Posts Tagged ‘Josh Brolin’

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.50.06Kicking off the 2016 edition of Glasgow Film Festival last night was The Coen Brother’s new romp Hail, Caesar! their ode to the Studio System era of 50s Hollywood. As to be expected with the Coens, they deal with their subject with an equal amount of love and cynicism, looking at the “Golden Era” of their craft with a healthy dose of post-modern irony.

As is now customary with the Coens, the brothers direct a star-studded ensemble cast in their lighthearted love-letter to a bygone era, excellently re-creating the studio lots of Capitol Pictures. Binding the multiple simultaneous projects together is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the studio’s fixer who solves the various problems of the studio’s cast and crew, as well as batting away questions from scoop-hungry twin sister journalists, both played by Tilda Swinton.

Nearing the climax of the studio’s production of their “premier picture Hail, Caesar!” however, central star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears on an assumed “1 or 2-day bender”; though the party line is that he has a “high-ankle sprain”. In actual fact, Whitlock has been kidnapped, in a scheme actualised by a couple of extras on the set of the film, and taken to a strange place where nothing is quite as it seems.

Although they set the film up a potential road-caper, The Coens don’t, in fact, focus merely on Whitlock’s disappearance, but also the studio’s “the show must go on” attitude, in spite of adversity due to a tight schedule and budget. While Mannix is aware of the problem and its severe nature, it doesn’t suddenly jump to the top of his priorities list in his daily roles, as he must keep various other stars and directors happy with their own problems, while also considering a highly lucrative and much more comfortable job offer of his own.

This is when the film is at its best, showing the rather manic Studio System as it churns out its latest epic, western, drama and musical, all the while needing a cool pair of hands at the centre of it all (Mannix) who – while clearly respected within the studio – has no elevated status, which is reserved for the “key talent”. While Mannix doesn’t seem to mind this, he does battle his own personal demons and Catholic guilt, with a secret smoking habit and a tempting job offer. Despite this he is a seemingly decent man who genuinely loves and respects his family.

Brolin plays the, on the face of it, controlled Mannix with aplomb, and is excellent as lynchpin for the entire picture. While Clooney and other star cameo turns (Johannsson, Tatum, McDormand, Swinton) are all highly enjoyable, the film simply wouldn’t have a leg to stand on without Brolin.

The trouble is that the film as a whole fails to really capitalise on the wealth of talent on offer. While it is highly entertaining, there is nothing here that really sticks with you for much longer than the screen-time. There is plenty of humour and enjoyment to be found in the Coen’s faithful recreating of 1950s Hollywood, including an exaggerated nod to the blacklist and “Communist threat” of the era – playing at times like a twisted version of the recent biopic Trumbo – yet the film doesn’t dig much further than that.

While this isn’t necessarily a problem given the Coens have largely made a career out of films where nothing really happens, or works, it equally is that expectation which befalls Hail, Caesar!. Any fans of the brothers’ work can find various re-treadings of ideas they’ve done before and much more successfully.

For instance, the setting and ideas on display here are also in the masterful Barton Fink, the comedic road movie caper in The Big Lebowski, the kidnapping trope in Fargo, the theological considerations of A Serious Man. These films explored their central ideas very successfully and while Hail, Caesar! is clearly more light-hearted fare, one can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before and in more entertaining circumstances.

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When Sin City was released way back in 2005 its mode of address was so striking – retro, aesthetically unique, violent – it got instant attention. Even with the same assets on show, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For barely garnered the same sort of notice. Even with the star-studded cast (adding Eva Green, Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Bruce Willis stock) and a bigger budget, there is little there to make the sequel/prequel any more fanciful.

The stand out aspect is the titular Dame, played with corrosive charm by Eva Green. Gorgeous and commanding, Green takes control over her chapter in the film, shadowing the rest of the cast, giving Josh Brolin only a slight chance to shine. Physicality in Sin City is continually fascinating (from Mickey Rourke’s square-shaped Marv, to the fluid dancing of Jessica Alba) with Green’s voluptuous body on show, making every rough-edged man weak from the sight of her. The noir element to Sin City is best on show with Green’s femme fatale story (the eponymous Dame to Kill For part of this film), so heavily harking back to the likes of Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck.

The issue with Sin City for film fans opposed to movie fans is the narrative only lends itself to violence, not story. Most action and reaction is based around someone getting their face smashed in (and this happens mind-numbingly often). The first film worked more effectively because the graphic nature was fast and spread out across the plot. Moments of shock would come in the first outing, somewhat levelled in the aesthetic; here it is all shameless. Remember that lingering notion of attack in Elijah Wood’s Kevin segment in number one? Well, Dame to Kill For relies on Powers Boothe for that and the terror is never felt. Nearly every chapter is a quest for blood – a boring basis for entertainment. There is only so much you want to focus your attention on, and as a moth to Rodriguez and Millar’s cool-looking flame, you are soon blinded by it all.

The fact that Robert Rodriguez directs, composes and edits the film earns him a lot of kudos. Respect must be given, first and foremost however, to his cinematography. The reason Sin City worked, and A Dame to Kill For was made, can be attributed to the way it looks. There are very few films using the same style as brandished here, and Rodriguez is a talented fellow for bringing the graphic novel to such life.

If you are a fan of the first and want to see more, this will certainly please. Those merely interested in seeing the progression of the story and style will also enjoy. Nevertheless, there is no direct call to watch A Dame to Kill For; it is a fan-boy appendage for the most part.

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The scene is post war 1940s, a lush Hollywood noir back drop. Gangster Mob-boss Micky Cohen (Sean Penn) is pushing his own drug and prostitution rackets, moving away from his Chicago peers, and trying to create his own LA Empire. Enter Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), the shining moral compass of this story. Despite being a man of compelling action, O’Mara is aware how ineffective his low level arrests have on this gangster empire.

His superior, Chief Parker (Nick Note), approaches the Sergeant with a proposition: wage an unsanctioned guerrilla war on these gangsters from the shadows. And like that O’Mara begins recruiting his rag tag unofficial police team: a gunslinger, his apprentice, a knife welding beat cop, an ex-military communications expert, and fellow college and charmer Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling). From here the gang conduct tactical raids on Cohen’s organisation.

So far, this all sounds reminiscent of a film we’ve seen a hundred times before, correct? And you know what, it is. It’s a very obvious recipe that the filmmakers are following. The content is like an action film check list, including an unfortunate amount of  ‘Zack-Snyder-slowmo and an idealistically tidy ending. But despite Gangster Squad’s formulaic make-up, it’s still worthwhile because what is done is done well. As long as you are under no illusions about the nature of this beast it’s an enjoyable ride.

The performances are resplendently colourful with Sean Penn painting a merciless picture of vicious cruelty and Ryan Gosling delivering the usual cool charisma. Brolin does what he can with very little to work with and his noir-like narration helps us empathise. The one performance I was particularly surprised by was Emma Stone’s; this modern, sassy, and verbose actress successfully slowing it down for the sexy subtleties of a femme fatale.

The real strength of the film however is the way that it knows its audience. We now seem caught in this ubiquitous plight of 12A compromises, each film appealing to the widest market possible. This film is violent, gory and remorseless about it. In the opening scene we witness a gangster tortured and ripped apart between two cars.  Gangster Squad is unequivocally an adult film for those with a taste for stylized violence.

Gangster Squad isn’t going to win any Oscars, nor is it going to break cinematic bounties. But it’s fun and exciting, like Hollywood used to make, a solid action film for the boys (and girls).  If you want guts, balls and blood Gangster Squad shoots you square in the face.

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