Sausage Party

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Release: Friday, August 12, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Seth Rogen; Evan Goldberg; Kyle Hunter; Ariel Shaffir

Directed by: Greg Tiernan; Conrad Vernon

Sausage Party represents Seth Rogen’s strongest screenwriting effort since Superbad. It’s been even longer since he’s been this charming in a lead role as well, and he plays a six-inch-long frankfurter. Or sausage, wiener, whatever. He’s a real hot dog in this outing, a riotous, deliriously perverse bite of modern satire that will in all likelihood cause you to think twice the next time you’re thumbing through greens-turning-brown in your local Wal-Mart.

In the world of Sausage Party, Wal-Mart would be the Warsaw ghetto for perishables. In the world of Sausage Party the Food Pyramid takes on an entirely new meaning, a reality that’s manifested brilliantly via anthropomorphic food groups. There’s hierarchy and a universal belief system that shoppers are Gods. Food items believe they’re destined for great things once they’re Chosen, that they’re headed for a place called The Great Beyond where they’ll enjoy an eternity of being loved and treated like royalty by the human that rescued them from their prisons/shelves. A place where a sausage like Frank (Rogen) looks forward to slipping inside a nice, warm bun. A place where an Arabic flatbread named Kareem Abdul Lavash dreams of being greeted by 77 bottles of extra virgin olive oil that will help him stay lubricated and not dry out and be nasty and shit.

Broader arcs, involving Frank’s quest to save his sweet friends (and even salty foes) from continuing to be blinded to a horrible reality — food gets eaten, not laid — and Brenda’s determination to not act on her own sexual urges in fear of upsetting the Gods, are not exactly revelatory. Nor are the main beats delivered en route to one of the most ridiculous afterparties you are likely to ever see. (Yeah, This is the End may have been blessed by the Backstreet Boys but you’ve never seen food porn until you’ve watched this movie.) Because the story is rather store-brand generic, you’re left sort of worrying if there is a way Rogen and company can wrap things up without cooling off completely or melting down or some other food metaphor that suggests deterioration.

But there is no need to worry. At all.

And broad arcs be damned by the way. Getting lost in this supermarket is just way too much fun. There’s so much to see and do. Rogen, once again reunited with Evan Goldberg and aided as well by Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir (the latter two co-wrote The Night Before with Goldberg, a rare case in which Rogen did not share writing duties), has crafted a genuinely hilarious and heartfelt film that manages to strike a near-perfect balance between satire and sobriety. One wouldn’t necessarily think Sausage Party has any right to be stepping into arenas like proving the existence of God, thereby the purpose of religion, or that packaging certain foods into certain aisles could be viewed as segregation but we should never downplay Rogen’s creativity.

In this adventure there is strength in numbers. That applies both to the mission Frank and friends find themselves embarking on as well as to how we’re able to connect with this strange little world. Frank is joined with varying degrees of hesitation by fellow wiener Barry (Michael Cera), who suffers from serious confidence issues; Frank’s love interest, the curvaceous bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) and two squabbling neighbors from the International Foods Aisle in David Krumholtz’ Lavash and Edward Norton’s argumentative bagel Sammy (I still can’t believe that was not the voice of Woody Allen). The diverse selection of characters makes the watch more dynamic and energetic. Nevermind the fact that mainstays like Ketchup, Mustard, apples and oranges are wholly unoriginal, they don’t really lend themselves to comedy. And even though a hot dog does take center stage, brilliantly the summer grilling classic is broken down into two distinct characters. And of course we know why.

Food puns abound and as is expected, ethnic, gender and religious stereotypes play a role in deciding which items we are going to spend time with (for example: the non-perishable items are colored as wizened old Native Americans who have seen it all and it’s no coincidence that the film’s primary antagonist is a Douche named Nick Kroll. Er, played by Kroll, rather . . .). Incensed after Frank cost him his chance to go to The Great Beyond during a shopping cart collision, Douche sets out on a murderous vendetta to take out the wiener (and bun) responsible for not only the missed opportunity but his new physical deformity. (In this reviewer’s opinion we venture a little too deep into TMI territory when watching him mentally breaking down, mourning his lack of purpose. And we really could have done without 90% of Kroll’s brutal dude-broisms.)

It wouldn’t be a comedy from the Rogen-Goldberg school of puerility if it doesn’t make you feel at least a little guilty for laughing at some of the things you end up laughing at. Even still, Sausage Party (hehe) finds a number of ways to justify genre-defining tropes like making sex jokes out of literally everything. Wiig brings strength, courage and conviction to the part of a sexy piece of bread. Some things will never change though, as even here Rogen’s every bit the pothead we’ve come to love him for being as he finds room for a scene where a wiener gets roasted with a can of water and a gay Twinkie, and he does it without disrupting the flow of the narrative. The characters are well-defined and each have individual motivations for survival, which is critical in helping us actually “buy into” the situation at hand. (Let’s get real: we never take any of this seriously but we take it far more so than we thought we would when the project was first announced.)

Sausage Party is classic Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg. It’s rib-ticklingly funny from start to finish, with only a few brief moments where all action comes to a halt in favor of more somber reflections on the state of life in a grocery store that’s about to erupt into civil war. You’ll find almost every alum from previous Rogen-Goldberg offerings here, and, hidden behind the guises of ordinary foods, they become icons. This is far too fattening a meal to keep having, but damn it all . . . why does fat have to taste so good?

Stephen fucking Hawking gum and Michael Cera the wiener

Recommendation: Irreverent, profane, over-the-top, delirious, and bizarrely heartwarming. Sausage Party uses anthropomorphism to its advantage and then some, creating memorable characters out of mundane food items and giving them distinct human personas that we can identity with and care about. (Obviously some more than others.) The rules of course still apply: fans of Seth Rogen’s sense of humor need apply while all others who aren’t big on the guy probably won’t find much mustard to squeeze out of this one. Visiting the supermarket will never be the same again, and I think that more than anything is the mark of an effective comedy.

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Banana’s whole face peeled off, Peanut Butter’s wife Jelly is dead! Look at him, he’s right there.”

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

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Release: Friday, May 20, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Nicholas Stoller; Andrew Jay Cohen; Brendan O’Brien; Evan Goldberg; Seth Rogen

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have the worst luck when it comes to suburban living. Last time they were fighting tooth and nail to keep their sanity when a hard-partying fraternity, led by a half-naked Zac Efron, moved in next door. Now, they’re struggling to make sure their house gets sold to another couple when they see an even rowdier group of youngin’s moving in to the former frat house, only this time it’s a sorority established by the perennially annoying Chloë Grace Moretz.

In the annals of pointless comedies, Nicholas Stoller’s follow-up ranks pretty high up there. It’s a film ostensibly designed to tear down the infrastructure portrayed in almost every motion picture that doesn’t “get” what it means to be a part of Greek life. In fairness, the sisterhood has never seemed more legitimate than it does here — despite the fact Moretz’ spoiled brat Shelby has created this group out of her disillusionment during rush week for Phi Lambda. (Oh mah gawd, we can’t smoke weed? Lol, wut?) Stereotypes are not only broken down but trampled upon with the frenzied weight of a summertime bacchanalia.

That’s the only thing truly refreshing about Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising — an awareness that sororities do indeed get a bad rap in movies and for that matter, in the minds of anyone who never found themselves within a thousand feet of the nearest function. Meanwhile, somewhere in the background the Radners are trying to graduate to the next phase of responsible adulthood. But that’s less important than the half-baked rhetoric that college kids can be more mature than their beer-and-jizz-stained attire suggests.

Consider the first impressions Shelby and her friends, Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), have when they enter a frat party one night: there’s a distinctly “rapey vibe” about the place. They’re so disgusted by what seems to be the accepted norm here and everywhere that they start up their own fledgling sisterhood, and wouldn’t you know it, their house is right next door to a couple of nagging thirtysomethings.

And here come the contradictions: Shelby and company are mature enough to recognize a sexist party when they see one, yet they have absolutely no respect for the community around them, especially when their immediate neighbors are scarcely more than a decade older than they are. Shelby’s a daddy’s girl but sees Mac as an anally retentive old man, and she can’t think of Kelly as anything other than a “mom.” Worse, the Radners are far from the most uptight parents you’ll come across. In fact part of the comedy stems from their recklessness (why they don’t separate the adult toys from their child’s playthings is a mystery to me).

It has to be this way, of course, otherwise Neighbors 2 would be a few mean-spirited pranks short of “a good time.” The story lifts the visual and slapstick gags from the previous outing and plops them down here with middling success. The exploding air bag is back as are the slow-motion dramatizations of people smacking into large, stationary objects. Some of it is actually pretty funny but more often than not this is a film that feels tired and uninspired. Bratty behavior dominates while the film’s attempt at thoughtful meditation on growing up feels like a cheap plastic label that a child could easily tear off.

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Recommendation: Nicholas Stoller was funnier the first time he visited this material. There’s really not enough there to justify two Neighbors movies, but this is the day and age we live in, isn’t it? I think the only thing I can recommend this movie on is its willingness to subvert stereotypes here and there, even though these attempts are mostly undone by a series of contradictory actions and strands of character “development.” And why in the hell are there five writers credited here? 

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “I’m a human woman! I need to watch this!”

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TBT: Superbad (2007)

Time to break out your favorite JanSport backpack, No.2 pencils and loose leaf notebook paper boys and girls, because it’s once again time to go back to hell school in this second edition of Throwback to School September. (Catchy phrase, right?) Fortunately in this world, all you’ll really need is a backpack to throw in some illegally purchased bottles of liquor as you seek high school celebrity status in 

Today’s food for thought: Superbad.

Becoming McLovin’ since: August 17, 2007

[DVD]

Instead of offering my thoughts on this raucous comedy from the dirty minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, I figured I’d once again do something a little different with this TBT and list the ten things I was reminded of about high school having watched this movie. I will just say that one thing that works in this film’s favor, aside from the ideal casting of Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse — all three physically embodying high school seniors while simultaneously fully embracing their juvenile mentality — is a script that tells it like it is. After all, Superbad was never a film you wanted to watch with the parents, it’s too awkward. Just like high school.

TEN THINGS ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL SUPERBAD REMINDED ME OF

#1) Hormones dictate every decision (and purchase) you make.

#2) We gave teachers way too much shit. They’re too underpaid to be this under-appreciated, even if half of what they taught us we never ended up using.

#3) Some cliché about how generally useless P.E. classes were. Why couldn’t high school have recess, like the good old elementary school days? And why did we have to wear those tatty shirts that were cribbed from a Wal-Mart dumpster?

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#4) Of all the rites of passages, getting your driver’s license was one of the greatest because it meant you could go and hang out with your friends whenever you wanted. Only drawback? Being 16 and having a curfew.

#5) Going to a party where you didn’t really know anyone and where everyone was older than you was the most uncomfortable thing ever. Especially when you found out that some of them were coked out of their minds.

#6) Teenage crushes. Awwwwwwww

#7) Every year there seemed to be at least one major fight. We’d always gather in the parking lot of The Fresh Market to see who would win. Most of the time all they amounted to was a bunch of shouting and insults regarding a certain female parental unit. But every once in awhile we were treated to a spectacular showdown.

#8) Peer pressure could be a bitch.

#9) Adults seemed lame at the time. (Spoiler alert: they still are.)

#10) Senior year is a bittersweet time. Friendships are fleeting, and who knows where everyone ends up in college. The trick is to make the most of what time you have left together.


Recommendation: One of the definitive movies about the high school experience, Superbad is a must-watch, especially if you’re facing your ten year high school reunion. Endowed with an incredible script that’s essentially a pervert’s stream of consciousness, and armed with superb performances from its entire cast Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg struck comedic gold with their story that’s loosely based on their own experiences. Pretty much a modern classic. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 113 mins.

TBTrivia: When this was being filmed, Christopher Mintz-Plasse was 17 years old and so his mother had to be present on set during his sex scene. I guess for some, the awkwardness from high school never goes away.

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This Is The End

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Release: Wednesday, June 12, 2013

[Theater]

God creates the world in seven days; Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen create a worthwhile comedy about the destruction of it in an hour and forty-five minutes.

Of the many comedies that revolve around pot-smoking, penis-joke telling, and other appropriately inappropriate gross-out gags, This Is The End seems to be a “Best Of” all of that, plus some. Set against a Los Angeles that is getting torn apart by apocalyptic events, it displays the behavior of six friends who become trapped together in the same house (that of James Franco, as it so happens) as they try desperately to survive.

The film is a regular Ocean’s Eleven of jokesters. Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and James Franco make up the first-billed, and are all cast as themselves. Ordinarily I would have thought that idea to be relatively distracting from the plot but in this case it really works and actually enhances the experience, when you consider how the first third of the film is written and performed. Beyond them, This Is The End finds room to squeeze in the likes of Michael Cera, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Emma Watson, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Aziz Ansari and even Rihanna.

Alright, well that’s enough name-dropping to last the next few posts, despite the fact that there are even more than that in the big party in the beginning. The biggest surprise beyond this impressive list of names is that each one of these characters are hilarious for the limited time they have before things go completely crazy; before things go from funny to hilarious.

Jay is in town visiting Seth when Seth decides he will give his best buddy another chance to get to know some of his Hollywood friends and acquaintances. Jay plays a very awkward version of himself (which I’m not sure how much acting was really going on here; I see this guy as awkward to begin with — even though that doesn’t rule out the fact that I’d still love to meet him), so he doesn’t give the huge party at James Franco’s new mansion much of a chance and soon wants to duck out to buy some more cigarettes. When the two depart, strange things start happening and before they know it, everything (and almost everyone) are on fire and they get back to Franco’s posthaste.

The second act largely revolves around what I’m henceforth referring to as Franco Manor — an exquisitely designed concrete building with iPads built into the walls and large televisions popping out of the floors, not to mention a few pieces of artwork James is particularly proud of. As the outside world continues to fall apart, the massive party is broken up, leaving only but our six main guys to fend for themselves — armed with only what they have inside Franco Manor.

Food and water are of course in short supply since making trips into town is no longer a viable option. The guys embark on both a physical and mental journey that will reveal both damnable and redemptive qualities to each person who is still alive.

This film is satisfying on two levels: as an outrageous comedy and as a rather intriguing story. I thought that after the likes of Superbad, the directing duo of Rogen/Goldberg could not possibly outdo themselves. This Is The End may not be a revelation in terms of its comedic material but the heartfelt acting and constantly subversive tone works in it’s favor, especially when it’s set against something as ‘serious’ as the end of days. There’s really no limit to how much fun the characters are making of one another’s careers. The self-references include everything from their early days to the latest ‘sell-out’ phases they’re going or have gone through. We have seen bits and pieces of this kind of awareness in Rogen and Goldberg movies before, but nothing quite to this level. Best of all, it doesn’t really get old because it is so ironic that in this time they are able to still have the most insignificant of quarrels with one another.

As far as the plot goes, it too is worth mentioning. In referencing their 2007 hit, Superbad, I was doubtful any effort afterwards would be as compelling as the story of teens on the cusp of early adulthood, who fight to know their place in a world that doesn’t make much sense outside of high school. Superbad, as perverse and sexist as it may be, is a classic coming-of-age tale. It may arguably be the best thing that these two will ever do, but in 2013 Rogen and Goldberg seem to have yet again struck gold.

Contrasting movie star vanity with the sudden need to repent and do good things in the face of (damn near) certain death serves as solid commentary on the human condition.

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4-0Recommendation: Here is a very strong entry into the hilarious, if short, canon of Rogen/Goldberg gross-out/stoner flicks. Even though it is jam-packed full of their signature comedic tastes, it will likely appeal to a wider audience since there is far more going on than what at first meets the eye. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com