HAIL, CAESAR! (UK | USA/12A/106mins)
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum
THE PLOT: In 1950s Hollywood, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) works as a ‘Fixer’ for Capitol Studios. It’s Mannix’s job to make sure the studio retains its reputation, but between negotiating a portrayal of Jesus in the upcoming ‘Hail Caesar’ with religious heads, making a gentrified star of Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) and covering up the pregnancy of DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), Mannix is considering a job change. The sudden abduction of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) – star of “Hail Ceasar” – makes everything more complicated, especially with reporters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) on the hunt for their next big stories.
THE VERDICT: The Coen Brothers turn their eye back to the underbelly of Hollywood – after 1991’s ‘Barton Fink’ – but this time, in trying to tell the story of a man holding a Hollywood studio together, the filmmakers seem to get lost in loving homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and forget to tell an actual story.
Josh Brolin does his best with the character of Eddie Mannix, and while he has some hilarious lines, and is the presence that holds the film together, he actually does not have a lot to do, other than move from one scene to the next. George Clooney amps up the absurdity as the kidnapped Baird Whitlock, Scarlett Johansson has fun with a thick-accented, seemingly innocent starlet, Channing Tatum dances up a storm as Burt Gurney and Tilda Swinton plays fast talking, nosy twin reporters. The rest of the cast is littered with familiar names, including Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Alison Pill and Alden Ehrenreich. The trouble is that while each of the cast does their best with their roles, they are let down by a meandering and incoherent script.
Written, as per usual, but Joel and Ethan Coen, Hail, Caesar! seems to be more concerned with making sure the details are right in this Hollywood homage, than telling an actual story. Dance sequences and synchronised swimming showstoppers abound – the latter lovingly created in the style of Busby Berkeley – but these literally stop the story from moving forward. With Mannix trying to hold so many plates in the air, and the audience learning virtually nothing about this central character – the entire affair descends into a bitty, beautiful mess.
As directors, the Coens have once again coaxed wonderful performances from their cast – although the casting of Tilda Swinton as twins feels a little stunty; perhaps trying to outdo Wes Anderson for casting her as an elderly lady in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’!? – and each gives their best to the role. The trouble is that in trying to pay homage to days gone by, and so many real life people – such as Hedda Hopper, Gene Kelly, EJ Mannix and Esther Williams – that the film needed a tighter edit to make it coherent.
In all, ‘Hail, Caesar!’ looks wonderful, sounds great and has a fantastic cast, but they are let down by a storyline that is muddled, messy and incoherent.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

TRUTH (USA/15A125mins)
Directed by James Vanderbilt. Starring Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, Dermot Mulroney, Dennis Quaid.
THE PLOT: It’s 2004, and Mary Mapes (Blanchett), the acclaimed, award-winning producer of the top American news show “60 Minutes”, stumbles across evidence that suggests that US President George W. Bush – currently running for re-election – may have dodged combat during the Vietnam War by getting drafted into the National Guard.
With the show’s veteran presenter Dan Rather (Redford) quickly onboard, Mapes pulls together an investigative team to try and confirm the reports, finally receiving confirmation from former Texan National Guard lieutenant colonel Bill Burkett (Keach). But there are forces afoot to shoot them down…
THE VERDICT: Hot on the heels of the Oscar-winning ‘Spotligh’t comes another true-life drama of a newsroom daring to turn whistle-blower on an American institution. Based on Mary Mape’s 2005 memoir, this time, it’s not the Catholic Church and their fondness for children but the even more biblical Bush dynasty. That the shocking revelations don’t quite go David’s way this time will prove something of a rug-puller for those unfamiliar with the original 2004 scandal, and ‘Truth’ certainly leaves an odd after-taste.
Nonetheless, it’s all done in the best possible taste, with heavyweights Blanchett and Redford doing what heavyweights Blanchett and Redford do. The casting of the latter is almost cheeky, given his leading role in 1976’s Nixon-nixing ‘All The President’s Men’. That ‘Truth’ – which debuted in Toronto in September – hasn’t really garnered any awards heat reflects its ultimate lack of a kill. And director Vanderbilt’s killer instinct.
Review by Paul Byrne

Directed by Kent Jones. Starring Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater.
THE PLOT: In 1966, film director and former critic François Truffaut published the book “Cinema According to Hitchcock”. Fifty years later, filmmakers including David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater discuss how the book and Hitchcock’s work influenced their careers, while director Kent Jones examines just how the conversations between the filmmakers took place.
THE VERDICT: ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’ is an engaging and fascinating documentary; to have such established and different filmmakers come together to talk about the career of Alfred Hitchcock is engaging enough, but to have this paired with the audio footage of the now famous interviews with François Truffaut makes for a cinematic treat.
At the time when Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock, he set out to remind audiences that the filmmaker was much more than a light entertainer, as he had come to be considered. Now, conversely, Hitchcock is regarded as a master filmmaker, but is perhaps not in the public consciousness as he could be. This is why ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’ feels fresh and new, even as it takes a look back at films of the past.
Throughout the film, filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, James Grey, Peter Bogdanovich, Olivier Assayas, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater discuss the films of Hitchcock, through the lens of Truffaut’s interviews and books. These discussions are then interspersed with footage from Hitchcock’s film, along with clips from the interviews with Truffaut. One thing becomes clear very quickly; these filmmakers had their opinions of Hitchcock changed – one way or another – on reading Truffaut’s works. In keeping the list of interviewees comparatively short, director Kent Jones keeps the audience engaged with the discussions, while choosing respected filmmakers in their own right lends weight to the discussions on screen.
Kent Jones paces’ Hitchcock/Truffaut’ well, and never allows discussions of certain scenes or ideas in Hitchcock’s work to become drawn out or too involved. This gives the film a light feel and this, coupled with the respect the interviewees obviously have for Hitchcock, makes the film feel engaging and light, and stands to remind audiences just why Hitchcock was so successful and revered. As well as this, the film allows Hitchcock to speak for himself, giving an insight into the mind that made films including ‘Vertigo’, ‘The Birds’ and ‘Psycho’.
In all, ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’ is for old fans and new ones alike; this is a fascinating documentary about one of the great filmmakers of all time, whose work is dissected and revered in by filmmakers still working today. The film is light and engaging, and reminds audiences of the power of Alfred Hitchcock’s work.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Also opening this week is a creepy Austrian horror film called Goodnight Mommy, which I saw at Horrorthon last October. Here’s my review:

    If you’ve been keeping an eye on Austrian cinema of late (e.g. Michael), then you’ll know that there’s a darkness to their filmmaking that is quite unsettling. Goodnight Mommy continues that trend and takes the audience on a domestic horror that goes to some pretty dark places.

    Lukas (Lukas Schwarz) and Elias (Elias Schwarz) are two twin boys who very much rely on each other. This is particularly true of the current situation that we find them in: their mother (Susanne Wuest) has just come home from hospital. She’s had cosmetic surgery and doesn’t quite look like the Mother they know. It’s not just that: her behaviour is completely different. She’s bad-tempered and distant, rather than caring and loving. They grow increasingly suspicious of her odd behaviour, to the point where they have to confine her and take drastic action to find out what’s going on…

    The feature debut of co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz is an intense, slow-burning tale. It was Austria’s official entry for last year’s Oscars, which speaks volumes about how confident the selecting committee were. Their justifications are correct – this is a measured and finely crafted film. However, this is also not the type of film that would typically appeal to elderly Academy voters. When you have young boys tying up their apparent mother and subjecting her to various trials by fire, then you can imagine Academy voters squirming in their seats. For example: the two boys gluing her lips together and then trying to cut her mouth open again. Hold onto your seat – this is not for the squeamish.

    Look past the gorier and more extreme moments though and you have a dark, twisted look at parent-child relationships. Are Lukas and Elias future serial killers in the making… or are they just doing what they have to do to expose the truth about the person who seems to be their mother? It’s certainly one to ponder as the credits roll. A layered and complex film, Goodnight Mommy is classy European horror with some bite. ****

  • emerb

    Another film opening this week is Time Out Of Mind with Richard Gere. It’s got good reviews so it’s the one i’m planning on checking out this weekend hopefully 🙂

    • filmbuff2011

      I saw Time Out Of Mind today – it’s worth checking out. It’s interesting to watching Gere go undercover on the streets of New York as a homeless person. Apparently, he was only recognised twice – in Grand Central station. Also opening is The Choice, which you’ll probably like. I didn’t care much for it myself – these Nicholas Sparks adaptations are getting steadily worse and more like wish fulfillment fantasies. The Notebook seems like a long time ago now…

  • emerb

    Thank you @filmbuff2011:disqus, I chose to see Time Out Of Mind instead of The Choice in the end and i really enjoyed it – always good to get a recommendation! My review will follow tomorrow 🙂

  • emerb

    Time Out of Mind my review: “Time Out Of Mind”, is a movie that is impossible to forget and it demands your full attention from the outset. Oren Moverman, the gifted Israeli-American writer-director of “The Messenger” and “Rampart”, gives us a simple, low-budget, indie movie that is unflashy and set in the harshly realistic world of a homeless man who roams the streets of Manhattan, virtually undetected by the passersby. That man is George, played by silver fox, Richard Gere, who immediately draws you in with a powerful performance. Forget what you think you know about this legendary charmer, here we see him play a totally different character and he gives us the kind of work we haven’t seen from him in years. Last seen in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, where women swooned over him, it’s hard to believe this street man, wrapped himself in layers of secondhand clothes is that same person. Gere gives a superbly moving and very minimalist performance, pathetic, lost, broken, defensive and hesitant.

    This is a rather minimalist film, we get only a few details about George’s life and there is very little plot or resolution. We first meet him squatting in an abandoned apartment, where he sleeps in a broken bathtub. He’s getting kicked out by a construction worker (Steve Buscemi), so he finds himself homeless on the streets for the first time. George is a proud man and shuffles around in silence, buying beer with spare change and insisting to cops that he’s just between opportunities, not really homeless. Reluctantly, he spends time at Bellevue and other bleak shelters. The second half of the movie lightens with the introduction of the chatty, former jazz man, Dixon (the excellent Ben Vereen), who starts following George around. Dixon goes with George to various agencies as George hazily tries to get an ID card to qualify for assistance. A few relevant family facts do emerge — a tragedy where he lost his ex-wife to cancer, a lost
    job, an estranged daughter (Jena Malone) who was raised by relatives and works in a pub but whom he hasn’t seen in years. She appears in a few telling scenes and it hurts her to see what her father has become and how far he’s fallen .It’s clear that she’s tried to do more for him in the past, and that it has never worked.

    A movie about a homeless man trying to survive in New York City, does not feel like a typical American drama for this century. Much more of an observational film, it is mainly concerned with behaviour rather than story and this may disappoint some viewers. Moverman and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski shot Gere with hidden cameras, watching the world ignore him. Yet, it works because it’s an honest, realistic portrayal, stripped bare of dramatic twists and surprises. Watching the movie is more like being a spectator in the life of this man, there is
    no musical soundtrack, just the regular street sounds from cars, shops and traffic. It aims to help us understand the perspective of the homeless person, and also the perspective of the people who are ignoring him. It doesn’t try to offer up solutions to the problem, it’s more about letting us engage with it and feel compassion for the victims. Without sentimentality or gloss, it illuminates a part of city life that is often forgotten and just wants to heighten our awareness. Many will find it long, frustrating and difficult to watch and it’s certainly not upbeat so it’s hard to see it being a huge box office success which is a shame because it’s a rewarding, profound and compelling drama which will make you appreciate
    what you have in life.