Archives for posts with tag: ralph fiennes

It’s probably true that if this weren’t a Coen Brothers movie, its quality would have rated a 4/5, but they’ve raised expectations, so….

50s Hollywood! There are communists, and studios rule everything, and people have hilarious accents! Tilda Swinton plays two people, but they’re twin sisters! Fortunately they both have great hats.

During the movie it seemed strange how many disparate strands there were, until I remembered how Burn After Reading went. That said, the disparate strands in Hail, Caesar! did not resolve as well as those in Burn After Reading, even though it was literally Josh Brolin’s role (as Eddie Mannix) to bring them together. This is because he is the person who puts out fires at his studio, so he has to deal with all the nonsense his stars (and others) pull: Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is making the shift, Horst Buchholz-style, from westerns to…not-westerns, and his director, Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is cranky about it; DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant but unmarried, which is a problem; Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is the star of the big sword-and-sandal flick about Jesus, and gets kidnapped by communists; he needs to consult with various spiritual leaders about the film; his son wants to play a different position on his baseball team. Oh, and he’s trying to quit smoking.

Channing Tatum also dances.

There are good moments, but the movie as a whole is disappointing. The film within a film is a hilarious send-up of Ben Hur and the like. The conversation Mannix has with three priests and a rabbi about how to put Jesus onscreen is incredibly funny. Laurentz teaching Hobie how to speak like a human being is drawn out the perfect amount, so that it stops being slightly irritating and starts being howlingly uproarious. The surfacing of a Soviet submarine is a bizarre but wonderful mix of The Hunt for Red October and Wes Anderson. But you can see how that might seem jumbled.

On a different note, it’s slightly odd to watch a movie that involves Hollywood and communists and doesn’t try to be a searing indictment of something but instead has David Krumholtz as an amusing drunk yelling pinko. Further, the various demands of the studio seem totally reasonable, since everyone who works there is an utter baby, and Mannix is put-upon and well-meaning. And, sure, it’s ironically exaggerated, but it seems just so much cutesier than most other Coen Brothers stuff.

Stray observations:

  • Scarlett Johansson is actually bad in her part as a pregnant screen siren; her accent obviously takes an immense amount of effort.
  • Channing Tatum can really hoof, man.

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes
Score: 3/5

Sorry, after the new Avengers I had movie ennui and also “Friends” on Netflix happened. Now I’m back!

And I have to say: this movie is under-rated. As I’m sure you know, it’s a Cinderella story. Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a hotel maid, Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) is a Senate hopeful. In a hilarious mix-up Chris thinks Marisa is actually staying in the hotel, whereas in fact the woman staying in the suite in question is Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson), who is only slightly cartoonishly hoity-toity. The cast is rounded out by Chris’s constantly jazzed campaign guy (Stanley Tucci) and Marisa’s adorably politically-aware son Ty (Tyler Posey).

Sure, a lot of the class stuff is a little too pat. Chris goes to benefit dinners that are supposed to raise awareness about the projects, and zooms up to the Bronx in a limo to give a speech about it. Marisa, for her part, grew up in the projects and has some views about his “big-hearted” policies and his evident personal disconnect from them. Meanwhile, she has management ambitions and a deadbeat ex who continuously bails on plans with their son. Her colleagues are supportive (including Bob Hoskins[!!!] as the hotel butler, Lionel); her mother has realistic doubts.

Chris, of course, is one of these career politicians who is only ever cynical because the people around him force him to be so, and has a big dog and pre-speech jitters. He’s good with kids (especially Ty), has a checkered (but, you can be sure, decent) romantic past, and looks good in a dinner suit. He has no patience with social-climbing blondes, which is appealing if improbable. His accent is a shade careful, and hearing Ralph Fiennes say “taking a leak,” however scrupulous the dialect coach, is ridiculous.

There are a few moments that strain credulity, naturally. Ty never points out, for instance, that Chris routinely refers to Marisa as “Caroline,” even though Ty is in general preternaturally observant. Marisa’s stand-ins for mice and birds rally ’round very quickly–and not just with bows and sewing, but with vintage Harry Winston necklaces, for which they use a grade-schooler as courier. It is not, however, improbable that Marisa would be the only woman at a benefit at the Met wearing a pink dress.

But all in all, it’s appealing. Ralph Fiennes, for once, is not tragic or evil or set on fire or otherwise destroyed, which I think is nice. The movie is not unaware of social and economic disparities, but neither does it beat you up about them. The kid is cute but not cloying; Marisa’s friends on the hotel staff are slight caricatures but warm-hearted. Next time it comes on TV, you should give this a chance.

Stray notes:

  • John Hughes was partly responsible for the story?
  • Chris Marshall is a sympathetic Republican! This brings the number in films to…two (Bill Pullman in Independence Day is the other).
  • Yeah, I miss Jennifer Lopez in silly but charming movies. She was really good at them (and, yes, The Wedding Planner is also secretly great).

Director: Wayne Wang
Rating: PG-13
Length: 105 min.
Score: 3/5.

This movie’s based on a true story; I don’t know how closely, nor, as usual, do I care. And the main message is not its truth, in particular, but how much better a person Robert Redford is than you are.

It’s the 60s. “Twenty-One” is the most popular quiz show on television, and it turns out that it’s rigged to have properly popular winners: first, a bumbling Jewish everyman, Herb Stempel (John Turturro), and then a good-looking preppie, Charles van Doren (Ralph Fiennes). A frankly irritatingly idealist lawyer working for some congressional committee on oversight, Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), cottons on and then digs around. He believes that he will “take down television.” I don’t even know what that means, but Van Doren’s father gives a lecture on Don Quixote (to an uncredited Ethan Hawke!), so I’d guess that’s what we’re supposed to take away.

And that’s really how I feel about this movie. It deals with Issues–all of which are real, and serious–but it deals with those Issues with the subtlety of a navvy, and none of the pay-off is earned. An example: Dick’s religion is dealt with mostly by the bye (he’s from Brookline, he has eaten rugelach), until his wife (Mira Sorvino) yells at him for being the Uncle Tom of the Jews. She is unpleasant generally. On the other side, Van Doren’s family are caricatures of Connecticut, capable only of boating and Bardinage.

As a parable about anti-Semitism or general honesty this might have succeeded, but you’ll not be shocked to learn that Mr. Redford has loftier aims, and doesn’t quite succeed, especially as the larger moral is awkwardly shoe-horned.

Stray notes:

  • In this “Mad Men” era we sometimes forget that that kind of attention to detail was not always the norm in show business, and the cuts of suits and hair in this film shade early-90s.
  • Ralph Fiennes is super young and super cute. He neither murders anyone nor catches fire. Refreshing.
  • However, his accent is pretty bad.

Director: Robert Redford
Rating: PG-13
Length: 133 min.
Score: 3/5.