Television: Boston and Hollywood

Three big movies on the small screen.

December 23, 2016 12:49
3 minute read.
Hail, Caesar!

Scarlett Johansson in the movie 'Hail, Caesar!'. (photo credit: PR)

Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing will be shown on YES Docu on December 26 at 10 p.m. and December 30 at 10:30 p.m. The 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon was an especially heartbreaking incident, since it was one of the killings that showed Americans that they could not take their safety for granted anywhere.

The bombing at the crowded event and subsequent several-day manhunt for the perpetrators was a gripping story, but this documentary, which was produced by HBO, focuses mainly on another angle: the recovery of some of the injured. More than 260 people were wounded in the bombing, many of them seriously.

The most memorable parts of the documentary are when directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work) let some of the victims and their families speak, among them newlyweds Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, mother Celeste Corcoran and her daughter Sydney, and the Norden brothers, Paul and JP. Their stories are moving as they work to recover strength and mobility, and their attitudes are inspiring.

This documentary is especially good at capturing the insular, tough nature of Boston, and those Bostonians interviewed display a refreshing lack of political correctness. While terrorists by definition aim to spread fear as well as to cause harm, in Boston, it seems, people are more likely to get angry than scared.

Working-class Massachusetts residents are the subject of one of the year’s best movies, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, which is predicted to get significant Oscar nods; and last year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight, was also set in Boston.

Spotlight, about the Boston Globe investigative team that broke the story of widespread child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and its systematic cover-up by the church hierarchy will be shown on December 23 at 10 p.m. on HOT Gold and on that same date on YES 1 at 9:30 p.m.

Some criticized the movie for being too obvious, but I still think it’s a powerful film.

I wouldn’t expect the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, which will be shown on December 24 at 10 p.m. on HOT Gold and on YES 1 on December 31 at 9:30 p.m., to get many Oscar nods in the top categories, since it’s a comedy, and comedies don’t generally do well at Oscar time. We’ll know for sure on January 24 when the Academy announces its nominations. But nominations or not, Hail, Caesar! was one of the year’s most enjoyable movies.

It’s a kind of love letter to the old Hollywood studio system from the Coens, who are the arguably the top independent filmmakers of all time (even though they work for major studios, they go their own way and always have).

But they portray the studio system in its heyday in the 1950s lovingly, even though it’s such a contrast to the way movies are made today.

The movie focuses on a conscience-driven studio executive (Josh Brolin), who has to deal with all the big problems, such as an Esther Williams-like aquatic star (Scarlett Johansson) who is pregnant out of wedlock. He’s used to this kind of thing, but when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the studio’s top star, who is filming a Roman epic (and if you’ve ever seen any of those, the parody here is priceless), disappears, even he is stumped.

The Coens haven’t been this funny since The Big Lebowski, although Hail, Caesar! couldn’t be more different from that classic.

Clooney is great playing a bombastic, Charlton Heston-like star, and Johansson is very funny, too. The movie also stars Channing Tatum (tell that to your teens if you want them to watch this with you) as a musical star; newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, who is a standout as a cowboy star who is out of his element in a drawing-room comedy; and almost every terrific character actor working today. One of the comic high points is a meeting between the executive and a group of religious leaders who are supposed to determine whether the Roman/Jesus epic is offensive.

This is that rarity, an intelligent comedy, so get out the popcorn.

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