Sausage Party (2016) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
"Sausage Party" is shock comedy and shouldn't be considered anything else; but this in of itself isn't a bad thing. The writers and producers are allowed to get away with a lot, and I mean, a lot, just because of the group of faces that we're familiar behind the film: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, etc. etc. These may be the voice actors, but you'll notice that the production team also tends to gravitate to the same works. So take "This Is the End" and mix it with "Toy Story" and you've essentially got "Sausage Party".
Here's the set-up: food has sentience and believes that humans are gods that will take them to the "great beyond" (outside the supermarket) and there they will experience paradise. So on the Fourth of July weekend, all the food wants to be picked so it can be taken to a better place, little knowing that outside the grocery, a grisly death awaits them.
The premise of sentient food starts to become a little hazy for me as intimate objects are introduced to the plot as well. One of the villains of the film, aside from humans themselves, is a douche (Nick Kroll riffing off his "Parks & Rec." character) who wants to cause the demise of our leads Frank (Rogen) the frankfurter and Brenda the bun (Wiig), a lovely couple waiting until 'the great beyond' before they can 'do it' if you know what I mean. For me, as we start seeing more and more objects gain sentience, I wonder where the line should be drawn. Obviously for the sake of the film, there are some liberties are made, but the writers open pandora's box for the sake of comedy and aren't quite able to shut it for the coherence of the plot.
Paradise is viewed as a place of great sexual pleasure, and food must abstain from from mixing while in the store for fear of displeasing the gods. Obviously 'taste' and 'sex' are cleverly playing off each other; but 'nuance' is not a word that I would use to describe this movie.
First let's address what Rogen and company do 'intelligently' with the movie. There are two large commentaries going on here: racism and religion. The latter is the more obvious and "Sausage Party" becomes a not-so-subtle attack on everything Christian and conservative. The idea of sexual purity is also mocking more conservative ideas, because, obviously you can't expect a bunch of weed-smoking produce to come up with the idea of God-inspired morality at the end of their movie.
The racism commentary is something cringe-worthy mainly because it's treated like the non-issue the writers see it as. Sometimes it feels a little too optimistic for its own good (a large arc involves food-puns on the conflicts of the Middle East). Most of these moments are designed to offend, particularly as Frank realizes that these gods are just after blood and gore, which while might be one way of reading religion, the end result is the intellectual superiority of Frank about the rest of the "f**king idiots".
"Sausage Party" feels like it has something to prove. It knew it had to get an "R" rating, but sometimes its humor doesn't ring true, plus it doesn't make that much sense. For instance, not to be too crude, but I'm not sure how honey mustard would know the intricacies of human ejaculation pornography; but maybe that's none of my business.
The movie is rude, and crude, and shocking, and funny at times. This is a film that tries to make you laugh through the shock, and yes, there is some clever writing with food-puns aplenty but that's not really enough for me to make up for the lack of something a little more solid.
And sure, this isn't striving to be fine art; but somehow the film has managed to charm many a critic and audience...and I see why. It targets just the right group of 'bullies' to be shockingly satirical; and there's enough f-bombs dropped to keep kids out of the theater. Maybe it's escapism, or maybe it's just hollow at the end.
Once you've thrown the 'rule book' of acceptable behavior out the window, the shocks become a little more predictable and a little less in your face. And of course there's the ending which blows everything else out of the water. I don't think anyone is just going to stumble into the theater not knowing what they're getting themselves into, but just in case, maybe you shouldn't take mom to this one.

Score: ★★½

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) (PG)

This review contains SPOILERS!
"Kubo and the Two Strings" is the newest animated feat from Laika, the stop-animation company behind "Coraline", "ParaNorman", and "The Boxtrolls" who are slowly establishing themselves as reigning royalty of stop-motion movies. "Kubo and the Two Strings" should be no exception. From the first moment, in which our protagonist tells us not to blink lest we cause the downfall of the hero, the animation is breathtaking. It looks genuine, yet fantastical and it pulled me in quickly. It's baffling how long some people take on this kind of animating style (although for some sequences it seems impossible without the aid of a computer, but maybe we're now having a conversation about the purism of the animating process and not the movie itself).
"Kubo" is a movie about family, death, and the power of love. Thematically, there's nothing incredibly new here, and sometimes the plot turns of the film feel ludicrous and contrived; but the heart of the movie is genuine (and yes, I know how cliche and stupid that sounds, but that doesn't make it less true). The movie is essentially "Harry Potter" with a talking monkey and a beetle samurai guy. Yes, this much has been explained in the trailers and the first time we see these characters it's hard not to roll your eyes and dismiss it.
But magic is important here, and storytelling. "Kubo" if anything, proves that a well told story makes up for the holes in the plot; and this is a very compelling story with a lot of ingenuity in terms of the vehicle of presentation.
The hero's journey begins as a great perilous entity emerges with one goal: to steal his vision, quite literally. Kubo is a plucky, good-hearted child with a natural knack for storytelling and soon the imagery of paper telling the story becomes novel to the movie (see what I did there?).
Kubo's stories that he tells others soon become reality as his world inverts and he must go on a quest narrative to collect protection for himself, lest he fall into the wrong hands and be extinguished forever.
It's pretty simple isn't it? It's almost every fantasy movie we've seen before. It has the epic scope of Jackson and the colorfulness (as well as the darkness) of del Toro, and of course J.K. Rowling's influence should not be forgotten.
For an animated movie, the target demographic feels very mature and you'll notice that "Kubo" doesn't fall into a lot of plot devices that other animated movies do just to tie everything up in a "happy ending". What I appreciate about the movie is that it allows certain actions to be challenging to both the viewer and the protagonist. For this reason, maybe this isn't a kid's movie, although there are some stupidly funny moments geared towards a younger audience.
Sometimes, certain fight sequences between good and evil feel so real you forget that you're watching an animated film, let along something produced by stop-motion. The voice acting is spot-on, except for an out of place Matthew McConaughey, who awkwardly grows into his character. Charlize Theron proves a stern center to the sometimes overwhelming narrative arc. For me, the best part of the movie is the horror-inspired appearance of two henchmen characters voiced by Rooney Mara who is chilling.
But perhaps you should be the judge of this yourself, because "Kubo" is a pleasant, thrilling film that once again reminds us that storytelling should be essential to our lives. At the end, the existential idea of our lives as stories is left hanging in the air as we all climb towards our own endings, praying that they be happy. "Kubo and the Two Strings" reminds us that life is an adventure, but more than that, life isn't always easy. And so, yes, it may be cliche because more mature works would frame the idea differently and little more cleverly; but at moments when the film astonishes, the script is forgivable.
For a movie lauding spoken stories, "Kubo" is a dying art; but art nonetheless.

Score: ★★★

Suicide Squad (2016) (PG-13)

I hold no allegiance to the comic books. I know nothing of the DC universe; but one gets the sense immediately upon starting "Suicide Squad" that DC is trying to expand to compete and to better its superhero counterpart in "Marvel" and on all counts it fails miserably doing so. That being said, "Suicide Squad" isn't as offensively awful as everyone else has made it out to be.
The concept of the movie is really nothing new: good bad-guys, or bad good-guys or however you want to phrase it. It's like "Dirty Dozen" or "Ocean's Eleven" or even "The Dark Knight" except Nolan's movie allowed things to be complicated when it comes to the good/bad dichotomy whereas "Suicide Squad" not so subtly or surprisingly, makes it very clear that even the most reprehensible people have redeeming qualities...that is, unless they're the "good" guys.
See Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. Clearly, see is a turn on what we would consider a "good" character. She works for the government and is trying to prevent World War III. If you've seen the commercial you know what happens next: she assembles a group of "meta-humans" to help in case of a bad Superman.
Already the movie is incoherent and jumbled and the result of apparent re-cutting of the film. It should be said right up front, the editing team should be fired. No amount of pop-rock songs on the soundtrack are able to salvage the beginning thirty minutes of the movie which unravels as a hot mess with no apparent end in sight.
But then we get to the villain, which the trailers actually manage to leave out of most of it, so it will not be explained here. Surprisingly enough, I bought into the villain, even though there are some major issues with how the movie accelerates.
We expect a final showdown in superhero movies. The ultimate good vs. bad moment where good will triumph and we'll be left unperturbed and we can leave the theater in peace knowing that the escapism of the moment is done. "Suicide Squad" attempts to be something greater than that, except it doesn't deliver an intelligent script.
This movie comes on the heels of two Marvel movies of note: "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Deadpool". Both are good movies and DC is attempting bravely to tackle both of them to the ground.
The trailers might make it seem that Harley Quinn is the most important character of the film, but that's definitely not the case. Deadshot (Will Smith) is the epicenter of the "Suicide Squad" mostly because he has the most 'redeemable' qualities we look for in a villain-turned hero. Deadshot is a sassy mercenary who has killed hundreds of people; but has a daughter and therefore  is a good person because he loves his offspring. The way the movie handles this thread is like watching a Lifetime movie, complete will sappy music and fake tears. It's a bundle of horrid filmmaking.
But that's not the end of the movie. The film goes on to blunder through scene after scene while we wait for the plot to predictably unfold; and it does, but do you know something? It's not entirely terrible.
The main fault of the movie is the editing which jumps and clashes and tries to assemble a coherent plot without establishing full characters. The other huge fault is the script, and then the acting.
"Suicide Squad" feels like it was attempting to be the vehicle for two things: a method actor's movie, and an "event". Big actors, big money, and big source material doesn't always make a big hit. Every actor in the film is straining for something larger. You have Margot Robbie trying to ditch her Australian accent and failing, Will Smith doing a solid job of being Will Smith, Joel Kinnaman doing some sort of southern accent, and then there's Jared Leto.
The publicity around Leto's joker has been enormous and the payoff, incidental. I have too much to say here about why I think what I think and whether it's the fault of the directing or the editing I don't know; but it comes down to Leto's bit part as the Joker and he is terrible. It's a misguided idea that isn't helped by the lackluster approach the movie has towards its audience.
But even while all the collective shit is hitting the fan (although based on the trailers, you would expect a bigger explosion) it's still not a terrible movie. It has a lot of faults, but there's nothing in it that makes me roll my eyes and scream at the film.
"Suicide Squad" is not great cinema; and the saddest part is that it had that opportunity. I wonder what would have happened if there was an extra thirty minutes in it, if the budget was bigger, if it had a better script, if it had a higher rating, and if it was made by people who actually cared about the movie they are making.
I think if everything shifted hands, it will make a hell of a sequel; but Lord forgive the current team should they try to pull a slipshod mess again. For me, the mess was fun to watch; but I probably wouldn't appreciate it the second time around.

Score: ★★