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Hail, Caesar! Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Hail, Caesar! (2016) movie poster Hail, Caesar!

Theatrical Release: February 5, 2016 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writers/Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Cast: Josh Brolin (Eddie Mannix), George Clooney (Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes (Laurence Laurentz), Jonah Hill (Joe Silverman), Scarlett Johansson (DeeAnna Moran), Frances McDormand (C.C. Calhoun), Tilda Swinton (Thora Thacker, Thessaly Thacker), Channing Tatum (Burt Gurney), Max Baker (Head Communist Writer), Heather Goldenhersh (Natalie the Secretary), Christopher Lambert (Arne Seslum), Clancy Brown (Gracchus), Ian Blackman (Cuddahy), Fred Melamed (Communist Writer), John Bluthal (Professor Marcuse), Robert Trebor (Producer of Hail, Caesar!), Geoffrey Cantor (Sid Siegelstein), Michael Gambon (Narrator), Veronica Osorio (Carlotta Valdez), Alison Pill (Mrs. Mannix), Fisher Stevens (Communist Writer), Patrick Fischler (Communist Writer), Tom Musgrave (Communist Writer), David Krumholtz (Communist Writer), Greg Baldwin (Communist Writer), Patrick Carroll (Communist Writer), Alex Karpovsky (Mr. Smitrovich), Aramazd Stepanian (Eastern Orthodox Clergyman), Allen Havey (Protestant Clergyman), Robert Pike Daniel (Catholic Clergyman), Robert Picardo (Rabbi), Wayne Knight (Lurking Extra), Jeff Lewis (Lurking Extra), Jack Huston (Cad in Cab), Agyness Deyn (Woman in Cab)

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After a couple of years of working on prestige screenplays for other filmmakers (Angelina Jolie's Unbroken and Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies), Joel and Ethan Coen give us the return of the true Coen Brothers movie in Hail, Caesar!, their first directorial effort since 2013's Inside Llewyn Davis.
The timing seems strange; after becoming something of awards season fixtures, the siblings had their latest open in theaters at the beginning of February, while 2015's Oscar race was still in its final stages and no one had even started to think about 2016's possibilities. It seems doubtful that anyone will remember Hail, Caesar! for major honors a year later, but that doesn't matter because even as one of the Coens' lighter films, this was still the first movie of 2016 worth caring about.

Hail, Caesar! is a love letter to Old Hollywood, a world the Coens previously depicted in Barton Fink but clearly have a lot of knowledge and admiration for, even if it doesn't always show in their output. The film is set in the early 1950s which gives the writers-directors license to recreate a number of American movie staples from the time: the Gene Kelly song-and-dance musical, Westerns, Esther Williams-style synchronized swimming films, and big Cecil B. DeMille religious epics.

Films in these genres and no doubt several others are in production at Capitol Pictures, a studio that runs smoothly on the efforts of an unusual fixer: devoutly Catholic family man Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Mannix takes to his church's confessional booth in the early morning hours to disclose to his priest such sins as sneaking a couple of cigarettes after telling his wife he quit.

Movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is abducted by Communist screenwriters off the set of "Hail, Caesar!"

Our greatest attention is given to the titular film, that DeMille-esque sword and sandal epic starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) as a Roman nobleman who has a change of heart upon encountering Christ. Whitlock's prop drink is poisoned by a couple of extras (one of them played by -- your eyes do not deceive -- Wayne Knight) and he is kidnapped by a group of Communist screenwriters who alert him to the injustices of their industry and win his sympathy while demanding a $100,000 ransom for his safe return.

The star's disappearance right before he is to film his big climactic speech is just one item garnering Mannix's concern. There is also the case of twice-annulled bathing starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), who is in the early stages of a marriageless pregnancy. Mannix reaches out to his trusted allies to arrange for the caustic actress to adopt her own baby. In addition, we see hotshot young Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) go along with the studio's sudden planned image makeover, which sees him ditching horseback stunts and gunplay for fine suits and lavish soundstages. The only problem is Doyle can't act a lick, which upsets his effete new director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) fixes the problems of Capitol Pictures and its stars.

Meanwhile, Channing Tatum, in a bit of casting even more surprising than his recent turn for Tarantino, gets to channel his inner Gene Kelly as a sailor about to ship off but not before thinking about dames and raising a little bit of harmless hell in a saloon that wishes to close.

The spirited musical number is one of several instances where the Coens attempt and succeed at emulating popular forms of yesteryear cinema. The brothers also have fun with the notion of powerful gossip columnists with Tilda Swinton playing Hedda Hopper-like identical twin sisters who negotiate stories and access directly with Mannix himself.

Most of the Coens' movies delight critics and cineastes who appreciate their irregularity but divide the general public that probably would prefer a touch more conventionality. Hail, Caesar! continues that tradition, though anyone with fondness for the latter portion of Hollywood's Golden Age should quite enjoy the filmmakers' fun depictions and recreations of it. The film is spirited, farcical, artful, and fun nearly all of the time. Some of the Communist cell bits come close to outstaying their welcome with their rhetoric-heavy exchanges and otherworldly plans. But, mostly the brothers remain on point, their sharp wit quick to amuse and easy to admire. A good example of this is an early scene in which Mannix invites a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, a rabbi, and an Eastern Orthodox priest to convey their thoughts on the Caesar epic's screenplay, humorously prompting some religious debate. The topic of religion is never far from mind, as Baird's big monologue at the Crucifixion site at Calvary is tapped for a slow-burn laugh. More playful than provocative, these Coen brothers continue to apply their gifts and unconventional style to films that only they can make.

Opening in second place on Super Bowl weekend behind Kung Fu Panda 2, Hail, Caesar! went on to gross a modest $30 million domestic and $63 M worldwide despite its star power. Those numbers were no doubt below studio expectations but above the reported production budget of $22 M and about right in the middle of Coen brothers' output commercially. The film hits home video this week in an appealing Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Hail, Caesar! Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS (Spanish, French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

As a Coen brothers film characteristically shot by the esteemed Roger Deakins, Hail, Caesar! boasts expectedly thoughtful compositions. The Blu-ray's 1.85:1 transfer is crisp, vivid, and void of even minor concerns. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack serves the film well.

Scarlett Johansson discusses the excitement of working with the Coen brothers. Alden Ehrenreich sticks to the Coen brothers' script, as this film-to-screenplay split-screen shows.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Hail, Caesar! is joined by four short extras on both Blu-ray and DVD that, naturally, are devoid of Coen brothers comment.

"Directing Hollywood" (4:11) collects remarks of the cast
speaking highly of the Coen brothers and the thrill of getting to work with them.

"The Stars Align" (11:34) turns our attention to the famous actors assembled here and the filmmakers and industry they portray. Despite the length, it's another shallow puff piece.

"An Era of Glamour" (6:22) discusses Classic Hollywood and what went into recreating the different genres depicted here in terms of costumes and production design.

Finally, "Magic of a Bygone Era" (6:01) lets the cast and crew reflect on how different from today the movie industry was back in 1951 and contemplates the outmoded types of popular films recreated.

The disc opens with an anti-tobacco spot, followed by trailers for "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt": Season One, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, The Boss, Race, and Rock the Kasbah.

The Blu-ray's menu attaches score from the titular sword and sandal film within the film to a static image adapted from the poster/cover art. The DVD adapts the same image more directly from the poster art.

The plain red DVD, silver Blu-ray, and Digital HD insert with ads on back share a standard keepcase that is topped by an embossed slipcover.

Channing Tatum is an unlikely Coen Brothers player, portraying actor Burt Gurney in a Gene Kelly-esque song and dance film scene.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though the star-studded cast, PG-13 rating, and February opening suggested it would be more a commercial hit than a critical one, Hail, Caesar! fell in line with past Coen brothers movies with plenty of printed acclaim giving way to a divided reaction from the general public. Though I often side with paying moviegoers over my fellow critics, I must admit that I enjoyed Hail, Caesar! a lot. Nearly halfway through the year, it's one of my three favorite movies of 2016.

With fine picture and sound plus lightweight extras you'll watch once, Universal's Blu-ray combo pack is a fairly standard affair, but a set I'd still recommend on the basis of the film, especially if you harbor knowledge and appreciation for Hollywood's Golden Age.

Buy Hail, Caesar! from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen: The Big Lebowski Fargo Inside Llewyn Davis Blood Simple. A Serious Man No Country for Old Men True Grit
New to Disc: The Player Anomalisa Zoolander 2
George Clooney: Tomorrowland The Ides of March The Descendants | Alden Ehrenreich: Beautiful Creatures
Josh Brolin: Gangster Squad Sicario Men in Black 3 Labor Day | Tilda Swinton: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Channing Tatum: 21 Jump Street Foxcatcher | Written by the Coen Brothers: Bridge of Spies Gambit
Hollywood: Trumbo My Week with Marilyn Argo Saving Mr. Banks Ed Wood The Rocketeer

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Reviewed June 6, 2016.



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