8 February 2016 | mukava991
that old-time Hollywood religion
The Coen brothers return to the olden days of Hollywood with a witty and eye-pleasing comedy that recycles several legends familiar to antique movie buffs but mixes them up just enough to hold the interest.
"Hail, Caesar!" is set in 1951 at the height of the Red scare and Cold War, and follows a tough but sympathetic hands-on studio producer (Josh Brolin) whose responsibilities include, in addition to budget, casting and moral code enforcement, defusing potential scandals that could damage Capitol's reputation and box office. He also happens to be a by-the-book Catholic who regularly goes to a priest to confess minor sins like cigarette smoking.
There is not a single boring or bad performance by any of the huge cluster of actors. Clooney as the doofus leading man whose kidnapping drives much of the plot, gives an inspired performance. Alden Ehrenreich is impressive on all levels as the wholesome and good- natured singing cowboy. Allison Pill is the embodiment of classic pre-feminist womanhood as the pretty, positive, loyal, uncomplaining, blonde cupcake of a wife who maintains the home front for the rugged breadwinner Brolin.
Many characters loosely suggest real figures of the studio era: George Clooney = Clark Gable; Tilda Swinton as twin-sister gossip columnists = not only Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons (who were definitely not sisters) but also carrying a whiff of rival siblings Olivia deHavilland and Joan Fontaine, born of British parents in the Far East, who famously hated each other throughout their parallel star careers; Scarlett Johansson = Loretta Young who covered up her out-of-wedlock birth by disappearing for a few months and resurfacing with an "adopted" daughter; Ralph Fiennes = a British variation on director George Cukor who was rumored to have had sex with pre-stardom Clark Gable; Alden Ehrenreich = Roy Rogers (whom he actually resembles); Channing Tatum = a dash of Gene Kelly and a dab of Dick Powell. And others.
This is not the first Coen film to incorporate musical performance and begs the question, why doesn't this team make an all-out film musical? The Channing Tatum song-and-dance number, vaguely reminiscent of Busby Berkeley's "Shanghai Li'l" from "Footlight Parade" and Ehrenreich's pitch perfect warbling in a Western musical scene are high points.
Memorable and brilliantly written scenes include a theological roundtable of religious leaders assembled by Brolin to vet the production of the titular film-within-the-film, a "Ben-Hur"-ish epic about a Roman centurion's encounter with Jesus Christ (the scenes from which are stylistically dead-on perfect take-offs on the post-WW2 widescreen ancient epics); and a parallel gathering of Hollywood Communist Party screenwriters strategizing philosophically about ways to use dialectical materialism as a guide to insert Party propaganda into film scripts and hasten a new world (goof: a Communist refers to making a cash "contribution to the Comintern" which had been long dismantled by the time this film takes place); a fey director's frustrated attempts to coach the miscast cowboy actor's delivery of high-toned cocktail party dialogue.
Finally we are reminded that movie-going in studio-era Hollywood was a kind of organized religious experience; no matter what traditional religious practices moviegoers or producers may have observed, the paganism of the screen experience was an equal influence on their lives.