REVIEW: Sausage Party

30 08 2016

Sausage Party” may begin with an amusing ’90s Disney-esque opening ditty – with help from “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty & The Beast” composer Alan Menken, to boot – but Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have far more than obvious parody. (Besides, 1999’s adult animated “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” took care of that pretty well.) Using a supermarket as a microcosmic playground for the world, the sly writing/producing team continue their thematic exploration of pressing social and existential issues.

That’s not a joke, and yes, “continue” means that this thread has been present in their past work. 2013’s “This Is The End” was, among many things, a fascinating exploration of how public figures come to deal with their mortality and the afterlife in the face of a seemingly inevitable apocalypse. Playing a lightly fictionalized version of himself, Rogen and his celebrity comrades united to satirize the lack of self-awareness among self-important actors.

Much of that same gang reunites for “Sausage Party” to play the voices of processed or packaged foods ready for consumption. The elaborate ritual laid out in the opening song deludes them into thinking “the gods” have destined them for some kind of heaven once placed in the grocery cart. But once a returned jar of honey mustard offers a chilling vision of what lies beyond the automatic doors, hot dog Frank (Rogen) and his sweetheart bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) bring it upon themselves to discover the truth. Neither realizes the answer will shake up everything they thought they knew about life after purchase – provided such a thing even exists.

Along the way, they journey with Kareem the lavash (David Krumholtz) and Sammy the bagel (Edward Norton) and start to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. They bump into Firewater (Bill Hader), a Native American liquor bottle, and bump up against the complications of colonial displacement of indigenous peoples. Rogen and Goldberg, along with “The Night Before” co-writers Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, take advantage of how ripe animated films are ripe for social commentary given how much an audience has to project humanity onto the objects.

Oh, and all the food eventually comes together in a raucous orgy. Just as the apocalyptic monster in “This Is The End” had disturbingly large anatomy, the “Sausage Party” participants’ sexual drive serves as an outsized reminder that Rogen and Goldberg come from a place of absurdity, imagination and crass humor above all else. Don’t take any of this too seriously, their flourishes seem to cry out, because the authors themselves don’t. They know their places as comedians and entertainers above all else, although Rogen might soon vault to Mel Brooks status for a new generation. The combination of his boundary-pushing comedy with trenchant, socially attuned subject matter certainly makes him an obvious contender to assume the vanguard. (Without saying too much, try not to think of “Blazing Saddles” during the finale.) B+3stars





REVIEW: Birdman

29 08 2014

Telluride Film Festival

I hardly think it counts as a spoiler anymore to say that “Birdman” (sometimes also credited with the title “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”) is edited to make the majority of the film appears as if there are not edits.  This does not, however, mean the film is intended to give us the illusion of unbroken action.  Breaks in time and space are quite clear, yet the effect of the long take remains.

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, as he would now have us call him, achieves the herculean feat of collapsing a timeline of roughly a few weeks into pure continuity.  He’s less interested in continuous action as he is a continuous feeling or sensation, an invigorating break from the oneupmanship that seems to come baked in with long-held takes.

Waiting for a cut or edit in a shot is like waiting for pent-up tension to be relieved, an indulgence Iñárritu refuses to grant.  (Leave it to the man who gave us the debilitatingly bleak “Biutiful” to make us writhe.)  “Birdman” follows Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thompson, a former blockbuster superhero star, attempting to win back his legacy in a flashy Broadway play.  He has struggles aplenty, both with his inner demons and the cast of characters around him, and the film certainly does not shy away from trying to replicate his anxiety in the viewing audience.

This is not just pure sadistic filmmaking, though; Iñárritu’s chosen form matches the content of the story quite nicely.  The film feels consistently restless and anxious, and not just because of the consistent drumming the underscores the proceedings.  These sensations are contributed to and complimented by Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography.

After his work on “Children of Men,” “The Tree of Life,” and “Gravity,” it’s a wonder Lubezki had any surprises left in store.  “Birdman” may very well be his most accomplished  cinematic ballet to date, though.  There’s an art and a purpose to every position occupied or every shot length employed.  Pulling off some of these constantly kinetic scenes must have required some intensely detailed blocking with Iñárritu and the cast, but the level of difficulty makes itself apparent without screaming for attention.

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REVIEW: The Grand Budapest Hotel

3 06 2014

Just so we’re clear: I have no problems with auteurism.  For those of you who just saw a French word and panicked, I’m referring to a school of film criticism that looks for recurring patterns throughout the work of an artist (usually the director).  It can often be a very interesting lens through which to analyze a set of films, and auteurism has the ability to shine a light on filmmakers outside of the general circles of critical acclaim.

Like anything in life, the theory has a dark underbelly, and to me, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” represents the perils of auteurism run rampant.  The film is Wes Anderson’s “Django Unchained,” in the sense that it represents a moment of stasis in the progression of a great director.  Anderson is now more than a director; essentially, he’s a brand, expected by customers to deliver a certain consistency of product.

Put into the position of becoming a cinematic McDonald’s, Anderson takes the easy way out by providing an assembly-line reproduction of what he has already created to great admiration.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” feels like a less vibrant remake of a film he’s already made – or, perhaps more accurately, it feels like all of them at once.  Despite being set in a semi-fictionalized interwar Central Europe, the world Anderson portrays seems reassembled from pieces of “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” and even “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Even more than Anderson’s last feature-length cinematic outing in 2012, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” takes his telltale stylistic flourishes and puts them to an exponential degree.  Every other take in the film had to be a tracking shot, so it seemed.  The cameos and other miscellaneous odd appearances by acclaimed thespians is now less of an amusing diversion and more of a distracting parade.  The off-beat characters feel less like quirky people and more like paper dolls traipsing around in the elegant house Anderson created for their frolicking delight.

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REVIEW: Stone

24 01 2013

The fact that Edward Norton is in cornrows for “Stone” should tell you about how seriously you need to take this movie.  Which is to say, not at all.

Don’t get me wrong, Norton has played a shaved skinhead in “American History X” and a tough-as-nails convict in “25th Hour.”  But those were … well, characters.  He took them very seriously, gave them humanity, and we responded.  Norton’s titular arsonist feels like an attempt to impersonate Steve Carell’s Prison Mike from “The Office.”   Perhaps this was his audition for Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom?”

The rest of the movie also unintentionally plays out like a comedy as well.  DeNiro, in yet another role that reminds us just how long ago “Raging Bull” really was, plays Jack Mabry, a correctional officer about to retire.  Yet he’s no match for Stone and his siren of a wife, Milla Jovovich’s Lucetta.

As Jack contemplates one of his final parole cases, he finds himself torn by passion for Lucetta.  You know, despite their large age difference.  And the fact that he’s married to a loving wife.  And of course, she’s married to the man whose fate lies in his hands.

The whole movie is as laughable as Norton’s hair.  Plausibility goes out the window as one of the most absurd love triangles in cinematic history takes flight in “Stone.”  The whole enterprise should be avoided as much as prison itself.  D1star





F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 10, 2012)

10 08 2012

When most people think of Edward Norton, they think “Fight Club,” “American History X,” or perhaps his brief stint as “The Incredible Hulk.”  In other words, I doubt many people would immediately classify him as a funny, light entertainer (though “Moonrise Kingdom” could change a few minds).  But take a look at Norton’s résumé and you will see that his only directorial venture was, in fact, a comedy!

His “Keeping the Faith,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” is a delightful romantic comedy of interfaith understanding and rivalry.  Norton plays Brian Finn, whose best friend growing up in New York is Ben Stiller’s Jake Schram.  Fast forward to adulthood, Brian becomes a Catholic priest, and Jake is a Jewish rabbi.  Still buddies, they find hilarious commonalities between their similar positions in different religions.

But their friendship gets a shock when Jenna Elfman’s Anna, a dreamgirl for both Brian and Jake back in their teenage years, moves from California back to the Big Apple.  She may have disappeared long ago from their lives, but Anna picks up right where she left off with both men, rekindling an old flame that burns brighter than ever.  But each men presents their own problem in terms of dating: Brian is required to be celibate as a Catholic priest, and Jake has to marry a Jewish woman (which Anna is not).

Yet in spite of the occupational challenges, both men vie for her love and affection.  She’s put in the unenviable (but seemingly always optimal choice for Reese Witherspoon) situation of choosing which illicit love to pursue.  I know this sounds a little bit like “This Means War,” but give it a chance.  It’s heartfelt, funny, and truly sincere.  Plus, it’s a movie that doesn’t shy away from having a good time with religion while also taking it totally seriously.  Why Edward Norton stopped directing after “Keeping the Faith” is beyond me.





REVIEW: The Bourne Legacy

10 08 2012

No Damon, no problem, right?

Jeremy Renner is a capable action star, so there shouldn’t be any hiccups.  Plus he’s a great actor as evinced by his Oscar nominations for “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town.”  And Rachel Weisz is a perfectly capable actress to match him; after all, she has the Oscar win (for her riveting work in “The Constant Gardener“) that has eluded Renner’s grasp.

Not to mention, the franchise is in the capable hands of Tony Gilroy.  He wrote the first three installments in the “Bourne” universe, which were all awesome.  And once those were done, he moved onto direct the taut, immaculately constructed “Michael Clayton” (earning him Oscar nominations for writing and directing) and the twisty thriller “Duplicity” (which does not get nearly enough credit).

Yet for all these reasons that “The Bourne Legacy” should work, it absolutely flops.  The expression the higher the pedestal, the harder the fall has more to do with the expectations surround the film than an evaluation of quality; however, a spin-off, sequel, or whatever the heck this movie “Legacy” claims to be cannot escape being measured against its predecessors.  And while the Greengrass/Damon films had a palpable sense of forward momentum that propelled the franchise, Renner and Gilroy’s take on the “Bourne” universe  is dead on arrival and drags for 135 long minutes.

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Marshall Takes Cannes: Day 1

18 05 2012

Sorry, guys.  It’s been pretty overwhelming getting used to life in the Cannes Film Festival, and I’ve come back the past two nights from screenings past midnight with the intention of writing something … but have then quickly fallen into bed.  I’m working on 5-6 hours of sleep each night, which can be quite lethal to moviewatching.  Even in the movies I’ve loved like “Rust and Bone,” I found myself drifting off at the beginning just from sheer exhaustion.  I’ll try to be better, so my hope is that I can churn out this piece pretty quickly and then hit the hay.  The goal for tomorrow is to get into the 8:30 A.M. press screening of “Lawless,” which means waiting in a rush line beginning around 7:00 A.M.  Party!

Anyways, here come some pictures and plenty of stories!

Day 1 – Wednesday, May 16

I spent my first afternoon in Cannes running around the Palais du Festival, the big building where most of the major festival events occur, trying to find an entry into the 3:00 P.M. press screening of “Moonrise Kingdom.”  To give you a sense of just how massive this place is, just take a look at the picture below and know that my iPhone hardly captures the scope of it.  Some people affectionately call it “the Death Star,” and I have to say, that’s a pretty apt description.  It’s room after room, hall after hall, theater after theater, making the Palais one heck of a cumbersome place to navigate.

I couldn’t find a non-blocked entrance, so I just gave up and went to a Market screening of “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.”  Another cool thing about the Cannes Film Festival that many, including myself until recently, might not know is that there is also a concurrent market for buying and selling films in all stages of production.  Some international rights are being sold to blockbusters like “Catching Fire,” which is still in pre-production … and then there are screenings of films like “Silent House” and “Casa de Mi Padre,” which opened in the US months ago but are still seeking international distributors.  The Marché du Film (Cannes Film Market) sees thousands upon thousands of transactions, and it provides an excellent opportunity for cinephiles like me to piggyback onto their business and see some movies that won’t come stateside for a while.

So my first Marché screening (and as of right now, also the only) was definitely interesting.  Like I said in the intro, I fell asleep intermittently throughout the first 45 minutes, which was miraculous given how booming the sound was coming from the screen showing Ice T’s documentary.  I’ll save my more detailed opinions for a full review coming later, but the short form review is this: I don’t doubt Ice T’s passion, but he clearly needed someone to help him edit and refine his fascination in a more appropriate cinematic way.

Then I got great news … I won a ticket to see the 11:00 P.M. showing of “Moonrise Kingdom” in the Lumiere theater, Cannes’ 2300-seat theater which will forever put every other moviegoing experience to shame.  Only this theater requires an “invitation,” as they call it, and proper attire must be worn or the Fashion Police (actual people, not Joan Rivers the morning after the Oscars) will wag a finger at you and turn you away.  Even if you do have this, your clothing is more important:

I had never seen a movie from a balcony before, so I was glad to receive an education in how they did this back in the good old days.  Not to mention because of the mammoth nature of the Lumiere, the filmmakers come into the theater in the wee hours of the morning to calibrate the picture and sound especially for the screening.  So in other words, the movies I get to see in the Lumiere are exactly as the director wants me to see them.  Crazy, right?!  Here’s my view of the screen from the balcony on Wednesday night:

And as if the experience weren’t already magical enough, each Cannes screening begins with this bumper, accompanied by the music from “Aquarium” by Camille Saint-Saens that I already associate with magic and enchantment.  (Start the video below at 0:35.)

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I WALKED THE RED CARPET.  The same red carpet that Wes Anderson had walked with Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, and Bill Murray just a few hours earlier!  I saw their numerous photo opportunities from not too far away and even snapped a few pictures of my own.  The highlight of the whole thing was Edward Norton lingering for easily a minute after everyone else on the steps of the Palais to just be goofy.

And then I got to walk it myself, which was INCREDIBLE to say the least.  If only hundreds of other people weren’t rushing the steps for their own photo opportunity, I might have felt like a celebrity myself.  But regardless of that, it was still pretty freaking cool.  Oh, and don’t buy all the illusions you get from seeing these images of movie stars walking the red carpet – it’s actually not very long and there are very few steps.

 

Oh, and the movie was good too, I guess.