Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sausage Party

Year 9, Day 26 - 1/26/17 - Movie #2,526

BEFORE: I've done well so far in Year 9, if I do say so myself, I've kept to a regimen where I only add one film for every two I watch, so in 26 days the list has shrunk from 145 films to 133.  And I've managed to get to some relevant films, not only topically, but ones that I really wanted to watch last year, but couldn't find room for, like "Suicide Squad", "The Hateful Eight" and "The 33".  Those were all on my to-do list for 2016 and honestly, I just didn't have the time.  But in terms of quality, for every "Reds" there was an "Ishtar", for every "The Big Short" there was a "Concussion", for every "Anomalisa" there was a "By the Sea".  And I did watch two films with Seth Rogen there at the end of the year, so it killed me to fall one slot short, because this could have slipped in there so easily.  But these things have a funny way of working out, now it plays an integral role in helping me link to the start of the February Valentine's Day chain.

Unfortunately, my progress is about to come to a stop, because TCM's running a Debbie Reynolds marathon tomorrow - 12 films in 24 hours!  And I've only seen two of them before, "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Catered Affair".  I also want to add that HBO documentary "Bright Lights" about her relationship with her daughter, Carrie Fisher, and I don't know if I'd schedule these late in the year, with an obvious link to "Star Wars: Episode VIII", but I can at least keep my options open.  My dedication this year was to Carrie, so I think it would be nice.

But even if I ignore "The Singing Nun" and "How the West Was Won" (not in the mood...), that still leaves 8 films added to the list at once - that would undo most of the progress I've made so far this year, the list would be back up to 141, and I'm not sure my DVR can even hold that many HD movies at once.  What to do?  OK, first, relax.  Maybe I don't need to add ALL of them - I can focus on the ones that are most about love and relationships, even though I don't have room for them this February.  Do I really need to watch "Hit the Deck" or "I Love Melvin"?  And I was able to record "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" a couple of days early, so maybe I can trim this down to three more adds.  Adding three in the next two days, while taking two off the list, means it's only a slight setback, which I can overcome next week.  So in addition to "Molly Brown", I'll add "The Mating Game", "The Tender Trap" and "How Sweet It Is".  Then I just need two more films next week to complete this February's chain, then I can go back to my "every other day" rate of adding new films, and still get the watchlist close to 130 before the end of January.

Conrad Vernon carries over from "The Penguins of Madagascar" and voices several characters tonight.

THE PLOT: A sausage strives to discover the truth about his existence.

AFTER: First off, let me point out that I work in the realm of adult animation.  Not that all of it is graphically sexual (OK, some of it is) but I mean animation that's aimed at adults as movie-goers, not just films that they'll see when they're looking for something to occupy 90 minutes of their kids' day.  We know it's a tough struggle, because most Americans equate cartoons with children and child-like sensibilities, but when the entire animation market is only aimed at kids and their parents, then the market is not living up to its full potential.  Plus this puts a limit on the types of stories that can be told with animation - there can no cursing, no sex, and only limited violence.

But in other countries, like in France and Japan, adults watch animation that's not aimed at kids.  Who gave kids control over this segment of entertainment, anyway?  Kids don't have a lot of money, but their parents do.  I get it, you want to set the kids down in front of "Frozen" for an hour or so, just so you can have some time for yourself.  Or maybe you're an adult who digs movies aimed at kids, and if so, more power to you - but as I've seen, so many of these movies for kids are just bloody awful.

The tide has been turning - slowly.  More millennial young adults have kept watching animation well into their twenties, and shows like "Archer" and "South Park" and the Adult Swim line-up, and movies like "Team America" and "Anomalisa" and "Persepolis" have shown signs of promise.  Turns out that animators like Ralph Bakshi and Bill Plympton were maybe just a bit ahead of their time - and so regardless of the quality of "Sausage Party", I know a lot of people who were celebrating the fact that it was a financial success, because they've all been waiting for a breakthrough like that.

That being said, my feeling after watching "Sausage Party" is that it's wildly inventive, intensely creative, and crude (but in a way I don't mind), and I wish that I could just turn off my mind and really allow myself to enjoy it, but you just have to know that I'm about to nitpick the hell out of it.

Let's start with the concept, which is brilliant - a bunch of food characters that are alive, much like the toys in "Toy Story", only people can't see or hear them, and they live in a supermarket and worship the customers as "gods", and believe in the Great Beyond outside the supermarket, which is a promised land where all of their dreams will come true.  Meanwhile they fear the Dark Lord, who's really a supermarket employee that throws them in the trash can when they've reached their expiration dates.  It's not hard to draw the parallel between the foods and people believing in heaven and hell.  Who's to say that hell isn't essentially a dark, bottomless trash can?  And who's to say that our belief in heaven isn't just as misguided as the food's belief in the paradise outside the store?

But this leads me to NITPICK POINT #1.  The analogy between the clueless food characters and clueless religious people only goes so far - a great point is made here, especially if you're an atheist or an agnostic.  (But I bet religious people won't even see it...)  The food has the advantage of being able to SEE their gods, they KNOW that their gods exist, even if they don't quite understand them, or why the gods hear their songs (prayers).  Religious people in the real world are thereby at a disadvantage, they have to believe in gods that they can't see and can't prove, and you would think this would make people more skeptical in general and their beliefs more tenuous, but somehow the opposite seems to be the case.  People just say that "proof denies faith" and "God works in mysterious ways".  Umm, yeah, or maybe he just doesn't exist.  Isn't that simpler and more rational?

But the problem with the "Sausage Party" spin on religion - it's all over the place.  Heaven is outside the supermarket, but gods walk around inside?  Why would gods come down to "earth", and why can't they hear the food's prayers?  (Later, the people can, but it's due to a device/conceit...)  And it's a rude awakening when they find out that in heaven, God wants to eat them.  Suck on that, religious nuts.  Hey, why hasn't that idea taken root in comparative religion class - I mean, if you believe that God created the world and all the people, WHY did he do that?  Why didn't he just continue on, being all-powerful and all-knowing, but alone.  Does God NEED followers, and if so, for what purpose?  Is humanity just God's experiment or vanity project, because God needed some kind of ego boost?  If he exists, I think he gets off on all this worshipping, if you ask me.

And why do the foods have different religions - some are clearly Jewish (the bagel and the "juice") and others appear to be Muslim, but shouldn't they all have the same "heaven is outside" religion?  And where are the Christian foods?  This leads me to my next issue, which is that some of the foods are clearly ethnic, like the Mexican and Chinese condiments, and the box of grits both sounds and acts black, and then we get to the horribly stereotypical Indians, or Native Americans -actually I think the term "American Indian" is in vogue now, but that seems a bit like an oxymoron.  The character of Firewater is just unforgivably terrible, with the war paint and the feather on the head, and the very broken English and deadpan tone.  AND he's a bottle of alcohol?  Jeez, like there aren't enough struggles that Native Americans have to overcome, do we really need to remind everyone of the stereotype that they're heavy drinkers, too?

I think there's a big difference in casting Craig Robinson to voice a box of grits, or say, Stanley Tucci as the voice of Leonardo Da Vinci in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", because he's of Italian descent, and hiring a white actor to do his best impression of "Tonto" to play Firewater.  Like, movies have a bad enough reputation for portraying Native Americans in Westerns (as Marlon Brando pointed out when he protested his Oscar...) do we need to keep all that going in a cartoon?  Native Americans are mystical, Native Americans talk funny, and they sit around a campfire and smoke-um peace pipe.  Give me a break, can't we get past all of this?

I'm just not sure that if you want to portray a supermarket full of foods, that falling back on these cheap stereotypes is the best way to do it.  Sure, it's easy, it's quick comedy, but is it really what's best for the story, what's best for our country?  It just highlights all of our differences, and it seemed for a minute like this film wanted to unite all the foods against the humans - but again, I question the methods.  There are moments of potential, like when the (Jewish) bagel and the (Muslim) lavash realize that they have some friends in common (and are both hot for each other, but more on that later) but these are counter-acted by the depiction of Nazi-like sauerkraut containers that want to "Kill the Juice!" (jews).  Do you really want to fill up your film with Nazi imagery like that?  It's too dangerous, some people will laugh at it, but others may take it seriously.

I mean, of COURSE a Mexican taco should have a Latina voice, and the bottle of tequila, the jars of salsa, I'm OK with them having Mexican accents, but do they ALL have to wear sombreros and have thick, swarthy mustaches?  That's some "Speedy Gonzalez"-style stereotyping right there, and I thought maybe we'd moved past this sort of thing.  And NITPICK POINT #2, a taco is a composed dish, you wouldn't normally find filled tacos sold in a supermarket - taco shells, sure, and the other ingredients, but a filled taco just wouldn't be there.  Even in a cartoon universe, there need to be rules, and they need to make sense.

Like, NITPICK POINT #3 would probably be something about how sometimes the character is the organic food, like the vegetables, but sometimes it's the container, like the jar of jelly or the juice box.  So how can a container be filled with food and self-aware, it's a cardboard box or plastic bottle with thoughts and feelings?  And in those cases the food is their internal organs, or blood or something?  That seems wholly inconsistent.  Also, a hot dog is processed meat, how can it be "alive"?  I can almost see favoring an ear of corn or a head of cabbage as a character, because those are living plants, but a hot dog is dead beef or turkey, ground up and mixed with fillers and other ingredients.  It can't possibly have a personality that doesn't acknowledge this, nor can a bread roll, which is flour and yeast and baking powder, somehow turned into a living, thinking talking creature with additional arms and legs?

Every possible dick joke you can make about a hot dog is here, of course, and some foods are naturally going to read as "male" and some, like the hot dog buns, are going to read as "female" - so the hot dog + bun thing is inherently suggestive, but it's nothing new.  Way back in 1927, a singing duo called Butterbeans & Susie released a record titled "I Want a Hot Dog For My Roll", with all the sexual suggestion that implied, and as you can imagine, it was quite a scandal.  But if we're going to take every food item and give it googly eyes and white gloves and little shoes, so that everything looks like the California Raisins or the m&m characters, is a hot dog really the best choice?  And she happens to talk out of her vagina-like lips, real classy there guys.  You reduced a woman to a talking vagina, whose sole purpose is to open up and accept the "hot dog".

I'm glad the film didn't get all preachy and uppity about vegetarian issues, it might have been easy to slip into that.  Also, they probably saved money but not using any genuine licensed brand characters, like Mrs. Butterworth or Charlie the Tuna.  Someone already made that film, it was called "Food Fight", and I'm guessing it was horrible.  In that film, the brand characters came to life in a supermarket, and probably half their budget was spent on licensing all the characters, and then they were probably hampered by the fact that you can't show Charlie the Tuna smoking, for example, even though there would be an obvious pun on "smoked salmon" or something.

But OK, let's say you don't want to think about the racist, sexist, religious overtones, and you just want to switch your mind off and try to enjoy the comedy here.  I mean, I couldn't do it, but maybe you can.  Is the story strong enough to carry the picture?  Apparently not, because they fall back on those old stand-bys, sex and violence.  Both have their place, but I'm just not sure that it's here.  The story's inconsistent because it pitches Frank (the hot dog) and Brenda (the bun) as a perfect fit (literally and figuratively) and they spend most of the film trying to get on the same page with regards to their, umm, union.  But the first time that they're alone together, out of their packages, why doesn't the hot dog slip into the bun, right then and there?  If it's SO important to them, why do they wait?  And then when the sex scene eventually happens, many other food stuffs join in (trust me, you'll never look at bagels and tacos the same way again...) so their monogamous relationship, the perfect fit of a hot dog and bun, one of the "goals" of the film, went out the window at the first possible chance to join the food orgy.  Romance is not really the strong suit of the filmmakers, I'm guessing.

The villain of the film is a giant douche - no, literally, he's a douche, and HIS goal is to, umm, get all up in that with one of the customers.  He seems to want to have sex with a god in heaven, if the analogy still holds.  But as we saw in another part of the film, if he loses the liquid inside of him, he'll die.  So he wants to have sex with God and then die?  Confusing things further seems to be the fact that when he loses the liquid inside of himself, he seems to be able to replace it with fruit juice?  And then late in the film, after giving a man (??) a fruit juice douche (enema?) he's able to control that man, much like Remy did in "Ratatouille".  Yeah, this is the part where the story was WAY out of control, and don't get me started on "bath salts", which - yep, NITPICK POINT #4 - as a psycho-active drug, are NOT the same as the bath salts one might buy in a store.  It's just the nickname for the drug, I know because I took five minutes and looked it up, back when that drug was prominent in the news.

I'll give credit for the dramatic irony that pervades the early part of the film, when we the audience know that the food items are destined to be eaten, but they don't.  (More clueless animated characters tonight, in the same vein as the Minions and the Penguins of Madagascar...) But NITPICK POINT #5 refers to the scene where the groceries are in the woman's kitchen, and there's the big reveal where she peels the potato and eats the (gasp) BABY carrots.  (Which, BTW, a little research would tell anyone are NOT immature or even "genetically bred to be small" carrots.  They're just the ugly, unusable carrots after being thrown into a cutter that makes small but uniform pieces. Sorry.)  My problem is that the woman opens the package of hot dogs and spreads the dogs out on the counter, obviously so the sausage characters can all stand up with space between them and witness the upcoming horror, but NOBODY opens a package of frankfurters like that!  Who wants a hot dog after it's been lying out on the dirty countertop?  Everybody either opens a little bit of the package and slides out a couple of weiners, or they open the WHOLE package and put all the dogs on the grill or into the boiling water.

The thing I hated most about the film was probably the cop-out ending.  Once again, it's a weird machine that saves the day, I won't say what the machine does, but it kind of negates the whole story, along with the new level of "self-awareness" that the food characters obtain.  Wild inconsistencies across the board, which is a major indicator of story problems.  I'd guess that after the wild scenes in the second half, nobody could really come up with an ending that would resolve everything.  I mean, a hot dog and a bun can't keep walking around a supermarket forever, aren't they going to spoil or get moldy at some point?

I don't know, something tells me that I'm WAY overthinking this.  But hey, that's what I do.

Also starring the voices of Seth Rogen (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 3"), Kristen Wiig (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Michael Cera (last seen in "This Is the End"), Jonah Hill (last seen in "True Story"), Edward Norton (last seen in "Red Dragon"), Salma Hayek (last seen in "Savages"), James Franco (last seen in "The Night Before"), Paul Rudd (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Bill Hader (last heard in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2"), David Krumholtz (last seen in "The Mexican"), Nick Kroll (last seen in "Vacation"), Danny McBride (last seen in "Aloha"), Anders Holm (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Craig Robinson (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"), Harland Williams (last seen in "The Whole Nine Yards"), Scott Underwood, Greg Tiernan, Lauren Miller, Nicole Oliver, Michael Daingerfield, Vincent Tong.

RATING: 6 out of 10 toothpicks

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