Sunday, September 25, 2016

Don't Think Twice

Alternate Title:  The Delusion of Spontaneity
One sentence synopsis:   Six underground improv comedians find their troupe turned upside down when one of them is picked to join the cast of an SNL-style network sketch show.

Things Havoc liked: "Dying is easy," said Edmund Gwenn (Santa, from the 1947 Miracle on 34th St). "Comedy is Hard." Or maybe he didn't say it, and Jack Lemmon or Gregory Peck or Milton Berle made it up. Nobody's really sure. But whoever said it was absolutely right, because comedy is fraught with peril. A bad drama, for instance, or a horror film that fails to horrify, can at least take solace in being unintentionally hillarious, and thereby become a staple of midnight screenings and cult followings forever (consider Plan 9 From Outer Space, or The Room). Such infamies are not what one sets out to make, generally speaking, but they can still provide entertainment and joy to their audience. A bad comedy however, leaves one with nowhere to go, because it fundamentally isn't funny. There is no safety net, no backup plan for comedy. It fails or succeeds entirely of its own merits, as what it was intended to be. The prospect must be terrifying. And yet people keep throwing themselves into comedy, including several that I have now seen repeatedly in these little weekly excursions of mine to the theater.

One such person is Keegan-Michael Key, the taller half of the comedy duo Key & Peale, who graced us earlier this year with their first foray into filmmaking, Keanu. Keanu was a fun little movie, and so I decided that it was a good idea to see what he and a number of other talented comedians had to offer, among them Kate Micucci, of half a dozen TV shows that even I know about, and Tami Sagher, a comedy writer for 30 Rock, MadTV, and Inside Amy Schumer. Top everything off with a 99% Rotten Tomatoes rating (I'm not kidding), and it seemed like a good time.

Things Havoc disliked: So... you know how I was talking about bad comedy a minute ago? Yeah...

Don't Think Twice is a bad comedy, but more than a bad comedy it's a continuation of a trend that has become a full blown epidemic this year, of movies that every critic on Earth rates highly turning out to be pieces of crap. Sometimes they're just mediocre, sometimes they're unwatchably awful, but always they're the sorts of movies that the critics like to fawn over because it makes them seem superior to the unwashed masses. Normally I just remark on this when it happens. Taste is subjective, after all, and critics can simply be wrong sometimes. I'm the guy who praised Suckerpunch, remember? But subjectivity ceases to be a defense when literally everybody praises the movie in immodest tones, like it's the second coming of the medium of film, and all those who fail to see it are dooming themselves to lives of deprivation and despair. Kubo got this kind of reaction, and High Rise, and The Lobster, and Hail Caesar, and I am getting very, very tired of it. I try to see movies because they appeal to me, because they look interesting or daring, and not to be influenced by the critical opinion on a movie, but it's hard to ignore sometimes, particularly when every other critic in the world is lauding something to the skies and pronouncing it the finest film to ever grace the screen. And for the same critics to then turn around and declare that the aforementioned films are better than things like Deadpool or Triple 9 because the subject matter of the latter is not as artistic or intellectual is flat out dishonesty. One bad film I can forgive. Three I can understand. But a dozen movies in a row starts to look like either incompetence or gross bias on the part of those who get paid for this sort of thing.

*Sigh* So, the movie...

Don't Think Twice is an improv comedy, about a troupe of players in New York who are distinctly small-time, but have the passion (maaaan). And because many of the comedians involved are good comedians (I haven't mentioned Gillian Jacobs or Chris Gethard yet), you'd expect some decent improv at least. Well no such luck here, because the improv on display from these starving artist players is shit. Boring, unfunny, uninteresting shit. And I don't wanna hear about how hard improv comedy is, because I've seen much much better stuff from local troupes around here in San Francisco, to say nothing of things like Second City or Whose Line is it Anyway. Hell, the comedians here had it easy! They could have either scripted the stuff, or if that was too artificial, done what a lot of troupes do and done a lot of improv, so as to cherry pick the best bits to be shown in the film. Instead, we get "comedy" that would be booed off the stage at a third rate amateur club. There is one, I repeat one funny bit in the movie (a routine involving the appearance of imaginary friends to a twice-divorced man in his fifties). All the rest of the comedy is barely chuckle-worthy, the kind of stuff you laugh politely at if you are related to the people involved, and otherwise check your watch a lot. And yet, we are expected to believe that this awful material of theirs is good enough that the players involved (but only some of them) are invited to audition for "Weekend Live", an SNL-knockoff looking for new talent. Admittedly, this conceit does allow for Seth Barrish, a veteran film and stage actor, to do an absolutely dead-on sendup to SNL's Lorne Michaels. But mostly, it's used for, of all things, melodrama.

Oh. My. God. Is there melodrama in this movie. You see, only one of the six players in the troupe (Key) can join SNL, and once they do so, what happens but terrible rifts and falling out. You see, it's not good enough for the other comedians to get jealous of the success of their friend, they have to have BIG DRAMATIC SPEECHES about how their friend has changed, how success has gone to their heads, how they have forgotten their roots (maaaan), and are now soulless and lost. Yes, these speeches are intended to showcase the insecurities of the other troupe members more than reflect the reality of the film, but they are so far over the top that they destroy the entire dynamic of "plucky group of friends trying to succeed at comedy" that the film has been desperately trying to build. Nobody capable of literally punching their friend in the face for having failed to secure them a guaranteed audition could possibly have been stable enough to have been a member of a troupe like this in the first place, and I don't care how "quirky" the film wants to make all comedians look. This is a movie about assholes acting over-dramatically and occasionally pausing so that you can laugh. Sound fun?

And whose fault is all of this? Well I can't know for sure, but my guess would be Mike Birbiglia, a claim I make based on the fact that he produced, wrote, directed, and stars in this movie. We met Birbiglia way back when in Sleepwalk with Me, a movie whose biggest flaw was simply being too awkward. Well Birbiglia has graduated now from being uncomfortably awkward to painfully awkward, with a good heaping scoop of narcissism piled on. Not content with mining the vein of betrayal (maaaan), Birbiglia has to give everyone a series of melodrama staples to pout and stare sadly out windows about, from the cast member whose father is dying, to the cast member who is living off her parents, to the cast member who is a slacker and depressed, to the cast member struggling to grow up. In a film that was toned bittersweet, where the comedy was an intentional juxtaposition with the misery of the characters' lives, in short in an actual drama, this might have worked. But Don't Think Twice is pitched, paced, written, and shot like a slapstick comedy without the slapstick, and consequently falls flat on its face. Only this time, there's nobody to laugh.

Final thoughts:   I am probably angrier at this movie than I should be, because the base fact is that Don't Think Twice isn't an awful film, just one so painfully mediocre as to render one exhausted with the entire thing. But what annoys me about this movie isn't simply that it failed, it's that it represents arrogance at every level, arrogance necessary to stuff a comedy full of melodrama in the belief that one's life (or facsimile thereof) is so fascinating that everyone will immediately hold tremendous sympathy for all of your travails. This particular type of arrogance has bitten Birbiglia before, and this time it proves so insurmountable that the entire film is wrecked upon it. And as to those who called this movie "Laugh-out-Loud funny" or "genuinely moving", all I can suggest that you stick to your "counterprogramming" and railing incessantly against how dumbed down Hollywood has become, go see your quirky indie movies made by the right directors and praised by the right publications, and leave me to watch actually good movies in peace, if ever there are any to be found in this miserable year.

Final Score:  4/10

Next Time:  Let's see if the Greatest Actor in the World is up to the task of turning things around.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

Alternate Title:  The Cold Facts
One sentence synopsis:   A young boy with powerful origami magic sets out to retrieve the magical artifacts that will enable him to defeat his grandfather, the Moon King.

Things Havoc liked: Laika Studios is an interesting anachronism in Hollywood today, a stop motion animated film studio founded by Nike chairman Phil Knight, whose specialty is the sorts of children's' movies that have never really existed beyond early 70s Christmas specials and big budget epics from the mid-1930s. Beginning with Coraline in 2009, Laika has carved quite a nice little niche for itself in the realm of studio animation dominated by giants like Pixar-Disney, and Dreamworks. The last film of theirs that I saw was 2012's Paranorman, a very good movie that showed a lot of promise, and following one or two short or lesser-reviewed films, they have returned four years later with a movie that got so much hype, I was frankly worried.

Set in mythological Japan, Kubo and the two strings is a fairly standard hero's journey tale with a style that is entirely non-standard, a stop-motion and practical-effect-laden aesthetic that is simply gobsmacking in its richness and style. Animation can do wonders, this we would all know even if we weren't smack in the middle of the Third Golden Age of Disney, but Laika's greatest strength has always been the way that their laborious, hand-crafted art style and stop motion design produces a truly unique effect on-screen, and Kubo may be their magnum opus insofar as such things are concerned. Every frame of the film is drenched in art, from the earthy sequences of Kubo's local village, to the truly fantastical designs of his aunts, or of the strange and horrible creatures that inhabit the world. How Laika contrived to produce all of this, I have no earthly idea, only that the labor must have been immense,and the result is apparent to all. Whatever faults it may have, Kubo is a gorgeous film, and those who go simply to drink in its richness will not be wasting their time.

It's always hard to criticize a movie that tells a simple tale, as this one does, because the sheer familiarity of a story is not a flaw, especially not in a children's movie, whose target audience will not be as jaded by a hundred thousand retellings of Joseph Campbell. In this case Kubo, a boy with the power to animate origami paper and produce living, moving figurines, lives with his mother by the sea and works as a storyteller in the local village, before the hero's journey inevitably whisks him away. This is the kind of simple story that is used as an excuse to provide other delights, such as visuals or memorable setpieces, one where the stakes and the direction are fairly obvious, and yet that's no slur. Pursued by a group of evil spirits, tasked with retrieving the magical artifacts once wielded by his warrior-father, protected by a group of magical creatures including a Japanese macaque with a distinctly martial bent, and a larger-than-man-sized beetle, it is a story of adventure and danger and family and lessons learned. Kubo himself, voiced by Art Parkinson (Game of Thrones' Rickon Stark), is a perfectly compelling protagonist, brave and kind and sly in his own way, and the movie's recurring theme of metaf-iction, drawn out through Kubo's own profession telling stories with inanimate objects brought to life, complements the main plot perfectly. The rest of the voice cast is provided by other stalwarts, including Charlize Theron, whose role as a swordfighting monkey is actually fairly badass for a G-rated kids movie, while the ever-reliable Ralph Fiennes gets to play an evil god (again). Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa , Rooney Mara, and George Takei also lend their voices to more minor roles, all doing a fine job. For those interested in nothing more than a quality children's film, Kubo has everything you are looking for.

Things Havoc disliked: I really hate to do this.

People accuse me on occasion of being contrary, of hating movies simply because they are popular, and while I won't deny that there is definitely a correlation between a movie receiving universal critical acclaim, and said movie being a piece of crap, I do not go out of my way to bash movies that are popular just to be different. I want movies to be good, that's why I do this in the first place, and when a movie comes out with a 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes, I still expect, despite the Leviathans and Under the Skins and Beasts of the Southern Wild, that I'm going to get something special from seeing it. And if I don't, then I am not going to sit here and blow smoke at everyone just to pretend that I have some kind of non-existent credibility. And so it is in the interests of honesty for my readers and myself that I report that there are two major problems with Kubo and the Two Strings. One of these problems is survivable. One of them is not.

The first problem is Matthew McConaughey. Anyone who's spent any time reading my reviews knows how big a fan I am of McConaughey ever since he stopped playing vapid action leads, but here he's a voice actor, and voice acting is not the same thing as regular acting and never will be. It's not that McConaughey is awful, it's that his voice, his cadence, his vocal presence is so strong that it knocks you right out of the movie you're watching. Some actors, no matter how good they are, have such a strong persona as actors that it's entirely impossible to picture them as anyone else once you hear their voice. Asking McConaughey to play a Samurai warrior (who is also a giant beetle), while giving him the sorts of snarky lines that he would get in a traditional McConaughey movie, and then expecting the audience to see anything but Matthew McConaughey wandering onto the set of a Japanese children's show, is like asking people to hear Nicholas Cage or Joe Pesci or Tommy Lee Jones and not instantly think of the iconography around Nicholas Cage, Joe Pesci, or Tommy Lee Jones. McConaughey is flat-out distracting, there's no other way to put it, and while that's certainly something that probably afflicts adults more than children, even absent the baggage, the introduction of McConaughey as McConaughey is totally anachronistic to the fantastical magical world that the filmmakers have laboriously created. The effect is rather like Robin Williams' performance in Fern Gully, a performance that, irrespective of the quality of the voice work or the pedigree of the actor, simply takes you out of the film every time you encounter it.

But distracting as McConaughey is, he's not a lethal blow to the film. Recasting him would have solved everything, after all. The biggest problem with Kubo and the Two Strings, and the one that cannot so easily be resolved isn't McConaughey. It's Laika.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a movie that wants to be a rousing adventure, a trip through mythological Japan complete with monsters, magic, swordfights, action, and all the good things that fun animated kids movies have nowadays. But it also wants to do all of those things purely with practical effects, miniatures and stop motion and the like, and unfortunately what Laika has discovered and inadvertently revealed to all of us is that these two goals are antithetical, because Laika just can't do it. You cannot make a full-speed action-adventure feature film using nothing but stop motion, not without taking sixteen years and $200,000,000 to do it, neither of which Laika can feasibly take. When one must re-arrange every frame of a 100+ minute film by hand, it means that every frame of animation takes longer to produce than it would being drawn on cell paper, let alone rendered on a computer. And because of this, with a limited budget of money and time, Laika has been forced to cut corners, in the time-honored method of budget-crunched animators everywhere. Action sequences are stilted and slow, lacking the explosive movement that we've come to expect from animated films nowadays. Scenes designed to generate energy grind to a halt so that minutes can be taken up with pace-shattering filler material, throwing off the balance of the entire movie and rendering several long sections flat boring to watch. To save frames, the animators even resort to the old anime trick of moving the background while the characters stay motionless, a staple of Saturday morning anime, unworthy of the feature film that it is used within. Even the plot is harnessed to push the required frame count down, tieing itself into knots to avoid having to show any more action than is absolutely necessary, and leading unavoidably to the conclusion that despite the gorgeous look and style of the film, this is a movie that should have been made by Disney or Pixar or Dreamworks. Laika is simply not up to the task of realizing it.

Final thoughts:  Kubo and the Two Strings has a universally-sterling reputation, and I do see why, but the film is not the masterpiece that it is being made out to be. I would never begrudge someone from enjoying themselves insofar as a movie is concerned, of course, nor do I wish to pretend that literally everyone else is obviously wrong and I am clearly right. But pacing is not an afterthought when one is crafting a story, and it is equally not a place one should cut corners just to make the movie come together. Laika's insistence that their methodology was the right one to bring this story to life is commendable, certainly, but also completely wrong-headed, as a brief credit sequence done with traditional animation proves more lively than the entire movie it follows. And while I hate to denigrate the tremendous work that a great many skilled professionals put into the movie, I cannot pretend that the result was the untrammeled success that I was promised. After all, if I did, then what praise would I have left for the next time Laika does pull it off?

Final Score:  5.5/10

Next Time:  Comedy is hard.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hell or High Water

Alternate Title:  Peak Texas
One sentence synopsis:    Two Texas brothers execute a plan to rob banks to save their ranch, while being pursued by an old Texas Ranger nearing retirement.

Things Havoc liked: It's about goddamn time.

For those who don't follow the movie calendar the way that I do, we're now in a period colloquially called the "September Slump", which is exactly what it sounds like. It's the blank space in the calendar between the blockbusters of summer and the award bait of the late fall, a period which often has lots of movies that superficially appear to be worth seeing, and prove ultimately to be pieces of crap unable to compete with the films actually coming out of Oscar season. The Judge and Gone Girl both come to mind. As such, while the options around September generally dictate that I go see them anyway, I've become rather gun-shy about movies that might appear at first glance to be the first blossoms of the fall flowering, as these films typically devolve into cheese, schmaltz, and general crap.

But not always.

Hell or High Water is an excellent film, bordering on a great one, a movie made with consummate skill and sure-handed direction by one of the best up-and-coming directors that I have yet to encounter over the course of this project, Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie, whose previous credits include Young Adam, Starred Up, and the extremely underrated indie sci-fi drama Perfect Sense. I've not run into MacKenzie so far doing this because the majority of his movies are strange indie flicks about odd people that don't get a lot of play over here, but as his star has risen, so has the reach of his movies, and here we are at last, with a film that bears all his hallmarks, save with a bigger cast and a homegrown setting.

West Texas, an area of the country all its own, where the men are men and the women are armed. Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard, poor Texas folk whose mother's ranch is now being repossessed by the bank she had her reverse mortgage with, have decided upon a scheme of bank robbery and casino-based money laundering to pay off the debt and re-acquire the ranch for Toby's children, not that the ranch seems all that useful an asset, at least at first. Bank robbery is not a career move one makes if one has either brains or options, but the Howard boys have a plan, one that bypasses the dye packs and traceable bills and security systems that most banks are equipped with nowadays. As the brothers strike and strike again, an old nearly-retired Texas Ranger, and his half-Mexican, half-Commanche partner, is pulled off his desk in Ft. Worth to hunt down those responsible for the armed robberies, trying to divine who they are and what they are attempting to do so as to head them all off.

The setup may all sound familiar, but it's the execution here that pays the bills. The Howard brothers are played respectively by Chris Pine, whose range as an actor has never been properly appreciated, and Ben Foster, who I may have to revise my opinion on after this turn. Both brothers are fantastic, world-weary poor Texas folk, the former more or less law-abiding, the latter a hardened criminal, but both entirely believable, with characters that eschew stereotype and sound perfectly authentic. I've always liked Pine, but Foster, whose most memorable credit to-date was in X-Men 3, is a goddamn revelation here. His character seems to be set up for the Joe Pesci role of the hothead who blows everything by being stupid, only for the screenplay to turn on its head, revealing that hotheadedness and criminality are not necessarily vices when it comes to the business of robbing banks. It's a star-making performance from an actor I previously had no use for, and yet even it pales by comparison to Jeff Bridges (in his finest Rooster Cogburn style) and Gil Birmingham, who play the aforementioned Texas Rangers with a ribald ribbing that is among the truest partnerships ever committed to film. The old standby of the mismatched buddy cops is a tough one to see afresh, but the script holds up, as these two ornery old men rip one another's age, heritage, and intelligence in an exceptionally believable way. Bridges is always great, of course (as is Birmingham when he's not stuck in a Twilight movie), but rarely this good, and as the hunters relentlessly track down the hunted, the characterization only gets stronger along the way.

People have been predicting the death of American film for as long as it has been around, but it is true that the last decade has seen more and more foreign directors trying their hands at the Great American Classic Film, be it Alfonso Cuaron with The Revenant or Steve McQueen with 12 Years a Slave. Hell or High Water is a movie firmly in this genre, and Mackenzie, like the best of the foreign directors who have attempted this, brings his unique eye to the proceedings while still respecting the subject's conventions. The cinematrography is grand and sweeping, with desolate plains and empty tracklands, boarded-up stores and artificially-cheery diners or casino lobbies. Decay and dislocation are everywhere, for sale and payday loan signs choke the streets and highways, graffiti complains of poverty and economic misery. Yet the movie does not turn into some maudlin lament on the starvation of labor or some damn thing. The rough vernacular color of West Texas pervades the entire enterprise, with even bit characters given blunt, plainspoken dialogue, such as the bank clerk who tells the brothers to leave, "because so far, all you're guilty of is being stupid." The movie also delves a bit into just how hard it must be to commit armed robbery in a place where literally everyone is armed all of the time, and prepared to form a posse at a moment's notice. The sheer sense of place that Hell or High Water produces is rare in film, indie or mainstream, and it is a credit to Mackenzie and to screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (of Sicario), that they've managed to produce a film this richly appointed.

Things Havoc disliked: And it's a good damn thing that Sheridan and Mackenzie do such a good job with the dialogue and localizing, because the movie would quite probably fall apart if they did not. Nowhere is it indicated, for instance, just where these two brothers, who are, after all, doing all of this because they have no money, are getting the many and varied cars, automatic weapons, and earthmoving equipment that appear to be integral to their plans. Neither does the film bother to explain away certain fantastic coincidences, or convenient turns of mind that overtake certain characters in the run up to the climax of the film. I understand that this movie isn't about its plot, and I further understand that even if it was, we are not here to get a seminar on the mechanics of rural bank robbery in the American Southwest. But the film does ask us to swallow quite a lot of contrivance in order to make its point, something that I'm usually willing to do, but only if the movie proves itself deserving.

Final thoughts:  This one, however, does, and so there's really nothing to complain about.

Hell or High Water is an exceptional film, a high point in a year that has thus far been notably bereft of them, an excellent film that is both loyal to the oldest conventions of American cinema (the evil bank trying to take the land of the poor ranchers), and entirely defiant of all conventionality. It is a movie that boasts excellent acting, superb writing, and brilliant styling, all in the service of a thoroughly enjoyable movie, one of the very few whole-hearted recommendations I have been able to make this year. Insofar as I write these reviews so as to tell people whether they should or should not go and see a given movie, which is certainly one of the goals that this little project of mine serves, let me be clear. Go and seek this movie out. For once, this summer, you will not be disappointed.

Final Score:  8/10

Next Time:  Laika's at it again.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sausage Party

Alternate Title:  Foodfight II:  Electric Barbecue
One sentence synopsis:    A hot dog and his girlfriend the bun dream of being selected by shoppers at their supermarket home before discovering the awful truth about what happens to food once purchased.

Things Havoc liked: Seth Rogan has been one of the more reliable features at the movies in the last couple of years, and ever since I was dragged to This is the End against my will (thank you, Steve), I've made a point of checking out what I can of his work. Last year's The Night Before was pretty good, as was the unreleased Interview, but this year Rogan decided to take on an animated feature about food that comes to life, all with an R-Rating. You don't see a lot of R-rated animated features around, so this was one I decided was worth considering, especially given its pedigree. There were worse options available.

Rogan, like a lot of filmmakers, has a stable of actors he likes to work with, most of whom make voice appearances in this film. While Rogan himself voices Frank, the lead sausage of a pack of hot dogs who, initially at least, wishes simply to make it to "The Great Beyond" in the company of his girlfriend Brenda Bun (Kristen Wiig), his reliable co-conspirators Jonah Hill and Michael Cera voice Barry and Carl, two other sausages from the same package who actually make it out of their supermarket home and discover what becomes of food in the aftermath of being purchased. Following a series of disasters, our heroes are all separated, and must make their way through the store and the world at large, all while encountering a panoply of other characters voiced by Rogan regulars. David Krumholz and Edward Norton take on comic relief characters of a Lavash and a Bagel who (predictably) hate each other, while Craig Robinson and Bill Hader take on the role of the wise old elder foods (non-perishables) who know the mysterious secrets of the universe. Everyone is fine in the movie, and in fact as the cast elongates, there's a number of legitimately funny, if predictable, jokes to be found in just the concepts people are asked to play. James Franco, for instance, plays a drug addict who discovers he can talk to food after shooting up with bath salts, while Selma Hayak is a lesbian taco shell who gets to be a thin pastiche of every Selma Hayak role ever invented. Assorted smaller roles go to everything from a piece of used chewing gum/Stephen Hawking (just go with it), a potato who is possibly the most Irish thing since Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and a recurring joke about how the Sauerkraut jars are all Nazis who drove the bagels from their original aisles and into the middle eastern foods section. But the best one goes to Nick Kroll, a veteran of many recent comedies (and, weirdly, Terrence Mallick's experimental art film Knight of Cups from last year), who plays the primary antagonist of the film, a douche, both literal and figurative.

As I'm sure you can tell by now, the parallels to Toy Story are many and obvious, and to the movie's credit, it plays the concept reasonably straight. The cosmology of the universe posits that the humans who purchase the food are "Gods", and that the Great Beyond is some form of Heaven, and the attempts on the part of the disillusioned sausages to convince their fellows what actually awaits them results in abject rejection from those who prefer to believe that something good awaits them. This could easily turn insufferable, but instead becomes a weird kind of semi-parody of both religious movies and message movies. Along the way, the film is filled with spoof moments that feel like a cross between The Lego Movie, and something Kevin Smith might have come up with back when he was still making good films. An early scene spoofs the opening to Saving Private Ryan in one of the funniest ways imaginable, while the climax comprises an orgiastic battle with an actual, full-blown orgy. Let it never be said that the movies can't still find a way to show me something new...

Things Havoc disliked: For all that though, Sausage Party is a movie that has about forty-five minutes of good ideas stretched to near the breaking point by the need to come up with a feature-length film. Even at a slim 88 minutes, there are entire sequences in the film that feel like enormous padding, including most everything that happens for the first ten minutes, which, for those who aren't up on your narrative theory, is not the section of the film you want to bore people with. This tendency persists throughout the film, particularly in the middle sections, which involve a series of odyssies on the part of our heroes, who must traverse one aisle after another for no reason other than a couple of jokes at the expense of the foods in question. The main character, Frank, spends nearly ten minutes speaking to a wise council of elder foods, only to go on a quest to find a secret trove of knowledge, which reveals to him... pretty much exactly what the wise council of elders already told him in explicit detail. Meanwhile his girlfriend meets one character after another who have no real reason to be there at all, be it Hayek's taco (who's at least good for a little self-referential humor), or Danny McBride's suicidal Mustard Jar, who exists apparently so that Danny McBride could be in another Seth Rogan movie.

The other major issue with Sausage Party is that... well... it's just not that funny. I mean, don't get me wrong, it is funny, occasionally very funny, especially in the climax, but a lot of the humor falls into that Seth MacFarlane zone, wherein things are funny because they are weird, not because the weirdness is itself amusing. The aforementioned orgy comes to mind, which once you get past the fact that food is having an orgy (which admittedly takes a moment), is just shock humor without any real cleverness to it. It's not that the movie isn't clever at all, it's that it's spotty, with moments of inspired sight gags and visual puns, alternating with long stretches of fairly stale, obvious humor derived from the premise more than anything else. It doesn't make the movie bad, but it does make it somewhat less than one might expect from this team and this concept.

Final thoughts:  Sausage Party is an amusing enough little film, but taking the weirdness of the concept out of things, it's also a movie that probably belongs somewhere around the level of The Interview or Neighbors when it comes to the Seth Rogan oevre. It's a film that needed either to be made as a short film (to cut out the padding) or made by someone with an edgier sense of humor (which Rogan is not and has never been). Still, all in all, if the strangeness of the premise or the appeal of the cast and crew are enough to interest you in a movie about a sex-crazed hot dog who murders a tweaker with an axe, then this one's probably worth a look. And after all, who hasn't wanted to see something like that on occasion?

Final Score:  5.5/10

Next Time:  Time to go back to Texas...

The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup

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