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"Hail, Caesar!" is clever but dull: a movie review

Last night I was clearing out some films on the DVR and decided to give "Hail, Caesar!" a watch.

I figured I would enjoy it because it's a sendup of studio system Hollywood and I'm quite a fan of the era.  Perhaps that's why I didn't enjoy it.

To be fair, the Coen Brothers have but together a clever script with a number of deft touches.  If you know classic movies, you'll enjoy the many references to scandals, actors and films.

Take as a whole, however, the movie fails.  It's amusing but not funny and there isn't enough dramatic punch to make you care how it ends.

Part of the problem is that it isn't zany enough to be a true comedy or true enough to be a good drama.  The jokes are also quite stale, some of them having been around for decades.

The obvious example is George Clooney's character.  He's the stereotypical leading man - a party animal, good-looking but intellectually vacuous and a coward at heart.

The problem with this is that Golden Age Hollywood leading men weren't like that at all.  Many of them saw active war service.  Clark Gable and James Stewart both served in B-17s.  Humphrey Bogart was in the Navy during World War I.

Their cowboy character closely resembles Audie Murphy, who was the most decorated American solider of World War II.

That's what makes the films of the era so good - the actors lived a life outside of the studio and brought that experience to their work.

This brings me to my second point - the pot shots the writers take at the movies themselves.  There is simply no comparison between big-screen epics like "Ben Hur" and the crap Hollywood spoons out today.   We can laugh at Esther Williams or song-and-dance numbers, but they were incredibly grueling to film and required a level of talent today's performers simply can't match.

The skit with the sailors in a bar was particularly annoying.  As is the rule these days, they have to keep changing the camera angle to hide the fact that they are using multiple takes.  Back then, it was one continuous take to show the audience just how sophisticated the dancing was.  There is simply no modern equivalent to Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.

Oh, and their song was stupid.  This was the era of the Hays Code, which placed strict limits on what movies could show.  That meant that filmmakers had to show  great deal of cleverness to bring up certain topics.  Whereas today an actress might blurt out "I'm pregnant!" back then the most that could be said was that she was "in trouble."

I love how the films and songs of that era use clever turns of phrases to address serious matters.  There's a sophistication that I"m sure a lot of modern people completely miss.  Because what one could say was limited, actors had to use nuance in their voice or their expression to convey the true meaning.  It's a lost art.

I didn't find the film to be aggressive awful, so there's that.  It was a decent time-waster, nothing more. 


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