Hail, Caesar!: Silly brilliance by the Coen Brothers. Time is the early 1950’s. Place is Capital Pictures, a mythical Hollywood movie studio. The film opens with a focus on Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who is the “Head of Physical Production” for Capital and a “Fixer”. Everything that happens thereafter flows through Mannix. This movie works because despite the utter silliness and seeming chaos of the underlying tales, the Mannix character threads through and connects everything. The story takes place over a few consecutive days and runs the gauntlet of Mannix dealing with twin gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton) to Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the lead actor in a movie called “Hail, Caesar”, being kidnapped. Whitlock’s kidnapping is the primary story line, however, there are numerous sub-stories. For instance, a pregnant but unmarried Ester Williams type actress (Scarlett Johansson) investigates whether she can legally adopt her own child, which leads to a brief and funny appearance by Jonah Hill as an accountant who will make it happen. Then there’s Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly type actor with his own unique issues. The actor who is brilliant throughout the film is Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, a Singing Cowboy who is asked to do a period drama, which leads us to Ralph Fiennes as the director who must deal with Hobie’s total lack of acting ability, and Frances McDormand as a film editor who has a near fatal accident. While tumbling through the ruckus of these incidents, the movie returns to Whitlock’s kidnapping and the kidnappers. This entire 100 minute film is done in a blaze of fun. The actors project a genuine joy in romping through this parody of various movie stars from the 1950’s. The film is brilliant and for anyone who enjoys movies, this is a must see.
Friday, February 5, 2016
The Finest Hours: a rescue at sea & romance combo. The advertisements for this movie center on the fact that it is a true story of a miraculous rescue at sea. The opening scene, however, is the first date between Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber (Chris Pine)and his bride to be, Miriam (Holliday Grainger). In fact, a significant portion of the film is devoted to their love story. The time is Winter 1951 and the location is Cape Cod. The focus remains on the Bernie/Miriam romance until February 1952, when the couple become engaged. At this point, the film finally switches, for the most part, to the massive storm and the subsequent rescue. The rescue is dramatic and, to this day, remains the most successful Coast Guard small boat rescue on record. Webber and his 3-man crew accomplish something no less than spectacular in dealing with an oil tanker split in two during an extreme Atlantic winter storm. The scenes involving the floating half of the tanker are the strongest parts of this movie as are the scenes with Webber and crew crossing a sandbar to get to the tanker. During the run of the credits, we learn that Bernie and Miriam were together for 58 years, which is wonderful. The movie, however, has a distinct Hallmark ambience and too much of the 117 minutes are devoted to Miriam. The exceptions are those scenes involving Miriam’s conversations with a widow who lost her husband in a similar storm. Rachel Brosnahan gives a strong performance as the widow. Casey Affleck, as the chief engineer who manages to keep the tanker afloat long enough for Webber to arrive, also turns in a strong performance. Unfortunately, The Finest Hours may also have provided 2016’s worse performance in a supporting role. Eric Bana is terrible as Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff, Webber’s commander, and his attempts at mimicking a Southern accent are abysmal. The movie’s director is Craig Gillespie. The scenes at sea work, especially those on the tanker. The same cannot be said for the far too abundant scenes on land.