Film Review “Hail, Caesar!”

Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney and Alden Ehrenreich
Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 106 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

The Coen brothers seemingly find a way, movie after movie, to blend genres and create something completely unique, pushing the envelope about what theater goers expect in terms of storytelling, plot, and character development. “Hail, Caesar!” is no different. There’s no denying the Coen brothers talent when it comes to their dramatic works, but when they focus solely on their comedic efforts, it yields a unique array of ideas. They’ve crafted cult classics, toe tapping musicals, and dull remakes. “Hail, Caesar!” falls on the high end of that their comedic works.

There’s a pretentious nature to what the Coen brothers do. There’s an inside joke to a lot of their movies, and if you don’t get, they won’t tell you. The inside joke to “Hail, Caesar!” is the film industry, celebrities, the 1950’s, and I’m sure something else. Someone my age may not understand the mocking nature of the inner workings of the movie studios, the nuances of an era before my time, or the parody nature of the movies shown during the fabulous fifties, but I still enjoyed the oddball nature of “Hail, Caesar!”. It’s a blown kiss and slap in the face to the Hollywood industry.

Eddie Mannix (Brolin) is a “fixer” for Capitol Pictures. His job is to run around all day, making sure the press doesn’t get wind of the latest shocking scandal (a starlet having a child out of wedlock), making sure productions are up to snuff, and that the men financing everything are happy. Of course for “Hail, Caesar!”, he’s also trying to find out where studio star, Baird Whitlock (Clooney) has run off to. Well, he hasn’t gone on one of his alcoholic benders or, as his wife puts it, at some floozies place. But Baird has been kidnapped.

Most other movies would make this plotline essential to the storytelling aspect of this movie, but the Coen brothers find entertainment in the array of movie products, random actors and actresses, and Eddie’s personal home life. There are so many cameos in this movie, it’s impossible to talk about every single one, as well as their subtleties that they add to the plot, the various themes, or their potential jab at real-life events and celebrities. Of course, as I stated earlier, the character may be a part of an inside joke that you may or may not get.

So in essence, it’s a Coen brother’s movie. “Hail, Caesar!” is rich with witty dialogue involving thick-headed actors and sophisticated directors. Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, Wayne Knight, Frances McDormand, and others are scattered about, adding their own flavor to the movie. At times it can be overwhelming, but equally underwhelming at times, especially when we find out who has kidnapped Baird and why.

Just take a step back and accept that this is a screwball, ensemble comedy. With that in mind, you should be able to enjoy it’s, at times, confusing narrative. like a fine wine, I expect “Hail, Caesar!” to age gracefully and be a delight to watch occasionally, much like “Raising Arizona” or “The Big Lebowski”. It’s not a masterpiece by “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men” standards, but it’s certainly a fine addition to the Coen’s collection.

Sid Caesar, Comedy Legend, Dead at Age 91

Sid Caesar, whose live television show in the 1950s had, arguably, the greatest assembly of comedy genius’ ever assembled at one time, died today at his Los Angeles area home after a long illness. He was 91. His weekly 90 minute television program, “Your Show of Shows,” boasted the on-screen talents of Caesar, Imogene Coca, Howard Morris and Carl Reiner. The show’s writers room was filled with a virtual who’s who of comedy legends, including Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond, Neil Simon and Danny Simon. His next show, entitled “Caesar’s Hour,” boasted a staff that included Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen. The show was so beloved that it not only inspired the classic Peter O’Toole comedy “My Favorite Year,” which was produced by Mel Brooks, but Neil Simon’s long running play “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”

Born Isaac Sidney Caesar on September 8, 1922 in Yonkers, New York, Caesar began his professional career as a saxophone player, having studied the instrument at the Julliard School of Music. After graduation he decided to try his luck as a professional musician in New York City but did not fare too well. One thing that went right for him: he met his future wife, Florence, there. They were married in July 1943. After 57 years of marriage Florence passed away in 2010.

After small roles in theatre and film he found his calling in television. In 1949 he and Imogene Coca starred in the variety program “The Admiral Broadway Review.” The show grew so popular that it was broadcast on both NBC and the Dumont Network. In fact, the show became so popular that the sponsor, Admiral Televisions, had to cancel it after 26 weeks because their factory could not keep up with the demand for new television sets. Later in life Casesar would recount how an Admiral executive told him that the company had to decide whether to build a new factory or keep sponsoring the show. They chose the cheaper option. On February 25, 1950, the first episode of “Your Show of Shows” premiered. The show ran through 1954 and was quickly followed by “Caesar’s Hour,” a similar themed show which is best remembered for the first appearance of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s 2000 Year Old Man character. The show ran through 1957. For the rest of the decade Caesar would appear in several television specials.

In the 1960s he made his way to Broadway, starring in the musical “Little Me,” which boasted a script by Neil Simon and choreography by Bob Fosse. His performance, which included eight different characters and thirty-two costume changes, earned him a Tony Award nomination in 1963 for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. He lost to Zero Mostel, who earned Broadway immortality with his performance in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which ironically was co-written by another one of Caesar’s former writers, Larry Gelbart. That same year he and Edie Adams co-starred as a married couple searching for a buried fortune in the film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

He spent the rest of the decade, and most of the 1970s, making occasional television and film appearances. In 1978 he introduced his talents to a new generation when he was hired to replace Harry Reems as Rydell High School’s Coach Calhoun in the film version of the Broadway musical, “Grease.” He later reprised the role in “Grease 2.” Other film appearances include “Silent Movie,” “Airport ‘75” and “History of the World, Part I.” In 1982 he returned to Broadway opposite Carol Channing and Tommy Lee Jones in the show “Four on a Garden.” The next year he hosted “Saturday Night Live” and received a prolonged standing ovation upon his entrance. After the show he was given a plaque naming him an honorary member of the cast. He is the only host to receive that honor.

He kept busy in the 1990s as well, appearing in “Vegas Vacation” and earning the last two of his eleven Emmy Award nominations in 1995 and 1997 for guest appearances on “Mad About You.” In his career he won two Emmy Awards.


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Blu-ray Review “Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics (Little Caesar / The Public Enemy / The Petrified Forest / White Heat)”

Starring: James Cagney, Leslie Howard, Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Virginia Mayo, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Directors: Archie Mayo, William A. Wellman, Mervyn LeRoy, Raoul Walsh
Distributed by: Warner Bros
Release Date: May 21, 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 357 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of stars

Who can help but not love the classic B&W gangster films. The following films make up this “Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics” – “Little Caesar (1931)”, “The Public Enemy (1931)”, “The Petrified Forest (1936)”, “White Heat (1949)”.  These are all great films that I have seen many times and never grow tired watching.  Whenever I think “The Public Enemy”, I am transported to the Disney’s Hollywood Studios on The Great Movie Ride, one of my favorites.  These films are what made gangster films popular and paved the way for today’s films. If you are a looking for a great place to be transported to the origin of the gangster film then look no further than this Blu-ray release.

All of these films are appearing on Blu-ray for the first time ever, as part of Warner Bros. 90th Anniversary celebration.  Each of these films will also be available on May 21st individually on Blu-ray. But this box set collection is quite a think a beauty.  All the film comes in a nice slipcase and includes an additional 32-page book with images and facts about each of the film. The 1080p transfers are very impressive for these classic films the latest dating back to almost 80 years ago. They are all presented with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The audio tracks included are also DTS-HD Master Audio Mono for each film, which work very well. The dialogues are clear and just are held up so well.

“Little Caesar (1931)” Official Premise: The ambitious criminal Rico moves from the country to the big city in the east and joins Sam Vettori’s gang with his friend Joe Massara. Sooner he becomes the leader of the gangsters and known as Little Caesar, and gets closer to the great mobster Pete Montana. In a robbery of a night-club, he kills the Crime Commissioner Alvin McClure and his pal Joe witnesses the murder. When Rico orders Joe to leave his mistress Olga Strassoff, she takes a serious decision.

“The Public Enemy (1931)” Official Premise: Tom Powers and Matt Doyle are best friends and fellow gangsters, their lives frowned upon by Tom’s straight laced brother, Mike, and Matt’s straight laced sister, Molly. From their teen-aged years into young adulthood, Tom and Matt have an increasingly lucrative life, bootlegging during the Prohibition era. But Tom in particular becomes more and more brazen in what he is willing to do, and becomes more obstinate and violent against those who either disagree with him or cross him. When one of their colleagues dies in a freak accident, a rival bootlegging faction senses weakness among Tom and Matt’s gang, which is led by Paddy Ryan. A gang war ensues, resulting in Paddy suggesting that Tom and Matt lay low. But because of Tom’s basic nature, he decides instead to take matters into his own hands.

“The Petrified Forest (1936)” Official Premise: Gabby lives and works at her dads small diner out in the desert. She can’t stand it and wants to go and live with her mother in France. Along comes Alan, a broke man with no will to live, who is traveling to see the pacific, and maybe to drown in it. Meanwhile Duke Mantee a notorious killer and his gang is heading towards the diner where Mantee plan on meeting up with his girl.

“White Heat (1949)” Official Premise: Cody Jarrett is the sadistic leader of a ruthless gang of thieves. Afflicted by terrible headaches and fiercely devoted to his ‘Ma,’ Cody is a volatile, violent, and eccentric leader. Cody’s top henchman wants to lead the gang and attempts to have an ‘accident’ happen to Cody, while he is running the gang from in jail. But Cody is saved by an undercover cop, who thereby befriends him and infiltrates the gang. Finally, the stage is set for Cody’s ultimate betrayal and downfall, during a big heist at a chemical plant.

These “Classics” each come with their own set of extras.  “Little Caesar (1931)” comes with a commentary by film historian Robert Sklar. Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1931 with Newsreel, Spencer Tracy Short The Hard Guy, Cartoon Lady Play Your Mandolin and Theatrical Trailers. There is also a featurette “Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero” included. “The Public Enemy (1931)” includes a commentary by film historian Richard B. Jewell. Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1931 with Newsreel, Comedy Short The Eyes Have It, Cartoon Smile, Darn Ya, Smile! and Theatrical Trailers.  There is also a featurette “Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public” included.

“The Petrified Forest (1936)” includes a commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax. Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1936 with Newsreel, Musical Short Rhythmitis, Cartoon The Coo Coo Nut Grove and Theatrical Trailers. There is also a featurette “The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert” included and an Audio-Only Bonus: 1/7/1940 Gulf Screen Theater Broadcast. Lastly “White Heat (1949)” includes a commentary by Film Historian Drew Casper. Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1949 with Newsreel, Comedy Short So You Think You’re Not Guilty, Cartoon Homeless Hare and Theatrical Trailers.  There is also a featurette “White Heat: Top of the World” included.

If all that is not enough there is still more.  There is a bonus DVD included with yet another feature-length documentary called “The Public Enemies: The Golden Age of The Gangster Film”.  Even though this is just on DVD, it is still a must-watch if you are a fan of this genre and only makes this release worth every penny.

The “Ultimate Gangster Collection: Classics” and “Ultimate Gangster Collection: Contemporary” are available on Blu-ray 5/21