Hail, Caesar!

In 1951, movies are huge. Their stars are big. Their colors are bright, if not garish. Television has not yet become a national obsession. In Los Angeles, Capitol Studios fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) loves his job even if his days and nights are spent putting out fires.

In Hail, Caesar!, the Coen brothers sprinkle their new film with fully realized scenes like those that electrified the movies Hollywood made in the postwar, pre-TV era. It’s a trick comparable to the addition of compelling music performances to brighten up a melancholy story in their most recent film, 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis. Music also spiced up their 2000 release Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? It worked then and it works now.

Among the films in production at Capital in the day-and-a-half that Hail, Caesar! takes place is a film called “Hail, Caesar” starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Whitlock is kidnapped after a spiked drink he chugs in a scene knocks him unconscious. A missing star is just one of Mannix’s problems.

DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johanssen) stars in a swimming pool scene that recalls Esther Williams movies. Mannix works to make sure news of Moran’s out-of-wedlock child is kept quiet.

Director Laurence Larentz (Ralph Fiennes) pouts when Mannix forces him to cast handsome young cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) in a sophisticated society film.

When Mannix seeks approval from a panel of clergymen for the script for “Hail, Caesar” and its depiction of Christ, they protest.

Twin sister gossip columnists (and bitter rivals) Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) threaten to write stories damaging to Mannix’s stars.

When Mannix drops in on an editor (Frances McDormand) and asks her to show him some footage, she nearly chokes when her scarf gets caught in the film.

A cushy job offer Mannix receives from Lockheed presents a chance to move into a more stable industry and spend more time with his family. Will he take it?

Among the film’s best scenes is a dance number featuring Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), channeling Gene Kelly. Gurney sings and he and three other guys dance on tabletops. They lament that where they’re going there will be no dames. Near the end of the scene, the performance takes an unexpected turn.

Another features Mannix setting Whitlock straight with a bit of physical discipline.

Hail, Caesar! is a movie I enjoy greatly. The Coen brothers present a whacked-out story with damaged characters and several juicy 50s-era “movie within a movie” scenes. Brolin is excellent. Clooney gets to indulge in some ridiculous overacting. And Swinton continues to be one of the most versatile actors around.

As can be said about almost any Coens film, Hail, Caesar! may not be everybody’s cup of tea. You may walk out muttering WTFs. But you may also be delighted. It’s worth a shot.







My Week With Marilyn—(Blonde on Blonde)

This story is supposedly true. Doesn’t matter. True or not, it’s a good story.

How big a star was Marilyn Monroe in the 1950’s? Ask your grandfather. He’ll tell you. Mainstream movies did not have nude scenes in the 50’s. But they did have Marilyn. With her blonde hair, big lips and voluptuous body, she exuded sex. She was a megastar.

Michelle Williams is not a dead ringer for Marilyn, but the hair and makeup people and the costumers give her the Marilyn look. What she does with that look is amazing. She brings the Marilyn persona to life, complete with her insecurities and fragile ego. This is an impressive performance. Award-worthy? Yes.

British actor Eddie Redmayne stars as Colin, a recent college grad who nabs a gig as third assistant director on the movie “The Prince and the Showgirl.” His duties as a “go-fer” eventually include tending to many of Marilyn’s needs, much to the dismay of her longtime support team. He provides companionship and emotional support during an uncomfortable episode in her life and career. Quite a heady experience for a 23-year-old in 1956!

“The Prince and the Showgirl” matched Marilyn with Laurence Olivier, who starred and directed. He needed her for her beauty and sex appeal; she needed him to certify her talent as an actress. Their relationship was stormy due to his being upset with her tardiness and failure to remember lines. She, meanwhile, was intimidated by his legend and strict demands. Kenneth Branagh does an excellent job portraying Olivier.

In “My Week with Marilyn,” however, as in “The Prince and the Showgirl,” the blonde bombshell upstages the British acting legend. These movies belong to Michelle/Marilyn.

Of special note in “My Week with Marilyn” is Emma Watson’s debut in a non-Hermione Granger role. She has a minor part as a costumer who competes with Marilyn for Colin’s time and attention. She picked a good movie to begin her transition.