Hail, Caesar! (Coen Bros, 2016)

What's it about? Set in 50s Hollywood, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a studio 'fixer', helping things run smoothly by managing various studio problems, such as unplanned pregnancies, disgruntled directors, Commie sympathizers and, most pressingly, the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), star of the big-budget swords-and-sandals epic 'Hail, Caesar!'.

Is it any good? That depends. If you know a bit about 50s Hollywood and the various inspirations for the characters and plot, you'll appreciate it as truly a film well made, one which is slyly celebrating or perhaps ridiculing Hollywood (or both). There are handsomely staged homages to scenes from films such as Quo Vadis, Anchors Aweigh and Million Dollar Mermaid among others, with the likes of Scarlett Johnasson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton playing thinly-veiled caricatures of real life people like Esther Williams and Gene Kelly. On the other hand, if you don't carry that background knowledge, this isn't likely to hold the attention, being little more than a loosely connected series of sketches, few of which are particularly funny or dramatic. Why bother recreating scenes from those films if there's no point? Why not just watch the originals? Thus, it's another typical love-it-or-hate-it offering from the Coens. Personally, I didn't feel like paying tribute.

Anything else I should know? Well presumably you'll want to find out a bit more about those real life inspirations which are frankly far more entertaining than the film. Eddie Mannix was indeed a real studio fixer for MGM and his remarkable antics, which range from blackmail to arranging marriages to covering up murder, are recorded in the book The Fixers by EJ Fleming, although some have questioned the veracity of the book's 'facts'. For instance, the light-hearted treatment of one character's pregnancy and staged adoption has a darker background, seemingly based on starlet Loretta Young who fell pregnant following a alleged date-rape by Clark Gable. For more scurrilous stuff like that, websites here and here give a good breakdown of the fact-vs-fiction.

What does the Fonz think? Ho-hum, Caesar.

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