Sunday 22 September 2019

Cinema: Suburbicon - the arch humour of the Coens is channelled well by Clooney

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Julianne Moore and Matt Damon in Suburbicon
Julianne Moore and Matt Damon in Suburbicon
The Star

George Clooney's career behind the camera may have peaked early with 2005's rather excellent sophomore outing Good Night, And Good Luck., a McCarthyism drama that built on the promise shown in directorial debut Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. Since then, it's been more mixed, with 2014's sloppy The Monuments Men a low-point.

Suburbicon somewhat argues that we should persevere with Clooney as a director of scope and dexterity even if not everything he throws at the wall sticks.

Retooling a shelved Coen Bros screenplay, Clooney goes for full-on Hitchcock pastiche - Alexandre Desplat's score even apes Bernard Herrmann - as he takes us out to the late 1950s where rolling suburbia as far as the eye can see is heralding a new age in US society. Or that was the plan, at least.

Matt Damon is Gardner Lodge, your archetypal middle-class, middle-management family man. One night, hoodlums break into the house he shares with wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and their son. Rose is killed, and in the aftermath, her twin sister (Moore again) moves in and fills that void seamlessly.

Something is up and the truth will out.

The arch humour of the Coens is channelled well by Clooney and, although underdeveloped, a parallel narrative involving persecuted African-American neighbours is an interesting way to show-up the privileged context from which these greedy white lives make trouble for themselves. A cast that includes Oscar Isaac and Gary Basaraba is virtually faultless.

The strange, knock-kneed energy that pervades Suburbicon is not entirely problematic but there is still an incomplete, disposable feel to it as the credits roll. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Daddy's Home 2

Cert: PG; Now showing

Despite a comedy sequence set around buying a gun for a minor (oh, America), not to mention the fact that we shouldn't really be back here at all given the dearth of laughs in the first film, a more serious elephant sits in the corner of Daddy's Home 2.

Mel Gibson's revival as a top Hollywood player, to the point he can frolic through a festive family comedy, feels bizarre in today's climate where even an allegation can see stock value fall sharply. After all, there is nothing alleged about Mr Gibson's transgressions.

It's all put on hold as Gibson plays Kurt, the estranged, devil-may-care father of Dusty (Mark Wahlberg).

Opposite, John Lithgow, a more adept comedic actor, prances about expertly as Don, father to Will Ferrell's Brad.

The four head off for a family vacation in a snowy cabin with Brad's long-suffering wife Sara (Linda Cardellini), Dusty's wife Karen (Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio) and the children.

Much like how Dusty and Brad started out in the first film, Kurt and Don are polar opposites, the former mean and snarling, the latter a weepy sentimentalist. Maybe, just maybe, they can come together in the spirit of Christmas.National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is an obvious touchstone but Daddy's Home 2 is nowhere near as rib-tickling. Director Sean Anders's script goes repeatedly to the standard festive-comedy well - out-of-control sleighs, tangled lights, uncooperative trees etc - and also tries (and fails) to pull-off a thermostat joke. Lithgow is a small mercy. ★★ Hilary A White

Battle of the Sexes

Cert: 12A; Now showing

So much has changed since 1973 and the events depicted in Battle of the Sexes. And so much has not. It makes this really enjoyable film not only interesting and engaging but weirdly pertinent. Steve Carell and the trailer notwithstanding, this is not a comedy, it's a drama with funny bits and has lots to like for a broad audience.

When they were refused equal pay despite equal ticket sales, champion tennis player Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and her manager Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) persuaded other women players to set up their own tennis tour. Much to their critics' - led by US tennis boss Jack Kramer (a tremendously supercilious Bill Pullman) annoyance - this proved a great success. Thus, at the height of the Women's Liberation movement BJK captured the zeitgeist.

Meanwhile, former tennis champion Bobby Riggs (Carell) is desperately bored in his happy retirement under the thumb of his wealthy wife (Elisabeth Shue). Seeing a way back into the limelight, Riggs challenges BJK to a match that will prove men are better than women. Really. In addition, the fight for women's rights coincides with BJK's dawning realisation that while her gorgeous husband Larry (Austin Stowell) is great, she is far more attracted to a woman called Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). Co-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathon Dayton, working from Simon Beaufoy's screenplay, deliver a layered, moving, funny and fascinating movie. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor


Cert: Club; Selected cinemas

Without any training or suitable qualification, a 26-year-old English rose by the name of Jane Goodall was sent to deepest, darkest Tanzania in 1957 to study chimpanzees, a species about which little was known.

A few years later, her meticulous field studies and dogged research led to National Geographic sending a cameraman out to film her close-up work with a local community of apes.

Director Brett Morgen (Cobain: Montage of Heck) uses that same National Geo footage (filmed by Goodall’s eventual husband, Baron Hugo van Lawick) and the recollections by the wildlife conservation icon herself (now 83) to tell a very intimate story of an individual ahead of her time who pushed through a male-dominated sector to achieve global acclaim.

Like any documentary with a potent animal theme, Jane makes you think mostly about human behaviour by being observant and hands-off.

A cascading Philip Glass score lifts the wide-screen, cornucopia-like aspect to Morgen’s superb portrait to another level of subtle grandeur.

★★★★★ Hilary A White

The Star

The Star

Cert: PG; Now showing

The nativity story can seem to have about as much to do with Christmas these days as the Celtic festival of Samhain does with Halloween. Filled with modern vernacular and poppy versions of carols and hymns, this solid animated tale looks to address this by telling the fable through the eyes of a young ass called Bo who winds up in the manger.

Without fanfare, an angel appears before Mary and tells her she's been picked to carry God's child. Meanwhile, Bo wants more from life than milling seeds for his nasty keeper, before noticing a bright new star in the sky.

Cynics may roll their eyes at the clash of religious scripture and celebrity voicing (Kelly Clarkson, Oprah Winfrey and Mariah Carey feature) but even they can't deny the efficiency of its expressive animation and creature-feature fun.★★★ Hilary A White

Sunday Independent

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