Film Review: “Suburbicon”

Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac
Directed by: George Clooney
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 44 mins
Paramount

1959. In the quick-growing town of Suburbicon things are about to get a little dicey. It seems a black family has moved into the snow-white city and the townspeople aren’t happy, even when the town leaders offer to pay for fencing to separate their houses from the new arrivals. But this isn’t the only thing going on in town. A house has been invaded and a woman killed. What the hell is going on here?

Cleverly written by the Coen Brothers (in “Blood Simple” mode), George Clooney and his writing/producing partner Grant Heslov and directed with a keen eye by Clooney, “Suburbicon” is a black comedy with a message attached. It’s also a story about infidelity, greed and murder, not necessarily in that order.

The film opens like one of the old educational films they used to show in high school. It chronicles the very beginning of Suburbicon, boasting how in a dozen years the town has grown a population of 50,000 people. Among the residents is Gardner Lodge (Damon), who lives there with his invalid wife, Rose (Moore) and young son Nicolas (an outstanding Noah Jupe). When the new neighbors move in to the house behind them, Rose urges Nicolas to go over and play catch with the young boy (Tony Espinosa) in the family. However, it seems only the Lodge’s are accepting of the newbies, as night after night, mobs begin to gather outside their house, loudly urging them to move.

On one such night Nicolas is woken up by his father who tells him “there are men in the house.” Downstairs, he finds his mother and his aunt Margaret (also Moore) in the kitchen along with two bad guys. The robbers assure them they won’t be hurt but soon tie them up and chloroform them. When Nicolas awakes he learns his mother is dead. He now spends his days playing with his new friend and his nights worrying that the bad men will be back. Even if he could sleep it would be hard with the mobs screaming on the next block.

I’ll say up front that I pretty much figured out the plot twist about 10 minutes into the film, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying “Suburbicon.” The performances are solid, with Damon also shining next to your Mr. Jupe. Another standout is Gary Basaraba who plays Nicolas’ fun-loving uncle Mitch. Also funny is Oscar Isaac, an insurance claims adjuster investigating Rose’s death.

There are plenty of laughs and some great sight gags but I did find it a little hard to chuckle during the mob scenes, which get progressively larger, louder and more violent. I understand the message, but I didn’t need to get hit over the head with it. I will say it was nice to see the Mayers (Karimah Westbrook and Leith M. Burke) portrayed as a strong black family unit. They refuse to let the hate envelop them and it is their bravery in the face of adversity that is an important part of the story.

Win Tickets to the Kansas City Premiere of “Suburbicon”

MediaMikes has teamed up with it’s friends at Paramount Pictures to give 50 of our readers and their guest a chance to be among the first to see the new film “Suburbicon.” Written by the Coen Brothers and directed by George Clooney, the film stars Academy Award winners Matt Damon and Julianne Moore.

The screening will be held on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at the Cinemark Theatre on the Plaza in Kansas City and will begin at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is let us know below your favorite Coen Brothers film. Perhaps you enjoy their early work, like “Blood Simple” or “Raising Arizona.” Or maybe you like their Oscar winning films, like “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men.” Whatever it is, let us know below. 50 random entries will be selected on Sunday, October 22 and those selected will receive the pass codes via email. Good luck!

When: Tuesday, October 24, 2017 – 7:00 p.m.
Where: Cinemark Theatre on the Plaza
Kansas City, Missouri

Film Review: “The Great Wall”

Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing and Willem Dafoe
Directed By: Yimou Zhang
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 103 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 2 out of 5 Stars

12th century China looks weird. And it’s not just because of Matt Damon’s scraggly face sticking out like a sore thumb. There’s been a lot of vocal concerns by the mainstream media that “The Great Wall” is whitewashing history, but don’t worry. The movie isn’t historical in any way shape or form. But it does manage to explain why Damon’s character is there. He’s a European merchant in search of gunpowder. He talks about how gunpowder is a rumor, fantasized about by Western powers. If someone were to find it, take it, and bring it back, they would receive untold fortunes.

That’s logical. In fact it’s the only logical thing in this illogical movie. Sure Damon has a bland accent that disappears half the time and it’s not quite clear what nationality his character is, but it’s not the explosive controversy that’s being portrayed on “Good Morning America” right now. This movie is about as historically accurate as Mel Brook’s “History of the World, Part I.” It solidifies that fact when we’re introduced to the CGI asteroid demon creatures that have been spent centuries attempting to invade China.

That’s not a glaring typo or a misplaced sentence fragment from another review. There are green monsters that come from a lemon lime radiating space rock populating the screen. These creatures are of a hive mind, following orders from an ominous queen. These green monsters apparently want to invade ancient China because…well…the movie never answers that. It’s frustrating because the writers couldn’t even bother to steal a page from the “Starship Troopers” playbook.

The queen alien, who’s very unimpressive compared to her underlings, isn’t just some animalistic creature without a shred of intellect. There’s a drive behind her as she meticulously plans out traps, devises battle plans, and evolves her army’s military tactics over decades. “The Great Wall” explain too much without ever explaining any of the basic groundwork. This should be stupid fun time at the movies, but it’s interjections of seemingly random alien rationale and ramshackle attempts at historical precedent are befuddling.

“The Great Wall” can never make up its mind on if it wants to be a serious attempt at a summer blockbuster or fantasy alternative history. It can’t be both and fails at being either one. I didn’t expect much walking in. I truly didn’t. I expected a 2017-style “Gods of Egypt” tax write off for Universal, but that’s not what I got. Even while my brain was on cruise control I managed to pick up on the poor plot pacing and subpar storytelling. That’s not a good thing.

The saving grace in “The Great Wall” is its half-hearted attempt at likable characters. It helps that Damon most likely knew they were filming hot garbage and played into its schlock. But I lacked beer and friends to appreciate the pricey travesty I was witnessing on screen. There’s no doubt that it’s visually intense and the set designs are meticulously detailed and gorgeous, but this is a rough movie to like or even recommend.

New York Film Fest Review: The Martian

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetal Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan
Running Time: 141 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

If Saving Private Ryan taught us anything, it’s that you can make a damn great film about a Damon in distress. The Martian, Ridley Scott’s joyous tribute to the ingenuity of scientists, is lightyears away from Spielberg’s gritty epic but the results are still spectacular. The Martian is a massively satisfying sci-fi film on every level that’s anchored by a standout performance from Matt Damon.

When an unexpectedly harsh storm rips through their mission on Mars, Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) makes the heart wrenching decision to leave one of her crew on the surface of the planet, presumed dead. Mark Watney (Damon) in actual fact wakes to find he’s alive having taken a communication antenna directly to the equipment that monitors his vitals. Not to mention to his own abdomen. It’s really the perfect setup for a space horror and indeed Watney’s bloody DIY surgery is cringeworthy to watch, but that’s not the film we’re watching. It’s funny that the director who gave us the iconic ‘in space, no one can hear you scream’ and with Watney has added an addendum of unless you “science the shit” out of your situation and get your own communications back on line. Here Watney’s approach is that of a highly trained scientist–a botanist to be specific–who responds not with panic but with measured practicality and optimism. Watney turns immediately to video logging his progress, a clever way to clue the audience into what’s up as well as the unspoken truth that his journal, and own sense of humor, are vital to his sanity and by extension, his survival. Damon is charming as ever in his solo scenes, still grumbling at his now-absent crew mates as he rifles through their belongings for anything useful. Like Guardians of the Galaxy last year, Watney’s ship is stocked with disco records courtesy of his captain to keep the mood on Mars generally upbeat. When he has setbacks, Damon does let loose with some powerful emotional breakdowns that are all the more affecting for how strong a character we already know Watney to be.

Meanwhile on Earth, Damon is supported by a bevy of strong actors including Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean (who gets in a pretty great Lord of the Rings shout out), Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kristen Wiig. They’re faced with not only how to keep their astronaut alive, but whether to inform Watney’s crew (still on their ship and out of the loop) and how to ‘spin’ their situation with the whole world watching. I think what’s most refreshing about the Earth-bound scenes is the spirit of rational teamwork among the NASA personnel. There’s disagreements and debates but never, as too often is the case in sci-fi films, a Bad Guy or any gross caricatures of government officials hellbent on an agenda. Some of the best scenes are the NASA leaders just throwing down challenges to their tech teams and watching all their wheels turning into motion. Scott wrings suspense out of the sheer amount of options the space agencies have for a mission where if one astronaut is lost in pursuit of another, the whole thing is a failure. If anything, the enemy is determining who ultimately will take responsibility for the chosen course of action and its outcome.

Already powered by its strong cast and the gripping central dilemma, The Martian also excels in every technical aspect. Harry Gregson-Williams provides a touching, often ‘futuristic-sounding’ score that never overpowers the action while Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is gorgeous. Jessica Chastain simply floating through her ship on her rounds is already a beautiful image and in the RealD 3D I saw it in at NYFF, it soared. The film doesn’t rely on the 3D, but it is immersive in the space scenes and frequently had me in awe. A thrilling cinematic experience made even better for regarding complications in space as inevitable and workable rather than with terror. It felt like exactly what we need in a moment where NASA continues to make discoveries (just this week: water!) despite threats of shutdown.

The Martian opens on October 2nd.