Some Thoughts on the Oscars While I’m Still Awake

I’m drunk. I have to get up at 7:30 in the morning. BUT it’s my first Oscars in LA, the land of Hollywood and broken dreams and where these goddamn things take place!

It was a cool experience! I had made plans to meet a friend of mine at an Oscar party he invited me to. I’ve never really been to an Oscar party that I can recall. It’s 12 hours removed overseas and the Academy doesn’t really carry a lot of weight in Olympia, WA. In any case, I did not receive the location of this party until about halfway through the broadcast, so in the meantime I found a stream online to peek at.

I had my snubs. I was disappointed that Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs – possibly my favorite movie of last year – didn’t get much love. Not just in the Best Picture category, but a glaring omission in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (Aaron Sorkin is the reason that movie works) and Seth Rogen for Best Supporting Actor. Look, anybody who saw Steve Jobs remarked on how good Rogen was, and if Jonah Hill can get two Academy Award nominations, there’s no reason why he can’t get one too! I was similarly disappointed by the absence of Chi-Raq (Spike Lee for Best Director, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay), Benicio del Toro for Best Support Actor (Sicario), ANYTHING for Beasts of No Nation, and honestly, the movie that probably made me smile most last year, The Peanuts Movie for Best Animated Feature.

Still, all in all, I’d say this was a year to remember. What’s to remember?

  • GODDAMN, CHRIS ROCK!!! That opening monologue could be classified as ‘Scorched Earth!’ Every criticism was on point. He took it past the point of people laughing to people getting uncomfortable and I loved it! He was just short of calling out celebrities in the audience of taking whitewashed roles (like, say, Rooney Mara in Pan), a move that would have been well deserved…
  • GODDAMN, MY BOY LEO!!! He should have won for Django Unchained and/or The Wolf of Wall Street, but I’m glad he’s finally received something for his efforts! Sweet, sweet speech too: concise, grateful, and articulating everything about global warming that’s been keeping me up at nights.
  • GODDAMN, MY POOR BOY SLY!!! Talk about an upset! I’ll be honest, I don’t even know if his was the best performance of the year, I just know I would have beamed with pride to see him win twice for playing a character he created 40+ years ago. Besides, Creed is probably my other favorite movie of last year, the only one I went out to see twice. Still, Bridge of Spies came out a month before Creed, and I remember during that month that Mark Rylance seemed like the frontrunner for the award, so I guess it was a ‘Tortoise-and-the-Hare’ situation. Or something. I’m tired.
  • Glad to see that The Big Short got some love this evening, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay. Honestly, I think it’s the most deserving. It’s a film that’s gotten some flak for being to ‘clever’ for its own good, but you try turning the financial meltdown of ’08 into something relatable and comprehensible. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
  • Also glad that Brie Larson won for Room. Again, a case of the most popular also being the best. That happens sometimes!
  • I’m probably the only person disappointed that Inside Out won for Best Animated Feature. I was pulling for Anomalisa, not because it rocked my world, but because it’s an adult movie dealing with adult concepts, and proof-positive that Western animation can cater to broader audiences than families or stoners. Anomalisa‘s nomination bodes well for the growth of the category. In fact, this year’s crop of animated films was one of the most well-rounded. But still, Anomalisa‘s nomination is still a… well, anomaly. I keep waiting for the day when an animated film made by adults for adults wins the award and helps people recognize just how powerful and expansive this artform is. As it stands, I find it really frustrating that a big-budget family film with the balls to explore the intricacies of the human mind still needs to imagine it as a place where trains crash and buildings collapse in order to be interesting. (Also, I’m sorry, but Bing Bong is stupid.)
  • George Miller should have won for Best Director. I mean, c’mon, there is no discussion. I’m sure shooting The Revenant was hard, but a 70-year-old man directed the most kinetic, unique action movie you saw all year. That’s worth more than freezing your balls off.
  • I am 100% cool with Spotlight winning for Best Picture. The Revenant is okay but the story is just not there, and before it came out there was a dead heat between Spotlight and Room as the Best Picture contenders. Are they favorites of the year? No, again those honors belong to Steve Jobs and Creed (or even The Big Short.) But though potshots may be taken at Spotlight in years to come for fitting too close to the Best Picture ‘mold’, they will mostly be undeserved. Spotlight is excellent filmmaking: unshowy, graceful, and about something real and powerful.
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The Witch

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What is scariest to me – at least when it comes to film – is not always blood and gore. Nor is it always a jump scare, thought I’ll be the first to admit that I fall for many of the most obvious ones. No, what scares me most is often a still image. Knowing a threat is there, and then seeing it. A shape, far away, dimly lit, but staring straight at you. Incomprehensible, fleshy masses that twitch and writhe. The mundane giving way to a dimension that physically manifests a true, unknowable evil. Fear made flesh.

When I first saw the trailer for The Witch (or, as it’s spelled on the poster, The VVitch,) it seemed like it would be right up my alley. There seems to be something of a renaissance of sorts going on in independent horror, with the likes of The Babadook and It Follows (and to a lesser extent more mainstream films like The Woman in Black and the Insidious series), relying less on out-and-out gore and creatures and more on sound design, empty spaces in a frame, and the context and relationships between characters and their environments to terrify audiences. I think this is a trend that is all for the better, and with images of goats giving blood instead of milk and quotes from critics like, “It feels like we are watching something we should not be seeing,” I was ready for The Witch to give me several sleepless nights.

(Fun aside: you don’t want to try and sleep through a fever two days after watching Jacob’s Ladder, as I did.)

Interestingly, The Witch doesn’t describe itself as a horror film, but as a ‘New England Folktale.’ Furthermore, The Witch doesn’t really focus very much on its titular threat, though she certainly makes her presence known. Really, The Witch is more akin to a character study, the story of a family beginning to collapse in on itself with heavy horror elements layered throughout.

Set in the 1630s at the dawn of the European settlement of America, the film opens with farmer William (Game of Thrones veteran, Ralph Ineson, who in certain moments resembles Geoffrey Rush) standing trial before a jury of Pilgrims. He states they cannot judge him for they are not Christian enough. When told he will have to leave the settlement to brave the woods if he will not face trial, William essentially says “Fuck you, you can’t fire me, I quit!” and moves his family a day’s ride away. Several months later, things are not going well. William’s crop of corn is consistently blighted, and he doesn’t know how to hunt. In the midst of puberty and miles away from other girls his own age, eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) finds his eyes constantly floating towards the neckline of his older sister, Thomasin (Anna Taylor-Joy, a spitting image of Elle Fanning.) Toddler twins Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Granger and Lucas Dawson, respectively) spend their days talking to a goat named ‘Black Phillip.’ And worst of all, one afternoon when Tomasin is playing ‘peek-a-boo’ with newborn Samuel, she opens her eyes to find he has literally disappeared from under her. Their mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie, another Game of Thrones alum, so good I didn’t recognize her here,) blames Thomasin for Samuel’s disappearance. William claims that a wolf must’ve stolen Samuel. Mercy cruelly teases Thomasin that Samuel disappeared because of her, that she is the fabled ‘Witch of Woods.’ Caleb wonders why God would take Samuel away when he was only a baby, and is he in Hell because he wasn’t baptized in the Church, and what do you mean this happened because we were ungrateful of God’s gifts? Clearly, the seeds of dissent have been set.

The Witch is the debut feature of writer-director Robert Eggers (a former production designer, which explains the film’s extraordinary historical detail), and it is confident, assured, and very ambitious. A title card after the feature says the film is directly inspired by the transcriptions of many witch trials of the era, and that is reflected in the dialogue itself, filled with thy’s, thou’s, thee’s, and sentence structures that no longer reflect how audiences speak today. Like good Shakespeare, the actors deliver these lines with absolute authenticity. They sound like actual people from the actual time actually saying these things. The unfortunate side effect of that is their New England accents are still very much ‘England,’ so thick that you’ll miss what they’re saying at times. Still, the intention mostly shines through.

Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography is suitably bleak, making Massachusetts (I assume) look like a gray, irradiated fallout zone. It feels like a more restrained version of The Revenant, seemingly shot using natural light, and using negative space to frame the characters in positions that make them seem frail and vulnerable, both to the supernatural threat around them and their fracturing sanity.

The actors deserve a lot of credit for carrying The Witch through its middle half, where things slow down considerably. The film starts off incredibly strong, swiftly moving from the initial setup to ominous shots of the woods, Mark Korven’s minimalist, discordant score swelling with intensity anytime a character so much as glances at a treeline. It hits its first horror beat within the first ten minutes, and it’s suitably gruesome without being exploitative. But at around the 45-minute mark, I realized the spookiness had slowly taken a backseat to the characters pontificating about their ‘Job of the Bible’ circumstances, and try as I might, the film began to drag me. I feel bad for complaining that The Witch is not exactly the movie I expected it to be, and I would like to give it a second viewing. Eggers clearly has a lot on his mind, not just trying to scare the pants off you but also trying to say a lot about the dangers of evangelicalism, and about the patriarchal strictures placed on women at the time and how they’re reflected today.

On the other hand, I suspect The Witch might just work better as a flat-out horror movie. When the scariness returns, it does so in a spectacular fashion. At its most transcendent – which is to say its most terrifying – The Witch truly taps into something primordial on the fear scale. More than once, I sank into my chair, trying to back away, whispering to myself, “What in the fuck am I even looking at?!” That Eggers accomplishes this in his first feature is a sign of only good things to come – and hopefully something that makes me afraid of turning out the lights at night…

Deadpool

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I have a confession to make. I didn’t hate X-Men Origins: Wolverine when I saw it. I haven’t seen it since 2009, and I was so horrifyingly depressed at the time that I might have just appreciated anything to distract from the torture I was feeling inside, but I remember my reaction to it being along the lines of, “Huh, that was inoffensive.” The Nerds, I would soon learn, felt very differently…

The biggest complaint I kept running into as I perused IMBD message boards in 2009 (literally the worst thing you could do, don’t do it, I didn’t have a life then!) was the mishandling of Deadpool portrayed by Ryan Reynolds. Again, I didn’t really have a problem with it. Ryan Reynolds is my man crush. Breathtakingly gorgeous, a skilled actor, and comic chops you could fillet a steak with. No joke, if by some miracle Ryan Reynolds wanted to have sex with me I would do it. I’m not saying this to gross you out, I’m trying to make a point here. My affection for the man is such that any Reynolds is good Reynolds. I thought he was very funny at the beginning of Origins, and though I too was surprised at how they sowed his mouth shut, I assumed that was how the actual character looked.

Oh, how wrong I was.

As most of you reading know, Deadpool is one of the few enduring creations of Comic Book Persona-Non-Grata Rob Liefield, a mask-wearing, schizophrenic maniac who kills without remorse, changes sides on a whim, regenerates from any gruesome injury, curses like a motherfucking cocksucking sailor, and frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the audience and comment on his very nature as a comic book creation. He is also renowned for being very, very funny. After his… ‘mishandling’ in Origins, fan outcry for a proper big screen adaptation of the character began to grow. Rumors surfaced of a script penned by Zombieland scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick that managed to successfully capture the tone of spirit the character while still being sweary, gory, and flashing the occasional titty or two. But would a superhero movie so outside of genre norms ever see the light of day?

Well, after several years of development hell, a leaked test reel, and the tireless campaigning of Reynolds to reprise the character, here we are: February 2016, and an R-Rated superhero movie opens to $260 million worldwide. Sometimes the geeks do know what they want.

I’m not sure what else I can do to expound on how wonderfully funny the film is. Virtually every other review explains that, but that’s because it’s true. Almost every jab at the nature of studio politicking is a joy. “This is a huge house,” Deadpool remarks when he visits Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) at the X-Mansion. “It’s crazy there’s only two of you here. It’s like the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man.” Many jabs are taken at Reynolds himself, especially at his other failed attempt at superhero stardom, Green Lantern. (“You think Ryan Reynolds got this far on his superior acting ability,” the man pointedly asks.)

Fortunately, Reynolds isn’t the only one bringing the funny to the party. T.J. Miller thankfully tones down his Silicon Valley persona, delivering A-level ad-libs without overwhelming a scene, and Morena Baccarin, so wonderful on the entertaining but very cheesy Gotham, not only manages to spark actual chemistry with Reynolds but matches him move-for-move in comic timing. Baccarin still ends up being the damsel in distress, but to filmmakers looking for someone to play that role compellingly, hire her. Even Gina Carano’s mostly stoic Angel Dust gets a funny line in. The only weak link in the cast is Ed Skrein, underwhelming here as he did in The Transporter Refueled (not that the Transporter franchise should inspire hope), simply going through the motions as the ‘British Villian.’ Just because the opening credits are funny enough to call this out does not mean it isn’t bad.

Perhaps what’s most surprising here, though, is that this is the work of a first time feature director. Director Tim Miller has a lot of experience in visual effects, which surely brought a lot to augmenting the expressions of Deadpool’s mostly featureless mask. But unlike other VFX directors turned filmmakers – say, Maleficent’s Robert Stromberg – Miller keeps a tight, tight grip on the tone and pacing of his story. Even without the fourth-wall breaking, Deadpool is a tough script to shoot, jumping back and forth chronologically, existing alongside an established multi-million dollar franchise, and staging over-the-top action scenes on a (comparatively) shoestring budget. And yet Miller handles all of it with aplomb. He successfully resists the urge to ‘shakycam’ his action scenes, keeping the geography of the sequences clear and concise. His comic timing is impeccable, juggling slapstick, ad-libs, and the ever-present meta commentary on the whole thing while never overplaying a beat. And for such a self-aware movie, he actually handles the moments that asks for emotional investment with grace. You will not cry in Deadpool, but you will be surprised at how much heft the emotional scenes actually have. When one of the best things you can say about an R-Rated action-comedy mashup is that the romantic subplot actually feels believable, you know you’re doing something right.

Deadpool is by no means a perfect movie. For as much on-point skewering of the superhero genre it does, it also hits too many of the same beats. (Oh joy, yet another action finale in a generic industrial complex!) And the cracks do show in just how far they’re stretching their budget to make this thing, as we spend an awful lot of time on the highway where the opening action sequence takes place, as well as revisiting the same three interiors (apparently, the criminal underworld hangs out at one bar and one bar only.) But when a movie this risky succeeds at hitting so many of the lofty goals it sets for itself, that’s something worth celebrating. Let’s hope this means a future of superhero movies that aren’t all brooding, PG-13 grudge matches (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

Zoolander 2

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I almost walked out on this movie.

I walk out on more movies lately. Very often not because the movie is objectively terrible (though that happens), but because I find myself bored. In the course of the ‘quarterlife crisis’ I’ve found myself in over the past few years, I’ve wondered about how many hours of my life – days, cumulatively – I’ve spent watching movies I just didn’t like that much. In high school, I used to sit through crap just because an actor or filmmaker I liked was tangentially related to the film in question, and that was reason enough for me. Nowadays, that simply doesn’t cut the muster. (Mustard?)

This goes both ways of course. I walked out after an hour’s worth of Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, despite the promise of a visually stunning interpretation of the Seven Plagues because, by all accounts, it was a boring-ass movie (also a very whitewashed one.) However, I also walked out of a screening of Billy Wilder’s comedy classic, The Seven Year Itch. I had already laughed pretty hard at a couple of points, but it had been 30 minutes and it just didn’t seem like it was going to grab me. In hindsight, I’ve often wondered if this was a mistake.

Why did I keep watching Zoolander 2, even though it’s not a very funny movie? Well, I wanted to believe it could be good, and these things gave me hope…

• THE RETURN OF BILLY ZANE!!! I think I may be the only person left who cares about Billy Zane, but he starred in The Phantom and voiced a bad guy in the first Kingdom Hearts game, so he is irrevocably tied to my childhood. He reminds of Brendan Fraser, another actor who was on top for a bit and then got sent to the proverbial ‘Movie Jail’ for no real reason. But, hopefully his role in Amazon’s new show, Mad Dogs, and this cameo signal his return to the public consciousness.
• A spectacularly staged car crash gag that comes out of nowhere. The hardest I laughed in this whole movie. I won’t give away the setup but trust me on this.
• Benedict Cumberbatch as the fashion model All, who seems to exist outside of any know definition of gender or sexuality. I’ll be honest, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the ‘Batch, but his character is one of the few that is funny right off the bat and doesn’t overstay their welcome.
• Kristin Wiig’s character does overstay her welcome, but she does get a couple of very funny bits: a fake skin cream commercial, and this one small moment she does something weird with her lips.
• Susanne Boyle flipping the middle finger and saying the word ‘Fuck!’
• Cyrus Arnold, the young boy who plays Zoolander’s chubby son in this movie. He doesn’t really get much in the way of laugh out loud moments, but he does make an excellent straight man to the insanity around him, and holds his own ground against the adults here. This kid could have a bright future, keep an eye on him.

And in those six bullet points, I’ve listed about everything good to find in the first hour of this movie. Penelope Cruz deserves kudos for being utterly game here and playing it the most seriously out of everyone, but the fact that she keeps getting underserved in her English-speaking roles is depressing enough to turn that into a negative. Owen Wilson, usually so spry and assured in these charming idiot roles, looks and sounds like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. And Ben Stiller, the director, co-writer, co-producer, and brainchild of this whole endeavor (the Zoolander character originated as a parody sketch for VH1’s fashion shows) somehow manages to overplay a character whose very nature is buffoonish. I double-checked this and yes he did make the voice his character between this movie and the last one sound dumber, and that’s not a good thing. It’s like the man who created Derek Zoolander forgot how to play Derek Zoolander.

Zoolander 2’s biggest problem is it constantly finds the bones of something funny but then hammers that note over and over and over again until it simply becomes a shrill shrieking sound in your ears. Kiefer Sutherland as a member of (one of) Owen Wilson’s polyamorous relationships is a mildly amusing idea the first time, not the five other times you’re reminded of it. Piling on the celebrity cameos isn’t fun or funny when the joke is their presence, not what they’re doing. Jokes are pilfered wholesale from the original and dropped into this sequel without a surprising context to enhance them, and again, the punchlines all go on for several beats longer than they should. (Even one of my favorite jokes from the original, the ‘coffee scene’, falls victim to this.)

Even the original ideas here suffer the same fate. Early on, Stiller seems on the cusp of making a valid point about the attitudes of hipster culture in the form of Don Atari (Kyle Mooney), a fashion designer whose only inspiration comes from replicating patterns of the past and remarking on how much everything sucks. “Look at this,” he says, pulling back his sleeves to show a tattoo of a Sith Lord Col. Sanders. “It’s terrible! Why would I do this to myself? It’s awesome, dude, I love it!” Funny the first couple of times, not the next 15 minutes this character says variations on this exact same thing.

What kept me in the movie? Namely: the promise of Will Ferrell’s Mugatu, Zoolander’s fashion nemesis, now in Fashion Prison. Say what you will about Ferrell as a leading man (those movies are all pretty hit or miss), but he often brings a real boost to projects he’s not the star of, and that’s exactly the case here. Though it takes him a solid hour to get there, once Ferrell shows up the film gains a serious amount of momentum. In fact, he stays funny for about three whole scenes! But eventually, as with everything else in this movie, he overstays his welcome, finds the same beat, hits it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and you get the idea.

Hail, Caesar!

Matt Zoller Seitz, the current editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, is one of my favorite film critics. He is prone to pretension and a little too eager to reference his in-depth knowledge of art film, but his writing is always thought provoking, and at its best it channels the same kind of passion for film and plainspoken analysis that Ebert’s writing did.

Over the past few months, he’s done an occasional piece called “30 Minutes On…“, where he writes about a movie – any movie – for 30 minutes and then publishes what he has.

In the interest of restarting this blog, I’ve decided to try and emulate this formula. I’ll still do a little bit of copy-editing after the fact, but I think it’s a good model to keep my writing skills sharp while also doing something I love. I don’t know why writing at length became so hard for me overtime, but sure enough, doing this in 30 minutes made it feel more fun.

No promises with this blog, but I’ll see where it goes.

I hope you like it! 🙂

The Reviewhail-caesar02

I’ll be honest. I missed maybe the first five minutes of this movie. Atypical of me, I know. But I prefer to see movies at the Cinemark 8 in NoHo; cheap AND recliner seats! But I left late and then just HAD to get snacks when I got there! I digress. The fact is Joel and Ethan Coen make films so clockwork precise in their construction that missing a scene can render the whole thing incomprehensible…

…That’s an exaggeration. I followed the plot fine. But I’m sure I missed some of the tone set up in the latest creation from the cult craftsmen behind the likes of The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men. One review mentioned that Josh Brolin’s studio fixer, Eddie Mannix (loosely based on an actual human being with that name), slaps a woman early on in the film, a moment I presume is played for laughs. I can’t tell you how I feel about it in the context of this 50’s set caper, whether its presentation is problematic or a wry commentary on the subjugation of women at the time, but whatever it’s doing there it is done with purpose. The Coens are renowned for nothing if not being scrupulous, every line, gesture, and detail serving to fill out the character of each film’s word.

Or do they?

Precisely the point.

In comparison to their aforementioned works, Hail, Caesar! finds the Coens in their sunniest mode in quiet some time. When not curdling their audience’s blood with unbearable tension in their more recent thrillers, their comedies of the past decade have been of a more ‘existential dread’ variety, usually with sudden, unsatisfying conclusions that are, again, precisely the point. Jovial viewing this does not always make. That the Coens have made something so untaxing to the cerebrum, so outright goofy, is something of a small miracle these days. As a book I’ve recently read says, we should be grateful for ‘small mercies.’

Hail, Ceasar! is, simply put, the Coens’ ode to old Hollywood. Every kind of movie your parents watched as you were growing up – and therefore the ones the Coens watched growing up, too – is not only paid homage but replicated with almost terrifying exactitude. It’s perhaps none-more-obvious in Channing Tatum’s dance number, featured in most trailers and TV spots as oblivious to its own homoeroticism. But broad as those comic beats are, Tatum literally resurrects the spirit of Gene Kelly, creating a number that looks like it was ripped straight of the unused negatives of Anchors Aweigh, sans the cartoon mouse. Similarly, the westerns of John Wayne, the musicals of Bubsy Berkley, and most ostentatiously, the swords-and-sandals epics of Kubrick and De Mille are all given their due here.

The Coens’ eye for casting has always been one of their strongest suits, and it serves to bolster these homages, and the story that frames them, enormously. Fresh-faced Alden Ehrenreich (of the Twilight knock-off, Beautiful Creatures) gets a star-making turn here as Hobie Doyle, the John Wayne-lite whose decent heart but utter lack of talent derails the making of a Laurence Olivier-esque drama the studio forces him into to better his image, much to the consternation of Ralph Fiennes’ director (who doesn’t do nearly enough comedies, as he’s always a delight in them.) George Clooney once again makes himself a fool for the Coens as Baird Whitlock, the air-headed matinee idol who’s kidnapping is the catalyst of this movie. Seriously, his facial expressions, constantly floating from shock to cocksure and back to shock, are maybe the funniest thing in this movie. And Josh Brolin brings real tenderness and, when needed, a truly fearsome screen presence to Mannix, seemingly the only one who runs this studio and tries to take all of his stars’ and starlets’ bumblings with good grace, all the while caught between the dilemma of whether he should do what he knows he’s good at or consider more ‘serious’ opportunities on the horizon.

The mentions of about four of the film’s stars barely even scratches the surface of the star-studded ensemble here, from Scarlett Johansson to Jonah Hill to Tilda Swinton. Even the bit parts are a who’s-who of character actors, from the likes of Fred Melamed and Clancy Brown, to goddamn Michael Gambon narrating the fuckin’ thing, his presence not only omnipotent in its observations of Mannix’s Sisyphean struggles, but of the inherent battle between art and commerce that is making movies. In this sense, this finds the Coens’ predilection for subtext at its most surface-level.

Of course, does this all mean it’s a good movie? I tend to need other reviewers to point out the things I don’t see and recontextualize my thoughts for me. I don’t think the Coens can make a bad movie. At the very least, I don’t think they could ever make a boring one. And Hail, Caesar! is not nearly as opaque as the likes of A Serious Man or Inside Lleywn Davis (thank the Lord.) Though you’ve no doubt noticed the massive list of stars attached to this movie, and though they are all perfectly cast, therein lies the rub. Many of these stars have only one or two scenes and don’t ever really connect with the other. As such, the movie feels like a series of very strongly conceived character sketches that are attached to a story that just doesn’t really have the emotional push it needs to be truly worth investing in, despite the zaniness of its kidnapping plot and a burgeoning Communist revolution. So again, a bad movie? By no means! But on the scale of their comedies, it’s no O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Sullivan’s Travels must be one of the Coens’ favorite movies. (In fact, O Brother takes its name from the fictitious novel that Joel McCrea’s director wants to adapt.) Hail, Caesar! feels like the Coens’ attempt to step back in time and make their own version of Travels. The central storyline, of a man torn between working for the ‘circus’ versus the ‘serious,’ only to realize the value of entertainment, is reflected almost exactly. The Coens are the rare breed of filmmaker that can flit between the starkly dramatic and the completely screwball and create classics in both while never losing the trademarks that are unmistakably ‘theirs.’ In that sense, one cannot not recommend seeing this movie. Even in their stumbles, major or minor, the Coens offer you stunning craftsmanship and things you’ve never seen before. How many movies can you say that about?