Sunday, 28 August 2016

'Sausage Party' Review (2016): Dark, Biting, Cartoon Comedy

Big Screen Watch: Not for everyone, but definitely something that deserves to be seen. I liked it a lot.
Anthropomorphisized animation is nothing new. There are probably hundreds of movies featuring a thing or creature being brought to life. It makes sense. There's definitely comedy to be found anytime you give human features to a non human. It's probably the best way to give your movie some heart too. To date though I can't think of one that's made sense all the way through. There's always something that breaks the world or doesn't compute when you think about it, but maybe I'm spending too much time thinking about movies where bugs have googly eyes.

'Sausage Party' is such a movie that probably wants you to think about it that much. Instead of toys, cars or fish, Sausage Party is a movie that asks the questions "What if food were alive?". What if the items in your local supermarket  were thinking, feeling beings with their own aspirations and desires. The answer of course is that they would soon realise they live a nightmare world where their only purpose is to provide fuel and services for humans.

Every time you open your fridge, your victims tremble with fear.
Naturally, a movie that takes such a dark turn would only be suitable if it were rated R. Any scene with a potato being peeled as it screams in agony would be enough to earn that rating. 'Sausage Party' though is not content with just enough. Think of the most offensive thing you could think of. The most raw and explicit thing you can imagine. 'Sausage Party' is worse than that. It doesn't push the envelope, it takes a high powered rocket and blasts it to the moon. 

In my book, that's fine. However I can think of a lot of people who would be put off by some of the content 'Sausage Party' delivers. It's a movie that tries to offend everyone it can think of. If you're the type to get offended by 'South Park' or 'Team America', this is not a movie for you. For me, while the jokes were sometimes a little juvenile, they were always funny, and for every joke that was too childish, there'd be about 4 or 5 that were quite clever. Like that picture of Einstein with his tongue out. Kind of stupid picture of a really smart guy.

It's a metaphor
That cleverness comes from the way 'Sausage Party' uses its characters. A lot of the foods have some cultural significance about them. For instance, two of the characters in the film are a Jewish bagel, and a Palestinian lavash. They're upset because they share the same aisle and both think they are the rightful owners. That's just one of the many subjects 'Sausage Party' decides to touch on, that most movies are content to leave be.

As much as it is a comedy, this movie has a very strong message about it. It might not seem like it, but 'Sausage Party' before it's done gives you a movie that looks at its vulnerable characters and examines their lives in a meaningful way. It has heavy content that will actually make you think about it after seeing it, and it might even help you gain some perspective in your own life. Then 5 minutes later there'll be another sex joke. Mixed bag really.

Like a bag of groceries. Screaming for freedom, from their cruel, hungry captors.
'Sausage Party' was better than I'd expected. I'd already expected a lot considering the creative team behind it. It's a movie that actually has characters you can get into and is brimming with creativity. So many moments will have you crying laughing, others will make you so uncomfortable you might want to leave the theatre. I'm more the former than the latter and for that, I'd definitely go out and see this movie again. If only just to see the reactions of the uninitiated, specifically at the last 10 minutes of the movie. That's stuff you just can't unsee.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

'Pete's Dragon' Review (2016): My Furry Friend And Me

Half Price: Not bad in the slightest, but flaws keep it as a good movie instead of a great one
Calling something a "Family film" is a strange bit of marketing. When I hear that I think here's a movie that won't offend you, be very charming, and probably make you cry a little. At the very best it might have a lesson to teach you, and at it's worst, it'll be something to put on for your kids so they'll shut up for once. To that end, a family film that works "for the whole family" can be pretty great, and unifying. They may not be the film you jump to when picking out something to watch, but then again, maybe they will. They're low risk. Anyone who hates a family film is...dead inside.

'Pete's Dragon' is a pretty well done family film. It's based on the 1977 original of the same name, but seemingly in name only. I mean yes there's a boy named Pete and it has a dragon, but other than that, the movie follows a different narrative than the original. The best case scenario for a remake is one that takes the idea of the original and expands upon it in a meaningful way. Pete's Dragon gets this right. Mostly.

Mostly at a %100 isn't the same, but it's not gonna kill you.
Pete is a young boy who has a slightly different upbringing than most other kids. Pete's home is the forest, in a tree, with a dragon. After a wave of unsanctioned construction goes deeper into the forest, Pete is discovered by his own kind, and taken in by the closest thing he's ever had to a family. When the town hears of a dragon in the woods, the appropriate uproar follows and Pete must choose between his love for his dragon and his new family.

Pete's dragon is a story that's been seen before. It covers themes of belonging and fear of the unknown that were present in films like The Iron Giant and even E.T. The fact that the dragon's name is Elliot only furthers the E.T parallel. Like those movies, 'Pete's Dragon' will draw forth your tear ducts. There's so much work done in the first act of the film to make you fall in love with Elliot, Pete, and their relationship, that as the movie's conflict continues, you can't help but feel the movie yank at your heart strings.

Mere tugging will not suffice for this emotional nightmare.
Whenever Pete and Elliot are on screen the movie is elevated. Oakes Fegley does an excellent job as a kid who has to deal with intense feelings of loss and fear. His other half, Elliot the dragon, is yet another impressive computer generated creature that conveys the feeling of the real thing. Without these two important elements, I dare to say the film wouldn't work.

Because of the work put behind those elements, the rest of the film somewhat falters. The other characters are more or less archetypes. I say more or less because there are elements of character there, but there's very little time devoted to diving into them. The scenes we do get with the adults of the film are a little flat, with the dialogue being a little cliched. The type of stuff you expect to be said by the villain of the movie is said, and saved only by the grace of Karl Urban

The saviour of bad movie roles everywhere.
That doesn't mean the performances are bad per se, it just means the scenes detract from the rest of the movie, and the pacing suffers. You get the sense that these scenes just exist to move the plot along. Of those performances though, everyone does a serviceable job. It's hard for people like Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban and Robert Redford to be bad. The more impressive though is the other child actor Oona Laurence, as Pete's first human friend. 

Pete's Dragon is a movie that has very concrete ideas about what it wants to say, and how it wants to say it. It's messages are clear and resonate masterfully. The trouble is getting to those messages is a bit of a hassle. While I appreciate a movie that deals with the mature themes of xenophobia, I wish the characters that displayed them weren't so paint by numbers. There's very little complexity to the villain of the story, but I suppose that's necessary for it to be so clear with it's purpose. It's definitely worth seeing, but perhaps only at a discount.

Rating: Half Price.

Thanks for reading and although Elliot is a mystical dragon, he is still an animal. Here's a podcast episode we did on animal movies, this week in Elliot green!:

'Bad Moms' Review (2016): Suburban Rebellion

Big Screen Watch: Better than your average summer comedy. It's a well done movie with clever humour.
When I hear an R Rated comedy is coming out, I'm immediately optimistic. Something about the way R opens up the floodgates seems to curate good comedy in my eyes. I mean with R you can curse, show blood, nudity, sex. There's just so much more material you can make jokes out of. Of course, sometimes the more you use, the less funny you are. Excess is often a problem in comedy, but when the balance is struck, R Rated comedies can be the very best.

'Bad Moms' is every mothers hidden fantasy brought to life. The movie follows the life and times of one Amy Mitchell, a mother of two who looks at her high octane life of running from one crisis to the next and says "Perhaps not." Tired is she of pointless PTA meetings, infuriating work life, and kids she breaks her back for only to end up feeling like a failed mother. Instead, Amy decides it's time to cut herself some slack and be as bad as she can be. 

Maybe not this bad, but as bad as any PTA mom can be.
Right away I thought this movie seemed very familiar. Starts off showing the character in her miserable life, until she reaches a breaking point. Upon reaching said breaking point, she decides enough is enough and makes a change. That change leads to a putting the character in a few scenarios that make us go "God I'd love to do that". The effects of the reckless behavior catches up with her, and she comes away from the experience having learned how to balance her life for the better. 

So it's not exactly a new formula but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It might be a ride you've been on before, but 'Bad Moms' at least makes it memorable. The movie puts Amy in situations that are genuinely creative and funny. For all its predictability, rarely did I find the movie was going for the obvious joke. If anything, the jokes they set up are ones that are familiar to you, but ones you didn't really see coming. Like a pie to the face. 

Pie to the face: You never see it coming, but when it hits you, you're hit with a classic.
Relatability is key to a movie like this. You have to be able to empathize with what's happening on screen for it to resonate. Bad Moms does this in spades, but not just with the humour. The real strength of Bad Moms is in its instantly sympathetic characters. Amy is not just a mom brought down by frustration, she's someone who genuinely does as much as she does because she cares. The early scenes in this movie take their time in establishing her character, which makes the later pay off all the more effective. 

Aside from Amy though there are a few other moms for the ride. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore struck gold with their trio in 'The Hangover' and there's a similar ensemble here. Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell play moms inspired by Amy's rebellion against suburbia. Hahn's single mom wild card almost irritates, but her relentless absurdity won me over. Bell is on the other side of the equation with a character so sheepish you fear for her safety in the outside world.

Great ensemble comedy casts are hard to find. This is one of them.
Each of the characters in the movie are imaginatively used, and there's clearly a lot of thought put into how to use them. But once again, 'Bad Moms' surprises in how much heart it possesses. The side characters in the film aren't just one note jokes, they're actual characters. There are some characters that don't get as much to do, like Jada Pinkett-Smith, but they're put to good use regardless.

'Bad Moms' is a movie that gives a voice to the people in your life who give the most. The unsung heroes of the day to day. It's not the most complex plot, but that's okay. It made me laugh pretty hard, and I cared about what was going on the whole time. There's not a moment that I felt it was dragging on, and I never thought any character was annoying. I liked this movie a lot, and for that, I'm gonna say it's a Big Screen Watch.

Thanks for reading and for more content on Rated R Comedies, here's a podcast I do where we tackled that very same topic:

Monday, 8 August 2016

'Suicide Squad' (2016) Review: Please Don't Watch This

DO NOT DOWNLOAD: A movie so bad you shouldn't even seek it illegally. 
Movie fans will know, August is a horrible month to be in. It's the time when popcorn flicks come out that are undeniably the worst of the summer. If summer is the slip n slide of movie seasons, where we dive headfirst with childish abandon into movies that succeed based on fun; August is the end of the slip n slide where the water has run out, yet the slide continues, leaving us afflicted with friction and wondering why we slid in the first place. Sometimes though that slide has an extra burst of slip, and you get movies like 'Rise of The Planet of the Apes', that buck the trend of August movies being unadulterated trash.

'Suicide Squad' does not buck that trend. At all. Set sometime after the events of 'Batman v Superman', 'Suicide Squad' is a movie that tries to shift the focus away from heroes, putting the spotlight on the villains. The idea is, in a world where super people are showing up, and cities are being destroyed, the world needs a way to fight back. Enter the suicide squad, or 'Task Force X' as the movie calls them. A team of super-villains, forced to either comply with the mission at hand, or die from the bomb in their neck.

A simple salary wouldn't do?
Right there that's an interesting premise for a superhero movie. It takes the best part of a superhero movie, the villain, and puts their colorful, larger than life characters centre stage. 'Suicide Squad' takes that premise and shoots it in the foot almost immediately. It does this by taking its team of mostly brawlers and hit men and pitting them against yet another pillar of blue light in the sky in a world ending plot by a seemingly all powerful villain.

Why are they there? What purpose does a man whose skill is throwing really sharp boomerangs have against a witch with powers that are essentially whatever the script wants her to have. Even the more impressive of the team like Will Smith's Deadshot seem pointless. Yes the movie pits the squad against an army of mindless zombies so that there's some action before the big finale, but even that seems a touch above what someone like Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn should be capable of handling.

Army of magic zombies vs...a baseball bat?
There's just a distinct lack of cohesion to the movie. The first half bombards you with information overload as it tries to give you the basic rundown of each character and their abilities. It's the type of thing most ensemble movies struggle with that really makes the pacing feel off. It's a full hour until you get into the actual mission of the movie. By then you'd think the ball would be rolling, and everyone could have a good time, but instead, all the information you were fed at the beginning, now has to be re revealed to the characters left in the dark.

For all that you learn about the characters though, the less you actually know. Every revelation only leads to more questions. Questions that go unanswered. Then there are the characters you learn nothing at all about, except through vague statements about them. Example: This movie features a man with skin and teeth like a crocodile and a tendency to eat people. That's all you'll ever learn about him. Except of course that he's apparently black, since his demand for a job well done is access to BET. Not cable. Not TV. BET. Specifically.

Raised as a subterranean animal so you make
There are of course stand outs, and those are the characters played by the biggest stars. Will Smith's Deadshot and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn are the most developed and most entertaining parts of the film. Harley's brand of chaos refrains from being a nuisance as her character could very well be, and Deadshot's above it all professionalism is so massively cool, it elevates the movie when he's on screen. My personal favourite though is Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang just for the sheer fact that he's the least qualified to be there and the guy who seems to be enjoying it the most.

As far as the action goes, it's actually not bad. David Ayer has shown his capability with directing an action scene in the past, and although there's moments when they're incomprehensible, I thought they were a nice distraction from the movie's character and plot flaws. It's also a movie that tries to have a distinct comedic tone, the type that is casual with violence and criminal activity. It mostly succeeds at this, but would've been all the better if it had more character to go off of.

One thing I did like about this movie is the way it expands this universe. The way it presents these characters as having existed without being known to the audience yet is great. I enjoyed casual mention of the different cities and events, as they made the world feel lived in. The best example of this is probably the inclusion of Batman as the Joker as largely background characters. There's not much to say about Leto's Joker, because I feel as though I'm still waiting for him to show some character to comment on. Then again I said the same thing for Superman after 'Man of Steel' and... yup still waiting.

It's not bad, just kind of there.
Of course, expanding a universe means nothing if the movie isn't worth watching.

'Suicide Squad' is a movie that has a lot that it has to do. It has to provide levity to the overly serious DC extended universe, it has to introduce a group of characters general audiences are completely unaware of. It has to be an action movie. Of course, it also has to be good. A lot of this, Suicide Squad fails at. Its problems are blatant and it's extremely flawed. I'd say it's so bad it's good, except a lot of the times I was bored by it. It did make me laugh at times, and I did enjoy parts of it. Largely though, I can't see myself recommending anyone see this movie, which is why recommend that this is a movie you do not download.