Florence Foster Jenkins: The Caterpillar Who Wanted So Badly to Use Money To Become A Butterfly

“Was everyone laughing at me the whole time?” This question, demanded in earnest on her deathbed by socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) could easily be asked at the end of anyone’s life, when they’ve suddenly realized just how farcical it was–especially after years of essentially using financial clout to keep people’s true opinions at bay.

For music enthusiast and philanthropist “Madame Florence,” as her pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), ultimately calls her, there is no greater “sense of communion,” no greater joy than singing on stage. The only problem is, she is what one New York Post writer accuses of being the worst singer in the world. But before any “outsiders” a.k.a. non-music lovers who know they require Florence’s patronage to stay afloat get to catch a glimpse of the show, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), her noticeably younger husband, ensures that everyone is adequately paid off to keep Florence’s delusions of grandeur afloat.

While those in attendance at her first show in five years respect and admire Florence for her constant devotion to spending money on the music that keeps the city of New York singing, the mockery she makes of herself while belting her heart out in a manner tantamount to what one U.S. soldier calls a “dying cat,” is eventually something that not everyone is willing to ignore merely to honor the whims of a rich eccentric.

As Florence, indeed, proves, those in a position of wealth are bequeathed with the unique luxury not just of money, but of being as delusional as they want to be–after all, no one wants to upset the person who controls the purse strings. And while Florence intimates in her own way that her father tried to keep her from singing for practical reasons, it’s evident his true motive stemmed from protecting her from humiliation. According to Florence, “When I was sixteen years old, my father told me that if I didn’t give up music, he’d cut me off. Of course, he didn’t understand, music is my life.”

Indicative of the common tale of the affluent type who wants so badly to be a part of the creative community he or she supports, Florence is that sort all too desperate to be talented in an artistic way, because it infers her life has greater purpose than simply being rich. St. Clair, who has long benefitted from the kindness of Florence’s money, is both her fiercest protector and greatest betrayer, sleeping with another woman named Kathleen Weatherley (Rebecca Ferguson) in the apartment Florence pays for. After a weekend getaway with Kathleen and finding that Florence has been left too long to her own devices–so long that she’s made plans to make a recording of her songs–St. Clair reveals where his true loyalty lies by letting Kathleen go.

Still, this newfound focus on reining in Florence’s musical ambitions and aspirations doesn’t stop her from continuing on her quest for musical glory. Once the local radio gets hold of the record, all bets are off, and St. Clair can only persist with far more minimal resolve in his blitzkrieg to pay people off from expressing their sentiments about the spectacle that is Florence, sweet, dear syphilis-laden Florence.

And while we’ll never know for sure if it was her long-term battle with syphilis that prompted her to book a performance at Carnegie Hall, it was, nonetheless, met with the sort of shock generally reserved for watching the aftermath of a car accident. Yet, as St. Clair insists at one point to Cosmé, “Beethoven said, ‘A few wrong notes may be forgiven, but singing without feeling cannot.'” No one could ever accuse Florence of not singing without putting her entire body and soul into it. Likewise, Streep’s heart-rending interpretation of the famed socialite only serves to further establish why she remains a powerhouse. Though some may question whether the likes of Streep still “has it” at the box office, its release and respectable performance the same weekend as Sausage Party makes it fairly evident that, like Florence Foster Jenkins herself, no one can stop looking away from Meryl.

 

Hell Or High Water, Brotherly Bonds Are Impenetrable

“These boys is on their own.” This sentiment, expressed by “Ranger” Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) upon encountering a group of cowboys on horses wrangling their cattle away from an ever-expanding brush fire, is what best describes two of the most masculine characters rendered to screen of late, Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster).

As two brothers bonded together by blood and a lust for vengeance against the bank that put a lien on their mother’s oil-rich property and gave her a loan they knew would keep her poor enough to never be able to pay them back, Toby and Tanner appear to have little in common other than a familial relation and a shared goal. But, for as different as they are, there can be no negating the love they have for one another (one that gets downplayed after each one confesses, “I love you,” followed by, “Go fuck yourself.”).

Directed by David Mackenzie (somewhat ironically Scottish rather than Texan) and written by Taylor Sheridan (following up a solid feature debut in the form of Sicario), Hell or High Water is the modern Western/bank robbery movie you didn’t know you needed. As something of a subtle extension of The Big Short, the film addresses the decay still being felt in most small towns across the U.S. in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. For Texas, in particular, very much the representation of the quintessential American experience and population archetype, the effects of the banks’ lack of enough actual money to back the easily bequeathed subprime loans that were given willy nilly to anyone who asked appears far-reaching in every frame. The first scene in Hell or High Water juxtaposes the obsession with religion as salvation against the obsession with commerce as distraction as a middling bank worker named Elsie (Dale Dickey) walks into work against the backdrop of a more neo-Christian church located right next to a Goodyear and a store offering a closeout sale. Barely entering the door, she is accosted by Toby and Tanner in their first all-out poetic assault on Texas Midlands Bank.

After fleeing in one of the many cars they will end up burying on their ranch to throw the police off the scent, the duo robs yet another bank, per the confident, self-assured insistence of Tanner. In one of many instances of their markedly contrasting personalities, Tanner proves to be the catalyst of pure, unbridled bravado that Toby needs to sustain the courage to carry off the plan: paying back the bank with their own money to avoid foreclosure so that Toby can give the property to his two estranged sons.

Soon after the initial robbery, about-to-be-retired Hamilton is tipped off to the case by his half Native American, half Mexican partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham), who shares a special sort of derisive banter with him that consists of such mutual racist jokes as Hamilton bragging, “Call it white man’s intuition” and Alberto retorting, “Even a blind pig finds a truffle once in a while.”

To be sure, it is these small touches in dialogue that enhance the distinct Texan feel of the movie. Most memorably, a decrepit waitress at a rinky dink restaurant called the T-Bone Cafe in the town of Coleman steals the show with her line, “What don’t you want?” Hamilton and Alberto, in the process of killing time while waiting for Tanner and Toby to strike at the nearby bank, look at her skeptically. She clarifies, “Only person who ever ordered something besides a steak was some asshole from New York who asked for trout back in 1987. So, what don’t you want? Green beans or mashed potatoes?”

The careful attention to detail that adds to the desperation and desolation of these, essentially, ghost towns is enhanced by the omnipresence of billboards demanding simply, “DEBT?” Putting none too fine a point on the unreachability of the so-called American dream for most people, Hell or High Water is about far more than just Chris Pine’s matinee idol good looks or Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score, which will inspire you to go to a saloon and drink Shiner. It’s about the irrevocability of one’s station in life, how it starts out from the womb and spreads over time.

With a major fallout by the end of Hell or High Water, a now officially retired Hamilton has to know the reason behind the losses incurred during the pursuit of Tanner. Holding a shotgun, Toby calmly explains, “I’ve been poor my whole life. So was my family, generations before me. It’s like a disease.” But, if you’re willing to go outside the system–and with a little brotherly love–maybe, just maybe, you can avoid the perpetual cycle of financial mediocrity.

Money Changes Everything for Fox and His Friends

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is not the person to turn to for “light fare” or reassuring statements about the nature of humanity. He is there, in short, to remind us all of mankind’s predilection for betrayal and disappointment. His twenty-first feature film, Fox and His Friends, released in 1975, finds Fassbinder in a particularly cynical mood with regard to humanity.

In the lead role of Franz Bieberkopf (a name taken from the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz that Fassbinder would later adapt for a TV miniseries), Fassbinder pours his entire soul into a character whose love is always ill-used by those who choose to capitalize on it. Starting out as a carnival worker under the employ of his boyfriend, Klaus (Karl Scheydt), Fox knows only how to be a, for all intents and purposes, subservient to someone else’s whims and desires. Thus, when Klaus is arrested while onstage for tax evasion (oh zee Germans and their sticklerdom), Fox is left with nothing to do but act on his instinct to play the lottery, which he has done every week consistently for years. But this week, he insists, is the one for winning. Unfortunately, “Whenever you need something, you’re screwed,” as he puts it, and, accordingly, can’t find anyone to lend him the ten marks he needs to buy the ticket. When he encounters an older gay gentleman named Max (Karlheinz Böhm) at the public restroom he’s decided to utilize as his prostitution hub, he agrees to get in his car with him. Alas, Max won’t pony up the ten marks up front for services rendered, so Fox persuades him to stop in front of a flower shop before their tryst so that he can run a scam that will get him the money he needs. Afterward, and just in the nick of time, Max and Fox make it to the convenience store to put in his lotto ticket.

A couple months later, Fox is still very much the same in dress and demeanor at Max’s lavish home–the only difference being he is now half a million richer thanks to his lotto intuition. This fact doesn’t seem to impress fellow partygoers and lovers for the moment Eugen (Peter Chatel) and Philip (Harry Baer), who are disgusted with Max’s “bathroom tastes.” And yet, as Eugen leaves the party, he offers to give Fox a ride. Touched by his seeming kindness, Fox accompanies Eugen to his apartment, where the latter is noticeably appalled by his crassness. Still, he sleeps with Fox, in a scene that most overtly proves Fassbinder’s comment on the movie, “It is certainly the first film in which the characters are homosexuals, without homosexuality being made into a problem. In films, plays or novels, if homosexuals appear, the homosexuality was the problem, or it was a comic turn. But here homosexuality is shown as completely normal, and the problem is something quite different, it’s a love story, where one person exploits the love of the other person, and that’s the story I always tell.”

And, undeniably, this is the theme that shines through in all of its melancholic glory as Fox grows irrevocably attached to Eugen, a bourgeois type clearly using Fox undercuttingly for his money and its ability to salvage his father Wolf’s (Adrian Hoven) struggling printing company. Once Eugen has won the heart of Fox completely, he craftily gets Max to mention Wolf’s problem so that Fox will readily offer up the 100,000 marks needed to keep the company afloat. From there, the relationship escalates as Eugen mentions that they might as well buy an apartment together since the neighbors will always whisper about them and make problems so long as they’re renting.

Amenable to getting even more intimate, Fox permits Eugen to coerce him into this lavish purchase, decorated in the most expensive of furniture and decor from Max’s antique shop. He then insists on “dressing” Fox in the kind of attire that suits his station, taking him to Philip’s clothing store so that, apparently, all the friends in his social circle can get a piece of the pie that is Fox’s lottery winnings. Fox, however, ends up only buying new garments for Eugen, preferring to remain comfortable in his own “working class” attire–a wardrobe marked most significantly by a jean jacket with the studded word “FOX” on the back.

The more Fox tries to accommodate Eugen, the more impetuous and ungrateful he becomes. This perpetuates the vicious cycle of all inequitable relationships, wherein Fox only wants to get closer the more Eugen pulls away, staggering home drunk and saying things like, “Without you, I’m nothing.” Eugen, unmoved, puts in his ear plugs as Fox begins to snore.

Insisting that all their rapport needs for a bit of revitalization is a getaway, Fox agrees to a vacation in Marrakesh, where the two try to bring back an Arab named Salem (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul‘s El Hedi ben Salem) to their hotel to spice things up. When this plan fails due to the hotel’s “No Arab” policy, the strain between Fox and Eugen intensifies. Soon after, Eugen’s total lack of feeling makes itself known to Fox, as he’s summarily fucked out of all the money he lent to the printing company–not to mention the loan he gave to his ex, Klaus.

By the end, Fox resigns himself to being a lower class nobody, returning to his old favorite haunt, a den of transsexuals, gays and misfits. There, he encounters two American soldiers he had run into previously, asking if they want to spend time with him. The soldiers, in turn, assume Fox wants to pay them for sexual services, demanding, “How much do you pay?” Fox, wounded and somewhat stunned by the question, screams, “I pay! I always pay!” This revelation, that Fox is only wanted or needed for the money he can give to people, sends him over an edge he can’t come back from–the sudden divination into a life marked solely by begging people for affection and company based on the finances he can offer a waking nightmare he wants nothing more than to escape from.

Catherine Tramell: The Truman Capote of the Cinematic World

Has there ever been a more nefarious writer rendered to the screen than Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) in Basic Instinct? It’s unlikely. There has, however, been that real life writer monster, Truman Capote, renowned for his ability to fuck everyone over for the story. Similar to Catherine, Truman used his knack for getting close to people under the guise of sensitivity (though, in Catherine’s case, the non-guise of hyper-sexuality tends to be her weapon of choice).

Most notoriously, Capote’s In Cold Blood showcases his skill for disconnecting from the subject of his prose (something Tramell can easily identify with) while simultaneously acting as though he is attached to it–or rather, him. Most notably attracted to the underlying delicate nature and fatal flaws of Perry Smith, Capote repurposed his “character” to make him seem more empathetic, as though a pawn of the truly soulless Dick Hickock in the brutal murders of the Clutter family. Primarily for the purpose of a more compelling narrative, Truman contrasts Perry against Dick. Unlike Dick, Perry, through Capote’s eyes, is a product of his environment–turning to crime only because of his unfortunate circumstances of birth preventing him from the education that might have saved him from a life of criminal activity. Dick, on the other hand, is naturally calculated, doomed to be a cold-blooded killer in the making.

While Catherine’s primary motive for writing is to use her novels as an alibi (only a psychopathic narcissist would detail the gory details of her own crimes and think she could get away with it), there is a distinct joy she gets from the rehashing of her kills. It’s almost as though murdering and writing can’t exist without one another in Catherine’s world. Eerily enough, this is true on a metaphorical level for most writers, who derive, at least latently, a sickly cathartic pleasure from “murdering” those who have wronged them.

In both instances of Capote and Tramell’s writing predilection, it appears as though each is motivated by the art as a means of capturing a form of vengeance. For Capote, being dismissed as the twee little gay boy incapable of masculinity during an era when it was of high currency, writing served as something of a superpower, armor against anyone who tried to toy with him–because he could do it right back with the harmful damage of the written word. And, for Tramell, deflecting the inevitable fallout of interpersonal relationships propels her not just to kill, but to seek “use” out of growing, on the surface, connected to people by inserting them into the pages of her novels–and, in doing so, maybe denying culpability for ultimately murdering them since they’re now immortalized in art.

Like Capote, Tramell has no qualms about writing people into her novels to fit the pre-molded narrative she wants. Once they’ve served her purpose and she’s gleaned all she can from them for her character notes, it’s time to move on. Similarly, Capote acted just as callous with Perry, feigning ignorance when the latter asked him what the title of his book was, naively assuming that Capote would come up with something slightly more exonerating than In Cold Blood based on all the time they spent together. He was also nowhere to be found for help when Perry inquired as to whether Capote could use his clout to get him a different appeals lawyer so that he might evade, or at least delay, the execution. But an execution was the desired, “neat and clean” ending Capote wanted for his true to life masterpiece.

Alas, it would seem that only the most sociopathic of people flock to the career of “novelist.” Capote, after all, died friendless and alone after being ostracized by the very people he skewered in print (including Slim Keith, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Babe Paley). Thus, perhaps it really is like Tramell says, “I’m a writer. I use people for what I write. Let the world beware.” With this in mind, never befriend or involve yourself in a romantic dalliance with one if you want to make it out physically and/or emotionally unscathed.

Madonna, The Ceaseless Hungerer

August 16th. Some know it as Elvis’ death day. Most, Madonna’s birthday. There is, however, something to be said for the fact that The King croaked on the same day Madonna celebrated her nineteenth birthday in 1977. It was the year she attempted to try playing it straight by going to college at the University of Michigan, on a dance scholarship for ballet that she ultimately ended up abandoning in favor of New York City in 1978. Her decision to risk everything–forsake a predictable path of conventionality–occurred fortuitously just as rock ‘n’ roll’s–pop culture’s–only salvation, Presley, entered the next realm.

With Madonna working her big fish in a little pond antics in New York, she suddenly came to fear, in the back of her mind, that perhaps she wouldn’t make it quite as effortlessly as she thought she would based on sheer chutzpah alone. It is around this time that she wielded her feminine wiles for the purpose of acquiring knowledge about the music industry. Back in Detroit, her connection to music was drummer Stephen Bray (who she would later summon to New York, promising to let him produce her first single, “Holiday,” and then ultimately selling him down the river in favor of Mark Kamins, who had the personal relationship she needed with Sire Records honcho Seymour Stein to make the record happen). But for her early NYC ragamuffin incarnation, it was a musician named Dan Gilroy–now best known for writing the script to Nightcrawler–in a band called The Breakfast Club that Madonna would turn to for tutelage.

Though Gilroy was in love with her–enough to ignore his brother Tony’s protests when he let her move in with them in the abandoned synagogue they inhabited in Corona, Queens–Madonna opted to go to Paris with one-hit wonder and then disco sensation Patrick Hernandez to attempt being groomed as a disco diva herself. When the producers trying to “mold” her finally pushed her to her brink, Madonna fled back to New York, relying once again on the Gilroy brothers for shelter and then forming Emmy, her own band with Bray on drums.

Eventually, Madonna would be led to Camille Barbone of Gotham Management, where her access to professional music equipment would help her craft the demo tape for “Everybody,” a dance/electronic-y track that was in contrast to the sonic direction Barbone had been grooming her for–a more Pat Benatar-esque presence and sound. But Madonna’s thirst to explore her own musical ambitions–to learn every aspect of the business on her own terms–was unquenchable. And what she learned, clearly, was that being a pop star (though this term still had yet to fully realize itself at that time) was more bankable than a rocker chick in the vein of Joan Jett.

As Madonna’s “Everybody” single began to gain NYC-based fame–especially at Danceteria–it paved the way for “Holiday,” the launching pad for her self-titled album and the accompanying videos for “Lucky Star” and “Borderline” that would solidify the sexual, yet playful iconography of her image.

Even after her stardom was firmly secured by the 1984 performance of “Like A Virgin” at the first MTV Video Music Awards, Madonna’s hunger never ceased, a fact apparent with each new album and reinvented image she would release over the years. Every era has been an example of Madonna’s endless reflection and exploration of different themes, cultures and visual motifs. She is, after all, a staunch believer in the Socrates aphorism, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” a quote she even wields with a wink on “Back in Business,” a track from the Dick Tracy-inspired album, I’m Breathless.

And so, at fifty-eight years old, Madonna continues to show us her insatiable desire to know more, to always strive for a better version of herself; it’s an example we can all learn from.

 

We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful: The Jealousies of Don’t Think Twice

For the six people that make up the NYC-based improv group known as The Commune, it’s often a hard day’s night. Indeed, the question posed by the group to the audience before each show is: “Has anybody here had a particularly hard day?” This serves as the jumping off point for each of the members, Miles (Mike Birbiglia), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bill (Chris Gethard), to take something someone says and mold it from raw material into comedic gold. 

While it’s apparent that the Commune crew is happiest when onstage, Birbiglia (who wrote and directed the film) accents the grim realities of life making ends meet as an artist in a city that is, as Lindsay puts it, increasingly “over.” While Miles relies on the income from teaching improv to afford his “college dorm”-like space, Jack delivers food, Bill serves hummus and cracker samples in a grocery store, Sam hostesses at a restaurant, Allison, well, no one knows, and Lindsay lives off the fat of her parents’ wealth (as her therapist remarks, “It’s not easy being the daughter of rich parents.”).

Looming at the forefront of all their fantasies, however, is the promise of one day achieving the ultimate improv dream: securing a spot on Weekend Live, an overt ripoff of/nod to Saturday Night Live. When members of the aforementioned show actually stop in to catch The Commune’s performance one night, Jack puts his most audition-y face on, impersonating Barack Obama to steal the show. At the end, both he and Sam, who are in a relationship, are asked to audition. The evening is met with bad news as well, when Bill informs them that his father has gotten in a motorcycle accident and has been hospitalized in his hometown of Philadelphia. Jack’s ever-increasing ego and insensitivity rears its ugly head in this instance as he is unable to mask how much more important he seems to think the news about his audition is.

Still, he manages to redeem himself by accompanying Bill and the rest of the gang to Philadelphia to visit his father in the hospital. Prior to the accident, a brief scene between Bill and his father expresses the contentious rapport between them regarding a viable career path–Bill’s father continuing to suggest that he get into real estate after informing him that he recently bought a porn palace he plans to flip. Feeble, but functional, Bill’s father musters out a creaky, “Thank you” to Bill and his friends for coming, one that will be imitated as a running gag throughout the rest of Don’t Think Twice. In point of fact, it is The Commune’s ability to laugh in the most dire of circumstances that makes each of them ideal for the often thankless, payless profession of improv.

As Sam and Jack prepare their sketches and impressions for the Weekend Live audition, it becomes apparent that something is eating away at Sam, clearly less enthused to partake of the opportunity. Meanwhile, the others try their best to go on as though nothing life-changing, perspective-putting into is about to happen to The Commune. Thus, when Jack actually lands the job, Miles, Allison, Lindsay and Bill’s reactions end up taking them somewhat by surprise, with each one suddenly starkly aware of how stagnant he or she is in life and in progressing toward “success.”

To quote Bill, “Your twenties are all about hope, and your thirties are all about realizing how dumb it was to hope.” The bleak nature of this revelation lends a dark pall to the group, seemingly left behind by Jack. Allison’s quiet doodling eventually gets explained as working on a comic book about a gifted sculptor who gets accepted into the best arts school in the country and then stops sculpting when she gets there. The symbolism, of course, is not lost in the translation of what’s happening in The Commune’s lives: the pressure to be funny weighing constantly on all parties in order to thrive, particularly Jack, who could easily get fired within the first year if he doesn’t impress the Lorne Michaels-like head of the show.

With the tagline, “The spotlight’s not for everyone,” Birbiglia highlights an unpleasant point about those in professions that cultivate the by-product of fame: while, yes, talent is half of the equation, a comfortableness with selling out and becoming a shill is perhaps even more essential. And if one happens to need to leave certain longtime friends by the wayside to do it, well, it’s got to be done. In this sense, like Morrissey says, we hate it when our friends become successful not just because it forces us to see that we’re still in the same place, but because we end up losing them in addition to just another little shred of our self-esteem, too.

Depraved, Bacchanalian & Ruthless: Food Emulates Humanity in Sausage Party

From the very first few minutes of watching Sausage Party, you can’t help but look around you to see if everyone else in the audience feels as though they’re on an episode of Punk’d, too. The unprecedented profaneness of not just an animated movie, but maybe any movie of the past decade, takes a bit of getting used to. And just when you do, the incomprehensible irreverence of the combined writing style of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir will surprise you yet again.

Unapologetic with its stereotyping of every ethnic-based food under the Saran wrap, Rogen is unafraid to offend with his portrayals of everything from an Italian tomato screaming, “Please-a no, I got-a famiglia!” to a Middle Eastern lavash named Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz) who keeps going on about how in the great beyond (what the food deems the realm outside the sliding doors of Shopwell’s, the grocery store they all reside in), he will finally get the “seventy-seven bottles of extra virgin olive oil” he was promised to douse his “flaps” with.

But more than a commentary on the absurdity of ethnic divisions and mutual contempt spurred on by centuries-long rivalries, Sausage Party also delves into the herd mentality of government and religion through its hero’s struggle with being able to tell the truth about what really happens to food once it leaves the grocery. Frank (Rogen), who starts out as peaceable and complacent as all the other food items in Shopwell’s, begins to doubt the story they’ve all been told about what the future holds for them with “the gods” a.k.a. humans in the great beyond when Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to the shelf by a customer and starts bristling and quivering in the cliche manner of a rape victim when the others ask him what it was like out there. He is cautioned by the Native American-inspired Firewater (Bill Hader), a member of the elite, sage group of non-perishables, to remain silent about what he knows.

But when Honey Mustard gets picked up once more, along with a package of sausages housing Frank, Carl (Jonah Hill) and the nubby Barry (Michael Cera) and buns containing Frank’s girlfriend, Brenda Bunson (Kristen Wiig), he can’t go through the pain again. As he heads to the front of the cart to declare his knowledge of what monsters the gods really are, a douche named, appropriately, Douche (Nick Kroll), fiends to get all up in the “milf” who has picked him up off the shelf. “You know how long I’ve been waiting? No one uses a douche anymore,” he exclaims. But his chance of serving his purpose is foiled when Frank tries to rescue Honey Mustard from coming to a shattering suicidal end by jumping off the end of the cart. Not wanting to lose her true love as she sees him slipping off the edge as well, Brenda frees herself from the plastic confining her to grab hold of his hand. Honey Mustard, of course, cannot be saved.

In the aftermath of the cart crash, Sausage Party takes on a Saving Private Ryan-like bent with slow motion reactions, dramatic music and horrified expressions at the sight of many a wounded “soldier.” The breaking of Douche’s nozzle as a result of this cataclysmic event leads him to accuse and blame Frank for trying to save Honey Mustard in the first place. Vowing vengeance in the face of tragedy (Peanut Butter holds his now cracked soul mate Jelly in bewailment), Douche retreats to the store room area of Shopwell’s where he pumps himself full of juice from Juice Box (Vincent Tong) in one of many instances of graphic food porn. Invigorated with evil strength, Douche serves as the chief antagonist for the rest of the film.

In fact, it is a lesbianic taco named Teresa Del Taco (Salma Hayek, who apparently feels comfortable sharing the same screen with ex Edward Norton as long as they’re not technically on it together) who must rescue Brenda from Douche’s clutches as she, Abdul Kareem Lavash and a Woody Allen-tinged Jewish bagel named Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton) wait for Frank’s return from the liquor aisle. It is there that Frank learns the truth about the great beyond from the non-perishables, Firewater, Mr. Grits (Craig Robinson) and Twink (Scott Underwood), who have all been working to keep the lore going after deciding that the food items were too terrified every time they left the store with their humans.

With each new scene in Sausage Party, the actions of the characters become more extreme and absurdist, accenting an even greater point: their debauched behavior is a mirror of the humans who drive them to fight for their lives in the most ruthless of ways (bath salt injections among them). An orgiastic conclusion  that ultimately leads to a hyper-meta allusion to Rogen and Norton cinches the iconoclasm of this particular animated movie, originally inspired as a response to how Disney often takes objectively dark concepts and sanitizes them, remarking, “People like to project their emotions onto the things around them: their toys, their cars, their pets… So we thought: what would it be like if our food had feelings? We very quickly realized that it would be fucked up.”

And, indeed, this movie is fucked up enough to make you re-think ever eating again. In short, it’s an unwitting diet plan for all who see it.

Suicide Squad: Not As Suicide-Inducing As They Say

Sometimes, when a movie is built up to be total shit for so long and with such adamancy, one can’t help but be pleasantly surprised by the final product (Gigli, of course, is not an example of this). In the case of Suicide Squad, directed and written by David Ayer–whose best film remains Training Day–its berating has been somewhat over the top.

From titles like “Suicide Squad Is A Huge Swirling Vortex of Trash” to “Suicide Squad Is A Superhero Movie for Trump’s America,” the vicious reaming of Ayer’s interpretation of how to corral multiple villains from the DC Comics arsenal has been so unforgiving that it leads one to wonder: has America lost its ability to see an action blockbuster for what it is–all frills and explosions? Those still expecting the high quality of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with regard to comic book-based movies should push these notions aside based on Warner Bros.’ upcoming churn-out schedule of superhero films through 2020.

Still, there are moments of faint pathos that lure viewers of a susceptible nature into feeling empathy for the likes of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez, who will always hold a special place in one’s heart for his role in Crazy/Beautiful), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and even the evilest of them all, Enchantress (Cara Delevingne).

To lend compassion to Deadshot, the plot point of his daughter, Zoe (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon), confessing to him that she knows he kills people and loves him anyway is heightened when Batman attacks in an alley to apprehend him for the government, and Zoe pleads with Deadshot not to kill yet another. Torn between his lust for the hit and the morality he has deep within him, Deadshot surrenders, led to the “hole” that Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is about to unearth the squad from.

Where Harley is concerned, her backstory as Dr. Harleen Quinzel explains how she ended up falling in love with The Joker (Jared Leto) after “treating” him in a high-security psych ward. It is, indeed, these flashes to the past of them in all their depraved mutual obsession that prove among the most engaging and layered, serving as the destructive Sid and Nancy love story of the narrative–which is, naturally, always the provider of the greatest source of intrigue and high stakes.

As for the more “auxiliary” players in the squad, Killer Croc provides random and often unintentional comedic relief with his scant few lines, including, “I like her” (the delivery giving Steve Buscemi in The Wedding Singer a run for his money). Captain Boomerang is arguably the least interesting, offering garden variety Australian roguishness. And finally, there is El Diablo, whose gradual emotional dismantling proves to lend an unexpected insight into his greatest source of humanity: compunction for his often uncontrollable “flare-ups.”

Where staunch critics of the film are, admittedly, accurate is in taking issue with the generally frothy superfluity of it all. Motivations for most of each person’s actions are explained away as easily as the summation of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the leader of the covert task forced helmed by Waller, asking, “What the hell is wrong with you people?” Harley Quinn giggles and says simply, “We’re bad guys, it’s what we do.” Thus, we are supposed to suspend all disbelief for the majority of Suicide Squad, ignoring the incongruities of bad dialogue, bad reasoning for an event to occur and mostly bad music (e.g. Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”–even the throw in of classic rock, including The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil,” [also used in that other Margot Robbie/Will Smith movie, Focus] can’t completely salvage the soundtrack).

Even so, one of the most laudable aspects of the film are in its portrayals of Harley Quinn, ultimately responsible for saving the day in a turn of events that proves that not just men are capable of rescuing, and Amanda Waller, a strong black woman in a position of extreme power who might be described as an evil twin version of Michelle Obama. Quinn is, undoubtedly, one of the most fascinating aspects of Suicide Squad, her suppressed sense of caring and camaraderie most apparent when she reacts to seeing The Joker presumably perish in a helicopter crash after coming to collect her from the clutches of Waller. Plus, she’s the most pleasant visual out of everyone else in the film, which is never without its virtue (one imagines many a Halloween costume to be modeled after her iconic look).

And while it’s easy to brand the film as idiotic, it can’t be denied that each character was carefully considered by its actors–most especially Jared Leto, who went one step beyond the Heath Ledger method by never breaking character on set, as well as immersing himself in the aesthetic influences of Alejandro Jodorowsky for inspiration. Yes, there is no question that Suicide Squad is pure frippery, but it’s frippery with occasional merit–and not as condemnable as you may have been led to believe.

Captain Fantastic Reveals A Sad Truth About “Good” Parenting

This is a truth we hold to be self-evident: being a “good” parent in the current age is frequently characterized by placation, coddling and a steady diet of cud for one’s children to mindlessly feed on. Hence, Matt Ross’ fourth feature as a writer-director, Captain Fantastic, showcases the scrutiny that recently widowed Ben (Viggo Mortensen) must endure for choosing to raise his children in a self-reliant, autodidactic manner in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. His wife Leslie’s (Trin Miller) absence from their lives as a result of bipolar disorder leaves his six children, Bodevan (George MacKay), Kielyr (Samantha Isler), Vesper (Annalise Basso), Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), Zaja (Shree Crooks) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell), utterly bereft–in a state of near freefall that prompts the older kids in the fold to question Ben’s methods.

With the dramatic introduction to the narrative seeing Bodivan kill his first deer and eat from its innards, we’re given a sense of just how “real” the children’s upbringing is. The simple, yet intellectually stimulating existence Ben creates for them is punctuated by reading such “light-hearted” classics as Middlemarch and Guns and Ammunition, as well as each child displaying mastery in an instrument that allows them to form an impromptu band whenever they feel like it. Beating to the tune of his own drum in the wake of their mother’s departure, however, is Rellian, who begins his subtle rebellion against Ben even before they learn that Leslie has killed herself by slitting her wrists. With the news delivered to Ben by his sister, Harper (Kathryn Hahn), he decides–after a heavy-duty dousing by a waterfall–to calmly inform his brood of the news. Rellian has the most viscerally Oedipal reaction, grabbing a knife and wielding it as though to stab Ben.

When the children find out the other component of the unwanted information, that their grandfather, Jack (Frank Langella, who has remained aesthetically the same since Body of Evidence), will have Ben arrested if he shows up to the funeral in New Mexico, their sadness is augmented tenfold for being essentially forbidden from getting one final goodbye.

But Ben, Jesse Jackson-wearing t-shirt, anti-establishment free thinker that he is, ultimately succumbs to the melancholy faces of his children in their magic school bus-looking vehicle by turning it in the direction of the Southwest.

Though all of the children (apart from Rellian) clearly revere their patriarch, Bodivan’s clandestine application and acceptance into every major Ivy League university indicates his latent desire to counteract some of the key tenets Ben has instilled within them–a desire driven by his realization that the interactions he has with most people in “civilization” (especially, and most importantly, women) are awkward in the extreme thanks to his hyper-intellectualism.

Ben, so consumed with the new “mission” of carrying out Leslie’s Last Will, is oblivious to the casual mutiny taking place right in front of his eyes. Upon re-entering the “mainland,” as it were, Ben satirically narrates some of the more grotesque sights linked to modern humanity (K-Mart included) by remarking on how, more than thinking, Americans love shopping–channeling all of their mind’s energy on consumerism instead of edification. This sentiment will be echoed later on, when Harper’s husband, Dave (Steve Zahn, who still occasionally crops up in film), asks, “How do you still have money?” Ben responds, “I only buy what I need.” This concept, among every other espoused by Ben, is anathema to everyone they encounter–his and his children’s IQ and reasoning abilities so enraging that it forces the drones around them to be reminded of what partaking of non-regurgitated thought was once like.

Most angered of all, of course, is Jack when Ben finally does show up in a 70s suit to the funeral with the kids in tow. The journey they’ve taken to get there is one marked by stealing food from the grocery store to the soundtrack of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” and one of reconciliation and self-discovery, almost Darjeeling Limitedesque in  motif and execution.

So fixated on not allowing Leslie’s Christian (she was a Buddhist) burial to take place is Ben that he forgets who he is doing this all for in the first place: the kids. Bodivan’s brief romantic interlude with a trailer park girl named Claire (Erin Moriarty) and subsequent confession about college to Ben is the first wake up call to the latter that the proverbial spell is breaking, and that maybe his way of raising his family–a way that promotes true excellence–is a detriment to their ability to succeed in a society that has prided itself on mediocrity since the first moment public schools decided to reward students merely for attendance.

The grim reality of Ben having to pull back and allow his kids the chance to be as lackluster as they want to be in order to function in American society is that this is objectively what is considered “good” parenting. Because it’s better to rear a “normal” drooling idiot than a razor sharp-minded “freak.” Alas, fitting in is often the motivation for many an ill-advised action.

Britney Spears Builds on Objectification of Men Trend/Stays Generally Cheesy in “Make Me” Viedo

Though some might have thought Britney Spears lost her knack for showcasing a bit of cheesy flair when it comes to her music, the pop star returned to a schmaltzy form not seen since the interlude before her cover of “Satisfaction” on Oops…I Did It Again. For the video for her first single, “Make Me,” from her forthcoming ninth album, Glory, Britney opts to stay pre-“I’m A Slave 4 U” tame with a narrative directed by Randee St. Nicholas. Although David LaChapelle was originally at the helm of the project, his concept for the video was evidently too racy for Britney and her team.

Nonetheless, we’re still left with something that, at the very minimum, seems to continue the objectification of men trend that has been oh so popular this summer. As Britney and a group of her hen friends sit at a table, a black haired one remarks to a beefy, frat sort of guy that sits down before them, “Ooo, you’re back. What was your name again?” He replies, “Michael” in a way that indicates just how low his IQ is. Britney’s friend returns, “I feel like we need to see more of you.” He dumbly asks, “More of me…like here right now?” Britney’s friend elaborates, “No. Later on.” “Saturday!” Britney interjects. Her friend adds, “Like multiples of you…good looking friends. Right?” Michael tries his hand at wit by noting, “This sounds like an evil plan.” Brit’s friend does nothing to assure him by stating, “I promise you, we’re up to no good.” Britney coyly adds, “You’re gonna have a lot of fun.” He perks up, confirming, “You’re gonna be there?” She coquettishly states, “I’ll be there.” He smiles, “Then I’ll be there.” Combining equal parts the dialogue style from the “Oops…I Did It Again” song and album, Britney fine-tunes cutesy schmaltz to contrast against a more undercutting statement when it comes to the treatment of men.

After Michael leaves, the quartet of women around Britney burst out laughing in that annoying sort of way that only a large group of females can. Yet, it sets the tone for a larger form of empowerment and objectification. The video then transitions to a sweeping overview of Los Angeles and the title card, “Saturday, 1:15 PM” as a BMW drives up to the cattle-like casting call of early 00s-inspired “hunks” waiting outside the sound stage to audition for Britney’s video (so meta, right?).

With that, a heaven-like light and backdrop introduces Britney in all her silhouetted and lacy leotard “glory.” And, because no Britney video would be complete without some sort of product promotion, St. Nicholas then cuts to the pop star rubbing her lips down with some egg-shaped EOS lip balm. The video then reverses back to the version of Britney emerging from the BMW (the entity that started the product placement in the first place) outside the soundstage as she walks past the ogling group of men waiting outside to perform for her.

More random promotion occurs with her four friends watching as Britney walks in and a video showing Orangetheory Fitness workouts “happens” to be displayed on the screen, perhaps an allusion to just how Britney “got her body back.”

Soon, the leering looks the men were giving Britney outside are the ones she and her posse flash to all who step in front of the mic to give them a sense of their “raw talent.” And yes, in between, Britney carries forth with her standard brand of ass-shaking dance moves, but there is a different vibe to it–one that indicates she’s doing it for herself, not to appeal to some man’s need for eye candy.

In the same way Madonna took full possession of her sexual confidence in the early days of her video-making (e.g. “Lucky Star” and “Borderline”), Britney, too, has finally adopted ownership of her own sexuality, and knows just how to use it to turn the tables on all those boys who have so long lusted after her as an object. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t going to take voyeurism to the next level by the conclusion of “Make Me.” All in all, the video, while not as memorable as, say, “Baby One More Time” or “Toxic,” is Britney at her most assured self.

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