Here’s what I feel about Coen Brothers movies: They have the widest range of quality of any filmmakers I’ve ever seen.
When their movies are good, they’re great, tremendous, classics: I’m talking about “Fargo,” and “No Country for Old Men,” and “True Grit,” and of course “The Big Lebowski.”
But when their movies are bad… man, they are more putrid than my son’s diaper Genie. I cannot tell you how much I hated “A Serious Man,” and “Intolerable Cruelty,” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” I walked out of those flicks wondering “how could the same people who gave us “Fargo” also do this?”
With all that in my head, I went to see “Hail Caesar” on Tuesday, their newest flick. It has an all-star cast, with George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, and Scarlett Johannson.
I had high hopes. The trailer looked fabulous.
And … it was awful. Really, really bad.
The plot, such as it was, was barely fleshed out. The acting was meh. Even the production numbers were so-so.
The basic “story” was this: It’s 1950s Hollywood, and Eddie Mannix (Brolin) runs Capitol Pictures, a big movie studio. During filming of a big picture, his star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is kidnapped by some Communists, who then spend a long time convincing Whitlock their philosophies about the world are correct. There are a few other subplots, featuring a dumb-as-rocks country boy actor being forced to be a dramatic leading man, and Mannix having a career crisis, but mostly it’s Clooney in a room with Communists.
I nearly fell asleep during the movie, and I never do that. There were maybe three laughs the whole film, and it wasn’t dramatic enough to be a drama.
So disappointing. Joel and Ethan Coen are like Dave Kingman now, either they hit a massive home run or strike out feebly.
Sadly, this was a big strikeout.
**Next up today, I experienced my annual shame and confusion viewing of the Grammy Awards Monday night, the one night where I try to catch up on all the “current” music that I’ve ignored for the past year, so I can sound partly intelligent should I ever get into a music discussion.
And while, of course, my favorite performance of the night was Jackson Browne jamming with the remaining members of The Eagles (Jackson Browne is phenomenal, always), I thought these two songs brought the house down.
First, Kendrick Lamar, who I first took notice of at the Grammys two years ago, was blazing during his set (above):
Then, the cast of the Broadway sensation “Hamilton” performed the opening scene of their show live. Getting tickets to this show is only slightly more difficult than a Super Bowl ticket; somehow, someway, I gotta get myself to see this.
**Finally today, this was a very cool “behind the scenes” story I really enjoyed. For the past seven years, Brian Mosteller has been the closest person to President Barack Obama, literally being with him for almost every meeting, speech and plane ride. He’s part body man, part “fixer,” and he basically just makes the President’s life easier (think Gary on “Veep” but nowhere near as nutty).
The Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz wrote a terrific profile on the anonymous Mosteller. Here’s a quick excerpt; I highly recommend reading the whole story:
Mosteller’s official title is director of Oval Office operations, although a more apt name might be anticipator in chief. When Obama is in Washington, every move the president makes, every person he meets and every meeting he attends has been carefully orchestrated by Mosteller.
He knows where Obama likes his water glass placed on the table at meetings and whom he’d want to sit beside. He knows how he prefers the height of a lectern. He researches a head of state’s favorite drink so that the president can offer it. He readies Obama’s remarks and sets them, open to the first page, wherever the president will be speaking. He tells Obama when a sock is bunched at his ankle or his shirt is wrinkled, before an interview…
Mosteller “knows the president very well. He pays attention to everything,” said Valerie Jarrett, the president’s longtime senior adviser. “The president knows how much Brian cares about him and that it isn’t ‘I care about you from afar,’ it’s ‘I’m going to ensure the nitty-gritty details of your life from large to small are attended to.’ The president trusts him completely.”