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: Brawl in Cell Block 99

Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, “Brawl in Cell Block 99” is a film in which Vince Vaughn stars as Bradley, an auto mechanic with a streak of bad luck that ends him up in prison. After being fired from his job and coming home to find out that his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) was engaged in an affair Bradley takes stock of his life and decides to work for an old friend running drugs, just until they can afford a better life to start again. Fast forward eighteen months and his scheme worked, he has a strict system about his drug running and his efficiency has afforded the married couple a decent house along with a pregnancy that drives Bradley throughout the rest of the film.

brawlincellblock99_03

However, since the title of the film is “Brawl in Cell Block 99” we know that the film has to take a downward turn, and it is quite the spiral of increasingly awful situations. It begins with Gil (Marc Blucas), Bradley’s drug running boss and friend, setting up a new business deal with a group of Mexican gangsters equally invested in the drug game. Bradley quickly assesses the men he is to work with on the next run and declines to work with one that he suspects is using, but Gil pulls him aside noting that the deal needs to go through for financial reasons and sweetens the deal for Bradley with a three month leave once his daughter is born. As you might expect, the deal goes awry when the runner that Bradley had pointed out earlier refuses to drop the drugs to be picked up later when the police arrive and a shootout blazes between them and the two henchmen from the Mexican gang.

brawl-in-cell-block-99-vince-vaughn

Bradley intervenes and gets sent straight to prison for a seven year sentence. Once inside he’s met by a representative of the Mexican Cartel (though admittedly I’m not sure if they were meant to be representative of the Cartel specifically) who informs him of the massive net loss that his boss took because of the botched drug deal. He expects Bradley to set this straight by killing a marked target of the Cartel who’s locked away in the maximum security facility of Redleaf, in cell block 99. If he doesn’t kill the target, the associates of the Cartel leader, who had already kidnapped Bradley’s wife, will sever the limbs of his unborn child in such a way that the child will still live through the birthing process. Thus Bradley must become infamous enough to get placed in Redleaf, and then he must become even more deadly to work his way into Cell Block 99 to save his family.

brawl-in-cell-block-99_

Which brings me to the violence of the film. This film is cruel and it is brutal in its depictions of arm snapping and skull bashing grindhouse prison fighting genre action. I’d seen Zahler’s last film “Bone Tomahawk” a western horror film in which Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, and Patrick Wilson are settlers besieged by a crude sect of Native Americans that brutalize those they take captive. I personally wasn’t a fan of that film, even though it had it’s merits in performances and cinematography. The senselessness and depressing void of morality that encompassed the film, especially its ending, wasn’t something I enjoyed. This film however, changes the tone in its ultimate notions of justice and victory. I won’t spoil anything regarding the final act, but it’s a much more satisfying film overall for me personally. You can definitely tell that this film is from the same filmmaker that gave us “Bone Tomahawk” though. Both films are quiet in nature until they burst with unchallenged sounds, startling the auditory senses. This story also puts our lead through many hurdles and hoops of suffering. As a former boxer in his youth Bradley came slightly more prepared to his round of unjust brutality than the settlers of “Bone Tomahawk” were for their suffering to come.

BrawlinCellBlock99_10

This film is an entertaining piece of genre fair, though not all will enjoy it. It’s not incredibly high on my list of favorites from 2017, but it was a unique offering for sure. Vince Vaughn effectively shows us a man backed up against a wall, fighting for his family’s freedom any way he can. Even if that means becoming a person that he doesn’t see himself as. There’s also a fun scenery chewing performance by Don Johnson as the final warden that Bradley faces. If you’re okay with extremely brutal violence and the grindhouse style of films, then you might enjoy this. If anything else it’s just another way to pass the time this winter.

Final Score: 2 snapped arms & a couple bashed-in skulls