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Hail, Something? (Coen Bros, 2015)

There are definitely a few spoilers but none that would ruin the film for anyone (…but I’m biased because I already watched it).

Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix

Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix

Set in 1951 during the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! loosely tells the story of Eddie Mannix and his role as a “fixer” for MGM. As a listener of the You Must Remember This podcast with a background in film (yeah! putting that film degree to use!) I felt that I had a solid foundation regarding this era of filmmaking. The studio system had such massive control over an artist (his or her image, who they married, etc.) and what information was released to the public that 60 years later it’s both baffling and comedic. At least, that’s what I thought. I found myself laughing alone during much of this film and there were 37 other people in the theater with me. Perhaps those aren’t good odds for a film that really seems to be by filmmakers for filmmakers.

The basic plot as I’m sure anyone who saw the trailer gathered: leading man Baird Whitlock (fantastically named character played by an ultra tan George Clooney) is kidnapped and it’s up to Mannix to keep the film in operation without blowing funds until they can find him and bring him back. Without giving too many spoilers away, Whitlock was kidnapped by Communists who were raising funds for their organization and ultimately started brainwashing the characteristically charming but easily manipulated star. The Communists were writers known for being poorly paid and under-acknowledged. When Baird asks if he gets a sum of the money the reply “You can hardly share in your own ransom, that would be unethical.”

Clooney as Baird Whitlock at the Communist “Study Group”

Clooney as Baird Whitlock at the Communist “Study Group”

The problem is: The character of Mannix isn’t easy to relate to, he’s a ball-busting businessman who goes to confessions, which, rather than making me feel he’s a well-rounded individual made me feel more like he was doing that out of obligation (because if he knew what he was doing was wrong why did he make no effort to change it?) There’s no character development with our main guy – the guy we’re supposed to care the most about. The reason I didn’t enjoy Inside Llewyn Davis(2013) by the Coen brothers was because it felt like an hour and a half Mumford & Sons music video with no real plot or character development. Both of these films were shot beautifully, stylistically, they had excellent casting and therefore excellent acting but they fell flat because of the lack of development. In that I didn’t find the character of Llewyn Davis to be engaging beyond watching him sing and play guitar.

Other than that major downfall, the acting was well done by all: Ralph Fiennes as Lawrence Lorenz the director of the high-brow film that the country western star (Alden Ehrenreich, I don’t know who he is) was shifting into; Channing Tatum (whose scene received a squeal from one audience member) as a leading man dancing and singing in a sailor musical bit; Tilda Swinton as rival tabloid twins (who both refer to their magazine as news rather than tabloids); Johansson as unwed pregnant woman DeeAnna Moran, and the others who didn’t stick in my mind as much as these did.

The golden hue inserted throughout the film felt like an homage to the literal “golden age” but perhaps just made the film look more dreamy (and pretty). They showed behind-the-scenes shots of filmmaking which, even now that I have spent time on set and seen in real life, I love seeing. They showed some dailies including an outtake or two by Baird Whitlock. They mentioned some historically accurate studio system ways of operating: actor loaning, sweeping scandals under the carpet (what is the unwed pregnant woman adopts her own child therefore keeping a pure image, perhaps even boosting it), total control over actors and actresses (“Studio set it up, they’re changing your image”), and more.

Thessaly or Thora Thacker played by Tilda Swinton with Mannix/Brolin. Look at that crisp shot! That lighting! Those costumes!

Thessaly or Thora Thacker played by Tilda Swinton with Mannix/Brolin. Look at that crisp shot! That lighting! Those costumes!

This was a beautiful, entertaining, and joke-filled film but it didn’t appeal emotionally (and references things the average movie-goer doesn’t necessarily know).With a budget of 22 million and as of today (nearly 20 days after release) their box office only at 21.4 million it is perhaps more like tarnished bronze than gold.

This review was much longer than intended – I just couldn’t resist the excitement of a film based (even if loosely) on something I learned about during my time as a film student (and only bolstered because You Must Remember This is a fantastic podcast!)

An audience member squealed at the sight of Channing Tatum in a sailor's uniform.

An audience member squealed at the sight of Channing Tatum in a sailor's uniform.

Here’s a question: is Channing Tatum the male equivalent of the sexy but useless female in films who is only there as eye candy but does nothing for the plot (and oftentimes the addition of which doesn’t make any sense)? I swear one of his scenes recreates this painting:

“George Washington Crossing the Delaware”

“George Washington Crossing the Delaware”