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Movie Review: 'Hail, Caesar!'


"Fargo," "Raising Arizona," "The Big Lebowski," "No Country For Old Men" - Joel and Ethan Coen, better known as the Coen brothers, have brought movie-goers some of the most distinctive, quirky movies of the last three decades. They are back in theaters today with their latest, "Hail, Caesar!" And Kenneth Turan joined us to talk about it. Good morning.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: "Hail, Caesar!" with an exclamation point - you must know this, it's important. We're talking old Hollywood movie moguls.

TURAN: Absolutely, this is a spoof of Hollywood say circa 1951, the beginning of the end for the studio system. It nominally follows a star named Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney, who gets kidnapped. But really, it's not about that. We follow more, particularly Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin, who runs the studio. And he goes from set to set solving problems. So we get a lot of spoofs of different kinds of movies. There's a spoof of B westerns. There's a spoof of Esther Williams-type aquatic spectaculars. There's a spoof of drawing-room dramas. It's all very funny.

MONTAGNE: And we have a scene from one of those spoofy moments. Set it up for us, Ken.

TURAN: Sure. Well, we're meeting Thessaly Thacker, who's a gossip columnist played by Tilda Swinton. She's one of two identical twin gossip columnists, both played by Tilda Swinton, who are dread rivals. And Baird Whitlock, the star played by George Clooney has disappeared. Eddie Mannix, the studio executive is trying to spin her as to why he's gone. And he's trying to convince her that that was some kind of an accident - some kind of an injury onset.


TILDA SWINTON: (As Thessaly Thacker) A little bird told me that he disappeared from the set today.

JOSH BROLIN: (As Eddie Mannix) Oh, that, no, no - yes, he did have to take a break - minor injury, high ankle sprain.

SWINTON: (As Thessaly Thacker) What did you think I meant?

BROLIN: (As Eddie Mannix) Nothing. I saw your sister earlier, she was trying to resurrect some old gossip about Baird.

SWINTON: (As Thessaly Thacker) Oh, I'm sure she was. That cow, she wouldn't know a news story if it bit her on the posterior.

BROLIN: (As Eddie Mannix) Yeah, well, she...

SWINTON: (As Thessaly Thacker) High ankle sprain - is that really the best you could come up with? We all know about the womanizing and the drinking jags and those trips to San Berdoo (ph).

BROLIN: (As Eddie Mannix) Baird is a good family man. He has a high ankle sprain.

LUKE SPENCER ROBERTS: (As Peanut) Mr. Mannix.

BROLIN: (As Eddie Mannix) What's up, peanut?

ROBERTS: (As Peanut) Natalie told me to find you PDQ. I know it sounds screwy, but she said someone's calling from the future.

BROLIN: (As Eddie Mannix) Good lord - Thessaly, I have to run.

MONTAGNE: Woah, the future calling.

TURAN: Yes, well, the Coen brothers are just so good at coming up with all kinds of nonsense. They're very inventive. They're very unusual. They're very unexpected. And this is really them at their best.

MONTAGNE: OK, so Josh Brolin, George Clooney - they've been in other Coen brothers' movies. And the Coens do tend to work with the same actors.

TURAN: They do. I mean, they have a very particular style. They have a very particular tone they're after, and once they find actors who are comfortable with that tone, they stick with it. I mean, I asked them once in an interview. I said why do you put your characters through so much grief? And they said, what would be the fun in doing something else? The fun is in giving the characters grief and actors who can deal with that, who can convey that on screen - they stick with them.

MONTAGNE: In terms of Coen brothers movies, Ken, how do you rate "Hail, Caesar!"?

TURAN: I think "Hail, Caesar!" is one of their funniest movies. It really reminds me of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" which was kind of a spoof on old-timey music. It's just fun. And sometimes, you know, I've felt in the past that the Coen brothers movies are kind of insular. Sometimes you feel like they're making movies for each other. But this one is for all of us. This one is going to amuse everybody.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Thanks, Ken.

TURAN: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.