“Here at Capitol Pictures, as you know, an army of technicians, actors, and top notch artistic people are working hard to bring to the screen the story of the Christ. It’s a swell story.”
Even when the humour is broad, the sensibilities of Coen brothers movies tend to appeal to a niche audience. Hail, Caesar! is predominantly an excuse for the brothers to use 1950s Hollywood as a playground, producing their own homages to the era’s musicals, Westerns and epics, evoking humour less through parody than authenticity. With their frequent cinematographer Roger Deakins, creating Hail, Caesar! must have been a rewarding exploration of bygone filmmaking technique, and the film is most enjoyable when viewed as a series of loosely connected vignettes, like Channing Tatum tap dancing through a Gene Kelly number or George Clooney channeling Charlton Heston. There is little weight to the story woven through them, as studio head Eddie Mannix fixes problems that vary from the realistic (an studio star pregnant out of wedlock) to the absurd (an actor kidnapped by Communist writers), all while deciding whether he even wants to stay in the industry. Hail, Caesar! may not be particularly memorable but for those with at least a passing familiarity with 1950s cinema, there is much to appreciate, particularly if you also enjoy the Coens’ verbose and offbeat humour and their stellar ensemble casts they attract.
Beckett’s order may as well have been Disney’s diktat. No one was asking for a Han Solo origin story and, with the beloved character already so well fleshed out by the original trilogy, it is hard to see this as much more than a cash grab. When directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were ousted from the project, it seemed the writing was on the wall. Ron Howard stepped in and opted to reshoot three quarters of the film, the requisite for a solo credit. Although the result is actually better than I had feared — with a competently told and occasionally rousing heist tale — like JJ Abrams, Howard plays entirely safe within Star Wars universe. Solo moves at pace so that, as with Rogue One, little time is spent fleshing out the characters, and the only performances that stand out are Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and Donald Glover’s young Lando (an origin story that would have been far more appealing). The film’s strongest element may be John Powell’s score, which plays liberally with a theme by John Williams. Ultimately Solo‘s bland result is another strong argument for seeking out new stories to tell in this expansive universe rather than rehashing the past ad infinitum.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.