Monday, 8 August 2016

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Another quirky parody laced with cruel satire and starring George Clooney, that'll be the Coen Brothers then (or possibly Wes Anderson). 

Set in 1951, the plot follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who works for Capitol Pictures in Hollywood. Mannix's main job is head of physical production which entails keeping films on budget, on schedule etc...But this being the wild 50's Mannix must also contend with the young, rich Hollywood starlets, keeping them in check and out of the tabloids, he's a 'fixer', but in a good sense. Unfortunately for Mannix one of the studios biggest stars gets kidnapped, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), right in the middle of filming a big movie set in ancient Rome. So now, not only does Mannix have to deal with various other issues with other stars and directors, he also has to contend with two tabloid/gossip columnists after a headline, and the temptation of another job offer from an up and coming corporation.

Now if the plot seems rather thin on the ground here, that's because it is, big time! In all honesty there is nothing happening in this film, I was watching and thinking...what is this actually about?? OK so you have Mannix having to work out what happened to Whitlock. At first it appears the guy goes AWOL but in time Mannix discovers he was in fact kidnapped, OK. So then the film becomes a sort of mystery period piece right? well no actually. We don't actually see any detective work at all from Mannix, what we do see are a few sub plots about other stars and how the studio (and Mannix) deals with them. So you have this singing cowboy star who naturally only works in westerns, until the studio decides to change his image and stick him in a lavish drama. Then you have a young, beautiful female swimmer who works in musical numbers. She has a sweet and innocent image but has wound up pregnant out of wedlock, not a good look for the young starlet. All the while Mannix is fending off the Thacker sisters (Tilda Swinton in both roles) who are after a juicy story for their tabloids.

These separate character arcs don't really lead anywhere truth be told, they're just there, spoofing 50's Hollywood. Admittedly the parodies going on are very humorous and I'm sure there is a huge element of truth behind them. For instance, at the start we are briefly introduced to DeeAnna Moran (Scarlet Johansson), the swimmer who is seen as young, sweet and innocent by her adoring fans. Well behind closed doors she smokes like a trooper, she's abrupt, kinda rude and clearly fed up with her job half the time. Hobie Doyle the young cowboy is known as a rootin'-tootin', daredevil of a cowboy who can perform all the cliched cowboy tricks. Well behind closed doors he is a nice guy but clearly a bit naive and possibly simple, plus he can't actually act and has a horrendous southern twang. Then you have Baird Whitlock who is the studios biggest star and is of course shallow, gullible, weak and has a deep dark secret. In fact most of these colourful characters are indeed based on actual real Hollywood stars of their era. But the only real plot link we see is Doyle discovering who is behind the kidnapping of Baird. DeeAnna Moran is in one scene at the start and that's it, was there even any point in this character being in the film? Where as Whitlock is the main crux of the story but he merely meanders (or sits) around in a daze doing very little, portrayed in typical Clooney fashion.

I won't deny there are some excellent scenes in this movie, despite them feeling rather abstract and pointless. The scene where Doyle is shoved into his new role on the opulent Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) drama is an absolute delight to watch. Clearly Doyle is a cowboy through and through, from the way he speaks, to the way he walks and sits, he ain't no upper crust gentleman. Alas this is not quite the image Mr Laurentz wants for his production and frustration ensues for both parties in a glorious little moment of comedy. For laughs this was easily the high spot. On a more visual note you then have the quite fantastic Gene Kelly-esque dance routine with Channing Tatum (playing a mysterious chap). Sounds bizarre I know but this number is actually excellent in terms of choreography, stunts and as a homage to the classic musical/dance routines of old Hollywood. I'm not gonna lie though, I think it was clearly padding because it goes on for some time when really, it didn't need to. Add to that the general look and feel of the entire movie is really authentic and atmospheric, they've managed to really capture that golden oldies vibe all the way through. Not only is this movie visually sumptuous , it also gives you insight into how old movies (and probably present day movies) were actually made. This is a movie within a movie type scenario, you see film sets, crews and stunts all being filmed and worked by fictional crews. So there are shots and scenes which are quite interesting to watch simply because it shows you how a movie set looks and works, more so because its a period scenario.

But at the end of the day is there any real point to it all? Lets take a quick look at Mannix, this guy is being headhunted by Lockheed (yes the aviation company) whilst all this kerfuffle is going on within the studio. Now Lockheed are literally giving him everything he wants with their job offer, better pay, better hours, a job for life and obviously not having to worry about spoilt movie stars anymore. So why the hell is Mannix even debating this?? Why would his wife not jump at the chance? How does this plot even manage to carry on with such a no-brainer of a decision? OK, in his own weird way, the guy likes his job I understand that. But Mannix makes it seem very obvious throughout the film that he really should take the other offer, so as the viewer your left wondering why the movie is being directed this way. Essentially, why are we sitting here watching this movie when it should have ended already. 

So yeah the movie looks great, it does have some fantastic sequences and there are touches of solid humour. I get that the whole film is a parody of the 1950's Hollywood machine (politics included), but was half of this necessary? It just feels like the brothers had an idea but padded it out with filling which, while amusing at times, just feels completely aimless. I also can't help but feel many people may not be overly interested in this because of its content. It all feels a bit like something for people who actually work in the biz, people who live on the west coast, in and around LA, people who know the industry. You might feel like a bit of an outsider missing the in-jokes if you get my drift. Its all very pleasant and charming but ultimately it just feels too much like a personal project for other like-minded Hollywood folk to enjoy, hence why it might seem rather empty for the rest of us. If you can spot him (good luck), watch out for a completely pointless cameo by Dolph Lundgren. Pretty much sums this movie up really.