Thursday, February 4, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Rumor mill grinds

"Hail, Caesar!" — Would That It Were So Simple.
by Liz Smith

Well, not ALL of us can "Hail, Caesar!" Also — Diana Ross and Lady Gaga? ... Elizabeth Taylor's Friends Revolt Against Coming "9/11" movie.

"CUT! Very good, very good. Excellent, in fact. But, how about trying it with a mirthless cackle?"
"Mirthless?"
"Or, a rueful laugh."
"Rueful?"
"Yes, let's try that — action!"

That's Ralph Fiennes, directing good-natured, good-looking, but clueless cowboy star, (Alden Ehrenreich) in a pretentious drawing room comedy, and getting nowhere fast. It's a scene from the new Coen brothers movie, "Hail, Caesar!" and it is amusing indeed. (Alden, who is very good in the movie, also possesses the most kissable, pouty male lips onscreen today!)
Ralph Fiennes directing Alden Ehrenreich in "Hail, Caesar!"
Unfortunately, the film is rather subtle, and the "all media" screening audience that took in "Hail, Caesar!" the other night, wasn't up on subtlety. For some reason, this latest Coen boys collaboration is being marketed as a wacky comedy about the good old days of Hollywood. Well, the Coens don't really do wacky, and despite some flat-out amusing moments, the movie kind of lays there, in a low-grade witty way, that is vaguely unsatisfying but also so very Coen. That is, some people are going to love it — and recite chapter and verse why it is a masterpiece. Others will be scratching their heads or falling asleep (as at least three people near me did!) I don't pretend to know how movies should be publicized, but the trailers for this one are disastrously misleading.
The story concerns the kidnapping of an amiable, dissolute actor (George Clooney) the star of "Hail, Caesar! "A Story of The Christ." (Think, "The Robe," "Quo Vadis" and other Biblical epics.) The surprise comes when we find out who has kidnapped the star, and why. (No spoilers here.)
George Clooney as Baird Whitlock.
Josh Brolin, plays Eddie Mannix, the head of production and "fixer" for the fictional Capital Pictures. And yes, there really was an Eddie Mannix, who was actually in charge of cleaning up after MGM's naughty stars. Brolin, who appeared to such good effect in the Coen's "No Country For Old Men" plays it almost straight, and he is very good.
Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix.
Channing Tatum, channeling his inner Gene Kelly, and Scarlett Johansson as a tough-talking "aquatic star" appear as box-office bait, but have little to do. Tilda Swinton is a riot as twin rival gossip columnist sisters, Thora and Thessaly. And Clooney, as the kidnapped star, is full of relaxed good humor, as soon as he realizes what's what with his abductors. (He also displays a fine, sexy set of gams, in his short tunic.)
Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney.
Scarlett Johansson as DeeAnna Moran.
Tilda Swinton as Thora Thacker / Thessaly Thacker.
"Hail, Caesar!" is so inside Hollywood, it is inside out. You really have to know and love films and the particular era in which this tale is set, to appreciate all the fine touches. But even in appreciation, the movie left me tepid, and it's long, too. Or, at least it seems long.

I've loved some Coen brothers movies, in all their weirdness — "Fargo," "No Country For Old Men" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Others? I might be the only person on earth who wasn't swept away by "Inside Llewyn Davis," or who was vastly amused by "The Ladykillers" which didn't do well, and is often disdained by Coen aficionados.
Maybe we are not really meant to take any Coen movie seriously, on any level? Maybe it's all a big joke on their audience and (especially) critics who struggle to like or understand or interpret their work?

I can't warn people away from "Hail, Caesar!" because there are enough delicious bits to satisfy. (Tilda Swinton's moments alone were worth the time.) But if anybody came to me and said, "God, I hated it!" I wouldn't be able to defend the few pleasures I found.

It's a Coen movie. We really needn't say more.
The Coen brothers.
AS THE rumor mill grinds: It seems that Lady Gaga is a great admirer of Miss Diana Ross, especially Diana's smash 1980 album "Diana" produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. (This record delivered two of Diana's biggest hits, "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out.")

Lady G. is also a pal to Nile Rodgers, and he recently suggested that Gaga and Ross team up together, lay down a few tracks, as they say in the biz. Gaga did not reject this idea. (The two icons have met amiably in New York and Los Angeles, at various events.)
Nile Rodgers and Lady Gaga.
As for Diana, she wants to keep recording and she wants to keep it fresh (her live shows are great, and she never stints on the old Supremes hits, but…she'd rather not go there, or anyplace in the past, nowadays.)

Stay tuned!
Gaga channeling Diana Ross.
Elizabeth Taylor and Ardeshir Zahedi were hot and heavy in 1976.
La Liz in Iran, 1976, photographed by her great friend, Firooz Zahedi.
ENDQUOTE: "This is all bullshit. I was with her in New York at the time and saw her and was in touch with her. Why don't they mention the fact that she went down to Ground Zero to show support to the firemen and others dealing with the tragedy? It's indeed sad that filmmakers have so little imagination that they would pick on three dead celebrities who — despite whatever eccentricities — provided a great deal of entertainment for people!"

That is photographer Firooz Zahedi, reacting to the news that a "satire" is being planned around the fictional story of Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Marlon Brando attempting to "flee" Manhattan after the horror of September 11th, 2001.

Zahedi had known Elizabeth for many years, meeting her during his uncle Ardeshir Zahedi's hot and heavy romance with the star in 1976. (Ardeshir was ambassador to Iran, and soon his affair with Taylor was doused — nobody in the Middle East or the U.S. thought it was a good idea.) Firooz became a great friend of La Liz until her death in 2011. Soon, he will unveil his lavish photo book tribute, "My Elizabeth."

I agree with Firooz. Neither Taylor nor Jackson have been gone even ten years, Brando a bit more. Can't we wait a beat, maybe 15 years on, before we begin to destroy and exaggerative and fictionalize? As has happened to Marilyn's reputation? I know that Taylor's family is NOT amused with this project. We shall see.

Of course, not everybody agrees. I received a note the other day on the subject: "Urban legend or not, if someone makes a good movie then we'll be able to watch and enjoy ... it isn't necessarily the subject matter that makes it good or not, it's how it's written and executed." Hmmm ... maybe. This will have to be a work of genius.

And if it is, I'll gladly say so.

Liz Smith is still recuperating. Denis Ferrara is still pinch-hitting.

Contact Liz here.