Plot: What’s it about?
When it comes to the films of the Coen brothers, it’s always been a jump ball with me. Some of their films I’ve loved, others not so much and others (namely Fargo) I felt were over-praised. While others, O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, have grown on me as time goes by. However it seems that Joel and Ethan Coen, like Woody Allen, can just sit down and think of an idea, set it in motion and craft a well-made film. That’s talent. Granted it doesn’t hurt that any movie studio will make their films and any actor will want a part in their films, but still – they’ve been at it for nearly thirty years and there’s something to be said for that. In the supplements for Hail, Caesar! the cast pretty much says this same thing: “The Coen’s want me in their movie? Uh…ok!” So we’ve got Clooney, who rose to stardom sporting a Caesar-like haircut for the first part of his career and now he’s playing (sort of) that character. Let’s take a trip back to the golden age of Hollywood.
Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is Hollywood’s leading man. He’s charming, charismatic, has chiseled good looks and is known for his drinking binges and being unfaithful to his wife. In other words, he’s your typical Hollywood star. But between takes, Baird has been drugged and kidnapped by a group known only as “The Future.” The studio “fixer”, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) makes his living shielding the stars from the public and keeping their reputations intact. He receives a ransom note asking for $100,000 for the release of Baird (bear in mind this takes place in the 50’s and that was a lot of money back then). Eddie is also being courted for other jobs, being trailed by twin sisters: Thora and Thessaly Thatcher (both played by Tilda Swinton) for the scoop and he can’t seem to kick the smoking habit. To make matters worse, he’s dealing with a cowboy star going mainstream (Alden Ehrenreich), a finicky director (Ralph Fiennes) and trying to get the studio to wrap a picture with a starlet (Scarlett Johansson) before she starts to show.
I’m fairly sure that I’ve said this before, but when it comes to the Coen Brothers’ films, there’s pretty much something for everyone. While Hail, Caesar! wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, it did have its moments and certainly the star power delivered the goods. Everyone is full in tongue-in-cheek mode here and if you can handle a singing Channing Tatum (much in the same way George Clooney hee-haw’d it through O Brother, Where Art Thou?) then you’ll do just fine. Admittedly, I did leave out a few stars but I felt that would have complicated the plot synopsis. Still, those familiar with the Coen’s and their ever-growing body of work will be right at home here. I still prefer a few of their other movies and realized, while doing research for this one, that I’ve yet to see A Serious Man. I need to check that out. The stars don’t take themselves too seriously here, so take my advice and do the same – you’ll have a lot more fun.
Video: How does it look?
Taking place in the golden age of Hollywood was a novel approach to this film. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image looks as expected, though the entire thing seems a bit glossed over. I have to imagine that this was intentional. Several of the stars’ have an orangish glow to them (no doubt due to the makeup they were wearing in their “starring” roles), though detail is fine and intricate. Some of the exterior shots really shine, giving a very nice and intentionally dated look to the movie. The costumes all look the part, the pinstripes on the suit and the bathing suit that Scarlet Johansson’s character wears are all very easy on the eyes. By and large, it’s a nice-looking transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Coen’s films aren’t exactly known for being audio powerhouses and this is certainly no exception. About halfway through I realized that there wasn’t a lot of ambiance going on, certainly the LFE weren’t getting their money’s worth and the front’s seemed a bit lacking as well. No it’s not a mono mix, there’s just not a lot of action going on. That said, the center channel is the focal point of the “action” here with Clooney’s booming, deep voice taking front and, well, center. I doubt that viewers will have any complaints with this and there are better-sounding mixes out there, but those expecting a dynamic powerhouse will be disappointed. Admittedly, Channing Tatum’s song and dance number does sound pretty good, though.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Directing Hollywood – The ensemble cast adorns the Coen brothers with praise (and, probably, rightfully so) and each tells how humbled they are to appear in the movie. This is accompanied by the montage of clips from the film as well as a brief history of the project – nearly a decade in the making
- The Stars Align – Again, we get multiple stars from the movie as they dictate the plot to us. It is a bit tongue in cheek, but then again so is the movie. And the whole “movie stars playing movie stars” motif is right at the heart of the matter. It’s a bit more encompassing than the preceding feature, and a bit more informative as well.
- An Era of Glamour – More of a production feature, this focuses on the allure of filming movies about movies in the golden age of Hollywood. A vast array of sets are shown throughout the film which covers everything from singing sailors to Roman soldiers. It’s a nice look at what it takes to make a movie (about making movies).
- Magic of a Bygone Era – This is more of a tribute by the cast and crew about the actual films that took place within the movie. The big song and dance numbers, the epic shoots and the contact players who made it all happen.
The Bottom Line
Love them or hate them (and if I’ve come around, I’m guessing there’s a lot more love to go around) the Coen’s have delivered another interesting movie. While it’s not among my favorites, I can see where it’ll be liked – if for no other reason than to see Clooney in one of his better roles. The Blu-ray looks and sounds good and though the supplements are a tad bit lacking, I’m willing to bet most will be able to look past that.