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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


Box Office

Incredibles 2 Blast Box Office Records of Animated Film

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It may have been 14 years since the first Incredibles movie, but its impression has remained. The appeal was strong enough to make its sequel not only the #1 movie of the weekend but one of the most profitable animated film on its debut. For its premiere weekend, Incredibles 2 ranked in an astounding $180 million. This makes it one of Pixar’s best openings, easily dwarfing the previous film’s opening take of $70 million. With a considerable lack of family films in the next few weeks, expect Incredibles 2 to linger for quite some time for boasting such a powerful opening.

The rest of the debut films were left in the dust. Tag, an ensemble comedy based on a never-ending game of tag, only made $14 million, coming in at #3. The modern remake of blaxploitation classic Superfly premiered to a low $6 million debut. And falling outside the top 10 at #12 is Gotti, the based on true events drama starring John Travolta that made headlines for ridiculously low critic scores.

The drops for the weekend were somewhat predictable, with the superhero epic Avengers: Infinity War descending the least with a 26% drop. It’s also sitting at a total domestic gross of $664 million, edging closer to toppling Black Panther’s immense numbers of $699 million. It’s going to come down to the last few days in theaters to see if Black Panther will finally reach $700 million, considering its home video release and quickly-descending theater count. And, unfortunately, Hotel Artemis is pretty much a dud, descending 70% to place it well out of the top 10.

View the full top 10 below:

Incredibles 2 ($180,000,000)
Ocean’s 8 ($19,555,000)
Tag ($14,600,000)
Solo: A Star Wars Story ($9,081,000)
Deadpool 2 ($8,800,000)
Hereditary ($7,026,000)
Superfly ($6,300,000)
Avengers: Infinity War ($5,296,000)
Adrift ($2,100,000)
Book Club ($1,850,000)

Next weekend will find superheroes battling dinosaurs as Incredibles 2 weathers the storm of the upcoming summer blockbuster, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The sequel to Jurassic World, starring Chris Pratt and Jeff Goldblum, will be premiering in the same amount of theaters as Incredibles 2. And considering how insanely profitable Jurassic World ended up being, it’ll be interesting to see who takes the weekend and by how much.


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Jurassic World Roars Back Into The Box Office, Incredibles Weathers Storm

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2015’s Jurassic World proved to be the most successful summer blockbuster of that year, and it’s no surprise that Universal has returned to this franchise so quickly. It’s also no surprise that the sequel would be #1 for the weekend, even if it didn’t topple the massive box office of the previous film. For its debut, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom pulled in $150 million, just $50 million short of the opening of its predecessor. That being said, the early international release of the film has already made it a heavy contender for the year’s biggest money-maker of a tentpole property.

The lower box office may be due to the competition from Pixar’s most successful film to date, Incredibles 2. After a huge weekend of making $180 million, the superhero sequel made another $80 million, boosting its domestic total to $350 million. Considering how well the film has done weathering the storm of a summer giant like Jurassic World, expect the film to stick around long into July.

Ocean’s 8, the all-female remake of the iconic heist movies, is fairing pretty well amid the blockbusters with only a 38% drop. In its third weekend, the crime comedy brought in another $11 million, bringing its domestic total to $100 million, easily clearing its $70 million budget. Also clearing its budget this weekend is the comedy Tag, based on the familiar schoolyard game, making $8 million for a domestic total of $30 million to best its budget of $28 million.

A few summer tentpoles finally crossed some milestones of domestic totals over the weekend. The superhero satire Deadpool 2 crossed over $300 million and Solo: A Star Wars Story cleared $200 million. And some smaller films are holding their own as well. Hereditary, the little horror movie that could, remained in the #7 spot to earn another $3.8 million for a total of $35 million. Rising up into the top 10 is Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary on TV educator Fred Rogers, making $1.8 million as it expands.

View the full top 10 below.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($150,001,000)
Incredibles 2 ($80,928,000)
Ocean’s 8 ($11,650,000)
Tag ($8,200,000)
Deadpool 2 ($5,250,000)
Solo: A Star Wars Story ($4,045,000)
Hereditary ($3,809,000)
Superfly ($3,350,000)
Avengers: Infinity War ($2,482,000)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? ($1,875,000)

Next weekend will most likely be another stellar run for Jurassic World and Incredibles 2 to pull in more money as they go up against the cartel action picture Sicario: Day of the Soldado and the Shaq-starring comedy Uncle Drew. Both will be appearing in less than 3,000 theaters so don’t expect them to make much of a dent in the already ironclad box office of dinosaurs and superheroes.


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Ant-Man and the Wasp Towers Over Box Office, Purge Plunders

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4th of July weekend brought with it two new movies that performed rather well over the holiday, despite not being a massive blockbuster. It’s no shock that the big winner was Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp, the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man. The latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe starring Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly as the leads made $76 million domestic. That’s a rather low number considering the gigantic sums amassed by Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, so it’s fair to say the domestic total won’t be crossing the half-billion mark. That being said, it is still a higher gross than the previous Ant-Man, which only brought in $57 million on its debut weekend. Coming in lower on the list, but still making a handsome profit, is The First Purge, the prequel to the Purge series of horror movies. With a head-start debuting on July 4th before Ant-Man, the R-rated film debuted at #4, bringing in a total of $31 million ($17 million weekend only), easily toppling its $13 million budget.

At the #2 spot is Incredibles 2, Pixar’s long-awaited sequel to 2004’s The Incredibles, and the wait has paid off greatly. Dropping only 37% in its fourth weekend, the animated film made $29 million with its current domestic total sitting at $504 million. This is ridiculously high for an animated film to amass such an amount in just a few weekends. And given its low drop and high spot in the box office, you can expect this movie to hang around for most of the summer.

Not to be outdone by Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is still here, despite a huge drop from last weekend. In its third weekend, the Chris Pratt starring film has taken in $28.5 million. But it certainly hasn’t been a bust at all. Worldwide, the film has already passed $1 billion and its domestic total is sitting at a tough $333 million. This much was expected as a sequel to one of the most profitable films during the summer of 2015.

Taking the biggest dip on the list is Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the sequel to 2015’s sleeper hit of a cartel action picture. In only its second weekend, the film has dipped 61%, making only $7.3 million with its domestic total at only $35 million. While the movie has made its budget back, don’t expect it to remain in the top 10 for very long. A pleasant surprise of a climb in gross comes from Mr. Roger’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? In its fifth weekend, the movie has made $2.5 million, moving up from the #10 spot to #9. Having grossed a total of $12 million, that’s an impressive take for being in less than 1,000 theaters.

See the full top 10 below:

Ant-Man and The Wasp ($76,030,000)
Incredibles 2 ($29,021,000)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($28,585,000)
The First Purge ($17,150,000)
Sicario: Day of the Soldado ($7,300,000)
Uncle Drew ($6,625,000)
Ocean’s 8 ($5,285,000)
Tag ($3,105,000)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? ($2,590,000)
Deadpool 2 ($1,675,000)

Next weekend will find The Rock battling monsters for the top spot. The Dwayne Johnson-starring action picture Skyscraper will be duking it out with the Adam Sandler voiced animated comedy Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Both will be appearing in a large number of theaters so it’s anyone’s game, depending on how well Ant-Man can do in its second weekend.


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