Sunday, February 07, 2016

Hail the Coen-quering Heroes

In 2003, during the short media blitz for the much hated Intolerable Cruelty, the Coen brothers, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones all appeared on an episode of The Charlie Rose Show... why, it might be on the internet someplace!  Meh... someone else can look for it.  Anyway, at one point, Charlie asked about a project in development called Hail, Caesar!, and I don't think they were talking about the 1994 buddy pic starring Anthony Michael Hall and... someone else... Samuel L. Jackson?  Wow.  Bet even he doesn't remember that one.  Ethan said, incredulously, "How'd you hear about that?"  And Charlie responded, "I told you!  I'm a fan!"  Well, it's 13 years later, and it is finally out.  One last celluloid-only holdout in the new digital era.  Clearly the Coens are a fan of Jason Mann's work ethic.
Now, as you might be aware, when it comes to film criticism and the Coens, I'm the critical equivalent of the old woman from The Tenant who micturates on everyone's rug except for Roman Polanski.  So what did I think of it?  Well, I'm a creature of habits, fortunately or unfortunately, and I kept thinking "Where's the Closed Captioning?  Where's the remote?  Can I rewind this one part... oh, right."
Now, most Coen films are unusual, and Hail, Caesar! discovers new ways of unusual-ness.  For one thing, Coen films usually take place over the course of a week or two, but apparently this one takes place during one action-packed day.  Fitting for the subject material, I suppose.  Secondly, they've never made a film like, say, And Now for Something Completely Different or Shorts, a film with a series of very loosely connected sketches.  Hail, Caesar! is a little like that, but everything turns out to have a purpose; more like Short Cuts, I suppose, but PG-13.  However, the Coens push the PG-13 rating a bit, even if it seems only slightly, especially in the Internet Age.
Also, Coen films usually only make use of footage in the film for the trailers.  In that respect, the instant case is more like a regular Hollywood film.  Where's the long shot of the blue van?  Where's Clooney rubbing his teeth?  Where's... WHERE'S CLOONEY?!  He's only in it for, like, FIVE MINUTES!  Sorry, spoiler alert.  There better be a lot of extras on the Blu-Ray, I'm just saying. 
Now for those of you out there thinking the Coens have gotten all soft and complacent... the Farrellys, for example... well, perhaps that's true, but I'll give it til the third or fourth viewing of the instant case to figure that out.  I'm no expert, in the final analysis.  But it all seems a little familiar, sure, as filmmakers tend to make the same kinds of films.  Joel and Ethan are no exception to that rule.  They're all here.  All the usual Coen collaborators, all the usual Coen themes: a kidnapping, a character saying "The point is," the excruciating period detail, the excruciating detail in general ("Head Shots to be Filmed Later"... love it!!!), the "whoosh" sound when a door opens, their trademark motorcycle noise (during the "No Dames!" dance sequence, spoiler alert)... all the things we love about their movies.  Oh, and Capitol Pictures was also the name of the studio in Barton Fink, but alas, Colonel Lipnick has since moved on.  Studio fixer Eddie Mannix answers to Joseph Schenck in New York for the day-to-day studio operations... I mean, Nick Schenck.  I didn't know he had a brother!
But surely, The Movie Hooligan, there was something about the film you didn't like?  What's nagging at me?  Well, I feel sort of let down on behalf of Fred Melamed, even though he says he had a good time on the movie.  Fred here has a role more like the ones he usually has in a Woody Allen movie: far too small of a part.  But whaddayagonnado?  He plays one of the... no, I won't spoil the surprise.  I guess one of the lines that will stick out for the academics among you out there will be "This is about economics, not money."  There's probably one or two right-wing economists out there who would vehemently disagree.  The Coens borrowed Robert Picardo from Joe Dante to give him a small part as a rabbi.  I was trying to think who he sounded like, and then it hit me!  Martin Landau!  Epic.  It's definitely the largest cast they've ever worked with, and for the budget fetishists out there like me, it's probably the most expensive, second only to the much maligned Intolerable Cruelty.  Well, I guess one of their films has to be the worst.
Okay, here's a nitpick.  Now, I love Tilda Swinton to death, don't get me wrong.  She's a sweetie pie.  But she plays dual roles here.  Before the IMDb entry got updated, she was listed as playing "Hedda Hopper."  Now the IMDb's been corrected, as it turns out she plays twin gossip columnist sisters, possibly based on Hedda Hopper, or maybe Dear Abby, who knows.  As with the Paul Dano character in There Will Be Blood, one is more savvy than the other.  However, as good as Tilda is, the differentiation between the characters could've been a little, tiny bit stronger.  Maybe if one was a blond and the other a redhead?  That kind of thing.  I thought the Coens were obsessed with hair!  Sloppy work, guys.
I'm probably forgetting some nuance that the New York Times reporter picked up on... and I'm sure I missed most of the references.  But I did get that the director of the action Western was probably John Ford, that Scarlett Johannson was Esther Williams, and Veronica Osorio was supposed to be Carmen Miranda... although, given when the film was supposed to be taking place, she was probably well past dating age.  Just saying.  Plus, people lived harder back then.  If you made it to 50, you must've had a deal with the Devil... ooh!  I just thought of something I noticed.  One of the Communists looked EGG-ZACTLY like Llewyn Davis.  I believe it was this guyOscar Isaac's moved on to extremely high-profile projects now.  I mean, he's Apocalypse, for Stan Lee's sake!
I believe it was the Onion reviewer that compared Hail, Caesar! to Steven Spielberg's 1941.  Except that (spoiler alert) the first scene in 1941 is one of the last in Hail, Caesar!, and that 1941 is a little bit tone-deaf, and its characters are perhaps a bit too broad, but both films certainly look expensive and there's a lot in them to love.  Hail, Caesar! has a lot of explosions in it, too, but they're more internal than external.  Oh!  And here's the biggest difference of them all: 1941 is in my DVD collection, but Hail, Caesar! isn't!  I can't wait three months!!!  A toast to those crazy Sun worshippers Joel and Ethan Coen!

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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