‘Rogue One’ is more Star Wars than half the official series

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is not only another Star Wars movie, but it was a crucial part of the story that fills in some of the gaps between the prequel trilogy from 10 years ago and the originals from 30 years ago.

Although it is not an official installment of the main saga, this film does something many parts of the prequel trilogy couldn’t: feel like a real Star Wars movie. There is a lot to like about all the movies in this series, but I never felt like the good guys couldn’t win. Even in suspenseful, life-or-death situations, I never thought the good guys could die.

But here, even though I know what’s going to happen, I actually felt like the characters were in real danger, that something awful was going to happen or that the Rebels were not going to defeat the Galactic Empire.

For that, more than anything, I cannot wait to watch this installment again and again. It has something I haven’t felt about a Star Wars movie since the original trilogy 30 years ago.

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It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a secret base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet

Taking place in the weeks leading up to the events of “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope,” a group of unlikely heroes from varied backgrounds band together on a secret mission to infiltrate the Empire’s information headquarters and leak the Death Star plans and a hidden trap laid inside that the Rebels can use to destroy it before it’s too late.

Even though it’s a story we already know how it ends and isn’t that big in comparison to the main Star Wars saga, it is the story that really drove this movie. But it isn’t all great.

The first act is slow. So many brand new characters and locations are introduced in the first 45 minutes, but none of them are particularly interesting or worth making a personal connection to. There’s a lot more spewing exposition than naturally learning about the characters, but that’s actually okay once the second and third acts are in full swing.

Now, when I say the characters I can’t connect to, I really mean the two leads. They are easily the weakest links. Although the stars, Felicity Jones and Diego Luna, give good performances, the script doesn’t give them enough to let them stretch their acting chops, but that’s because there are so many others.

Luna’s C-3PO-esque droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) steals the entire show. He’s snarky throughout the movie, but he’s just so loveable. He’s the jerk who’s still hilarious and an awesome part of the team. He has some of the best lines in any Star Wars movie.

The villain is also a delight. Ben Mendelsohn has been a hardworking actor for decades and he finally gets to shine as the Empire officer Orson Krennic. This guy cannot catch a break. At every turn, his plans are foiled, but Mendelsohn plays him so joyfully hateful that I can’t help but love it every time he’s on screen. But again, we don’t really know much about the character.

More than anything, this film ties together the prequels and originals nicely to where all the films feel like one big series instead of two separate trilogies. The references to previous movies are small, but still, make sense and improve the saga as a whole.

In the original trilogy, the Rebels were made out to be too squeaky clean made up entirely of good guys with the Empire made up entirely of bad guys. But here, we finally get to see Rebels play dirty and do some morally compromising things. Rebellions ain’t big and they ain’t cheap, so the ones who are there need to do anything — both good and bad — to stop the Empire.

The CGI is practically flawless, especially in the battle scenes. This is the most “war movie” installment we’ve had of Star Wars, ironically enough, but everything about it looks and feels real. All the spaceships, battle vehicles, laser blasts, all of it looks real.

For any Star Wars fan, this is an essential. Everything about it fits right in with the already established universe. It’s darker and grittier but feels exactly like the rest of the story from long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

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Golden Age romance meets spy thriller in ‘Allied’

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“Boy, they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to!” is a saying people really haven’t had many chances to say lately. In the past year alone, I’ve seen several great films that were made exactly how they used to in Golden Age Hollywood.
Whether they were dramas or comedies, dead-serious or tongue-in-cheek, all these movies looked and felt exactly like they were made on sound stages and studio backlots — one of which actually was.
Too many movies today are sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots, and many of them are CGI extravaganzas. A lot of others are modern book or play adaptations or inspired by true events, and many of those don’t age well. With the 21st century’s style already getting old, something old suddenly feels refreshing and new.
“Allied” is one of them.
It’s 1942 in Nazi-occupied Casablanca, and Max Vatan (played by Brad Pitt), a French-Canadian intelligence officer, meets French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (played Marion Cotillard) on a deadly mission behind enemy lines.
As they work on a weeks-long mission to kill a German official, Max and Marianne must play a married couple and they quickly fall in love in the process. Afterward, Max convinces Marianne to come with him to London. Fifteen months later, the happy couple is actually married and have a child together.
However, their relationship is threatened by the pressures of war when Max is told that Marianne may be a double-agent Nazi spy. He’s given 72 hours to find out the truth, and if the suspicions are true, he’s ordered to execute her himself or be hanged for treason.
For director Robert Zemeckis, two things are consistently true: his films are always technical masterworks — both on-set production wise and post-production wise — and his best films are period pieces. “Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” the list goes on and on. As a World War II romantic drama and spy thriller, all the pieces are there for Zemeckis to make “Allied” a great movie.
And it’s really good. Nothing necessarily writing home about, but really good. Although Zemeckis doesn’t do anything brand new and innovative like in his previously mentioned films, everything is so well done in a classic sense, it’s hard to dislike it.
The spy thriller aspect was the main selling point and the center of all the marketing. Is she a German spy? Is he going to find out in time? But that part doesn’t come up until more than an hour in, and it’s still not the complete focus. More than anything, this is a story of two people and their journey of falling in love from working together to getting out of the military to trying to escape the military life altogether. The spy thriller aspect is more of a tool for the love story.
Now, with that said, because you’re promised a thriller and got a romance, the pacing will seem extremely slow, and it is, but that’s a good thing. Falling in love and getting married doesn’t take two hours, so putting as much of the story into long, steady takes with slow camera movements and a lot of down time plays up that their falling for each other takes time.
When the spy thriller aspect does finally begin, the slow pacing continues, but now it’s a steady build with the tension never getting too high too quickly nor backing down. The 72 hours between Max learning his wife might be a spy and the finale feel like the most uncomfortable three days of nonstop worry and concern.
Everything about the look and feel is classic Hollywood. One of the best things about it is looking like it was actually shot on a set, in a back lot or on a soundstage. All the costumes and music are also vintage and familiar to that time. It’s no coincidence that the film starts in 1942 Casablanca, the same year the classic movie was released in theaters.
In fact, the only aspect I was let down by were the actors themselves. I know Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are great actors. They give amazing performances all the time. But here, they feel almost phoned in. Maybe they were supposed to match the pacing and mood, but most of the time I thought they looked bored.
The performances are not the sole focus of the movie, though, and the rest is all so good that a traditionally made production like this shouldn’t go unwatched. I don’t know how much replay value it has, but seeing it one time in theaters is a great experience. And, at the very least, it is an original story.

‘Moana’ uses familiar Disney tropes to generate great entertainment

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There’s a reason Disney has been around for nearly 100 years and continues to make great films: they have a formula that consistently works.
Whenever there’s been a rough patch in Disney’s quality, they alter the formula in small ways to fix the problems but tend to keep the overall formula the same. It happened in the 1950s, it happened in the ‘90s and it happened again about five years ago. And yet, we still instantly recognize the formula.
In several of Disney’s latest movies, especially “Frozen” and “Zootopia,” they even reference how predictable and outdated the Classic Disney Formula has become. But in “Moana,” we have a story about a princess (who’s not really a princess) going out on an adventure to find where she belongs.
However, regardless of how predictable that formula and those tropes are, Disney uses them because they work. “Moana” is great. Not only because it uses that formula well, but because there are enough new ingredients added to make it required viewing for the whole family.
Pacific-islands princess Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho in her first role), the daughter of a Polynesian tribal chief, is chosen to restore an ancient artifact to its rightful place in order to save her people.
But first, Moana must find and team up with the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) to locate the legendary island where the artifact came from. Together, the pair explores fantastical islands and encounter incredible sea creatures on an adventure as big as the Pacific itself.
Along the way, Moana and Maui discover there’s a lot more to being a princess and a hero than they originally thought, learning from their histories to make a better future for themselves and Moana’s people.
There is a lot to like here. It’s a great film for the whole family, which means it’s not just a kids film. Many scenes adults will enjoy just as much as the children, if not more. There’s nothing inappropriate or scandalizing or anything like that.
In fact, I’d say it almost plays it too safe. Although nothing is technically bad, there are no risks taken it to push the limits beyond that checklist Disney has for all its animated movies.
Now, with that said, there is a lot of truly great elements here. The animation, of course, is amazing. Every year, Disney tops itself on certain elements and this movie had phenomenal water animation. It’s the most realistic CGI water I’ve seen, and it plays a big part in the story.
Also, Moana is great. For her first ever acting role, Cravalho knocks it out of the park as Moana. For a 16-year-old girl, Moana has a lot of character moments that are mature and emotional, and this actress handled them like an old pro. Her singing voice is also quite beautiful, especially for a first-timer. I think we’re going to see a lot more from Cravalho in the near-future.
Speaking of the music, it’s amazing. We’ve not had a score with a Pacific Islands sound in Disney before, but the composers delivered a solid score with some really heartfelt and catchy songs. What do you expect from Tony- and Grammy-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda? I don’t know if this will quite hit “Frozen” levels, but it could be close.
The rest of the characters are…good. The Rock, as the only real celebrity in the film, does a good job as Maui. He’s that classic know-it-all, kind-of-a-jerk hero with a heart of gold. And the Rock is always awesome, so he gets a pass.
But no one else really stands out. Moana’s parents are typical Disney parents, her animal sidekick doesn’t contribute anything, the enemies they come across are uniquely designed but not very memorable and the basic story is something we’ve all seen before. But because Disney is so good at what it does, the film is still great.
The absence of a romance was a welcome change from typical Disney. There really isn’t a romance anywhere in here. Similar to other recent princesses (Anna in “Frozen,” Merida in “Brave”), Moana doesn’t need to get married to the charming prince by the end of the movie. Her concerns are with her family and her people, not in having a husband and kids.
Although it’s not Disney’s best work, “Moana” is still a great fantasy and family film.

Everything about it is likable, even if it is familiar. There’s just enough different to make it interesting and just enough of the same to know you’re getting a great product.

‘Jason Bourne’ fuels mindless summertime action

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To no fault of his own, director Paul Greengrass has made a perfectly acceptable summer action movie. And Matt Damon does a perfectly acceptable job starring as the film’s hero. And the thrilling action scenes themselves are all perfectly acceptably composed and executed, providing both thrills and awes as cars and guns go “boom!” and innocent extras scream as Damon saves the day.

The only problem is we’ve seen it all before – twice under Greengrass’s direction.

The first film in the series, “The Bourne Identity” is a great character piece and a good mystery. Its sequels, “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” are two of the best action films of the 21st century so far, primarily because of Greengrass.

Now, with the fifth Bourne film — Damon’s fourth and Greengrass’s third — the shtick, as good as it is, is familiar and predictable. Luckily, the performances by all the leads are great, but a meandering uninspired story makes this installment a mixed bag of meh.

It’s been 10 years since rogue operative Jason Bourne (played by Damon) walked away from the agency that made him a deadly weapon. Now, Bourne is once again being hunted by the CIA.

Hoping to draw him out of the shadows, CIA director Robert Dewey (played by Tommy Lee Jones) assigns hacker and counter-insurgency expert Heather Lee (played by Alicia Vikander) to find Bourne. Lee suspects that another former operative who once worked with Bourne, Nicky Parsons (played by Julia Stiles), is also looking for him.

As Lee begins tracking the duo, Bourne finds himself back in action battling a sinister network that utilizes terror and technology to maintain unchecked power.

Because there was a lot of mystery behind what this movie is about, I don’t want to give much more away than what was in the trailers and different ad campaigns. But I can tell you, without a doubt, this story is completely pointless. Many of us wanted another Bourne movie starring Damon and directed by Greengrass, but they deserved a way better script to work with.

Not only is it pointless and boring, but I don’t care about anything that happens when Damon isn’t on screen or if Jones and Vikander aren’t on screen with him. When there is an extended action scene of Bourne knocking down the bad guys, it’s so fun, but then we have to cut to this social media company fluff and it grinds the movie to a stop.

Most of the acting is great, however. Even the people I don’t care about do the best they can with that they’re given. Damon is always great as Bourne, constantly giving off an edginess to him. The character doesn’t trust anyone and is always the smartest and fastest guy in the room, and Damon carries that off beautifully.

Tommy Lee Jones has been playing the same character for 20 years and he’s great every time. “Old guy in a dark suit,” the “authority figure,” the “government man in charge,” and every one of them is perfect. He always looks like he’s in control, but there is just a hint of worry in his eyes as if he knows a secret that we don’t. Jones plays the same type of character that Chris Cooper and Brian Cox played in previous installments and it makes him the perfect antagonist for Bourne.

The other characters are all pretty passable, too, except for one notable exception: French actor Vincent Cassel as the government assassin known only as “Assest.” Now, every Bourne movie has the other assassin for the U.S. trying to take out Bourne, but Cassel is especially memorable. I don’t know if it’s because of how they try to tie him into the bigger story, but he was scary, threatening and good at his job.

In the beginning, I said this movie is perfectly acceptable, and it is…as far as summer action movies go. I hate rating movies in a structured way, but if I had to, this would get a solid B- grade or 3 out of 5 stars. It is a good film, but it’s the worst of Damon’s four and Greengrass’s three in the series.

There is stuff in here that is worth seeing. All the action scenes are great, especially the finale which, without giving too much away, involves wrecking a casino. The characters are all fine and what little story there is outside the social media crap that makes you want to puke does develop Bourne and his arc throughout his four movies.

Bourne does what he does, things go boom and bad guys go bye-bye and we’re all glad he lives to fight another day in the end. There is a lot of “reliable, but the same” throughout, and that’s not bad. Is it worth full price for a Friday night date? Probably not. Still, there is a lot worse out there than Matt Damon still being awesome at 45.

It’s no secret that ‘Secret Life of Pets’ is fun for the whole family

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Before I even get started with my thoughts, I have to get one of the biggest “issues” this movie has that out of the way. Yes, the basic story is very similar to a little Disney/Pixar movie called “Toy Story” and its sequel. When I get into the plot in a few paragraphs, you’ll see why.

But let me assure you that there is way more to “The Secret Life of Pets” than a few shared plot points and a couple similar scenes with “Toy Story.” The jokes, for the most part, are cleverly executed, not only perfectly showing how pets are from our point of view but showing how humans are to their points of view. And because it’s through the pet’s eyes, the audience gets a good look in the mirror.

Although most could figure out the plot from the trailers, the final act does take a couple twists and turns that I couldn’t see coming and they were all for the best. It’s not really an original idea for a kid’s movie, but it’s got a good message, exciting and beautiful animation and some good laughs. What more do you want for summer entertainment?

Max, a spoiled terrier, is living the dream life in his owner’s apartment in Manhattan waiting for her to come home so they can play, go for walks, eat and do the things dogs love to do. The rest of his time is spent hanging out with his other pet friends who live in the building.

One day, Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is shocked to see his owner brought home a giant and unruly mutt named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) from the pound. Enemies from the start, Max tries to find a way to get rid of Duke, but through a series of mishaps, while their owner is gone, Max and Duke get lost and need to find their way home.

A rebellious bunny named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart) swoops in and demands Max and Duke join his gang of abandoned pets on a revenge mission against humans. Meanwhile, Max’s friends, including a couple dogs, a cat, a canary and a guinea pig, take off on their own adventure around the city looking for the lost duo.

Throughout the movie, there’s a mixed bag of things for people to either love or think is just okay. But because the movie is so fast paced with its action scenes, if one joke falls flat then the next one will probably make you laugh. Some jokes work better for kids, others only adults will get. Some are clever puns, others are 1930s slapstick. Whatever your preference or the demographic you’re in, there will be a joke for you.

A lot of the voice cast does a great job. Louis C.K. is perfect as Max. He’s got that loving and empathetic tone that makes you want to pick him up and squeeze him forever, but it’s also kind of depressing if it goes too far. But here it’s just right.

The best part of the movie, as with every movie he’s in, is Kevin Hart as the bunny. Hart plays almost the exact same character in everything, but that’s okay because we like his shtick. The bunny is certifiably insane, and there is so much craziness, over-the-top freak-outs, and raw unfiltered energy coming out of this small package it’s no wonder Hart was perfectly cast.

Other than the main leads, it’s difficult to remember all the other pets because there are at least 25 we see three or four times, but none of them is fleshed out enough to make them memorable. I remember the little bulldog that thinks squirrels are going to take over the world, but nothing else about him sticks out. The one standout for me was Albert Brooks as this falcon the little Pomeranian girl dog befriends and that is pretty cute.

It’s difficult to say who will like this movie better because there is good stuff for adults and kids that the other won’t necessarily enjoy. The fluffy animals doing crazy things with all the slapstick action will keep the kids entertained, but watching it four times within the first hour does get a little boring for the adults.

On the other hand, all the human things the pets do and all the funny societal things that are the commentary on people and how they act is entertaining for adults, but the kids probably won’t get very much of it.

In the end, you get a perfectly fun and serviceable movie for kids and adults that will keep you entertained 75 percent of the time but bore you to death the other 25.

New era in Marvel movies starts with ‘Deadpool’

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One of the most beautiful things to come out of the Marvel movie dominance in the 21st century is the variety. Many assumed there would be X-Men and Spider-Man movies, and it wasn’t that surprising to see Iron Man and Captain America up on the big screen either.

But who would have thought a movie co-starring a talking raccoon and a tree would have been the biggest surprise hit of 2014? Now, there have been several total flops—the three Fantastic Four films being the biggest offenders, followed closely by a certain scientist who becomes green when he’s pretty angry—but these are usually few and far between.

Coming soon over the next few years, we’ll get movies about a medical doctor who becomes a magician and the chief of the Panther Tribe of the advanced African nation of Wakanda joining the Avengers. There’s something for everyone in Marvel, and previously so-so characters became some worldwide favorites thanks to the movies.

Now, with the release of the first Marvel movie of 2016, “Deadpool” is changing how popular comic book movies are made, both within it and outside of it.

Sarcastic wise-cracker Wade W. Wilson (played perfectly by Ryan Reynolds) is a former Special Forces operative who works underground as a gun-for-hire. After meeting the woman of his dreams (played by Morena Baccarin), Wade’s world comes crashing down after being diagnosed with cancer.

In hopes of beating the illness with some unorthodox methods, Wade is tricked into becoming a prisoner to evil scientist Ajax (played by Ed Skrein) who tortures, disfigures and transforms him into an immortal, but disgusting, super slave. After escaping his laboratory, the rogue experiment leaves Wade with accelerated healing powers and a twisted sense of humor.

In hopes of finding his torturer, Wade becomes the super anti-hero Deadpool. With help from mutant X-Men allies Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (played by Brianna Hildebrand), Deadpool uses his new skills to scour New York City and hunt down the man who nearly destroyed his life.

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What has made Deadpool one of the most popular Marvel characters among fans is his unrelenting snarky attitude, and it’s presented here in the only way it should be: unforgiving R-rated glory. As the first R-rated feature from Marvel, and one of only a few comic-based movies with that rating, the success it’s achieved already is almost unbelievable, and it’s all thanks to two huge aspects.

There are only a few times in Marvel’s cinematic history that one actor totally defines their character, changing the public’s idea of it forever. It happened with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and again with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man—Ryan Reynolds is the third to do so.

Not only does Reynolds completely negate all the awful that came from that Wolverine origins movie, but he has a blast finally bringing Deadpool to life in the way the character should be portrayed. Even with all the swearing, over-the-top violence and frat-boy sounding innuendos, Reynolds makes Deadpool a surprisingly loveable character. And as great as the performance is, I think a lot of it has to do with the writing.

What sets Deadpool apart from every other Marvel character out there is that he knows he’s a character. As soon as the movie begins, Deadpool starts breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. In true Deadpool fashion, the jokes don’t stop, not even for some of the slower and more emotional scenes, But as fun as it is, the gimmick can get old fast.

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Unfortunately, Reynolds and the writing are only the only good things, and they contribute to the thing that holds the movie back from being a great superhero movie: unoriginality.

The best joke in the movie is the opening credits, because all the people’s names are replaced with genre clichés. Instead of Reynolds, it’s “God’s Perfect Idiot,” and instead of Ed Skrein, it’s “The British Villain.” Even the writers are credited as “The Real Heroes Here,” which is true, except for how lazy the writing is outside Deadpool and his jokes.

Because if you take out the superhero elements, here’s the actual story: Boy loves girl, boy gets sick, boy tries to get help but it backfires. Boy becomes hero to go after bad guy and get revenge. Bad guy kidnaps the hero’s girl. Hero and bad guy face off. Hero wins. They kiss. The end.

Without that fantastical superhero flavor injected, nor that Deadpool humor thrown around more freely than confetti, it’s just another movie that you’ve seen a dozen times, and the opening credits confirm that in the first three minutes.

This is nothing but a fan service movie for real fans. Can regular comic book fans enjoy it? Sure, I liked it a lot. It was a lot of fun and had some great jokes, and it’s always refreshing to see a character roast his own genre of movies. But I also noticed a lot hardcore fans having a lot more fun than I was.

For me, I hope this is just a stepping-stone experiment. If Deadpool is a supporting character in the next X-Men movie—even for just 10 minutes—then this cookie-cutter origin story would have been worth it.

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‘Hail, Caesar!’ is the Coens’ love letter to ‘50s Hollywood

My TV is set to Turner Classic Movies more often than not. Over the years, I’ve seen just about every “classic” movie TCM thinks I should see on a regular basis.

When zillionaire Ted Turner bought Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s film library in the 1980s, the MGM movies became standard features on TCM. This means I’ve come across “Ben-Hur,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and all those movies with Eshter Williams swimming in giant pools dozens of times.

In short, this movie was aimed at someone like me.

But you don’t have to watch and enjoy old movies on a regular basis to have a great time at the Coen Brothers’ recent fantastical period-piece comedy that spoofs the post-war days old Hollywood.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to know a good bit about 1950s Hollywood if you want to get the most out of this look at a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin), a fixer for Capital Pictures.

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Eddie was a real guy who actually spent most of his days busy at work solving all the problems of the actors and filmmakers in Hollywood, notably MGM. In this fictionalized story, his latest assignments involve a disgruntled director (played by Ralph Fiennes) dealing with a singing cowboy’s (played by Alden Ehrenreich) atrocious acting in his high society drama.

On the other side of the movie lot, Eddie deals with a beautiful swimmer (played by Scarlett Johansson) getting in more trouble than her innocent image can afford and a handsome dancer (played by Channing Tatum) who has more than songs and smiles in his demo reel.

And as if all this wasn’t enough, Eddie faces his biggest challenge when the studio’s biggest star, Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney), gets kidnapped while in costume for the Biblical-Roman epic “Hail, Caesar!” If the studio doesn’t pay $100,000 to a mysterious group called “The Future,” it’s the end of the line for Whitlock.

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That’s all in one 27-hour day for Eddie, who, by the way, is a genuinely good man, which is a different direction for the Coens’ usual “heroes.” Eddie wants everyone in the studio to look good and actually be good people.

He loves his family more than anything, which is probably why he goes to Confession on a daily basis—he honestly feels bad for missing his son’s baseball game and about sneaking a couple cigarettes when his wife wants him to quit.

Josh Brolin is great as Eddie Mannix. When the scene is funny, Brolin’s deadpan kills it. When the scene is serious or mysterious, Brolin pulls off that Bogart-esque persona in a strong, but still Coen Brothers, way.

And when his character is going through tough times, you feel Brolin’s sorrows and want Eddie to get everything back in order. He is the glue that holds everything together, which is great because that everything else is literally all over the place.

Calling the movie “Hail, Caesar!” makes sense because that is the main story and movie within the movie that everything else revolves around. But it really could be called “MGM Studios, Hollywood – April 28, 1954” or any date you want because it’s just a day in the life of a movie studio and everything Eddie has to deal with in it.

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The cast of characters Eddie runs into are all charming caricatures of era’s celebrities played brilliantly by great actors. One minute he’s talking to Thora or Thessaly Thacker (rival gossip-columnist twins played by Tilda Swinton), and then he’s off to see the latest shots of a movie edited by C.C. Calhoun (played by Francis McDormand).

Then he’s off to see the big musical dance number with Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum’s character), a Gene Kelly-type actor and one of Eddie’s clients.

As great as everyone is, they’re all only in it for about a total of 10 minutes each, save for Brolin, Clooney—once again as the Coens’ leading numbskull—and Alden Ehrenreich in his first big starring role and stealing several scenes, one of which is by far the funniest in the movie.

The all-star cast is big and goofy with each actor cast in the perfect role for him or her. The stereotypical depiction of old Hollywood—from the clothes and cars to the way everyone in the business talks—is universally hilarious to 21st century audiences. And the Coens’ ways with words are second to none.

But it is strange, and that can be a turnoff. No satire has ever been done like this, so a lot of audience members may not get the clever subtleties within all the strangeness that’s happening on screen. The tone constantly turns on a dime, going from funny to semi-serious to spiritual to somber to downright hilarious again in a matter of 15 minutes.

Being set in the Coens’ weird parallel universe, it all works perfectly in its own weird little way. You really have to be a fan of the Coens’ comedies to get on board with this one all the way. But even if you’re a casual fan of old Hollywood and classic movies, this one doles out non-stop joy from start to finish.

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