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Suburbicon

‘Suburbicon’ is the sixth movie directed by actor George Clooney. He’s turned into a fine helmer with his eye for characterisation generally hitting its targets. But even good directors stumble occasionally as ‘Suburbicon’ proves. Although infused with his gift for well-drawn off-kilter personas, his latest effort disappoints. An examination of the ‘dangers’ of suburban life in 1950’s America, ‘Suburbicon’ only shows a modicum of Clooney’s directorial flair.

Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is an office worker with a secret. Supporting his family including wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and son Nicky (Noah Jupe), Gardner’s life soon turns askew. This is due to the presence of shady types including hitman Ira (Glenn Fleshler) and Hightower (Jack Conley). How these people enter Gardner’s life is slowly revealed as his hoped-for peaceful utopia is shattered in ways he never could have foreseen.

There’s nothing worse than watching a movie trying too hard. ‘Suburbicon’ feels like a quirky crime thriller in the style of the famed Coen Brothers directing team. It doesn’t work due to unlikeable characters and muddled direction. Clooney has done better and it’s strange how he let the production run away from him. It isn’t the fault of the actors who perfectly embody their characters even if a few over-play them to the point of distraction.

The mix of humour and drama doesn’t quite work although the social commentary on the rampant hypocrisy of 1950’s attitudes is well realised. These elements show how good ‘Suburbicon’ could have been which makes viewing more frustrating. The predictable resolution provides little excitement with the story swiftly collapsing into a mess. When you tire of its nasty characters within a few minutes of it starting you know a film is in trouble with their eventual comeuppance providing merciful relief.

‘Suburbicon’ is the least of Clooney’s directing output. Unfocussed, confusing and scrambling towards its conclusion, it fails to register as required watching. Clooney has the talents to recover from this setback with his determination to succeed sure to provide a better vehicle next time.

Rating out of 10: 5

Thor: Ragnarok

The third in the series of Thor movies, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is huge fun. Not that the previous ones weren’t, it’s just by now, the Thor franchise and others in the Marvel cinematic universe feel the need to loosen up. Not taking things as seriously without getting too ridiculous, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ delivers on what a comic-book flick should be. Full of wondrous CGI, action and excitement, fans should enjoy this latest Marvel movie as its comic panels are brought vividly to life.

The mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is in a jam. Without the aid of his trusty magical hammer, his powers are weakened. Unfortunately his slackened condition arrives at a bad time as he faces the threat of Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. Determined to destroy Thor’s home-world of Asgard, she also wants to wreak hellfire on the universe. Thor will do anything to break free of his dilemma, including teaming with his deceitful brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). He also has to fight the incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a duel whose outcome is pivotal to the universe’s survival.

Directed with enormous flair by Taika Waititi, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is an entertaining spectacle. From the first frame, it returns Thor to his colourful comic-book roots in an exciting adventure never letting up. Waititi’s skill for finding comedy in dire situations aids in providing great escapist watching. That doesn’t mean ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ makes fun of the character but it plays with the established formula with a gleeful twinkle. Everyone from Hemsworth to Blanchett perfectly express the steady mix of drama and humour whilst taking their characters seriously.

Another appealing element of ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is the clever script. It is almost two movies in one as Thor battles the Hulk on another planet while Hela reigns supreme on Asgard, with both story-strands moving swiftly. There’s never a dull moment or slow spot with the screenplay effectively building to a climatic crescendo. The CGI doesn’t overshadow the performances or story even though the film looks amazing. The funky soundtrack deserves praise as it mirrors the 1980’s-style vibe for which the film clearly aspires.

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is one of the more entertaining Marvel films of the year. Filled with the colourful gloss a film like this needs, it rounds off the Thor movies in grand style. Its’ quirky story-telling breathes new energy into an ageless hero that would make any comic-book enthusiast proud.

Rating out of 10: 8