Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sausage Party

                        I’m So Hungry I Could Eat a Jar of Horseradish

                                                            Review by Ken Burke

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                 Sausage Party (Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon)
In this well-justified R-rated movie (for language and sexual content—sort of), we find a grocery store full of food all awaiting their well-desired trip out the front door to what their religion has promised them is the “Great Beyond”; however, when a returned jar of mustard tries to tell them all the truth about what awaits in the land of “the gods,” chaos ultimately ensues.
What Happens: In this whimsical animated world, most of the action occurs at Shopwell’s huge grocery (reminiscent of Disney’s Epcot where, in this case, various food aisles—especially Chinese, Mexican, and Middle Eastern—seem to be like unique lands unto themselves, with the entire store covered by a glass skylight) as every food type (from the loose fruits and vegetables to packaged items like hot dogs and buns to cans, bottles, etc.) is alive, complete with a specific personality, arms, legs, face (as well as other anatomical parts that we later learn are there even though not notably shown), along with believing their destiny is to be taken by the gods (i.e. human shoppers) to the “Great Beyond” where paradise awaits (for Kareem Abdul Lavash [voiced by David Krumholtz]—a Mediterranean [i.e. Arabic] flatbread, similar to pita, whose culinary purpose seems a mystery to everyone else—that consists of 77 bottles of extra-virgin olive oil).  Every morning before humans arrive to open the store the foodstuffs sing an uplifting song of obedience to their faith, led by the ears of corn, prior to anxiously-waiting for a god to take them to their long-awaited-afterlife.
As July the Fourth approaches, the prospect of blissful eternity is particularly strong for Frank (Seth Rogen), a hot dog still in a package with his buddies (including cocky Carl [Jonah Hill] and slightly-misshapen Barry [Michael Cera]), and his longed-for-girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a nearby-hot-dog-bun, eager for Barry to be inside of her for their mutual gratification (this movie’s R rating’s not wasted on a few family-friendly-transgressions, as obscene language and constant, blatant sexual innuendoes drive both the plot and the dialogue, with the determination, I assume, that if you’re getting such a limit on your potential audience for just a few utterances of the f-word you might as well use it a few thousand times)—a horny-adult-dream of what the afterlife is like, unlike that promoted by any religion I know (although you’ll find a similar theme in Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth [written back in 1909; published in 1962 posthumously] in which Satan writes to archangels Michael and Gabriel, amazed at how quick human orgasms are compared to the divine variety which last for centuries [see pp. 3-4 in this link]).

 However, just as Frank and Brenda’s bliss is on the road to being consummated (so to speak)—both of their packages are put into the same shopping cart—they have an epiphany from a returned jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) who’s actually seen what’s outside the store, frantically trying to tell his disbelieving colleagues of the horrors that truly await them. Suddenly, an accidental collision with another cart leads to major spillage, a floor full of flour with various foods staggering around in the swirling “fog” (reminiscent of war movies horrors such as what we see in Apocalypse Now [Francis Ford Coppola, 1979] or Full Metal Jacket [Stanley Kubrick, 1987]), followed by Frank, Brenda, Kareem, Jewish Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton, doing a great Woody Allen impersonation)—who’ve all pushed out of their separate packages—and Douche (Nick Kroll), with his nozzle damaged (which makes him hostile because his anticipated-internal-paradise now seems unattainable), deciding to find their way back to their former aisles, except that Douche is temporarily tossed into the trash by cleanup-clerk Darren (Paul Rudd), further fueling his anger, directed at Frank, which becomes dangerous as he alternately pumps himself up (so to speak) on fruit juice (from a leaking box-container), later on alcohol.  Along the way we encounter various intentional stereotypes (this script’s a non-PC, equal-opportunity offender) including marching Nazi-
like German sauerkraut jars, a bottle of Popped Cherry cocktail mixer, etc., along with our lost wanderers led to a Mexican cantina where Frank gets separated from his companions while Brenda’s being eyed by Teresa del Taco (Salma Hayek); Frank then comes upon a small group of (too) long-in-the-store-non-perishables (in supporting roles, Twink [Scott Underwood], a never-stale-blond-snack, and snide Mr. Grits [Craig Robinson], a box of Black grumpiness, who's just about always stating his hatred of crackers) led by Firewater (Bill Hader), a Native-American bottle of (seemingly-cheap) whiskey who tells Frank the truth, that years ago they made up the whole “Great Beyond” myth to keep the naïve groceries from going insane awaiting their ruinous fates.  Meanwhile, the shopper who originally had Frank and Brenda is now home with her purchases where they learn the grim truth as well, as she casually eats a couple of baby carrots (attempting an escape to our eyes, simply rolling off the counter-edge to hers), peels a potato before boiling it.  Carl and Barry try to get out of an open window, but Carl’s jabbed with a knife leaving Barry to overcome his feelings of inferiority to return to Shopwell’s with testimony of this horrid reality.

 As the Sausage ... plot further intensifies, Frank reunites with his several companions (yet Kareem and Sammy continue to reject coexistence) but can’t convince Brenda of what he learned from Firewater (in a rationality vs. faith conflict); Teresa’s still lusting after Brenda; while Barry (after talking a bit with a condom in the city's streets) ends up at Druggie’s (James Franco) house where’s he’s about to be boiled as a snack (following the stoner’s stress of seeing the foods in their true state, brought about by his own altered state from snorting bath salts) before a random series of events results in an axe falling off the wall, decapitating Druggie, whose head Barry somehow hauls back to the store as proof of the terror of the “gods” but also of their vulnerability (Druggie’s other food also comes along with newly-empowered Barry, including a wheelchair-bound wad of gum [Underwood], made super-intelligent, like Stephen Hawking, due to the pharmaceutical environment he’s long been forgotten in).  Brenda politely rebuffs Teresa’s advances because of the gods’ commands about what types of food are allowed to copulate (she understands her fate to be only with [male] sausages), while Frank gets command of the store’s video-screen/P.A. system (we’re back to night with no human employees around, necessary for the plot but unlikely for such a mega-store which would more likely run on a 24/7-basis, especially given this story's probable-southern California-setting) to reveal the foods’ true-future, but they reject him as hysterical and—like with Brenda—too challenging to their established beliefs.  (In the midst of all this there’s even a musical interlude with a song [“I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That")] sung by a package of meat loaf [voiced by the performer with the same name, a tune that earned him a Grammy for 1993 songs as Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo], just to make sure that somehow we don’t begin to take any of this too seriously—or at least to distract us a bit while the anti-religion-script continues to play itself out.)

 Events begin to coalesce at a frenzied pace as the shoppers arrive for yet another day, Brenda starts to believe Frank after he rescues her from another purchase, Frank makes another video appeal to his fellow-food-citizens which is more inclusive and effective, Barry convinces Frank to attack the humans with the substance-tainted-toothpicks he's brought (Why?) from Druggie’s house so that they’ll see all of this food in its true appearance leading to a battle in which these supermarket-citizens can kill their enemies (so much for the peaceful coexistence theme that was finally beginning to take effect in the Middle East aisle as Kareem and Sammy find some mutual connections; one large shopper is terminated by being force-fed a combo of Mentos and diet soda, leading to an internal explosion which you could probably hear all the way to the river Jordan).  Douche finally catches up with Frank, though, having taken on enough strength to command Darren’s pistol, but through some clever defense they both are shot through the roof to a fiery end as the many foods celebrate their victory with an all-out-orgy (apparently they’ve got genitals tucked away somewhere), including Brenda hooking up separately with both Frank and Teresa.
Nevertheless, all’s not right yet, as Firewater reveals that all of them are simply animated characters in a movie voiced by the likes of Rogen and Norton, so Frank and a few of his friends go into a Gum-devised-portal to our world to take some sort of revenge on Rogen and company as the credits roll to Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.”  This quick ending comes at a useful point because it relieves our storytellers of having to explain the further implications of the tale we’ve just witnessed in terms of whether this is an isolated incident or if all picked and processed food in this world is sentient, ready for battle with their entire human population—who would seem easily able take out this or any other groceries-occupied-supermarket with their superior weapons of destruction, while the little revolutionaries are only effective against a few combatants at a time; for that matter, the food victory we see here is only over Darren and a few early-morning-shoppers, with some sort of unshown-human-retaliation sure to follow once this mind-blowing-event makes the news, unless all food in this environment suddenly rises up in rebellion, eventually starving the humans.  But I assume that all of my speculation is way beyond the concern of Rogen and his associates, at least until they all might start toking up in preparation for some sort of sequel.

So What? Seth Rogen (sharing duties as a co-screenwriter, along with Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg, as well as a producer, along with Goldberg, Megan Ellison, Conrad Vernon, in addition to several other executive, co-, and line producers) says that the final cut of Sausage Party was intended to be as raunchy as he and the other filmmakers could get away with (he was shocked at how few deletions were required by the MPAA Ratings Board)—although for story “flow” (so to speak) the final 2½-minute-supermarket-wide-orgy was voluntarily cut down from its original 8-min.—as well as being a parody of the look and content of Pixar movies, particularly the Toy Story series (John Lasseter, 1995, 1999; Lee Unkrich, 2010), although these sentient foods differ from Woody and his pals in that their limbs and faces simply aren’t visible to normal human perception (only to those in altered states), while the Toy Story characters don’t have any invisible appendages nor do they move around in plain human sight like the Sausage … folks do, even if those movements seem odd to us (as with the baby carrots who try to escape the kitchen counter only to be eaten alive).  Achieving the polished visual appearance of Sausage Party wasn’t easy on such a small budget, though ($19 million vs. $200 million for the recent Finding Dory [Andrew Stanton; review in our June 23, 2016 posting]), which has now led to accusations that Vancouver’s Nitrogen Studios was a terrible place to work for the animators (the original controversy emerged in the comments section of this story [scroll way down in the link to read the charges]) because of demanding hours, no overtime pay, threats to never work again in this industry unless these conditions were accepted, many of the laborers not even getting final screen credit, etc., leading to about 30 of them quitting before word got back to production company Annapurna Pictures (headed by … Party producer Ellison, daughter of Oracle’s billionaire-chair, Larry Ellison; co-financing also came from Sony Pictures and Point Grey Pictures) so that some of these problems were finally addressed.

 Canadian-based-Nitrogen-execs (and some animators who worked on the project) deny any improprieties took place, saying the complainers have largely spoken anonymously rather than substantiating their charges (feel free to continue following this controversy on your own if you care to), although apparently this isn’t an isolated situation, as has now been reported by the mainstream Hollywood media of Variety and the Los Angeles Times, with the former noting “The dispute is a familiar one to many in the animation business, where an over-abundance of talented labor collides with a paucity of quality jobs” while the latter adds that “The problems mirror those in the visual-effects industry, which has a heavy overlap with CG animation and which has seen several L.A.-based companies leave or file for bankruptcy.”  Meanwhile, Canadian Rogen—whom I’ve not seen any comment from about the alleged-production-problems—just says (in the 1st link of the above paragraph) “I do really hope it does well not just to make another Sausage Party, but so it will open up the doors for anyone who has an idea for an animated movie that isn’t strictly for children.”*

*Although Rogen admits that they had to back off from Lavash’s initially-very-hairy-scrotum, which was supposedly offensive enough that it would have earned the movie a financially-dreaded NC-17 rating.  (If you wish, scroll down to the bottom of the Rogen interview here to see a clip even more obscene than the Red Band trailer I note in the Related Links section far below .  Along this line, the Red Band trailer itself was mistakenly shown at a Concord, CA theaterrelatively near mein mid-June at a screening of Finding Dory, bringing an embarrassed apology from the management.)

 What’s most surprising to me, though, about this inspired piece of idiocy (considering that it came from the weed-liberated-minds of the guys who previously brought us such “sophisticated” fare as we find in Superbad [Greg Mottola, 2007], Pineapple Express [David Gordon Green, 2008], This Is the End [Goldberg and Rogen, 2013; review in our June 20, 2013 posting], Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising [Nicholas Stoller]) is that rather than just being a raunch-fest (even though ... Party constantly reminds us that this is the goal it's ultimately headed foreven when Frank and Brenda put their passions on hold during the scary journey through the aisles in retreat from frenzied Doucheby adding the unanticipated “spice” of Teresa’s equal-attraction to Brenda) is how it skewers many aspects of traditional religion by depicting these faithful foodstuffs as blindingly following a theology simply made up by their earlier forbearers, how vehemently the various supermarket-dwellers initially reject Frank’s revelations just because they challenge established beliefs, and how it’s clear that “paradise” for all of these characters is simply a state of existence where they can live out their most-uninhibited-sexual-desires rather than just dwell in some state of heavenly bliss (well, I guess their vision of endless sex is what they consider heavenly bliss, but it sure contrasts with the very traditional Christian vision of life in the clouds with white robes, halos, wings, and unending joyful noises in praise of the Creator [which Rogen had already given us—albeit in similar-parodical-fashion—in This Is the End]).  

 I know that the involved filmmakers had no interest in trying to convert any traditional religionists to a more pleasure-based-version of the afterlife (even their implied Israeli-Palestinian-rapport is based on 2 male edibles having joyful, consensual sex, a very unlikely proposed-protocol for calming the current hostilities in and around the West Bank).  But this is still bold stuff for an animated movie, adding a useful degree of depth to what otherwise could have just been 88 min. of penis and vagina jokes (which would be a bit “long,” even for a stand-up-comic’s-routine using this profane strategy).

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Whatever the working conditions were like for (at least some of) the animators (and I'm sure I wouldn’t be surprised if they were as bad as reported, with the obvious thought that those who’re defending the project may well be the ones who do want to continue finding work in this very competitive industry) the small budget is paying huge rewards for the production/ distribution companies with 34 million domestic-dollars taken in upon the just-completed-initial-domestic-debut-weekend (even as the PG-13 supervillain-action-flick, Suicide Squad [David Ayer], still reigns at the U.S.-Canada box-office, amassing a huge $222.6 million domestic haul after only 2 weeks) with surely much more to come despite the restrictions of its R rating, although the limits put on younger viewers who’d normally be rushing to a summer-release-animated-comedy are clearly being made up so far by a slightly-older-clientele ready to see blunt (no offense, Barry) sexual talk and obscenity-laden-dialogue that they’d normally expect to encounter in something such as my aforementioned stand-up-comedy-routine (like in an HBO special).  As almost any review will tell you (and there are plenty of supportive ones with 82% positive responses from those critics surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes, 67% from the usually-more-restrained-reviewers at Metacritic; more details in the Related Links section below), Sausage Party isn’t intended as a wide-appeal-experience, given its ongoing obscenities and critique of traditional religions (as well as its constant use of stereotypes from the horn-dog-hot-dogs to their “receptive”-bun-partners and all of the ethnic jokes crammed into this relatively-short-running time), nor is it anything of enduring value for the ages, but I easily laughed uproariously throughout (as did the rest of the audience I attended it with), the humor is well-crafted (and constant, full of all sort of little puns and in-jokes, many of which may have completely escaped me), with the animation being quite impressive (despite whatever toll the work may have taken on those who brought it to life).

 As I wrap this up (put it back in its package?) with a choice of a Musical Metaphor to convey a final perspective on what you’ll encounter with Sausage Party (I’ve read somewhere that the title essentially refers to the original planning sessions for this crude concept, as dreamed up by Rogen and his “usual gang of idiots” [to steal a long-used-credits-phrase from Mad magazine], all of whom are male [if the tone of the humor’s not obvious enough about that already], so even though our chief male protagonist here is a hot dog rather than a more specific sausage, the collaborators continued with their original-idea-title in tribute to those writing sessions), I couldn’t help but come to a couple of related decisions, both of which seemed appropriate enough to warrant inclusion.  The first is intended to resonate with the silly, naughty tone of the movie with Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” (written by Dave Bartholomew, covered by Chuck in 1972 as his only U.S. #1 hit, found on the 1972 album The London Chuck Berry Sessions) at, a raucous audience sing-a-long in which the original reference to a child’s Christmas bell can quickly be taken in double-entendre form to be about something else entirely (if you like this kind of thing—from, in my opinion, the true King of Rock and Roll—you’ll probably want some more [so to speak] from that same 1972 London performance, this one "Reelin' and Rockin'" [also found on the 1972 London-based-album] which might marginally considered to be about dancing—either all afternoon into the night or all through the early morning hours until noon—but only if you don’t want to admit what’s really going on here, when Chuck “got some on [his finger But [he] wiped on the wall”).

 But, given Sausage Party’s focus on food (especially as seen from the perspective of the eaten rather than the eaters) it seems only reasonable to give equal time to everyone who’ll be hungry for a meal after they see this movie (even if you’ve been eating popcorn while watching it; I remember there being a bowl of nacho cheese and chips at Druggie’s house, but if there was any popcorn on screen it’s eluded my memory), despite whatever qualms you might now have about ingesting anything ever again—except maybe a handful of dirt—so naturally I turn to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Eat It” (from the 1984 “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D album, from which this song was a gold-record-hit-single that won a 1984 Grammy in the Best Comedy Recording category), which, of course, is a great parody of Michael Jackson’s famous “Beat It” single (on the 1982 Thriller album, with this platinum-hit-song also winning Grammy Awards in 1984 for Record of the Year and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, the album and its contents getting a total of 8 of those prizes, including Album of the Year, still reigning as the best-selling-album of all time).  I’ve used Al’s song before in another review context, but I’ll repeat it here in a video collage at which puts it in multi-image-format with “Beat It” so you can easily see how well Al works off of Michael's original, just like Sausage Party parodies Pixar (be sure and run this video in full-screen-mode so you can see both versions clearly, also because the "Eat It" chroma is a bit flat, needs contrast).

 That’s all for me for now; see you next time after the remake of Ben-Hur’s (Timur Bekmambetov) come rumbling onto screens U.S.-nationwide in an attempt to see if this offering (starring Jack Huston) can even begin to replace our memories of the 1959 William Wyler-directed, Charlton Heston-starring version from yesteryear in our collective-cinematic-consciousness.  (Wyler’s was an Oscar triumph, winner of 11 [nominated for 12]—including Best Picture—a feat only accomplished otherwise by Titanic [James Cameron, 1997; nominated for 14] and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [Peter Jackson, 2003; a clean 11 wins for 11 nominations], so how would you handicap the best result from these 3 contenders?)  Although advance word on the new Ben-Hur is that it’s highly-Christian in nature (despite its Hebrew protagonist); therefore, it may be more appealing to those who wouldn’t care for Sausage Party than it would be to me, so I’ll just have to see if I see it or not.  Also, my last month’s tally of unique hits finally dropped below the previous total (23, 912 vs. 22,852), so no bragging this time, but I’m still "big" in the U.S., Middle East, France, and Russia; thanks again to all of you worldwide readers.
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Here’s more information about Sausage Party: (this is one of those Red Band trailers that retains the R-rated-language of the movie [you even have to sign in to prove that you’re old enough to watch it—no problem for me; I’ve turned that corner many times over the past few decades] so if you want something a bit more sanitized here's one for you—possibly containing the only 2 minutes of the entire thing without obscene words, but don’t let anyone make the mistake of taking their kids to see this movie based on the sanitized trailer or they’re going to have lots of ‘splainin’ to do afterward) (22:39; 107 facts about Sausage Party)

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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