Movie Review ~ Suburbicon


The Facts
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Synopsis: A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.

Stars: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac

Director: George Clooney

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: You should thank your lucky stars that the trailer for Suburbicon was so terrible. When I first watched it and reviewed it, I was unsure if I’d even be interested in seeing what should have been a slam-dunk from a bunch of talented A-Listers in front of and behind the camera. Though I often turn my nose up at the thought of seeing a movie with a lousy trailer, there’s really no way I was going to miss one directed by George Clooney, co-written by the Coen Brothers (Hail, Caesar!), and starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac.

So…into the screening I went with low expectations and a general puzzlement as to what was in store. Thankfully, here’s a rare example of a good movie with a stinker trailer…as we all know it’s usually the other way around. While Suburbicon definitely has its drawbacks, this dark comedy is one of the few films I’ve seen in recent memory that feels like it has a brainwave and not just a faint pulse.

Opening with an ad for the community living offered by the Suburbicon development, audiences will be quick to spot something missing. There are ads boasting the quality of the house of the future, the robed choir, the supermarket, and the shopping mall. Pictures of families with gleaming white grins from all over the country that have flocked to the suburbs are on display. The one thing we don’t see? Minorities. This point is driven home in one of the first scenes that show the neighborhood aghast when a black family moves in and that’s when all kinds of heck breaks loose.

Well, actually that’s what is happening in one part of the neighborhood. The new family shares a backyard with the Lodges and they’re really the main focus of the movie. While the concerned citizens of Suburbicon rally themselves into a frenzy to try to oust the peaceful newcomers in increasingly violent protests, they aren’t privy to the deadly dealings developing in the Lodge house. Husband Gardner (Damon, Promised Land), his wheelchair-bound wife Rose (Moore, Wonderstruck), their son Nicky (Noah Jupe), and Rose’s twin sister Maggie (also Moore, Still Alice) are terrorized one night by two men Gardner seems to know. In true Coen fashion, there’s a dark secret beneath this evening meeting that sets into motion sundry dealings that will impact each member of the Lodge family. Saying more might reveal more of the tricky workings of Suburbicon’s third act so let’s just say when a curious insurance agent (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year) starts poking around, it spells trouble for Gardner and company that can only be solved by copious bloodshed.

Where this movie feels so strong is in the fact that everyone involved with Suburbicon seems to understand what movie they’re in. Not only is this evident in the period setting (with its Formica tabletops, gingham aprons, and rolled dungarees) but in the way that deception and anger were allowed to boil just beneath the surface. Never belying the cheerful façade painstakingly put on by the men that went to work, the women that stayed home, and the kids that wanted to grow up to be just like their parents, Clooney (Tomorrowland) and his actors play it largely straight and let the material do the work for them.

That’s also where the movie shows a bit of weakness. Trusting the material this implicitly leads some actors astray and not everyone is successful in their time-warp back to Suburbicon. Damon feels like he’s coasting here, probably because he’s played this type of flawed family man a few times already. Moore definitely knows her way around a period costume and plastered on smile and manages to make both her characters distinct without drawing them too broadly different…they are twins after all. Jupe is a real find and often steals the movie right out from under his co-stars that have already been showered with awards for their previous work. If there’s one person that gets it note perfect it’s Isaac as a complex investigator who susses out something is up in the Lodge house. As usual, Clooney fills out the supporting players with a wacky variety of kooks of all shapes and sizes.

I went into Suburbicon thinking that it would drown in Clooney’s apathy toward this “simpler time” but he doesn’t treat anything with a wistful eye. The story being told here just happens to be set in the ‘50s but there’s nothing saying it couldn’t easily have taken place in present day and been able to suggest the same inequalities in society. Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov worked on the script with the Coens so it’s easy to see where one group started, and one group stopped. While the Coens love a good shot of cynicism, leave it to Clooney to inject some emotional honesty right alongside it.

The Silver Bullet ~ Suburbicon

Synopsis: This is a tale of very flawed people making very bad choices. This is Suburbicon.

Release Date:  October 27, 2017

Thoughts: Oh goodness, what to say about this weird little trailer?  Though it boasts an appealing array of stars in front of and behind the camera, I’m just not sold on moving to Suburbicon at first glance.  As is the case with most previews lately, too much is given away in the trailer, apparently leaving very little to entice audiences to want to know more.  Director George Clooney (Tomorrowland) and writers Joel and Ethan Coen (Hail, Caesar!) are going to have to bank on more than just fans of Matt Damon (Promised Land), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), and Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year) to get the word out about this tough sell.  To me, it looks too much like it will feature the worst of the Cohen’s back of tricks and Clooney’s strange directorial missteps.  While I’m always intrigued about films set in this era, it already feels like it’s going to be a chore to sit through this one.

The Silver Bullet ~ Bridge of Spies

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Synopsis: An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union

Release Date: October 16, 2015

Thoughts: Director Steven Spielberg (JAWS) has been pretty quiet lately. The last film he released was 2012’s lauded Lincoln but while he was attached to any number of rumored high-profile projects he’s making his return with this Cold War thriller starring Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips, Cloud Atlas). Reteaming with Hanks for the fourth time, Spielberg seems like a good fit for this period piece that could be thinking man’s action film after a summer of brainless blockbusters. With a script from Joel and Ethan Cohen (Unbroken, Inside Llewyn Davis) and supporting cast that includes Alan Alda (Wanderlust), Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods), Amy Ryan (Birdman), and Mark Rylance…expect this one to attract a lot of end of the year awards talk.

Movie Review ~ Unbroken

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp

Stars: Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Miyavi

Director: Angelina Jolie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: I’m still kicking myself for not finishing Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling novel about the life of Louis Zamperini but time just got away from me.  Unlike most films based on books that I’ve seen before reading the source material, the film treatment of Unbroken actually makes me want to go back and read the book.

The story of Zamperini’s fight for survival first on his 47 days on a raft in the ocean and then as a POW in WWII is the stuff that should have made for a movie with more impact than the one presented here on screen.  With a script from Joel and Ethan Cohen (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) in the director’s chair I really expected this to be more of a winner than it winds up being.

It’s a strange occurrence, really, because Jolie has herself a strong leading man (Jack O’Connell) handling the life-changing moments of Zamperini with a believable air of resilience and an unbelievable true-life story with a seemingly endless supply of emotional twists.

All through the film I kept waiting for a time when I was moved to feel something beyond what was being presented in the current scene.  Several weeks after screening the film I’m still struggling to find where the film missed the mark or, perhaps, where I missed that moment.

Maybe it’s because aside from (and in addition to) O’Connell the rest of Jolie’s cast is filled with GQ-ready soldiers that look as if they were picked from an MTV casting session.  With their chiseled jaw-bones, washboard abs, and hair that stays perfectly coiffed even after two months exposed to the elements, Jolie’s soldiers felt like play-actors rather than true face of WWII soldiers.

The central villain of the piece also fares poorly on screen with Miyavi (a rock star in Japan) playing his devious Japanese guard more like a Bond villain than the unyielding tyrant Zamperini encountered.  Actually, Miyavi’s performance reminded me more of Jolie herself in Maleficent with his lines delivered in a soft purr that I’m guessing were intended to convey more of a sense of terror than they do.

On the production side, Unbroken’s atmosphere hits a bulls-eye.  From the striking costumes of Louise Frogley (Flight) to the production design of the various camps Zamperini encounters to Roger Deakins (Skyfall) sumptuous cinematography to Alexandre Desplat’s (Godzilla) unobtrusive score the effect really makes you feel like you’re watching a film of that time and era.  Even some muddled special effects somehow are forgivable.

Though I feel the film is missing a chunk of time to connect a few dots, it’s when we see the real Zamperini near the end when I felt that lump in my throat I’d been missing the last 120 minutes.  Perhaps Unbroken would have been better served going the documentary treatment rather than a dramatized one.  While it lacks overall impact and doesn’t exactly signal Jolie’s arrival as a significant director, it’s a story worth taking in. Reading the book may be a better option, though.

The Silver Bullet ~ Unbroken

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Unbroken

Synopsis: A chronicle of the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II.

Release Date: December 25, 2014

Thoughts: A film with such pedigree comes along once in a blue moon so even if this trailer for Unbroken had been two minutes of orange juice being poured I still would have this on the tippy top of my most anticipated films of 2014.  Directed by Oscar winner Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) from a script by Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s blockbuster bestseller, Unbroken could appear to some as the most tasty of Oscar bait treats.  However, seeing that it’s based on the incredible true story of a P.O.W. during World War II and his journey toward forgiveness, I just can’t deny the classic feeling the movie invokes within me.  Fingers, toes, and eyes are crossed that this impressively moving trailer is backed up by an equally worthy film.

Movie Review ~ Inside Llewyn Davis

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I went into Inside Llewyn Davis with a bit of trepidation at the thought of two hours of melancholy set to a folk music score.  You see, I don’t seem to have it in my bones to have quite the love affair with the Coen Brothers as most dedicated cinephiles do.  For every homerun they hit (No Country for Old Men, Fargo, Blood Simple) they produce their fair share of fouls (Burn After Reading, Intolerable Cruelty) as well.

It tends to go that for every great Coen film, two mediocre ones follow and with their last picture being 2010’s commendable remake of True Grit I was expecting to be disappointed in their latest creation.  While Inside Llewyn Davis may have won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, it isn’t pitch perfect but I found it to resonate in the right spots.

Llewyn Davis is a young-ish folk singer in New York in the early 60’s trying to strike out on his own after his former singing partner tosses himself off a bridge.  Playing in smoky clubs with names like The Gaslight Café and the Gate of Horn, he’s clearly a talented singer but his general ‘why not me’ attitude has soured him and alienated him from friends and family.  Over the course of the week we get to know Llewyn we see him make all sorts of personal and professional mistakes in a journey that proves to be less about gaining a greater self awareness of past wrongs and more about an inner awakening of the direction his life is headed.

The screenplay by co-directors Joel and Ethan Coen is pretty maudlin and curiously lacking the usual crackle they instill in their dialogue.  Even with that spitfire patter absent, the film is dryly funny with many scenes soaked through with an acidly salty banter between Llewyn and the like.

As our titular anti-hero, Oscar Isaac (Won’t Back Down, The Bourne Legacy) possesses a helluva voice that fits perfectly into the folksy tunes compiled by dynamo music producer T-Bone Burnett.  Each scene seems to have a song to go with it and the film is most surely at its assured best when Isaac, Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby), Justin Timberlake (Runner Runner), and Stark Sands (Broadway’s Kinky Boots) are plaintively singing in their quiet way.  I’m not a huge folk music aficionado but these music sequences (all set realistically and not staged like a musical) were the moments I was truly transported within the film.  The songs are so good, in fact, that the movie could have excised all the dialogue and just kept the songs to tell the story and the effect would be the same.

Where the film struggles are the moments between the songs when the situations get a bit routine.  Though a wayward road trip with John Goodman (Flight, Argo, ParaNorman, Stella) and Garrett Hedlund  has moments that exemplify the quirkiness that put the Coen Brothers on the map, too often we’re treated to the same incidents were Llewyn screws up and is reprimanded…usually by a woman so it comes across as mundane brow beating.

Though the film is fairly somber, I left with a song in my step feeling more refreshed than I have at other Coen films.  Like all of their films it’s a quiet affair best taken in in some small dinky theater with sticky floors and non-stadium seating…exactly the opposite of the refurbished classic theater I saw it in.  Even so, this earns a recommendation for Isaac’s strong leading performance and a soundtrack you’ll want to get your ears on pronto.

The Silver Bullet ~ Inside Llewyn Davis

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Synopsis: A singer-songwriter navigates New York’s folk music scene during the 1960s.

Release Date:  December 6, 2013

Thoughts: Just hearing the Coen Brothers names sends most cinephiles into a delirious ecstasy of some certain magnitude.  The oddball films the brothers have created over the last three decades have scored high points with critics and audiences alike and though each film isn’t a winner (I’ve found they have a 50/50 success rate) there’s something to be said for their particular style that’s instantly recognizable.  Their newest feature is Inside Llewyn Davis and if the first preview is any indication, it’s classic Coen through and through.  Though John Goodman (Flight, Argo, Stella) gets some nice laughs I found myself sinking lower and lower in my seat because I feel it’s a film I’m going to enjoy in a sideways sorta way – one I’ll appreciate but not love.  Highly anticipated, expect this one to be on the Oscar watch list when it’s released in December.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gambit

Synopsis: An art curator decides to seek revenge on his abusive boss by conning him into buying a fake Monet, but his plan requires the help of an eccentric and unpredictable Texas rodeo queen.

Release Date:  TBA

Thoughts: With a script from the Cohen Brothers that’s adapted from a late 60’s British caper film (starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine) and a game cast, this looks like a slyly fun movie that might just end up to be a harmless blip on the radar for all involved.  Early word on the film is that it’s a marzipan treat that will be pleasing to view but nothing much more than that.  Sometimes, that’s OK…as long as everyone is on the same page.  Cameron Diaz will never be a real leading lady in my book but Colin Firth seems to be on his game here.  Never count out Alan Rickman as he likes to keep things fresh and fun.