Suicide Squad; Jason Bourne; Café Society
The premise of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad will no doubt be familiar, whether you’re a DC Comics fan, or someone with fond memories of The Dirty Dozen. For various reasons, a government agency requires the help of a few notorious supervillains to stave off the threat of a super-supervillain. Whereas The Dirty Dozen had the formidable, caustic Lee Marvin as the major in charge of these “recruits,” Suicide Squad has the very imposing Viola Davis as the no-nonsense, lethal official Amanda Waller, who assembles Gotham’s worst in an effort to save mankind from the all-powerful witch-goddess called Enchantress (the fact that Waller’s actions led to this threat is downplayed). Each criminal gets an intro of sorts, backed by some appropriate (or ironic) music, and this section, along with their initial encounter with Ms. Davis and Joel Kinnaman (as the ostensible colonel in charge), is one of the most entertaining in the film.
As with The Dirty Dozen, not all anti-heroes are created equal, so Will Smith’s Deadshot, an assassin who doesn’t kill women and children and loves his daughter, and Margot Robbie’s flamboyant sociopath Harley Quinn (and ladylove of Jared Leto’s Joker) get the most screen time, and they’re more than up to the challenge. Smith, who’s seemed unduly restrained in his recent appearances, finally gets to cut loose a bit as the hitman with his own honor code, while Robbie dominates her scenes as the mercurial, fun-loving, and eminently dangerous Harley– including her scenes with Leto’s perfunctory Joker. The action sequences are variable; the first encounter which tests the mettle of our “heroes” is well-done, but the climax is over-the-top and not as satisfying. However, how can you not like a film in which the major characters decide to have a drink and chew the fat before making the decision to possibly lay down their lives in the aforementioned climactic confrontation? While Suicide Squad isn’t perfect by any means, seeing it won’t kill you.
Jason Bourne is back, though you may be asking why. It’s been a number of years since Matt Damon’s amnesiac, deadly Bourne found some answers, not only about himself, but with regard to the actions of the CIA (there was a Jeremy Renner Bourne in the interim, but that made a few long for Bourne to be reborn in Damon form), and to be sure, this knowledge hasn’t brought him any peace. In fact, when we see the current Bourne, he’s engaged in some illegal fights in some out-of-the-way places. However, Bourne’s self-imposed exile cannot lase, especially after former ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) contacts him with some hacked data pointing to some more revelations involving the CIA, his own father (Gregg Henry) and some misdeeds involving the current CIA Director Dewey (a scowling Tommy Lee Jones).
This is yet another film that starts strong and loses momentum as it goes along. The early going, with Damon and Stiles trying to connect in Greece amidst a violent protest, all the while watched by the CIA (including a possibly sympathetic Alicia Vikander as another CIA head), and menaced by a seemingly unstoppable assassin (Vincent Cassel) with a grudge against Bourne, is both intense and unsettling—especially in its Orwellian depiction of the prevalence of surveillance techniques and the inevitable loss of privacy on all levels. Yet as the movie continues, there is a sense of deja-vu, concerning the CIA, the answers that Bourne seeks—even the action scenes remind one of earlier battles in better Bournes. In addition, the seemingly omniscient CIA somehow loses some of its power outside Greece, so that many of Bourne’s movements somehow escape the CIA’s seemingly unlimited reach. When the action finally moves to Las Vegas, plausibility, for all intents and purposes, is tossed aside; aside from a knockdown fight between Damon and Cassel, everything feels second-hand. The coda provides a nice touch, and Bourne should stay out in the cold—what else can there left for him to discover?
Woody Allen’s Café Society is beautiful to look at, with its recreation of 1930s Los Angeles and New York masterfully captured by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. It’s also a delight to listen to, with a soundtrack of classic melodies played by, among others, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. Dramatically (and comedically) however, there’s some room for improvement, as it plays like a rehash of Woody Allen’s greatest hits, with a dash of The Apartment and Lost in Yonkers thrown in. Jesse Eisenberg (not exactly endearing but less grating than usual), is a young man from New York who comes to Hollywood and eventually gets a job running errands for his perpetually busy and preoccupied uncle (Steve Carell). He also becomes friendly with Carell’s secretary Kristen Stewart, who clearly likes him, but has a “boyfriend” (if you can’t figure out how out who it might be, it might be time for some remedial film classes).
Eventually a chastened Eisenberg returns to New York, where he achieves success running his gangster brother’s nightclub, which enables him to hobnob among the free-spending rich and famous habitues that constitute Manhattan’s Café Society. He even manages to meet one of its denizens, the lovely Blake Lively, and marries her. The questions is, does he love her, or is he just rebounding from Miss Stewart—and the answer just might present itself when Stweart breezes into his nightclub…There is plenty to enjoy about Café Society. Allen manages to get good performances from his major players, especially Carell, Corey Stoll (as Eisenberg’s gangster brother—and a family-conscious killer), Stewart, and Lively. Woody Allen is also a welcome presence, albeit an offscreen one, as the narrator, but one of the structural flaws is that the narration makes it too easy for the film to glide over what might have been interesting to see—as in just how the nebbish Eisenberg has managed to transform himself into the smooth host of Café Society. In the end, the main characters have to live with their choices—but still, it’s hard to feel bad for a character when his “booby prize” is someone as radiant as Miss Lively.