Hail, Caesar!

March 15, 2016

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“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 »

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Gravity

October 9, 2013

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The seven year wait for Alfonso Cuaron to follow up what is, for my money, one of the greatest movies of the 21st Century, Children of Men, has been fraught with rumour and false starts and delays, but it has finally come to an end with Gravity, a science-fiction thriller that is short, fleet, and about the most stunning purely cinematic experience of the year.  Cuaron’s career has bounced from children’s films, both small-scale (A Little Princess) and as big as they get (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I have never felt to be great but which certainly saved the franchise from shiny, cash-in ignominy), to adult character dramas (Y Tu Mama Tambien), and of course, dystopian sci-fi parables (Children of Men).  His visual chops have never really been in doubt, and though he’s become one of the most technically innovative directors working today, it’s not easy to tell quite what film you’re going to get from him.  In this case, we have a survival story that is extremely simple in story and concept, and incredibly complex in execution.  It is, in essence, the most basic form of Hollywood you can conceive, in the best way possible. Read the rest of this entry »

The American

September 2, 2010

The “assassin’s last job” film, which is a slightly broader term than my previous favourite, the “assassins slowly crumbling” film, has in its time established a certain set of genre tropes.  They always involve the solo hitman, an emotionally closed off, consummate professional who, like any good loner, sticks to a rigorous routine to reinforce the self-discipline that makes him so damn good at his job.  Something comes up to throw the anti-hero of course, usually a woman but sometimes a child or even an unlikely partner that creates an emotional connection that causes him to get sloppy or call into question his line of work altogether.  It’s a well-worn concept, and was even sent up by Jim Jarmusch in The Limits of Control, where his stoic, meticulous hitman was met by a series of bizarre contacts that felt the need to talk about old films or science or existential crises to the totally unresponsive man.  Still, it’s a remarkably robust set up, yielding an amusing comedy (Grosse Point Blanke), a trashy actioner (Hitman), a decent actioner (Leon), an unexpectedly deep character study (Collateral) and even an outright masterpiece (Melville’s Le Samourai).  Like a jazz standard, it all comes down to the variations of the theme, or as Collateral’s Vincent put it, “behind the notes.” Read the rest of this entry »