Hail, Caesar! Review

The Coen Brothers are probably the most multi-talented duo in Hollywood at the moment. Both Joel and Ethan have produced, written and directed films for over thirty years, recently working on the script of Bridge Of Spies. Now, their new film, Hail, Caesar! is in cinemas.

Hail, Caesar! stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannson and Alden Ehrenreich and is directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen. The films follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a “fixer” for a major Hollywood studio during the 1950s.

The film is set in the Golden Age of Hollywood and there are several jokes and references to the films of yesteryear, the film is basically a love letter to Hollywood. We see behind the scenes of the films such as in the cutting room and the board meetings, with funny scenes at every turn. It reminds me of Singin’ In The Rain to an extent. We jump from movie lot to movie lot, seeing snippets of biblical epics, westerns and musicals. The film also moves between several genres of film, with parts being mystery, noir, romance and comedy. Unfortunately, this was one of my problems with it, as the film didn’t feel consistent with its tone. The film also changes aspect ratio whenever it goes into one of its film-within-a-film moments, which also annoyed me a little.

With the Coen Brother’s also writing the script as well as directing, the jokes come thick and fast. The Coen’s know how to construct farcical scenes well and hide little jokes in the margins for the more eagle-eyed viewers. My favourite from Hail, Caesar! is an extended back-and-forth between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (the first of several cameos in the film) over pronunciation of a line of dialogue.

The film is littered with cameos from actors and actresses, each one bringing their all to the film. Tilda Swinton (in two roles), Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Michael Gambon and Channing Tatum all fill out the side space well. Channing Tatum, who leads the best scene in the film, a highly choreographed tap dance/Broadway song is brilliant, but is in the film for less than ten minutes. It’s nice to see all these talented actors, but ether they don’t feature enough or bog down the narrative with added weight. Michael Gambon does some voice over but it comes out of nowhere at has no narrative cohesion. It doesn’t open and close the story, it just pops in whenever it feels like it.

Watching the trailer, you would think that Hail, Caesar! is a crime comedy about George Clooney being kidnapped and Josh Brolin has to go out and find him. In all honesty, that story is only around a third of the film. The Coen’s add side-story on top of side-story, smothering the main plot with additional characters and stories that are either never resolved or end too quick. When we do get back to the main plot, it potters around for a good while before being resolved far too quickly. This blurring of stories is what the Coen’s do in a lot of their films, but it makes Hail, Caesar! feel very disjointed.

Hail, Caesar! is a very quirky film. If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson’s work then you might find enjoyment here. If you’re a real film history buff then you’ll get all the nods and jokes to the 50s production, but to the average movie-goer, those same jokes will fall flat. It’s not for everyone, but for those who get it, you’ll find several laughs within.

Score: 7/10 Baffling and a bit odd, but still very funny.

Magic Mike XXL Review

When Magic Mike first came out in 2012, many dismissed it straight off as just a film about male strippers, a dance film with a 15 certificate. I eventually watched it when it came on television and was quite surprised when it became an actual story with fleshed out characters rather than just endless dance routines. Will the sequel stand up to it’s predecessor?

Magic Mike XXL stars Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Amber Heard and Jada Pinkett Smith with Gregory Jacobs directing. Three years after leaving the “male entertainer” business, Mike (Tatum) decides to join the group for one last show in Myrtle Beach at a stripper convention.

I was skeptical about Magic Mike XXL. Without the first director, Steven Soderbergh returning, and with a goofy road-movie setup I thought it was going to fall into the trap of films that really don’t need sequels getting lame cash-ins associated with their name (basically nearly every horror movie franchise ever). And even though it didn’t surprise me in the same way the first one did, I was still thoroughly entertained.

Even with a change of directors, the film still looks brilliant. The film is awash with beautiful lighting and scenes that Gregory Jacobs captures expertly. During some of the bigger dance numbers, the way the camera swings around the stages, big and small, and the light shows that accompany them, it becomes rather mesmerising. The actor’s physicality must be applauded as well. The way that our male leads throw themselves around the stage while dancing, performing backflip after backflip, or using the scenery to perform some nifty dance moves, it’s fun to watch a succession of perfectly choreographed dance moves fired off one after another. The first dance routine done by Channing Tatum when he is working in his workshop which incorporates chairs, tables and beams as well as the odd power tool is one of the best of the ones in the film and is also damn funny to watch.

Much like the first film, we don’t just have a barrage of dance numbers, the film instead uses up most of the time focusing on the characters. The dialogue here is actually interesting as the characters are all coming to an end of the their stripping careers. We get many scenes of them contemplating what they will do career-wise afterwards, with some struggling to find a job and place in a world that they do not know.

The film is billed as a comedy-drama, and its comedy scenes are actually quite funny. The best is a standout scene of a drug-fuelled dance routine in a gas station set to a Backstreet Boys song, which is hilariously funny as well as being an over-the-top dance/stripper routine. There is also a really good dig at Twilight near the end of the film which is pretty funny.

As always the film has some things working against it. The films run time clocks in at over two hours, which is way too long for what it entails. The film could have easily lost twenty to thirty minutes and there would have been no loss to story cohesion. With the set-up of a road movie, the film does bring up road movie tropes; crashes, losing members along the way, a rousing speech to get all of the remaining members to power through to the end. It all feels a bit clichéd. The biggest problem though is that Magic Mike XXL is a sequel. The first Magic Mike was surprising because everyone thought that is was going to be an MTV style movie; no plot and all stripping. When it subverted our preconceived ideas, it made the film that much more enjoyable. Since I had the memory of the first film at the back of my head when I watched the second, all I could think is “Wow, the first one was great, the second one while good isn’t anywhere near that though.”

In summary, Magic Mike XXL is good. It’s not as good as the first one, but it’s fun to see the returning characters from the first film and to also see some new, extravagant dance routines that sometimes surpass the originals.

Score: 7/10 Mike and the other dancers still have the Magic within them.