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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The Monuments Men. Who You Gonna Call?

monumentThat George Clooney can’t help himself. Wherever he goes, jolly japes, camaraderie and good times follow. Even, in The Monuments Men, to the front line of World War 2.

Based on a true story, it celebrates a small, little known group who took it upon themselves to save precious artworks from destruction by the Nazis. Founded by Frank Stokes (George Clooney), a university don, Frank recognised that war brought not only human destruction, but cultural and historical destruction. Having convinced the powers that be that art was a valuable commodity worth saving, he recruited a merry band of worldwide curators and art historians, including James Granger (Matt Damon), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) and Richard Campbell (Bill Murray). None soldiers, they underwent the most rudimentary training before splitting themselves off to artistically strategic cities.

Unfortunately, their higher purpose frequently fell on deaf ears, local commanding officers none too keen on rerouting long planned military campaigns to avoid an architecturally pleasing bell tower. And apart from saving art, they were also hunting it down, the Nazis having methodically stripped private collections and secreted works in unknown locations, destined for Hitler’s very own post-war celebratory museum.

It’s a rather uneven mix of joshy, boy’s own adventure tale (with rather older boys in rather longer trousers) and serious drama.  Not forgetting what appears to be a legal requirement of any contemporary WW2 movie, Cate Blanchette popping up as a feisty member of the French resistance, all scowls, cigarette smoking and Gallic hauteur. Clooney and Co do a great line in male bonding, doggedly standing by each other in times of crisis and unexploded landmines, always with a ready joke to lighten the tension. But underneath the joshing it raises valid points about how art is intrinsic to our history and culture. Don’t agree? Then imagine, as the film ponders, a world without the Mona Lisa. That’s a strange thought.

UK release 14 February

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Gravity. In Space No One Can Hear You Scream.

gravityGravity is quite simply the most exhilarating and tense 90 minutes The Sloth has spent in a cinema since, oh, probably ever. One hour in saw us a strange shade of purple, having forgotten to take a breath for the last 10 minutes. It pains us to say any more than SEE IT but, being a blog and everything, I guess we have to.

Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) are on a space shuttle mission. Both spacewalking outside the ship, rookie first timer Ryan is a scientist mending broken equipment. Amiable space veteran Matt is captaining the mission and having fun buzzing around testing his new jet pack, reciting endless shaggy dog stories to Mission Control while Ryan works. All is calm and serene.

Naturally, the calm can’t last. Mission Control sends an urgent report of a Russian missile strike to destroy an old satellite. The destruction has not gone to plan and has sent deadly debris hurtling in orbit towards our crew, who have mere seconds to try to get inside and out of range.

This is the first film The Sloth has seen where 3D makes sense. Not just sense, but plays an integral part in its success. Technically brilliant, it places the viewer up there in space with them, experiencing the calm and serenity but also the intense fear, panic and helplessness when things go wrong. Normally, 3D is used to add tension and excitement where it wouldn’t otherwise exist. Here it simply captures a situation that is intrinsically tense.

But it isn’t just theatrics. What makes Gravity so good is a smart script that plays on your worst nightmarish fears, coupled with real, very human performances. Go see it on the biggest, flashest, most high tech 3D screen you have access to. Just remember to breathe occasionally.

UK theatrical release 8 November / UK DVD release 3 March

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