Film Review: Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Casar!

Joel and Ethan Coen’s comedy Hail, Caesar! is a delightful watch. The filmmakers pay homage to the Hollywood studio system while also lampooning it.

Eddie Mannix is a studio fixer. Eddie has to contend with any number of issues that may arise with the studio’s roster of stars. When a famous movie star disappears, Eddie has one more problem to fix…

Writers and directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s Hail, Caesar! blends different aspects of the Hollywood studio system to create a comedy with a healthy dose of mystery. The film focuses on the central character of the studio fixer. This works well as a narrative device to include various minor storylines. Smaller characters are weaved into Eddie’s day. The central plot of Baird’s disappearance proves interesting in that it retains a sense of mystery for a significant duration. Devices are used to retain this mystery in Hail, Caesar!, even when certain aspects of this story are revealed.

The Coen brothers playfully poke fun at various aspects of classical Hollywood. This ranges from the archetypal on screen action to the gossip and the backstage going ons. Some the the sequences in Hail, Caesar! are very tongue in cheek; viewers should lap these up. There are also some very well written exchanges. The film depicts a marked difference between classic and contemporary Hollywood. Studios no longer retain quite the control they did, although the marketing of stars is still very recognisable.

Sets and costumes in Hail, Caesar! are luscious. Costume designer Mary Zophres really captures the look of the era. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is as wonderful as ever. Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes and George Clooney offer good performances. Alden Ehrenreich does well among more established actors. Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson are decent in minor roles.

Hail, Caesar! is a must see for fans of films about the film industry. Other viewers will find the film most entertaining.

Film Review: Unbroken

Unbroken

Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken tells a remarkable true story, but its execution does not elevate it above other films of this ilk.

Olympic runner Louis Zamperini has put his running career on hold to serve in the US armed forces.

 After a plane crash in the Pacific, Louis must try to survive in harsh conditions, before facing even greater trials…

Based on a true story, Unbroken combines biopic conventions with those of a war movie. Angelina Jolie has returned to war for her second directorial feature, and she chooses to depict the horrors of conflict in detail.

Unbroken‘s  screenplay functions adequately to maintain the audience’s attention. Viewers would be forgiven for expecting more than this, however, with the Coen brothers’ involvement. The crux of Zamperini’s story makes the film engaging; it is inherently interesting, rather than any particular craft of the storytelling.

Jolie offers an unflinching portrait of the horrors of war. The direction is perfunctory in depicting brutality; there is no real flair to this. The flashbacks work to build a picture of the central character. The protagonist has an inspiring story, but Unbroken concentrates on his strength entirely, negating the obvious negative impact that such an experience would have on a person.

Survival is a strong theme in Unbroken. It is a little disappointing that the film did not spend more time on the after effects of Louis’ experiences. Some significant aspects were glossed over in the pre-credits round up. Unbroken could have explored these aspects as part of the film rather than making them an afterthought.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography offers a few beautifully composed shots, but overall it is not quite on par with some of his previous films. Jack O’Connell offers a strong performance as Louis.

Ultimately it is a shame that Unbroken did not offer a more satisfying rendition of its source material. By no means a disaster, nevertheless the film is not the striking cinema it could have been.

Film Review: Skyfall

Skyfall is an excellent Bond film. The entertainment does not let up throughout its two and a half an hour duration.

Secret agent James Bond is on a mission to recover an encrypted key which contains highly classified information. He begins by chasing the assailant through the streets of Istanbul…

Sam Mendes has done a fantastic job directing the 23rd Bond movie. The narrative of Skyfall is somewhat formulaic in its events, but the modern context makes the film feel fresh. All Bond films will be compared with previous episodes, however Skyfall holds its own.

There are some fantastic set pieces in the film, but these are not the only hook. Skyfall carries on from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace in establishing Bond conventions for the Daniel Craig revision of the series. References to earlier films are featured, in the same wry manner of other Bond films.

Skyfall feels like a more personal film in places, placing greater emphasis on the central character. Raoul Silva is an interesting antagonist. Numerous other Bond villains have been eccentric, but Silva is certainly memorable. Some of the expository dialogue appears too obvious. However this is a minor complaint, as the film is great overall.

As expected, the film features a host of exotic locations. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is on point in capturing both beautiful imagery and frenetic action. The theme song harks back to classic Bond, with a title sequence that matches. Mendes succeeds in building pace and tension to an exciting finale.

Daniel Craig is as convincing as ever on his third outing as James Bond. Javier Bardem is great as Silva, bringing an authentic creepiness to the character. Bond’s colleagues are more apparent in this adventure, with Naomie Harris adding some lightness as field agent Eve.

Skyfall is what a good Bond movie should be; exciting, with great action sequences and an interesting plot. Few will be disappointed with Sam Mendes’ film.

Film Review: The Company Men

The 2008 financial crisis was tough on everyone. Particularly the upper-middle class white (and token black) man, or so The Company Men would have you believe.

The GTX Corporation must downsize in order to remain profitable during the 2008 financial crisis. One of the casualties is Bobby Walker, a married 30-something year old with two children. The impact of his sudden unemployment takes a huge toll on both the family’s financial situation and Bobby himself…

The Company Men is a valiant effort to create a contemporary drama that would resonate with its audience, particularly in America. However, the film is let down by its very straightforward characters who perform according to type instead of revealing any ingenuity. The Company Men aims for realism in its depiction of the turmoil of losing a job during a recession. It achieves this to a certain extent, but the characters are too polarised in the stereotypical good guy and bad guy categories. There is little grey area; instead the turmoil of the suffering is indulged while the decisions of the ‘evil’ corporation head are glossed over. Moreover, the outcomes for all the main characters are fairly predictable.

Written and directed by John Wells, The Company Men has a clear agenda. Wells aims to exhibit how the financial crisis affected employees who were laid off with little or no notice. Bobby’s life is turned upside down when he loses his job, but he realises the impact said job had on his life and that of his family. The Company Men elevates certain ideals over others in quite a simplistic way. Manual labour and manufacturing is preferred over white collar jobs, and corporations are implicitly bad while those who have made their way up the career ladder are commended. Bobby’s brother-in-law Jack (played by Kevin Cosner) espouses the virtues of an honest job and an honest wage, yet things are rarely as simple as this. And that is one of the mistakes that The Company Men makes. The other is to try and illicit sympathy for a character that enjoys a charmed life before he is made redundant. Rather than face real poverty, Bobby gripes about losing membership to the golf club. Thus, it is difficult to care too much about the financial woes of a character that has a more comfortable existence than most audience members.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography is excellent, as ever. Performances are good all round, with Ben Affleck well cast as lead Bobby. In particular, Tommy Lee Jones conveys the inner turmoil of his character Gene very well.

Perhaps most surprising about The Company Men is its inexplicable 15 rating. Otherwise, the drama is earnest but problematic.

Film Review: True Grit

Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of the 1969 western True Grit is handsome but pointless. Henry Hathaway’s original still holds up well, therefore this new version offers little to merit its existence.

After her father his murdered by criminal Tom Chaney, young Mattie Ross wants the man brought to justice. She hires Rooster Cogburn, a US marshal with a fierce reputation, on the provision she can accompany him on his mission. Joining them is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who wants to capture Chaney in order to receive a hefty reward…

True Grit is a straightforward tale of revenge. What makes the film enjoyable is good writing and great characters. Nevertheless, the film loses its way in the middle section, when it ambles instead of continuing the momentum that had been building in the first third. True Grit recovers by the climax, providing a action-packed conclusion.

Joel and Ethan Coen use a lot of the dialogue from the original film, based on Charles Portis’ novel. Much of the humour from the original film is also present here. There are few changes to the narrative from the 1969 True Grit. The Coen brothers have included an epilogue to conclude proceedings. This adds very little to the overall film, the end of the action would have sufficed as an appropriate conclusion.

Cogburn, LeBoeuf and Mattie are at the very heart of True Grit. Whilst Cogburn brings much of the humour and action, it is the determined Mattie who really defines the film. For the teenage girl, the mission is life changing; it is Mattie’s unfailing determination that proves that she has ‘true grit’. LaBoeuf, meanwhile, is a more ambivalent character in this version. Whereas LeBoeuf was more of a straightforward good guy in the 1969 film, the Coens’ update casts his motives in an ambiguous light.

The highlight of True Grit is its cinematography. Director of photography Roger Deakins has captured some beautiful imagery of the landscapes. The film has an authentic feel to it; the locations and sets appear natural despite the 1880 setting. The music accompanies the visuals well, although the Coen brothers have missed a trick by not including the gloriously outdated theme from the 1969 version.

Jeff Bridges is excellent as Rooster Cogburn. Bridges wisely eschews imitating John Wayne; making the character his own whilst retaining the humour of his persona. Matt Damon is well cast as LaBoeuf, although his role is diminished from the original film. Hailee Steinfeld gives a terrific performance as Mattie, matching Kim Darby’s pluck despite her young age.

True Grit is a well-executed film, but ultimately an unnecessary one. It is curious that Joel and Ethan Coen decided to remake the film without many significant changes. It is enjoyable, but does not surpass the 1969 version in quality or entertainment value.