At The Movies: Suburbicon

George Clooney and Joel and Ethan Coen have teamed up to make some fine films. “Suburbicon” is not one of them.

Directed by Clooney and written by Clooney, the  Coen brothers and Grant Heslov, “Suburbicon” starts off as some kind of social satire then veers into a bleak crime drama. The two elements never intersect in any meaningful way and the result is a disappointing mess — especially given the talent involved.

6277303633381048b2a7a04c96275bea_300x442The story centers around Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe), a quiet boy growing up in the all-white enclave of Suburbicon in the 1950s. A black family has moved in next door, much to the horror of the other residents. This is played for laughs in the beginning, but soon takes a dark turn.

Nicky lives with his father Gardner (Matt Damon), mother Rose, and Rose’s identical twin sister Margaret (both played by Julianne Moore). One night a pair of burglars show up and in the commission of their crime, Rose is killed.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the plot, which unfolds at a snail’s pace.

Nicky befriends the boy next door (Tony Espinosa) and that’s the flimsy way in which these two story lines connect.

“Suburbicon” is pretty much “Fargo” but without the Francis McDormand character who gave that quirky murder tale its heart and brought some light to an otherwise morbid story. I suppose Nicky is supposed to fill that role, but he isn’t nearly as compelling.

A shout-out should be given to Oscar Issac who gives a brief but memorable performance as an insurance investigator. He’s one of the few highlights in this misfire. The film looks good and has a definite 1950s America feel about it.

One expects the unusual and fresh from the Coen brothers, but there’s nothing original about stating that there’s a dark side to suburbia, and “Suburbicon” doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

 

 

 

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At The Movies: The Snowman

I can barely generate the strength to write my thoughts on “The Snowman.” Which is fitting, given how lethargic the actual film is.

Based on a crime novel by Jo Nesbo, this thriller (and I’m being generous using that word) stars Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole, a detective in Norway with a once stellar reputation who now lives life awash in alcohol and ennui. Why is he this way? Who knows? Director Tomas Alfredson can’t be bothered to give us much in the way of motivation or back story for many of the characters involved, including the lead.

MV5BNDg1NjYyMTEyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzY4MDMyMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_One day Harry gets a mysterious note with a drawing of a snowman at the bottom. Shortly thereafter, women start disappearing. The crimes always happen when it’s snowing, and a snowman is left at the scene.

The events are similar to a series of crimes 9 years earlier. Those killings were investigated by Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer), another broken-down, alcoholic detective. Why is he that way? Who knows? I can only assume the cold and bleak climate really wears down crimestoppers.

A new detective (Rebecca Ferguson) is investigating the crimes, but Harry butts in because he doesn’t have anything else to do. (Not a lot of murders in Oslo. Maybe that’s why he’s depressed.)

The story slowly, ploddingly, ambles along to its not terribly shocking conclusion. The great J.K. Simmons gets dragged into this for no apparent reason. The film has a decent cast, but they’re wasted here. There’s also some graphic violence, but not attached to much that would attract horror fans.

“The Snowman” does get decent marks for atmosphere — you certainly feel trapped in a bitter, bleak environment as you’re sitting through it. And it does make something of a case for visiting Norway — there are some beautiful scenery and some frightening roads traveling through lovely, stark vistas.

But overall, the movie is an unfocused, muddled mess of undeveloped characters and plot.

 

A Gallrein Farms Family Reunion

So I’m sitting on the couch watching Marvel’s Inhumans (it’s really not that bad) when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Can we go to my family reunion?”

To which I reply,

“You have family?”
To be honest, I did know that Laurie had family. We’ve spent a good deal of time with her parents, siblings and nieces and nephews over the years. But we haven’t spent much time with her extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins. I’ve run into a few at the occasional wedding or funeral, but we don’t spend a lot of time together. Mainly, I suspect, because they’re scattered across the country.

It’s a different story with the Roy/Montgomery clan. In my family you can’t escape the aunts, uncles and cousins. Probably because most of them never left southwest Missouri. We don’t hook up like we used to since most of the previous generation have moved on, and us young people just can’t keep it together.

So yeah, I had no problem spending a weekend with Laurie’s family. If nothing else, I owed her for all the times she’s put up with my people.

gfarm16Laurie’s mother was a Gallrein, and the big event was to take place at Gallrein Farms in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

So last Friday afternoon we drove to the Holiday Inn in Shelbyville. Remember last month when discussing how luxury hotels don’t offer near the amenities as economy hotels? Well, here’s the proof: the Holiday Inn gave us free wi-fi, 5 HBO channels, a coffeemaker in our room, and complementary bottles of water, coffee, cookies and punch down in the main hall. And free breakfast. Take that, Harvey’s Casino and Resort.

That night we went to Cousin Eddie’s farm house for a pizza party and to visit (or in my case, meet) the family. Had a good visit and good pizza. Eddie had a really nice farm house with a large front porch which he had declared a “cellphone-free zone.” Cousin Eddie is my kinda guy.

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Gallrein Farms opens at 9 a.m. and we were told to get there early if we wanted decent parking. I figured he was exaggerating, but sure enough, it turned out everyone in Kentucky converged on GF for a day of fall fun. We spent the morning riding the train, taking a hayride out to the pumpkin patch, checking out the petting zoo (I felt a little bad for the pig that they had penned up next to a barbecue tent, but pigs aren’t too smart so I figure he didn’t know what was going down nearby), climbing the hay pyramid, and getting lost in the corn maze. We skipped the haunted house.

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After a few hours we had seen and done it all and it was time for shopping. At Gallrein Farms you don’t use shopping carts — you use wheelbarrows. Laurie managed to fill hers with pumpkins, donuts and honey. I got a cap.

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We went back to the hotel to chill for a while that afternoon, then returned to the farm that evening for a delicious barbecue feast and more visiting. A good time was had by all.

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On Stage: Evil Dead – The Musical

When I asked The Wife if she wanted to join me for “Evil Dead – The Musical,” I did not get the response I was expecting.

“Sure, I’ll go.”

I’m pretty sure Laurie has never seen an “Evil Dead” movie. I don’t believe that she would like one if she’d seen one. I didn’t mention it was a horror movie, but I figured that was self-evident from the title.

So I could only assume that she was going as some kind of penance for all those years of Shakespeare and opera that I’ve been subjected to.

Hey, works for me.

And so it was that Thursday night we made our way to the Grandel Theatre in St. Louis for opening night of “Evil Dead – The Musical.” We did not have seats in the “splatter zone,” but watching it from the balcony was perfectly fine. I’ve got Laurie this far, no need to push it.

“The Evil Dead” began life in 1981 as a horror comedy by director Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell as Ash, a store clerk who fights demons with a shotgun and a chainsaw. It hellspawned more movies, a TV series, video games, comic books, and in 2003 — a musical.

EvilDeadv2Written by George Reinblatt with music by Reinblatt, Melissa Morris, Frank Cipolla and Christopher Bond, the show mixes and mashes characters and story lines from the various “Evil Dead” movies. The result is a campy, vulgar, bloody, strange brew that is sure to please its target audience. My wife is definitely not the target audience but she didn’t run screaming from the theater and we did stay past intermission so maybe there is some broad, general appeal as well.

Trent Mills stars as Ash, who has decided to spend Spring Break at a secluded cabin in the woods with his girlfriend Linda (Michelle Nash), little sister Cheryl (Saphire Demitro), best friend Scotty (Christopher Fulton) and Shelley (Merritt Crews) — a woman Scotty picked up along the way.

Ash doesn’t actually own the cabin, or even know the owner, they’re just going to break in and spend a few fun-filled days. It turns out the cabin was owned by an archaeologist who had gone to the cabin to study an ancient book — the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, a.k.a. The Book of the Dead.

Unfortunately, during his research the archaeologist lets loose some Candarian demons and now the cabin, the woods, and eventually all of Ash’s companions become possessed by evil. Joining the melee in the second act are the archaeologist’s daughter (also played by Merritt Crews), her boyfriend (Andy Ingram) and their local guide — good old reliable Jake (Jonathan Shaboo).

“Evil Dead – The Musical” wants to be the new “Rocky Horror Picture Show” but it doesn’t have the chops — at least not musically. There are a couple of catchy, clever tunes but the music is the show’s weak link. “Do The Necronomicon” will never replace “The Time Warp.”

The actors are fine and the story is weird, strange, creepy, crude and often inappropriately funny. Just like it was meant to be.

“Evil Dead – The Musical” runs through Oct. 22 at the Grandel Theatre. http://www.kranzbergartsfoundation.org/the-grandel/

On Stage: The Bodyguard

The Fox Theatre launched its 35th season this week with “The Bodyguard,” or as it could be better titled — “The Whitney Houston Musical.”

Musicals based on the catalogue of pop stars is nothing new — the most popular are likely “Mamma Mia!” and “Jersey Boys.” So it was probably inevitable that someone would take the 1992 film “The Bodyguard,” which starred Houston and featured and a number of her songs, and expand it with even more of her tunes and bring it to the stage.

“The Bodyguard: The Musical” opened in London in 2012 and follows the story of the romantic thriller it is based on, with some changes. It includes all the songs Houston sang on the film soundtrack — including the hits “I Will Always Love You,” “I’m Every Woman” and “I Have Nothing.” They are joined by 10 other Houston favorites, such as “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All” and “One Moment in Time.” The show ends with a rousing version of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

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Deborah Cox and company in a scene from “The Bodyguard.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Deborah Cox stars as Rachel Marron, a wildly popular singer and actress, who is promoting a new album while also aiming at an Academy Award nomination. When her life is threatened by a stalker, her manager brings in professional bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills).

Rachel doesn’t want Frank interfering in her life. Frank doesn’t want to deal with Rachel’s diva attitude. It is this kind of manufactured Hollywood tension that will eventually lead to them falling in love.

There’s not a lot of meat to this story. It all plays out as you’d expect, even if you haven’t seen the movie. There’s an interesting subplot brewing with Rachel’s sister Nikki (Jasmin Richardson) but it gets cut short. This isn’t a show to see for its deep character development or intricate plot.

But then, that’s common to many musicals. Where the show works is with the musical numbers and the powerful vocal performances by Cox and Richardson. If you are a fan of Whitney Houston’s music you will probably love this. I am not a Whitney Houston fan but this show gave me a better appreciation of her talent.

Wisely, the show doesn’t try to shoehorn the songs into the plot the way “Mamma Mia!” does. There is a decent balance of drama, romance and comedy. The scene at the karaoke bar is a highlight.

This high-energy musical boasts colorful costumes, pulsating light shows, and some inventive set designs. The story may be weak but the other elements make up for it.

Gone: Tom Petty

There’s a southern accent, where I come from
The young ‘uns call it country, the yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talking, but everything gets done
With a southern accent, where I come from

It’s alright if you love me
It’s alright if you don’t
I’m not afraid of you running away
Honey, I get the feeling you won’t

Oh yeah, all right
Take it easy, baby
Make it last all night

If you’re making me wait, if you’re leadin’ me on
I need to know

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

Everybody has to fight to be free, you see, you don’t have to live like a refugee

Into the great wide open
Under them skies of blue
Out in the great wide open
A rebel without a clue

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She wore faded jeans and soft black leather
She had eyes so blue they looked like weather
When she needed me I wasn’t around
That’s the way it goes, it’ll all work out

There were times apart, there were times together
I was pledged to her for worse or better
When it mattered most I let her down
That’s the way it goes, it’ll all work out

It’ll all work out eventually
Better off with him than here with me

It’ll all work out eventually
Maybe better off with him than here with me

Now the wind is high and the rain is heavy
And the water’s rising in the levee
Still I think of her when the sun goes down
It never goes away, but it all works out

Don’t come around here no more
Don’t come around here no more
Whatever you’re looking for
Hey! Don’t come around here no more

Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads

Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
Hey I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down

Quit jammin’ me

Two gunslingers, walked out in the street
And one said “I don’t want to fight no more”
And the other gunslinger thought about it
And he said, “yeah what are we fighting for?”

I’m takin’ control of my life,
I’m takin’ control of my life
I’m takin’ control of my life now,
Right now, oh yeah

Well the crowd that assembled
For the gun fight were let down
Everyone hissed and booed
And a stranger told his Mrs.
“That’s the last one of these gunfights
You’re ever gonna drag me to”

I’m takin’ control of my life,
I’m takin’ control of my life
I’m takin’ control of my life now,
Right now, oh yeah

Well the two gunslingers
Went ridin’ out of town and
Were never heard from no more
And there ain’t been a gun fight
For a long time, maybe never
But nobody knows for sure

Oh, my my, oh, hell yes
Honey, put on that party dress
Buy me a drink, sing me a song
Take me as I come ’cause I can’t stay long

Coming down is the hardest thing

People come, people go
Some grow young, some grow cold
I woke up in between
A memory and a dream

So let’s get to the point, let’s roll another joint
Let’s head on down the road
There’s somewhere I gotta go
And you don’t know how it feels
You don’t know how it feels to be me

You and I will meet again
When we’re least expecting it
One day in some far off place
I will recognize your face
I won’t say goodbye my friend
For you and I will meet again

I wanna glide down over Mulholland
I wanna write her name in the sky
I’m gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for awhile

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

At The Movies: Battle Of The Sexes

I don’t know enough tennis lingo to write a clever intro, so I’ll just say it straight: “Battle of the Sexes” is an entertaining look back at a gimmick tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs that was meant to settle the score between women’s libbers and male chauvinist pigs.

Ah, the ’70s. Life was so much simpler then.

Battle-of-the-Sexes-poster-500x732Emma Stone stars as Billy Jean King, a star of the women’s tennis circuit who isn’t happy that men are paid substanially more than women to hit a small round ball back and forth over a net. When she fails to win concessions from tennis commissioner Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), King and some of her fellow players split off and start their own circuit. Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), made the tour possible by snagging financial support from Virginia Slims cigarettes.

Cigarettes and sports. Life was so much simpler then.

Meanwhile, former tennis great and full-time hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is looking for his next big score. His gambling addiction is about to cost him his marriage, but he can’t stop. He sees the growing women’s movement and the backlash against it as his big ticket to renewed glory.

King wants nothing to do with this scheme, but when Riggs defeats tennis pro Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) in a highly publicized bout, Billy Jean realizes she must take to the court. But as she’s about to step into a very big spotlight, she’s also struggling with a very private concern — her own sexuality.

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, “Battle of the Sexes” is your standard feel-good sports drama. It’s elevated by strong performances from Stone and Carell. The story delivers an even-handed approach to both players and I would have liked to have seen more of their relationship.