Sausage Party: Movie Man Jackson

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Don’t play with your food, it plays with each other. In a common grocery store, every single food item fantasizes about being purchased by “Gods,” humans who will whisk them away from shelves, freezers, and the like and into “The Great Beyond.” No food truly knows what happens after leaving the store, but the consensus is that a life of freedom and care by the Gods is given.

For Frank (Seth Rogen) and his hot dog (he’s a hot dog, not a sausage) friends, getting purchased means getting to slide their meat into some plump buns. He has always had eyes on Brenda (Kristen Wiig). His mission is almost achieved by getting a coveted spot in the shopping cart, but an incident from Honey Mustard (Danny McBride), begins to put doubt into Frank as to whether the Great Beyond is heaven, or more akin to hell. The better question may be, does it even exist?

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Let’s call it what it is. Sausage Party, mainly from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This is the End) is Toy Story (or any other inanimate object, for that matter) in edible form. In R-rated edible form. With that said, though, Sausage Party is rather thought-provoking, and may even be adept at leaving its mark on some viewers long after viewing. Is it funny? That depends.

Sausage Party feels most similar to Rogen and Goldberg’s 2013 comedy This is the End, albeit with a different message. Unlike that movie, which didn’t concern itself with the question of the existence of a higher power or whether a stylized Backstreet Boys-led heaven afterlife was real, Sausage Party actually does. The overall mature elements of the screenplay might just be the strongest element of the entire production written by the longtime duo, plus Jonah Hill this time around. What is also surprising is how we as the audience actually begin care for a few of these characters and their well-being, such as a deformed hot dog in Barry (Michael Cera). As far as technical quality goes, this is no high-budget Pixar offering, but it looks well enough, and ends up making some really memorable set pieces. Yes, set pieces, ones that feature action, horror, and something that would be right at home in the infamous 1979 movie Caligula.

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But even with surprising and pretty well handled themes, Sausage Party is a comedy that is 100% Rogen & Goldberg through and through, full of weed love and penis appreciation. Great news for Rogen fans, bad news for non-fans. Yours truly personally falls in the middle. The premise does allow for some good comedic wittiness that didn’t always appear in their other films, but the hardcore raunch does begin to take its toll after a while. The third act may be better enjoyed under the influence of a substance. It is the 50/50 hit/miss rate towards humor that leaves this comedy a little disappointing.

And while one should assume full responsibility for stepping into a R rated comedy, it can be argued that Sausage Party does veer into the very uncomfortable territory here and there, with one character in particular as a literal douche. Voiced by Nick Kroll, Douche is rarely funny, actually disturbing in some of his actions, and doesn’t really add to any of the plot’s proceedings. Gum is pretty hilarious, however as a clear nod to Hawking.

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Love Seth Rogen’s cut of comedic meat? Sausage Party is one that will absolutely be filling, along with some interesting ideas that are actually satisfying to digest. For all others, its comedy doesn’t fill all of the laugh holes on a consistent basis.

C

Photo credits go to nytimes.com, comicbook.com, and moviepilot.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Movie Man Jackson

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“People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bull****.”

No, this isn’t a movie about the rapper  or the basketball player nicknamed as such. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is about Riggan Thomas, a once larger-than-life movie-star whose claim to fame was starring as “The Birdman,” a superhero character in a blockbuster film franchise. Now down on his luck and considered to be washed up by most in the business, Riggan seeks what everybody in showbiz or even everyday life desires: Relevance.

Riggan decides to undergo a reinvention by going to Broadway, where he will star, write, and direct a play titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. If successful, this has the potential for people to see Tom in a whole new light, one that doesn’t involve a bird suit. As he soon finds, the Broadway acting isn’t the issue, it is dealing with the many people he comes in contact with. From his estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), to his co-stars and producer (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough), everyone is seeking something. And no matter if he surprises people with this thespian work, he may always be The Birdman whether he likes it or not.

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It takes a delicate hand to to be able to say so many things in a film and still make a coherent and consistent piece. It isn’t easy to pull off, but in Birdman, it is something that director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu achieves, and not just at a fringe level. Inarritu manages to make something sharp, comical, meta, and inward-looking into, but not limited to, Hollywood, Broadway, dramaturgy, and individual desire. If originality is craved, Birdman delivers.

I am sure Broadway and stage performances can be very riveting, but at this point in my young life I have no desire to see any. As the movie began, I really was unsure of whether I would enjoy or not, and by this admission it was a little of a slow start for yours truly, even a small bit of bore. And yet, this dissipated quite quickly, because Innaritu drew me in with the gorgeous cinematography. By utilizing a continuous (or at least very skilled editing) shot throughout, the characters and their situations felt so organic. There are no true scenes really, everything runs together as one complete take. so smooth and effortless, like a good actor getting into and out of character with no hitch. Spontaneous is a perfect way to describe, just like the outstanding, drum-heavy score that appears ever so often here.

Making use of this tracking technique allows a stronger, introspective look into these character’s lives. All are masters of a sociological theory known as dramaturgy, essentially how people interact with others based upon time, place, and audience. Really talented people can blur, perhaps unknowingly, what occurs in the backstage setting with what is supposed to be seen in the frontstage. Inarritu’s technique embodies this, in the sense that there often is no clear distinction when the acting ends and the real life begins for these characters.

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As described earlier, nothing is left off the table here. It is just as much of a film about internal self worth as it is about the superhero genre or even love. The real treat though is the meta aspect that is present within this. Immediately, the parallels between the characters played by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton and their actual personas/career arcs in real life is abundantly clear.

Much like Riggan, Keaton once was a big star in the biz who hit peak popularity with portraying a well-known crimefighter, only to fall down a few rungs after his time in the Batmobile. Riggan’s co-star in Mike Shiner appears to be eerily similar to Edward Norton and all of his real life difficulties on set. Like Norton, Mike is extremely talented, immersing himself in his craft so much that he can be kind of a jerk in the process, fusing real life with whatever character he is portraying. For all of Birdman’s soaring surrealism, this real life allusion  grounds it in a necessary and needed way.

As time goes on, this may very well be regarded as Michael Keaton’s best role. Keaton is front and center here, playing the semi-broken, dejected, but “f**k you, I will do this and at a high level” type of guy. Every emotion seems to be covered here, and then some. Was it really just this year that Keaton was in Robocop and Need for Speed? Not to be overlooked is Norton, who is so douchey, gratingly perfect, and particular as his character, while still able to give him some soul and feeling.

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Honestly, everyone here comes together to deliver extremely memorable work, like Emma Stone and Amy Ryan as Riggan’s troubled daughter and former wife, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough as Mike and Riggan’s co-stars, and even Zach Galifianakis in a subdued and serious role as the producer just trying to keep it together. Everyone in this film is intriguing, which makes it disappointing that at a certain point in the runtime, many seemingly get pushed to the wayside with hardly any revisiting to their personal plights. Just some additional resolution would have been appreciated.

The journeys are still worth experiencing though, just like Birdman is. Wholly original, superbly acted, and impressively directed, it glides to pretty sizable heights. The only ignorance would be failing to check this out.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to miaminewtimes.com, amazonaws.com, movpins.com, contactmusic.com, and apnatimepass.com.

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The Incredible Hulk: Movie Man Jackson

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“Hulk…SMASH!”

Probably was expecting a review of a certain Marvel webslinger this week right? In due time readers (hopefully)! But we are keeping it in the family with Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk. In this version, brillant scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) begins on the run from the U.S. government. Why? Prior to this predicament, Bruce was working with fellow scientist Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her military general father Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) in an effort to find, presumably, a use of gamma radiation for healing purposes for soldiers.

Like most scientists, he tests the science on himself, and things go as one would expect. His transformation into a green tinted brute spurs him to destroy the lab and injure many within it. Escaping this, years later he turns up in Brazil, looking to rid himself of this monstrosity. Though off the grid, General Ross gets wind of Banner’s location after an odd accident at the factory Bruce works at. So, the general sends a unit for Bruce’s capture, but Bruce escapes yet again by way of his timely hulking metamorphosis. Still on the run, the scientist resolves to get back to the states to find a remedy to this bizarre “talent” the government so wants to harness.

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2003’s Hulk, directed under the vision on Ang Lee, left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Though I didn’t despise it like others, more or less I was one of these people. It just was too slow, meandering and took itself way too seriously. Luckily, the rebooted The Incredible Hulk is a lot more fun, but still missing something for one reason or another.

First of all, the movie starts in an interesting way in that Bruce is already living with his affliction, and the initial damage he inflicts while enraged is shown through a montage almost entirely in first person view. At first, this seemed like a mistake in character building, with no build to speak of to this moment. Upon further analysis though, this was a great start to the movie. If the 2003 version taught us anything, it was that too much time in the lab waiting for the inevitable to happen can mar an entire movie. This intro found in TIH reduced a hour of runtime to three or so minutes, while not compromising why Bruce was testing on himself, since it is all explained later effectively enough.

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An effective opening does not mask the problems of the plot as a whole however. In TIH, the motivation of some characters is hazy to say the least, and it did lessen the enjoyment of it. But the biggest issue with this film is the lack of tension. There is the obvious feud between Banner and General Ross, and later between Hulk and Abomination. Sadly, both fail to carry much weight. The former should, but the clashes between the two are few and far between as either Banner and sometimes Betsy included spend a large chunk of the runtime as fugitives, which becomes extremely dull after a while.

The latter, when it occurs, is a huge spectacle. But, it does not come to fruition until the last 20 minutes. It can be understood that the true tension is the internal fight that Bruce has within. This is fine, but it is used as the main conflict, when it is really best served as a supplement. I am not a comic nerd at all, so it is very possible that the Hulk has some more compelling foes in his world. From what I have viewed in movies though, the villains in Hulk lore are unappealing.

There aren’t many standouts from an acting standpoint. Edward Norton has shown to be an extremely versatile actor in his career, but here someone else may have been a better choice to be cast. By no means is he awful, but he never really becomes Bruce Banner either, and part of that could be due to his well known status; it just becomes harder for the audience to buy him here. It may have been a wiser choice to bring in someone of lesser stature. It is a respectable performance, but uninspired. In the grand scheme of things, the Hulk character looks to be in great hands as Mark Ruffalo showed in The Avengers.

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As Banner’s love interest, Liv Tyler’s Betsy Ross is really one note. In almost every scene, she has the same emotion of wonder/astonishment, never bringing anything more to the table. Her chemistry with Norton was OK and nothing more. Pretty good to look at, but her acting chops are questionable. William Hurt is a proven performer, but he is reduced to the standard shady military leader who cannot be trusted. He does what can be done. Lastly, Tim Roth’s character falls into the same archetype as General Ross. He eventually become’s the Hulk’s equal, but in all actuality he serves as a plot device from point A to B to C.

TIH relies a lot on CGI, and all of it looks great. More so than any previous Marvel movie, this really looks like it is lifted from comics, from transitions to lighting. The Hulk himself looks…well hulking, but not in a comically big way like 2003’s version. He moves real fluid, and his transformations are very convincing. When he does start to Hulk smash things, I couldn’t help but be in awe. Even the Abomination looked awesome. Sort of a cross between the berserker from Gears of War and the Nemesis from Resident Evil, nonetheless the filmmakers crafted a visually appealing foe. While the fight scenes looked crisp, there seemed to be a lack of them.

A better film than its previous incarnation, The Incredible Hulk is respectable fun but still not the film that truly places the Hulk character on par with his Avenger brethren. But as The Avengers exhibited, there is untapped potential with the green giant, and hopefully moviegoers get a focused effort sooner rather than later.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to http://www.impawards.com, hollywoodchicago.com, fanpop.com, & geeksofdoom.com.

For film focused thoughts, follow me @MovieManJackson.