Friday, October 27, 2017


Directed by George Clooney and starring Mark Damon and Julianne Moore.

The opening credits of Suburbicon depict a paint-box picture of a whitebread housing development in the late 1950s. But we quickly learn that within its cookie-cutter homes its clockwork people lace peanut-butter sandwiches with poison, serve coffee with lye, commit murder for life insurance benefits. And when the first black family moves in, it doesn’t take long before the neighbors deposit a Confederate flag on the doorstep, encircle the house with fences, and gather nightly to jeer insults and hurl bricks.

No mistake about it: SUBURBICON is a nasty piece of work about as awful collection of racist bigots and perverted characters that can be found this side of the Coen Brothers.

Indeed, the Coens wrote the script, in collaboration with director George Clooney.

Matt Damon is Gardner Lodge, an unassuming, buttoned-down businessman who lives with a paralyzed wife, victim of an automobile accident, her twin sister, and a young son. A violent home invasion assaults the family and leaves the paralyzed wife dead. But nothing is as it seems. Soon after the funeral, we find Gardner cuddling up with his very obliging sister-in-law. And the home invasion turns out to be a staged hit job to get his wife out of the way, collect the insurance, and skip town with his new honey. But one day the hit men show up angrily demanding their money. Then the insurance man arrives, convinced the case “stinks,” as he puts it and demands hush money. Things are closing in on good old Gardner. Worse, his young son knows all. And he’s in the way of a getaway.

Meanwhile, the neighbors are closing in on the hapless black family next door, under daily assault.

Murder, mayhem, race hatred are served up with a trowel. And an occasional Mad Magazine humor skitters crazily in and around the story, like a skateboard gone berserk.

Critics and viewers already HATE it. And I can’t blame them. The film veers crazily in tone, from the pastel colors of its grocery stores and hair salons to the thundering dark tones of its homicides and mayhem. There is no subtlety to characters and situations, only sledgehammer transitions. It’s all hard angles and harsh contrasts, a geometry of scene and story that’s gone mad.

It vaguely resembles the post-card facades of Pleasantville and The Truman Show and the subtle delivery of Get Out... But I have to admit I admire its comic-book presentation, whose sheer audacity is in your face, with no apologies or moderation offered.

(Purportedly, SUBURBICON is based on a true-life incident about race violence in the post-war living experiment known as Levitown, a planned community in New York state.)

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Meet a Guy Named Joe in the new BLADE RUNNER and a Guy Named Barry in AMERICAN MADE. “Joe,” whose Replicant name is K-something-or-other, flies around in his souped-up police car chasing rogue Replicants in a future of 2049. “Barry Seal” runs guns and drugs in his souped-up airplane in a past time of the 1980s.

Now, no one in his right mind would yoke together these two recent films in a review, but why not, say I, because I saw them both within hours of each other and darned if they don’t bounce off each other in many ways. Both men are the manufactured commodities of their culture. Their worlds are violent, noisy, and corrupt. Both men turn rogue against the very systems they work for. Joe begins as a Blade Runner on the hunt for soulless, android Replicants, but he eventually joins a resistance movement to restore human freedom to the world. Barry works with criminal south-of-the-border drug cartels and gun runners, but he winds up betraying them in sting operations. Joe gains the humanity that he has lost—at the sacrifice of his life. Barry attempts some measure of redemption in saving his family from prison but must lose his life in the process. And the loud and explosive soundtracks of both films demonstrate that worlds past and present are determined to pummel and pound us into submission.

Now AMERICAN MADE and BLADE RUNNER, to be sure, radically differ in their narrative and pacing strategies. The former moves straight ahead with dizzying speed; the latter slumps badly long before its own finish line. One is nimble on its feet; the other is one long slog. AMERICAN MADE’S director Doug Liman—whose racehorse techniques have given lots of buzz to pictures like SWINGERS, GO, and THE BOURNE IDENTITY—tracks the razzle-dazzle and hijinks of Barry’s career with whiz-bang cutting and skewed and jittery camera work. BLADE RUNNER’S director Denis Villeneuve—whose SICARIO and ARRIVAL were slow-burning meditations on politics and Otherness—mires down action and character in a swamp of static camera setups and tedious dialogue exchanges. The former cares little about Art; it never stops to think about what’s going on. The latter is everywhere consumed with Art; and it limps along, preoccupied with its own navel-gazing.

AMERICAN MADE lets the story tell itself. BLADE RUNNER fusses and frets with its story and wrestles it to the mat.

And just what is that story? It’s all about the fate of human identity in the face of encroaching conformity. BLADE RUNNER blurs the boundaries separating man from machine. AMERICAN MADE finds gangland corruption in the halls of Congress. Maybe it’s not so much a story as a condition. That the still, small voice of humanity is only a flickering flame against the onslaught of the dark.