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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Inside Llewyn Davis. Coen Brothers – The Musical.

llewynThe Sloth was initially puzzled by the sound of this. The NYC 1960’s folk music scene might not seem an obvious choice for the Coen Brothers, but Inside Llewyn Davis is an utter joy from start to finish.

Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is a musician. In the best tradition of the impoverished artist he is broke and homeless, kipping on the sofa of his friend Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jim’s girlfriend Jean (Carey Mulligan) and bumming cigarettes off strangers. Things rarely go Llewyn’s way, partly through bad luck and partly through his own stubborn belligerence. Llewyn used to be one half of a duo who released a record to moderate success. Now solo, money comes from occasional gigs at The Gaslight Club, playing guitar and singing mournful folk songs.

Llewyn doesn’t help himself. Doggedly determined to stick to his own, uncommercial musical style, he refutes offers to join a group and rejects advice by musical industry bigwigs. The closest he comes to success is as a session musician on a ludicrously catchy and cheesey pop song, ‘Please Mr Kennedy’, written by Jim and clearly destined to be a huge hit.  But Llewyn being Llewyn chooses a quick, one-off payout over royalties.

It has all the traditional Coen Bros hallmarks – craggy faced money men in dimly lit offices, unsavoury eccentrics with questionable personal habits and lashings of dry, dark humour. More surprisingly, it has fabulous music. Oscar Isaac, singing and playing innumerable songs as Llewyn, is outstandingly good. Carey Mulligan wears shapeless acrylic sweaters and croons endearingly in Peter Paul and Mary tradition and don’t get us started on Trousersnake.

We’ve always been suspicious of anything vaguely ‘musical’ but Inside Llewyn Davis is a treat not to be missed. And mark our words, you’ll be bouncing round the house singing ‘Please Mr Kennedy’ for weeks afterwards…

UK release 24 January 2014

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