tek's rating:

Hail, Caesar! (PG-13)
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I decided to list this under "period pieces," since it's set in 1951. But it would fit just as well under "comedy" or "quirky," and it has an element that I'd say is slightly like film noir. And, since it's about a movie studio, we do see bits of a few movies of different genres being filmed. And the whole thing is just a lot of fun. The main character is a producer/fixer named Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin), who apparently was a real person, even if this is a heavily fictionalized version of him. (Mannix also appeared as a character in the unrelated movie Hollywoodland, a fact that I had completely forgotten about.)

So, in this movie, Mannix works for Capitol Pictures. The main production at the time is a Biblical epic called "Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ," starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). One day, a couple of nameless extras on the movie (played by Wayne Knight and Jeff Lewis) drug and kidnap Whitlock. But we don't see the extras again, which I think is kind of meta; they're not only extras in the movie-within-a-movie, they're also extras in the real movie we're actually watching. So, Mannix will have to try to get Whitlock back, while also preventing anyone else from discovering that he's missing. Which is particularly hard, when the actor is supposed to be finishing a movie. And even harder, considering there are two rival gossip columnists (at least one of whom claims to be a legitimate reporter) who are each trying to find him, for different reasons. The columnists are twin sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton). When Whitlock wakes up, he finds himself the captive of a group of screenwriters who are Communists. They want to ransom him back to the studio, to make up for not being paid for their work. But their discussions also end up making Whitlock think about the movie studio system in a way he never had before, which could lead to his becoming a Communist, himself.

Meanwhile, Mannix has plenty of other things to deal with. There's an actress named DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who's starring in a mermaid movie, and who has become pregnant out of wedlock (which would be scandalous if the public found out). There's an actor named Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), who is famous for playing singing cowboys, but who isn't actually very good at acting. However, the head of the studio (whom we never see) has insisted he take a role in a romantic drama, which is being directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), who becomes terribly frustrated by Hobie's inability to get his lines anywhere near right. Still... I think Hobie is an interesting character. He's obviously a very nice guy, and very respectful to everyone. But while he seems somewhat dimwitted in an acting context, he actually turns out to be surprisingly clever in other ways (which I don't want to spoil). Also, the studio wants to set him up with an actress named Carlotta Valdez. There's also an actor named Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), who's starring in a musical. (And we get to see a really fun song and dance number called No Dames!) And there's a plot point about Gurney that I don't want to spoil. And while Mannix is dealing with all these different actors, directors, columnists, and kidnappers, he's also secretly contemplating an offer from a Mr. Cuddahy, a representative of the Lockheed Corporation, to take a more "serious" job outside the movie industry, so he wouldn't have to deal with all this craziness anymore. On top of that, he's trying to quit smoking, because his wife Connie (Alison Pill, in an all-too-brief scene) believes it's bad for his health. (Which seems to me to be an idea that's ahead of its time.)

Anyway, I guess that's all I really want to say about the plot. There's a lot going on, and it's all interesting and most of it is really funny, and the scenes we see from various movies within the movie are all rather spectacular. And there are other familiar actors with small roles, including Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Robert Picardo, Clancy Brown, and... lots of people who weren't familiar to me. But everyone's really good. I particularly liked Heather Goldenhersh as Mannix's secretary, Natalie, so I really wish I knew her from anything else. (Her credits include "School of Rock," which I've seen, but I'm afraid I don't remember her from that, so it was probably a small role.) And I guess I don't know what else to say, except that I also enjoyed the featurettes on the DVD.

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