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Suburbicon •

Starring: Matt DamonJulianne MooreOscar Isaac
Director: George Clooney
Screenplay: Joel CoenEthan Coen
Crime/Drama/Mystery, Rated: R
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: October 27, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it’s time to watch George Clooney’s biting critique of suburban America.


More like his ultra-liberal wet dream – Suburbicon. Let’s Recap.


We meet Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his crippled wife Rose (Julianne Moore), sister-in-law Margaret (Julianne Moore), and son Nicky (Noah Jupe). They live in Suburbicon, a fictitious all-white middle-class neighborhood in 1959 America.


Young Nicky Lodge neighborhood is up in arms because a black family has moved in next door. Nicky’s invalid mother Rose tells the boy to go play with the family’s young boy. This causes unrest in Rose’s sister, Maggie. That night, two men come to Nicky’s house and tie him, his father Gardner, his mother, and his aunt up and chloroform them into unconsciousness. But just as Nicky is drifting off, he sees one of the men give Rose an additional dose of chloroform. When he awakes in the hospital, he learns that his mother is dead.


Greg, Suburbicon is a Coen brothers misfire. Intended to be a dark comedy, the film is instead a soul-crushing story that left me thinking, “what’s the point?” There are two stories running parallel here, the main one involving a love-triangle murder to collect on a life insurance policy. The second storyline isn’t so much a story as it is a neighborhood’s violent tirade against an African-American family. The connection between these two tales isn’t fleshed out, and all I can figure is that the main story is about family dysfunction while the secondary story shows us societal dysfunction.

Everyone in this film is a vile character, with the exception of Nicky’s uncle, who dies while saving the boy from one of the killers. I get the impression that the Coen brothers felt like producing something dark a la Fargo but they forgot to insert Fargo’s cleverness or charm. There are no real heroic journeys to follow, only an anti-hero story that went basically nowhere. Even the film’s ending fell flat, with Nicky deciding to go play ball with his African-American buddy next door while blood-soaked bodies are littered about his home. I suppose this ending is intended to offer a sliver of hope, but I found it to be totally contrived.


I fully concur, Scott. This film is supposed to be some sort of cynical look at White America in the 1960s. I suppose what the twin stories is supposed to show is that Suburbicans thought the nice Black family were monsters, when in fact the true monsters were right next door.

There’s a point in the story when the insurance adjuster proclaims “There are just so many coincidences. One coincidence smells bad, but too many make a story smell really bad.” He could easily have been talking about this very movie. The boy, Nicky is not supposed to be at the initial police line up, but there he is. He’s not supposed to be in the room, but there he is. Someone turns the light on, and the bad guys can see him through the two-way mirror. And this is just in the first 20 minutes of the film. Truly, a more contrived set of circumstances could not have been created in a motion picture.

The thing that really grinds my gears is that this is not the film we were sold in the trailers. If you look at them, they sold us a dark comedy about a milquetoast man who defends his family, home, and neighborhood from the onslaught of an external mafia invasion. That seems interesting. But this film, whatever it thought it was, was not anywhere near what was promised.


There is an anti-hero’s journey of sorts, with Gardner descending into a dark world (which he’s made for himself). His descent gets deeper as one mishap after another seals his fate. Gardner doesn’t really undergo any type of transformation, although one could possibly argue that his villainy escalates during his attempt to save his skin. The secondary plot is void of any hero’s journey or transformation unless, again, one makes the argument that the neighborhood’s intolerance of the African-American family grows increasingly hostile over time.


I fully agree, Scott. The confusing thing about this story is that it’s told pretty much from the point of view of the young boy, Nicky. And yet, it’s the story of the anti-hero father. The story of the next-door-neighbor Black family is merely a side-by-side comparison. Nothing is learned and the artistic statement falls flat. This was a total waste of celluloid. Oh wait, this was a digital movie, so there’s a small win in that no film was harmed in the making of this story.

Suburbicon was a complete waste of time and resources. George Clooney and his Coen brother friends have lost their minds thinking that they were telling some sort of tale of White corruption. In fact, they promised a campy comedy and delivered a complete zero of a movie. Sadly, several very good performances, camera work, and costuming were also wasted. As much as I wanted to give zero Reels, I have to at least appreciate the visual appeal of this film. I give Suburbicon just 1 Reel out of 5.

The main character is the anti-hero Gardner Lodge. But the story is told through the eyes of young Nicky. If we view this as an anti-hero story we have to decide if the decline and eventual downfall of the protagonist delivered a cautionary tale. I’d say it did not. There is no real message to this story and the journey that both Gardner and young Nicky take leave us nothing of value. I give them 0 out of 5 Heroes.

And finally, we look for transformation in our movies and there is little to be found here. Almost anyone of note in the story ends up dead. Even Gardner is killed not by any action of his own or his son’s, but by accidentally eating the poisoned sandwich Margaret had intended for Nicky. So, Nicky doesn’t even stand up for himself but is saved by happenstance. I award 0 out of 5 Deltas for Suburbicon.

Movie: Transformation: 0  Heroes: 0


Suburbicon might as well have been named Subpar-icon. It baffles me that the Coen brothers and George Clooney bought into this anemic and unsatisfying screenplay. The main story simply describes a crime gone awry, and the peripheral story is merely the depiction of angry racists. It’s sad to give the Coen brothers only 1 Reel out of 5 but that’s all this film deserves.

I see that you’ve given both the heroes and their transformation a rating of zero, Greg. You make a good argument that there is nothing heroically of value, yet there may be a smidgeon of an anti-hero’s journey worth considering. Unlike you, I do see a cautionary tale here, with Gardner reminding us that crime never pays and that karma is a bitch. So I’ll give the anti-heroes 1 measly hero rating out of 5. The paucity of transformation merits (if that’s the right word) a barren 0 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: 0  Heroes:

The Circle 1/2

Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega
Director: James Ponsoldt
Screenplay: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it’s time to circle the wagons and review The Circle.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

I’m coming around to it, Greg. Thanks for keeping me in the loop. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Mae (Emma Watson). She works in a dull cubicle job collecting money for the water department. When one day, her best friend calls and says she got an interview with “The Circle” – an Apple/Google/Facebook-like company that specializes in social media software. The interview is a bit bizarre, but she gets in and can’t wait to get started.


Mae begins working at the Circle and immediately realizes that she is expected to make the job her entire life — her friends, activities, and parties are all arranged by the Circle. At one of these parties she meets Ty Leffit (John Boyega), one of the mythical founders of the Circle who has now gone incognito. Mae realizes that Ty doesn’t revere the Circle as everyone else seems to. Soon Mae is taken under the wing of Circle co-founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), who uses Mae to demonstrate the formidable power of social media.


Scott, The Circle is a movie that cannot find its center. On the one hand it wants to show us the scary side of social media and technology. On the other hand, it seems to solve all problems by adding technology to our lives.

The company introduces a mini-cam that is the size of an eyeball and can be glued to any standing structure. The idea is that it can see everything all the time. We’re never shown the downside of this but we’re led to believe there is one.

Then Mae goes “transparent” – broadcasting her every move to the world. But it gets scary when she accidentally broadcasts her parents having sex.

Then she outs a fugitive using the ubiquity of cellphone cameras. But then her best friend is killed when the same social media tool is used to chase him down. We can never tell what this film is trying to say – is technology good or bad?


I think it’s trying to say that it’s both. It’s good when used wisely and bad when used unwisely. Kind of like money, sex, marriage, and a million other things that can be good or bad.

The Circle is a well-intentioned movie about the dangers of technology in compromising our privacy. Alas, good intentions do not necessarily translate into good movies. There are major problems with this film that make me surprised that actors as seasoned as Tom Hanks and Emma Watson would agree to be a part of it.

First, this theme of technology invading privacy is hardly new. This topic has been bandied about for many years. Second, the way the storyline unfolds is painfully predictable. We know from the start that the Circle is evil, and so the ending of the film is entirely anticlimactic. Third, Emma Watson fails to portray a character who convincingly evolves from naivety to revelation. She just sort of changes one day without us seeing it happen. That’s simply bad filmmaking.


I cannot measure just how disappointed I was in this film. If you want to see both sides of an issue look at the filmcraft of Eye in the Sky. Here, three points of view about the collateral death of a young girl during a bombing the middle east are presented. It leaves the conclusions to the audience, but it makes clear that there are no good solutions.

But The Circle simply moves from one technical issue to the next with no resolution to speak of. And the writer seemed to have no comprehension of how technology works. We were dragged into an abandoned subway where apparently hard drives would be spun up with information on each of us. In fact, data is distributed across the globe to promote redundancy.

On top of that are glaring contradictions in philosophy. In one scene, Mae is devastated by the loss of her friend Mercer who died at the hands of a social media chase she instigated. She apparently has shunned technology. And so she reaches out to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) – using her cell phone. She’s in a video chat with her friend and says: “I like this. This personal connection. This is the way people should communicate.”

This was a serious face-palm moment for me. Apparently, using the internet to have a personal conversation is alright. But using the same technology to talk to a hundred people is not. Apparently talking by way of videophone is better than meeting in person. The movie is rife with these contradictions. It was maddening.


The hero’s journey is boring and predictable. Mae is excited to join the Circle and we know from the get-go that she will eventually come around to seeing the Circle as the evil entity that it plainly is. There’s not a single surprise in this movie. The only surprise is that the film was made and that good actors found themselves trapped in the Circle.

So while Mae does undergo a transformation, we aren’t impressed because we know it’s going to happen about 10 minutes into the film. And even though Mae transforms, it’s not clear in her acting that it’s happened. You don’t see it in her eyes or in her gait or anywhere — except in the speech she gives to trap Bailey at the end. This movie is a true yawner.


I don’t have your talent for clairvoyance, apparently, Scott. I can’t see what isn’t there. There is no hero’s journey in this film. We never get to see what the leaders of The Circle want. We never see Mae overcome an obstacle because every obstacle is replaced with something beneficial: When Mercer dies, The Circle invents self-driving cars to eliminate car accidents. When The Circle realizes that all voting age people are members, they create democratic voting online. Is this good or bad? We can’t tell because the ramifications of these acts are never shown.

In the final act, when Mae exposes all of The Circle’s emails, Tom Hanks turns to his henchman and says “we’re fucked.” But we don’t know why they’re fucked – because we never saw a single email they sent. No conflict means no transformation and no story.

The Circle is the most nonsensical movie you will see this year. It has no opinions about technology. Most of the technological issues it presents have been dealt with in the recent past – and in some cases decades ago. Some very fine performances from Tom Hanks and Emma Watson are wasted. I recently called out The Promise as a cause film which did not serve its cause. The Circle is a cause film without a cause. If you avoid one movie this year, make it The Circle. I give it zero out of 5 Reels.

Mae is a likable and naive young woman with noble intentions. She loves her parents and wants to help them. She likes her friend Mercer, even if she can’t return his love. But she never encounters any real obstacles and so can never grow. As a hero, she gets a mere 1 Hero out of 5.

There are no transformations in this story. Except that I was transformed from alert and watchful to bored and sleepy. I give The Circle zero Deltas out of 5.

Movie: 0  Transformations: 0  Heroes:


The Circle certainly was a gigantic disappointment. This movie should have gone straight to DVD or blu-ray. The plot is painfully predictable and the issues about technology are not explored in any depth or in any way that holds our interest. Only true diehard fans of Tom Hanks or Emma Watson may want to give this film a look. No one else should dare go near. I give this movie 1 Reel out of 5.

Mae’s hero journey is mapped out for us from the very start, and so it’s a major disappointment not seeing a single surprise from start to finish. We’ve already talked about the lack of any meaningful transformations, so let’s get right to the ratings: 1 Hero point out of 5, and 1 transformation Delta out of 5, too.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes: