Hail, Caesar! Hollywood On Hollywood.

hailcaesarposterHollywood adores a movie about Hollywood, not that La La Land is shallow and self-obsessed or anything. And not, of course, because a movie about Hollywood is dead easy to make, being on its own doorstep. No need to faff about hiring mini-vans to lug all those pesky cameras around. The latest addition to the naval-gazing cannon is Hail, Caesar! the Coen Brother’s tribute to the hand that feeds it.

 

Set in the 1950’s when Hollywood’s Golden Age was in full swing, Hail, Caesar! chronicles the trials and tribulations of big cheese studio head Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie chews cigars in a monstrous office and marches around the studio lot barking orders at his long suffering assistant while trying to keep the egos and careers of his stars in check. We meet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), an angel on screen and foul-mouthed, fast talking diva off-screen; temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (a fabulous Ralph Fiennes channelling his Grand Budapest Hotel comedy spirit) and the studio’s hottest star, the amiable and ever so slightly dim Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), inconveniently kidnapped by a secret clan of Communist screenwriters whilst filming biblical epic Hail, Caesar!

 

Rambling and rambunctious, it’s less narrative story than a series of comic sketches, jumping around from character to character and back to an increasingly frazzled Eddie. Which sounds somewhat shaggy and unstructured but it fizzes with so much feel good energy you’re happy to go with the flow.  Especially when said sketches include an entirely gratuitous and fabulously camp song and tap dance routine from a back-flipping Channing Tatum in a sailor suit.  Frankly, if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face then you’re just no fun. The Coens have trodden this ground before (see Barton Fink) but never with such silly humour nor with a cast so obviously revelling in their OTT characters. Hollywood on Hollywood has rarely been such a delight.

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Magic Mike XXL And The Female Gaze

In the last couple of weeks this (female) Sloth has screened both Entourage and Magic Mike XXL, which to some extent can be seen as companion pieces to each other, being male and female skewed respectively. And our reactions to the two got us thinking.

 

For those of you who have not seen Entourage, we will summarise: young, male Hollywood hottie cruises around LA with his gang of pals, generally surrounded by pouting, large breasted dollybirds in various stages of undress:

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For those of you who have not seen Magic Mike XXL we will summarise: gang of male strippers go on road trip, making regular stops to gyrate with puppyish enthusiasm in the laps of whooping, cackling women:

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Now bearing in mind we are a female, heterosexual Sloth we should theoretically have lapped up (no pun intended) the oiled pecs of Mike and his crew and been filled with feminist ire at the jiggling cleavages gratuitously displayed throughout Entourage. But instead we found ourselves completely nonplussed by Entourage whilst frequently cringing with toe-curling embarrassment at Mike and co’s dry humping – to the extent of occasionally hitting the fast forward button.

 

Why so? Can’t be anything to do with the oft-cited theories that women are less reactive to visual stimulation than men – for if that was the case The Sloth surely should have been equally nonplussed by both. We can only conclude our reaction was down to social conditioning. Sexualised images of semi-naked women are saturated in cinema, the media, advertising, TV; omnipresent in all aspects of our culture. Yet to see semi-naked men displayed in mainstream culture purely for the purposes of heterosexual women’s objectification is not just rare, it’s virtually non-existent. So whilst highly sexualised images of women no longer merit even the tiniest raise of an eyebrow, the unprecedented sight of Channing Tatum in a cheesewire thong bumping and grinding to an audience of hundreds of women pulls the rug from under our social consciousness, leaving us confused and uncertain of how to react.

 

Now the facetious amongst you may be thinking ‘stop being so chaffing uptight and get down to a Chippendales gig already’, but we do think this is a depressing state of affairs. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not calling for men to start dropping their trousers and oiling up en masse, we’d just like a move towards a middling equality, beginning with changes in the depiction of women. If you haven’t done so already, may we urge you to sign the No More Page Three petition, which would be a start. Little acorns…

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Foxcatcher. Wrestlemania.

foxcatcher__spanFinished a year ago, such was the studio’s hopes for awards season glory, Foxcatcher’s release was postponed until now to avoid competition with 2013 big hitters 12 Years A Slave and Gravity. That’s a lot of eggs to cryogenically freeze in a basket. No pressure…

Based, incredibly, on a true story it centers around two pro-wrestler brothers David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) aka The Smart And Well Adjusted One and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) aka The Not So Smart And Struggling One. Both Olympic gold medalists, they now live in small town anonymity. David is happy, married with kids and running a local wrestling club. Mark, however, lives alone and with limited skills relies heavily on his brother in lieu of a father figure.

But help may unexpectedly be at hand. A phone call out of the blue invites Mark to the home of John du Pont, eccentric multi-millionaire recluse and member of one of America’s most hallowed family dynasties. Alienated by his equestrian-loving mother, John intends to indulge his own passion, wrestling, by setting up his own team housed in a state of the art training facility to gun for glory at the next Olympics and wants Mark as his star athlete. Offered both financial security and the chance to step out from David’s shadow, Mark thinks all his Christmases have come at once. But, kids, we all know i) money can’t buy happiness and ii) if something looks too good to be true, it generally is. Mark soon struggles to deliver so John persuades David onboard, once again relegating Mark back to the sidelines and starting a steady spiral towards destruction.

Shot in muted tones, Foxcatcher is clinically cool, calm and precise with an underlying sense of menace. Often ambiguous – what does du Pont really want with Mark? A surrogate son? Sex? A whipping boy? – and strongly psychological, it deals with themes of family rivalry and parental approval. And boy do the whole cast rise to the occasion. Channing Tatum in particular is heartbreakingly good as Mark, earnest, lonely, desperate for approval and frustrated by his own limitations. The Sloth just wanted to give him a cuddle.

This is no emotional melodrama. Foxcatcher doesn’t pick you up and bodyslam you down on the mat, rather it creeps insidiously into your head, leaving you shaken, not stirred. Commendably restrained.

UK release 9 January 2015

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The Lego Movie. Build It And They Will Come

legoWe LOVE a cracking animation. We’ve watched Up more times than permissible for a grown adult and it never fails to make us laugh (talking dogs flying planes!!). So we approached The Lego Movie with nervous anticipation. Would it deliver that vital adult / kiddie crossover appeal?

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker. He’s earnest, dull and always follows the instructions. Which is handy because Emmet lives in a Lego universe presided over by Lord Business (Will Ferrell), a megalomaniac despot determined to replace all creativity with rigid conformity, aided by his bi-polar henchman Good Cop / Bad Cop (a marvellous Liam Neeson). Literally rigid, as Lord Business intends to smother the Lego world in glue, never to be broken apart and rebuilt again.

Working to thwart this dastardly deed are an underground resistance movement of Master Builders, free-thinking liberals who NEVER follow the instructions, throwing together random Lego parts to create motorcycles, spaceships, bridges, the crazy fools. Headed by Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and assisted by action heroine Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), they include every pop culture icon you can think of, from an exasperated Superman (Channing Tatum) who fends off The Green Hornet’s (Jonah Hill) creepy idolisation to arrogant babe-magnet Batman (Will Arnett) and a grandiose Gandalf (Todd Hansen). Vitruvius predicts a Special One shall appear, to save the Lego universe. Against all odds, that Special One turns out to be Emmet.

It’s bonkers. A kaleidoscopic rush of saturated colours and intense action that whirls from one scene to the next, taking in the Wild West, futuristic cityscapes and the trippy, candy coloured Cloud Cuckoo Land (if the writers didn’t ingest performance enhancing substances before coming up with that sequence, we’re a giraffe). Crucially, it’s backed with a witty and surprisingly satirical script that continually throws out surreal gems. From New Zealand described as the land of “Knights, poverty, leeches and illiteracy” to Bad Cop absent-mindedly crooning Danny Boy, there is much to savour. And look out for the live-action nostalgia trip towards the end. If that doesn’t warm your cockles then there’s no hope.

UK release 14 February

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White House Down v. Olympus Has Fallen. Pistols At Dawn On Capital Hill

whiteHow Hollywood failed to realise it was making two versions of exactly the same movie only three months apart is beyond us. There’s zilch point telling you what happens in White House Down, for that, please see Olympus Has Fallen. Instead, we’ve run a highly scientific comparative study to see which comes top.

Comparative Point 1: The Unlikely Hero

WHD: Channing Tatum. Pros: Got the prerequisite action hero pecs and slightly dopey look. Cons: Too clean cut and nice to be shooting people. Score 6/10

OHF: Gerard Butler. Pros: Grizzled veteran of numerous action flicks. Delivers lines like: “I’m the best option you got” with suitably cheesey aplomb. Cons: Ropey US accent. Score 8/10

Comparative Point 2: The President

WHD: Jamie Foxx. Pros: Wears a suit well. Cons: Too street for his own good. No real President would wear Air Jordans or say “Git this trash off ma lawn”. Score 6/10

OHF: Aaron Eckhart. Pros: All-American cleft chin and master of the authoritatively pensive look. Cons: Doesn’t look old enough to be President, or are we just getting old? Policemen do seem to be getting younger. Score 7/10

Comparative Point 3: The Plucky Kid

WHD: Channing Tatum’s daughter Emily. Pros: Encyclopaedic knowledge of everything in the universe, ever. Runs own YouTube channel. Basically prevents World War 3. Cons: So unfeasibly precocious her own father asks if she is bullied at school. Score 8/10

OHF: President’s son Connor. Pros: Son of the President so has proper kudos. Cons: Doesn’t do much. Definitely doesn’t prevent World War 3. Score 4/10

Comparative Point 4: The Baddies

WHD: Zillions of baddies. From the cleaner to double crossing government traitors at the top. Pros: Diplomatic for not citing a particular nationality. So many you don’t know who to trust. Cons: Too confusing. We like a clean and simple bad guy to hiss at. Score 4/10

OHF: The North Koreans. Pros: Contemporary. Have properly good, old skool weapons – trucks with spikes stuck on the front, that kind of thing. Cons: A bit too easy, like always blaming The Russkies in the ‘80s. Score 7/10

Grand Totals: WHD = 24/40  OHF = 26/40

Ladies and gentlemen we have a winner! Put your money on Olympus Has Fallen for some good old fashioned retro action heroism. Better luck next time, Channing.

UK release 13 September

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