Tag Archives: george clooney

My 10 Favourite Coen Characters

10. Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), Burn After Reading: We don’t often get to see Brad Pitt being funny, but as Burn After Reading’s dumb blond, he’s hysterical. He’s charming, his enthusiasm is infection, and he’s dumb as rocks. But that little dance of his isn’t a meme for nothing.

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9. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), O Brother, Where Art Thou: Clooney feels loose and slick in this movie, with slightly wild eyes and patter to match. This one is crowded with memorable characters, and so many have juicy moments, but Ulysses is the beating heart with a zest for oral hygiene, and you have to love a man for that.

8. Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: The film’s opening chapter draws us in with horseback song and fancy gun slinging. The two combined are a sight to behold, so well-choreographed you can only whistle along in admiration. But when sudden violence hits and the tone shifts astronomically, it’s a signal to us all that this film is going to take us for a ride.

7. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Inside Llewyn Davis: Llewyn is a gentle creature, writhing with pride, jealousy, determination, dejectedness, and so much more, always evident in the crinkles around Isaac’s eyes. It’s a heartbreaking movie in many ways, and less an ensemble than many Coen films, but Isaac, a relative unknown at the time, carried it, and sang like honey, so you’d want to curl up at his feet and purr yourself into sweet oblivion.

6. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), Hail, Caesar!: Hobie Doyle was Ehrenreich’s breakout role, playing a successful western movie star just starting to transition to more dramatic roles. His wide-eyed cowpoke ways are refreshing and unexpected in Hollywood, and Hobie feels guileless and forthright. He’s a genius with a lasso but it’s his signature flubbed line that every single person found themselves repeating as they left the theatre – “would that it were.”

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5. Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), The Big Lebowski: I challenged myself to pick only one John Goodman role, or else he easily could have taken over half this list. But Walter will always be near and dear to my heart. He’s a self-righteous, judgmental, controlling moron with a passion for rules without ever overthinking them. What’s not to love?

4. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo: Undeniably an asshole, Macy makes us feel sympathy for Jerry, and even more amazingly, he keeps him funny, despite the fact that he just keeps digging and digging until he’s so far deep in the hole he can’t even tell he’s in a hole anymore. Jerry is riddled with anxiety, desperate to be more than he is, and just can’t seem to understand that you can’t be only a little bit bad. Once you crack the door, violence comes barreling in, and Jerry is laughably unprepared.

3. Edwina McDonnough (Holly Hunter), Raising Arizona: I just love how Hunter can swing between wild emotions in this – nurturing to violently defensive, ecstatic to complete meltdown. It’s emotionally exhausting to watch so I can only imagine how intense it was to play such a character, but that’s what makes Edwina so iconic. Raising Arizona is such a fun and funny film, but Hunter has the skill to keep Edwina’s need and her love pure and honest and painfully apparent.

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2. Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski: Lebowski is a philosopher at heart. So many wild and zany characters bounce off him in this film, memorably so, and in other hands, Lebowski may have been overwhelmed. But along comes Jeff Bridges, and he’s perfectly laid back, unflappable really, but still engaged in the world around him, still curious and questioning. It was so note-perfect a performance that it was instantly iconic, eminently quotable, and beloved to this day. What could possibly top it?

1.Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), Fargo: Thank you holy cheeses for giving us this backwards-talking, nine-month-pregnant, slow moving, fast thinking, admirable as shit character. The world needs Marge Gunderson, and we’ve been doubly blessed having Frances McDormand to play her. Is anyone else even worthy? Marge sees people on their blackest day, the world at its worst, but she does her part to make it just a little better, and then she comes home to dinner with her husband, cozy and domestic as all get out.

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TIFF’s Famous Dates

George-Amal-Clooney-Venice-Film-Festival-2017George and Amal Clooney welcomed their twins Ella and Alexander in June (at the same hospital where Kate and William’s royal children were born), so people were ecstatic to see them looking terribly in love at the Venice Film Festival in early September. George was there promoting his directorial effort, Suburbicon, starring pal Matt Damon. Clooney has a home on Lake Como (in Italy) where he retreats from the world every summer. It’s where he brought his newborn twins home this summer, and where a paparazzo snuck in to take surreptitious pictures of the babies at their most vulnerable. He started coming to Lake Como 16 years ago, when he and his friend Rande Gerber (Cindy Crawford’s husband) stumbled on the Villa Oleandra while george-clooney-villa-oleandracrisscrossing Italy on their motorbikes. After one of the bikes broke down outside its gates, the owners ushered them in and proceeded to sell Clooney their house for $7.5 million. And it was in Italy where George first met Amal and it was in beautiful Venice itself where they later wed. After the Venice Film Festival, Clooney and family flew to his hometown of Kentucky to show off the twins to his father, who’d been 1297989661099_ORIGINALtoo ill to travel to meet them overseas. Then, sadly, George had to put down his beloved dog Einstein (who co-starred with him in an ad campaign for Omega watches in 2015) in L.A., before dashing back up to Toronto for TIFF, without wife Amal or darling babies.

Another new mum TIFF goers were eager to carey-mulligan-3e906d22-ef3a-484c-9e91-b0398151d67aspot was Carey Mulligan. She made her first public appearance since having her second child in August. Her husband, Marcus Mumford (frontman for Mumford & Sons), stayed home with the kids while she graced TIFF with her presence; she was there for her new film, Mudbound.

 

 

Image_uploaded_from_iOS__2__0006_2017-09-12_09.53.14_2Annette Bening, who was the jury president in Venice, was at TIFF to promote her new film, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool in which she plays a Hollywood leading lady who catches the interest of a much younger actor, played by Jamie Bell. Both stars brought their famous counterparts: Warren Beatty and Bening have been married since 1992, whilst Jamie Bell and wife Kate Mara have been married all of 2 months. Incidentally, Bell walked the red 2017-09-10_05.07.09_2carpet in kind at the premiere of Mara’s TIFF offering, Chappaquiddick.

2017-09-09_07_0002_Background.jpgAmelia Warner walked the TIFF red carpet. She’s the composer for the new Mary Shelley reincarnation starring Elle Fanning. Her famous date: husband Jamie Dornan. Married for 4 years, they have 2 kids together, who were evidently being babysat elsewhere while Mom and Dad enjoy a glamourous night out.

The Mother! premiere was full of famous dates: star Penelope-Cruz-Javier-Bardem-Venice-Film-Festival-2017Jennifer Lawrence is currently dating her director, Darren Aronofsky (they are usually careful to sneak one or more costars between themselves when taking group photos).  Her co-star Javier Bardem is married to the lovely Penelope Cruz (7 years and counting). Bardem and Cruz star together in a film on offer at the Venice Film Festival, Loving Pablo. And let’s not forget Michelle Pfeiffer and her longtime 843077622partner, David E. Kelley, who accompanied his wife to her photo call in Venice and then she in turn went to the Emmys with him, where the show he was writing for, Big Little Lies, scored some major gold.

Nicole Kidman always has some heavy weight nicole-kidman-cannes-24may17-10arm candy. Her husband, Keith Urban, was on hand for the TIFF premiere of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and was also by her side at said Emmys (she was nominated and won for her work on the very same Big Little Lies – it’s very good, you should watch).

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2017-09-11_01_0013_2017-09-11_08.25.40_1Alicia Vikander attended the TIFF premiere of Euphoria solo (she was also there with Submergence), but last year she and her boyfriend Michael Fassbender were all over TIFF red carpets since they starred together in The Light Between Oceans.

Also flying solo this year: Jason Sudeikis, who stars in Kodachrome with Elizabeth Olsen and Ed Harris, and appears in Downsizing alongside Matt Damon as well. His better (and prettier) half, Olivia Wilde, stayed home with the kids.rachel-rachel-tiff-11sept17-01

No word on where Daniel Craig was hiding this year but he wasn’t on the arm of his lovely wife Rachel Weisz, who was there for Disobedience, her new film costarring next to Rachel McAdams, even though Craig himself appeared in another TIFF selection, Kings.

I did get to spot Sam Rockwell on the TIFF red carpet for Three Billboards Outside woodshock_050917_03-777x560Ebbing, Missouri and of course in Venice, where he posed with his wife Leslie Bibb, even though I didn’t know until I saw them together that they were together. I know her from all the way back on Popular (and on The League, where she plays Mark Duplass’s nasty ex-wife), but you may have seen her more recently in To The Bone. In this photo, Rockwell’s Three Billboards costar Woody Harrelson poses with his wife, Laura Louie.

I spied Dave Franco on the red carpet for The Disaster Artist, a real family affair. His James+Franco+Dave+Franco+Day+Three+IMDb+Studio+-tqDqQZ9XDFlbrother James directs and co-stars, and their other brother Tom Franco also appears (briefly!). So does Dave’s very new wife, Alison Brie – she plays his sometime girlfriend.

Greta Gerwig debuted her first solo directorial effort at TIFF this year and her partner let her lap up all the attention on her own, but in other years she and beau Noah Baumbach have 2017 Toronto International Film Festival - "Lady Bird" Premiereattended together – particularly when they’ve done a movie together, like Mistress America. This year, Greta posed alongside some of her Lady Bird leading ladies: Lois Smith, Odeya Rush, and Beanie Feldstein (left) who has a famous sibling rather than a famous date – Jonah Hill is her big brother.

 

We’ve had a very crazy month, having attended 3 festivals in as many weeks, and we’re about to do it again in October, so stay tuned. For now, here are a few snaps from Sean and Jay’s big adventure in Venice.

 

 

 

 

Suburbicon

Sean and I are in Venice for the Venice Film Festival. Last week we saw and loved Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which had us appreciating not only the lushness of the period (circa 1962, I believe), but also Del Toro’s refusal to completely excuse it. The 1950s are often given the nostalgia treatment in movies, coated in a thick gloss of fond memories with a healthy dose of forgetting the grim realities. This is a time period that inspires idiots to spout slogans like Make America Great Again, because that time period was actually quite bad for quite a lot of people. Del Toro’s film included some subtle nods to that fact, but Suburbicon is the movie that blows the lid right off it.

Suburbicon is the name of a town founded on the principles of an idyllic setting with all the conveniences of the city but none of the sordidness. The sprawling neighbourhoods MV5BMjExMjE5MDE4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzU0NTEwMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1449,1000_AL_are safe, the schools are good, it’s a great place to raise a family. Except if you’re the Meyerses, who just moved in. They’re not welcome (being black and all). They’re apparently the very people all these “nice” white folk have moved away from the cities to avoid. The Meyers don’t do a darn thing to incur the slightest ill will, except have a darker skin tone, but still the wrath of the townspeople is rained down upon them. Determined to force them out, their white neighbours harass them and abuse them and generally make such a ruckus that no one notices the neighbours directly behind them.

In that house, Gardner (Matt Damon), his wife (Julianne Moore), his wife’s sister (also Julianne Moore), and his young son Nicky are being held hostage in a bizarre home invasion that leaves one dead and the whole family shattered. It’s just the beginning of a bloody series of events that get more and more lurid. It’s so suspicious that an investigator (Oscar Isaac) shows up at their door. But everyone else is so busy with their unrequited race war that no attention is being paid to the white family wreaking havoc.

It’s exactly the kind of satire-caper at which the Coen brothers excel. Incompetent criminals seem to be their specialty. Frequent collaborator George Clooney joins not only as a co-writer but as the director. He’s added a layer of social consciousness with deep, resonating roots. Suburbicon is slick and it entertains you to within an inch of your life. The cast is wonderful, and Clooney, being an actor’s director, elicits a startling performance out of Matt Damon, and a sterling one out of young Noah Jupe. This black comedy earned a lot of laughs at our screening – seemingly the darker things got, the more we laughed out of anxiety and relief. But this is a brutal story that rewards people justly for their crimes. At first it may seem like we’re flipping between two different movies – the obvious and the absurd – but upon reflection, I like what Clooney’s done with the juxtaposition.

Suburbicon is a little wild, a little uneven, but a whole lot of fun. It’ll be hitting theatres late October.

Contract Negotiations

The rich and famous are rich and famous for a reason – their unreasonable demands. Turns out actors are not immune. The following are actual clauses found in movie contracts.

Samuel L. Jackson has it in his contract that he gets a break during filming to play golf twice a week. Priorities!

The late Garry Marshall was so close to Hector Elizondo that he put a clause in his contracts stipulating that the actor was guaranteed a role in all Marshall films. Elizondo never knew about the clause but obviously benefitted, appearing in all of Marshall’s films, up until the director’s death last year.

Steve McQueen had a crazy grudge against Paul Newman. When the two starred in The poster_0Towering Inferno in 1974, McQueen demanded that he not only have top billing, but also the exact same pay as Newman—and the EXACT SAME number of lines, which seems like a pretty shitty way to write a script. The two fought it out about the top billing and eventually producers settled on a compromise for the poster: McQueen’s name is first, but Newman’s name, while second, is slightly higher up. Also the picture of McQueen is on the left, but Newman’s picture is again slightly higher up. This coined the term ‘diagonal billing’ because you know movie stars have egos and this shit definitely has come up again.

While working on (the now defunct) Eloise in Paris in 2010, Uma Thurman insisted on receiving heavy discounts if she decided to buy any clothes and\or wigs used during the shoot. Also, “no other cast member [may] receive more favorable dressing rooms.”

Roger Moore asked for and received “unlimited” Montecristo cigars on his James Bond films – I mean, what better way to get into character?

Will Ferrell, who takes pride in being an ass, demanded the following:

1 Electric three-wheel mobility scooter
1 headset microphone (Janet Jackson style)
1 flight of stairs on wheels
1 fake tree on wheels
1 rainbow (can be painted on canvas) on wheels
Guinness beer
Smart Water or Fiji Water
Coke, Diet Coke, 7Up
Raw roasted almonds
Protein bars: Peanut butter chocolate Zone Bars, Peanut Butter Power Bars

Just the necessities, obviously!

Will Smith had a two-and-a-half million dollar trailer built for himself. His contract makes sure the trailer has a spot on every movie set. It sits on 22 wheels, has 14 televisions, and $30,000 worth of leather upholstery. It has a full kitchen with over $$100,000 worth of granite countertops. It has sliding doors like the Star Trek Enterprise, which lead to a wardrobe room. It has pistons that allow it to transform to have a second story, which houses a screening room for watching dailies. There’s a shower in a $25,000 bathroom that has a magic glass door, which can go between opaque and transparent with the push of a button. Sean and I saw this monstrosity on the streets of Manhattan while he was filming MIB3, and you bet the locals were complaining about its size and its generally fucking up traffic, and blocking out sunlight in the surrounding apartments.  Charming?

Lindsey Lohan, known for being oh-so modest, demanded a private jet with a hairstylist, a makeup artist, and a manicurist onboard. She also insisted on a 1-year Russian visa, a Ritz-Carlton penthouse suite, and a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, and that was just to appear on a talk show. I think she may be overestimated her cachet.

While filming Gravity in Surrey, George Clooney insisted on a custom-made beach hut complete with hot tub, private landscaped garden, and basketball court built next to his trailer. He let production pick up the £100,000 tab while making $20M for the movie. Life is fair!

Tom Cruise’s “thing” is as weird as he is: thongs. He’s got thongs written into every contract – up to 50 of them per movie since he only wears them once. He feels they’re imperative for shooting action scenes, keeping him loose and unrestricted. I have a feeling that my underwear is not what’s holding me back. I also doubt the thongs are helping him out all that much, but it’s a nice justification for your fetish, isn’t it?

But just to leave you with something positive, not all contract riders are inspired by selfish greed. Robin Williams always wrote in his contract that on every film he made, production had to hire a certain number of homeless people and put them to work. Remember that next time you watch one of his old gems.

The Descendants

Matt King’s family has lived in Hawaii for generations. He and his numerous cousins own 25,000 acres of undeveloped land on Kauai held in trust, which ends seven years hence. It makes sense to most to just sell the land, speculation of which has featured prominently in island gossip – after all, to whom they sell could literally change the face of Kauai.

Matt (George Clooney) is a humble enough guy, choosing to live on his attorney’s salary rather than on the wealth that comes with being a land owner. However, his perfect Hawaiian life is a ruse. His rocky marriage is 2011_the_descendants_006surviving only because of his wife’s coma. His 17 year old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) has been sent off to boarding school due to bad behavior but she returns as her mother is declared brain dead to reveal the nature of the fight she’d had with her mother. It’s all a lot more than Matt feels he can handle, especially now that he’s effectively a single parent.

It’s a satisfying movie about the messiness of life, beautifully filmed on location around Hawaii.

In  1992, Hurricane Iniki tore apart many chicken coops on Kauai that housed birds used for cockfighting. By the time The Descendants went into production, there were thousands of feral chickens roaming the island. In the Kauai scenes, chickens are sometimes seen wandering through the shot. Sometimes the crew had to shoo chickens away before a take. Animators observed the same thing when they were working on Moana, which is why her sidekick is a rooster named Heihei.

Matt decides that he’d rather not sell the land.  “We didn’t do anything to own this land, it was entrusted to us,” and if they sell it, “something we were supposed to protect is gone.” Perhaps losing his wife reminds him of the importance of a family’s legacy. Certainly the film gently reminds us of the land’s fate should it be sold to a developer: contrasting the rolling green hills, we also see condos and golf courses and resorts-in-progress.

The movie fails to engage in a meaningful way about what it means that Matt’s family – “haole as shit” (a derogatory term for white immigrants) – owns so much Hawaiian land. It’s still not as bad as Aloha, a movie about Hawaii featuring an all-star cast of white people.

Sean and I are in Hawaii and on the lookout for feral chickens as we speak.

 

 

The Las Vegas Chronicles: Ocean’s 11

When Danny Ocean (George Clooney) puts together his 11-man team of thieves to pull the ultimate heist, he’s got some iconic Las Vegas locations in mind: the Bellagio, The MGM Grand, and The Mirage.

The main action takes place at the swankiest of the hotels, the Bellagio, home of those famous fountains. The Bellagio gave the crew unprecedented access, and even closed down their valet parking during filming, forcing even the high rollers to use underground parking (egads!). When Julia Roberts makes her entrance, it’s  down the beautiful staircase in the Bellagio Conservatory but no, you can’t recreate that scene, because the stairs were soon torn down to make room for a spa wing. The biggest stars all stayed at the Bellagio too, and gambled during their down time. George Clooney says Matt Damon won the most money, while Damon insists it was Brad Pitt. The only thing the whole cast agrees on is that it was George who lost the most: he managed to lose an astonishing 25 hands of blackjack in a row.

We’re writing about movies set in Las Vegas this week because that happens to be where we’re hiding out. It’s often called sin city, and I can only assume that sin is gluttony. Las Vegas is home to some of the most fabulous eateries in the entire world. You could easily find a different 12-course, $1200 meal every night of the week, or, alternatively, you could do all-you-can-eat shellfish for $12.99. Brad Pitt’s character is always taking advantage of Las Vegas’s fine foods – in one scene where he’s spying on Julia Roberts, his character is eating shrimp cocktail, and filming went on long enough that Pitt ended up eating 40 shrimps, which is maybe not all you can eat, but definitely more than you should.

In the movie, the script called for the blowing up of hotel New York, New York. However, in the wake of 9\11, it was thought that this image would be too disturbing, and a fake hotel, the Xanadu, stood in. The Xanadu never exited but it was planned to be Vegas’s first mega-resort in the 1970s. Disputes over sewage disrupted plans and it was never built.

And how can we talking about Vegas without talking about Elvis – or talk about this movie without mentioning the song that was remixed and used so successfully? Producers wanted to stay away from the obviousness of “Viva Las Vegas” so they used Presley’s A Little Less Conversation instead, giving it a modern mix. It soon found traction on the radio and became a hit, decades after it was originally recorded. The King is alive and well.

Ocean’s 11 closes with that shot in front of the fountain. The characters saunter away a little mournfully, one by one – a shot that had to be orchestrated for the movie and wouldn’t be possible in real life. They had to drain one of the fountains so the guys had somewhere to go. In the original Ocean’s 11, the men walked away from the Sands casino, which is where many members of the rat pack were performing at the time (in fact, most of the movie had to be filmed in the mornings since the guys sleep in the afternoon, perform at night, get hair and makeup done in the wee hours, and show up to set as the sun rose). Sammy Davis Jr. was not allowed to stay on the strip with his cast-mates and had to be shuttled to a “colored” hotel, and this man was a bona fide player and Vegas mainstay. Sinatra had to appeal to the casino owners for special dispensation to break the colour barrier. How’s that for some warm and fuzzy Vegas nostalgia?

 

We’re traipsing around Vegas this week, so be sure to follow our adventures on Twitter (@assholemovies) – shenanigans guaranteed.

 

Money Monster

George Clooney and Julia Roberts were enough to sell this movie to me, and in the end, they were enough to save it from itself.

The truth is, Money Monster teeters between a comedy and a socio-political thriller and suffers tonally. George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a slick and smug TV show host who makes stock tumblr_inline_o74ugpSGoA1t6wivs_1280market recommendations in between hip hop dance moves, obnoxious hats, and lots of gimmicks. One day, live on the air, a young man (Jack O’Connell) shows up with a bomb, ready to hold him and the CEO of a certain company (Dominic West) accountable for the loss of his life savings. Julia Roberts, playing the show’s director, is stuck in the booth directing the hell out of a show that is now being broadcast worldwide to billions, while keeping her colleague (who suffers from foot in mouth disease) alive.

The problems start with Kyle, the young man who’s just lost everything. Kyle is the audience place holder. We’re not millionaire TV hosts, or billionaire CEOs. We’re the people who work hard for our money, and are subject to the whims of Wall Street. But there’s a problem with the character when he’s just not relatable – and not because he’s brought a bomb to a TV studio. In fact, I think I am more likely to start making revenge bombs than I am to ever lose everything in the stock market. You know why? Likely you do: because you never put EVERYTHING in the stock market! The stock market is NOT free money. It’s a gamble. Sometimes you win, MoneyMonstersometimes you lose. And if, like me, you know very little about this mysterious money market, you have to take advice from strangers. I tend to avail myself of the type of strangers who sit behind ornate desks with gold nameplates, but I take everything they say with a margarita-rim’s worth of salt and skepticism. Kyle preferred to go with the smarmy guy on TV who has a weekly “pick of the millennium” which is kind of like trusting Judge Judy to try your murder one charge – but who am I to judge? Kyle gambled his whole kit and caboodle and lost the kitty in no time. And did Kyle get mad at himself for being so rash? Of course not! Kyle is a dumb millennial who feels entitled to everything but responsible for nothing and so Kyle goes looking for someone else to blame, and brings a bomb as his sidekick. Nice one, Kyle.

So we don’t really feel badly for Kyle, but nor do we root for Lee Gates. He’s making a fat paycheque doing his thing on TV, and it’s pretty clear he’s forgotten that his words have real-world repercussions for people with far more to lose than he does. He’s a self-involved guy who hasn’t questioned anything until a bomb strapped to his chest forced him to. Between Kyle and Lee, it’s unclear to the audience just who the protagonist is. There aren’t any characters to really invest in – and yes, I’ve been dying to make that financial pun for 500 words now.

So maybe this is why some critics are calling this movie empty\hollow\vacuous.  Sean certainly felt that the film’s final moments were jarring, and maybe inappropriate. I had a different read on them though.

money-monster-2016-julia-robertsThe movie is kind of a fun ride, with an almost real-time hostage situation, and we feel like we’re experiencing it along with the rest of the world. Imagine if this was happening in real life: you’d be glued to your TV or your tablet or your laptop or your phone. Where were you when President Kennedy was shot? When OJ fled in the Bronco? When the twin towers fell? Where were you when Lee Gates was held at gunpoint on live TV and made to account for his mistakes? Wouldn’t that be a Big Deal? But in the movie, the minute our characters hit a point of resolution, the whole world switches channels. They go back to their sandwiches and their IKEA catalogs. The immediacy with which it’s forgotten is arresting. Sean thought that was disgusting, and I thought it was brilliant social commentary.

So yes, I can understand why people are leaving this movie frustrated. But I also thought that was kind of the point.

O Brother Where Art Thou?

Did you know that O Brother Where Art Thou? is an homage to/rip off of Homer’s Odyssey?  Probably.  Did you know that neither of the Coen brothers read the Odyssey before writing this movie?  Probably not.  Having not read the Odyssey myself, I can’t say how accurate the movie is, but when the songs are so toe-tappingly great (in a depression-era sort of way), any lingering concerns about literary accuracy quickly fade.

If you read our site even a little bit, you probably know we are big fans of the Coens.  O Brother is the third Coen brothers film I ever saw (Barton Fink was the first, thoroughly confusing ao-brother-where-art-thound terrifying me at age 14, and Fargo was the second, and at age 20 I was not quite ready to embrace the weird mix of funny accents and wood-chipper gore).  I remember finding O Brother much less creepy than Barton Fink and much easier to digest than Fargo (while also noticing that funny accents were featured in all three).  In fact, I would give this movie most of the credit for making me track down other Coen brothers movies instead of writing them off as more of the same from the guys who were responsible for John Goodman and Peter Stormare stalking me in my nightmares.  So thanks, O Brother, for being my gateway drug to The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis, Hail Caesar, and so many more!

Basically, if you haven’t seen O Brother, you should.  It’s not necessarily a classic, and for my money it’s lingering somewhere in the o-brothermiddle of the pack for the Coens, but it’s a great appetizer for their other stuff.  It’s also a fun standalone movie that has a fantastic soundtrack and a bunch of crazy characters doing strange things.  And if you have seen it, why not see it again, if only to notice for the first time (like I just did) that frequent Coen collaborator John Turturro is one of O Brother’s main characters.  Either way, you can’t lose!

O Brother gets a score of eight soggy bottoms out of ten.

 

Hail, Coen Brothers!

Joel and Ethan Coen are at it again – the two wacky guys who brought us Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men have a new insta-classic to add to the list and it’s called Hail, Caesar!

The Coens are brilliant. I have no qualms about using that word, and I think their resume speaks for itself. Their names are already on this year’s Oscar ballot for having written the stirring screenplay for Bridge of Spies, an underrated but totally worthy movie that feels nothing like a Coen Brothers film, and isn’t one. They wrote it, and can write anything, but when they’re sitting in the director’s seat, they seem to prefer larger than life stories they can have a little fun with.

The Coens don’t chase box office success, but they do make the kind of movie that film buffs love to obsess over. I’m already obsessing over this one, which has been deemed by lesser souls to be of “limited appeal,” but dollars to donuts (yes I’m using that wrong and no I don’t know what it means) it’s the most fun I’ve had in a movie theatre in a good long while. This was at the expense of my fellow movie goers since I’m perennially sick and every fit of giggles dissolved into a fit of coughing. Coughing is the new clapping. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. There was lots of coughing. I mean lots of laughing!

The plot: Edward Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a honcho at the Capitol Pictures movie studio. He’s a fixer. He doesn’t own the place, but he does make it run. We follow him for about 27 hours, a day in the life as it were, and there are no less than 4 movies being shot on the studio back lot: the first, their blockbuster Hail, Caesar!, starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) as a Roman soldier who encounters Jesus Christ; the second, a movie musical currently shooting its aquatic spectacle with its newly and scandalously pregnant star (Scarlett Johansson); the third, a drama period piece set to star a spaghetti western crossover, Hobie Doyle (Alden Hail-Caesar-(2016)-posterEhrenreich) much to the consternation of finicky director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes); and the fourth, a comedy starring sprightly song and dance man Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). Poor Eddie has a lot to contend with – fixing stars up on dates, rescuing starlets from French postcard situations, making good on his promise to his wife to quit smoking, and fending off twin sisters and rival gossip columnists, both played by Tilda Swinton – and that’s before he realizes that his biggest star, Baird Whitlock, has been kidnapped!

There is much (too much) to say about this film. First off, the cast was excellent. Of course it was excellent. The Coens have been in the biz an awfully long time and they’ve got a george-clooney-gets-kidnappedlaundry list of Hollywood A-listers who beg to be in their films. George Clooney, for example, has worked with them three times before – Brother, Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty, and Burn After Reading – all movies that I like, though I confess a particular burning love for Intolerable Cruelty especially. The Coens have great faith in Clooney’s comedic timing and treat us to a whole reel of his best reaction shots. It’s down right gluttonous – almost as sinful as that Roman costume they’ve got him strutting around in, showing off leg like you’ve never seen from him before. And my they’re nice legs. In fact, is there a human being on this planet who’s not a little in love with George Clooney?

Josh Brolin continues to ride this incredible surge in his career and proves a worthy choice. This is Brolin’s third Coen movie (after No Country for Old Men and True Grit) and he pulls this one together so tightly, so adroitly, you know he’ll be around for more. New comer Alden Ehrenreich impressed me immensely. IMDB assures me I’ve seen him before (in hail-caesar-featurette-the-cowbo-810x456Blue Jasmin) but this is the first that I’ve noticed him – and he almost stole the show! Tilda Swinton, who is great in everything, is great again here, only doubly so since she’s handling twin duties and it’s uproarious. Heather Goldenhersh, as Mannix’s hard-working secretary, is pivotal and delightful, and I must say, this woman deserves to be fucking famous already. But even small roles are peppered with famous faces – the study group alone, from Fisher Stevens to my beloved David Krumholtz, is worthy of its own spin-off. And no Coen Brothers movie would be complete without at least a brief appearance by my spirit animal, the fabulous Frances McDormand. The reigning Coen Queen, this is her 8th film of theirs, although it’s not exactly a fair fight as she’s married to Joel (not that her oodles of talent require any nepotism). Her role is brief but watch for it, it’s a scene stealer.

So: the Coens know how to write. And they sure as hell know how to cast. And bringing back cinematographer Roger Deakins and convincing him to shoot in film again (as img5opposed to his preferred medium, digital) was exactly the right thing for this ode to old Hollywood. Even though your eyes see Channing Tatum in a sailor suit, your mind is steeped in 1950s glamour (which is actually much grimier than the usual coating of nostalgic veneer would have us remember). As usual with the Coens, what you see is only half of what you get. There’s a lot of layers to this seemingly lighter fare, from God and Commies, to pop culture and hydrogen bombs. I was charmed and tickled from start to finish and I’m going to find it awfully hard to buy tickets to Deadpool when what I’d really like to do is see this one again. And again. And probably again.

 

A Very Murray Christmas

AVeryMurrayChristmas_posterLet’s get one thing straight: this isn’t Scrooged, the redux. It’s a plotless variety show without a lot of variety, but it’s got Bill Goddamned Fucking Murray, so what else do you want?

It’s Christmas Eve and Murray is contractually obligated to put on a Christmas special live from the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan. He’s in no position to be doing such a thing and the show is doomed to hell, but so what? His piano accompanist is Paul Shaffer, for crying out loud. How bad could it be?

Well, as Amy Poehler and Julie White come bustling into his room to assuage his pre-show jitters\brow-beat him into meeting his obligations, it would seem that they are worried too. There’s a blizzard blanketing NYC, and none of the celebrity guests have shown up. No guests at all, actually, except for Michael Cera, playing a slimy talent agent desperate to sign Murray (who is famous in real life from being unrepresented).

Murray starts off singing dejectedly but can’t even finish his first song. NEN1NCNECeZIRU_1_bThe special’s a disaster! But wait! Who’s that sight for sore eyes revolving through the door? Why it’s none other than Chris Rock, here mistakenly, but here nonetheless, and despite his vehement refusals, he gets emotionally manipulating into joining the live broadcast. Singing ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ as a duet, Murray and Rock are one of the highlights of the show. In a special that’s not even an hour long, Chris Rock proves he may not be a singer but he is indeed an actor; the reluctance to join in spackled across his slowly turns into Christmas cheer as the joy of the song spreads to his heart…until the power goes out, and he takes the opportunity to make his escape.

“Force Majeure!” cry his cheeky producers. The contract taken care of by an act of god, White and Poehler hoof it out of there too, leaving Murray to mope around a nearly-deserted hotel where he comes across a sobbing bride (Rashida Jones) and her wobbly wedding cake. Dream wedding ruined, no guests in sight, no preacher to marry them, and a 90bunch of lobsters going bad, she and her groom (Jason Schwartzman) have fought.

Never fear: when not hosting Christmas specials, Bill Murray also proffers marital counselling, and so in he goes to save the day, and spark up some more “impromptu” holiday tunes. Jenny Lewis playing a waitress is on hand to do the lady part of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, everyone’s favourite date-rape carol, and the band Phoenix is conveniently on hand pretending to be kitchen staff to back up several more ditties, so that Jason Schwartzman can prove there is a worse singer in this thing than Chris Rock.

And then Maya Rudolph shows up playing a washed up lounge singer, and holy hell, she just puts them all to shame. She belts out a ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ so good that even Darlene Love would approve (she sang that song on Letterman every Christmas since 1986 except for the writer’s strike in 2007 – this will be her first year without, since Dave is retired). It’s not surprising that Rudolph is amazing: she is, after all, daughter to soul singer Minnie Riperton and composer-songwriter Richard Rudolph. Oh, and granddaughter of Teena Marie. She’s got chops, plus extra credentials for often impersonating Beyonce on SNL, and for playing in a Prince cover band called Princess. And I’ve got a huge crush on her.

Then the action mysteriously leaves the Carlyle Hotel for a decked-out maxresdefaultsoundstage in New Jersey, where two new guest stars join the festivities: Miley Cyrus, cheating on her own cameo in The Night Before, and George Clooney to mix the martinis. An unlikely pair? If you say so!

I wish I could find something to be grumpy about with Miley’s performance, but the truth is, she sounds good. Perched atop Shaffer’s bill-murray-miley-cyrus-george-clooney-netflix-christmas-specialpiano, Silent Night is rendered faithfully, although there’s probably a little too much leg for the holy parts. The real surprise, and delight, is when Clooney pipes up during ‘Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin.’ Is the world ready for this side of George Clooney? Unfortunately he flashes a lot less leg, but he does look awfully dapper in his suit.

Anyway, director Sofia Coppola did quite a job of rounding up a slew of stars and dipping them in Christmas coating. You can play a real game of celebrity bingo, as you’ll see in the comments. There’s no plot, no story, no moral: just a lot of the ever-charming Bill Murray. It’s available on Netflix and it’s the kind of thing you can easily just put on in the background while you do some holiday baking or cleaning or wrapping, or better yet – some imbibing.

Cheers.