Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hail, Caesar!

Year 9, Day 137 - 5/17/17 - Movie #2,632

BEFORE: George Clooney carries over from "Money Monster", obviously - though tonight's film has such a star-studded line-up it makes me wonder if I should be saving it for some kind of linking emergency - because you never know.  But it's the latest film from the Coen Brothers, and I'm such a big fan of their other films that I simply can't wait to get to it.  Plus it's part of the track that gets me to Memorial Day, and I don't want to mess with that now, because it took me so long to find that path.

THE PLOT: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950's works to keep the studio's stars in line.

AFTER: I think the only way to explain my tepid reaction to this film, I have to talk about my music collection.  I'm currently engaged in a project to replace the old audio cassettes, and at the same time go through any CDs that haven't been uploaded to iTunes and digitize them, so finally my whole music collection will be in one place, my computer.  And on my phone - OK, two places.  And to appease my OCD, I started with the music acts beginning with "A" (Aerosmith, since I don't have any ABBA CDs) and proceeding alphabetically.  I'm allowing myself to buy 2 albums per week, either digitally from iTunes or a CD from Amazon if the album's not available on iTunes.  I've now reached the letter "H", so it will be at least another 6 months before I hit ZZ Top.

But getting all this music together in one place, I've learned something, and it turns out that when I'm dealing with an enormous quantity of something, how much I "like" it often depends on how familiar it is.  Like I just downloaded the George Harrison album "Cloud Nine", which I listened to a LOT in the late 1980's, so much that it wore a groove in my brain, so to speak.  I know every song, every riff, and it comforts me - I haven't listened to the album in years, because of the difficulties of the cassette format, but once I got it digitally, I think I listened to it twice in one day.  By contrast, I've had the Paul McCartney album "Memory Almost Full" sitting unopened in a pile of CDs for the last few years, and after finally listening to it for the first time, I have no desire to hear it again, because it's not familiar to me.  The things we really like get to be the things we love because they're the most familiar things to us.

In the same way, I really love several Coen Brothers movies - "Raising Arizona", "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski" the most, in some order.  If my movie ends at 2 am and one of these films happens to be on, I'll switch over to that channel and no matter where I come in, I'll watch to the end.  It's a hit of something familiar and entertaining, shot straight into a vein so it reaches my brain faster than some film I'm watching for the first time.  That's the only explanation I can find for why "Hail, Caesar!", written and directed by the same people, just left me cold.  Who knows, maybe after repeated viewings I'll find something I can relate to, or it could reach that level of familiarity where, if it's on, I simply have to watch it.  But I doubt it.

I mean, the premise seems good, where a studio executive has to visit all of these different movies being made on the same company's lot, and solve a variety of problems, like the star who gets kidnapped by Communists, a starlet who's pregnant with no intention of marrying the baby's father, a cowboy actor who's been cast in a period drama and can't quite meet the director's expectations, and a pair of twin gossip columnists threatening to write scandalous facts about the kidnapped star.  Meanwhile, he's getting offers to go work at Lockheed in an executive position that will guarantee him income for life (what, and leave show business?).  But somehow in all this, it feels like someone forgot to make it funny or write any gags.  Is that possible?  OK, maybe it's supposed to be a dark comedy, like "Fargo", which didn't have jokes either, but somehow still managed to entertain. 

OK, maybe it's interesting to see tributes to different genres of films from the 1940's/1950's - we go from an Esther Williams-style swimming number to a Ben Hur-like period piece, to a Gene Kelly-style dance number with sailors in a bar, to a Western and then a high-society relationship drama.  But does it all add up to something, in the end?  The P.O.V. of the fixer just seems to be a cheap way to link all of these numbers, as if that's the loosest possible thread to unite them - the fact that they're all being made by the same movie studio.  It feels like such a cheat.

And for every social issue being addressed - the Communist writers, the gossip spread by society mavens, the single mother thing - I feel like I can name two or three movies that dealt with those topics better.  And didn't the Coen Brothers already do the tortured writer thing in "Barton Fink"?  And didn't they also do ransom plots in "Raising Arizona", "Fargo" AND "The Big Lebowski"?  It's a bad sign when directors start repeating themselves.  And here we don't even get to see the resolution of some of the plotlines - instead the lead character just TELLS us how they got resolved.  That's just sloppy follow-up work.

Also starring Josh Brolin (last seen in "Everest"), Alden Ehrenreich (last seen in "Blue Jasmine"), Ralph Fiennes (last seen in "Red Dragon"), Scarlett Johansson (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Tilda Swinton (last seen in "Doctor Strange"), Channing Tatum (last seen in "The Hateful Eight"), Frances McDormand (last seen in "Aeon Flux"), Jonah Hill (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Veronica Osorio, Alison Pill (last seen in "Snowpiercer"), Heather Goldenhersh, Max Baker, Fisher Stevens (last seen in "Undisputed"), Patrick Fischler (last seen in "Mulholland Drive"), David Krumholtz (also last heard in "Sausage Party"), Fred Melamed (last seen in "Ishtar"), Patrick Carroll, Alex Karpovsky (last seen in "Inside Llewyn Davis"), Robert Picardo (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Robert Trebor, Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown (last heard in "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies"), Wayne Knight (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 3"), Peter Jason (last seen in "Nice Dreams"), the voice of Michael Gambon (last seen in "Layer Cake"), with cameos from Jon Daly (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Kyle Bornheimer (last seen in "The D Train"), Jack Huston, and Dolph Lundgren (last seen in "The Expendables 3").

RATING: 4 out of 10 rope tricks

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