Hail, Caesar


Viewed – 10 March 2016 Cinema

I have been an admirer of the work of sibling directors Joel & Ethan Coen for many years now and count movies like The Big Lebowski and Fargo amongst some of the best movies I’ve seen.  However sometimes these talented guys seem to stumble upon an idea that for one reason or another just doesn’t work – and I’m surprised to say, this is one such movie.

hail caesar

The plot follows a day in the life of a movie studio exec (Josh Brolin), sometime in the early 1950s, where musicals and swords & sandals epics were all the rage.  It’s certainly a fascinating setting and one I was hoping would be a great backdrop to an intriguing kidnap storyline, at least that’s the idea the trailer gave me.  However following the mysterious abduction of their biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), Brolin finds himself being forced to come up with a ransom whilst at the same time juggling a myriad of other issues at the studio.

Hail__Caesar__BrolinNow you see here lies the problem … there’s a lot of things going on here; Scarlett Johansson appears as a tough-talking pregnant starlet whose lack of a husband puts her image (and that of the studio) in question.  Also twin reporters turn up trying to dish the dirt on Baird Whitlock’s past and a dim-witted western star get’s the opportunity to do his first speaking part in a new movie. Oh and there’s some dancing sailors too, headed by Channing Tatum.  Yet despite these admittedly colourful characters, along with Clooney they’re written so one dimensional that it was really hard to care about any them.  Johansson, considering she’s one of the most bankable actresses around at the moment gets two redundant scenes, and Clooney’s plot is more perplexing and confusing than gripping.

The movie isn’t without it’s moments though. It looks fantastic (thanks to regular collaborator Roger Deakins) and behind the scenes segments of movies being made will always pull me in.  The dialogue at times is also pretty comical (a meeting with various representatives of different religious faiths to discuss a biblical epic is a stand out).  Yet the comedy isn’t strong enough to hide the fact the movie fails to go anywhere even remotely interesting and no attention to set design, costumes or musical numbers can make up for such a glaring flaw.

Verdict: 2 /5

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The Grand Budapest Hotel


Viewed – 21 February 2015  online-rental

I didn’t have a clue what to expect from this.  I had heard that director Wes Anderson had his own unique style, that it starred one of my favourite actors, Ralph Fiennes and had been widely acclaimed and nominated for several Oscars.  So I thought … it has to be worth checking out.

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel

Narrated by an ageing hotel owner recanting his exploits as a bell boy taken under the wing of a charismatic and respected concierge, Mr Gustave (Fiennes) who following a wealthy woman’s mysterious death, comes into possession of a priceless painting and the disdain of her greedy family, headed by a snarling Adrian Brody.  So follows a very entertaining ‘caper’ comedy as we follow an unlikely duo through various adventures.

Wes Anderson has presented here a real spectacle of a movie… it’s shot with a style that echoes the avant-garde look of French cinema ala Jean-Pierre Jaunet (Amelie, Delicatessen) mixed with the flourishes of Baz Lurhman (Moulin Rouge) via the technical perfection of Stanley Kubrick to create one of the best looking movies I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s also for the most part presented in old-school 4:3 ratio, like that Oscar magnet The Artist and it works very well indeed.  There is more character and personality in any five minutes here than most movies have in their entire running time.  Also we get a wealth of famous faces all doing their bit in small but enjoyable roles from Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Saoirse Ronan to Bill Murray.  Add to this a great villainous turn by Willem Defoe … and this has it all.  The story is fun and energetic and held together by a brilliant where-has-he-been Ralph Fiennes as the camp, poetic and lovable Mr Gustave – surely one of the most memorable characters in a while.

I had a great time with this, and it’s made me an instant fan of Wes Anderson – I love directors with such visionary appeal.  Essential viewing.

Verdict:  5 /5

Strange Days


Viewed – 02 February 2012  Blu-ray

German import review

Kathryn Bigelow may be more known these days for her Oscar-winning war movie The Hurt Locker, but once upon a time, she was one of the coolest directors around, responsible for the likes of vampire classic Near Dark, Keanu Reeves & Patrick Swayze thriller Point Break, and also this much underrated techno-thriller.  Based on a story by her then husband James Cameron (Terminator 2, Avatar) this tells the story of former cop turned dealer Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) who instead of pedaling drugs, peddles ‘clips’; fragments of other people’s experiences recorded by a black market device known as the squib, and sold in clubs to rich business men.  He offers people the chance to experience things they would not normally experience, such as sex or armed robbery.  He’s the santa clause of the subconscious.  However, when a famous politically-themed rapper is murdered, events spiral out of control as a desperate hooker and two psychotic cops become involved and soon Lenny is racing against time to piece together the clues, as the clock ticks ever closer to the millennium.

At the time this was released (1995), there was much speculation about what the new century would bring, what would change, the millennium bug and everything that came with it.  Several other movies followed similar themes, but none did it in such a stylish, controversial and accomplished way as this.  The story tackles themes of racial tension, sex, violence, technology and love with intelligence.  At times some of the dialogue is a little too cool sounding to be convincing, and it does get quite complicated during its 2hr 20 minute running time.  Also some of the more controversial moments, like a first-person-perspective rape sequence, sit uneasily within the otherwise ‘cool’ vibe.  Yet the performances from not only Ralph Fiennes (playing against type), but also Angela Bassett, Tom Sizemore and a wonderfully sleazy Juliette Lewis (showing off a powerful rock chick persona) impress regardless.  Yet above all this is Bigelow’s show, and her direction is classy and confident.  She’s an incredible action director and with a daring but brilliantly written script to bounce her (ahead of its time) camera-trickery and booming soundtrack off, this remains one of those movies, that for me … made the nineties.

Strange Days hasn’t always been treated the best, with an almost bare-bones DVD version previously, boasting a pointless 40 minute commentary from the director and a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer … and at the time of writing, has yet to get a major release on Blu-ray.  Thankfully German label Kinowelt Home Entertainment has seen fit to release the movie as part of their Blu Cinematech label, in deluxe gate-fold packaging and with behind the scenes featurettes, a music video and a photo gallery.  Best of all the movie has been treated to a decent HD transfer that really upgrades the movie from previous releases, even if the mostly night time setting stops the picture from really popping.  The rock soundtrack sounds nice and punchy though and dialogue and effects are crisp throughout.  This is the kind of respect the movie has been sorely missing for years, and for now makes it the only edition worthy of your money.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 3.5 /5