Matt Damon as a suburbanite; Andrew Garfield as a polio victim and Ai Weiwei tracking the refugee crisis
Bit of a break this week; only a few new movies have arrived and two weren’t available for review.
You can think ahead to next week when a whole batch arrives plus both the Jewish and the Asian Film Festivals. They start Thursday and their program guides are available around town and on line (vjff.org and vaff.org).
These are here now:
Suburbicon: 2 ½ stars
Human Flow: 4
Thank You For Your Service: --
SUBURBICON: The new film by George Clooney, as director and producer, not actor, suffers from a split-personality and it’s thanks to him. The Coen brothers wrote it years ago as a home invasion story with a Fargo-like quirkiness and surprise revelations. Clooney added in a separate story about neighbors in a new subdivision harassing the lone black family that has moved in. Either story would have been good. Together like this, they don’t connect, though there is a small comment near the end that tries.
The main story is a send-up of 1950s suburbia. The opening credits, like an extended TV commercial, set the tone. A home invasion shatters it. Damon plays a dad and husband living with a wife and her sister (both played by Julianne Moore) one of whom is killed by a couple of intruders. Dad can’t identify them in a police lineup and that perplexes his son. Oscar Isaac almost steals the film with two short scenes as an insurance investigator asking questions. The story has a lot of unfolding to do and the results are perfectly logical. But the film, though there’s quite bit of fun to be had watching it, feels insubstantial. Clooney said he took out some goofy bits after Trump was elected because they no longer fit the national mood. Meanwhile, people stage noisy protests and even riot against the family next door. Like I said: split personality. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
BREATHE: You don’t need to show every detail to communicate the grim difficulties of living with a severe disability. It’s enough isn’t it to watch a 28-year-old man and father-to-be stricken by polio and causing alarm for his wife by falling down at play and breathing uneasily all night while sleeping. Then to be confined to a hospital bed and needing a respirator just to keep on breathing. “Let me die,” he pleads at one point and his doctor says that’ll happen soon. That’s stark enough for me and I’m perfectly happy with the light, hopeful, even at times cheerful spin this true story gets here. It’s a tribute to a fighter.
Andrew Garfield plays Robin Cavendish and Claire Foy his wife Diana, a British couple who refused to give in to the affliction. She first, by scolding (“You’re not dead and that’s that!”) and sneaking him out of hospital to live at home. He second, by working with an inventor friend (Hugh Bonneville) and a couple of twin brothers (Tom Hollander x 2) to create a mobile respirator and special wheelchair. He could move about, travel and speak at conferences to advocate for the disabled. One chilling sequence shows a German facility that kept people like him in what looks like a morgue. That’s rare though; there’s a sunny tone through most of the film. Jonathan Cavendish, Robin’s son, produced it and Andy Serkis, known for playing Gollum and a certain alpha ape, directed it. His mother worked with disabled children. Garfield and Foy both give very strong performances. (International Village and 2 suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
HUMAN FLOW: The statistics are just as startling as the pictures in this survey of the world-wide refugee crisis. Over 65 million people are on the move, pushed out by war, famine, political troubles or even just the lure of a better life. The other numbers that stuck out at me: fences are going up to stop them. There were 11 back in 1989. There are 70 now and Trump hasn’t even built his yet. It’s overwhelming and Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and human rights campaigner who now lives in Berlin, has set it out in startling scenes from 23 countries, including Europe, the Middle East, Bangladesh and the Mexico-US border.
There are refugee camps housing millions (one with its own economy, another seen from a drone flying over). People walk through mud and cross rivers at night. Border guards have smoke bombs, helicopters and patrol boards. Weiwei pops in like a friendly spirit now and then, once to get a haircut, usually to get human stories. A man tells why he left home: “There were missiles falling like rain.” A man just off a rusty boat says “No one looked after us.” They end up “displaced, landless and dislocated,” says an observer. Climate change will make things even worse, says another. Lincoln Kaye wrote at greater length about the film during VIFF and praised Weiwei’s artistry. You could scroll back and find that. I was struck by a very sad chord in his film. Although he’s got a clip of Angela Merkel saying “We can do it,” the response of most others, he has said, is indifference. (International Village) 4 out of 5
Two others now playing …
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE: Here’s the latest in a repeating genre in American movies: the tortured life of a soldier who comes home with post traumatic stress or other problems. We get one or more after every war the Americans get into, and there are a lot of those. This time it’s Miles Teller playing a guy back from Iraq who has trouble getting back into a normal life. It’s from a Pulitzer Prize winning book and that makes it all the more odd that the studio didn’t preview it around here, not for media or the public. American reviews say: important subject but nothing new.
JIGSAW: In these horror movie series that go on and on, it hardly matters that a main character dies. If the studio wants more, they can bring him back. Lionsgate, the Vancouver company that operates out of Santa Monica, California, put out the order, and the crafty villain of the Saw films is back in action it seems. No previews so I can’t tell you if that’s true but gruesome deaths keep turning up, even in IMAX for people who want their torture porn shown big. Filmed in Toronto and Callum Keith Rennie plays a cop.