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!)

Advertisements
film

Review: Thor Ragnarok

*There are some mild spoilers in this review, but nothing too revealing*

Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost and directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor Ragnarok” is the third installment in the “Thor” franchise and easily one of the finest additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coming hot off the heels of Waititi’s last film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Ragnarok retains several actors from the kiwi adventure-comedy. Sam Neill shows up in a play on Asgard portraying Odin in a fun cameo while Waititi’s longtime collaborator Rima Te Wiata plays the role of the Grandmaster’s (Jeff Goldblum) security guard on the trash planet of Sakaar. This is a Thor film that sheds the weight of past films while embracing the greater cosmic scale that earlier films like “Doctor Strange” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” had already accelerated. But how did we get to this place? Let’s rewind a second and take a look at the franchise as a whole.

The first two “Thor” films, while having their fair share of fans and being generally well received, aren’t always near the top of the average moviegoers personal favorites of the MCU thus far. I believe one of the main reasons that’s led to this film being such a drastic departure from Thor’s past films was that Marvel Studios now has the confidence to embrace the more obscure aspects of their material after the successes of “The Guardians of the Galaxy” and it’s sequel. Marvel seems to know the conversation surrounding their brand of movies and taken some criticisms to heart. The studio now seems to embrace the expectations that their logo inspires as they’ve turned the tables on the audience by playing against these expectations. Which only reinforces my opinion that if you’re going to go make a sci-fi fantasy film, just go for it. Be unique, go for the weird and the unknown and see what works and what doesn’t. As it turns out, throwing the incredible Hulk into the far reaches of outer-space to fight aliens in a gladiator arena, while also having Thor attempting to stop the mythical end of Asgard called ‘Ragnarok’, is a pretty damn good idea.

thor-ragnarok-hulk-1-600x316

Since we’re playing in the sandbox of gods and kings, mythology and science fiction, it makes sense to acknowledge just how silly all of this really is. Taika Waititi never discredits the past or tosses around cruel or barbed comedy though- it’s all in good fun and is a refreshing change of pace for the franchise. In fact this year’s three releases from Marvel have been increasingly better at pairing comedy with their films. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”, “Spider-man Homecoming”, and this film all deftly weave comedy into their storylines without sacrificing quality or softening the threat of the villains of each story. I think it’s immensely important that neither James Gunn nor Taiki Waititi lost their comedic voices while engaging in the Marvel movie machine, Jon Watts might have also kept his comedic touches intact with the newest iteration of “Spider-Man” but I’m less familiar with his work. Though I’d be remiss not to mention the comedy gold in this film that is Korg, an alien gladiator made of rocks who also happens to be trapped on Sakaar-and portrayed by the director himself. If you’ve seen “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” imagine Ricky Baker as an alien rock gladiator- but with manners, and there you have it.

Thor-Ragnarok-Reviews-Korg

So, there are essentially two things that made this film work as well as it did for me, the performances and the visuals. In various films throughout history there have been scene stealing actors or characters that charm us, fill our lungs with laughter, or terrify our very hearts-but this film is loaded those moments. There wasn’t a single character that overshadowed the rest of the cast. Each seemed to have something to contribute to the story or to keep the pace swiftly bouncing along with a joke or an escalation of violence that underlined the characters’ need to keep moving in the right direction. Taika Waititi has said that one of his chief intentions with the property was to make Thor the most interesting character in his own movie. This is something he succeeds in doing by stripping the character down, removing his hammer, forcing a new look upon the character, and dropping him in new environments with an earned confidence. The additions of Doctor Strange and Bruce Banner’s Hulk also have merit as they remain consistent while moving the various characters forward in development. Strange immediately whisks Loki away after the brothers arrive on Earth looking for Odin-a sign that he’s been studying and honing his craft of Sorcerer Supreme since his film’s end. Just as the Hulk has become a fully formed character after staying in his green form for two years while fighting, and winning, battles on Sakaar. New additions to the franchise weren’t ignored or phoned in either as Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie has a fully formed story arc that builds on Asgard’s past and towards it’s future. Cate Blanchett’s Hela was a fun creation of dangerous and menacing, though while there was some chewing some of the scenery at times, she remained a threat and clearly had fun on the production. Even Karl Urban’s Skurge, mostly a comedic relief character, has a complete arc across the film. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster was a joy to watch though, perfectly becoming an amalgamation of the audience’s perception of Goldblum, a playful nod to his own film past, while also becoming the character as opposed to the character becoming a riff on Goldblum’s own tendencies. Idris Elba also returned as Heimdall, everyone’s favorite all seeing Asgardian. This time around he’s been an outcast of Loki’s rule on Asgard and leads a secret resistance against Hela’s invasion while sporting a costume fit for Aragorn’s Strider from “Fellowship of the Ring”.

null

Which brings me to the visuals. Personally, I loved the blending of the science fiction and fantasy locales and vistas of the film. I never thought there would be a day when I would see the Incredible Hulk suplex-ing an undying giant wolf on the rainbow bridge of Asgard. That is something that’s outright amazing to me, and maybe that won’t do it for everyone, but I loved it nontheless. Everything from the barrage of colors on Sakaar to the fiery lava fields of Muspelheim from the opening scene to the vibrant earthy tones of Asgard were a dazzling visual feast. I also really loved the way Valkyrie’s backstory was shot with the Pegasus riding female warriors launching an attack against Hela years prior. It reminded me of the painting scene in Wonder Woman, but with more slow paced action taking place onscreen. Skurge also received this perspective while leaping from a spaceship into a crowd of undead Asgardians and wielding two AK-47s. The film as a whole was a joy to watch from beginning to end. This is the third film of Taika Waititi’s that I’ve seen and I will most assuredly be seeking out all that remains as soon as possible. This film was quite and enjoyable time and I highly recommend it. Though, if you’re not on the Marvel Studios bandwagon by now this one probably won’t sway you.

Final Score: Four Asgardian Gods and a Hulk