The Coen brothers love the Golden Age of Hollywood, the era when studios ruled, actors did what they were told, writers remained in the background and sound stages were spectacular. To demonstrate their adoration, the brothers wrote, directed and produced a love letter that showed up on theatre screens this week as Hail, Caesar!.
Unfortunately, the love letter they wrote was less a Shakespearean sonnet than the heart-dotted-i gushings of a pre-pubescent girl.
Briefly, Hail, Caesar! is a week-in-the-life story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), an executive for Capitol Pictures (think back to Barton Fink), a classic Hollywood studio. And like any good executive, Eddie spends his days and nights fixing the various issues that crop up around the studio, while trying to keep everything under wraps from the prying eyes of the gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton & Tilda Swinton).
Today, for example, Eddie is dealing with the unplanned pregnancy of twice-divorced swim star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), a celebrated cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) unwisely thrown into a high-society role, and the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) during the final days of shooting for the studio’s largest production ever, the titular Hail, Caesar: A Tale of the Christ.
And as Eddie scurries from location to location, equally supported and thwarted by the Hollywood clichés that surround him, he takes time to repeatedly visit confessional. Oh, and he is also being courted by Lockheed Martin, who want to make his life simpler while giving him buckets of money.
Now, one does not walk into a Coen brothers movie expecting something conventional, whether comedy or drama. You know that in many ways, you’ll experience theatre of the absurd. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t really live up to that standard. It is more theatre of the silly and mildly amusing.
If the main story of Eddie Mannix is the Christmas tree, the various subplots that infect his day are more the individual ornaments that decorate the tree rather than the branches that flesh it out. For the most part, the subplots are self-contained elements that go nowhere. Each one carries certain amusement—the movie does have its laugh-out-loud moments—and provides a fire against which Eddie must test himself, but even here, the fires aren’t particularly threatening and Eddie handles all of them with aplomb (if exhaustion).
And because the individual subplots—Eddie’s raisons d’etre—are so thin, the main plot is thin. I get that his journey through the events of the week is meant to symbolize Christ’s walk through the desert, and that Lockheed Martin is the Devil offering to make Christ King of the world. But I don’t care.
I really never invested in Eddie, and so the rest of the film is largely eye candy.
Now, as eye candy goes, this is some lavish stuff that leaves you with a high-end sugar rush. The brothers did a wonderful job of capturing the look and feel of those classic Hollywood films, right down to some of the ham-fisted acting and over-emoting for which the era is famed. And full credit on the song-and-dance number starring Channing Tatum.
But like any sugar rush, the dazzle wears off quickly, and I left the theatre a little empty.
I really wanted to like this movie. Like the Coen brothers, I have a rabid affection for the studio era and its stars—don’t get me started on Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Unfortunately, Hail, Caesar! was the equivalent of fine-dining at Costco…it only really whets your appetite for something better.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back near the water, SeaWorld announced that it will phase out its world-famous—and more recently, infamous—killer whale shows. The decision comes after months of pressure from community and animal-rights groups outraged by scenes depicted in the documentary Blackfish.
NIH officials have given numerous reasons for the decision, citing the weakness of animal models for human disease and technological advances that make such animals less necessary. Many, however, suspect the government agency is bowing to pressure from community groups fearing the post-apocalyptic world highlighted in the documentary series Planet of the Apes.
In particular, the actions of former laboratory test subject Koba scared the shit out of everyone.
There is no doubt that this trend of documentaries changing animal policies will intensify. For example, it is anticipated that the 2016 release of Ice Age: Collision Course will prompt the U.S. government to change its policies regarding the Scrat…whatever the feck that is.
For many of us, programs like The Daily Show were our weekly bulwark against the insanity of clashing cultures and ideologies or against insanity itself. Regardless of your personal sociopolitical leanings, shows like this one help many of us to see that we are not going insane or losing our hearing, that the bizarre ironies of peoples’ words and actions are not just figments of our imaginations.
Cain and Abel
But where most of us simply allowed the insanity to flow over us and healed our wounds in the salve that was satirical comedy and commiseration, the world’s woes wear on the people who bring us this salve. Such, I think, was the case this week with the announcement that Jon Stewart will shortly hand the reins of The Daily Show to another.
A couple of months ago, I tweeted Jon and The Daily Show to express my concern about his health, both mental and physical. Over the last several months, it seemed that each episode of the program was taking more and more out of the host, that he had to fight to maintain his composure. And he seemed to be losing that fight.
Several times, his personal comments on recent events bordered on screeching rants, as though the nuanced commentaries we had witnessed for the past 17 years required too much of him. On other occasions, he almost seemed to throw his hands into the air and with a head-bobbing sigh, surrender to the madness that swirled around us all.
Jon Stewart seemed tired, and if not broken, at least seemed wounded.
And please, this is not a condemnation or expression of disappointment. The man has clearly earned his weariness and wounds. (Too Jewy to say he took on our sins?)
Nice hat…where’s my chocolate?
Even the strongest metal abrades to nothingness if repeatedly and relentlessly thrown against a stone wall that seems to regenerate itself at will. For every monolith of stupidity or cruelty that The Daily Show tackled through humour, a dozen others formed behind it. And the show kept pushing.
And so, as much as he will be missed, Jon Stewart will step aside and begin the healing process, while the show will become what it will become under the guidance of another.
As he expressed in his announcement, the first part of that healing will likely be him reinforcing his roles as Dad and Husband. Eventually, will we see him back on stage performing stand-up (sure, we all say we’ll go to the gym)? And after that, who knows? (As long as it’s not acting…dear god, Jon, NO!)
The man has earned his rest, and we will applaud and cheer and cry as he walks out the door (and about two weeks later, we’ll start pitching screenplay ideas to you).
Coming to a theatre near you (please, please, please)
Florida Panthers centre Nick Bjugstad celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal (Alan Diaz/AP)
New York–The National Hockey League governors have initiated emergency talks in wake of last night’s game between the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals that took an unprecedented 20 shootout rounds to be settled.
“This is completely unacceptable,” said one league official who refused to be named. “Had this happened on a Saturday night, we might have been able to simply shrug off the length of this contest, but it happened on a Tuesday night, when fans need to work the next morning. To have a game go this late into the evening just won’t work for today’s fans.”
Thus, the governors are meeting to discuss ways to further hasten the end of regular season games and reduce the likelihood of such events happening again.
While an official list of possible tactics has not been released, sources close to the central office of the NHL suggest the following are being considered for games that fail to resolve after 5 shootout rounds:
Removing the goaltenders and turning the net toward the boards.
Strapping the goaltender’s hands and feet to the posts to prevent potential blocking motions.
Allowing two shooters to skate on the goaltender at the same time.
Resolving the tie on the basis of overall shots on goal, followed by fewest penalty minutes.
Awarding the win on the basis of whose fans cheer loudest.
Awarding both teams 1.5 points and going home.
The NHL has not set a timeline for resolution of this problem, but they hope to have a solution in place and activated before the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend, which takes place January 24-25 in Columbus, Ohio.
For more on the game between the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals, please see:
I love good satire. I am a massive fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and early seasons of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. I’ve always thought that satire was a wonderful way to point out the foibles of some aspect of society and thereby elicit change in that behaviour or belief.
The Merriam-Webster Concise Encyclopedia defines satire as:
“Artistic form in which human or individual vices, folly, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to bring about improvement.”
But a recent video posted by a friend on Facebook has caused me to question the idea that satire can lead to real change. The video was a short piece performed by recently deceased Mike Nichols and Elaine May that mockingly celebrated the mediocrity of television.
The piece was performed in 1959…55 years ago…and yet I wonder if the piece isn’t more salient now in the multichannel, multivehicle universe.
Listen to the audience. They’re eating it up. They know it’s true and yet so few of them likely did anything to reduce the mediocrity of television.
Has The Colbert Report done anything to cut into the viewing audience of Bill O’Reilly? Or The Daily Show seriously impacted the rhetoric spewing out of Fox News?
After the first couple seasons of ambushing politicians on Parliament Hill with their satirical antics and challenges, 22 Minutes suffered through a period where politicians practically ambushed the performers. To be seen to be able to take a joke was good for political business, thus neutering the whole point of the satire.
In contrast, there was a recent piece on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight about the Miss America scholarship program that showed the pageant was exaggerating in its claim to be the largest provider of scholarships to women. When it turned out that despite the bogus claim, Miss America still did provide scholarships to more women than several other pro-women organizations, those organizations stepped up their game. But such tit-for-tat examples are rare.
So, the question becomes, is satire anything more than entertainment for a group of common-thinking people who feel otherwise powerless? Has it ever been anything more than that?
I’m going to spend some time looking for examples where satire can be linked to social change, and I welcome input from anyone. So, please throw in your thoughts and come on back to see where I’ve landed.
And, even if I decide it really is simply a form of entertainment, I will likely continue to enjoy it as I would any other art form for which I have a fondness.
But I’ll be interested to see what I come up with.
Mother, Nehiyaw, Metis, & Itisahwâkan - career communicator. This is my collection of opinions, stories, and the occasional rise to, or fall from, challenge. In other words, it's my party, I can fun if I want to. Artwork by aaronpaquette.net