film

Review Catch-Up: Hail, Caesar!

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, “Hail, Caesar!” is a love letter to postwar Hollywood in the early 1950’s when big budget epics, westerns, and musicals ruled the cinematic land. Josh Brolin leads this stunning cast of Coen Bros frequent collaborators and newcomers alike as Eddie Mannix, the head of “Physical Production” of Capitol Pictures. As the fixer of the studio’s many issues Mannix corrals wayward stars, abates the rumor mill of gossip columnists, and generally solves any and all problems that occur- sometimes with charm, other times with a bit of muscle when need be. Between all of this, Mannix is caught between an offer for the easy life at Lockheed Martin and whether or not he should stay and wrangle the many personalities and problems of Capitol Pictures.

The main driving force of the film is the abduction of infamous actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) from the set of “Hail, Caesar!” a religious epic in the vein of “The Ten Commandments” or “Ben-Hur”. Once informed of the actor’s disappearance Mannix goes on the hunt for the lost star, but gets bogged down in internal studio affairs. Once contacted by the kidnappers, self-titled The Future, Mannix collects ransom money from the petty cash allotted by the studio and follows their orders until he can find the solution. Meanwhile other directors and crews must handle the consequences of Mannix’s decisions, like taking cowboy western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) and putting him into the high-society drama “Merrily we dance” directed by Laurence Lorenz (Ralph Fiennes). What follows is easily the funniest scene of the film and a direct criticism of studios making huge moves like replacing stars just for favors to keep from worse studio secrets spilling out into the public. Hobie Doyle may be a world renowned movie star in westerns where he doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue, but Laurence Lorenz is a stand in for the extremely precise thespian director that desires very specific line delivery. Pairing these two together, with Doyle’s thick southern accent and Lorenz soft speaking mannerisms that quickly boil over into confused agitation- was a genius comedic choice in my opinion.

In the midst of both the ‘Red Scare’ and the beginnings of the Cold War the real Hollywood of the early 1950’s was transitioning to meet the needs of this new era of paranoia and television. The Coen Brothers satirize this period with precise detail and pitch perfect comedic timing. The large studios still very much worked on the star system of the past and watching Capitol Pictures in the film work to garner attention by investing in as many westerns, musicals of synchronized swimming, and epics of religious nature is equally funny and fascinating. With the abundance of well known stars cast in the film, from Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum to Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton (playing twin gossip columnists!) the film has a lot going for it simply on performances alone. The recreation of the early 1950’s pastel color palettes and huge set-pieces within the massive expanse of “studio city” is commendable in its own right as well! Roger Deakins again showcases his masterful use of lighting and camera movement as the frequent Coen cinematographer, and it’s easy to see why they collaborate as often as they have. The pairing between the three as writers, directors, and cinematographer is a cinematic dream team!

“Hail, Caesar!” was a lightweight affair when compared to other offerings from the Coens and everyone involved seems to have had a great deal of fun satirizing their industry’s golden age. As is often true with most Coen bros films, it may not be for everyone, but it is crafted by skilled people who are truly invested in the art form. Joel and Ethan Coen, and Roger Deakins, give a damn about the movies they choose to make, and this riff on the industry’s earlier era is full of winks, nods, and references to that time and the films that came out of the studio-orchestrated chaos. It is a pastiche of the gilded age of cinema crafted with great panache, and I definitely recommend giving it a watch!

Final Score: 10 Communist Writers and 1 Dolph Lundgren (seriously keep an eye out for him, easy to miss!)

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film

Review: Logan Lucky

Written by Rebecca Blunt and directed by Steven Soderbergh, Logan Lucky is a comedy heist film in which the Logan brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) & Clyde (Adam Driver) aim to break the Logan family curse by robbing a high-stakes NASCAR raceway during the busiest weekend of the year. This film brought Soderbergh out of retirement to direct as he was initially sought out to give a recommendation for applicable directors, but he ended up enjoying the script so much that he chose to direct it and simultaneously use it as a test subject for an independent distribution model of his own design, “Fingerprint Releasing”. Which turned out to be the right choice as Logan Lucky is a no frills, charming, and surprisingly intelligent redneck MacGyver version of Soderbergh’s past heist films like Ocean’s Eleven.

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Jimmy Logan works construction at the Charlotte Motor Speedway- that is until he’s fired by unseen insurance bureaucrats who spotted his limp and found him to be a liability. Choosing to find solace in brotherhood Jimmy soon makes his way to his brother Clyde’s bar where we first hear Clyde rambling off superstitions about the family curse. Given the brothers’ apt nature towards bad luck, with Clyde missing an arm- sorry- a hand, in the Iraq war and Jimmy’s leg injury keeping him from his youthful ambitions at national level football, the curse could have merit from this perspective. We soon meet Jimmy’s daughter Sadie who’s working hard to win a local beauty pageant, and through Jimmy’s estranged ex-wife we learn of her plans to move with her new husband out of state and away from Jimmy. Thus, our motivation inherent. From here the movie picks up its pace as the pieces begin to fall into place for the eventual heist. The Logans know of an infamous local safecracker named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) whose been imprisoned. They go meet him and they unveil their plan to entice him into helping them break into the vault under the speedway. He isn’t too keen on the idea as he only has five months to go until his release, that is until they tell him that they plan on sneaking him out for the job, but then also sneaking him back into the prison without anyone knowing he was gone in the first place. Bang only has one condition, the Logan brothers must enlist his own two brothers to insure his interests until his sentence is up. The Logans’ also enlist the help of their sister (Riley Keough) as a transport driver during the shuffle of retrieving Joe and Clyde (his incarceration is also part of the plan) from the prison during a planned riot.

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This film was an absolute joy from start to finish. The characters are never portrayed in a demeaning light and they all have an earnest sensibility about them as they go about their illegalities. Soderbergh brings a specific framing and polish to the film that may have been mishandled in another’s stead, while also crafting an edit that fills in the details as soon as you begin to question the choices certain characters make. It seems the director has cemented his return to filmmaking through this release and his upcoming film titled Unsane, Soderbergh’s first dip into the horror/thriller genre, which he also plans to release independently through Fingerprint Releasing and Bleecker Street once again. I know I’ll be looking forward to it based on how good Logan Lucky turned out. Soderbergh and his crew brought together an excellent cast and drew out some truly memorable performances from his actors while keeping everything light and fun. We can only hope for the success of more independent features like this!

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(Adam Driver & Daniel Craig pose with director Steven Soderbergh while on production)

Final Score: Three Lucky Logans & One infamous Joe Bang!