Sausage Party exemplifies the phrase “has its moments”

As a teenager, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut scratched a very specific itch, providing the trifecta of cartoon characters swearing, flagrant blasphemy, and something approaching a message that felt revelatory at the time. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I can’t say if it holds up or not, but it clearly had a time and a place that have long since passed.  Sausage Party has a very similar feel to that movie, and while I’m sure it will fill a very similar niche to the fifteen-year-olds who download it or sneak into the cinema, to me it feels very much like watching something you loved as a teen and realizing maybe its not such a revelation after all. It’s realizing that crassness is cheap, and movies that spell out their morals are cloying. It’s realizing that using funny accents to sell your parody can come off a bit gaudy. It’s realizing that just because its not meant for kids doesn’t mean that it’s meant for people much older, either.

Sausage Party falls into all these traps and more, but its best moments make up for its valleys, and it sticks the landing particularly well. As advertised, this is a movie where one of the main plot threads is that a sausage (Seth Rogen) named Frank (naturally) really wants to have sex with a bun, Brenda (Kristen Wiig). Just to make it clear that they are aware that this is not a particularly sly dick joke, the opening number outright states that the two are going to fuck. To further clarify that this is not for kids, the first half-hour seems to consist entirely of food items going through the laundry list of curse words. The first bit is amusing, thanks mostly to its song-and-dance elements, but the joke of a hot dog calling someone a cunt gets old astonishingly fast. This is not at all helped by Nick Kroll’s character, a douche who is literally a douche, who proves that Nick Kroll can be absolutely insufferable even when distilled to voice form.

The bun/hot dog boinking is not really where the movie’s heart is though, and its focus lands squarely on how religion shapes our society, how it affects how we view ourselves, and how to deal with its logical lapses.  The metaphor is never played for subtlety, and while some of the jokes are funny enough to trump their obviousness (crackers really are the worst), a lot fall flat under the weight of their incessant winking and nudging (none moreso than its take on Israel-Palestine relations via a talking bagel and lavash). The movie often comes across as posing as much more enlightened than it actually is, where its not dumb but not saying anything particularly insightful either. This is where the teenager factor sets in: this kind of movie would pander exactly to my wheelhouse when I was younger, but comes across as a trite stoner conversation now.

Thankfully, the movie is more than its message, and when it ignores its tendency to try to describe the world via hummus metaphors, it reaches absurd, debauched, delightfully madcap heights. In particular, its final twenty minutes are absolutely hilarious, with two ridiculous setpieces played back-to-back that make up for any failings in the previous hour. The subplot involving Michael Cera’s deformed hot dog Barry, who goes into the world to meet the Gods face-to-face (spoiler: we do bad things to anthropomorphized food), is consistently the best part of the movie, partially because it keeps things simple and is closer to a straight-up parody of Toy Story than the world-politicking of the main action.  Tellingly, it’s when the plot lines meet up again that the movie kicks into high gear.

The animation on display is not particularly fantastic; although is completely passable as professional work, its clearly not aiming for anything remotely passable as art in itself. Everything seems to be made of plastic, and the food-character design isn’t particularly distinguished (outside of the buns, who are a molded to be as off-puttingly shapely as possible). And the voice work contains a slightly uncomfortable amount of vocal whitewashing, despite the tongue being placed firmly in the cheek. But when its funny, its very funny in a very original way. If only all potential teenage obsessions could say that.

C+

Food prepares to learn the truth in Sausage Party

Sausage Party (2016)
Dir. Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon
Starring Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Nick Kroll, and Michael Cera
Rotten Tomatoes (82%)

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Sausage Party exemplifies the phrase “has its moments”

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an off-kilter bit of good fun

Hardened bush man and city-slicking preteen troublemaker seem like a decent odd couple, no? The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the newest from Taika Waititi (director of vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows), takes that and runs with it, as Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a kid who’s bounced around foster homes with a penchant for “kicking stuff, burning stuff, spitting”, among other crimes, ends up in the care of back-country couple Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill). After Ricky feels the need to run away into the bush, Hec catches up to him but winds up injuring himself, forcing the mismatched duo to live as camp-buddies for a while. One thing leads to another, and the two wind up travelling the woods together, all while the entire country of New Zealand, led by an over-zealous social worker (Rachel House) stage a mass manhunt.

It’s a story that the sometimes-ominous label “quirky” could be easily attached to, the kind of thing that could be easily imagined coming out of the Wes Anderson mill. Thankfully, Waititi is a bit more distinctive, if anything cribbing directorial cues from Edgar Wright, with fantastic editing and musical choices in the service of some great visual gags. Especially early on, Wilderpeople is a laugh riot (a scene where Waititi himself cameos as a minister is a sure candidate for funniest scene of the year). It remains engaging throughout, but unfortunately does peak early, and becomes a bit repetitive towards the end. Time seems to fly by in unclear patterns (a camp that seems to last two nights is said to last two weeks), which can make the character dynamics hard to trace consistently. Neill and Dennison have an interesting chemistry, but its nothing incredibly revelatory or original. However, it has a bit more bit and a bit more visual flair than the average family-friendly parent-child morality tale, and sits comfortably in that range of movies that could become classics to kids that see them around the age of ten or so. It’s a fun lark for twenty-somethings looking to kill two hours, but probably an absolute godsend for parents.

B-

Shit's about to get real for Sam Neill and Julian Dennison in The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Dir. Taika Waititi
Starring Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rime Te Wiata, and Rachel House
Rotten Tomatoes (99%)

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an off-kilter bit of good fun

A sharp cast and fantastic production design elevate the new Ghostbusters

The online frenzy surrounding the new Ghostbusters movie can make it difficult to discuss without seeming like you’re taking a political stance. To be against the movie is to align yourself with the worst types of folks on the internet, but to be for the movie is to be for an endless cycle of remakes.  The prospect of a major summer tentpole/franchise starter led by four women is certainly a fantastic thing, but did Ghostbusters need to updated? Not to say that the original Ghostbusters is some sort of sacred cow; it’s a decently fun movie with its share of memorable moments, but far from flawless. The cast and crew of the reboot all have fantastic track records, but it was hard to not be a bit dismissive after the less-than-inspiring first trailer and the absolutely awful Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliot update to Ray Parker Jr’s theme. Thankfully, misogynist trolls be damned, the new Ghostbusters is a success, at times hilarious and with a surprisingly fresh look that distinguishes itself from its predecessors and most anything else currently in cinemas.

The movie gets off to a bit of a rocky start, as Kristen Wiig’s Columbia-tenure-hopeful Erin Gilbert and Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates take a while to really pop. They have a nice chemistry together, but everything has a bit of a box-checking quality to it at the start, and the humour skews weirdly scatological. However, once the cast starts fleshing out to include Kate McKinnon’s engineer Holtzmann, Leslie Jones’ subway employee Patty, and Chris Hemsworth’s hunky secretary Kevin, the movie puts itself together remarkably quickly. Jones proves herself here much more than SNL has ever given her the chance to, but Hemsworth and especially McKinnon steal the movie. Kevin is among the dumbest characters to ever grace the screen, but Hemsworth has an aw-shucks quality about him thats incredibly endearing, and the jokes given to his character hit the hardest. Holtzmann’s mad scientist schtick could easily have been over-the-top cartoony, but McKinnon walks the fine line between creating a weirdo who creates laughs out of thin air while still being distinctly human. McKinnon has consistently been the absolute star of SNL over the past two years, and any questions about her being able to stretch one of her characters to a feature-length performance are definitively answered by her work here.

The movie real takes off and becomes something special around the halfway mark (if I were to name a turning point, it’d be the first scene in the Mayor’s office, played by a fantastically funny Andy Garcia and flanked by yet another great SNL player, Cecily Strong). The movie, like the original, truly inhabits New York City, not simply using it as a backdrop for any major metropolis (its no coincidence that both casts draw heavily from the deep hometown SNL bench). What really sells it all is the shockingly good production design. There are some clunkers around, notably the Fall Out Boy theme and a weirdly low-key metal concert, but the ghost design is exquisite, despite it being one of my major problems with the original trailer. Everything glows cartoony colours, with a Casper-esque kind of vibe that keeps it from ever being really creepy, but that I found incredibly absorbing nonetheless. The ghost scenes are, if anything, highly reminiscent of the experience of those Disneyland-style haunted mansions that aren’t really scary, but take your imagination on a wild journey for twenty minutes. It feels distinct from what the previous Ghostbusters did, even if it does reference it a bit (the final act is a neat spin on the original), and even feels utterly distinct from blockbusters as a whole. It was the last thing I expected going in, but the new Ghostbuster’s greatest asset may be its ability to really build a world, which bodes well for its franchise hopes.

The movie does rely unfortunately heavily on references to the original, most of which are pretty funny but the sheer volume of which threaten to keep it from finding its own identity. Most surviving original cast members get a cameo, which range from working spectacularly (Dan Aykroyd, slipping into a small role naturally) to clunking around (Bill Murray, chewing scenery with no laughs). Despite this, the new Ghostbusters is able to stand on its own two feet, and side-by-side quality-wise with the original. The main villain of the film can be read at times as a rejoinder to the trolls, spouting the odd gender-based insult in an otherwise fairly egalitarian film. It’s a bit on the nose at times, but its apt, and just as the Ghostbusters get one up on him, the film gets one up on the real life trolls by just being an involving, funny, and overall incredibly enjoyable summer movie.

B+

Here are your new Ghostbusters, action ready

Ghostbusters (2016)
Dir. Paul Feig
Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, and Kate McKinnon
Rotten Tomatoes (73%)

A sharp cast and fantastic production design elevate the new Ghostbusters