I have come to bury Hail, Caesar!

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones.

So let it be with Caesar.

—William Shakespeare

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me.

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me.

 

Other reviews:

Movie Review: Hail, Caesar! (Danny F Santos)

Hail, Caesar! sees Joel and Ethan Coen trade acid for honey: review (Peter Howell, Toronto Star)

Review: ‘Hail, Caesar!’ a satire that doesn’t come together (Richard Crouse, CTV News)

Judging Amy…Schumer…in Trainwreck (a review)

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I need to disclose that I adore Amy Schumer. I think she is an amazingly funny and talented comedian who has a knack for finding every nerve in every situation. Thus, I was petrified when I heard she was going to write and star in a movie.

Obviously, it’s not that I didn’t think she was talented. More that the talent to pull off a movie is very different from the talent to perform stand-up or biting sketch comedy.

Most comedians do not make the transition smoothly, and when they do, it is largely because they have completely reinvented themselves, often after several rocky outings. And many simply make the not-particularly-safer jump to sitcoms.

There is a lot to like about Schumer’s Trainwreck, so in that sense, I am happy that she didn’t completely self-immolate. On the other hand, the film had a lot of weaknesses that simply highlighted the challenge of writing a 122-minute sketch.

The movie had a lot of funny lines and several funny moments, based on the laughter that surrounded me and periodically fell out of my own face. And the humor was classic Schumer for those familiar with her comedy.

Anatomical jokes. Sexuality jokes. Feminine hygiene jokes. A bit of racism here and there. And crap loads of jokes about what a giant slut Amy is—note that she followed long-standing comedian tradition of naming her character after herself.

And Bill Hader was amazing in the role of the sports surgeon-boyfriend Aaron, particularly as he largely played the entire movie straight. This was not one of Hader’s million oddball characters. This was Hader being a regular human being who hangs out with multi-million-dollar sports figures.

Where the movie fell down for me was in the story. In short, it was a pretty stereotypical romcom.

In this case, they didn’t go with the “I hate you, I hate you, I can’t live without you” model of Nora Ephron. This was more the increasingly familiar “I don’t know about this, gee this is nice, what the hell, I hate you, never leave me” model.

Now, as a romcom, that is perfectly fine. If you came looking for a romcom, you will leave satisfied. It’s classic Judd Apatow, who directed Trainwreck.

But this was hailed as the anti-romcom (not necessarily by Schumer). The movie that turns romcoms on their head. Yes, the commitment-phobe in this story was the woman and not the man, but Schumer couldn’t seem to commit to that, ironically enough.

Adorable couple...cue trainwreck in 3...2...

Adorable couple…cue trainwreck in 3…2…

After establishing her character as the wham-bam-thank-you-sir kind of girl, she almost effortlessly falls into a relationship with Hader. There is token resistance, but it is overwhelmed simply by Hader saying he doesn’t agree and thinks they should be dating. This isn’t edgy; it’s sweet. Even her voiceover admits that.

Not to give anything else away, but conflict, crisis, lesson learned, gritted teeth, redemption and I love you, I love you too.

Again, if you want a romcom to match all romcoms, you got it. For those of us waiting for the Amy Schumer jab-twist combo, it was meh.

As to all of those other amazingly funny performances that everyone was raving about, I must have blinked through those scenes. It was a bigger shock seeing Tilda Swinton as a woman (and not David Bowie) than seeing her crack wise. Colin Quinn largely played Colin Quinn, who I like but did nothing spectacular here. Dave Attell wasn’t even funny.

Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton

And the various sports dudes like LeBron James and John Cena were your typical variety show variants of athletes…mostly cartoonish feminized versions of their personas.

Schumer had moments of real pathos here, so kudos to her acting chops. This wasn’t the joke-a-minute machine of her show. There is definite potential there for a film career, but like all the others who came before her, it will likely mean reinventing herself, and I’m not too sure that she’s finished inventing herself on stage or in sketch.

In fact, I sure as hell hope not, because that’s the Amy I adore.

Lady gonna do whatever she damned well pleases!

Lady gonna do whatever she damned well pleases!