February 5, 2016, - 2:51 pm

Weekend Box Office: The Choice; Hail, Caesar!

By Debbie Schlussel


Well, maybe the movies are getting a little better as we inch our way to May blockbusters. The studios held screenings at the same time on the same night for all three new movies debuting in theaters today. And I could only pick one of the others to see at early showings last night (both were at the same time). So, I did not see “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (which sounds dumb to me–just saying). I was pleasantly surprised by the pro-life nature of one of this weekend’s new movies.

* “The Choice” – PG-13: This is a pro-life and a pro-religion movie–a refreshing surprise and departure away from the typical Nicholas Sparks movie. (Sparks produced this and it’s based on one of his many best-selling novels.) It’s not one of his usual cloying, manipulative tear-jerker chick flicks, although it starts out to be and is packaged like one. But looks are deceiving.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I feel that one of the trailers I saw for this movie already gives some of it away, so I won’t give away what the trailer doesn’t. The film, as the title indicates, is about a choice–well, actually many choices, each of them important, but one more important than all of them. At first, you believe that the choice is really only about a woman’s choice between two competing suitors who want her to spend their lives with them. And it is that. But that’s the trick. Instead, it is about the bigger choice: whether to keep a loved one alive when he or she is in a coma and all of the medical professionals urge pulling the plug. It’s also about the choice to believe in G-d–to realize that there is a higher power above us all who has a grander plan that supercedes ours. Best laid plans . . . .

Gabby (Teresa Palmer, an Aussie who does a great American accent and resembles a blonde Kristen Stewart) is a medical student who’s moved to a small North Carolina coastal town. Her new next door neighbor is Travis (Benjamin Walker), a veterinarian. When they meet, it’s because she’s angry that he’s playing music loud and claims that his dog has impregnated hers. But, eventually, they hit it off and fall in love, despite her belief in G-d and his lack of belief. She asserts that all of the beautiful nature around them (the cinematography in this is gorgeous) and the other things that are happening in life remind her that there is a greater power and that G-d has such a larger plan that is much bigger than us. Travis, though, doesn’t believe in G-d because his mother died of cancer when he was 14, and he says the only thing you can believe in and rely upon are your friends and family. Still, their relationship grows over a month. And Gabby takes Travis to church, where his widower father is in his glory (he turned to Christianity, the Bible, and faith when he wife was sick and died).

The thing is: Gabby is already in a long-term, serious relationship with a boyfriend, a local, wealthy doctor (Tom Welling, TV’s Superman of “Smallville” fame), who is out of town for a month to open his family’s new medical clinic. When he returns, Gabby is torn between the two men, and the two men fight for her love. That is the first choice made in this movie.

But there is another choice involving life or death. There is a serious accident, and Gabby ends up in a coma. She’s signed a “do not resuscitate” document. So what do to? Is there really a higher power who has plans we don’t know–plans beyond what available science and medicine can do?

That’s the real message of this movie and it provides the answers that I’m sure liberal movie critics will hate, but I loved.

While this movie looks to be formulaic and predictable in its beginning, it throws you for a loop in what it’s really about.

In 2004, another movie threw us for a loop. In my first ever formal movie review column, I wrote about the bait-and-switch pro-euthanasia message that was really the agenda of “Million Dollar Baby,” which was promoted and billed as “Rocky in a Sports Bra.” It wasn’t. My review was quoted by Rush Limbaugh on his nationally-syndicated radio show, as well as the New York Times, USA Today, and a number of other media outlets. Soon after, I began regularly reviewing movies.

But this movie isn’t like that. The movie lets you know in at least one trailer that I saw that it’s about a romance that involves a very serious choice after a very serious accident and shows the female protagonist surrounded by tubes in a hospital bed.

Since this isn’t your typical chick flick and it’s got a great message, it’s a very bearable–and, in fact, enjoyable–romance to which to take your significant other on the upcoming Valentine’s Day weekend, next week. Guys, this is one of the more pleasant ones to sit through.

But it’s not for kids and probably won’t be embraced by religious conservatives, given that premarital sex is involved in a couple of scenes. Still, it’s a classy movie for the most part and tastefully done.

It’s rare that Christianity and the pro-life issue are portrayed so positively in a Hollywood production, and I am proud to add that the movie production involves two of my fellow Jewish co-religionists, director Ross Katz, and producer Peter Safran and his The Safran Company.

Even if you are not into the message, it’s an entertaining movie.


Watch the trailer . . .

* “Hail, Caesar!” – PG-13: I have mixed feelings about this latest offering from Ethan Coen and Joel Coen a/k/a the Coen Brothers. While it is light and entertaining, there isn’t anything very suspenseful or interesting about it.

And I had a couple of beefs with it. First, there is the belittling and mocking of the Communist threat that was present in Hollywood at the time of this movie (the early 1950s). The threat was very real, and now the threat–a bunch of morally-bankrupt far-lefties who generally hate America–is running Hollywood, which is why America is so depraved. There’s also the mocking of the ’50s’ singing-and dancing musicals as just a bunch o’ gay men. Danny Kaye and Fred Astaire are rolling over in their graves right now.

But I loved the ’50s style and glamor that is ever-present in this movie, despite the presence of two obnoxious lefties (George Clooney and Josh Brolin) in starring roles. The Coens went to great lengths to consult experts on ’50s synchronized swimming and tap-dancing and use these in the movie. It’s very charming and glamorous, and it’s entertaining eye candy.

Brolin is Eddie Mannix, a devout Catholic and head of Capital Pictures, a film studio which is owned by some rich guy back in New York. Mannix is being courted to leave his job and go for a higher-paying, easier, more cushy job at Lockheed, and he’s considering the offer, given all the stress and long hours of what he’s doing at Capital. His job includes a lot of “fixing” of scandals. He must deal with a drunk star actress who is posing for sleazy photos, grooming the image of a cowboy and western actor whom he wants in “higher brow” fare that takes place in the salons of the wealthy, and then there’s the pregnant starlet who is single (and whom he is trying to get married off so the kid won’t be born out of wedlock. In the meantime, his star actor in a Romans-versus-Jesus film has been kidnapped. And, on top of it all, there are feuding twin sister gossip columnists (played by Tilda Swinton in the vein of Hedda Hopper) trolling around for dirt for their newspaper columns. While we are watching this all unfold, we see five different movies being filmed.

There is an old-style Western with gun-slinger Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich–the Jewish actor who was discovered by Steven Spielberg at a friend’s Bat Mitzvah can even lasso your finger with spaghetti, as he does in the movie). He’s the one being groomed for fancier stuff, and he’s also fixed up with a Carmen Miranda type of actress, whom the studio wants him to date . . . all for his and the studio’s public image. But he can’t get rid of his Southern accent and it makes a mess of snobby English director Laurence Laurentz’s (“Laurence Laurentz Presents!”) fancy movie about the bored and wealthy in a fancy mansion–in which the studio has forced Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) to cast Doyle as the lead.

Then, there is the tap-dancing musical about sailors about to set sail for months without women. That’s the one in which gay sex is heavily implied. It stars Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). And there’s “Hail, Caesar!,” which features movie star airhead Baird Whitlock (Clooney). Whitlock is poisoned on the set by two extras (including Sienfeld’s Wayne Knight — Newman!). Then, he’s kidnapped by a group of Communists, called “The Future,” which demands $100,000 in ransom.

And there is also the Esther-Williams-style synchronized swimming movie, starring DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson). When the cameras stop, she is a boisterous, low-class, pregnant chick with a high-pitched obnoxious, New-York-accented voice. Mannix is repeatedly begging her to allow him to arrange a marriage, so she doesn’t have an illegitimate kid, which would be bad for the studio and its movies (including her movie). How times have changed since that golden era.

And that’s what I mostly liked about this movie. It harkens back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when morals there and in the rest of America actually counted for something (as did American patriotism) and when bad moral behavior was scandalous and embarrassing. Now it’s applauded and promoted by the studios.

This is supposed to be a comedy and there are some parts that are funny, but it’s not really that funny, and the laughs are far and few between (as well as inconsistent), relative to what you’d expect from the Coen Brothers. The best scene in the movie is that in which a rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Methodist minister and other religious leaders feud over “Hail, Caesar!” when they are called by Mannix to consult on the movie. Very funny scene.

The movie is relaxing and light, but not earth-shattering. It’s also fun and a good escape.


Watch the trailer . . .

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11 Responses

Viz “Hail, Caesar!”: I seem to remember the name Eddie Mannix as a powerful executive at MGM who is alleged to have played a role in the supposed “suicide” of TV’s Superman, George Reeves, in 1959. Wonder if the Coens picked this name deliberately for the character played by Josh Brolin.

ConcernedPatriot on February 5, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Must have! Found this on the Eddie Mannix Wikipedia page: In June 2014, Universal Pictures announced they had acquired the rights to distribute Hail, Caesar!, a film based on Mannix’s career. Hail, Caesar! was released on February 5, 2016.[11][12] Joel and Ethan Coen wrote and directed the film, and Josh Brolin portrayed Mannix.[13]

    MomInMinnesota on February 5, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Thank you for you thoughtful (as usual) reviews Debbie! I got to meet (and play a game) with Nicolas Sparks a week and a half ago while he was promoting this movie. I was in the studio audience at a local tv station and the host asked for volunteers to play “Nicolas Sparks Movie Trivia” (I didn’t know I would be playing against Nicolas Sparks!”).

Also, I think you would enjoy the recent interview of the Coen Brothers where they are asked WHY there aren’t more people of color in Hail Caesar. Whichever one answered the question said “why would there be?”

The Coens grew up in St. Louis Park (across the river from us Catholics) and knew about the anti-semetic block busting that got Hubert Humphrey riled up as Mayor of Minneapolis (back when Democrats truly cared about the little guy).

Thanks for all you do Debbie.

If I get to Pride and Predjudice and Zombies, I will let you know what I think (I think it looks like fun – but I am weird!).

MomInMinnesota on February 5, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Joel and Ethan Coen’s comments on the matter are problematic. For one, it is easy for them to say “Oscar’s don’t matter” when they have 13 nominations and 4 wins. Their claim that Oscar’s are unimportant because making money is what matters: statistically proven false. Movies that get nominated for and win Oscars – especially a lot of them – get more money at the box office, are more heavily promoted by and thus get more money on rentals/sales/streaming/TV rights deals, and it is certainly a boon for the actors, allowing them to get more higher-profile projects and negotiate higher salaries. The Coens also have a track record in this area. They have produced, written or directed nearly 30 movies over the course of 30 years, all of them with nearly all-white casts. Further, the few nonwhite characters that they have – nearly all in supporting and bit parts – are generally criminals and losers.

    That is fine for the Coens; they are free to run their business as they choose. But what I dislike is how there is a “no win situation” here. It is claimed that “blacks and Hispanics are taking over Hollywood and pushing whites out” when the truth is that whites still get over 90% of roles and especially over 95% of lead roles, and movies now are actually less diverse than they were in the 80s, 90s and 00s (primarily because of studio consolidation and most “Hollywood” studios are now actually owned by foreign conglomerates but that is another story for another day). The very few movies that have nonwhites in lead roles are taken for the norm, as part of some anti-white conspiracy, and the 95% that do not are ignored. What is to be made of this willing disconnect from reality?

    And because of the “Hollywood erasing whites” stuff that is factually incorrect, white directors and producers like J.. Abrams who DO aim for diversity when writing and casting projects are despised. So are black directors and producers who create the black-driven projects that the mainstream ignores. Even if one were to claim that the reason for disliking a Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay or Ryan Coogler is their leftist politics (bizarre because white directors and producers are equally leftist by the way) apolitical types like Tyler Perry are hated by this crowd just as much, as are clearly apolitical movies such as “Think Like A Man” and “Ride Along.”

    So, when dealing with this crowd, there are no winners. Point out that whites are heavily overrepresented – over 95% – of lead roles in both mainstream studio and independent films, you get lambasted, including getting excoriated in a manner that the ASIAN woman (Asians get treated worse in Hollywood than they do in university admissions) was when she asked the Coens the diversity question. Make a concerted effort to include more nonwhites in lead roles and you get denounced as a race traitor. Or be a black or Hispanic director who makes your own movies with largely black and Hispanic casts and these same people – instead of celebrating your entrepreneurial spirit and the free enterprise system that makes it possible – accuse you of racistly excluding whites, not being qualified to be a director, and hurting/exploiting nonwhite communities by peddling low quality entertainment (despite the fact that most of the movies produced by white filmmakers are far worse).

    It appears that what these folks really want are A) all movies to have white lead and supporting actors, with nonwhites relegated to playing criminals, maids etc. and B) no nonwhite directors, producers, studio chiefs or leading men/women. (Incidentally, there are absolutely no black, Hispanic or Asian leading women in Hollywood; by this I mean an actress who regularly gets lead roles in mainstream or major independent films. Once again, an area where things are actually moving backwards, as 15-20 years ago there Rosie Perez, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry and to a lesser extent Jada Pinkett Smith were routinely getting lead roles in dramas, romantic comedies and even action movies). Anyone who would deviate from this gets accused of being racist against whites. And anyone who complains about it gets accused of wanting affirmative action, quotas or welfare.

    That is not the take on the situation that you would get from any conservative – other than their wishing to score a few points by mentioning how racist “liberal” Hollywood actually is – but it is one that is actually far closer to being the truth.

    Tom Thumb on February 6, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Tom, Your last line is your most important…the Libtards who run Hollyweird ARE racist. Which also makes them flaming hypocrites. I am sick of identity politics. In Hollyweird, the most talented never wins. It’s like a high school popularity contest. Who cares about that especially those who made it out alive from their horrible teenage years?

      Who cares about diversity? Just give me talent and ability. It’s so obvious Hollyweird is a shallow popularity contest. Did you ever see the doco “That Guy…Who Was In That Thing?” about Hollywood charcter actors? That gives away the ghost. Most fans love the talented. We don’t keep the talented from great roles…Hollyweird does.

      Let me use an example…that Black actor Lawrence Hilton Jacobs. I think he is a huge talent. Where has he been since “Welcome Back Kotter?” By talent alone he should have received big roles. I know he’s gonna be in the new Rob Zombie film (big whoop…I am a huge fan of Zombie’s but his movies suck and don’t even get me started on his talentless wife…)…why does someone so talented have to be seen in a crappy Rob Zombie film? Also, one of my favourite actors of all time M. Emmet Walsh…he don’t look Hollywood but he’s fantastic and should be known more.

      The problem isn’t “diversity”…the problem is pap and the talentless getting a center stage. I’m bored to tears with any other type of whinging on this matter. I’m only interested in FACTS, not PC whinging about identity politics from a groups of freaks who are hypocrites to begin with.

      Skunky on February 8, 2016 at 12:01 pm

The stereotype of musical theater and films as the domain of effeminate men and homosexuals comes mostly from the Right.

Vic on February 5, 2016 at 4:32 pm

Dear Debbie! Thank you so much for sharing so Cool! I really enjoy good movies! God Bless! Sincerlly T-G.

Tirdad Gharib on February 6, 2016 at 1:40 am

The Aussies and Brits seem to taking over Hollywood. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

Tommy Thomas on February 6, 2016 at 2:28 pm

As a longtime Coenhead, hell yes, I’ll see “Hail, Caesar!”

Primetime on February 6, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Those ads were quite aggressive today. I nearly gave up. It does seem that the cinematic choices are improving marginally. It is unfortunate that “The Choice” and “Hail, Caesar” did not do well in theaters this weekend. You will probably be seeing more in the way of action movies and animated fare, since theater audiences are becoming more foreign and poorly educated.

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