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Coen Brothers McCarthy-Era Satire ‘Hail, Caesar!’ Falls Flat Despite All-Star Cast

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The Coen Brothers latest comedy “Hail, Caesar!” opened in theaters on February 5.

Hail Clooney

Ready for my closeup: Hail, George Clooney!

The Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, have been making giggling, dark movies ever since they got into the business. I first ran into this when the two cast Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage in the goofy picture “Raising Arizona,” which depicts a recently released from prison convenient store thief and his demanding ex-policewoman wife, who kidnap a child, because they cannot have one of their own.

Even prior to “Raising Arizona” the sibling team broke into the big time in 1984 with an attempt at comedic film noir with “Blood Simple,” which was considered gruesome and very funny at times.

Funny and shocking, of course, are odd bedfellows as is the idea of lurking about the shady side of life trying to find a laugh. For the Coen brothers, this has lead to some surrealistic films, like the commercially successful “Brother, Where Art Thou,” and “Barton Fink,” which dipped into the horror mode. With this in mind, the pair, who write and direct most of their films, favor unlikely, non-glamorous actors, such as Joel’s wife Francis McDormand and, in the case of “Hail, Caesar!” Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill and Ralph Fiennes, who appear along side Scarlett Johansson, who plays an Esther-Williams-type actress, George Clooney, who plays an affable movie star (who gets kidnapped) and Josh Brolin, who plays Eddie Mannix, a go-to guy for a big production movie studio named Capitol Pictures.

As you can imagine, the Coen brothers love seedy private detectives in fedoras and wide ties and kidnappings, the later of which occurs in many of their films. Need somebody snatched? Try watching “Blood Simple,” “Raising Arizona,:” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” or “Hail, Caesar!” A kidnapping is bread and butter for the Coens.

The Fixer: Josh Brolin

The Fixer: Josh Brolin

“Hail, Caesar!” shows another side of the Coen brothers that is consistent: Lofty ambitions. These guys aim high. The film, set in Hollywood in the 1940s or early 1950s, depicts the kidnapping of a mega-star, but the actions is viewed through the eyes of Eddie Mannix, who has other problems on his plate. He is trying to quit smoking, a young star in one movie does not know how to act and one of his stars is pregnant and needs a husband quick. It’s Mannix’s job to coddle stars, solve problems, run errands and burying scandals. You know the type. These guys were like hoods with day jobs. They got a lot done and preferred you didn’t ask a lot of questions about it.

The trick to “Hail, Caesar!” lies in tying together the kidnapping with several other non-sequential problems Mannix is trying to solve. Unfortunately, this means giving all the problems about equal weight, as if the kidnapping were just as important as teaching a cowboy singer to say his lines.

The kidnapping in “Hail, Caesar!” never rises to a very high level of importance, anyway. It turns out that the kidnappers are a group of 15 intellectuals who are just trying to make a point — about economics, no less. But, even though it is the center of the picture, the kidnapping is so unimportant the kidnappers casually introduce themselves to their victim, movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) and, in the end, Whitlock just drives home of his own volition the next day, as if the kidnappers just got bored of the whole thing. It turns out, boredom is contagious. I, too, found the anticlimax in this case too effective for its own good.

More than boring, it was a bit unsettling to find out that the kidnappers turn out to a group of studio writers, who all happen to be communists. The group complain about their pay, but not as a

Scarlett Johansson

The Starlet: Scarlett Johansson

personal issue — they are all well dressed and well fed — but as an matter of principle. In the end, they simply give the ransom money away. That handsome leather briefcase full of cash, we already know, came from a petty spending fund at the movie studio — called Capitol Pictures. So, it was no particular sweat for Mannix to raise the money, either.

However, as mentioned above, I found it unsettling for the film to pivot on the point that these 15 (or so) bright, well-dressed script writer/kidnappers were communists set in the same year that the film “Trumbo” came out concerning blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston), whose career suffered horribly by being blacklisted from 1946 to 1960 – and all for the cruelty of McCarthyism.

Maybe I just didn’t get the joke, but McCarthyism censorship was a direct assault on Hollywood script writers back in the day, so why this would be funny for Hollywood went right past me.

The bottom line: “Hail, Caesar!” is a flat-footed comedy with great set pieces that didn’t know what it wanted to say. The characters are memorable. The movie, it turns out, is not.

Anthony Hall


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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.


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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.


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Box Office

“Captain Marvel” Makes a Heroic Box Office Debut

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Despite online controversy, another Marvel Comics movie has debuted to another astonishing figure. While not as monumental as last year’s Black Panther, Captain Marvel wasn’t too far behind in the box office for its debut. The superhero epic starring Brie Larson had a weekend debut of $153 million, with a worldwide gross quickly approaching half a billion. This marks an astonishing premiere even by Marvel’s standards of always dominating the weekend. Don’t be surprised if the film lingers in the top 5 for all of March and perhaps through April as well.

For occupying such a hefty amount of the box office, it was slim pickings for the rest of the movies. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World continues to stick to the top 5 after three weekends, bringing in another $14.6 million to boost its domestic total to $119. Despite not achieving such a huge success in a short amount of time, the film is proving to have strong legs to keep the animated family going audience captivated as it stays steadfast in March. Also doing well in its second weekend is the comedy Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral, making another $12 million to push its domestic gross to $45 million, marking another successful Tyler Perry production.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

There weren’t too many surprises in terms of drops this weekend. Some films even stayed in their placement as with Green Book in its post-Oscar victory lap. One minor surprise is the expansion of Apollo 11, the NASA documentary that expanded to a few more theaters to place it at #10 for the weekend with a domestic total now sitting at $3.7 million.

Check out the full top box office results for the weekend below.

Captain Marvel ($153,000,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($14,696,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($12,050,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($3,825,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($3,200,000)

Green Book ($2,488,000)

Isn’t It Romantic ($2,410,000)

Fighting With My Family ($2,188,868)

Greta ($2,161,000)

Apollo 11 ($1,301,000)

Next weekend will most likely be another victory lap for Captain Marvel so the premieres will be limited. New movies will include the drama Five Feet Apart in 2,600 theaters, the sci-fi action picture Captive State in 2,200 theaters, and the animated family comedy Wonder Park in 3,500.


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