HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Hail Caesar!
HTS Overall Score:80
It’s been a while since Joel and Ethan Coen have directed a movie. For the last several years they have been working on prestige projects and writing scripts for other famous directors such as Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken”, and Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”. The last time we left the eclectic duo was when they directed 2013’s “Inside Llewyn Davis” and 2010’s remake of the classic John Wayne film, “True Grit”. This time they’ve gone back to their quirkier roots and given us something reminiscent of “Burn after Reading” and “Intolerable Cruelty”, but tackling a period piece drama about the golden age of cinema. The great 1950’s where America was wholesome, the threat of Communism was on the lips of every red blooded American and musicals and epics were the ticket to stardom in tinsel town. “Hail Caesar!” is not AS great as their early early works, such as “Fargo”, “Miller’s Crossing” or “No Country for old Men”, but it is a solid step in the right direction with a breezy little comedy that takes advantage of the wryly sardonic humor that comes from a straight faced winking and nodding to the camera in a way that only the Coen Brothers seems to be able to pull off.
While Joss Whedon made “Cabin in the Woods” as a love letter to the horror genre, the Coen brothers have made “Hail Caesar!” as their own love letter to the old days of the silver screen. Lovingly crafted and meticulously directed, the duo paints a picture of the good old days when Gene Kelly and Kirk Douglas were king of the movie stars, and their comic spoof of the era balances a very tight rope between satirical farce and respectful honoring of the greats who came before us. While sword and sandal epics and musical numbers with gorgeous dancing male leads were common place in real Hollywood, they are commonplace in the fictional Capitol Studios Inc, where one Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) heads up the entire division and does his best to keep the arrogant actors in line so their pictures can hit the market. The main focus of the film is around the Cecil DeMille style epic “Hail Caesar!”, an epic sword and sandal film that details the life of Christ through the eyes of a Roman centurion played by Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Not only does the devoutly catholic Mannix have to deal with the flakiness of his lead actor, but also patronize the beautiful DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who is doing her best to hide an unplanned out of wedlock pregnancy which will ruin her innocent image (until the studio comes up with the bright idea to have her adopt her own child so no one will know), as well as try to cram a square peg into a round hole by having good old country star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) try his very first had at a dramatic role. Despite the fact that his country twang and good old boy attitude make him ill-suited for a Broadway style recreation by the famous Lawrence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=71265[/img]Things get a little dicey when Baird Whitlock is drugged and kidnapped by a couple of extras on the set (one of which is Seinfeld’s own Wayne Knight) and held for ransom by a bunch of communist screenwriters (a little wink and a not to the Trumbo scenario) and indoctrinated into their way of thinking. While Baird is having his little sabbatical under the guise of force, Mannix enlists the help of Hobie Doyle in getting the $100,000 ransom to the men responsible so that he can get their picture back in full swing, while he soon finds out that the leader of the “gang” of communists is actually one of his own actors. One Burt Gurney, played by Channing Tatum in a role that’s as different from his normal faire as his role was in Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”. Along for the ride is a pair of Hedda Hopper esque twins who are screaming for a quick scoop and do their best to get in Mannix’s way as he’s trying to keep his incredibly hectic life from crumbling to the ground.
The Coen brothers are almost as unique and different as Quinton Tarantino is, and their dialog is just as masterful, albeit much more subdued and sardonic in nature than Tarantino’s love of the flowery and exaggerated. There’s a billion cameos and bit parts in the ensemble film, ranging from the old Coen brothers standards like Clooney, Francis McDormand, and the like down to oddball ones like Christopher Lambert, Ralph Fiennes, Clancy Brown, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Patrick Fischler, David Krumholtz (Numbers, Serenity), Robert Picardo, Wayne Knight, and even good old Dumbledore as the narrator. Each of the individual stories is self-contained, but also important to the overall issue at hand, which is the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock and Mannix’s desperation to get him back. What really makes the situation of load of fun is that each scene plays out like a little skit, with its own brand of humor and style added to it. There’s the hilarious argument about the theology of “Hail Caesar!” between the Rabbi, the priest, the pastor and the Yiddish clergyman (I know, it sounds like the start of a good joke, but if you know anything about inter-denominational fights then the scene is down right side splitting). Then there’s a full on Gene Kelly style song and dance bit where Channing Tatum gets to dust off his dance shoes and really break out of the mold he’s set for himself over the years (and then become the egotistical communist leader a few scenes down the road). Tilda Swinton is brutal but wryly funny as she mocks the aggressive and annoying real life sleaze journalist Hedda Hopper, while Josh Brolin’s straight guy routine is both relatable and heartwarming at the same time.
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=71273[/img]One of the joys of “Hail Caesar!” is the care and detail taken in recreating not only the look and feel of the 1950s, but also the look and feel of the MOVIES that were SHOT in the 1950s. The sword and sandal epic that Baird Whitlock is starring in replicates the feel of “Spartacus” with the burnished golden and olive skin tones and the overly orange reds, with sandy yellows. The Capital Studio lot looks soft and warm with solid skin tones and great contrast levels all around, showing off every line and crag on Clooney’s aging face, as well as every stich on his old Roman battle gear costume. DeeAnna’s choreographed film about a mermaid is filled with luscious blues and greens and bright yellows, and Burt’s rendition of a Gene Kelly film is razor sharp and filled with brilliantly white outfits to contrast off the wood floors of the bar. Black levels remain impeccable throughout and the entire disc is free of any major digital artifacting. Simply put, a spectacular encode by Universal.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=71281[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track for the disc is almost as good as the video encode, with strong vocals and a great backup with the 1950’s inspired musical numbers. Besides the musical bits there is not a whole lot of surround activity that makes this a fully immersive film, but allows the dialog to take over and create a fairly front heavy experience throughout the quirky comedy. There’s some good surround usage here and there, such as the creaking and clanking of the Roman armor when Whitlock gives his impassioned speech, or the squeaking of shoes on a stage floor as Hobie Doyle does his best to sound literate in his first dramatic role. LFE is tight and clean, supporting the music with impeccable presence, and then sliding off into the background when it is not necessary, only to come back into the spotlight with a few odds and ends (such as the Russian sub breaking water for Burt).
• Directing Hollywood
• The Stars Align
• An Era of Glamour
• Magic of a Bygone Era – Hail, Caesar!
Some of the “skits” or situations don’t always work 100%, but more often than not the hilarity comes through and had myself and my guests rolling around with laughter throughout the hour and forty six minute runtime. Those of you who have a loved of old time cinema will love the attention to detail that gives each movie and each set on the texture and feel of the 1950’s, from the burnished golds and orange reds of the “Spartacus” knockoff, to the brightly lit dance floor filled with sparkling teeth and white sailor costumes. The Coen Brothers are back in form and for those who love their offbeat humor, “Hail Caesar!” is a welcome return for audiences everywhere. The audio and video for the combo pack is great and despite the limited extras, I still have to give a solid thumbs up for “Hail Caesar!”.
Starring: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC (with some a smattering of 1.66:1 and 1.33:1 at times)
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French (Canadian), Spanish, French DTS 5.1, English DD 2.0
Runtime: 106 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: June 7th 2016
Buy Hail Caesar! On Blu-ray at Amazon
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