Hail, Caesar!

caesarWhile I haven’t seen all of the Coen Brothers films, and amongst those are some of their best, something just intrigued me about ‘Hail, Caesar!’. Be it the top flight cast, the premise of the film, of just the overall silliness of the plot, it just pushed all right buttons for me.

Now, sometimes, films like ‘Hail, Caesar!’ take a while to find time to watch, and that is exactly what happened, but I finally found the time last evening, and it was well worth the wait. The Coen Brothers have crafted a film that takes on a satirical look at Hollywood during the 1950’s, from the Red Scare of American Communism, to protecting assets in an era when it was much easier to do so.

Be it big starts, like George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson or Channing Tatum taking on lesser roles that all help move the story along, of Josh Brolin dryly carrying the film, ‘Hail, Caesar’ is able to do all of this built on current Hollywood’s good will that the Coen’s have built up over the years.

Featuring film styles of the time, like Roman epics, dancing and singing musicals and the like, ‘Hail, Caesar’ takes a look into a not so typical 48 hours for main character Eddie Mannix as he fulfills his role of studio “fixer”, moving from set to set and playing both actors and media, doing his best to keep less than savory stories under wraps to ensure only good publicity for the fictional studio’s films and stars.

Loosely based on the real-life studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix, the film relates possible stories that Mannix helped clean up during the 1940’s and 1950’s for MGM. In the film, Mannix spends his days ensuring that fictional Capitol Pictures films proceed in order and on time (and also on budget), and that the actors and actresses in the employ of the Studio stay out of trouble, and failing that, out of the news whenever possible.

Josh Brolin is a very strong, central focal point to the story, and with a whisper of a 1950’s mustache, very much fits what one would expect the character of Eddie Mannix to look like. George Clooney with his Roman-esque short cropped hair, Channing Tatum with his dyed blond hair and Tilda Swinton in the duel roles of twin gossip columnists all fill out the early 1950’s the exact way that you would expect it to work, much to the strength of the film.

An irreverant, light hearted but dry comedy, ‘Hail, Caesar’ pokes fun at Hollywood’s under belly from the 1950’s and should always be viewed as one of the strongest films from the Coen Brothers and a great way to get a glimpse of what the film industry looked like sixty years ago. A definite recommend from myself to anyone out there.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Looks for more to come soon. Cheers for today.

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Ten Favourites of 2013

About Time

abouttime

Released – November 1st

Box Office – $15 million North America/$68 million Worldwide

‘About Time’ is and should be the biggest surprise on this list. A Sci-Fi time travel film disguised as a romantic comedy, this film is quite possibly the best rom-com I have ever seen. What should not be a surprise is that a quirky British comedy rated highly with me. There really are days when I think I should be British.

The key to this film was a quiet but wonderful turn by Bill Nighy as the father of the main character. Utilized twice as a plot device to both introduce the key plot element but then to also further along the film later on, Nighy’s charm breathed life into what could have otherwise been a flat character, and allows him to hold ‘About Time’ together in the end.

While allowing the viewer an opportunity to think about what they themselves would do if in a similar situation, ‘About Time’ manages to avoid the usual trappings of a “normal” time travel film. Staying away from the usual tropes of survival or riches, ‘About Time’ creates a nice change of pace from the average film.

Captain Phillips

captphillips

Released – October 11th

Box Office – $105 million North America/$109 million Worldwide

My biggest issue with “Captain Phillips’ has been spending the past couple of days figuring out how Tom Hanks did not get another Best Actor nomination for the 86th Academy Awards. He is this film. We all know just what an exceptional actor Hanks is, but for the first time in almost twenty years, he truly shows it off in this film. Hanks is once again worth the price of admission to a film again.

What that doesn’t actually tell you though is just how wonderful ‘Captain Phillips is as a whole. Director Paul Greengrass crafts a film that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire run time, despite the fact that you know pretty much how the film is going to end. That is always an exceptional feat to pull off.

Another amazing aspect that really helped ‘Captain Phillips’ be a strong film was the performance put forth by Barkhad Abdi as the leader of the band of pirates. Abdi manages the rare feat of actually stealing scenes against Hanks and it is no wonder that the was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Frozen

frozen

Released – November 22

Box Office – $336 Million North America/$426 million Worldwide

‘Frozen’ continues the return of Disney to the top of the animation mountain. Having been supplanted by Pixar and DreamWorks, Disney has returned to form with recent hits ‘Tangled’ and ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ and ‘Frozen’ makes it a trifecta of all-around amazing films. Featuring a tour-de-force return to the hapharzardly abandoned fairy tale princess sub-genre that is Disney’s animated calling card, this film offers something for everyone.

Two straight years running and three of the last four years, Disney has produced what I would consider to be the best animated film of each year by offering films that out-Pixar Pixar while also bringing in both sexes with films that steal DreamWorks thunder. From jokes for all to amazing Oscar quality songs that are catchy, ‘Frozen’ is everything that you would expect from the House of Mouse and more, breaking down barriers as it goes.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

hobbit

Released – December 13th

Box Office – $249 million North America/$585 million Worldwide

Peter Jackson took what could be considered some unwarranted criticism from last year’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ for trying to meld a children’s book with his cinematic version of Middle Earth.  However, what Jackson managed to do was to make an even finer quality return to Tolkien’s world with ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’.

The most amazing aspect of the second Hobbit film is the dragon, Smaug, himself. When you finally see something come to life that you have long imagined from your childhood, you may get a little concerned about it. Well, in the end, Jackson and company pull off a wonderfully looking Smaug, and one that is key to this film. The other aspect, aside from the look, that sets Smaug apart is the voice work done by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch’s voice is now how I will read Smaug’s lines whenever I read the book in the future.

While still suffering a little from the middle film syndrome, ‘Smaug’ is still a rambunctious ride and does its job perfectly of delivering our characters to the third act to come with this December’s finale, ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’.

Iron Man 3

im3

Released – May 3rd

Box Office – $409 million North America/$806 million Worldwide

The first film that Disney and Marvel have released in their post-Avengers world did not fail to deliver. Showcasing everything we have come to expect from Marvel Studios in general and Robert Downey Jr. in particular, ‘Iron Man 3’ was a great way to launch Marvel’s Phase Two much like ‘Iron Man’ did for what became Phase One.

While presenting a seeming end to the arc of Tony Stark, and to the franchise in general should RDJ not come back, ‘Iron Man 3’ did so with a bang. Featuring one of the visually best action scenes of 2013, this film further entrenched Iron Man as a character to be reckoned with at the box office, right up there with Batman and James Bond.

‘Iron Man 3’ also showed that Marvel will not rest on its laurels in Phase Two, but will work to push the envelope further, by making us all ask the question: “What will become of Iron Man moving forward?”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

mitty

Released – December 25th

Box Office – $55 million North America/$105 million Worldwide

‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ spoke to me very much on a personal level. That it did so was a great change of pace from the normal kind of films that I watch, or even other films that some would consider similar to this one. It spoke to me as I myself have at times been lost in thought and what ifs and doubts, very much something that afflicts the main character in this film.

That the opening act of the film, while showcasing those moments, was a little slow and dodgy is something that is easy to overcome once the film starts picking up in the second and third acts. While at times it can seem that the real world adventures of Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty are even more day dreamish than his day dream adventures, the fact that it shows that once you take a chance you don’t know where you will end up highlights how amazing that can be in life.

Star Trek Into Darkness

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Released – May 16th

Box Office – $228 million North America/$238 million Worldwide

Paramount Pictures has been in the same boat as Universal Pictures lately, struggling to create new franchises that will allow it to continue to be profitable in this day and age. What Paramount does have though is a sure fire bet for North American audiences, and that is J.J. Abrams’ rebooted ‘Star Trek’ films.  The action levels have never been higher in Trek films, and in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’  they also added more of the political air back to the franchise as well.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and all have done an amazing job on not only bringing “Star Trek’ into the 21st Century but also of making these characters their own with their own unique voices, which was something that no one could have been sure would have happened when creating a new timeline to tell new stories of Kirk, Spock et al. While putting a new twist on a story many are familiar with, they also managed to tell a story that was full of humour, action and also some easter eggs for fans of the original television series as well.

This is the End

theend

Released – May 12th

Box Office – $101 million North America/$24 million Worldwide

Only one true comedy made it to this list in 2013, and it might surprise most that it was ‘This is the End’. Featuring characterizations of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, along with others, the film parodies the reactions of movie stars to an apparent apocalyptic event.

The film is rude, crude, offensive and everything you would expect from a tongue-in-cheek take on their own lives, and as a result was the funniest film I saw in 2013.  ‘This is the End’ is also the first film I have ever seen in theatres where people got up and left due to being offended by it, and if possible, this made it all the more hilarious to me.

Near the end of the film it loses a little bit of steam as it tries to actually finish off telling a story, but for the most part, this film doesn’t take itself serious and neither should you.

White House Down

whitehousedown

Released – June 28th

Box Office – $73 million North America/$132 million Worldwide

As I stated in my previous “Most Disappointing of 2013″ article, ‘A Good Day to Die Hard” was out-Die Harded by a couple of films last year. The best of those films was ‘White House Down’, featuring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx and James Woods, which was a rollicking action film that stood out above the rest for me.

Channing Tatum channels the best John McClane for the 21st Century that we have seen so far, and plays well off of both Jamie Foxx’s President and James Woods’ villain. There are some that will tell that based off of the box office results of ‘White House Down’ that Tatum cannot carry an action film, but that is simply not the case at all. What killed this film was its release date, nothing more.

Coming out after the failed ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ and the also quite decent and also quite similar ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, ‘White House Down’ suffered from viewer fatigue at the box office, but you should do yourself a favour and check this one out. From director Roland Emmerich, this film was the best of the three.

Rush

rush

Released – September 20th

Box Office – $26 million North America/$63 million Worldwide

Ron Howard’s ‘Rush’ was the best film that I saw in the theatres during 2013 and I cannot wait to own it when it comes out in a couple of weeks. Featuring Chris Hemsworth from ‘Thor’ and relative newcomer, to mainstream audiences for the most part, Daniel Bruhl, ‘Rush’ tells the story of the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda and its culminatin during the 1975 Formula One season.

Using a blend of CGI and practical effects, Howard crafted a wonderful film that left an exhilarating feeling throughout. The use of actual historical racing cars was a major part of making this possible. This film is more than just the two main actors, as the cars are also the stars that make this the best film of the year.

Showing off a more dramatic side than though possible, Hemsworth give a performance that makes it possible to believe that he could Academy Awards in the future. However, the real breakthrough of ‘Rush’ is Bruhl who shows off a wide range of emotions as Niki Lauda who suffers through a horrific crash during the 1975 German Grand Prix. Bruhl steals the screen every time we see him, and his resulting nomination for a 2014 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor was well warranted.

I will say this as a late addition. The fact that ‘Rush’ was completely shut out of the 86th Academy Awards with zero nominations does not accurately reflect the strongest film of 2013.

White House Down

whitehousedownThe second of this year’s “War on Washington” films is ‘White House Down’, following up on March’s ‘Olympus Has Fallen’.  Starring 2012’s surprise hit actor Channing Tatum and Jaime Foxx, many hoped that this would be a repeat of 1998 when ‘Deep Impact’ and ‘Armageddon’, with similar story lines, found success in theatres.

Having seen both of ‘White House Down’ and ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, I can say that there are enough differences between them to allow both to have entertaining premises and give audiences enough to like both films.

While ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ was definitely a more serious film, ‘White House Down’ had more heart and more laughs than its earlier counterpart, and as a summer action movie, carried more special effects at times than ‘Olympus’ as well.

That being said, I found ‘White House Down’ to be the better overall film, but lacked the action that ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ brought to the screen.  As a lead, Channing Tatum did just as well of a job as Gerard Butler did, and Tatum definitely has more upside today in his career.

Probably my favourite actor in this film was James Woods.  Bringing two sides of a coin to life as the secondary character in the film, and that was a pleasant change from ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ as well, and one that was quite welcome.

All in all, while many will consider this to be “just another action movie”, and while that may be hard to argue with, ‘White House Down’ was quite entertaining and worth a watch for sure.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

gijoeThis has been a hard article to write, mainly because ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’ is so far removed from being a sequel while still being a sequel that it was hard to wrap my head around it.

2009’s ‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’ was silly but entertaining, and managed to incorporate a more worldwide feel into what is mainly perceived as an American toy product, but ‘Retaliation’ did away with much of the international feel of the first film and focused more on the American aspects of the toy line, and I feel that was much to the detriment of the final product.

I can honestly say that I really enjoyed ‘Rise of Cobra’.  It was over-the-top, it was fun, it was exactly what I expected from a movie based on a toy.  I can’t say the same about ‘Retaliation’.  While it has some nice action scenes, led by the Ninja fight on the side of a mountain, it really flounders almost everywhere else.

Many actors are wasted in this movie, from Channing Tatum in his returning role of Duke, to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as Roadblock, to Bruce Willis as General Joe Colton, the original G.I. Joe.

As a direct sequel, ‘Retaliation’ really falters, but as a spin-off it could have been successful, and they could have done more with the movie in that manner.  Sadly, there is a lot left on the table in this film, and should be even more derided by critics and fans than the original was.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.