HAIL, CAESAR! Would that it were so simple.

Hail Caesar

The film follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men, True Grit), a head of physical production of a major Hollywood studio in the early fifties called Capitol Pictures. It happens to have the same name as the studio that hired Barton Fink in the Coens 1991 Palme d’or winner where as you may remember ‘the writer is king’. This character is based on a real-life fixer/enforcer that had to keep everyone in line at MGM and was portrayed by Bob Hoskins in the film Hollywoodland (2006) that deals with the suicide (or murder) of his wife’s lover and apparently was a much tougher persona than the way he’s being depicted in Hail, Caesar!.

In those days the fim studios were movie factories with the biggest stars all under contract. Mannix has to deal with the day to day problems of the multiple shoots that are in production. There’s an Esther Williams Busby Burkely-like ‘aqua musical’ with a pregnant star (Scarlet Johansson, The Man Who Wasn’t There) that has difficulties getting in and out of a one piece mermaid swimsuit. A Roy Rogers type western with a singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich, who also resembles Audie Murphy somewhat) A musical starring sailors (Anchors Aweigh, On the Town) with Channing Tatum in a Gene Kelly kind of mode. And last but not least a ‘prestigious’ biblical film called Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ (a nod to the Fred Niblo 1925 silent version of Ben Hur) with a drunk lead actor who tends to show up late (George Clooney, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading). This time though he happens to be kidnapped of the set by a group of communist writers called ‘The Future’ who are looking for some ransom money.

Mannix needs to keep this and more from reaching the tabloids, especially with the gossip columnist Tackery twin sisters (a double role for Tilda Swinton, Burn After Reading) on his tail, clearly referring to Hedda hopper (played herself in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard) and Louella Parsons. In the meantime he’s having a ‘crisis of faith’ and starts questioning his professional choices.

The Coens in their typical anarchist fashion are tackling some ‘serious’ topics without giving them the so-called ‘proper respect’ but in the meantime are still delving deeper than directors that do take themselves too seriously. They are just not taking anything too seriously, just wish this approach was wider spread. This film in particualr may be more of an acquired taste. It does help if you know the films and ‘historical events’ which are being lovingly mocked. There are so many inside jokes and references that probably much might get lost if you don’t.
E.g. the scene where Christopher Lambert (playing a European director) and Josh Brolin are discussing the problems with his ex DeeAnne, the Scarlet Johansson character, plays fine on it self, but if you know that both Lambert and Brolin in real-life are ex husbands of actress Diane Lane there’s just that bit extra to say the least. And the film has plenty of such moments.

The film -as is the case with all the Coen brothers films- is technically brilliant with many longtime collaborators (dop Roger Deakins, composer Carter Burwell, sound genious Skip Leavsy, to name but a few) doing their usual great work. The Coens writing, casting (Fellini and Leone would be jealous with the character faces they were able to gather for this production), editing, …, well what can you say.
Among the many highlights: Mannix trying to get the blessing from the religious leaders on the depiction of Christ in the script and the resulting discussion between a priest, a rabbi, a Presbyterian and Orthodox minister.
The musical numbers (the Coens have done musical numbers before in their films such as the dream sequence in The Big Lebowski. The KKK gathering in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is defenitely their most irreverent musical number to date), the scene in the editing room with Frances McDormand. The “Would that it were so simple” scene where Ralph Fiennes plays a George Cukor inspired refined ‘women’s director’ should have gone on for ever.

Audiences may be dissappointed that some of their favorite actors are getting fewer screentime than the billing would suggest. It was definitely a marketing campaign mistake to give Jonah Hill such a top billing for what’s basically a blink and you’ll miss him cameo appearence (even more disgraceful than the Meryl Streep Suffragette one).

Jan Bollen

DEADPOOL. Marvel goes Kick-Ass.


In the opening credit scene -shot in some bullet time The Matix-like photography- instead of the usual type credits, we get some credits altered/approved by the character Deadpool of a more “truthful” nature. In stead of director it says “an overpaid tool”, the writers are referred to as “the real heroes here” the production company credit reads “some douchebag’s film” and the film is “produced by some asshats”. Stan Lee’s obligatory cameo -who’s visibily enjoying himself as a DJ in a strip club- gets a similar kind of mentioning.
The tone is set immediately, this will not be your typical superhero movie. The character Deadpool constantly breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the audience commenting in a rather raunchy manner on the action at hand, action which is rougher and the sex scenes more racy that you would expect to see in a Hollywood blockbuster. The humor obviously lets the filmmakers get away with more, eventough the film is R rated.

The film is fast paced, goes back and forward in time, has a revenge and a romance driven plot and over the top violence. Ryan Reynolds is hilarious as Wade Wilson who’s turned into the unlikely superhero Deadpool who after some experimental “treatment” to cure his cancer has some not so nice-looking side effects and some accelerated healing powers. He’s determined to take down ‘his maker’.
The film is full of popular cultural references, Reynolds is taking the piss out of himself, especially the way fun is being made of Green Lantern (2011) is priceless, as is thevcomment that the X-Men academy (Deadpool is a character that is part of the X-Men Marvel universe) appears to be populated by just 2 characters.

A more obscure reference to Monty Pyhton and the Holy Grail (1975) can be found in the fight scene between Deadpool and Colossus. Just compare the ‘swordfight’ scene that leaves a fearless knight dismembered with the fight scene in which Deadpool breaks his ankles and wrists as he continues to fight Colossus against better judgement.
The film can hardly be compared to any of the other films in the Marvel canon so far. If you’ve enjoyed such films as Shoot ‘Em Up (2007) and the Kick-Ass films (2010 & 2013) -the 2 films which I feel tonally come closest to Deadpool- this is the film for you.

Jan Bollen
(some self-proclaimed douchebag film critic)




The premise of the film is that all animals life together in perfect harmony in a civilised society without there being any form of prejudice between the different species. When a small bunny called Judy Hopps (what’s in a name) has a dream to become a police officer in the big city she gets the chance to try it, but she’s nevertheless being ridiculed.

The film is tightly structered and moves on very well. Part 1 is basically showing Daisy in training and on her first job being somewhat sidetracked as she’s assigned to parking duty. But Judy keeps her natural opptimism going, instead of  100 parket tickets a day she is convinced she can get 200 before lunchtime.
Here she meets a fox called Nick Wilde who will prove to be a true friend and great help when in the 2nd act gets her first real case. She’s assigned to find one of the 14 missing animals, a mission to prove herself or confirm -as her captain suspects- she hasn’t got what it takes to become a police women.
The 3rd act revolves around the former predatory species reverting back to their natural behavior as they are seemingly becoming wild again.

(in Europe, Zootopia in the US) tackles a lot of hot topics such as gender equality, diveristy, stereotyping, risk of racial profiling, big town versus small town mentality and as you may come to expect from Disney, some more sappy, value oriented (friendship, never give up, … ) kinda stuff.
Something you wouldn’t expect in a Disney feature is a scene set in a Naturalist Resort (don’t worry it remains very kid friendly) and therefore one of the most memorable moments in the film. Other highlights are the Police briefing scenes and an instant classic: the scene that makes fun of civil servants, in this instance of the DMV a.k.a. the Department of Mammal (i.o Motor) Vehicles run by sloths (slow-moving mammals indeed). You don’t need to be a visionary to realise that the character of Flash will become an audience favorite.
The 3D effect is ok and really starts to kick in once Judy enters the big city. There’s also a parody of The Godfather surrounding the character of Mr. Big. But let’s face it, Godfather parodies already kinda wore off or lost their freshness at the time The Freshman (1990) came out, and that one even had Marlon Brando himself having a crack at it. All in all, not bad at all.

Jan Bollen

STEVE JOBS. A Danny Boyle iFilm of an Aaron Sorkin iPlay.

steve jobs

In 2013 Hollywood made a traditional, decent but somewhat conventional biopic called JOBS starring Ashton Kutcher as the Apple guru. Writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Soical Network) on the other hand opted to compress his take on the life of Steve Jobs around 3 crucial presentations the man gave starting in 1984 with the launch of the Apple Macintosh, 1988 the lauch of NeXT after he was fired from the company he co-founded, ending in 1998 with the launch of the iMac, back in the saddle with Apple.

The entire film (except for a few short flashbacks, some not surprisingly set in a garage) takes place backstage just moments before these presentations are to take place. During these hectic moments he meets the same key players, some are or granted ‘an audience’ others impose themselves forcefully.
There’s his wife Joanna Hoffman (an excellent Kate Winslet), Steve Woziak co-founder and ‘know-how’ guy of Apple (Seth Rogen just like in Take This Waltz, very convincing in a non-comedic role), John Sculley (Jeff Daniels back for some more Aaron Sorkin dialogue, still going strong in his Will ‘The Newsroom’ McAvoy cadence) the Apple CEO that got Jobs fired after the Mackintosh failure, Andy Hertzfeld (Michael ‘A Serious Man‘ Stuhlbarg) a main engineer and last but not least, the ex-wife Chrisann Brennan (Katherine ‘Inherent Vice‘ Waterston, daughter of Sam Waterston) and their daughter Lisa who he fails to recognise as his own. The only child he’s interested in is the Apple Macintosh and later the iMac. Over the course of these 15 years they all have scores to settle with Jobs or just want what they feel they’re entitled to, ranging from alimony to recognition.

Therefore the film is truly what you could call a character driven film, the drive set by Sorkin’s typically snappy, witty, bitter and spiteful dialogues. Michael Fassbender is fantasic as the title character, and even though the physical resemblance isn’t that great, his portrayal of Jobs as put on paper by Sorkin as an arrogant, self indulgent man with a vision who won’t take no for an answer is brilliant. Obsessed with making the easiest to operate, best looking, personal computer EVERYBODY is dreaming of and hence is willing to pay the price (overpriced?) for.

Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, … ) ranges in nice performances from his excellent cast and does little to hide Sorkin’s ‘concept’ of the classic 3 act play. Luckily the makers clearly see the humor of the repetitive nature (3 presentations, same characters that go at it over the course of these 15 years) of the structure they chose to tell the story in. At a certain moment of the film Jobs states with an air of desperation: “how come everyone is coming to talk to me just minutes before a product launch?”

Jan Bollen

SPOTLIGHT. The story that uncovered the cover-up of child sex abuse by Catholic priests, from Boston to Bruges, Belgium.


The film follows a team of reporters (excellently played by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James) writing for the Boston Globe that is dedicated to investigative journalism called Spotlight. A new editor (Liev Schreiber) asks them to write a follow-up investigative piece on lawyer Mitchell Garabedian’s (Stanley Tucci) accusations regarding Cardinal Law who according to him knew that a priest named John Geoghan had been sexually abusing children and did not take the necessary actions you would normally expect.
The investigation that starts of by looking into one case slowly but surely leads to a vastly increasing number of similar cases were the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests are being covered-up systematically by the Boston Archdiocese for decades. The cases are being settled out of court, victims are not being acknowledged or helped, they’re forced to sign non-diclosure agreements and the priests are moved around from one parish to another and in some cases are put in a ‘safe’house (see also Pablo Lorraín’s El Club https://bttcinema.com/2016/01/05/pablo-larrains-el-club-where-troublesome-priests-with-are-put-in-hiding/) in a society that is not willing (or able) to except what is really happening.

The script as penned by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy is a great piece of investigative writing in its own right painstakingly recreating the lengths the reporters went to to bring this Pulitzer Prize winning story to the public. In a nice sidenote the film shows how the story is momentarily being put on hold as the coverage of the 9/11 attacks and its aftermath are taking priority. McCarthy a respected actor (he played a journalist himself, be it a dodgy one, in the final season of The Wire) made his directorial debut in 2003 with The Station Agent starring Peter Dinklage (mostly known for his role as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones) in the lead, followed up with The Visitor (2007) providing respected character actor Richard Jenkins in the lead (even leading to an oscar nomination). Jenkins can also be heard (during several phone calls but is not seen on screen) in Spotlight as he plays psychotherapist Richard Sipe.
In what could be a first, this year McCarthy has films nominated for both the Oscars and the Razzies. His previous film The Cobbler (2014) -which is not that bad at all- has been nominated for 2 Razzies as its lead actor Adam Sandler happens to be somewhat of a Razzie magnet.

Spotlight is certainly his most ambitious film to date. McCarthy is not the kind of director that likes to show off with flashy camerawork and a radical cinematic style but instead opts for a more classic approach, starting from a great story/interesting subject matter, and a gripping script superbly acted that keeps you at the edge of your seat. In the wake of the publications similar stories broke all over the globe that showed a remarkably comparable systemic problem and handling of such cases including o.a. in Bruges, Belgium (as mentioned in the end credits).

Jan Bollen

LES CHEVALIERS BLANCS. ‘The White Knights’ without shining armour.


As was the case with his previous film A Perdre la raison, 2012 a.k.a. Our Children about the Geneviève Lhermitte affair, the latest film by Belgian director Joachim Lafosse -of the excellent Ça rend heureux (2006) and Elève Libre (2008, Private Lessons)- is based on a highly publicised affair: the L’Arche de Zoé (Ark of Zoé) affair.
In the film a group of volunteer aid workers of the fictional NGO Move For Kids go to Chad to help children that are orphaned due to the Darfur conflict. The problem is that they are there under false pretenses. Instead of staying for a long period of time to provide food and education to the orphaned children they intend to be there for just a brief time only to select orphaned children under 5 and take them back to France to be fostered/adopted by French families who’ve financed the operation.

Lafosse could hardly have chosen a more interesting approach to tackle this subject matter. Instead of imposing his point of view he opted to show the motivations and actions of the different parties involved and leaves it up to the audience to draw their own conclusions. This results in a sublte and nuanced depiction that helps you on one hand to understand the idealism at the heart of the operation but on the other hand with increasing disbelief you get to witness the dangerous, naive, ill prepared and illegal nature of their undertaking. Where they start off by not conveying the local people of their true intentions (as they realise all to well that their plans are not completely on the up and up) they are becoming more and more self delusional.

The film has great performances by popular French actors lead by Vincent Lindon (Welcome, La Loi du Marché, … ), Louise Bourgoin (o.a. the underrated Je suis un soldat, 2015, … ) and actress/director Valerie Donzelli (La Guerre est declarée, 2011) and some Belgian actors as Jean-Henri Compère (a nice departure from his parts in the La Vie Sexuelle des Belges films by Jan Bucquoy) and Yannick Renier (brother of Jéremie Renier and Lafosse regular o.a. Nue Propriété, 2006 a.k.a. Private Property).
Most impressive/memorable perhaps was the unknown/first time actress Bintou Rimtobaye who plays the interpreter and serves as a kind of moral center of the film. Highly recommended.

Jan Bollen