A Coen Brothers movie is like going to Disneyland; you’re practically guaranteed a good time. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen who have a wicked, outrageous, and completely warped sense of humor (my kind of guys!). Their movies not only entertain, but travel down roads not done by any other film makers. And for that I say, God bless the Coen brothers!
Harken back to the 1940’s Hollywood movie-making with all the glitz and glamour of lavish musicals and epic blockbusters. There are multiple stories that pop-up at Capital Pictures, but the main story revolves around studio head and fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who puts out actor fires around the lot and keeps the studio humming, despite his own personal life crisis. The biggest mess on the lot one day is Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) a sorta dorky Kirk Douglas/Charlton Heston hybrid who’s making an epic biblical movie called Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ. In the middle of production, Baird is kidnapped by a group of Communist screenwriters, calling themselves The Future, and held for ransom.
Mannix must deal with the kidnappers while (take a deep breath here) dodging rival twin Hollywood tabloid reporters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by a goofy Tilda Swinton), considering a sweet deal offered from Lockheed aviation, helping a temperamental out-of-wedlock pregnant swimming star (Scarlett Johannson), overseeing a famous singing cowboy star–with a pronounced twang–(Alden Ehrenreich) forced to star on a fancy period picture directed by snooty Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), and checking out a seriously cool singing/dance number with Channing Tatum. Whew!
In and out of the main story, Mannix has to deal with his personal demons of trying to quit smoking and doing the right thing with his beautiful and understand wife (Alison Pill). We see that Mannix is good at his job. . . very good. Like a fine Swiss watch, he knows exactly what to do and when to do it, making him invaluable to the studio and to others.
Meanwhile, Baird is being swayed by the Communists to see things their way, as production of Hail, Caesar is yet another day behind schedule. Luckily, cowboy star Hobie Doyle spots the ransom pick-up and tracks down the kidnapped star and brings him back. All this mayhem and chaos happening in a matter of 48 hours, with Mannix finally (with the help of going to confession every day) figuring out what he wants out of life.
More a collection of vignettes that are spliced together with a main story, the Coen’s have a firm grasp on skewering old Hollywood (and a little of today). If you’re a fan of the movie-making process, you’ll love the behind-the-scenes nuttiness and especially Laurence Laurentz’s multiple line-reading’s to an actor. There’s homages to classic Hollywood here with references to newspaper czar Hedda Hopper, screen legend Esther Williams, Busby Berkeley’s choreography, and many more.
While it doesn’t quite have the rat-a-tat-tat dialoge of The Hudsucker Proxy, the sheer lunacy and fun of Raising Arizona, the nightmarish vision of Barton Fink, or the inspiring mythical O Brother, Where Art Thou?, it does have its own Coen stamp of weirdness and humor. Recommended for the movie-holic with a passion for pictures and Hollywood historians for some fun in looking back at the 1940’s.
Clooney is terrific, as usual, in his third Coen film, but it’s young Ehrenreich who steals the picture as cowboy Hobie Doyle. He’s only done a few short films, but he outshines his fellow actors here; something the others should watch out for! Look for cameos by Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown (my favorite), Robert Picardo, and listen for Michael Gambon as the narrator.
In various ‘skits’ in his day-to-day duties, he botches the most simplest jobs: he almost drowns while looking at a camera tank, a movie lip-sync dubbing session goes horribly (and hilariously) wrong thanks to him, he gets mistaken for an extra and causes turmoil on a set with his ad-lib singing, taking T.P.’s mother (Kathleen Freedman) to a car wash is a disaster, the real actors from TV’s Bonanza ruin his lunch, and much more!
In the interim, Morty is amazed to find in a prop house, a little clown puppet that is apparently alive, in the movies most touching and sweetest moments. He goes back later to see him, but another puppet, a Southern Belle talking ostrich named Magnolia (puppeteer creator Mary Ritts) shows up. Later on, Mortychews out an empty board room, all done in mime, while Count Basie’s Blues in Hoss Flat plays on. It’s one of Lewis’ most famous scenes, even copied on Family Guy.
Anyway, Morty fails miserably at his spying but, while ruining an actor’s birthday being filmed, he inadvertently becomes Paramutual’s next big rising comedic star of the screen! Well, that’s convenient! The movie ends, as so many of Lewis’ movies do, with the words “THE END” appearing on a Paramutual billboard; a Lewis signature move.
Directed by Lewis and written by Lewis and Bill Richmond, this is one funny movie that’s not so much a linear film, but a collection of sketches and adventures strung together to form a movie. But it’s a riot, if you’re a Lewis fan, as he was in the zone in the 60’s with hit’s like The Bellhop, The Ladies Man, The Nutty Professor, Cinderfella, and The Family Jewels. This is Lewis at his very best; his wit, comedic timing, writing, direction, and prat-falling were at his zenith.