apart from the crowded superhero pack. 4/5 

Goosebumps (Dir: Rob Letterman) 

R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series is one that I and many of my friends have a great affection for, having grown up with both the numerous books and the insanely fun Fox TV series. A film adaptation seemed inevitable, and while it may seem to be arriving at a time when Goosebumps-fever is probably at a low point, what has been delivered is a fun 90’s throwback that owes much to the Jumanji-playbook. There is a certain wit and subversive Goosebumpsbent to the proceedings, as Jack Black plays a version of Stein, whosecreations are brought to life, leading to our young heroes heading out to save the day, Monster Squad style. It is a plot device which allows many favourite monsters from the books to come to life, but unfortunately the CGI is often not up to scratch, one of the many elements which colour this interpretation as an adventure movie strictly aimed at young kids. Nothing is going to frighten young viewers in quite the same capacity as the TV show was often capable of, leaving this adaptation as a fun, light adventure,  but one lacking in fright. 3/5

Grimsby (Dir: Louis Leterrier) 

If Deadpool was smut, then Grimsby demands a new adjective. The latest character to stew from the mind of Sacha Baron Cohen has all you would expect from the artist formerly known as Borat; in that you are set to be repulsed, offended, shocked, and left absolutely dying from laughter. Grimsby, with its initially fairly bland conceit of a Bond-spoof, with Mark Strong’s secret agent begrudgingly re-touching with his football hooligan brother (Cohen), is revealed to be one of the ultimate Grimsbytests of bad taste that one may ever embark upon at the cinema. With Leterrier’s action chops adding gloss, and Cohen determined to test your bar, Grimsby comes away as a wholly surprising and ballsy exercise in the profane. You will look away in horror, all the while losing all control of your funny bone as the film sets-up scenarios which end up diving to depths that you could never predict. A testing, sinful film that leaves you feeling in need of a shower, if only due to how bad you feel for enjoying yourself so damn much. 3/5  

The Hateful Eight (Dir: Quentin Tarantino) 

Tarantino’s latest felt a very essential cinematic endeavour this year, due to it reviving the ‘Roadshow’ exhibtion style of Hollywood-old, in which the film was introduced with an overture, with an intermission half way through, and a lovely little photo accompaniment to take home. Seeing The Hateful Eight in 70mm felt like a very special, and rare, experience, which makes it all that more disappointing to say that the film itself is Tarantino’s most frustrating movie since Death Proof. There’s a great deal of strength on
display here. The cinematography is absolutely amazing, finding use for the 70mm format in a surprising fashion. Ennio Morricone’s original score is one of his finest. The cast are all on especially fine form. Why, then, does it all somewhat fall apart? The film is very much made up of HatefulEighttwo halves; the talky slow-burn first half, and the chaotic bloody second. Both have their issues, and both display the worst of the director’s vices; cartoonish violence and over-indulgent streams of un-involving dialogue. Tarantino is a fine writer, but he often doesn’t know what needs to be cut, leaving the film feeling very laborious to begin with, and then too violent the next. The second half is perhaps more entertaining and does make great use of the long set up we endure (the first half does arguably present Tarantino at his most politically astute), but ultimately The Hateful Eight is far too inconsistent to be considered one of Tarantino’s greatest hits. 3/5   

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition (Dir: Brad Bird) 

A delightful surprise announcement came last month, with the news that the new Signature Edition of Brad Bird’s 90’s animated classic (the last great 2-D animation?) would be screened across Cineworld Cinemas in the UK for one week. Seeing as this is a childhood favourite that escaped me during its original run in 1999, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see this beautiful film on the big screen. The story of Hogarth Hughes and his giant metal friend is one that is seeped in 1950s culture and design, and one whose charm comes from great attention to character and simply stunning hand-IronGiantdrawn animation. It was a lack of interest on Warner Bros. part that saw Bird’s film fail to ignite the box-office, but audiences that did embrace it continue to fervently, and it is one that has a secured legacy, highlighted by such a re-release which sees additional scenes animated afresh especially for this release (the scenes are made up of a flirateous moment between Dean and Hogarth’s mother and a dream sequence for the Giant). The new scenes ultimately don’t add much to the experience, but it is an excuse to sit down with this movie once again, especially with the opportunity to see it in all its splendour on the big screen for the first time. 5/5   

Point Break (Dir: Ericson Core) 

So yes kids, we live in a timeline where studio executives think its a good idea to remake a film like Point Break. The Keanu Reeves-Patrick Swayze thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow is by no means a terrible film, it is just very much of its period (the early 90s) and is not something that particularly needs improving upon. Yet, here we are, with a charisma-less cast leading us through various extreme sports in a loose update of the story of an FBI Agent going undercover with a group of extreme sport hippies, only to start to align PointBreakhimself with their ideology. Everything here, bar the occasional exciting practical stunt, is so laborious, so sapped of life, so bereaved of purpose, that it will make you look at the original with the same reverence as fellow 90’s cops and robbers flick Heat. The plotting is routine, inconsequential, with every character underwritten (the female lead may as well be a figment of New Utah’s imagination), Point Break 2.0 forgets the fundamental reason as to why Bigelow’s flick worked so well back in 1991; it was fun. 1/5  

Pride + Prejudice + Zombies (Dir: Burr Steers) 

The adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s genre-blending re-working of Jane Austn’s classic romantic novel which sees the period setting invaded by a hoard of the un-dead is one that has been in the works for a long time, and we do unfortunately seem to have ended up with the least tantalising version (remember when Natalie Portman and David O’Russell were teed to take a shot?). Nonetheless, what Burr Steers has delivered is an albeit tacky yet surprisingly entertaining and well-judged adaptation. What is surprising about the proceedings is how much the film reflects a fairly straight adaptation of Austen, with the un-dead simply shuffling through at I opportune times to accentuate Liz Bennett’s struggle to go against the grain of tradition. The cast are all on fine form, with a particularly hammy MattP+P+Z Smith getting all the best laughs. The action itself is what leaves much to be desired, with the zombies often being too easily dispensed in a world where this threat is nothing new. What is worse though is the muddy cinematography and editing, all seemingly designed to make seeing anything as difficult as possible. This is a film that owes a great deal to its cast and script, as there is very little in the way of sophisticated film-making on display. 3/5 

Triple 9 (Dir: John Hillcoat) 

John Hillcoat is a director who has given us films of great moral complexity, tales which depict the more savage element of man’s nature, constructing moments of startlingly violence throughout, as seen in the likes of The Road and The PropositionTriple 9 sees him play in a more conventional sandbox, one which sees him work in his first contemporary setting following thieves and cops in the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. It is frustrating, then, that this strong talent has made a film that feels far too routine when taken in regards to the potential of both filmmaker and cast. The main issue with Triple 9 is that it includes far too many characters, leading to a lack of focus which dilutes the effect of many of the twists and turns of the narrative. You’re likely to come away from this barely knowing a character, with your reference point probably only amassing to be the name of the actor Triple9playing them. It is to the benefit of the film that it is populated with actors who are extremely capable of doing a lot with a little. We have Chiwetal Ejiofor playing a hard man as the leader among the professional thieves, who have been put to work by an over-indulgent Kate Winslet (doing her best Chekov impression). The individuals who come away as the more memorable performances are a conflicted Anthony Mackie and stoner detective Woody Harrelson. As it stands, Triple 9 is an over-stuffed film, one which is capable of delivering sharp set pieces but is left gasping for breath in its final act. 3/5

Trumbo (Dir: Jay Roach)

Trumbo tells the story of black-listed Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a man whos political beliefs saw him imprisoned and shunned by the Hollywood community during McCarthy’s Witch-hunts in the 1950s. Never one to let anyone else have the last laugh, Trumbo devised a way to keep writing in secret, leading to fake credits on a number of very popular films. It is a story pulsing with political intrigue taking place in a confused and irrational time in America’s history. The film which depicts the tale of this man does often flirt with the idea of making a political statement, but does often retract in favour of Hollywood gloss. However, what we do get is an utterly transformative and commanding turn from Bryan Cranston as Trumbo himself. Many scenes are often quickly ticked off by both director and writers, leaving little time for rumination, but due to the highly emotive turn from Crnaston, even smaller scenes have an impact that you suspect would not have Trumbohad if any one but Cranston was delivering the performance. The focus on his family home, an environment which literally became a Script Sweatshop allows strong connections to the individual himself if not quite offering an in-depth examination of the damaging nature of the Witch-hunts of the 1950s. The film is close in spirit to Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin; a little gaze at the Hollywood of old, one perhaps a bit too airy to carry much weight, but one elevated by one hell of a leading performance. 4/5

Zoolander 2 (Dir: Ben Stiller)

If there was any demand for a Zoolander 2, then it would have been a good 10 years ago. Now, turning up late to its own party, Ben Stiller’s long-gestating sequel just feels desperate, fatigued and wildly misjudged. The sequel sees Derek Zoolander (Stiller) come out of self-imposed exile to reconnect with his son, and all the while stop another terrorist plot set within the world of high fashion. The film plays to a similar beat of the first one, but piles it all on like an over-indulgent sundae, overflowing with gratuitous Zoolander2cameos in the hope of tickling a cheap laugh from a now-too-wise-for-this-shit audience. There is pleasure in seeing Stiller and Owen Wilson as Zoolander and Hansel, but
that quickly fades as it becomes clear that the writing is a little more cynical this time around. Stiller is a director who has proven to be a capable visionary, and has often proved to be very funny, but everything about this belated sequel reeks of development hell; with jokes that would have been dated in 2010, being delivered to an audience who simply does not care anymore. 2/5