It took them time, but writers and producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have finally accomplished what they set out to do - they brought a TV series adaptation of the acclaimed Garth Ennis comic "Preacher" to life.
In the wake of that show's premiere on AMC last weekend, the pair are now talking about another Ennis comic adaptation they have in the works - "The Boys". "Supernatural" creator Eric Kripke is also onboard the project about a group of government funded black ops enforcers who blackmail and bash up superheroes who have gone bad by recklessly killing innocents and performing sexually deviant acts.
An adaptation is incredibly tricky as the comic has even more vulgar content than "Preacher". Rogen tells The Live Feed: "We're in a similar place with it now where we were with Preacher. Now that we've convinced everyone to let us adapt this into a show, what are we actually going to do?" For his part, Ennis believes adapting "The Boys" is actually easier than "Preacher":
"I think in terms of plot, it's going to be easier. I think it's a lot more linear... [Marvel Studios] has done a lot of the work for us already. Ten years ago, if you introduced The Boys to a mainstream audience, they would've been mystified. They would be able to identify roughly who was standing in for Batman, Superman, the Hulk, probably Spider-Man and Captain America. Not beyond that.
Now, ten years on, with the success of the various franchises, mainstream audiences have been educated in the world of superheroes. So when an Iron Man-esque guy pops up, they'll know who that is. That's going to be simpler. [What's trickier is] making The Boys look as good as a superhero movie. It's less grounded than Preacher in that regard."
Rogen has also spoken about why he wants to make the show in the first place:
"The idea of doing something in the world of superheroes, in a more traditional sense, was very appealing to us. Preacher is a comic book, but there's something about the visuals of that world and the idea of really trying as firmly as possible implant that type of idea in our world… it's something we've talked about doing for years and years and years and years, and we've just never really found the right idea. We've kicked around tons of ideas like it, and [The Boys] is probably the way to do all of that."
Ennis believes the show will find an audience in people who're done with the superhero genre: "Sick of superheroes? Because we are."
It's now official, Dwayne Johnson is attached to star in and produce the film adaptation of "Doc Savage" for Sony Pictures.
The story follows a scientist, inventor, and explorer who also boasts superheroic levels of intelligence and strength. The star of multiple pulp novels and a radio series, the character was an iconic hero who served as the inspiration for many subsequent creations including Superman.
"The Nice Guys" writer/director Shane Black is attached to helm from a script he co-wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry. Black had previously made it clear that he wanted Johnson for the film with the actor making it official on his Instagram account Monday morning.
Hiram Garcia., Neal H. Moritz, Ori Marmur and Michael Uslan will also produce. No word on when the film will go into production at this point.
It's OFFICIAL: For all comic book fans you already know the world's first superhero (pre-dating Superman) is the "Man of Bronze" himself Clark "Doc" Savage. Want to thank my bud director/writer Shane Black and his writing team Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry for flying in from LA and sitting with me and our @sevenbucksprod's producer @hhgarcia41 on this Memorial Day weekend to chop up creative and break story on this very cool project. Comic book fans around the world know that the cool thing about "Doc" Savage is that he's the inspiration for Superman. First name Clark, called "Man of Bronze", retreats to his "Fortress of Solitude" in the Arctic etc etc. Doc was physically and mentally trained from birth by his father and a team of scientists to become the perfect human specimen with a genius level intellect. His heightened senses are beyond comprehension. He can even identify a women's perfume from half a mile away. He is literally the master of everything. But here's the #1 reason I'm excited to become Doc Savage.. HE'S A F*CKING HILARIOUS WEIRDO! Confidently, yet innocently he has zero social graces whatsoever due to his upbringing so every interaction he has with someone is direct, odd, often uncomfortable and amazingly hilarious. After speaking for hours w/ Shane Black I can see why the creator of Superman took only the best parts of Doc Savage and leaving the "weirdo" part behind. But to us, it's that "weirdo" part that makes Clark "Doc" Savage dope! Can't wait to sink my teeth into this one of a kind character. #ItsOfficial #WorldsFirstSuperhero #GeniusIntellect #PhysicalSpecimen #FnLoveableWeirdo #DocSavage
A photo posted by therock (@therock) on May 30, 2016 at 5:53am PDT
Despite the critical drubbing, Duncan Jones' fantasy epic "Warcraft" based on the popular MMORPG from publisher Blizzard Entertainment opened in several overseas markets this weekend and performed above expectations. Even so, the film is on track to a very modest $25 million domestic opening weekend - not the kind of number that a costly $160 million epic like this desires.
Jones himself is out doing publicity rounds for the film and in a new interview with The Daily Beast he spoke about the complications of his personal life this year during the film's production - both losing his father David Bowie and the impending birth of his first child.
He also revealed one surprising bit of information - that the director's cut of the film is significantly than the already near two-hour runtime of the theatrical version: Speaking about his aims with the film, he said: "There are a lot of fantasy films, but they all kind of want to be Lord of the Rings. Even Game of Thrones, which I love, is mature content-Lord of the Rings. And what we wanted to try and do is broaden out that spectrum of what a fantasy film could be."
"Warcraft" is set to open States-side on June 10th.
Hugh Jackman's Wolverine has long been the lynchpin of the "X-Men" film universe, appearing in effectively every single film to date including the most recent release "X-Men: Apocalypse". Jackman's role in the film is effectively a cameo, albeit a longer on than his one in "X-Men: First Class." and it's a fairly brutal sequence where a lot of blood flows.
It turns out though his scene was originally much larger. Talking with Cinema Blend, the film's writer/producer Simon Kinberg that originally they had the mutant going to end up leading the next generation of X-Men into battle against Apocalypse:
"There was always a notion that we wanted Wolverine to be in the movie. We wanted to find a way to feature him in the film, partly because Bryan [Singer] and I love Hugh [Jackman] so much. We love the character, obviously, and he's such a huge part of the franchise. There were a lot of iterations of how Wolverine would enter and exit the movie. There was a version when he was going to come in at the midpoint of the film and be like the drill sergeant for the kids and take over as their leader. And we felt like that stepped on Jen's role in the movie and becoming their leader."
Instead the role was decreased significantly, in order to give Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique more screen time. How many of the key cast will return for subsequent "X-Men" films is unclear at this point.
Paramount Pictures has released five more character posters for the upcoming "Star Trek Beyond", these ones featuring Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho as Sulu, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Anton Yelchin as Chekov and Zachary Quinto as Spock. Check out all of them in the gallery below. Justin Lin helms the project which also stars Chris Pine, Idris Elba, Karl Urban and Joe Taslim. The film is slated to hit cinemas on July 22nd.
It has been almost a year since we scored a look at "The Last Guardian". In the works for almost a decade, it seemed the long gestating game may finally be hitting stores this year and today comes a new video about how Trico, the chimera friend to the boy in the game, was made. The video confirms the young boy will be able to carry a mirrored shield while his chimera will be able to shoot fire out of its tail. Expect a bunch more information from E3 in two weeks.
Last year's English-language Swedish martial arts action comedy short film "Kung Fury" was a smash hit. A solid Kickstarter campaign which made over three times its sought after $200,000 budget delivered a 1980s cop film-inspired half-hour work that was made available all over the place online by creator David Sandberg.
To celebrate the short's one year anniversary, Sandberg confirmed on social media that a sequel is on the way with a shot of the script and the hero's now-iconic bandana wrapped around it. No news on whether the project will be crowdfunded again at this time or a potential date either of production or release.
The first film had the eponymous hero battling arcade-robots, dinosaurs, nazis, vikings, norse gods, mutants and Hitler, so who knows what he'll take on in the follow-up.
A photo posted by David Sandberg (@laserunicorns) on May 28, 2016 at 2:17pm PDT
Paul Rudd fans are in for a treat thanks to Netflix who've released the trailer for the indie comedy "The Fundamentals of Caring". Set to debut exclusively on Netflix on June 24th, Rudd plays a divorcee who takes on a new job as a caregiver and ends up being assigned to a sarcastic, vulgar 18-year old boy (Craig Roberts) with muscular dystrophy.
The pair soon take an impromptu road trip to all the places Trevor has become obsessed with while watching the local news. Selena Gomez and Jennifer Ehle also star in the film which is based on the novel by Jonathan Evison.
Let's get the inevitable comparison out of the way first: "Captain America: Civil War" and "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" both feature superheroes battling one another in stories posited as the inevitable fallout of the mass destruction they sometimes leave in their wake. However, Civil War does a far better job of it, and unlike its competitor it's smartly written, fast-paced, and boasts incredibly well-choreographed action sequences that deliver without succumbing to overkill. Most importantly: even at its most downbeat it never ceases to be fun.
Writers-directors Joe and Anthony Russo have impressively crafted a movie that functions as a sequel for both the "Avengers" and "Captain America" movies, as well as one that further paves the way for the upcoming "Avengers: Infinity War" two-parter. Surprisingly, they've done so with making it feel overstuffed with fan service and superfluous plot points a la "Avengers: Age of Ultron".
It also puts that latter film into perspective and redeems it some by getting gritty with the collateral damage that often accompanies super-heroics, something BvS only half-heartedly tried (and failed) to do. Civil War picks up roughly a year after the events of Age of Ultron, with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) leading an Avengers team with a roster of mostly newer recruits. Their mission takes an unexpectedly ugly turn that results in a number of civilian casualties, including delegates from the reclusive high-tech African nation of Wakanda.
This is the last straw for the powers that be, who put forth a provision that the Avengers will either place themselves under the supervision of the United Nations or be shut down. A guilt-ridden Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is all for it, but Cap is hesitant. Both have strong positions: Stark supports accountability and caution; Rogers fears placing the team under control of bureaucrats who have their own agendas.
The situation is complicated further when Rogers' old friend and war buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), last seen as a brainwashed super-assassin on the run at the end of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," is framed for an attack that kills Wakanda's king. The UN and the king's son, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) want Barnes brought in dead or alive (mainly the latter), and Stark and company see it as proof of their cause. Rogers wants to protect his friend and is willing to go off the reservation to do so. Their teammates chose sides, battle lines are drawn, and friends become enemies in a fight that grows increasingly personal.
Additionally, the Russos have the unenviable task of introducing two up-and-comers to the MCU. Boseman (Get on Up) is perfectly cast as the enigmatic, no-nonsense Black Panther, he of the bullet-proof catsuit, super strength, and claws sharp enough to scratch Cap's shield. His is a fairly standard revenge plot, but it dovetails nicely with the plot and Boseman plays it with just the right degree of slow-burn gravitas.
Tom Holland (In the Heart of the Sea) is an inspired casting choice as the new incarnation of Spider-Man. He and the Russos perfectly nail the high school-era version of the early comic books with a charmingly goofy mix of Peter Parker's nerdy awkwardness and youthful enthusiasm. Marvel and Sony struck a joint-custody deal late in pre-production for Civil War and it shows; Spidey makes only a couple of appearances (each memorable) and his presence does little for the plot, whereas he was a key component of the comic book mega-crossover that the movie is based on. His presence feels a little forced, but it's enjoyable enough to be forgiven.
The more veteran characters are given equal time to varying effect. The traumatized Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and sentient android Vision (Paul Bettany) haven't fully gelled yet, whereas Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) feels fully drawn with a distinct personality for the first time since his debut way back in the first Thor movie. James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) gets his heartiest screen time since Iron Man 2, and Anthony Mackie continues to stick the landing as the high-flying Falcon. Paul Rudd brings comedy relief and some nice surprises as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, enough to anticipate a certain sequel. Last but not proverbial least, Marvel needs to hurry up and give Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) her own movie before fans riot in the streets.
It's a great many plates that the Russos manage to keep spinning, though it ultimately climaxes with a muted bang. Marvel's biggest hang-up in a so far stellar body of work is its weakness for bland villains (Loki notwithstanding), and the trend continues in the form of Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), who feels like a lesser James Bond villain. Bruhl gives a strong performance though, and the door is left open for Zemo to develop into something more impressive.
Besides, this is an instance where the heroes' biggest threat is each other, and that is ultimately why this movie succeeds where Batman v. Superman failed: Civil War's conflict is earned rather than contrived. It's the culmination of tense friendships and strained egos that Marvel has cultivated for years. The stakes feel real, which gives this comic book spectacle more heft than the genre usually deserves.
Though we've discussed it amongst ourselves for much of the past year, my good friend and colleague Blake Howard and I have long been planning to collaborate on a project where we could really delve into a subject of mutual interest - honest, diverse and memorable representations of masculinity on the screen.
By doing so, the hope was to at least partially explain why the subject fascinates us. Why a film, a performance, a theme, or an artistic choice relating to masculinity was so resonant on a deeply personal level for two men who are very similar in personality, tastes, humour and backgrounds, and yet are distinctly different in their temperaments, desires, fears and life experiences.
With this series, those divergent perspectives will approach the same topic from different angles. Ultimately we're hoping to offer potential insight into the way contemporary masculinity continually reinvents and redefines itself across the cinematic medium, and how that in turn impacts individual understanding of this social construct that is 'manhood'.
My own obsession with screen masculinity mostly revolves around the subversion of it. My favourite works with those themes, which run the gamut from "Aliens" to "Deadwood" to "Full Metal Jacket" to "Y Tu Mama Tambien," all involve the dismantling or deconstruction of pre-built archetypes. These works deliberately showcase a fuller spectrum of man - one of more nuance and dimension that feels truer to life even if it's in material that could often be described as heightened genre fare.
It's an interest that ties back to my upbringing. I thought I had figured out who I was from a young age and so tried to explore my limits and test boundaries wherever possible as I had little patience for acquiescing to the established order. This put me at odds with male peers - especially in the surf culture I grew up in which was an Aryan brotherhood of conformity and castigation. Being a gay man in this culture meant I was constantly forced to walk a tightrope - rebelling against downright parochial notions of masculinity, yet indulging in its pleasures and always aware that the wrong gesture or lingering stare could be met with lethal reprisal.
Inner city gay enclaves offered little solace either, places only for the Peter Pans and Dorian Grays of this world - ethereal beauties in an opiate haze of grinding bodies, illicit substances and arrested development. All men of a young age enjoy the vices of the flesh and the bottle, whole film genres are built on celebrating that time in one's life to varying degrees of success. With a binge-inclined personality, but one saddled with adult responsibility from early on, I indulged heavily but always maintained a level of control - an inability to completely relax that has become both a reflex and a torment in later life.
That constant drive from within saved me though, kept me from falling like some less fortunate friends who were consumed by their vices and paid the ultimate price. Trying to understand the nuances of that masculine drive in both myself and others has always been a primary interest of mine, and a topic cinema rarely tackles with the right amount of nuance and emotional intelligence that it deserves. It's seductive and dangerous, makes men adventurous pioneers in one aspect of their lives but reduces them to timid wallflowers in others. It is both self-empowering and self-destructive, and always all-consuming.
Young gay Quebecios filmmaker Xavier Dolan is someone who very much understands this bipolar nature, and no film of his better encapsulates it than "Tom at the Farm". A story of two men's shared anguish over the surrogate lover and brother respectively that they lost, this masterful psychological thriller owes obvious deference to Hitchcock and the great Gothic melodramas of the 1940s-60s. Yet the repressed desire and simmering sexuality only inferred in those classics is made overt here - a horror film where grief, desire, and self-deceit are the tempting and terrifying monsters in the shadows.
Masculinity and male sexuality is made palpably manifest - like the most intense male relationships it is one driven by an inevitable power struggle, fuelled by uncontainable desire and occasionally bordering on violence. 'Tom' beautifully captures the allure of masculine desire for itself - its intense physicality, its palpable yet enticing danger, and its unapologetic and pure carnality. From a drunken nighttime choking to a barnyard tango dance sequence, it's a sex-free film that bristles with more eroticism than a dozen Hollywood 'erotic' thrillers, and defies cliche at every turn.
In one way though 'Tom' does conform - like so many films about masculinity it shows you there's punishment for those whose lives don't run along conventional lines. In my case that punishment came in the form of a now decade-long case of tinnitus which brought me the edge of the abyss. To this day it can still render me into a small child, sitting in a corner as tears trickle down my face and the roaring buzz threatens to consume my soul. For a while my life was effectively shattered, and it took many months for me to slowly pick myself up and glue myself back together.
True depression isn't wallowing in despair, it's accepting a lack of hope. A cold, emotionless, endless fog where one faces insanity or death which manifest themselves as circling predators just beyond your field of vision. For me it was a burning crucible, even stuck in neutral that constant drive of mine along with the help of my family somehow kept me going, and I emerged slowly and painfully from the ashes with a hardened resolve to rid myself of the last of my bulls--t.
These days I'm not quite the same man I was before, that cocky little prick who thought he figured out the world and his place in it came to realise he knew nothing at the end of the day. I came to understand that I will never be rid of my worst qualities - my stubbornness, indecisiveness, dismissiveness, and futility - but could acknowledge and move past them. Instead I channel my energies towards the better aspects of my nature, and in doing so have found a new level of self-acceptance I had never reached before. There's still a long journey ahead, but it's one where the path is now much clearer.
A film that speaks wonders to me on that front, and indulges my love of clever evisceration of male insecurity, is Joe Carnahan's unrelentingly bleak Alaskan survival drama "The Grey". Pitched and sold on its action premise, instead we were given a mature, earnest, unapologetic and contemplative deconstruction of the 'men in peril' genre. Tenderness, sentimentality, self-doubt, and fear - qualities often portrayed as weaknesses in many male-targeted films but are more accurately shown here as signs of strength and wisdom.
Liam Neeson's character is a sensitive and haunted man, both a part and apart from the rest of this group of pipeline workers stranded in the wilderness - macho men brimming with arrogant pride and insecurity. "The Grey" smartly embraces the lazy stereotype of strong, angry, white hetero "men's men" at first before quickly turning that on its head. It begins with a beautiful scene in which Neeson's character talks a dying man into quietly accepting the inevitable. Offering only compassion and honesty, in doing so he allows the terrified man to slip away with dignity.
There's also a wonderful subplot given to Frank Grillo's machismo-fuelled prick who, over the course of the film, is forced to overcome his own fear and insecurities. One key scene sees Neeson wrestling Grillo to the ground, yelling at him "enough of this" - physically shaking him in an effort to shake off the emotional armor Grillo has built around himself because that bravado and posturing is going to get them all killed. I've never really possessed the inner rage and sense of entitlement so many men seem to have, but witnessing its wonderfully acted dissipation over the course of Grillo's arc I feel like I can nearly grasp why some men do. "The Grey" offers insight into masculinity at its most noble and seemingly truthful at least to me, something of a rarity in recent years as films targeted at men have begun playing to the darkest and most degenerate aspects of the masculine ideal.
Amongst the most extreme in the opposite direction is Timur Bekmambetov's "Wanted," an inventively shot but tedious action thriller which isn't about self-contemplation but rather a celebration of a type of masculinity that I find abhorrent to my very core. Mistaking anger for passion, brutality for self-actualization, and cruelty for charm, this ultra-violent and morally bankrupt work goes beyond mere machismo fantasy with its misguided ideals and its unapologetic condemnation of everyone who doesn't conform to its sadistic doctrine.
James McAvoy's character changes from being a meek man so pathetically underfoot he could only be a caricature, to a self-deluded, self-centered, incredibly cocky and abrasively arrogant prick whose attitude adjustment is regularly rewarded. Self-empowerment is a good message to share, and assertiveness is always a tricky thing to convey because the right balance is key, but saying it can only be achieved through consequence-free random violence goes beyond the pale. There's a whole generation of frustrated middle management guys out there suffering from white-collar malaise, and the easy escape of a good bit of anti-establishmentarianism is understandable, but films like "Fight Club" or games like "Grand Theft Auto" offer the same thrill in far more subversive, well-made and compelling ways.
"Wanted" scares me because it's a kind of masculinity I not only don't understand but don't think I ever could. It's one in which a man finally finds his drive, only for it to pervert his soul. My drive IS me, in my darkest hours at the bottom of a (metaphorical) deep pit, it was all I had left. It keeps me going, it powers my curiosity, my refusal to conform, and has allowed me to pursue my passion as my occupation - a pursuit that has ultimately been rewarding in ways I couldn't have imagined, even if it has come at personal costs to my relationships, my health, my self-identity and self-value.
I can't live without it, it's why regular beers and routine relationships can never quite compare to all-night benders and torrid affairs. I truly wish I could enjoy the simple pleasures, but deep satisfaction was never easy for me. Understanding that drive better, both in myself and others is always what I look for in male roles on screen. Others look for things much more basic - aspirational role models, men who reinforce their own ideals, or avatars exploring lives they could never have due to fear or circumstance.
A wealth of diverse masculine portrayals on screen can only be a good thing, one that can make men consider themselves and their place in life. In the case of that very young kid on Sydney's northern beaches who never quite fit the profile, witnessing more varied portrayals might have given him the confidence to go even further than he did. It's an important topic and in coming months we're going to go deeper and further into it than you might expect. Hold onto your hats.
Updated with Full Results Current As Of May 8th 2016.
Comic book fans have always argued about which film adaptation of their favourite property is the best. You can argue box-office until the cows come home, the fact of the matter is box-office has never been an accurate judge of quality.
In fact what the general public has embraced hasn't always been what the critics have embraced, and vice versa, yet certain titles are also held up high or shat upon by all. So to add fuel to the fiery debate, I set out to tabulate some scores and see if I could find some kind of reasonably argued consensus.
To do that I combined three scores for each film using three major sites - the wide-sweeping critical countings of Rotten Tomatoes, the more selective critical assessments of Metacritic, and the open to the public IMDb user ratings.
Does it prove anything? Not really, but it has resulted in a healthy list of the best films of the comic book-to-film genre. The results contain some major surprises, I know if I were doing my own list I would make some big adjustments ("Sin City" lower, the first two "Blade" films higher, "Batman Returns" above Batman '89, etc.).
One condition was decided from the get go - RT's T-Meter score is ignored in favour of each film's 'Average Rating' by critics out of 10. Without a mixed option, the T-meter score is generally unreliable as very mixed reviews are often classified as positive - leading to many widely liked but rarely acclaimed films scoring ridiculously high. The site's average rating score from critics however has proven far more stable and consistent over time and is employed instead.
A film like "Watchmen" had a 6.2/10 RT average rating score, a 56/100 Metacritic score, and a 7.7/10 IMDb user rating. The result was worked out like so:
(6.2 x 10) + 56 + (7.7 x 10) = 195 / 3 = 65.00. This meant its final score was 65.00 out of 100.
On the rare occasion where a Metacritic score wasn't available or didn't qualify (at least ten reviews had to be counted on MC), the remaining two scores were combined and divided by two rather than three. In the cases where the final scores are equal, those with the superior combined RT & Metacritic scores are placed higher in the graphic.
Almost 200 films have been included in the study, and quite a few were knocked off from the list ("When the Wind Blows," "Sheena," "Modesty Blaise," "Brenda Starr," the "Lone Wolf and Cub" films, two versions of "Prince Valiant", several "Asterix" films, "Lucky Luke", "Tintin and the Blue Oranges") because they didn't have enough reviews on either RT or MC to qualify.
After much demand for it, some were included (eg. "Conan the Barbarian," "The Green Hornet," "The Shadow") that began life as books or radio serials but actually found success later in the comic form. Here are the results for the those that did make it:
As mid-level budget filmmaking wanes and decent visual effects become quite affordable, we're seeing more and more genre filmmaking exploring big ideas and themes in a way that often makes a very small scale film feel large. Filmmaker Jeff Nichols is no stranger to this, his "Take Shelter" was a story about apocalyptic warnings which proved to be an excellent exploration of masculine anxiety.
Whereas that film pointedly avoided the cliches of supernatural thrillers to deliver something both original and exceptional, his new effort "Midnight Shelter" isn't so fresh or rich even if it remains a very polished piece of filmmaking. Effectively a blend of John Carpenter's "Starman" and Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "ET: The Extra-Terrestrial," Nichols isn't as afraid to embrace formula this time even as he knowingly avoids the overt emoting that has often proven the Achilles Heel of this genre.
Yes it's a person (in this case a boy) with exceptional powers on the run, with the help of their family, from evil authority figures that include a sympathiser who proves helpful in their darkest times. Nichols makes only minor tweaks here and there, blending some religious elements into the work and avoiding extraterrestrial influences in favor of more human and ubermensch possibilities.
There's enough changes to the details though, like very early reveals of the kid's channeling of radio transmissions to the idea of a cult hiding him, to make it interesting even if it's not enough to overcome strong feelings of familiarity. Kicking things off in media res, the reveals here are very carefully dished out with a discipline which make it quite compelling on first viewing - it's a restrained and very lean film that demands a certain amount of intelligence and intuitive leaps from its audience.
Sadly the flaws quickly pop out on reflection. The characters - though supported by very strong performances by the likes of Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton - are one-note. Their only quality is determination to get the boy, very well played by Jaeden Lieberher, to where he needs to go. Shannon in particular is able to milk the most out of a fairly routine part with his wonderful ability to emote so much through his face and delivery.
Adam Driver is an exception, his arc is contained entirely within the movie. It's an even more cliche role than anyone else in the film, his NSA agent effectively a merging of the Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban roles from 'Encounters,' but it's the one that at least brings a brief sense of wonder and energy to an otherwise very self-serious affair.
Nichols' film is not short of ambition, and here he creates a very lived in and believable world in which these exceptional acts take place. That he does so with very minimal dialogue and a very small cast of characters is a testament to his strength as a filmmaker. Despite its polish though, you can't help shake the feeling that the more narratively compelling stuff took place before events in the film kicked off and so what we're left with is essentially the second half of a chase movie.
That doesn't mean that what's there still isn't compelling in its own right. The film's themes of the importance of familial bonds shines through and offer a comforting notion, while its ending is a surprisingly satisfying one that tries something a bit different. Though not an exceptional original sci-fi films of late such as "Ex Machina" or "Under the Skin," its every bit up there with the likes of "Sound of my Voice" or this year's "The Invitation" of engrossing small scale but big idea filmmaking. It is also certainly one of the better films of the year thus far.
That 'Dawn of Justice' works as much as it does is a surprise. From the get-go the film has been saddled with immense pressure to right the wrongs of the often tedious "Man of Steel," to smash together two iconic characters normally on the same side, and to serve as the launchpad of a new cinematic initiative in a genre that many have labelled overworked. More recently it has also taken on the charge of helping save a studio suffering from an extended slate of weak films and facing troubled times.
The two-and-a-half hour result is an ambitious mess, an exhilarating chaos of visual flare and strong drive that's also in desperate need of direction, objectivity and restraint. Brimming with bravado and often nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is, on occasion its go for broke mentality results in moments that fans - especially of DC Comics as opposed to the previous "Batman" and "Superman" films - will find breathtaking. For those not up on those storylines, the bombastic narrative can be borderline incoherent and lacking accessibility or any real level of engagement.
Character development is decidedly on the thin side here, both heroes portrayed at extremes in an effort to both enhance and steer them towards their titular conflict. Understandably that approach works better for Ben Affleck's Batman, taking a familiar character and re-introducing him squarely in the thuggish Frank Miller "Dark Knight Returns" archetype which he suits well and which hasn't really been done on film before. Affleck's performances are always divisive, but he plays the world weariness here fine, albeit a little dour in order to fit the film's tone which remains consistently grim and glum throughout.
We effectively have half a Batman film here which actually works in its favour as it doesn't try an exposition heavy approach - if you're coming into this you're expected to have basic knowledge of all things Batman. Wayne Manor is a burnt shell, a graffitied Robin outfit sits encased, Alfred Pennyworth (this time played by the always dependable Jeremy Irons) is a tech genius, the Batcave now has a practical and 'Arkham Asylum'-style feel to it, and Batman himself has taken to branding crooks like cattle. Very little of it is explained, it asks you to accept the situation as is which is a welcome approach.
Losing what little nuance "Man of Steel" established, Superman remains the bit player in his own movie. Snyder could've gone with the more interesting "For Tomorrow" Superman approach with him feeling guilt over his actions, instead he adopts a more familiar 'increasingly distant God' trope which was tackled better with Doctor Manhattan in "Watchmen". Whether it be the continuing struggle to make the character feel relevant, or Henry Cavill himself who remains a glorious physical specimen but a bland screen presence under Snyder's tutelage (his non-Superman work is far better), the Superman and Daily Planet scenes are the obvious weak link of the chain.
Case in point is Amy Adams' Lois Lane who has gone from being redundant in the first film to the worst kind of damsel-in-distress here, making often stupid decisions and requiring constant saving. Adams manages to save the part with a few early scenes in a bathtub and on a balcony in which she seems self-aware of her tenuous place as one of the few anchors in this world for Clark's humanity. Diane Lane and Laurence Fishburne reprise their "Man of Steel" roles for short appearances, mostly to espouse sage advice, chastise reporters who don't seem to do much in the way of actual work, or serve as plot tools. They get a better shake of the stick than Tao Okamoto whose Mercy Graves is pure window dressing of the first order.
More time is given to Holly Hunter as a U.S. senator, Scoot McNairy as an injured Wayne Enterprises guard and Callan Mulvey as a Russian criminal - all delivering solid but unmemorable turns. Much of the character development that would've helped flesh out these people has been dropped by Chris Terrio's script in favour of surface only diatribes and breathy monologues touching upon mythology and metaphysical pondering of man's relationship to God(s). Some of these are interesting big ideas discussed, albeit only in sound bite form, by real life pundits like Charlie Rose and Neill DeGrasse Tyson.
Most though are ponderous musings espoused by Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor. It's an understandable choice with the character bluntly portrayed as a twitchy amoral entrepreneur, that kind of insufferable angry young man with overt daddy issues who thinks quoting Nietzsche and, in this case owning a Milton-esque painting, makes him a philosophy major. It's often so on the nose you are surprised he doesn't at one point bite into an apple while patting a pet python in his garden.
It's a recurring issue here. Snyder and Terrio want to tackle some big ideas about idolatry, power, fear and community in a post terrorism (or rather post exo-terrorism) America - but even with the film's bloated runtime there's no real room for any of it to breathe, most getting cursory lip service at best. The same goes for the action - Snyder's set pieces are often gigantic with whole shipyards and oil refineries reduced to fireballs in seconds. However, it becomes so much CG noise that there's often no real weight to much of it.
Similarly problematic is the film's possibly planned but likely reactionary approach to mass destruction in the wake of the heavy criticism lobbed at "Man of Steel". There's an admittedly thrilling opening sequence which looks at the Superman & Zod fight from an on the ground perspective, less effective is the final act in which an often shifting massive battle is regularly interrupted by military captains or news readers talking about how the combat area is uninhabited or has been evacuated.
Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is a welcome wild card in all the mess. Stealing the show out from under the men in the film with only a few scant scenes, this detached observer ultimately becomes a key player and works precisely because she remains almost as enigmatic by the end as when she first appears. Captivating in her dialogue scenes and a more than capable performer in her action ones, she's not only well cast but works best as she's treated more like a distinct character with her own agenda rather than one driven by political or idealistic motivations.
The fight scenes are impressively designed and choreographed, especially when the FX elements are scaled back such as Batman taking on a bunch of goons both early on and towards the end, but they often finish on an awkward note. Even more impressive in design, but often more awkward in execution is several nightmares, flashbacks and potential premonitions of what lays around the corner. Some, such as Bruce's flashbacks to his parent's death and the Batcave discovery, are exceedingly well done. Others, like a post-apocalyptic nightmare vision, are daring but also jarring and feel out of place.
Tying into that, many forget that "The Avengers" build-up elements in the likes of "Iron Man 2," "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" were often sandwiched in to the detriment of the rest of the film around them. The opposite is true of 'Dawn' where the flashes of setup for 'League' come as welcome breathers from the cobbled together and unrelentingly bombastic narrative. More frequent and ballsy than you'd expect, these suggestions of the larger world around this action offer excitement - and in one particular nightmare downright confusion at first.
Compliments to the score as well with Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL's work delivering a solid albeit less memorable soundtrack than their usual fare, a score trying to fuse multiple themes whilst still retaining the best and often soaring elements from "Man of Steel".
Overall 'Dawn' proves a mixed bag. Snyder goes big on imagery, symbolism and scale - but it's all about the spectacle at the cost of nuance and often straight up logic. It's not a soulless endeavour like so many blockbusters of this scale, there's too many ambitious ideas and obvious thought put into it to be that dismissive.
What it does lack is focus and real direction, a steady hand to wrangle an overly jumbled and bloated narrative struggling to fit too many ideas into a united whole. It's moments of joy come mostly from the promise of what this cinematic universe could achieve when the shackles of both Superman and Snyder are left behind. "Suicide Squad," Affleck's solo "Batman" and Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" film now look more appealing than ever in the wake of this. "Justice League"... not so much.
Let's clarifying something up front: "10 Cloverfield Lane" isn't a sequel to J.J. Abrams' 2008 giant monster-takes-Manhattan flick "Cloverfield" - at least not a direct one. It is, at most, a companion piece, one whose connection to the other isn't specified until the final act, and even then in a way that raises questions but answers none. Check your expectations at the door.
That said, it is a damn fine psycho-thriller that sets the viewer's nerves on edge and then plucks the hell out of them for the better part of 105 minutes.
The movie gets of to a quietly urgent start during its opening credits, with fashion designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) hitting the Louisiana highways after a breakup. After a bizarre car accident she wakes up in the doomsday bunker of Howard, an anxious, gruff, and controlling veteran (played with gloriously frightening mood swings by John Goodman) who tells her there's been an 'attack' that has contaminated the surface. Also living with Howard is neighbor Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who confirms the story.
The nature of the attack and its perpetrators are not known, though Howard speculates on possibilities ranging from nukes to biological warfare via the Russians, North Koreans, and/or Martians. Needless to say, Michelle and Emmett are unsettled by both Howard's paranoia as well as his hair-trigger temper. The choice is a tough one: spend a year or more in a bunker with him, or take their chances with an apparent apocalypse.
There's more to it than that, but it would be unfair to elaborate on the movie's twists here. Abrams produced it, but director Dan Trachtenberg (in his feature-length debut) and screenwriters Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle make it their own and ratchet up the tension throughout with precision timing, patiently parsing out details and the true nature of their characters' dilemma until a tipping point is reached. That they do so mostly with one location and a cast of three speaks volumes.
Goodman is responsible for most of the film's tension. Over the years he's demonstrated a knack for playing likable and sinister, funny and serious, but not often all of those at once and rarely with the force he does here. There's a near-constant undeniable aura of menace around Howard, yet Goodman humanizes and slow-plays him a way that makes him likable at times and keeps us guessing.
The movie was originally titled "The Cellar" and was re-titled and folded into the Cloverfield universe at some point later in production, which explains much in terms of tone, style, and premise in comparison to the latter. Abrams and company navigate the limitations of his trademark 'mystery box' approach surprisingly well, and against all logic "10 Cloverfield Lane" weirdly fits with its predecessor. It not only sets up another not-quite-sequel, it also demands one.
So two film geeks walk into a bar. No seriously, Garth Franklin and I walk into a Sydney inner city pub when he asks me about this column. We'd been discussing it for the longest time, a way for both of us to explore our mutual interest in compelling and resonant portrayals of masculinity on screen.
I had written a lengthy beginning to attempt to contextualise my obsession with portrayals of a certain kind of masculinity. The filmmakers and films in question include my top three favourite films of all time - "Heat," "Apocalypse Now" and "No Country For Old Men". All three centre on masculinity in crisis and, for mostly the right reasons, the crisis endures.
In "Apocalypse Now," it's surfing the wave of a United States in collective existential crisis following Watergate and Vietnam. The film doesn't realise that the shift between the narrative of world saviours post-WW2 had been all but extinguished in that bloody, pointless South East Asian conflict.
The men from "Heat," as a result of director Michael Mann's world view, are forged from the same elements as the heroes of the New Hollywood era - yearning for a purpose, for a profession worthy of their life force, well aware it can become an all consuming gyre that swallows your soul.
Then finally, "No Country For Old Men" shows you that life is fragile - especially when there are tangible forces of chaos and impulse like Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) driven by a foul purpose to equalise the playing field. It's a world where honour has crumbled into a handful of dust.
Now I may not have to fully articulate, after those brief descriptions, why there's a certain level of fear that I associate with my affinity and affection for these films and characters, but in case you maybe haven't drawn the lines...
What scares me, in truth, is becoming my father. That's probably a fear shared in a roundabout or trivial sense with everyone. You hear yourself say something; a pearl of wisdom, a criticism, an instruction and you discover a surprise piece of subliminal infiltration from many years being battered with the same advice.
That's not what I'm talking about though; and without diving into near granular personal details that could one day be used in a libel suit, I'll say that I fear that I'll betray myself. I fear I'll let my pride and stubbornness ruin opportunities to forgive and grow. That ability to say sorry seems to have been omitted in my parents' DNA to such a pronounced degree that it fills me with rage.
Perhaps even greater still is the fear that the armour that I've built to cope with this kind of constant emotional self-defence is going to all but compel me to make the same mistakes. I fear that a reflexive callousness will make me blind to those effects in every part of my life. And it's not unfounded, I know my friends and family have seen it.
The movies that I love speak to me. The movies I love converge on things I love, loathe and fear.
Willard (Martin Sheen) is a warning in "Apocalypse Now". We project upon him, like he's a blank canvas painted over a macabre portrait of the torment of life where one's purpose is death. A man quietly infected by the river, and the river is war, Kurtz, death, history and the sublime power of nature. It's psychedelic and psychotic.
The logical end game for the character is to complete the mission, but the poetry is that in completing his death he inherits the fate of his target Kurtz and the implied targets before him. He follows his orders to execute with extreme prejudice and he's consigned to the fact that he's morally aligned with Kurtz. It's that moral treachery that leads him to become Kurtz.
No matter how many times you've seen the film, when you see Willard emerge from the river in camouflage and bathed in smoke, like a creature birthed out of the primordial ooze, he's re-orientated. What scares me is asking, was that there the entire time? I don't know if I have the answer.
Hannah (Pacino) and McCauley (De Niro) in "Heat" are two sides of the same coin; they're equal and opposing reactions to an action. They come to a mutual understanding of who they are in the reflections of the other, and they do what they do at the expense of a "regular type life." Even at the culmination of "Heat" the clarity of this defiance, "I told you I was never going back," continues to haunt me.
You're forced to wrestle with the devastating purity of that fleeting connection, to recognise and reconcile your self-destructive tendencies, to face what's left in life when the obsession to be exceptional (professionally in this case) has corrosive effects. Stare into Pacino's boundless expression as Moby's God Moving Over the Face of Waters is playing and perhaps there'll be more; that's only what I can remember from my last watch (I lost count after one hundred viewings).
"No Country For Old Men" makes you face impending mortality by destroying the respectful way with which foes may conduct themselves on a battlefield. "Heat" may as well be a fencing match, told as an L.A. crime opus; but 'No Country' abandons rules, ethic, morality, and dismantles the illusions that bigger plans are waiting for you. Tommy Lee Jones' weathered Sheriff has the lines of that time etched on his face.
Josh Brolin's Llewellyn is a result of the Vietnam war. Stumbling upon this task, this cartel money, and putting him in the path of the unstoppable force that is Anton Chigurh (Bardem), should make for a formidable head to head confrontation. But the Sheriff of old and the displaced soldier of the next generation can't be reconciled. The future is here and it's ugly and chaotic.
Masculinity is problematic in our current discourse. Discussing what makes a man has almost become taboo. My only active direction is to diverge from the path of my parents, particularly my father, and sometimes it's hard to address where you've landed. I chose not to have a father and as a man you're looking for men that are role models, men that inspire you, men that you relate to and heroes.
I'm sorry to say but "what would Batman do," is not the 'cure-all.' In your quiet moments in the dark, with your guard down, you connect with movies. It's in those characters in art that you aspire to, or have a natural affinity with, that you get a chance to self-reflect. The characters that enrapture us and resonate are vital to unpack. So why write a column about masculinity? Masculinity is in crisis and while that crisis persists, we're going to get fascinating and interesting portrayals of men in cinema; and I want to talk about it.
Muddled, aimless, indecipherable, and shallow, Terence Malick's "Knight of Cups" is one of the most insufferable slogs in recent cinema, a soul-crushing waste of a fine cast and some genuinely stunning photography by recent Academy Award winner Emmanuel Luzbecki (The Revenant). There was a time when Malick's opaque style was a breath of fresh air in a staid medium; now, it's verging on self-parody.
There's very little to it: Christian Bale is Rick, a screenwriter living in Los Angeles and in the grips of an thinly detailed existential crisis. He may be struggling with his career, his brother's suicide, strained relationships with his other sibling (Wes Bentley) and/or father (Brian Dennehy), unresolved issues with his ex-wife (Cate Blanchett), the tragedy and heartache he experienced with a married woman (Natalie Portman), all of the above, or even none of the above.
It's difficult to get handle on what Rick's issues are since he spends almost the entirety of the movie morosely pacing around West L.A. and its beaches and parties with a dead-eyed expression while Bale (and most of the other characters, for that matter) espouse faux profundity via monotonous voice-over narration.
It's a frustrating, self-absorbed, impenetrable mess of a movie that smugly dares its viewers to find a single reason to give damn about any of it. Occasionally it flirts with indicting Rick for succumbing to the Screenwriter's Curse — selling out to Hollywood and succumbing to its decadent distractions. That is well-trod ground however, and "Knight of Cups" says nothing new on the topic when it bothers to say anything at all.
In the standard tarot deck, the Knight of Cups represents a bringer of ideas, artistic and refined but often bored and in constant need of stimulation. That seems an apt summation of Rick, but not so much when it comes to Malick. When he arrived on the scene in the 1970s, that second Golden Age of American cinema, Malick brought a unique and exciting perspective. No, after three consecutive movies drenched in the same self-indulgent claptrap, he seems more like a fraud.
There's a lot of appeal in the idea of "Triple 9": It's a gritty crime drama about a couple of good cops caught in the machinations between a bunch of dirty cops and Russian-Israeli mobsters boasting an all-star cast, a no-holds-barred director, and an Oscar-winning composer. Sadly, the final product is a murky, inert movie.
The needlessly convoluted plot stars Casey Affleck as Chris Allen, a rookie detective assigned to a gang unit in Atlanta, Georgia. Neither he nor his uncle, Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) are aware that two of their own, detectives Marcus Atwood (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) are part of a gang of professional bank robbers led by Michael Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and including brothers Russell and Gabe Welch (Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul).
Belmont and his crew are under the thumb of Russian mob wife Irina Vlaslov (a wonderfully cold-blooded Kate Winslet), who wants them to raid a Department of Homeland Security facility for some macguffin needed to secure her husband's release from prison for some vaguer reason.
It's a seemingly impossible task, and the only way to pull it off is to create a diversion big enough to occupy the majority of Atlanta's cops. They rather quickly settle on creating a 999, police code for an officer down and in need of assistance. The obvious candidate is Chris, to whom Marcus took an immediate dislike upon their initial meeting.
"Triple 9" goes almost nowhere from that point on, plodding along through schemes and betrayal that set up little and pay off even less as screenwriter Matt Cook kills time on the way to a limp finale. This is Cook's first feature-length production, and the rough edges show. He shoots for a twisty, gritty neo-noir thriller but the necessary atmosphere eludes him at every turn. He and cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis have no feel for their location either, and they manage to make Atlanta look like Los Angeles even though "Triple 9" was shot in the former.
Even more disappointing - and rather surprising - is that director John Hillcoat, who has helmed such brutally effective movies as "Ghosts… of the Civil Dead," "The Proposition," and "The Road," fails to get a grip on the material too. His pacing is limp and distant, and after a half-hour or so it becomes apparent that cop dramas aren't his forte.
The movie works in fits and starts as an actor's vehicle, with Affleck, Mackie, Winslet, and Ejiofor giving strong performances. (The scenes featuring the last two, though sometimes repetitive, are the only engaging ones in the film.) Harrelson also does his best to breathe a little life into an inert movie, though he flirts with hammy on occasion. Reedus is barely in it (sorry "The Walking Dead" fans) and Paul gives a one-note performance that suggests he hasn't yet shed his Breaking Bad persona. Michael K. Williams is memorable in a cameo as a transgender madam; Collins plays his role so archly evil that it's baffling he isn't immediately arrested the moment he steps into the precinct office.
If it had been more lurid or more ridiculous, "Triple 9" would at least function as a guilty pleasure. Instead, it's a poor man's "Heat".
"Deadpool" may be the comic book movie spoof to end all comic book movie spoofs. It playfully and cleverly deflates the conventions and cliches of superhero flicks - as well as its own damn self - with the snarky, sadistic glee of a stoned fanboy who's binge-watched too many Chuck Jones-era Looney Tunes. No cow is too sacred here, and no ego is left un-punctured. (Even Stan Lee's perfunctory cameo appearances get punked).
In his print incarnation, Deadpool is one of the few characters aware of the fact that he exists in a comic book, leading to plenty of meta humor and constant breaking of the fourth wall. This carries over into the movie as well, with a degree of self-awareness rarely found in a movie. The antics loop back on themselves constantly, riffing on everything from Reynolds' 'Sexiest Man Alive' status and his ill-conceived appearance as Deadpool in "X-Men Origins: Wovlerine" and even more ill-conceived appearance in "Green Lantern".
At its core, Deadpool is a surprisingly conventional comic book flick that would be forgettable if not for its entirely unconventional tone and structure. The first half or so is told via flashbacks woven through an extended sequence on an overpass (glimpsed in most of the promo material and the leaked proof-of-concept footage that launched the production). We get a pretty standard "mercenary meets girl (Morena Baccarin), mercenary falls for girl, mercenary gets cancer, mercenary agrees to a sketchy lab experiment that activates his latent mutant badassery but leaves him hideously disfigured, mercenary goes on revenge kick while fretting over how to keep girl" action rom-com.
Fortunately, that's not what the movie is about. The goal of Reynolds, first-time director Tim Miller, and screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese ("Zombieland") is to turn the genre on its head and then kick it in the balls until it begs for mercy. The jokes are fast, furious, and almost non-stop starting with the opening credits sequence and running through the obligatory post-credits tag scene.
Deadpool relies heavily on its twisted humor, so much that there is a noticeable lull when the middle act slows and goes a little dark. It can't quite avoid all the cliches of the genre and stops short of fully subverting it, falling into a love story straight out of, well "Love Story" (but with more kink) and climaxing with your standard action blow-out.
This is possibly the role Ryan Reynolds was born to play. His comedic timing is unfettered, and he's game enough to play the role with his face hidden under a mask most of the time, and covered in gruesome prosthetics much of the time that it isn't.
Deadpool is such an over-the-top character that he overshadows the rest of the players. The ersatz villain, Ajax (Ed Skrein), is played surprisingly by-the-book, though his super-powered henchwoman, Angel Dust (Gina Carano), manages to impress more with less screen time. Deadpool takes place in the same movie universe as the X-Men franchise, giving it ample opportunity to zing the hell out of those movies.
Painfully earnest Russian hero Colossus (played via motion capture by Andre Tricoteux and voiced by Stefan Kapi?i?) makes for an unusual straight man, and his gothy teen sidekick Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) is a surprising match for the Merc' With a Mouth. Silicone Valley's T.J. Miller meshes well with Reynolds' style of comedy as Deadpool's bartending confidante, Weasel; and Leslie Uggams (no, really) also spices things up as Wade's aged, equally foul-mouthed roommate, Blind Al.
The budget is low, but that too is made into joke fodder. This was an obvious passion project for everyone involved, and their enthusiasm powers the movie along, budget be damned. Their biggest gag might just be in the timing: The next couple of months will bring us "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," "Captain America: Civil War," and "X-Men: Apocalypse". In a year of comic book movies with titles full of colons and stories driven by superheroes battling each other, Deadpool's anarchic middle finger to his bloated, self-important comrades-in-spandex might just take some of the wind out of their sails.
Joel and Ethan Coen make a welcome and long-awaited return to comedy with "Hail, Caesar!," a slap-happy valentine to the Technicolor heyday of Hollywood that lands somewhere between the trippy brilliance of "The Big Lebowski" and the goofball parable of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". It is a lighthearted yarn that goes down easy like the old-fashioned popcorn pictures it so lovingly spoofs. Theirs is not Golden Age Hollywood as it was, it's Golden Age Hollywood as we imagine it to have been.
As always, the Coens have assembled an impressive ensemble cast; and, as is often the case with their comedies, the plot is a piece of absurdist machinery designed to maneuver a bizarre array of misfit characters, who are the real draw here.
The movie is set mostly on the back lot of fictional Capitol Pictures, in Hollywood circa 1951. Moving throughout the goings on like a shark in a mid-life crisis is a fictionalized version of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a "fixer" who keeps the stars out of the tabloids and the cameras rolling on the studio's various productions.
It is by no means easy: Over the next 24 hours he'll have to cast B-grade singing cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Eherenreich) in a drawing room romance by fussy auteur director Laurence Laurentz (a sublimely funny Ralph Fiennes); arrange for unmarried Esther Williams-esque starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) to adopt her own unborn child (you read that right); and fend off twin sister gossip columnists Thessaly and Thora Thacker (Tilda Swinton times two).
To further complicate matters, Capitol's megastar, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), has disappeared from the set of the studio's prestige picture Hail, Caesar! with major scenes left to be shot. Whitlock has been kidnapped by an oddball group of eggheads and blacklisted writers who call themselves The Future. (Think "Trumbo" by way of "Brazil").
Cinematography god-among-mortals Roger Deakins, who photographed "Skyfall," "Sicario," and all but two of the Brothers' feature films ("Burn After Reading," "Inside Llewyn Davis"), does a fantastic job of recreating the Technicolor feel of 1950s-era Hollywood. Their perennial costumer, Mary Zophres, and production designer Jess Gonchor cement the movie's authentic look and feel.
The movie is ultimately an actor's vehicle, and Hail, Caesar!'s cast goes for broke with the material. Brolin is the lone (and endearing) straight man in a parade of eccentrics, and the perfect for them. He's fierce on the job, but he's an insecure mess who exhausts his priest by giving Confession on a daily basis, usually in the wee hours.
Clooney, a supporting player despite what the trailers would have us believe, pokes a little fun at his leading man status as a clueless, poor-man's Charlton Heston. Swinton makes us wish for a film entirely about her feuding characters. Johansson is in only a couple of scenes, but makes the most of every second. There is a score of character actors and cameo appearances filling every scene.
However, it's Ehrenreich who steals the movie. He fully nails Doyle's guileless, aw-shucks charm hide a cagier man that many underestimate. A scene between Ehrenreich and Fiennes on the set of Laurentz's potboiler is arguably the movie's high point. (Imagine Douglas Sirk having to direct a Tex Ritter knock-off and you get the idea.) A close second is Channing Tatum's song-and-dance sequence, which starts off as a spoof of Gene Kelly before subverting itself with some well-placed homo-eroticism.
In the end it may be a little too meta and insidery for some, but there's an exuberance to it all that sweeps one along. Big and absurd, it works like a charm, and it delivers with style.