While it contains several inspired performances, droll dialogue and impeccable period detail, Joel and Ethan Coen’s send-up of Hollywood Hail, Caesar! (C+) doesn’t come together with quite the finesse of the brothers’ typical efforts. It depicts one day in the life of Hollywood in the golden years, but the result is far from vintage. James Brolin is sturdy but impenetrable as the film studio executive protagonist who must simultaneously contend with a playboy movie star (an enjoyable George Clooney) kidnapped by a group of screenwriters during the filming of a biblical epic, dueling gossip columnists (both played with tart delight by Tilda Swinton) and an array of minor subplots with stars ranging from a sassy Scarlett Johansson to a debonair Ralph Fiennes, chewing the scenery. While the tone is broadly comedic, both the scope of the plot and the reach of its impact are often protracted and diminished, as if the auteurs knew this was a lark and just didn’t really give it all they’ve got. It’s not enough of a satire of filmmaking or a skewering of the studio system or an examination of storytelling or the changing times to really stand out. Channing Tatum and Alden Ehrenreich are underused gems; both of their short-changed characters could be in a much more interesting movie. But like middlebrow Woody Allen films or pizza, even when it’s mediocre, it’s still pretty good. So let it be with the Coen Brothers’s Caesar.
Andrew Nackman’s 4th Man Out (B+) is a funny and naturally charming comedy about a 24-year-old small-town everyman auto mechanic (Evan Todd) who comes out as gay to his entourage of three very heterosexual bros, played by a pack of TV comedy actors Parker Young, Chord Overstreet and Jon Gabrus. The dynamic of revealing his pent-up news to stunned, unsuspecting straight guys is rich territory for comedy and pathos, and the first-time filmmaker successfully delivers an indelible tale. Todd and Young in particular create a marvelous bond as they maneuver through the machinations of manhood and as the quartet redefines the rules of their relationships and routines. Hockey viewing, clubbing and poker night all take on a different lens with the hapless trio meaning well but hitting some awkward notes. Also compelling is Todd’s earnestness as he portrays a man trying on his newfound identity for size; he is a revelation in the role and carries the film’s emotional weight powerfully. Most of all, it’s frank and funny and plumbs an often unexplored dynamic. It was fun to watch a film evocative of some of my ’90’s favorites Chasing Amy and The Brothers McMullen.
Yoav and Doran Paz’s JeruZalem (B) is a welcome addition to the found-footage horror genre, with a compelling female-centric viewpoint, a mysterious setting and a surprising portal for storytelling. Two traveling American females winningly played by Yael Grobglas and Danielle Hadelyn meet a young anthropologist, the charming Yon Tumarkin, on a plane to Israel and divert from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for what becomes a vacation to the gates of hell. In addition to the novelty of on-location shooting in the Holy City, the film’s revelation is that it’s seen through the eyes of a Google Glass type application. Facial recognition, virtual reality avatars, photo freeze-framing and links to popular social networking sites rendered right in front of Hadelyn’s character’s line of sight add a compelling mind’s eye viewpoint into proceedings both commonplace and apocalyptic. Tom Graziani is also a delight as the Arabic host who turns the travelers on to hostels, hummus and hash before the quartet all face horror together. A sinister and sly story for the selfie age, the film suffers a bit when it veers too sharply into the conventions of its genre, and there are missed opportunities to plumb some of the film’s potential religious ramifications; but high production values and a smart POV ultimately win the doomsday.