Hail Caesar! makes no sense whatsoever, but it’s fun as shit

Hail Caesar isn’t a ‘good movie.’ It hangs together about as well as a shirt made out of snot. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun watching it. I think I continuously smiled for about 75% of its running time. It’s utter, incoherent nonsense, but I think that’s something I can tolerate every once in a while.

Hail Caesar is the Coen Brothers film I’ve seen that makes the least amount of sense. A friend of mine compared it to Fiasco, the roleplaying game where a group of people draw randomized character roles and act out (a Coen-Brothers-esque, according to the actual rules!) story about ambitious people behaving badly. In games of Fiasco, you will have a lot of hilarious interactions with your fellow-players, but nobody’s in charge of the ‘plot’ of the story, if one can even be said to exist. Things just happen. Fiasco is a grab-bag of interesting scenes, and the scenes are where you find the fun. Same for Hail Caesar.

Hail Caesar tries to tell the story of Eddie Mannix, a film studio executive working in Hollywood during the 1950s. (He was a real person, but Hail Caesar’s version is totally fictionalized.) He’s played very expressively by Josh Brolin, who does a great job despite the fact that the character, as he’s written, makes no sense whatsoever, and is probably the least compelling human in the entire movie. Mannix is a producer, and a ‘fixer’ who helps stars hide their indiscretions; during the film he helps to conceal infidelity, potential treason, a kidnapping, some hopscotch lawyer jokery involving an actual human baby, and a variety of other extremely entertaining, morally ambiguous stuff.

Though he solves all these embarrassing problems without a single moral twinge, he is secretly a huge square, and is absolutely wracked with guilt about completely irrelevant shit, like his smoking habit. This would be a fun character contradiction if the script sold it in any believable way, but no matter how hard Brolin commits to it, there isn’t enough in the movie about Mannix to make it stick, and the stuff that’s there is weird and contradictory. He’s a Catholic who goes to church literally every day, but doesn’t know enough basic Catholic theology to even have a conversation with a priest. He behaves as if he’s on eggshells with his wife, despite the fact that she’s written and acted like a unquestioningly devoted partner. He has a Great Dilemma which is so badly forced that it never even once feels like a serious dilemma of any kind. He feels like a bunch of Everyman qualities written on tennis balls and shot out of a potato cannon at a velcro target.

Sorry, that’s a very specific image. What I mean is: he’s sloppy. He’s sloppy, and he is the only thing hurting this movie.

Because it’s the minor characters who really make the film. If Hail, Caesar! had been presented as a deliberately unfocused collection of vignettes, I would have loved it unreservedly. Its themes might have even stood out better without Mannix scrambling around trying to unite them. Almost every single minor character lives out a full and satisfying little story– from Hobie Doyle (Alden Erenreich), the cowboy film star who struggles with an ‘image change,’ to DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), the synchronized-swimmer-slash-actress who’s pregnant without a husband. The most impressive treatment is reserved for Channing Tatum’s Burt Gurney, a Gene Kelly-style leading man who appears in only three scenes, yet enjoys more personality, mystery, drama, and humor than anyone else in the film. Very few moments actually feel wasted. Like a game of Fiasco, it’s got a kind of moment-to-moment vivacity that, had it been handled better, could have left me recommending this movie to everyone I know.

The moments just don’t make any sense together, that’s all.

Hail, Caesar! has a lot to say about religion, politics, showbiz, responsibility, faith, history, and the film-studio system, and in trying to juggle these themes, it drops every single one. But it has life; it made me smile; it made me let out one or two uncontrollable barks of laughter.

And at the end, it made one of the people in my showing blurt “WHAT?” at the final credits, a “That’s IT??” implied to the rest of the theater as we all chuckled, uncomfortably, and headed for the doors.

And I was uncomfortable, too. But I’d been smiling the whole time, and I was still smiling, and I’m smiling even now, remembering it.

Recent Twitter Projects

I haven’t written about this here yet, but for the better part of the last year I’ve been experimenting with twitter bots. Specifically, I’ve been using Cheap Bots Done Quick, a phenomenal tool that allows anyone to build a twitter bot with very little effort.

It uses Tracery, a syntax that I have used a few times in Twine as well. Tracery allows you to create sort of mad-libs style randomized text passages, and by nesting its structures within one another you can create quite sophisticated constructions.

I currently have four twitter bots active, only three of which I actually like.


The joke here is that it’s a really bad writing prompt bot that only suggests bad mashups of existing intellectual properties/TV and film tropes. It’s not very big and is not very capable of producing interesting, intricate tweets. However, every once in a while it turns out something quite charming indeed:


This bot is my absolute favorite that I’ve helped make so far. I made it with my friend Tara, who does not use twitter. It generates endless Sherlock Holmes mystery titles and is absolutely glorious and perfect.

I sometimes respond to autodoyle tweets with my own little flash-fiction story excerpts. Some other people have started doing this too! They’re often quite good. Here are some of my favorite ones I’ve done.


This bot I made all by myself over the holidays. It generates X-Files plots out of thin air! I wrote it during an X-Files binge and I think it’s quite good for what it is.


This is not a twitter bot! It is a REAL RESTAURANT that tweets dishes, specials, social events, and random news about goings-on in the small town of Earlmouth, Massachusetts. I “discovered” it with a few friends of mine– this guy and this guy— over the holidays.

There’s a lot of really weird stuff going on in Earlmouth! Alice and Sam, owners of the restaurant, are frequently at odds with their ex-busboy, Justin B, who disapproves of the cult they have helped to start. Everyone’s eating some weird fish, Trench Wizard, and arguing about whether it is responsible for all the bleeding they’re doing out of their many orifices. There’s a “ceremony” out on the bay every Friday night. Weird shit! Weird shit!