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Movie Review: Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! is an oxymoronic post card from the Coen brothers. On the one hand, it's a light-hearted, madcap, send-up of the Golden era Hollywood of the '50s. Then on the other hand... or wing, it's also a comic behind-the-curtain examination of studio politics as Capitalist America tried to subvert any hint of Communist ideology in mainstream media.

While the Coen brothers have had their share of serious films, Hail, Caesar! is a return to unapologetic silliness. Although, you get the impression that there's a lot more going on behind the eyes on this one. The film functions much like a Monty Python film, lacing a series of related sketches together by way of larger-than-life characters and leveraging some irreverent comedy in the process.

It's not so much about story as it is about entertainment. Somehow they've managed to compel their audience with grand frivolity as they playfully strum away without feeling the need to ultimately connect the dots. It's like their version of a David Lynch film, titillating the audience with mood, character and a surreal reality, while peeling away a flap of skin to reveal something more sinister. The difference is that instead of fear, you experience foolhardy exuberance.

The cast are having the time of their lives. Josh Brolin is the straight man and studio fixer, whose commitment to doing the right thing for the good of the studio, leaves him wrought with guilt about sacrificing his home life. George Clooney spoofs his blameless movie star image by being a clueless and dubious leading man, while Alden Ehrenreich is perfectly cast as a happy-go-lucky and out-of-his-depth rustler turned Western movie star.

Hail Caesar movie review

"You mean Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, Mars... they're all... fake?"

The cast is bolstered by strong supporting acts including: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Channing Tatum, while a myriad of cameos from the likes of Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill keep you on your toes. It's a first-class ensemble, who assemble to put a mirror up to the system... elbowing Hollywood as they unmask the glitz as an inside joke with a twinkle in their eyes.

The tone is similarly poised to the frivolity of The Grand Budapest Hotel, except there's less window dressing and more substance. It maintains its studio stage perspective as we get an exec's view on the era, which has many parallels with the screenwriter biopic, TrumboAre the Coen brothers ripping into the 1953 film, Julius Caesar, starring Marlon Brando or, is it more interested in Spartacus, which was written by Dalton Trumbo himself?

The answers and intentions are not clear and perhaps this is what restricts Hail, Caesar! from becoming one of their best. It certainly demands a second viewing to wring more out of its paradoxical nature, but on the surface it makes great entertainment. From deep-end line delivery notes from the director, an exhilarating dance number from Tatum to a rousing speech from Clooney, the film seems content with being a love letter and dirty snapshot of Golden era Hollywood.

The bottom line: Enjoyable

Talking Movies with Spling - A Perfect Day, Vir Altyd and Life

Spling reviews A Perfect Day, Vir Altyd and Life as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

Movie Review: Vir Altyd

Vir Altyd is the latest romance comedy drama from film-makers and stars, Donnalee Roberts and Ivan Botha. Their chemistry was established in Pad na jou Hart, also known as Road to your Heart, and the on-screen couple continue to light the way with their heartfelt and pure blend of romance drama and comedy fun.

Their latest romantic adventure sees them playing Nina and Hugo, former sweethearts who resume their complicated friendship on an island holiday in Mauritius.

The co-lead chemistry is terrific and the story starts with great aplomb, using flashbacks to layer their history and a creeping mystery to add tension. Roberts is gorgeous, living through her character and softening as Nina makes one breakthrough after another. Botha has a good-natured resolve, keeping his guard up but delivering an unwritten kindness.

They're supported by Elize Cawood, Wilson Dunster, Andre Jacobs, Illse Roos, Dirk Stoltz, André Stolz, Hélène Truter, Santhiran Moonsamy and Laré Birk. The accomplished ensemble bring their characters to life with sincere performances, offering multiple perspectives on love. Cawood is grace personified, Dunster is a delight, Roos and Stoltz enjoy some fun marital interplay, while Moonsamy and Birk keeps things bubbling over.

It's refreshing to watch a naive romance, imbued with heart and a sense of purity. While a strength, this innocence can undermine a film's dramatic integrity and skew the suspended reality. This works in a straight romantic comedy, but can be a bit problematic in a romance drama. Vir Altyd doesn't commit to being a bubbly romantic comedy or a windswept romance drama. Instead, it tries to balance the best of both worlds.

Vir Altyd Movie Review

"I see you took 'colour me crazy' literally... thanks."

For the most part it gets by thanks to its likable co-leads, fun-in-the-sun spirit of adventure and ode to love. The potential for a Couples Retreat style comedy is immense and quite brilliant as a setup as they play with the central conceit of a couple pretending to be on honeymoon. While they toy with light comedy, they never fully commit, trying to keep an overarching sincerity to the heartfelt romance.

On their journey they encounter two other couples at various stages in their marriage. While this interplay is good as an opportunity for growth and learning, it seems to take away too much of the focus from the central relationship. This holiday escape feels like a different film when you contrast it with the book ends and if they'd given more focus to each of the couples like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in the build up, it could have been.

As the film's screenwriters, you get the impression the co-leads tried to share the love by attaching more weight to supporting characters, when they should have given more attention to their own budding romance. As a result, the reconnect in Blue Lagoon paradise loses some power and the perspective some intimacy as the film zooms out of from the lead couple, leaving some frayed ends.

Director and second-time collaborator, Jaco Smit, keeps things upbeat and kinetic as the film moves from Paarl to Mauritius. From wedding dances to island celebrations, it's always picturesque, elegant and infused with romance as our would-be lovers revive dusty memories. While it tips the hat to its sponsors, Vir Altyd has a subtle and sensible air and maintains a good pace.

You can't help but fall in love with the spirit of Vir Altyd, which engenders love in its purest form across a spectrum of romantic situations. While the tone is unsure and the story is a bit scattershot, the sincere ensemble and heartfelt soundtrack maintain this flow, keeping the undercurrent of love fun, sincere and entertaining.

This Afrikaans romance comedy drama complements Pad na my Hart, delivering another compelling reason why Donnalee Roberts and Ivan Botha deserve their place in the Sun. Vir Altyd wins you over with sincere performances, entertains you with spirited island adventure, keeps you transfixed with inspiring romantic overtures, remains as upbeat as its soundtrack, while carrying itself with grace and dignity. Just like any relationship, it has its problems, but these imperfections are redeemed by the abundance of love.

The bottom line: Enjoyable

Movie Review: Deadpool

Deadpool, "the merc with a mouth", is an unconventional comic book character from Marvel who featured in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Ryan Reynolds has played a number of superhero characters, but seemed like the only choice for the immoral, over-the-top and juvenile, Deadpool. This is his origins film, an action adventure comedy and sci-fi thriller that could be described as a pool of Kick-Ass, Spider-Man, Watchmen and Darkman.

Wade Wilson, a former special operative turned mercenary, becomes the guy who deals with bad guys. After undergoing a highly experimental medical procedure, his body mutates... giving him special regenerative healing powers and painting a target on the back of the doctor who made him immortal. Oh, and he connects with a girl, a blind lady and a bartender.

It's an irreverent superhero and feature film debut for director Tim Miller, throwing a brash, unpredictable and funny albeit potty-mouthed antihero into the limelight. Deadpool loves breaking the fourth wall in his comic books, so there's plenty of self-aware comments and moments where he turns to address the audience. The profanity is frequent, the action is ultra-violent and Deadpool's juvenile no-holds-barred comedy dominates in this tongue-in-butt-cheek superhero flick.

The jokes are thick and fast and the character operates without boundaries, sifting from the present future back in time to give us a before and after contrast. He's living in a fairly hedonistic head space since his special healing powers mean he's virtually unstoppable, allowing him to exist in a consequence-free dimension. The experiment-gone-wrong has gifted him with mutant superpowers, but seems to have multiplied his already alternate attitude.

The antihero film is reminiscent of Kick-Ass in the way Deadpool takes his own brand of vigilantism to the streets with very little remorse and a penchant for Mortal Kombat style ultra-violence. His self-made spandex, mutant superpower and transition from normal guy to superhero mimic Spider-Man with a similar romantic distraction and disdain for the man who created him. The revenge story is soaked in Sam Raimi's Darkman with our antihero prowling around and possessing a similar affliction, while the gritty, irreverent and diabolical tone has an affinity with Watchmen.

Deadpool Movie Review

"Seriously... a Russian Ninja? I'm Deadpool, damnit."

Ryan Reynolds does a superb job of holding all of the pieces of the film together. His charming alter-ego helps sell his dark side antics, making him a complex social agitator, trained killer and sexual oddity. He's supported by Ed Skrein as "the British villain", Ajax, a CGI X-Men character named Colossus voiced by Stefan Kapicic and T.J. Miller as his inside man, Weasel. The film could've done with a more intimidating villain, but it's quick-paced enough to keep you off-balance and distracted.

The origins story has been done to the point of pig vomit, but by doing and saying what many superheroes wish they could do and say, the writers manage to keep it filthy but fresh. The interlaced superhero references will have many fanboys laughing their heads off until blood starts spewing out of their necks... did I mention it's gory?

I just found that while Deadpool was clever in breaking the fourth wall and dishing up a double serving of juvenile humour with no regard for human life, it was wicked like Kingsman: The Secret Service. The constant onslaught of off-colour comedy takes the edge off, but it's the sort of Natural Born Killers crazy movie you could imagine mass murderers referring to as an influence in a homicide case.

The twisted nature of our immoral antihero, his proclivity towards killing people as a form of amusement, his Joker temperament and his tendency towards getting others to solve their problems by killing... well, let's just say you wouldn't ask him to babysit your kids. It's worrying that this passes as entertainment and perhaps it's just a raw conglomerate and representation of how depraved media has become these days.

Deadpool isn't for everyone. In fact, it's the opposite of family-friendly... churning up depravity, profanity and violence under the mask of entertainment. Hopefully it exorcises the demons rather than encouraging them to fester in the curtained parts of the mind. If you managed the mania of Kick-Ass and can stomach a strong dose of Hell... you'll come out of Deadpool alive, but maybe there's enough Hell in your life already to excuse yourself from seeing this one.

The bottom line: Subversive

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