SAUSAGE PARTY movie review

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I realized 15 minutes into Sausage Party that I was not ready for what was about to happen.

I had to up my level of intoxication and fast.

It was no secret going in that this was going to be another lewd and crude example from the minds that brought us This is the End and The Interview.

So rather than drink to escape the oncoming barrage of indecency, I made a large dent in my beer to better appreciate the film by occupying the similarly altered head space the makers of Sausage Party were likely in when they wrote the film.

For the most part, it worked. Sausage Party has some notable gags that hit thanks to a few clever gems and its visual commitment to appall — and in spite of the filmmakers’ returning bad habit of reverting to profane tirades on bodily functions as the film’s go-to attempt at humor.

It’s important to note how rare it is that Sausage Party was even made. An adult-oriented story of sentient food learning about the horrors that await them after leaving the grocery store is … unique … and it’s awesome that Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures continues to back films that other studios would shy away from.

Not that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have much trouble getting projects approved these days. It’s to the point where they can just have their friends show up for some thin reason, ad lib some nasty stuff, make sure there’s the requisite drug use and, BAM, someone will release it for them (see This is the End).

That’s exactly what Sausage Party is, but with the added bonus that it stars animated food, giving it the freedom to go much raunchier.

The major weaknesses of Rogen/Goldberg’s humor are still there — witless profanity, extended exchanges about sexual fluids, commentary on world issues that usually comes off as half-baked (pun very much intended) and maybe a little racist.

It’s blunt, easy gross-out shtick and not very effective.

But being an animated feature is what makes Sausage Party more digestible and therefore able to get away with some of the more outlandish aspects and slip in a helping of spontaneous gags that work.

Food puns, a cameo from a certain food-named musician, references to other movies that come out of nowhere — these are the parts that bring some needed wit and unpredictability to the heavy slathering of raunch that is the majority of the film.

The other thing that makes Sausage Party mostly fun, in spite of itself, is the dedication of its voice cast. Kristen Wiig as a dedicated bun, Bill Hader as a Native American bottle of liquor and Nick Kroll as a feminine hygiene product who acts true to his name — hearing these actors go to town is fun because they are allowed to milk the most silliness out of the picture.

Shoutsma Says:

It’s pretty amazing that a movie like Sausage Party can be made in the studio system these days (and be a hit). That doesn’t necessarily mean the final film is going to end up great, as this one still carries a lot of the shrug-worthy crudeness that is part of the filmmakers’ brand.

Regardless, Sausage Party is fresh enough in many regards to pepper its brief runtime with moments that cause either hearty chuckles or a deep sense of personal shame for laughing. Pre-game accordingly.

6/10

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SUICIDE SQUAD movie review

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Credit where credit is due: Suicide Squad had hands down the best marketing campaign of the summer.

The marketing team over at Warner Bros. did an excellent job of whetting appetites with a constant stream of hype. Every week we were treated to a new mashup of footage highlighting the film’s flashy, chaotic vibe and colorful characters, set to a growing collection of wild pop songs. It no doubt helped earn the film its massive opening weekend.

It should soften the blow then to know that Suicide Squad the film is more marketing than movie (“twisted and evil …”).

Director/writer David Ayer’s take on DC’s supervillain team of expendables is uncomfortably similar to its trailers in that it also often acts as a handful of disjointed scenes stitched together, hinting at meaning and connectivity.

It’s flashy and chaotic without the substance to back it up, characters are introduced more often then they are developed and sweet Reekris the onslaught of obvious pop songs …

And like a product of good marketing, Suicide Squad has one bright spot in its tangled, neon web in that you want to see these characters again, albeit in a better movie. A much better movie.

The DC Extended Universe’s third feature is written with all the wit of a middle school bro party and the plotting of a script put together at breakneck speed (six weeks, reportedly).

Whatever gets it out there in time for the release date.

There are plenty of opportunities to go for the harder edge that the material screams out for, but the film is a complete casualty of the studio’s shell shock from the criticism Batman v Superman got for being “too dark.”

The violence is plentiful but bloodless and material deemed too thematically dark seems to have been skipped completely. Yet somehow the filmmakers kept a handful of scenes of women being brutalized and played them up for laughs in an offhanded way. Very cute.

Whatever lets the kids see the movie (and possibly get the message that it’s funny when women get hit).

Ayer has Steven Price at his beck and call to make the music of Suicide Squad. The “won an Oscar for Gravity” Steven Price. Instead, he’s pushed aside (while delivering a mostly routine score) in favor of a horde of no less than 20 on-the-nose pop songs, sometimes one after the other, in the beginning half. At best, it’s excessive; at worst, it keeps the movie nice and fragmented, never finding a good rhythm.

Whatever sells more albums.

Characters saunter about with street-wise ‘tude and are given ham-fisted badass moments but rarely say or do anything that resonates outside of their overdone costumes.

Whatever floods the Halloween market.

The script may fail them time and time again but the cast is the most redeemable part of the movie.

Will Smith as Deadshot is serviceable. You expect him to shoot people and crack wise; he shoots people and cracks wise. Viola Davis stays true to the ruthlessness of Amanda Waller.  Jay Hernandez has a borderline good arc as the repentant pyro Diablo. Jai Courtney is amusing as Boomerang and Lost’s Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje looks terrific as a practical Killer Croc.

The shining star of the film is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. There are several questionable aspects in how the character is approached storywise but Robbie’s take is rock solid, expressing the humor and unpredictability HQ is known for in a fresh way for her big screen debut.

I also hear The Joker is in the film. I’ll let you know if I remember seeing him because, despite a committed and unhinged performance from Jared Leto, The Joker is given so little to do he may as well be any random eccentric gang member. He serves no purpose in this film and is in it so briefly there’s no point where it’s established what exactly this new Joker is.

And this is a far too common problem with most of the film’s characters. It’s cool to see Killer Croc, Boomerang and Katana on the big screen but we gloss right over their backstories and reasons they are on the team for the sake of action.

Rick Flagg is at his most interesting when he’s interacting with the team and not when we’re focusing on his tacked-on love story with the Enchantress, one of the most cliche and undefined villains in a genre where the bar is already set low for weak villains.

In a movie full of bad guys, it feels like the story probably would have gone smoother without the main antagonist there at all.

The botching of the villains is disappointing if not a bit expected. The mishandling of the Harley/Joker romance is what’s borderline insulting. Ayer and his team do a great disservice to the characters by cutting out every bit of material between the two that might be seen as abusive.

Here, it’s all smiles and roses and consensual acid baths.

It’s a choice that’s more agreeable on paper but it takes away The Joker’s menace and makes Harley less complicated and more dependent. The core of that relationship hinges on Harley being stuck with The Joker, in spite of how awfully he treats her, because she’s wild about him. To ignore that middle part is to ignore a terrific opportunity for Harley to empower herself by getting away from her tormentor and being her own person.

Whatever offends the least and sells more.

Shoutsma Says:

As someone who has gone to bat several times for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, even I find no real way to defend Suicide Squad. Its dialogue is awful, it underutilizes its characters, its music choices reek of desperation and it has no flow or excitement left after seemingly being edited by a garbage disposal.

It’s a testament to the actors that you still want to see them revisit these characters. Knock on wood, it will be in a film that’s more interested in telling a satisfying story than selling us stuff. One that won’t be the most disappointing film of the season.

3/10

BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE movie review

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There’s no arguing that Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the defining graphic novels in the history of Batman in how it has shaped our modern perception of the Dark Knight’s ultimate enemy, The Joker. (I know there are some of you out there who would argue this. Don’t.)

Guided by Moore’s sophisticated writing, The Killing Joke first tried to establish a definitive backstory for the Clown Prince of Crime and took readers on a deeply upsetting journey through the dichotomy of good and evil, and the fragility of sanity after “one bad day.”

But for all the story’s wonderful things, parts of The Killing Joke have not aged gracefully since its 1988 debut. In particular, the treatment of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is still highly controversial and has become a prime example of how not to utilize women in a then mostly male-oriented medium (translation: It’s kind of insulting to have them show up just to be crippled and violated).

28 years after it was released, Warner Bros Animation finally gave the green light for an adaptation they promised would stay true to the mature content of the original.

If this adaptation teaches us anything, it’s that maybe the classics should be left alone and that trying to fix the mistakes of the past can somehow make them seem worse.

First, the good. Batman: The Killing Joke comes to us from the producers of Batman: The Animated Series, aka still probably the greatest Batman thing ever. That means that not only do we have legends like Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett behind the camera, but we also are treated to return performances from voice veterans Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong and, of course, Mark Hamill.

In some ways this film version is a treat enough just to hear the likes of Hamill and Conroy recite Moore’s classic lines. As this is the definitive Joker story, it’s no surprise the Hamill turns in one of his best performances as The Joker. It’s a different, darker reflection of the character but it’s one that can still illicit goosebumps in several moments.

It’s clear every actor involved wanted to be part of this classic story and they all deliver.

On paper, a BTAS-backed Killing Joke adaptation would be an instant win. What makes it anything but is how the material is handled.

Batman: The Killing Joke isn’t one movie, it’s two. There is the classic Joker story that everyone has been pumped to see — which is interesting enough in its own right — and the extended prologue the filmmakers put in before it.

One drags down the other.

No doubt aware of the controversy surrounding the story, the filmmakers have added an additional 30-some minutes of new material to the film that chronicles the adventures of Batgirl prior to her horrible tragedy.

It’s admirable to try and make Barbara more of an element in a story known for minimizing her but the decisions here are completely misguided.

The opening half of this movie in no way blends with the main story, is not captivating and, contrary to what was intended, only highlights how unessential her involvement in the story truly is.

At its dark heart, this is the Joker’s story and had the opening tied in on that in some way, it would have been understandable. It doesn’t and instead plays like an extended apology for a touchy subject rather than a timely update.

Was it necessary? Maybe in some other place but not in this movie, especially when you’re still intent on keeping the source material’s gross ending where Batman and The Joker share a hearty laugh while Barbara lies paralyzed in a hospital bed.

 Shoutsma Says:

The original Killing Joke graphic novel is great, flaws and all. This adaptation, when it works, captures some of that same demented spirit. But it made the major mistake of adding material that was not even comparable (or complimentary) to the original, which makes for a forgettable companion piece that often falls flat.

4/10