Out on Friday 4 March
The Coens go to Hollywood. Cate Blanchett takes up journalism. Hitchcock and Truffaut go head to head.
Yes, heres this weeks new releases. Click on for our reviews of Hail, Caesar!, Truth, Goodnight Mommy, Hitchcock/Truffaut, The Other Side Of The Door and Time Out Of Mind.
For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.
A Coens picture is always a Coens picture but some are more Coens than others. While brothers Joel and Ethan have never set out to make a mainstream hit that cleaves to formula (lets not forget that The Hudsucker Proxy, a fairytale-flavoured ode to the Hula Hoop-cum-stylised satire of big business, was their attempt at a studio movie), they do make films with crossover potential. Crime thrillers Fargo and No Country For Old Men, say: suspense, set-pieces and streamlined narratives, resulting in box office and Oscars.
Hail, Caesar! is not one of those movies. It is undiluted, absolute Coens, spring-loaded with cinematic chicanery and showing the arch tricksters at their most playful or, put another way, insular. Remember the picture on the wall in Barton Fink, or the spacecraft in The Man Who Wasnt There, or the Yiddish prologue in A Serious Man?
This is those Coens, juggling genres for their own amusement, spinning head-scratching themes and motifs which may or may not mean anything, and once more inviting legitimate accusations (as if they care) of smart aleck-ry and emotional distance.
Set in the 1950s over a 27-hour period, Hail, Caesar! opens on Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the Head of Physical Production at Capitol Pictures Studios, in a confessional box. Its little wonder given all that his job entails: overseeing this years ration of dreams for all the humble people of the world (as the omniscient voiceover puts it) movies that include a comedy-western, a sailor musical and a Biblical Roman epic but also acting as fixer for a stable of stars. Not easy in the case of an American sweetheart (Scarlett Johansson) whose wide white smile and flaxen hair camouflage a tough-talkin, chain-smokin Brooklyn gal with two marriages behind her and a bump starting to show in front.
But now Mannix is himself in a fix: Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of prestige picture Hail, Caesar! A Tale Of The Christ, has been kidnapped. Raising the $100,000 ransom fee isnt the issue so much as ensuring production continues to tick over and the true reason for Whitlocks absence is kept under wraps.
As youd expect, the brothers signature blend of humour absurdist, deadpan, often just plain silly (this is the fourth numbskull Clooney has played for them) is everywhere you look, not least on the wobbly sets of the films within the film: saddled with a dim-witted star of westerns on his Max Ophls-alike melodrama Merrily We Dance, debonair filmmaker Laurence Lorenz (Ralph Fiennes) directs him to deliver a mirthless chuckle.
We meet Johanssons starlet playing a mermaid surrounded by synchronised swimmers and a spuming whale in a Busby Berkeley-esque musical number that is the match of The Dudes surreal dream sequence in The Big Lebowski; Channing Tatum heads up a squad of tap-dancing sailors whose suggestive lyrics will surely test the limits of the Hays Code; Tilda Swinton plays twin-sister gossip columnists whose intense rivalry owes much to that of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons; and an actor being crucified on a cross is asked if hes a principal player or an extra to establish if he merits a hot breakfast.
The industry in-jokes are nearly always funny, and also take in matte-painting backdrops; the old jibe, prevalent in Barton Fink, that writers are lowest on the food chain; and the holding intertitles in the dailies (Divine presence to be shot), while the period-vernacular provides constant pleasure. But theres more, with the shadow threats of McCarthyism and TV and even the atom bomb darkening the edges of the frame.
The significance of the many shots of water and clock faces, meanwhile, is open to debate, and a thesis could be written on the clashing of Catholicism and Communism and just what the brothers are trying to say Ethan, it should not be forgotten, studied philosophy at Princeton, as important to the brothers movies as Joels studying of film at NYU.
Or maybe it all adds up to a big old pile of nothing and the joke is on anyone who tries to insist otherwise? Watch Hail, Caesar! and you can almost hear the Coens sniggering. And while not everyone will share their amusement, admirers of their body of work beyond the crossover hits will chortle right along with them.
THE VERDICT: "Its a swell story, told with distinction and panache," says Mannix of the Biblical epic hes making. The same can be said of the Coens latest.
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen; Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton;Theatrical release: 4 March 2016
Any new release centred on journalism will invite comparison with Spotlight but, despite an excellent pedigree, debut director James Vanderbilts TV news drama looks pallid next to it.
Cate Blanchett is solid as Mary Mapes, the producer of CBS 60 Minutes who gets suckered into a story about Bushs military record that puts her career in jeopardy. Robert Redford is similarly well cast as beloved anchor Dan Rather; add in the likes of Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid and Truth should resonate. But cumbersomely scripted and scored, its about as subtle as a Sun headline.
Director: James Vanderbilt Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid Theatrical release: 4 March 2016
An isolated house in the Austrian countryside: nine-year-old twin boys await the return of their mother from hospital after a major operation. But when she arrives, face bandaged, shes nothing like the parent they knew. Harsh and remote, she scares them until they suspect shes not their mother at all and then they turn on her
With minimal resources, writer/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz have crafted an insidious chiller, drawing measured performances from real-life twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz. So a last-minute twist lifted from Robert Mulligans The Other can easily be forgiven.
Directors: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala Starring: Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz Theatrical release: 4 March 2016
Writer/director Kent Jones illuminating doc revisits the week-long interviews conducted in 1962 by French New Wave critic-turned-director Francois Truffaut with Alfred Hitchcock, then at the height of his powers: the result was Truffauts groundbreaking Hitchbook, a detailed, film-by-film analysis of the Englishmans body of work.
Drawing on the original Hitch/Truff recordings, clips from the movies and interviews with various big names (including Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Richard Linklater), who pay tribute to Hitchcocks conception of pure cinema, this is a genuine treat for cinephiles.
Director: Kent Jones Starring: Alfred Hitchcock, Franois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin Theatrical release: 4 March 2016
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR
Made for buttons most likely in vibrant Mumbai, Johannes Roberts (Storage 24) chiller looks a million dollars, maybe more. Combining the canny cine-tourism of the Ford brothers The Dead films with the plot of Wake Wood, it riffs on the classic The Monkeys Paw template to show Sarah Wayne Callies and Jeremy Sisto falling foul of local folklore as they attempt to communicate with their lost son.
The script lacks the precision of Roberts (underrated) slasher F, and the actings a little bumpy in places, but imaginative FX, excellent use of location and enough genuine (if, often, jump) scares compensate.
Director: Johannes Roberts Starring: Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sisto Theatrical release: 4 March 2016
TIME OUT OF MIND
That one-time American Gigolo, Richard Gere, swaps Armani suits for pee-stained pants in this endlessly heartbreaking study of a homeless New Yorker in Oren Movermans latest. If not as immediately impactful as Movermans The Messenger or Rampart, the cumulative effect will catch you almost unawares as Geres George checks in to Bellevue hospital, living hand-to-mouth and attempting to make amends with his estranged daughter (Jena Malone).
Featuring cameos from Steve Buscemi and Kyra Sedgwick, its a tough watch, sluggishly paced, but youll be fighting off the tears by the end.
Director: Oren Moverman Starring: Richard Gere, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi Theatrical release: 4 March 2016