Hail, Caesar!

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by Joseph Saulnier

The Coen Brothers are at it again with Hail, Caeser!  Set in Hollywood in the 1950s, the film follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a “Hollywood Fixer” as he tries to navigate some pretty outrageous pitfalls of the movie studio he works for.  These pitfalls include the biggest movie star on the lot, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) getting kidnapped, leading lady DeeAnna Moran (Scarlet Johansson) about to have a child out of wedlock, nosy twin reporters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), and western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) butting heads with director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) as he moves into a new type of role for him.  All while he is trying to quit smoking.  This is not going to be easy.

In true Coen fashion, this movie is just loaded with stars.  From small cameos, to bigger roles, you will see the likes of Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Alison Pill, and many, many more.  Half the fun of the movie is finding these yourself.

Brolin is essentially the star of the film as you are seeing several different stories throughout the movie, and he is the connection between them all.  With top notch performances from all cast members, I can’t help but fell how much fun they had while making this film.  Which sets the audience at ease as you know, inherently, that the movie is not necessarily meant to be taken serious, at least not as serious as other films out right now such as Room or Brooklyn.

It was an interesting decision to release the film this time of year.  Typically, Coen Brothers films are considered award worthy.  So why release it now, which is a time of year often considered award purgatory.  If they wanted to be considered for an award, such as a Golden Globe or an Oscar, why not release it before the first of the year, or at the end of this year to be fresh in mind for next year’s award season.  Well it’s simple.  The film is good, but not great.  And I think the Coens know this.  The film is funny, and has a unique twist on some of the hot topics of the 1950s added in, but going up against some of the other films in award contention it is not likely to succeed.  So, release it now, let it have a good run (better than it would have against the other award contenders), and not worry about the politics of Hollywood.  Then again, maybe that was there plan.  A subtle protest against what the awards circus that the Golden Globes and Academy Awards have become.  I wouldn’t put it past them for this.

The bottom line is with a cast of hundreds (not really, but practically), a good score, and an entertaining, if not somewhat cheesy, story (and acting), this is definitely a film worth checking out.

 

3.5 stars out of 5

 

Second Review by Don Guillory

As an historian and lover of film, I enjoy being transported through time with movies as the vehicle. The Coen Brothers’ new film Hail Caesar transports its audience into the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. With this film they allow for the viewers to examine the various political and social aspects at play during the period. In Hail Caesar, we are allowed to get an insider’s view of film studios and the various items that are being juggled by the studio manager Eddie Mannix, played by James Brolin, who is continuously fighting to solve the problems of his actors and directors. We bear witness to a young bombshell, played by Scarlett Johansen, who must rush to cover up her pregnancy or she stands to lose her “good girl” image, a singing cowboy whose image is being reshaped to fit with the changing times in the industry, a disgruntled director who demands perfection, a young handsome dancer with a secret who could destroy the studio, and the abduction of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the studio’s biggest star.

We are surrounded by metaphors and imagery that are entertaining, as well as, essential to the plot and direction of the film. The Coen Brothers allow for an examination of the way that people working within the industry are controlled by it and by public perception. We see that the chaos surrounding each of the actors’ lives is somewhat comforting. They need to have this disorder in order to have a sense of normalcy. The issues that are normal and natural for the public eye are considered to be counter to how they wish to exist. When their worlds collide and result in friction, we see how they must make sense of it all in order to return to a sense of equilibrium. Hail Caesar is an examination of the film industry during the early years of the Cold War and “Red Scare” in which America witnessed a battle of ideologies play out in our political arenas which caused many to become disenfranchised and marginalized within society.

Hail Caesar fits perfectly into the Coen Brothers body of work. There is symbolism throughout the collection of stories within the film which work well together in creating a definitive piece of art and historiography. They pay tribute to film of the late 1940s and early 1950s with their inclusion of westerns, religious themes, grand choreography, musicals, and romantic dramas. The film itself is a tribute to artistic expression and demonstrates a strong and valid historical lens applied to the creation of this film.

 

4/5

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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by Genevieve Mc Bride

As a fan of the Pride and Prejudice book by Jane Austen, I thought it was all kinds of wrong when I came across the parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith, that essentially Austen’s classic novel with elements of modern zombie fiction.  Mainly because I’m not a fan of horror movies. So as we approached the theater where we were screening Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I told my husband, “I really don’t want to watch this. I hate zombies.” He just laughed. “You hate zombies, but you watch Walking Dead. Just pretend it’s an episode of Walking dead. Just set in the Victorian era.” I admit, I do watch the Walking Dead but it’s the most stressful hour of television for me, and there are commercial breaks. This movie has a running time for this move was almost 2 hrs with no commercials.

But the movie got a giggle out of me in the first 5 minutes. And of course it made me gasp not long after. But Walking Dead has trained me well, and it wasn’t too long ago that I watched Hateful Eight, so I think I’m quite desensitized to blood and gore now, and in comparison, PPZ was relatively mild in that regard. It also had enough of the elements of the original story that fighting zombies actually became an entertaining digression. You know – beautiful young ladies, dashing young men, ballroom dancing, budding romance, zombie attack.

“To succeed in polite society, a young woman must be many things. Kind… well-read… and accomplished. But to survive in the world as WE know it, you’ll need… other qualities.” Those qualities include being skilled in the martial arts and weapons training, while wearing a corset –essentially making them Regency era bad-asses.

Because I don’t watch Downton Abbey, the last time I saw Lily James, who plays Elizabeth Bennett, she was brilliantly blond and sweetly keeping her promise to her mother to “have courage and be kind.” as Cinderella. In PPZ, she’s a fierce brunette who doesn’t take too kindly to Fitzsimmons Darcy, played by a sullen and haughty Sam Riley – another Disney alum, last seen as Diaval, Maleficent’s companion raven.

Where the Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy is won over by Elizbeth’s charm and wit, PPZ’s Darcy is slowly won over by Elizabeth’s aggressive and bold battle skills. Adding the alternate history of how zombies came to be a part of Regency era England hurried the story along, so the romantic developments felt a bit rushed, but Riley’s Darcy was quite believable in his reluctant but growing admiration of Elizabeth.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, zombies and all. When you can get guys to cheer for some undead’s head getting blown off, and still make the ladies sigh for the romance, you have a pretty perfect date movie. It may very well be my favorite period costume romantic zombie action film.

 

3 out of 5

 

Second Review By Sasha Glenn

 

Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel by the same name, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is a quirky and dark parody of the classic Jane Austen novel “Pride and Prejudice.” In this story the women are not delicate, instead they are zombie killers with ninja-like fighting skills. Still set in the beautiful Victorian era, the film mixes elegance with comedy and horror.

On first glance the trailers for this film look pretty terrible, and the name will either perk curiosities or be met with disinterested laughter. Even a short description of the plot sounds cheesy. But don’t be too quick to shut down the idea. The film is actually quite enjoyable.

The ninja-like fighting that takes place is not too overdone, and the bits of romantic plot line are executed in a way that mocks the dating scene of a time that is often portrayed as stiff.

The film is not at all frightening, rather it’s a dark comedy. Don’t expect to be jumping out of your seat. That being said, the zombies are pretty wicked looking – some with half missing faces. They are a bit different than zombies in other stories. They can move pretty quickly and they can talk like regular people. A particularly cool and fairly unique scene includes a zombie baby. Another aspect that keeps this film from being another run-of-the mill zombie story is the incorporation of pig brains as a source of food for the zombies. A scene that is a bit nauseating depicts zombies feasting on harvested pig brains.

Adding another entertaining touch is the role of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, fierce zombie killer, played by “Game of Thrones” actress Lena Headey. She fits the role of pompous and callous ruler quite well, but it is even better seeing her perform this role in a comedy.

Director Burr Steers has done a great job keeping the film short. It lasts long enough to entertain and doesn’t try to do anything more than that.

The film is no epic masterpiece, but it doesn’t claim to be. It delivers exactly what it aims to – entertainment.

A delightfully horrific comedy, I give “Pride and Prejudice and Zombie” 2.5 out of 5 stars.