There are tough choices to be made as a trio of interesting films are opening in a cineplex near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the follow:
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood–
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Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe) is an average kid living in an average house in the average neighborhood of Suburbicon. His father Gardner (Matt Damon) works in insurance. His mother Rose (Julianne Moore) is in a wheelchair after an automobile accident. His Aunt Margaret (also Julianne Moore) is visiting overnight when two men, Ira and Louis (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) enter the home, tie everyone up and kill Rose with an overdose of chloroform. It seems Gardner owes the men money and hasn’t paid it back yet so the murder of Rose was a warning. Aunt Margaret moves into the Lodge home to help Gardner raise Nicky. Officer Hightower (Jack Conley) tells Gardner to come down to the station and look at a lineup based on his description of the robbers. Margaret brings Nicky to the station because he doesn’t want to stay at the house alone. While Ira and Louis are in the lineup neither Gardner nor Margaret tells police who they are. Nicky is confused and wonders what his father and aunt are up to. Meanwhile, the Mayers family has moved into Suburbicon and caused quite a stir with the neighbors as they are black and this is 1959. The Mayers house backs up to the Lodge house and Nicky and Andy Mayers (Tony Espinosa), a boy about Nicky’s age, have become friends. Crowds gather at the Mayers house, making noise, banging drums and yelling at the family inside to move as they don’t want their kind in Suburbicon.
Whenever Joel and Ethan Coen are involved in the making of a movie I get excited. “Suburbicon” is a script the brothers wrote back in 1986 but it has only now been turned into a film by frequent Coen Brothers collaborator George Clooney. Clooney, along with writer Grant Heslov, added some story elements and Clooney directed. Perhaps George and Grant should have left the script alone because “Suburbicon” feels like a two different stories that have been forcefully fused together against their will.
The trailer for “Suburbicon” makes the movie look like a madcap crime caper and parts of the film have that tone; however, much of what is suggested in the trailer misrepresents what happens in the film with clever editing suggesting one thing is in reaction to another when the events are unrelated. Anyone walking into the movie expecting a somewhat more violent version of “Raising Arizona” is going to be disappointed. “Suburbicon” is far darker than the trailer suggests.
It is also uneven with a subplot about the community trying to force a black family to leave feeling very shoehorned into the film. It is a ham-fisted attempt by Clooney to make us see that what is the focus of public anger usually isn’t the real problem. While everyone in the neighborhood believes the black family is bringing in an unsavory element, the nice white family across the way is being terrorized by thugs because of the actions of the father. It screams hypocrisy and intolerance in a very clumsy way. Clooney has proven he is a very good movie director so it puzzles me why this effort is so uneven. I would like to know more about the creative process to put this film together because large parts of it are really good. That’s not to say the sections involving the black family isn’t good; but it just feels like it’s from a different movie.
It’s a shame the film is a bit of a mess since Matt Damon is so good as the morally corrupted Gardner Lodge. Lodge is a man that thinks he’s far smarter than he actually is; however, he quickly shows he’s quite dumb by not paying off the loan shark. Perhaps that is part of a larger plan; but even so, it spectacularly blows up in his face. Lodge is pushed further and further into bad decisions as the story progresses and is always trying to solve problems caused by other efforts to solve problems. Damon plays Lodge constantly seething with anger and on the verge of exploding. Like a good person of the period, he stuffs his rage down deep in his soul and tries to keep it bottled up. Should it be released well, people might talk and think poorly of him down at the lodge or church. Damon is infuriating as Lodge since most of his issues could be solved with one call to the police; but we know he’ll never make that call as he is a coward looking to avoid as much trouble as possible. Damon gives Lodge a boyish charm that gives him at least one redeeming quality, keeping the audience from hating him totally.
Julianne Moore is both Rose and Margaret but since the former is killed early in the film I’ll be talking mostly about her performance as the latter. Moore is stunningly creepy as the surrogate mother and wife. There is a streak of cruelty that runs through the character that turns what could have been a throwaway role into something meaningful and dangerous. Margaret is clearly mentally ill and is teetering on the edge of a breakdown throughout the film. Moore is masterful at portraying damaged characters and this one is clearly broken from almost the first time we see her.
The performances are somewhat hampered by a plot that moves at a leisurely pace. It takes too long to introduce the meat of the story after the misdirection of the black family’s arrival in town and the full story of what’s going on is never fully explained. We know Lodge owes money to the thugs but we don’t know what he got the money for. Are the thugs small time players or are they more heavily connected? Are Gardner and Margaret involved prior to the events in the film or only after? Gardner was driving the night of the car accident that put Rose in the wheelchair but did he do it on purpose to try and collect on her life insurance? There are a great many loose threads dangling by the end of the film with no satisfactory answers for any of them.
“Suburbicon” is rated R for some sexuality, language and violence. There is poisoning, strangling, stabbing and other violence shown with some of it being very bloody. There is a riot that breaks out at the Mayers’ home with windows shattered and fires set. The sexuality is limited to a scene where Nicky walks in on Gardner and Margaret having a mildly kinky scene. Foul language is scattered.
There’s a really good movie embedded in “Suburbicon” that could have been the dark and violent domestic drama that the Coen’s made famous in “Fargo” and “Blood Simple.” Sadly, the addition of a needless subplot about racism and a languid pace put “Suburbicon” on the lower end of “Best Coen Brothers’ Movies” scale. Great performances from Matt Damon and Julianne Moore almost are wasted. It isn’t the best movie but it does have its redeeming qualities. If you have the patience check it out.
“Suburbicon” gets three stars out of five.
This week, there’s a rare Wednesday opening for a sequel and the arrival of the next Marvel flick. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
A Bad Mom’s Christmas—
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Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is living an inconspicuous but brutal life as an underground fighter in Greece. He makes part of the money that is bet on him. Former CIA analyst Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) is now part of a Wikileaks-style organization that’s trying to expose covert operations. She hacks into the CIA and downloads files on 10 black ops programs including Treadstone, the operation of which Bourne was a part. The hack attracts the attention current Cyber Ops Division head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who is able to place tracking software inside the files so, if they are accessed, they can be traced. CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is informed of the breach and becomes concerned when he is told it involves Parsons, a known associate of Jason Bourne, and contacts a CIA assassin known only as the Asset (Vincent Cassel). The Asset has a special grudge against Bourne and is looking to settle an old score. Also becoming aware of the security breach is software developer Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) who created a Facebook-like social media platform called Deep Dream that made him a billionaire. Kalloor got his start-up money from the CIA in exchange for backdoor access into his software. Kalloor is supposed to be giving the same ability to spy on everyone that uses his system with the next update but he wants to end that deal, afraid the breach will expose his previous involvement with unlimited intelligence gathering. Parsons finds Bourne in Greece and gives him the flash drive containing the files including information that Bourne’s father Richard Webb (Gregg Henry) was deeply involved in the creation and operation of Project Treadstone. Parsons, tracked by the CIA and spotted with Bourne, is killed by the Asset, sending Bourne on a worldwide journey to find out the truth about his father and to try and get out from under the constant threat of death from the CIA.
You can’t help but feel sorry for the character of Jason Bourne. All he wants is to be left alone and live his life. He doesn’t want to be a killer. He doesn’t want to be a target. He is just looking for peace and quiet. Sadly for the character, peace and quiet does not a good movie make so once again he is thrown into a worldwide conspiracy against him in “Jason Bourne.”
Matt Damon’s character has always been a man of few words but never fewer than in “Jason Bourne.” According to the Internet his character only speaks about 25 lines of dialog. Bourne usually lets his fists, his aim and his driving do the talking while allowing all the other characters to fill in any information we might need. That’s the thing about the “Bourne” movies…it’s the supporting characters that put most of the action in motion leaving poor Jason to defend himself from their efforts to kill him. Bourne is merely the puppet at the end of the strings, only able to go where he is dragged against his will. Bourne could be looked at as a metaphor for the way life drags all of us around against our will. We are constantly moving from one crisis to another, frequently created by others, and having to put forth the risk and effort to clean up the mess. While the stakes we face aren’t anywhere near as high as what Bourne must deal with there are still stakes just the same.
The cast of “Jason Bourne” is excellent with Damon leading the way. His portrayal of the damaged Bourne is particularly heartbreaking in this installment. Bourne looks tired. He’s fighting for his life, figuratively and literally, just trying to stay off the CIA’s radar. Damon plays the world weary Bourne as low key, keeping his head down, unable to get a full night’s sleep and haunted by his past. Flashbacks of his Treadstone training wake him with a start. He is like a trapped animal looking for a way out. Damon’s quiet performance embodies a man near the end of his rope looking for peace and only finding more reasons he must fight.
Alicia Vikander’s Heather Lee is probably the most dangerous person in the film. Her Cyber Ops Division job gives her tools and information on everything going on in the world and she’s ambitious. You are never quite sure whether Lee is trying to catch and kill Bourne or looking to help him get away. It’s a question that isn’t answered until the very end of the film. Her performance is also rather quiet and restrained, even when facing something akin to the good ol’ boy network at Langley. What makes Lee dangerous is you cannot see her plotting and devising schemes to aid in her rise. She wants power and that’s probably the most dangerous thing of all.
Tommy Lee Jones plays CIA Director Dewey as a man in charge. He doesn’t suffer fools lightly and can be quietly threatening. That veneer of calm and collectedness is hiding a volcano of anger that comes close to the surface if he feels threatened or questioned, as is the case with Lee as she questions his decisions in front of the Director of National Intelligence. Jones has played this kind of character before but his especially craggy face adds to the façade of a calm country boy and makes him that much more of a snake in the grass waiting for an unsuspecting victim to come by. As the movie moves on it becomes easy to dislike Dewey.
The “Bourne” series has never skimped on the car chases and violence. While always maintaining a PG-13 rating throughout the series, the film’s close combat fights always feel far more brutal and bloody than they show on screen. “Jason Bourne” is no exception to this with a spectacular car chase on the strip in Las Vegas and what may be the most vicious fight of the entire series. It comes near the end of the film and much of what occurs before it leads to a battle that is filled with rage and revenge on both sides. I found myself squirming in my seat as the throw down in a drainage tunnel under Las Vegas is shot in darkness with only scattered, reflected light giving the scene a personal and private feel that implies the audience really shouldn’t be watching what’s happening. While I have my issues with the series’ use of tight close ups and jittery handheld cameras, on further reflection that technique makes the audience feel as if they are a third participant in this specific fight. We are in the middle of a life-and-death struggle and it is uncomfortable. In that regard and for this particular fight, the technique is effective.
“Jason Bourne” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language. There are a couple of the underground fight scenes. One shows Bourne being beaten pretty badly. There are other fights and shootings. None are terribly bloody but, as stated earlier, the last fight is brutal. There are also car chases where several crashes occur. We don’t see any injuries (other than to Bourne)or deaths from these crashes. Foul language is scattered.
“Jason Bourne” is the fifth film in the series based on a character created by author Robert Ludlum. It is the fourth movie starring Matt Damon as the title character and the third film directed by Paul Greengrass. Publicly, Damon is open to making more Bourne films and that isn’t the worst thing in the world. They are certainly exciting and ask some painful questions about what price our society must be willing to pay in order to have safety; however, it might be nice to actually have Bourne faced with a threat from somewhere other than within the American intelligence community. Have him drawn in to a plot by outside forces to damage American interests and he is forced to join with the CIA to combat it. If Bourne is always fighting against his former bosses, that risks the franchise becoming a predictable and repetitive imitation of itself. That’s something Jason Bourne wouldn’t stand for.
“Jason Bourne” gets four guitars out of five.
This week, there are bad guys forced to do good and a bad dad turned into a cat. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Botanist and astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a six-person crew exploring the surface of Mars as part of the Ares III mission. Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is informed by crew member Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) of an approaching dust storm that has intensified since the last weather update and may cause their return vehicle to topple over. Lewis orders the crew to head to the launch vehicle and prepare to return to their mothership Hermes in orbit. As they walk from a habitat module to the return vehicle, a piece of equipment is picked up by the wind and strikes Watney with such force that it carries him away from the others. Unable to see him in the blinding storm and receiving telemetry that his suit has been breached, Lewis makes the decision to leave him behind since it appears he is dead. The crew launches and begins the nine month trip back to Earth. Watney wakes up, injured but alive. He returns to the habitat and assesses his situation. He can’t contact Hermes or NASA since his communications equipment was destroyed in the storm. He is in a habitat designed to last 30 days with a limited food and water supply and he’s looking at a minimum of four years before the next mission is scheduled to arrive. Watney begins thinking of ways to extend his food and water supply. Back on Earth, Mars Mission Director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) asks NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) to use satellites orbiting Mars to look at the Ares III landing site but Sanders refuses fearing images of Watney’s body on the surface would turn public sentiment against the space program. Kapoor asks an operator in Mission Control to redirect a satellite to look at the Ares III location and notices a rover has changed locations. NASA realizes Watney is alive and begin working on plans to send him supplies. Using his remaining supplies and repurposing the equipment to which he has access Watney does everything he can to stay alive and have the best chance at rescue.
“The Martian” is more than a science-fiction movie. The story wouldn’t be hugely different if the setting was in the wilderness and a lone character had to figure out how to survive with just his wits and limited supplies. While the potential wait for rescue would be significantly shorter, the basics would remain the same. That’s what makes “The Martian” a movie that appeals to those that like sci-fi and those that don’t, as shown by the large take at the box office. It is a film that focuses on one man’s struggle to survive in an environment that has several different ways it can kill him. While the locale is out of this world, the struggle is completely relatable.
Matt Damon is such an everyman he easily fits into just about any role. From a troubled mathematical genius to an amnesiac super spy to a stranded astronaut, Damon finds the humanity in all his characters no matter what insanity might swirl around them. His work in “The Martian” is no different. Damon plays Watney as a brilliant man, cool under pressure, but not someone that doesn’t have doubts about his chances from time to time. The strain of being alone takes its toll on Watney and Damon unapologetically shows us his fear and anger. It’s a brilliant performance on which the entire movie rides.
That isn’t to say the rest of the cast isn’t given a chance to shine. Large chunks of the story take place on Earth and on board the Hermes. As the characters deal with the pressures of figuring out a way to save their stranded comrade and the guilt of having left him behind, we see the kind of political, personal and public relations decisions that go on behind the scenes. There are hard choices that have to be made and difficult calculations on the worth of one man’s life. Is the risk of saving Watney worth the cost in materials, manpower and possible bad PR? It’s the kind of questions the real space program hasn’t had to answer publicly but I’m sure discussions about all the possible outcomes of missions have led to some heated debates. It’s that sort of real-world consideration along with the excitement and tension that make “The Martian” such a grounded story for a sci-fi movie.
“The Martian” is rated PG-13 for injury images, brief nudity and some strong language. We see Watney’s injury and his self-surgery to repair the damage. There are a couple of views of Watney’s bare backside. Foul language is widely scattered but the film does use its maximum allowed number of “F-Bombs.”
“The Martian” is based on a book of the same name by Andy Weir. According to an interview in the podcast “SciFi Geeks Club,” Weir says screenwriter Drew Goddard consulted him on certain aspects of the story and the movie is about 95% faithful to his book. That is almost unheard of in making books into movies. That kind of adherence to the source material may play some part in why “The Martian” is such a great movie. It doesn’t dumb down the science and it keeps the characters grounded with real emotion along with humor to keep the threat of impending death from making the movie too grim. It is well worth your time and money whether you enjoy science fiction or not.
“The Martian” gets five guitars out of five.
This week, there is only one wide release film and that’s the prequel story of Peter Pan. While I may see that visual effect extravaganza, there are some smaller films that look interesting as well. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Hell and Back—
Learning to Drive—
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