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Hail, Caesar!

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jun 7, 2016
Hail, Caesar!

"Hail, Caesar!" isn't the Coen Brothers' first love letter to the way movies used to look and feel -- the duo have frequently hearkened to cinematic textures and techniques from decades past, never more so than in the fast-talking screwball comedy "The Hudsucker Proxy." But "Hail Caesar," with its scatter-shot embrace of multiple staple genres from the days of the studio system is their most directly referential work to old Hollywood.

Josh Brolin plays Mannix, a studio "fixer" whose endlessly long days are spent cleaning up the messes that clueless film stars get themselves embroiled in. When Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of a Biblical epic ("Hail Caesar!") goes missing, Mannix has to juggle twin gossip columnists (both played with superb aplomb and gorgeous costumes by Tilda Swinton) along with all his other responsibilities: Finding a solution to the problem of the unmarried pregnancy of an Esther Williams-like synchronized swimming movie star (Scarlett Johansson), fielding complaints from the prissy director (Ralph Fiennes) of a drawing room melodrama when a singing, stunt-riding cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) is dumped in his lap, and contemplating a job offer from a corporation that has nothing to do with he madhouse of movie-making. (Also in the mix: A "Navy boys on the town" musical in which Channing Tatum tries on a whole different set of moves.)

But the missing actor hasn't gone off on a booze-fueled tear: He's been kidnapped by the bugbear of Hollywood, a cabal of Communist screenwriters who are looking to raise a little kapital (to the tune of $100,000) in ransom. Still, if Mannix can't locate Whitlock, and soon, he's going to have a whole new scandal (or, rather, an old one, given new life) hitting the papers thanks to the gossip columnists.

It's all delightful fun, and it's staged with a knowing and celebratory eye to each of the genres into which the movie dips a toe. The fact that the story is only loosely bound together with the most rudimentary of plots is beside the point; like the cameo appearances by the likes of Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand, this movie is all about hyper-real moments so colorful they seem saturated, not unlike the film stocks of the time. And if the film's pieces don't quite come together -- something the Coens seem to wink at, when they work in a sight gag involving a jigsaw puzzle and a final, non-fitting piece -- well, you still get the big picture. Even better, you get warmly nostalgic, vibrantly energetic salutes to a variety of old pictures and the stars who used to make them.

This Blu-ray release offers four brief promos, all of them looking with a cineaste's love at movies as they used to be made.


"Hail, Caesar!"
Blu-ray
$34.98
https://www.uphe.com/movies/hail-caesar

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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