Hail Caesar (2016) Film Review

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a studio ‘fixer’ in the studio system in 1950s Hollywood, dealing with communists, divas, scandals, gossip columnists and the untalented.

Fun, funny and gorgeous – this is one of the Coen brothers’ lighter films, with a top cast and great lines. I guess my only criticism is that it all just seemed a bit too easy; often the Coen brothers films really challenge my viewing, but this was like a bubble bath. Nice and relaxing and familiar.


Burn After Reading (2008) Film Review

Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad work at Hard Bodies Gym in Washington DC and have a disc with what appears to be sensitive security information and decide to return it to the owner, Osborne Cox (John Malcovich), an analyst recently forced into retirement. However, Cox has a short fuse and having been booted out by his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), he won’t tolerate this. Then there is Harry (George Clooney) who is having an affair with Katie, and then also with Linda but is married to Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel), and Ted (Richard Jenkins) who is love with Linda. And then the Russians are brought in, and the whole ‘cluster fuck’ is being overseen by a mysterious CIA figure played by JK Simmons. And being a Coen brothers production, it’s fabulous.

There are Coen brother films that are amazing (No Country for Old Men, The Man Who Wasn’t There) and Coen brother films that are weird (Barton Fink, A Serious Man, ) and there are Coen brother films that are hilarious (Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski). That’s probably simplifying it too much, but it seems to be the way I sort them in my brain – and the fact that they can do so many films across different genres and I love them all (or, at the very least, appreciate them all) is fabulous for me. Burn After Reading is a ridiculous film, for me in the hilarious basket. It’s pretty much my favourite ever Brad Pitt performance, and I just love all the weirdness, like Harry’s present in the basement (what?) or the amount of carrots cut up. Too good. Not for everyone, but certainly for me.

Burn After Reading was nominated for Golden Globes for Best Motion Picutre – Comedy or Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picutre – Comedy or Musical (Frances McDormand), and for a BAFTA for Best Screenplay – Original (Joel and Ethan Coen).


Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) Film Review


Like the two films leading up to this, it’s a big, exciting heist film with lots of misdirection and cleverness. This time, it’s all about revenge on Willy Bank (Al Pacino), a casino operator opening a new hotel, who has ripped off one of their own, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), causing heart failure and a coma.

My big issue with the last two films was the women in the film having very little character and being (sometimes willingly) manipulated very obviously by the men of the film. This time, it wasn’t the wives or girlfriends. The one female in the film, Bank’s top assistant Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), initially appears to be in control and in charge, strong and spotting the bullshit being weaved around her. Then, she is painted as a ‘cougar’ (such an insulting term, but I won’t get started on that one today) and manipulated into seducing Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), one of the eleven who is playing a character as part of the plot. I guess the big question is – how good does the film need to be to be able to ignore this? (Or perhaps a bigger question – after being annoyed by this in the first two films, why did I go on to watch the third?)

Ocean’s Twelve (2004) Film Review


So, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is back out of jail (again) and he and the rest of the eleven have found things to spend their millions on. But Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) has found them, and insists on compensation. And then there is Francois Toulour (Vincent Cassel), a super-rich, super-clever gangster who wants to compete against Ocean to be considered the best thief in the world, and Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a beautiful police officer who was dating Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), but now is set to catch him and arrest him.

Again, there is a lot of fun, trickiness and playing with expectations, but it is, yet again, ruined for me by the representations of the females in the film. At least Tess (JuliaRoberts) gets a bit of a better go this time, actually doing something (even if she is forced into it by a whole bunch of men she doesn’t even know… creepy) (although seeing her play a character pretending to be Julia Roberts was a lot of fun). Then there is the Catherine Zeta-Jones character, a high-ranking police officer who is driven to fraud by her emotions – the need for revenge against her ex, and who (spoiler alert) is manipulated into giving up her very successful career by the very same ex and her father, who she believed was dead. Men manipulating women a lot. Way to spoil a good, fun film.


Ocean’s Eleven (2001) Film Review


Danny Ocean (George Clooney) has two goals when he gets out of jail; to win back his ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts) and to rob the casino that belongs to her current beau, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). He gets together a crack team of specialists (ten others to be exact… hence the Ocean’s Eleven).

A heist film is great. A casino heist film is even better. And with a whole bunch of hunks and spunks, clever writing and fun technology, plus twists that have you thinking one thing then it flips? What more could one want? How about a half decent female character in here? There is only one woman of any significantce in this film, and she is an object to be possessed. What’s more (spoiler alert), when she learns that her current beau is not the nicest guy, does she go and work her own life out? Hells no. She goes back to the man who lied to her and ruined her life. Sheesh, this film would have been better with no women at all. Annoying, because I really liked the rest of it.


The Ides of March (2011) Film Review

the Ides of March

The Ides of March is a film about politics and power, focusing on those behind the scenes –  the campaign managers and interns who are working on the primaries. My understanding of the primaries comes from movies, TV and NPR podcasts, and I believe that the way it works is that the race for President is essentially between two people – a Democrat and a Republican. The primaries are how they decide who those two people will be – the various candidates campaign and then a caucus of the people from that party vote, and eventually someone is picked. There’s way, way more to it than that – for example, this film is set in Ohio, and that is apparently open voting, which means both Democrats and Republicans (and I suppose everyone in between) votes in the primaries. Look, ok, I don’t really know. All I know is, there is a lot of money in it, and the candidate who gets the most votes from delegates then goes on to campaign in the race for President.

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is second in charge to Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) on the primary campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Meyers is a believer – he plays clean, he is honest, and he believe that the liberal views of Morris can really make the world a better place. During the Ohio campaign, a series of events happen that rob Meyers of his naivety and leave him difficult choices.

About three-quarters of the way through this film, I was trying to figure out what Meyers would do next. I felt that things were hopeless for him, but I was unsure whether I even cared. I decided I did, and was then trying to work out what paths he had left open – what was his goal and how would he achieve it. Then I wondered about whether I was enjoying the film or not. During films, I don’t usually think this much – or at least, not consciously. If I am aware that these are my thought processes, is the film not engaging me? This is why I can’t decide if I liked it or not – because I was just so conscious of the script and trying to dissect it. Writing this now, I realise I did enjoy thinking this way during the film – especially because it wasn’t predictable.

My main criticism was that the character of Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) was very under developed. I didn’t believe the choices she made, or the manner in which she made them. For me to believe that Meyers would react in the way he did (I’m trying very hard not to put in spoilers) I needed more about Stearns. She just seemed like an unfulfilled character, and given her importance in the story, the film could have explored her more.

As a director, I think Clooney shows a particular penchant for the eyes. Perhaps it’s because his are just so gorgeous, or perhaps it’s because Gosling is able to convey a lot with a subtle lift of an eyebrow. There was an awful lot of eye and eyebrow acting in this film.

It’s got a strong cast with the usual wonderful performances from Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giatmatti and Marisa Tomei. Clooney himself was a much smaller part in the film. I used to think he was a terrible actor – gorgeous, but terrible. That’s changing – between this and The American (which I did not like, but Clooney’s performance was very strong), I think there may be more to him than a charming smile.

As far as films about power and politics are concerned, I would recommend Wag the Dog (1997) and Primary Colors (1998) first, but the Ides of March certainly captures the filth of politics and power.

The Ides of March was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.

The Monuments Men (2014) Film Review

the monuments men

A group of art historians are brought into the army to save artwork that Hitler has had collected and plans to destroy if he loses power.

That is an interesting story in itself. Yet, watching the trailers, it looked terrible to me. It seemed very lighthearted and possibly too funny. IT didn’t matter that there is an excellent cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban. Or that it was directed by Clooney. It just looked average. But I went.

I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not a total hard-hitting war film. The humour was good and not too much of it, and it was nicely balanced with some heart wrenching moments. I believe it is not true to the original story, but it is not a documentary. I’m happy to forgive that. I’m happy to have just enjoyed it for what it was.

Gravity (2013) Film Review



Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first trip into space, mid-way through a spacewalk where she is investigating some issues with a computer system thingy, when disaster strikes. Insurmountable damage occurs to their shuttle, leaving Stone and Kowalski (George Clooney) the only two survivors, trying to find a way back to Earth.

It’s tense from the word go.

As someone who can find herself connecting to characters and really living the experience, the feeling of hopelessness, of being out of control and being in such a totally surreal environment was close to overwhelming. There were certainly aspects of the film that were clearly about manipulating the audience reaction, but I had no issue with that at all. I just wanted them to be home, safe.

The one thing I found it very difficult to get past was Sandra Bullocks zero-gravity-defying hair.

If you are wondering about what life is like in space (and see some pretty awesome hair), there are some amazing clips from the ISS from previous resident Commander Hadfield and more recently, Commander Suni Williams. Once I allowed myself to let go of the hair issue, I really enjoyed the film. It’s crucial that the film is seen in the cinema and in 3D – I think if you did not have the whole experience, it would be just an average suspense, only in space.

The Descendants (2011) Film Review



This post originally appeared at www.melbournegeek.com in March 2012.

Finally, I am getting to see more of the 2012 Oscar nominated films, and I am left wondering why, why, why? I often don’t agree with the nominated films, but I will see some merit in them. Not so much with this one. No, that’s not totally true. I can see why many people would like this film, and I’m not just talking about George Clooney.

What I found amazing was that a film which deals with grief and death could have such a lack of emotional depth.

I’m a crier. I love crying at movies and I’m not ashamed of it. I would have thought that a film about a man whose wife is in a coma and he finds out that she was cheating would be an absolute tearfest.

I think I welled up twice, but didn’t even need to brush the tears away.

Perhaps the lack of emotion was supposed to be there.

Perhaps that was the point – that Clooney’s character was so separated from his life that everything was emotionless. I guess if that was the point, then it was probably really good. It just didn’t work for me.

There were good things about the film. The acting from the daughters was amazing. I loved seeing the journey of the older daughter who stepped up to take the emotional responsibility, and the playing out of the younger daughter. I look forward to seeing where the career of these actresses takes them. There were some great characters that I really hated – the wife’s father, the daughter’s friend, the mother of the bullied girl – and I hated them with complexity, because they were not just single-dimensional caricatures.

I’ve heard the book is fantastic. I can see how it might be. There’s another one on my list – although for the moment, I’m getting through Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so it will be a while.

The Descendants won the Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Achievement in Directing (Alexandrer Payne), Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.