Thursday, February 9, 2017

Movies In History: Hail Caesar!

You probably have to be a Coen Brothers fan, a history fan, and an old movie fan, to like this movie. Fortunately for me, I guess, I'm all three.

This latest Coen Brothers film takes a One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich approach to the story of protagonist Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin.  Taking place in a relatively short period of time in 1951, Mannix, whatever his theoretical role with a major motion picture studio, is a fixer.  That is, he fixes problems that occur on the set, and those problems have to deal with the personalities he encounters.

In order to really grasp the film a person has to have a bit of a background in the times, arts, and i particular film. A series of films are being worked on in the studio, all of which are typical for the era.  One of the films is purely a vehicle for background and a side plot, that being an Ester Williams type swimming extravaganza, but with the Williams stand in being a rough, street wise, and pregnant DeeAnna Moran, played very well by Scarlett Johansson with a brilliantly played and very funny cameo by Jonah Hill.  The main movie feature involved in the plot is a Holy Land epic featuring a Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney, who is kidnapped by Communist screenwriters.  Other films and genre actors feature in that story, however, including a sailor featuring musical, a dramatic epic, a self affecting homosexual director, a communist song and dance man, a singing cowboy, a Latin dancer and so on.  For those not familiar with movies of the 1940s and 1950s, many of these film snippets and characters will seem outlandish, but in reality, they are all actually extremely close to what actual films were like at the time and the characters, while parodies of Hollywood people at the time, aren't much different from what actual characters were like, except exaggerated.

Apparently the central character is based on a real Hollywood figure who had the role of a fixer. As played in this film, he's tortured by his role and is being worked to death, basically.  Deeply religious, and facing an offer from Lockheed Industries to work elsewhere, like Ivan Denisovich his daily life is simply a struggle to get through.

Coen films tend to have hit and miss receptions by the movie going audience, and this one was apparently a bit of a miss.  That doesn't surprise me much as a person has to be really familiar with film of the era it depicts in order to not think that everything is an outlandish exaggeration, when in fact the exaggeration is fairly slight.  I really enjoyed the film, my wife really disliked it.  I found it interesting that this is yet another Coen brothers film where religion plays a big part, and beyond the debate by a Rabbi, Orthodox Priest, Catholic Priest, and Protestant minister on the portrayal of Christ in the Biblical epic being filmed.  The Mannix character is played as profoundly Catholic and taking refuge in prayer in his effort to decide his own future and (spoiler alert) making that decision in the Confessional. 

I like it and recommend it.

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