An Opinion Stoker, A(nother) Spy Sequel, a Hasty Comics Story, a Funny Satire
Hey, movie fans! We have the penultimate installment of this summer’s CineScene planned out for you, with a bonus review – four films, instead of the usual three. I’ll have to cut down my usual verbosity by at least half. I can do it, but it’s very difficult. There is always so much to say.
Oddly, we go through stages of the summer where it is sometimes difficult to find even three films to screen, given how movies tend to follow holidays, like Memorial Day or Independence Day. As we approach Labor Day, all kinds of good films are released, so that’s why we have to double down and sneak one more in. So we’ll begin our movies with an indie that has been knocking viewers’ socks off, “Captain Fantastic.” Next comes “Jason Bourne,” then “Suicide Squad” and, finally, “Sausage Party.” It’s a gas, listing a lineup like that. Let’s hope I can be succinct yet informative. Here goes.
I’m sure many of us have felt the urge to chuck it all and live naturally in the wilds of nature, totally off the grid, if we were able to hack the deep quiet of an uber-forest and give up all of our devices. There’s a scene in “Captain Fantastic” where the back-to-nature family must come out of the wilds and into society, living for a few nights with the father Ben’s (Viggo Mortensen) sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn) and her husband, Dave (Steve Zahn) and their kids.
As Harper’s kids play video games, Ben’s kids react with revulsion at the speed and violence of the games, watching with horror. Yet all of Ben’s kids know how to stalk and kill and field strip a buck they might need for food, and they can run for miles on narrow forest trails and rock climb, and defend themselves if attacked, all taught in the back-to-nature education curriculum that Ben and his wife, Leslie Cash, have fashioned for the family. I guess it’s all part of your perspective.
But it’s not all physical education, for Ben and Leslie have likewise given their six children a rigorous mental education as well, filled with reading and writing and challenging the children to be able to discuss all things with all people – in short, an education parallel to superior to anything available in the subdivisions of the cookie-cutter neighborhoods. The only thing is that the parents are slightly socialistic – they make Bernie Sanders look like Ronald Reagan by way of Richard Nixon.
But it’s Leslie’s illness that brings the family out of the Pacific Northwest, the corner of the country they call home, and down into California, where they are interlopers in a society of fast food, obesity and heightened nervousness. When tragedy hits, they must put aside their differences and return to New Mexico, where Leslie’s father, Jack (Frank Langella), strikes back at the back-to-nature family and threatens to bring child abuse charges against Ben.
It is Jack’s opinion that, by raising his kids in that way, without any formal schooling or records, Ben is failing them when they’ll need to move to the university level. What Jack doesn’t know is that Ben has given the three oldest siblings, Bodevan (George MacKay), Kielyr (Samantha Isler) and Vespyr (Annalise Basso), enough serious education cred that they could be accepted to any institution they want. In fact, Bo is indeed accepted into all the Ivies, as he and Leslie had applied many months before, unknown to Ben.
Jack’s bullying continues, though, and for the first time Ben begins to doubt the efficacy of his home-schooling and whether he’s been a fit father for them all. The film pretty clearly shows that the kids are well behaved and level headed, and even though they might make a big deal out of Noam Chomsky’s birthday, they get through most of their hurdles.
The film has some pretty good music, too, from Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” to Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I’m even wondering if the title is in reference to Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” Whether it is or is not, if you see the film you won’t leave without an opinion.
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This film’s tagline is “You all know his name.” Yes, we do, and we’ve seen Jason Bourne’s story through “Identity,” “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” and even through “Legacy” – though that was an interloper, for it wasn’t Matt Damon (it was Jeremy Renner), and it wasn’t Jason Bourne, but Aaron Cross.
Anyway, Damon’s “Jason Bourne” is in the house, and that makes everyone in the CIA nervous, given that the spy agency created a passel of Bournes for super-secret operations several years back. Bourne is the loose cannon in this scenario, though, since he has been remembering the brainwashing little by little since that time. This time, after former handler Nicky Parsons hacks the CIA’s mainframe from a computer in Iceland, digging up all kinds of bad stuff on “Treadstone” and some other operations, the agency is really nervous given that she and Bourne are on the loose, and heading back to find out what it all means.
Meanwhile, the agency is partnering with a digital cell phone whiz named Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) to get all the private cell phone information from the clients of this new service. Agency Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) has all kinds of aces up his sleeves, the most important of which is an assassin simply called Asset (the menacing Vincent Cassel), whom Dewey sends ahead to clear the pathways and clean up mistakes made by lesser agents. It’s pretty clear that Dewey has got a mess on his hands.
He has another ace, although he does not know it yet, in Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who begins to learn that a) Dewey does not necessarily feel that she’s ready for prime time, and b) Bourne has been wronged by the agency for things in the past, particularly where his father is concerned. Bourne’s father was an important co-founder of some of the operations, and Lee learns that a lot of pretty serious stuff was kept from Bourne.
Bourne, Lee, Dewey, the Asset and Kalloor, along with half of the operatives in the CIA, convene in Las Vegas for the big rolling out of the cell phone operation, and you know with Bourne, Dewey and the Asset there, fireworks will soon follow. They do, but I have to say the big climactic fight, which involves a car chase with a militaristic SWAT-type vehicle, is a bit of a letdown, and the second half of “Jason Bourne” is a bit of a letdown as well. We’ll call this one “The Bourne Disappointment.”
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I had some similar feelings with major parts of “Suicide Squad,” but overall I thought the DC Comics story was fairly entertaining. Under the usually able direction of David Ayer (“Fury”), and with a cast led by Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, the film did not lack for snappy repartee and fully loaded action. What it did lack was coherence. I thought Jared Leto’s Joker would be the villain of the piece, but to my surprise he made small cameo appearances. At this phase of the DC Comics story, Superman is gone, and Batman is still hanging around (Ben Affleck makes something of a cameo as well), but the Joker is not the central character. Who knew?
We kind of understand the Joker as we learn the Harley Quinn story, how the famous psychiatrist falls in love with the Joker while working to understand him (love is certainly blind!) and once in prison, how the Joker wants to get her back. All that’s cool. I got it. And with Superman gone, the city needs to be protected, so the government gives Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) carte blanche to create an agency charged with protecting the people from bad guys, so she creates an agency of the baddest of the bad. Calls it the Suicide Squad, and gives command of it to a Special Ops guy named Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Waller is also something of a loose cannon, we learn.
So Flag is in love with Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne), an archaeologist who dug in the wrong part of a tomb and who was taken over by an evil spirit called The Enchantress. Somehow Waller got hold of the Enchantress’ straw heart, and as long as she has it, the spirit is under her (or Flag’s) control. This mélange of a plot gets worse – Enchantress’ brother gets loose and begins to wreak havoc on the city. Waller sends the Suicide Squad to neutralize the plot, and the soldiers sent to fight the Enchanter (that’s what I’m calling the Enchantress’ bro) get turned into soldiers for his use. And so on, and so on. The Joker shows up, tries to wrestle Harley from the Squad, she goes with him. Deadshot is ordered to terminate Harley, but he misses. Hey, it happens. Nobody knows who they’re fighting, and everyone is in it for himself/herself. At this point, the plot is perfect for a failed flick.
Until the end, when they have to band together since they’re like family … aww, you know the rest. Despite all that I said here, I still enjoyed Harley, whose T-shirt says “Daddy’s Li’l Monster.” And she can swing a mean baseball bat. Smith’s Deadshot is cool and solid in his anti-establishment ways, and makes a nice co-leader with Flag. So putting aside the plot, and wondering where the Joker goes when he sees random destruction destroying the city but doesn’t take part in it, consider “Suicide Squad” for what it is: a hastily put together film directed by a usually solid director, who has to wrangle some kind of meaning out of a jumbled ball of ideas from DC Comics.
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I tried to come up with a “deeper meaning” for “Sausage Party,” the funny satire of modern religious belief, but that’s about all I could come up with; it’s a funny satire of modern religious belief. This animated film, from the fertile if slightly demented mind of Seth Rogen, takes place in the Shopwell food store, what could easily be the local Acme or ShopRite, where all the food waits to be chosen by the shoppers and taken out to the “Great Beyond,” which all of the inanimate products “believe” is heaven.
This belief is inculcated into the products and foods by the song they sing as the doors to the store open, touting the great experience all the food and products will have in this “Great Beyond.” All products are happy – all foods in the store are joyful. One sausage in a package of sausages, Frank (Rogen), is smitten with a nearby bun, Brenda (Kristin Wiig), and the two hope to be picked together so that Frank can “enter” Brenda’s bun and, in the Great Beyond, enjoy an eternity.
But a jar of honey mustard is returned (voice of Danny McBride), and he has seen horrible things outside of the store. No one believes him, but since Frank and Brenda through a series of mishaps have come out of their respective packages and are on the loose, their ordered existence has broken down, and Frank especially is ready to see what is really happening. An errant product blames the frank and bun for the aforementioned mishaps, and is out to get the pair. Frank meets up with Firewater (voice of Bill Hader), an old Indian who knows the secret of the Great Beyond because he wrote the song that they all sing. The secret is there is no Great Beyond.
So Frank is bummed out that the Great Beyond is a lie, and sets out to convince Brenda Bun, who has fallen in with several other foodstuffs, including a taco shell named Theresa (Selma Hayek), a Lavash (David Krumholtz), a Middle-Eastern flatbread, and a bagel named Sammy (Edward Norton), who sounds like a young Woody Allen. Needless to say, Lavash and Sammy bicker throughout the film about homeland and space in the shopping aisle.
If you are faint of heart when it comes to foul language, you might want to avoid “Sausage Party.” There might have been more f-bombs dropped in this flick than I’ve heard all summer. To be honest, that language did not make it any funnier, but some of the puns and visual humor did, as when Frank and Brenda get separated in their quest to find out about the Great Beyond, and when Frank ponders his love for Brenda, a package of Meat Loaf shows up and sings, “I Would Do Anything for Love.”
Making a long story short and not wanting to give anything away, the food and the humans fight a great battle at the end, and then all the food and the other products engage in a great orgy. I guess if a film about food products is going to end, having all the food engage in an orgy would be a good way to end it. I can’t really think of a better way.