Hail, Caesar!

March 15, 2016

519408641_3_o

“This is real.”,  the Lockheed representative tells Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the Capital Pictures studio “fixer” while holding a picture of the detonation of the hydrogen bomb in the Bikini Atholl.  It is part of a somewhat ill-conceived headhunting ploy, where the rep tries to hide his contempt for the pointless frivolity of Hollywood and the job Mannix does.  He wants him to leave the studio and work for them, ironically explaining that it’s actually a much easier job with better benefits and more reasonable hours.  Mannix is up at all hours putting out fires for the contracted studio players so as to protect the studio’s image and assets.  Hail, Caesar! follows roughly 24 hours in Mannix’s life in a job that is, quite frankly, glorified babysitting.  An unmarried pregnant star, the bizarre decision by the owner of the studio to promote a B-list Western singer/stuntman into the leading role of an elegant drama, and most pressing of all, the kidnapping of the studio’s biggest star in the midst of filming the titular epic.  Read the rest of this entry »

They Came Together

June 28, 2014

13871-1

The romantic comedy is, in many ways, a dead genre.  Well, “dead” is probably too harsh, but it’s certainly dormant, at least on a cultural level from where it once was.  Studios no longer seem interested in attempting to counter-program their tentpole blockbusters, probably because they’re finding franchises that appeal to women as much as men – or should I say, “girls as much as boys”.  This isn’t totally a bad thing, at least in regards to how the rom-com has been used for the past several decades.  There’s something utterly condescending about the studio execs greenlighting moderately budgeted films that they think women will like, whilst making sure they adhere to a very specific set of tropes because that’s what women “want to see”.  It’s not true, and Bridesmaids and The Heat have given them another outlet to grasp for the female dollar, which is fine as far as it goes.  It’s nice that to some degree the executives don’t think all women just want to live out some fantasy about finding “the one”.  Still, the romantic comedy is one of the most intriguing and potentially (though rarely realized) affecting genres in the storied history of film.  Whip-smart dialogue that crackles, solid and interesting and goofy characters just this side of the absurd, and grounding in a basic longing that perversely plays itself out as fantasy – the desire to love and be loved in return is fulfilled, but only in fantastical circumstances that look and feel like something that might be considered reality, but isn’t.  I have a deep love for romantic comedies, and I’m sad to see them so often relegated to rush jobs dumped onto VOD platforms, but I’m not so blinkered that I don’t think the past several decades has meant they’ve sort of earned it. Read the rest of this entry »

The pseudo-indie dramedies that Steve Carell has traded in for a number of years now have had a remarkably solid track record – non truly amazing but always just pleasant enough; they’ve been schmaltzy but tempered just enough to make them work on some level.  The idea of putting his sad-sack character in an End-of-the-World film reeks of some sort of quirky half-assery on the part of whatever “indie” division at a studio agreed to put money up for the production.  I can imagine someone saying, “Melancholia-lite might sell this year.”  Still, even if the result is not ground-breaking, nor does it transcend the rather milquetoast pleasures of other Carell fare like Dan in Real Life, it has an oddball, morbid quality that creates a distinctly bittersweet aftertaste.  It also features what might be Carell’s best rendition of this character, and it’s utterly refreshing to know he’s not yet sleepwalking through these roles yet.  Read the rest of this entry »

Moonrise Kingdom

June 3, 2012

This contains spoilers – suffice it say that I thought this was very good indeed and you should definitely go see it. 

There’s a moment a little ways into Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom in which the young boy Sam (Jared Gilman), who looks short, gawky, and desperately uncool with his thick-framed glasses, walks out of a local children’s production of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and through the backstage areas of the church where it’s being performed.  He finds his way to the dressing room, where a row of young girls dressed as birds are applying their make-up and preparing.  Looking directly at the camera, he asks, “What kind of bird are you?”  The girls turn around, and one starts to explain what they each are until Sam stops her mid-sentence and asks again, pointing directly at the camera and, it turns out, at one girl in particular: Suzy (Kara Hayward).  There’s an air of supreme confidence in the delivery, and Suzy’s reaction is to be instantly taken with him.  It feels like wish-fulfillment on Wes Anderson’s part – one imagines he would have loved to have taken young love by the throat and just gone for it the way Sam does – as well as feeling very reminiscent of Max Fischer in Rushmore, Anderson’s breakthrough film which was also about a boy determined to act with confidence.  Except, it’s different this time.  Where Fischer was vaguely absurd in his over-compensating manner and most could see through it, Sam is genuinely confident.  It’s a testament to just how good of a film Moonrise Kingdom is that we understand that confidence as a believable character trait and not just the wish fulfillment it might seem to be.  Read the rest of this entry »

Damsels in Distress

April 13, 2012

Whit Stillman has talked quite a bit about ‘utopia’ in his interviews regarding his new film, Damsels in Distress, as well as the other three years in his sadly sparse body of work.  There’s a sort of utopian ideal to the worlds he creates, though in his first three films (Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco), they all took place in closed-off societies.  There were outcasts who didn’t fit in – notably Tom in Metropolitan – but on a whole they were closed off from the outside world.  Damsels takes place at a fictional university that is a member of a fictional Ivy League equivalent.  It’s a bizarre society, and its outlandish (though not quite cartoonish) characters hovering around the edges can be quite jarring.  Stillman, it seems, decided to go broad, even incorporating some slapstick suicide attempts.  It felt, for a while, and only in places, to be something of a disappointment.  Read the rest of this entry »

Young Adult

March 8, 2012

The first thing to get out of the way when dealing with Young Adult is that Jason Reitman is not a good director.  His previous films have been, at best, blandly functional enough for the characters to carry it along without interruption, but at worst he displays little-to-no understanding of how to film two people talking as well as a penchant for jarring stylistic leaps that detract from the story.  There are some of those stylistic leaps that just don’t work in Young Adult, including some awkward handheld shots that don’t fit anywhere into the his already boring visual schema.  Needless to say, he is not up to the task of making Young Adult work the way it should.  As a dark character comedy, there’s a way to handle this kind of awkward humour that he clearly doesn’t understand, and on the other side of the card, there might have been subtle ways to tease out the depth of a number of characters, but we’ll never know because he doesn’t seem to understand that either.  Read the rest of this entry »

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

August 4, 2011

If given the choice between seeing a mediocre action film and a mediocre romantic comedy, nine times out of ten I’ll pick the latter.  Both can be terrible, but while the former will probably be a boring dirge through mindlessness, the rom-com has the ability to transcend the rigid demands of the genre through occasional subversion of societal expectations, a few witty scenes, and perhaps most commonly, some good performances that can truly elevate the middling material.  After all, these films are mostly about dialogue and character interaction, and the general simplicity of the filmmaking (no elaborate special effects sequences, less time devoted to making something ‘awesome’) allows for the actors to find rhythms and beats that give a scene much more punch than it should have.  This is not to say that a majority of Hollywood rom-coms aren’t absolutely dreadful – they are – but there’s more of a chance there will be something to make the time spent watching them not totally intolerable.  Read the rest of this entry »