Julianne Moore

Suburbicon

07/11/17

A recent viewing of the trailer for Suburbicon led me to observe that the film looked ‘Coenesque’ – so it comes as no great surprise to learn that is actually based around an abandoned 1980s Coen Brothers screenplay, which has been reworked by director, George Clooney and by screenwriter, Grant Heslov. Fans of the brothers grim, may notice a passing similarity to the plot of one of their finest offerings, Fargo. Having said that, this film steers its own course and certainly has plenty to recommend it.

It’s the 1950s and the titular Los Angeles community styles itself as a kind of dream home for middle America, proudly boasting that in its idyllic realm, there is no crime and everybody is welcome – that is until the Mayers family takes up residence. The Mayers , you see, are African-Americans and it’s soon made abundantly clear to them that the all-compassing welcome doesn’t actually apply to them. (It’s interesting to note that this part of the story is based on a real life family, the Myers, who suffered similar problems when they moved into a residence in Charlotteville Virginia in 1957). What starts as a few silent protesters balefully watching their home steadily builds until things degenerate into an all-out riot.

But while everyone’s focus is on the Meyers’ house, it’s clear that something very unpleasant is happening right next door. Young Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe) is woken one night by his father, Gardner (a beefed up Matt Damon) who tells him that a couple of intruders are in the house and he is to do whatever they tell him. As Nicky watches dumbfounded, Gardner, his crippled wife, Rose and her twin sister, Margaret, (both played by Julianne Moore) are all chloroformed to unconsciousness, shortly before he is given the same terrifying treatment. When he wakes up, he learns that Rose has died – and pretty soon, his Aunt Margaret moves into the house to lend her support. Nicky gradually begins to understand that things are not quite as they seem…

One of Suburbicon’s strengths is that much of the story is seen from Nicky’s point of view and the growing realisation that he is living in a poisonous environment is expertly handled. His burgeoning friendship with young Andy Meyers (Tony Espinosa) is also nicely reined in, just two young boys getting amiably along, the message all the stronger for not being hammered home with a mallet. This being a Coen storyline, there are of course a couple of memorable villains (Alex Hassell and Glenn Fleshler, doing a kind of demented Laurel and Hardy routine) and there’s a nice cameo by Oscar Isaac as a snoopy insurance investigator.

As the story accelerates towards its conclusion, we head into Pardoner’s Tale territory, as everyone homes in on the lure of a huge insurance payout – but Nicky (and the Meyers family) are the only characters here who really deserve our compassion, and the film kept me rooting for them right up to the end.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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Kingsman: the Golden Circle

24/09/17

Marmite movies – you wait for ages and then two come along at once.

No sooner has the Twitterverse stopped ranting about Darren Aronfsky’s mother! than they are virtually foaming at the mouth over this sequel to Kingsman: the Secret Service. The way people talk about it, you’d think the original was some kind of cinematic masterpiece. It certainly wasn’t that, but it was, in my opinion, great fun – an adrenalin-fuelled Bond spoof. This first film covered the induction of straight talking street-kid, Eggsy into the suave and sartorially elegant ranks of the Kingsmen, a secret society pledged to defend the world from evil.

Inevitably perhaps, the sequel is bigger and flashier, with such a starry cast that Taron Egerton finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being third-billed in what is ostensibly his movie. Director Matthew Vaughan and writer Jane Goldman have clearly decided, this time out, to pursue an even more audacious plot line, cranking the old silly-o-metre up to maximum override – in the process, I’m afraid, making the whole thing a tad too ridiculous even for my taste.

Drug kingpin, Poppy (Julianne Moore), based in a secret hideout in the South American jungle (aren’t they all?), is seeking to enslave the world with her own brand of opiates. She even inserts a special ingredient into her produce that turns its users into blue-veined freaks with a life expectancy of just a few days. While she’s at it, she also unleashes a series of vicious attacks on the Kingsman headquarters, killing off most of its key operatives. The only two survivors, Eggsy  (Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong), head off to Kentucky and the headquarters of Statesman, the American equivalent of their own organisation. There, they team up with Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) in a bid to find an antidote to Poppy’s drugs and save millions of people from an untimely death…

As I said, the plot is so borderline-deranged, it’s hard for an audience to feel any sense of jeopardy – and no amount of guest appearances from the likes of Elton John, Jeff Bridges or Poppy Delevingne can prevent this from feeling like an over-inflated soufflé, all style and very little substance. It’s not a total write-off, mind you. Vaughan still has a winning way with an action set-piece and there are several here that periodically ramp up the excitement, but all too soon we’re back to robot dogs, people being made into hamburgers, Eggsy knocking around with a princess and introducing her to all his mates on the estate… and then there’s the little matter of a character who was murdered in the previous film still being alive. How do they explain that one? Well, they do try. I can’t help feeling that a storyline that kept a little closer to some kind of reality would help no end.

Look, here’s the bottom line. If you didn’t like the first film, you’ll hate this – and if, like me, you enjoyed the first one, you might just be willing to accept everything being ramped up to number eleven. But as far as I’m concerned, this is where I bale out.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

(By the way, what’s with the John Denver thing? Here’s yet another movie that employs Take Me Home, Country Roads for one of its key scenes – about the fourth or fifth I’ve seen in as many months.)

Maggie’s Plan

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03/08/16

It’s ironic that before the screening of Maggie’s Plan, we’re shown a trailer for Cafe Society, the kind of film that Woody Allen makes now – ironic, because the main feature is the kind of film that he used to make, back at the height of his powers. Greta Gerwig stars as the titular heroine, a self-confessed control freak who believes she has her whole life planned out in advance. Having failed to sustain a meaningful relationship for more than a few months, but deeply addicted to the idea of becoming a mother, she decides to go ahead and have a baby via insemination by Guy (Travis Fimmel) a ‘pickle entrepreneur’ who readily agrees to eschew any notion of parental responsibility. But matters become a bit more complicated when Maggie’s fellow university lecturer, John (Ethan Hawke) asks her if she wouldn’t mind reading some chapters from his novel, a thinly veiled account of his own life and marriage to the highly successful, but  extremely neurotic Georgette (Julianne Moore).

As Maggie and John’s friendship develops, it soon becomes apparent that they are falling for each other and matters are compounded when, inevitably, they sleep together

Three years later, they are a couple with a toddler to look after but Maggie is beginning to realise that this isn’t anything like the kind of rosy future she’d envisaged. As well as her own child, she’s also handling the other kids that John had with Georgette and John is too intent on that blasted novel to pay her any real attention – so Maggie hatches a devious plan to get John and Georgette back together…

The film is a delight, funny, acerbic, beautifully handled by writer/director Rebecca Miller. Gerwig builds on the sterling work she did in Frances Ha and Julianne Moore submits another of her chameleon-like performances, that stays just the right side of caricature. Bill Hader is particularly funny as Maggie’s long-suffering best friend, but to be fair, there’s barely a wrong note anywhere in this movie, which is as light and palatable as a perfectly cooked soufflé. It’s interesting to note that there are no villains in this story, just a collection of people dealing with their own life issues- and there’s a delightful surprise at the film’s conclusion that makes for a truly satisfying ending.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Still Alice

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16/3/15

Still Alice is of course, the film that secured Julianne Moore a well-deserved Oscar and this tale of a fifty year old Professor of Linguistics, struck down by Early Onset Alzheimers, becomes even more poignant with the news that writer/co-director Richard Glatzer, died just two days after the Oscar ceremony. (He suffered from the rare but equally debilitating condition ALS.) The film is surprisingly understated, avoiding the excesses of so many other medical issue dramas and it could be argued that it cuts away before things get too messy, but the enterprise is held together by Moore’s extraordinary performance, which instills a kind of creeping terror in the viewer; we’ve all experienced many of the  problems she encounters here. Who hasn’t found themselves walking into a room and then drawing a blank as to why we’ve gone there? Could what we’ve dismissed as mere absent-mindedness be something more sinister?

We first encounter the eponymous Alice at a University lecture where she momentarily forgets what she’s about to say. A little later whilst jogging around her hometown, she suddenly discovers that she doesn’t recognise her surroundings, even though she’s right outside the University where she works. (This scene is terrifying.) Alice’s husband and fellow academic, John (Alec Baldwin – don’t be afraid, he’s quite good in this) tries to do what’s best for his wife, but the demands of his own career cause complications and there are more of those too for Alice’s children, when it transpires that the rare type of Alzheimer’s she’s suffering from is familial – it can be passed on to them. This is devastating news for eldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) who is trying to start a family of her own, while flakey youngest daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart) ironically manages to grow closer to her mother as her condition advances. From here, we witness the gradual disintegration of Alice’s life as with each successive day, a little more of her memory is eroded and irrevocably lost.

Still Alice isn’t a great film – indeed, with a lesser performance at it’s core, it could easily have stumbled and fallen, but it does have Moore’s intelligent and heartfelt input and that’s enough to kick it out of the stadium. I was warned that I would need a box of Kleenex for this one, but though I sat there consumed with dread throughout (my own Mother suffered with Alzheimer’s for the last ten years of her life) I managed to stay resolutely dry eyed  – a testament, I think, to the fact that the story never panders to histrionics and presents a realistic portrayal of an illness that surely does require more research and investment than it’s currently receiving. Worth seeing? Yes, but mostly for Julianne Moore at the top of her game.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney