Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Impressions: When watching a movie on the plane, there is a lot of stopping and starting, and people moving around, so I feel it’s not the same attention you give a movie in the theater or at home. So I should note I watched this one on a very long flight. That said, it still felt disjointed and  slapstick. It felt like a bunch of clever gags put together without anything holding them together. What exactly is the point of this movie? That Hollywood loves itself and thinks it’s more important than it is? That Hollywood is frivolous? That people in general are shallow and frivolous? I am not sure, but all of those ring hollow.
And I have loved a number of Coen brother movies: Raising Arizona has always been a favorite, as has Hudsucker Proxy, and many others.
That’s not to say there were no funny moments in Hail Caesar, because there were: the priest and rabbi bit made me laugh, as did the whole concept of George Clooney dressed as a Roman soldier being kidnapped by communists. The plot follows going-ons at a 1950’s Hollywood studio  where a bunch of genre films are made in a strict genre fashion: a ridiculous western with horse stunts on one lot, a Busby Berkeley-type musical
extravaganza on another, a melodrama on a third, and a biblical epic on the fourth. The actors are interchangeable But the point of all of them is just to attract viewers, and it’s all shallow and cliche.
I am not sure if the Coen brothers recently had some kind of fallout with a Hollywood studio, and this is a form of payback, but that’s the extent of the plot. Some comic relief gets thrown in when actors, who are also portrayed as not-too-bright start getting political ideas. The main character is a head of the studio who has to balance all these people he manages, and his personal life, and the press who wants to get the tabloid scoop.  Maybe it’s all meant to  be a clear dig at particular people in showbiz, but maybe it’s just supposed to be a silly comedy. I feel like it is not completely successful as either. So just a so-so grade for this one

Facts: A bunch of silly Hollywood films, very much in strict genre fashion are being produced in 1950s Hollywood, with a subplot of the main star being kidnapped by communists.

A Bigger Splash (2015)

Impression: I really don’t get Luca Guadagnino! I remember watching his other highly acclaimed film I Am Love during what was probably the best week of my life and feeling underwhelmed. While it was beautifully filmed, and I knew that it was critically acclaimed, I just didn’t get it. It seemed somehow empty, nothing really happened (and I’ve watched many movies in which nothing happens, and been fine with it), and I did not care about the characters. So it took Tilda Swinton in the lead role as an aging rock star who lost her voice and high placement on quite a few best-of-the-year lists to lure me into another Guadagnino film. And…. Same exact result: beautiful people, gorgeous setting, but no plot, and no connection to the characters. Sure, no one can pull off a lead role in which they don’t speak quite like Tilda Swinton, and the awkward dancing by Ralph Fiennes alone was worth the price of admission, so it was not a complete waste of time. But I am still intrigued by what it is Guadagnino’s movies are trying to say that I am just not getting.  This one has the female rock star and her younger boyfriend taking it easy on the Italian coast, when her ex-lover and his daughter show up. There is some sexual tension and dislike between almost everyone in the foursome, and eventually one of them ends up dead. Towards the end of the movie it turns into a bit of a thriller, dealing with the cover up of the murder.  In the background, the European refugee crisis is taking place, and is related to the plot only tangentially. In general, the story seems to be about rich people living completely inside their bubble and unaware and unconcerned about the world around them.  If this is the point, I am sure I must be missing the depth of the insight the film is going for.

Facts: An aging rockstar loses her voice and relaxes on the Italian coast with her boyfriend, when an ex-lover shows up with his daughter and someone ends up dead.