Hail, Caesar! (2016)

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I do enjoy the Coen Brothers work, but I can’t say I’m gushing over this latest picture. It’s fun in places and soars because of a fabulous cast but I felt it was perhaps scattered too much and bereft of a gripping plot.

We find ourselves in the 1950’s and mostly follow Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood honcho who helps stars and productions keep good press. That could become tricky though as feature star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets kidnapped in the midst of filming a religious epic called ‘Hail, Caesar!’. A group calling themselves The Future want money for his release and so Mannix must try to get Whitlock back.

Joel and Ethan Coen direct and write this lark and do so with a clear fondness for the way movies come together. The laughs can be found as actors or directors guffaw over choices, most explicitly in the repetitive yet genius scene between Ralph Fiennes’ directing worry with Alden Ehrenreich’s cowboy icon of Hobie Doyle. The Coen’s flit between different sound stages letting us peek at differing productions which are amusing and interesting but this back and forth never gives the movie a sense of story or tension when there could have been. Without much of a plot this movie does look and sound more like a series of images to be loved by critics or classic film fanatics.

Roger Deakins, who really needs an Oscar by now, is on top form capturing wonder in this filmy feature. The glorious epic feel of the Romans sweeping through the screen or the synchronised swimmers gloriously twirling and floating around bombshell actress DeeAnna Moran played by bombshell actress Scarlett Johansson. It looks all the way through like a glorious picture of old, a love letter to the way movies used to be made.

The film did make me chuckle and grin but I never belted a laugh, and nor did many in the audience either, I feel this movie is more subdued and lacking of an engaging narrative than it should be. The angles it bounces off in become so many that characters are lost to minimal moments making them almost unnecessary. We see ideas skewed in from journalist stories, Capitalist thoughts, kidnap, pregnancy fixing, Communism and movie making that it doesn’t ever mesh, each point just hangs there never defined.

The characters are amusing though, their flourishes and their names being so wonderfully goofy and studio send ups. Thora/Thessaly Thacker, Burt Gurney and the winner – Laurence Laurentz. The dance number is toe-tappingly silly, Channing Tatum’s blonde flick and look backs are hilariously over the top and most character looks fall delightfully under the gormless idiot look that the Coen’s so brilliantly encapsulate in their writing. Only a shame that the characters aren’t backed up by a fun or rewarding plot.

Josh Brolin practically does everything as we see him do all the work, finding himself here there and everywhere trying to solve problems and ultimately bring back Baird. He is a straight man, not really demonstrating much comedy as George Clooney does that, going back to his ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ routine to play buffoonish and moronic. It’s not as good as that film or his performance in ‘Burn After Reading’ either but he is still having a ball. Alden Ehrenreich will be one to watch, he plays the singing Western star with such grounded believability that when he steps out of his comfort zone you feel for him, he ends up being the hero of the piece in my mind. Ralph Fiennes once again proves his unquestionable prowess for comic timing, in his two main scenes his face speaks volumes and his delivery adds even more. Scarlett Johansson pulls the cheesy starlet grin with no depth as the mermaid and then counters with a thick accent and a penchant for problems. Tilda Swinton fans get two for the price of one as she portrays twin journalists with a sense of striking fashion and similarly striking headlines. Frances McDormand is a smoking, scarf wearing editor that is merely a cameo but brings in one of the better moments as we see how well the Coen Bros can do dark material. Channing Tatum tap dances his way through as a sailor and more. Hail, Dumbledore! We even get Michael Gambon as a narrator just to make this whole thing more starry and more filmy filmy.

Flecks of brilliance and movie making behind the scenes comedy but a portion empty and flat for my liking. This Coen outing is boosted by a grand cast and a glowing adoration to movies of the golden era.

6.5/10

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Dad’s Army (2016)

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Don’t Panic…this movie remake of the well loved and still well shown TV sitcom isn’t as bad as some reviews may be saying. At least, I enjoyed the quaint nature and rather twee approach it had, granted the comedy never takes off and the stars listed feel under used but aside from this and its predictability, it’s nevertheless a fine call to attention for the appreciated BBC show.

In 1944 Walmington-on-Sea, the Home Guard led by blustering Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) may finally get the chance to prove themselves as fit and necessary men for the war. MI5 believe the Germans have a spy in the midst of this seaside resort and hope that the Captain and his army can find the sneaky culprit and save the day.

Taking on such a popular and adored sitcom from the hallowed halls of British television is no mean feat and director Oliver Parker has his work cut out for him just by using the name and trying to tread in the much respected footsteps taken by the likes of Arthur Lowe, Clive Dunn and John Laurie. He does have a background in tackling British brands of the past, with ‘St. Trinian’s’ and’ Johnny English Reborn’ to his name. This feels the same as the latter with a big sweeping feel to the piece but not much behind it. It looks good and we see more of the town, the people and even Germany but without the needed ingredients of substance or point to make us wish to see that.

I kind of agree with a lot of online views stating that this film is pointless. It’s not like anyone massively called out for this movie to be rolled into production, the show is always on air and will always be remembered so having a whole new bunch of faces and a now bigger set piece cinema scaled vision to the characters and location feels forced and unwanted. On the other hand, I am happy to see it get the silver screen treatment because it heightens on drama and doesn’t tarnish ‘Dad’s Army’, in fact this feels like a weak yet satisfying salute to the original.

Of course throughout this 2016 release, watching Jones or Bill Nighy comes with a set of expectations and it’s odd seeing them try to look and act in a similar fashion to the actors from the TV show. There’s a strained factor at times with some of the jokes or skewed references to the show, as if they know we’re hopeful to hear catchphrases ring out for us to enjoy. Also the story about a spy is boringly approached being obvious, the set-ups the Home Guard face are never subtle and maybe things get a little to historically serious for these bumbling older men to handle. It’s fun in the show seeing them verge on doing something but never really finding their place to help the war efforts.

Comedy wise; there are some good laugh out loud moments from the Carry On style word play and general innuendo or the prat falling movements from Mainwaring. The scene in a cottage as he and Wilson hope to win the admiration and passion of new figure Rose Winters is really well done. There’s a weird yet humorous angle in Pike’s attempt to be dashing like a cinematic idol and the lucid thoughts of German looks invading the usually placid town are over the top but played greatly.

Toby Jones looks the part and really steals the film when squinting his eyes and looking like a puffy Churchill. Bill Nighy isn’t a great Wilson being more like he is in rom-coms with the usual Nighy snort and swagger. Michael Gambon delights as the dim-witted yet cheery Godfrey. Catherine Zeta-Jones looks like she’s enjoying her turn as the new character, lapping up the irony of us knowing her part and the men in uniform not having a clue. Daniel Mays with swindler voice and all is a fine casting choice for the scheming wise-cracking Walker. Blake Harrison is goofy, lanky, kind and molly-coddled to almost Ian Lavender levels. Tom Courtenay is perhaps the closest to his tube character after Jones, his movements and voice being near uncanny. Bill Paterson gives fun barrel shot dead pan tones to his turn as Scottish Frazer. It’s also good to see a whole new army come in as the females show up to help in a large way, this plus a couple of cameos make it a fine ensemble piece just not as magical as they could have been.

There’s no fraud on show here as this movie is clearly trying to be a solid love letter to the television sitcom but it doesn’t fully succeed. There is comedy, there is imitation and there’s a good aim at being bigger but the tame factor cannot be denied.

5.5/10