Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Thoughts On Hail, Caesar! And My Similar Lost Project

Many years ago before Hollywood Video closed, my brother and I loaned my mom some rented movies with the instructions to return them to the one closer to our side of town. Instead she returned them to the one closer to hers and it took over a month for them to transfer over. We ended up with $46 of fees. We paid them off and then half a year later they had a closing down sale and excused all fees. Sigh... Such is life.

Rewinding backwards on the way to paying the fee, my brother said "It's time to pay my debt to Hollywood."

That line got me brainstorming. We envisioned a web comic about a Golden Age Hollywood that mashed up eras. It had a studio system, but it made room and allowances for actor and genre types existing simultaneously while also exploring poverty row, indies and self directed vanity projects. Basically the gist as I envisioned it was a director who is owed another movie on his contract before he can freelance or retire. My brother didn't like that and insisted the main character be an everyman actor of Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda variety. We then discussed other characters. We had a Clark Gable meets George Clooney King of Hollywood type marrying a Julia Roberts girl next door type who claws her way to the top while making power plays sort of like what people think of Joan Crawford. We moved onto the main characters best-friend, the guy who always plays dad's, but is in the closet, sort of Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch and less like Paul Lynde. We then discussed a Clint Eastwood meets Humphrey Bogart type who goes from doing low budget crime movies to directing his own vehicle. There was to be a Jean Harlow/Marilyn Monroe type who while sweet has mob ties. We'd have had a Benny Siegel gangster type as part of her backstory. We also discussed an obnoxious, method actor Marlon Brando/Robert De Niro type who alienates his co-workers with his extreme idiosyncratic methods. We even spitefully thought of doing a Tom Cruise/Keanu Reeves action hero leading man whose box office appeal gets him cast in inappropriate period dramas. We even thought of a directors nephew Nicholas Cage type whose bizarre, over the top acting produces controversial results. Those last two were cynical on our part. We discussed other actors and directors, but this part of the post is getting too long and is unimportant.

This brings me to Hail, Caesar! It does what I could have done, better than I could imagine. Sure a web comic has room to flesh out soap opera plots and job commentary better than a 100 minute movie could, but it'd be pure wank compared to the what the Cohen Brothers pulled off. I like them. Not all of there movies are winners, some are forgettable, but like that other maligned, but overrated director Wes Anderson, they make movies that aren't structured like blockbuster formulas. They put there own stamp on topics no other filmmaker would touch without turning it into some by the numbers drivel.

I watched Gail, Caesar! in a nearly empty theater with my remaining family. It was an overwhelming sight to behold. I liked it. I don’t understand other people’s bitching that it wasn’t some big blockbuster team up of disparate actors, Avengers style. It’s better than the wasted spectacles of crap like Gangster Squad or The Great Gatsby as far as period piece cinema goes. It’s the day in the life of the going on of a fictional studio, the aptly named Capitol. You see the last night, the day and the next day. Nice structuring to accommodate the comings and goings of characters tied by Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). You get to see Clooney as a leading man sword and sandal type getting kidnapped by a Communist conspiracy where he acts like a tool. You get to see Scarlett Johansson as an Esther Williams type career-wise, but with a Loretta Young-type subplot. Ralph Fiennes as a director having line reading troubles with an actor. Channing Tatum doing something I actually found worthwhile. Though too tall and of broad built, he pulls off doing a homoerotic Gene Kelly sailor musical number while being a mastermind and blackmailer Communist. This is my first Alden Ehrenreich movie. I’ve never watched anything with him before, but he made me give a damn about a cowboy actor and that’s tough. I had a hard time doing that for my own Debt To Hollywood concept. I'd like this actor go places, because his previous discography of Coppola, Woody Allen and Beautiful Creatures don't interest me. He's also my type, Eastern European Jewish descent with lots of hair on his head. He sort of reminded me of Sal Mineo too.

While my brother called the Deanna (Scarlett) and Joseph Silverman (Jonah Hill) dating. I was the only one to call the Communist plot, the moment the screenwriters mentioned economics and sociology. It's nice that a Communist Conspiracy in Hollywood can finally be used as a credible plot device now with tongue and cheek, but still played straight of course. No need to mock or satirize a sensitive issue that destroyed lives. I will still check out the Dalton Trumbo movie and I'm still mad at what was done to John Garfield, and the unrelated postmortem lies regurgitated in a Robert Redford movie, but it's time we can actually explore this, what ifs or not. Back in the planning stages of Debt, I had to agree with my brother after much deliberation to drop a nice potential for a thriller plot in Communists. Nothing I would have come up with would have the nuanced comedy going on this movie anyway.

There are three distinct laugh out load moments in the movie:

When Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) as a director has trouble with the Hobie the cowboy actor trying to play a party scene and the payoff later when Mannix and the film editor review the footage and what Hobie finally says.

The board meeting with the Priests and Rabbi. I loved that when Mannix asks them what they think of Jesus's portrayal, the Orthodox Preist quibbles about the chariot scene instead, and that the Rabbi is (in my view only) the only reasonable one while the other Priests confuse Mannix on their interpretations of Jesus.

The part where Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) goes to leave the screenwriters and his dog on a boat on a Russian submarine. They throw him the ransom money for Russia. When Burt opens his arms for it, the dog jumps into them causing the brief case to fall into the water and drown. Should've left the dog at home, Burt.

All in all 2016 looks to be a better movie year than 2015.

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