Wednesday, February 24, 2016

HAIL, CASEAR!: My review

I used to love the Coen Brothers. Their films were always entertaining and highly original. BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA, THE BIG LEBOWSKI were great movies (in my opinion). FARGO was an absolute masterpiece.

And even when they didn’t hit the bullseye, there was usually something redeemable about their movies. I had no idea what was in the box in BARTON FINK (and neither did they according to one of the actors), but there were some great scenes and performances. THE HUDSUCKER PROXY was a noble attempt at doing a fast-talking screwball comedy. And NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MAN was fascinating when I wasn’t confused.

Every so often there would be a real dud, but I could forgive the bros because at least they took chances.

But lately, it’s been one dud after another. A SERIOUS MAN was a wisdom tooth extraction. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. And now comes HAIL, CASESAR!

In fairness, it’s not as bad as those other two, and it has some funny moments, but by and large it’s just a giant mess.

And I’m done.

I’ve wasted the last two hours sitting through indulgent crap and suffering through horrible storytelling by two filmmakers who know better but don’t give a shit. Their films are now just pointless exercises designed to amuse themselves and maybe their Hollywood friends.

HAIL, CAESAR! is the first kidnapping movie with absolutely no suspense. There are some amusing send-ups of 1950’s movies, but even those are belabored. And for some reason they make George Clooney mug like crazy thus transforming him from a charming romantic comedy lead into a member of the HEE HAW cast.

I’m sure all the actors were having yucks-a-plenty making this movie. And the Coen Brothers probably had a blast recreating all these beloved cinema tropes from the ‘50s. I’m sure Spielberg howled at his private screening. The Hollywood old guard would have laughed at every reference if they weren’t dead for the last twenty years. But for us, the lowly audience (that pays $15 or $20 a ticket) it felt like watching a party you weren’t invited to; and in fact – were banned from.

And it makes me angry because the sense I get is that the Coen Brothers don’t care. Satisfying paying customers is no longer a priority. They don’t care that their stories all now have a beginning and then nothing followed by nothing followed by more nothing. They’re not making the movies for you, they’re making them for themselves. They’re not saying, “How can we make better films?” They’re saying, “What genre could we do next that might amuse us during filming?”

Critics of course still fawn all over them, mistaking indulgence for depth. But I think it’s very telling that HAIL, CAESAR! on Rotten Tomatoes received an 81% approval rating from critics and a 46% approval rating from audiences. The Emperor has no toga.

There’s always the chance that their next movie will be another FARGO. At their best there’s nobody better. You’ll let me know, won’t you? In the meantime, I’ll be using their next screener as a coaster.

48 comments:

Igor said...

"There’s always the chance that their next movie will be another FARGO. At their best there’s nobody better. You’ll let me know, won’t you? In the meantime, I’ll be using their next screener as a coaster"

Ken, I read this and must say I am shocked. You use coasters?

Peter said...

You should have gone to see Deadpool instead, Ken! It rocks!

Ray said...

I really liked A Serious Man. We're not shown what happens at the end of A Serious Man, but a tornado and a bunch of schoolkids don't go well together. It's of a piece with most of their recent films - life is absurd and ends in death and defeat.
In No Country for Old Men - the characters we like die or hide, evil staggers away
In Burn After Reading - "What did we learn?" "I don't know, sir" "I don't fucking know either"
in True Grit, the outlaws are shocked to be shot, to die. And Mattie ends up a lonely amputee

The Minstrel Boy said...

Ken, a friend of mine is teaching a class at Syracuse, called "Wired Critics" where he is teaching young students the art of reviewing. I would, with your permission, like to post your review of "Hail Casear" for them to see. It's masterful, and sums up my opinion on the film perfectly. I love the Coen brothers. They have made some real masterpieces, I even enjoyed their "True Grit." (especially since it didn't have Glen Campbell) But this one left me cold.

kent said...

I don't disagree but just wanted to mention my favorite Coen brother's film, Miller's Crossing. I rank it just above Fargo.

Breadbaker said...

Thanks for saving me twenty bucks. I had enjoyed the trailer and was looking forward to the movie, but its rating from audiences was in fact making me hesitate. Your review is the clincher. Pass.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Slightly off topic, but I actually auditioned to be in a Coen Brothers movie once. They had a casting call in Nashville for O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? and I was among many different kids who auditioned for the part of that hillbilly kid who fired his shotgun at our three leads thinking they're from the bank. Didn't get the part, but it was still an interesting experience. As I've gotten older, I've found I prefer being behind the camera anyway.

Stephen Marks said...

"Hail, Seizure" cause I'll want one if I have to sit through this thing, so thanks Ken for letting us lend you our ears. Yea I loved "No Country For Old Men" but if I see a movie then have to go online to have the ending explained to me I feel either A or B (just a plug for Ken's play) A: Stupid or B: An appreciation for "Smokey and the Bandit" or a Jim Varney movie. "Fargo" had that scene where Francis McDormand had a lunch date with an old high school chum that had nothing to do with the plot. Roger Ebert said it was brilliant BECAUSE it had nothing to do with the plot, which I believe was the statement that finally gave Gene Siskel head cancer causing him to drop dead 2 reviews later. There's two Cohen brothers so you'd think one would say "hey Ethan I don't think this works" without it turning into a "Mom always liked you best" Smother's Brothers quarrel. And George Clooney is finished, four flops in a row and it shows on his face, George you went from Cary Grant to Lou Grant 2 short years after "Leatherheads." He's heading down the same road as his Aunt Rosemary, getting fat and working the conference room at a Holiday Inn outside Toledo.

blinky said...

Put any movie by Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell in the category of "Me and my hollywood pals had a blast making this awful movie. Now you suckers can pay for it."

Daniel Cook Johnson said...

Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

Ken Levine said...

Minstrel Boy,

You're welcome to post my critique as long as you link back to my blog. Say hi to everyone in Syracuse for me. I still have fond memories of that city from my days doing play-by-play for the Syracuse Chiefs.

benson said...

Ken, Hail, Caesar was the first movie I've seen in a theatre since Draft Day, which (except for the Jennifer Garner/Gena Rowlands storyline) we liked a lot.

I'd seen the teaser trailers on the internet and was expecting a rollicking comedy. Sadly all we found was, there was no "there" there.

I still want to go see a movie I can't wait to see and then be thrilled I saw it.

The Minstrel Boy said...

Will do with the link back to the blog. Thank you!

tavm said...

Am I the only one here who knew the names of Eddie Mannix and Nicholas Schenk were real-life business-movie figures during The Golden Age of Hollywood? I don't think my movie theatre-working friend knew about that one...Oh, and now Channing Tatum can lay claim to working for both Quentin Tarntino and the Coen brothers!

Unknown said...

Listen to Ken on line, live! More information here:
http://www.newsfromme.com/2016/02/24/today-stus-show-46/

Unknown said...

I live in the Chicago area, and listened to a few reviews of the movie before going. The reviews were rather glowing, "throw back to the golden age of movies", "funny". Went on a Wednesday night, 6 people including myself in the theater.
Wasn't sure what to expect, kept an open mind, kept waiting for something big. It just meandered along. Few of the 6 people laughed out loud. Usually when a crowd is laughing, it give energy to the crowd, and makes things funnier. With only 6 people, that energy wasn't there. Only thing I thought was funny, was the priest/rabbi/etc discussing jesus.
Clooney didn't act, he just smugged the whole time. Lead actor was good.
Leaving I felt I missed something in the movie, good reviews, but I didn't think it was that good. Felt I wasn't smart enough to "get" the movie. But driving home I realized it wasn't that good of a movie, nothing to "get".

Nick Alexander said...

"They’re not making the movies for you, they’re making them for themselves."

Correct me if I'm not mistaken, but, putting aside the Coen Brothers' idiosyncracies, isn't this what all artists--writers--directors--actors--musicians--isn't this what they all must do, in some form or another?

Jon B. said...

To benson,

After not going to a movie theater in two years, what was it that drew you "Hail, Caesar!"? I'm not judging, just curious.

As for wanting to be excited about a movie and then being thrilled by it, may I recommend "Spotlight"? Great story, terrific ensemble acting and no wasted scenes. A movie for grown-ups (and without gratuitous sex and violence, which can be a turn-off for some).

Terry Benish said...

Hi Ken, in the last month I've seen two movies, this mess and "The Revenant". I agree whole heartedly with your judgment and reviews. I do feel as if I've been ripped off, violated if you will.

Kind of reminds me of this presidential election.

Mariners are good this year. Cheers.

Jon B. said...

Forgot to add that I liked "Hail, Caesar!" more than Ken did, it seems, but I doubt I'll ever watch it again. One of the things Ken failed to mention was the whole Communist subplot, which seemed to come out of left field, but turned out to be a key plot point (although it was not well done, either).

As it turns out, I enjoyed immensely both seasons of the "Fargo" TV series, which plays like "an homage to the Coens' entire oeuvre", despite the Coens lack of involvement. Maybe the Coens should let someone else make their movies, too.

Kidding.

Sort of.

CarolMR said...

Eddie Mannix was such an interesting character. I've always wondered if he had any involvement in George Reeves' death.

Gary Benz said...

When I see a movie by filmmakers I admire and it ends up leaving me wanting, I tend to initially blame the editing which itself often results from studio (or network) notes. And that's the case here. I think better, crisper editing would have made a better movie. Too much focus on what amounted to gimmicks in the form of old movie set ups which, while amusing, ate up time and really didn't advance the plot. There was a really good movie here trying to find its way out but just couldn't. I liked every it better than you, Ken, but I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.

Margo Guryan said...

Thanks, Ken. Will stay away from that film. But worth the Coen Bros. efforts to get you writing about it. The review was probably a lot better than the movie.

Margo

gottacook said...

Stephen Marks: The plot thread concerning Marge's "old high school chum" in Fargo is specifically relevant to the main story, but in an oblique way that I didn't catch at first. There are three segments dealing with Mike Yanagita: Margie gets the phone call from him, meets him at the restaurant, and then finds out, during a phone call with another (female) high school friend, that Mike's tale of woe was a complete fiction. Marge thinks a moment and then says, "That's a surprise." (For me that's one of the funniest lines in the movie.) Whereupon she immediately returns to interview Jerry Lundegaard a second time, because now she realizes his previous story could have been a fiction, too. She won't be quite so gullible.

Barbara C. said...

I went into Hail, Caesar not knowing much of anything about it except that it was supposedly billed as a comedy. It definitely fell flat as a comedy.

I still found the movie interesting, though. I liked the send offs to the Golden Age of Hollywood. But I really feel that it played off better as a religious allegory. I think it was kind of a Biblical epic about the making of a Biblical epic, with Channing Tatum as a faux Jesus of one religion and Josh Brolin as the real deal.

I still can't quite decide if I liked the movie or not.

Clint Robertson said...

Personally, I thought it was great. Obviously, I'm in the minority here. All the scenes that others thought were "pointless" and "needed to be deleted" I understood perfectly well why they were there and what they were saying. I saw it twice... in a row (different days). Loved it.

Clint Robertson said...

Personally, I thought Hail, Caesar! was great. Obviously, I'm in the minority here. All the scenes other critics and naysayers thought ought to be "deleted" or were "unnecessary" I understood perfectly why they were there and what the Coen brothers were saying with them. I liked it so much I saw it twice, once each on successive days. Say what you will about the movie (or me), I loved it.

Griff said...

"I’ve wasted the last two hours sitting through indulgent crap and suffering through horrible storytelling by two filmmakers who know better but don’t give a shit."

They never did, Ken.

slgc said...

My husband would agree with you 100%. I personally enjoyed Hail Caesar; I found the 50's send-ups to be entertaining. But then again, I don't generally "get" the Coen Brothers so my expectations weren't particularly high.

Mike said...

Further to the above plug for Stu's Show, over on Mark Evanier's blog:
After studying the picture, I've decided that the photographer was naked.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Lately, I've been choosing movies as much for the cast as for the content. I used that yardstick for SPOTLIGHT and THE BIG SHORT and was rewarded. Did the same for HAIL CAESAR! and was utterly disappointed. Brolin was good, but he seemed to be floating in and out of scenes. Swinton was good as the twin gossip columnists. The Tatum character made no sense, especially the sub scene. Ditto the writers' kidnap plot. Plain stupid. Clooney and Johansson were wasted.

I would have liked to see what Larry David could have done with script rewrite and have some of the separate storylines overlap, rather than just have Brolin intersect them all. The funniest scene was when the different clergy were arguing over God and Jesus.

Looking forward to THE NICE GUYS. My wife loves Ryan Gosling, and he was very good in SPOTLIGHT.

WendyT said...

Couldn't disagree more. I found it insightful, sharp, funny and poignant. It's gotten some good reviews as well, like this one in The New Yorker:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-coen-brothers-marvellous-hail-caesar.

Just goes to show how this is all subjective, of course. I loved Fargo and Barton Fink, enjoyed True Grit and Inside Llewyn Davis. Wasn't fond of Raising Arizona nor Big Lebowski.

Joseph S. said...

I saw it and kind of liked it in parts, but not as a whole. There's a reason it opened in February.

Pam Pettler said...

I must just put in a good word for the three rabbi sequences in A Serious Man. The absolutely brilliant sequence with the pointless "Dentist and the Goy" story, Simon Helberg's memorable and perfectly observed feckless Rabbi Scott, and the final bizarre scene with the elderly Rabbi. I was also taken with the whole Sy Edelman character. It had some very perfectly characterized types of Jewish characters that I thought were brilliant. The movie was deeply flawed, I do agree, but those moments were wonderful. I agree wholeheartedly with your take on Hail Caesar--the mugging alone was unbearable. I don't understand how these two smart, observant, good filmmakers can go so wrong sometimes!

Buttermilk Sky said...

I liked THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, their version of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. I saw no reason for the Coens or anybody else to remake THE LADYKILLERS.

i could be a bob said...

I personally enjoyed Hail Caesar and want to thank the poster who wrote:
Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man. White Russians for everyone!

Do you ever rewatch movies? Or is life too short? I'm a fan of 13 of the 17 total works of the Coen's. Some of those 13 are no-doubt-about it HRs. Plenty of stand up triples, a few solid doubles. Initially I was quite underwhelmed by Inside Llewyn Davis in theater. But the movie stuck with me a bit, so watched again on netflix and enjoyed it so much more on second viewing, and even caught it a third time. (And the soundtrack is great.)

I attended A or B? in Toluca with a Sunday matinee audience who really didn't "get" a lot of your play and jokes. The audience matters a ton with comedies. You don't HAVE to give any film another shot, but ya never know.

Next Wednesday question: How about some great movies you've seen but could never watch again? I've got a couple of those.

YEKIMI said...

They should have edited in some clips of "The Joker" from the old "Batman" TV show. They could have called it "Hail, Cesar Romero". I would have watched that.

Aaron Sheckley said...

It's one thing to decide for yourself whether or not you like a movie. At least the opinion is yours. It's another thing entirely to decide a movie sucks because someone else didn't like it. I already know from previous blog posts that Ken's tastes and mine don't run in lockstep on everything, so his opinion of a "good" movie might be radically different than mine. I'm amazed by people whose opinions are so easily swayed that their response to a movie they've never seen us "well gee, Ken (or whatever other critic they read) told me this movie was bad, so yes, it totally sucks".

This isn't a slam on Ken; his opinion is his opinion, and there's rarely if ever a universal objective opinion on the merits of a film. And there are lots of movies I'll never see because the subject matter holds no interest for me, but why would you decide that a film sucked just because someone else told you it did?

Dan Ball said...

My girlfriend and I saw this last Monday. It was us and another couple in there. While we didn't always pay the best attention to the movie, we both felt we were paying enough attention that we should've picked up on what was going on. We didn't.

Ergo, I dub this film, "Fail, Caesar!"

MikeN said...

The problem is George Clooney gets his critical raves by making a regular movie and slowing it down by half.

Diane D. said...

I agree with Aaron Sheckley. It seems even more strange to not see a movie because someone else didn't see it (i.e. REVENANT). My comment on Ken's non-review of that movie was I thought it was a mistake to judge a movie without seeing it---it seems an even bigger mistake to judge it based on some one else's judgement without seeing it (or something like that).

Johnny Walker said...

Oh crap! I'm so looking forward to this, but maybe they're done :(

That said, I agree with everything you've said apart from A SERIOUS MAN -- which to me has been their pinnacle (and probably won't be bested). That movie seemed to take everything they'd learned to tried to do in their previous movies, and put it together in an amazingly powerful whole.

I was also surprised to learn that they did a credited drafts of BRIDGE OF SPIES and UNBROKEN -- I would have seen those films if I'd known..

Dixon Steele said...

I loved both A SERIOUS MAN and especially INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, which is a classic. And while HAIL wasn't on that level, I'm a old Hollywood buff and certainly enjoyed it.



Anonymous said...

"But lately, it’s been one dud after another."

To make this run, you have to skip True Grit - they did one a year from 2007-2010, with A Serious Man the only bummer. (Before that was the fallow period after the death of their mother, when they seemed to hit a huge writers' block, but No Country / Burn After Reading / True Grit is a pretty good output in just four years.)

- Kit

Mark Rocque said...

Raising Arizona is one of my favourite movies of all time and I keep watching Coen Brothers' movies expecting to get a glimpse of that magic. I understand that they don't seem to be wanting to pigeon-hole themselves but I couldn't agree more that some of their later movies are overindulgent and confusing. I have no idea what the critics see in them but I'm glad you're unafraid to call them on it. I'm going to stop watching their drek, along with anything by the Wachowskis and Wes Anderson.

James Van Hise said...

While I really liked both seasons of the Fargo tv series, I truly hated the movie Fargo. A comedy? It begins with a man and his young daughter chased down and murdered because they accidentally witnessed a crime. I found all of the characters in the film either boring, annoying or extremely unlikable. The dialogue drove me crazy like when the detective's husband is asking her what she wants for breakfast and it just goes on and on and on. And then there's the scene when her assistant suddenly professes his love for her and bursts into tears when she doesn't return it. Awful. Just awful. I love Raising Arizona with its wild characters, amazing directing and fascinating voice-overs "Her body was a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase." Nothing they've done since has touched that. In Hail Caeser it went from highly creative moments to boring scenes like the religious leaders arguing about the nature of Christ. Really? Snore. And the kidnapping plot was ultimately pointless. On the Youtube review show "What The Flick" they had 4 reviewers. Two of them really liked Hail Caeser but the other two you could tell have misgivings but seemed reluctant to slam the Coen brothers, like it would be in bad taste or something not to praise them. But audiences have spoken as the film is perhaps their biggest bomb ever.

cadavra said...

Adored HAIL, CAESAR! Loathed LLEWYN DAVIS. What can I tell ya? To each his own, even if it makes no sense to the "majority."

Johnny Walker said...

James Van Hise: FARGO is NOT a comedy. I think a lot of people came away hating it because they'd heard it was "so funny". It's a dark and tense drama with the rare comic moment. (I think the reason talk about the few funny moments are because they're in such stark relief to the rest of the story that they stand out. It's actually very dark and very tense.)

To me FARGO treads the same territory as BLOOD SIMPLE (average guy wandering into the world of crime) with a dash of BURN AFTER READING (humanity is a very dark comedy -- filled with lots stupidity).