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Posts Tagged ‘Laurence Laurentz’
The Coen Brothers have spent most of their careers as critical darlings, favourites of people like me who love the offbeat sensibility they bring to their films.
Their classic work, which includes O Brother Where Art Thou, Barton Fink and of course, the Oscar winning Fargo dates back to the early eighties with their breathtaking debut Blood Simple.
The Coens made their name mixing off-the-wall comedy with crime stories. Raising Arizona redefined quirky and The Big Lebowski is a cult classic.
The sibling directors set their new film Hail, Caesar! in a fictional movie studio called Capitol Pictures but populated the story with characters ripped from Hollywood history. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s legendary producer and “fixer.” In Tinseltown’s Golden Age Mannix solved star’s problems, allegedly using his influence to keep some of the most notorious crimes and scandals on the LAPD blotter under wraps.
They don’t hit a homerun every time up at bat—their romantic comedy Intolerable Cruelty lacked both romance and comedy and The Ladykillers was an ill-advised remake of an Ealing Studios classic—but their genre-jumping resume contains many marvellous films that are as varied, subject wise, as they are entertaining.
Here are three of their movies that translate easily from the arthouse to your house.
No Country for Old Men: The Coens faithfully adapted Cormac McCarthy’s novel, keeping the dark humor, unbearable suspense and high body count—the ultra-violence would make David Cronenberg proud—while at the same time tightening up their notoriously loose narrative style. This is muscular filmmaking, highly structured but not predictable; it’s well paced and suspenseful. Couple the terrific story with great performances and beautiful New Mexico photography and the result is one of their best films.
A Serious Man: Though billed as a comedy, this may be the bleakest film the Coen Brothers have ever made. And remember these are the guys who once stuffed someone in a wood chipper on film. The story of a man who thought he did everything right, only to be jabbed in the eye by the fickle finger of fate is a tragiomedy that shows how ruthless real life can be. Set in 1967 Minnesota A Serious Man is apparently a thinly veiled look at the early life of the Coens, and if this is true, they deserve the designation of tortured artists. This film is darkly brilliant and funny, but a celebration of life it ain’t.
Inside Llewyn Davis: This one is a fictional look at the vibrant 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene. Imagine the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan come to life and you’ll get the idea. More a character study than a traditional narrative, Inside Llewyn Davis lives up to its name by painting a vivid portrait of its main character, played by Star Wars’ star Oscar Isaac. Sharp-eyed folkies will note not-so-coincidental similarities between the people Llewyn meets and real-life types like Tom Paxton, Alert Grossman and Mary Travers, but this isn’t a history, it’s a feel. It gives us an under-the-covers look at the struggles and naked ambition it takes to get noticed. Once you get inside Llewyn’s head you probably won’t want to hang out with the guy in real life, but you won’t regret spending two cinematic hours with him.
Coen Brothers fans will recognize the backdrop of “Hail, Caesar!,” the new screwball comedy from the prolific siblings. Fifteen years ago they doomed screenwriter Barton Fink (John Turturro) to a hellish stint fighting writer’s block at Capitol Studios. This time around the fictional studio is the setting for one day in the life of a Hollywood fixer.
James Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, a shady figure from Tinseltown’s Golden Age. Loosely based on the legendary MGM “producer” of the same name, he solves star’s problems, using his influence to keep some of the most notorious crimes and scandals on the LAPD blotter under wraps. He is, an associate says, a babysitter to “oddballs and misfits.”
As Capitol’s “Head of Physical Production” he’s about to have the busiest day of his career when an up-and-coming starlet is caught in a compromising “French postcard situation” while his leading lady, DeeAnna Moran’s (an Esther Williams-esque Scarlett Johansson), is about to have an out-of-wedlock baby. “is there any way she can adopt her own child?” he wonders.
If that wasn’t enough Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the studio’s biggest star, is drugged and kidnapped from the set of his sword-and-sandal epic Hail, Caesar!: A Tale of the Christ. “This is bad!” exclaims actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). “Bad for movie stars everywhere.”
The action revolves around Brolin’s character, but this is truly an ensemble piece made up of many moving parts. Maybe too many.
“Hail, Caesar!” is a buoyant movie and when it is firing on all cylinders it can only be described as delightful. Clooney’s stagey reaction to meeting Jesus in the movie-within-the-movie—“Squint against the grandeur!”—and Ralph Fiennes as the marvellously named director Laurence Laurentz giving southern hick Hobie an on-set lesson in elocution—“Would that it were so simple.”—are a slices of comedic heaven. An editing mishap involving Frances McDormand, a scarf and a cigarette and Johansson’s hard-boiled dame accent are great character pieces while Channing Tatum channels Gene Kelly in an athletic tour-de-force dance number called “No Dames.” Add to that a breakout performance from Ehrenreich and the wonky Coen sensibility and you have a movie with much to admire.
It’s the other stuff, the connective tissue, that doesn’t hold up. In “Hail, Caesar!” the Coens seem more interested in set pieces than story. In between inspired bits—see above—the movie meanders looking for Mannix to bind it together. Brolin certainly looks the part of a 1950s tough guy but he is a device more than a character. His job is to connect the various story threads but he gets lost between the subplots. From communism to wayward movie stars to nosy twin gossip columnists (both played by Tilda Swinton) and manufactured romances the Coens leave no old Hollywood stone unturned.
“Hail, Caesar!” doesn’t quite come together as a fully formed movie but it does play as a love letter to the cinema. Its a satirical portrait of Hollywood’s Golden Age and the underlying message about the importance of movies should appeal to cinephiles but may have less impact on casual viewers.