Monday, February 8, 2016

Hail, Caesar! (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Hail, Caesar!

With glitz, glamour and sumptuous color, "Hail, Caesar!" hits the screen. This is a Coen Brothers zany and affectionate take on Hollywood's Golden Age, referencing everything from Westerns, Film Noir, Hitchcock, George Stevens and more.

George Clooney plays Baird Whitlock, a self important matinee idol in the shape of Kirk Douglas. On the set of his epic film, he unwitting drinks a mickey and gets kidnapped by a group of men. Josh Brolin is Eddie Mannix, a guardian who safeguards actors from tabloid accidents. When Whitlock goes missing, Mannix is on the case. There is a subplot involving a singing cowboy / Kirby Grant character named Hobie (Alden Erenreich) and his struggle to be a sophisticated actor ala Cary Grant or Gable. This storyline has many laugh out loud moments, most of them about Hobie trying to speak his lines and flubbing them along with him trying too hard to be a ladies man.

Though Clooney's role does not handle much, he does well as a clueless and vain actor under some shuttered blinds. The ubiquitous Channing Tatum appears once more as a Gene Kelly with some fine dancing fitting the period, and Tilda Swinton is odd and leering again in an interpretation of Hedda Hopper times two. Last but not least, Scarlett Johansson is here as well as DeeAnna, a rude Esther Williams.

The film is breezy and clever, making a kind of sequel to "Barton Fink" although this one is a bit more comical than the former. Still, this latest outing does have its dark touches, mentioning the Cold War and the Red Scare of the 1950s.

Film buffs will have a good time picking up cues from many films and genres. Busby Berkeley, Gene Kelly musicals and "North By Northwest" are just a few of the appropriations.  Above all, the cinematography by the great Roger Deakins is spectacular. The water scene alone is carbonation for the eye, a completely immersive experience.

While the Coen Brothers play most of the action for laughs in showing hammy actors  either dense or desperate, the film leaves one with a philosophical accent: Whitlock may dream of utopia, but Hollywood reaches back and holds the actor in place with an iron hand.

Ultimately "Hail, Caesar!" makes a trilogy following with "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Intolerable Cruelty." There are plenty of picaresque characters here in keeping with those previous works along with a generous heap of historical fun.

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