Pretty Good, Pretty Bad, and Really Bizarre in Cinemas

Reviews of "Sausage Party," "Florence Foster Jenkins," "Pete's Dragon" and local movie news and notes.

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The aim of “Sausage Party,” the decidedly R-rated animated comedy created by frequent collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (among others), is not really to be the best comedy of the year. It’s frequently funny, sure, but the target isn’t always humor; more often than not, it is simply to be as ridiculous as conceivably possible.

Which is not to say that there’s no substance to “Sausage Party,” surprisingly enough. There’s actually, dare I say it, something of a message here — and a bit of pointed satire.

There’s also one of the most explicit sexual montages I’ve ever witnessed. Exclusively involving foodstuffs. So yeah: ridiculous.

The premise: As “Toy Story” once supposed that your toys come to life when you’re not watching, “Sausage Party” posits that the products available at your local grocery store are sentient beings. At a sprawling, suburban supermarket, we meet a cast of edibles vying to be selected for picnics on Independence Day weekend; lovers Frank, a hot dog (voice of Seth Rogen) and Brenda, a hot dog bun (Kristen Wiig) are eager to make it to “the great beyond” where they can finally leave their packaging and be together.

A shopping cart mishap leaves Frank and Brenda lost in the store; meanwhile, their companions pass through the checkout line and head home, only to discover the terrible secret: On the outside, food gets eaten. Often in elaborate, messy ways.

There’s the satire — plenty of kids’ movies assume human-like emotions from animals and/or inanimate objects. “The Secret Life of Pets,” “Cars,” “Toy Story,” “Ratatouille” — to one degree or another, all of these pretend that the things around us are in fact, things like us that think and feel. Of course, those movies never get around to exploring what we eventually do to or with the non-human things in our life. (OK, “Toy Story 3” kinda did.) If you apply this well-worn formula to food, things get horrific in a hurry.

Shockingly, “Sausage Party” also contains some commentary on blind faith and the divisive nature of religion. (Literally no one was expecting that, so credit to the creators.) But it’s mostly an exercise in over-the-top, outlandish animation; in addition to the aforementioned scene of debauchery, the carnage when the food makes it into the kitchen is gleefully terrifying. Many sequences draw genuine laughs, thanks in large part to a fine cast — among many others, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Salma Hayek, Michael Cera, Edward Norton and James Franco do good work — but at its heart, “Sausage Party” is just delighted by its own ridiculousness.

Prospective viewers should be comfortable with the most explicit and violent things that can possibly be achieved by animated bagels and offended by next to nothing. But the curious will (sort of) enjoy a truly bizarre experience.

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From one of the most unusual films of the year to one of the most pedestrian: For no clear reason, Disney has opted to remake its forgotten drama “Pete’s Dragon.” A young boy (Oakes Fegley) lives happily in a sprawling forest with Elliot, his guardian and companion — who, incidentally, is a giant, fuzzy, green dragon. A logging company is encroaching on the duo’s territory, over the protestations of a plucky environmentalist (Bryce Dallas Howard), when Pete is discovered; searching for the lad, Elliot is soon spotted as well. The ensuing conflicts — Pete wants to return to the woods, the grown-ups want to protect the boy, some hunters want to capture the dragon a la King Kong — are completely, soporifically boring. I’ve encountered few films that made less effort to hold the viewer’s interest; insignificant scenes were drawn out to interminable length simply because there wasn’t much story to be told. Robert Redford turns up as a wise old man who urges the villagers to believe in dragons, but no amount of grinning and speechifying from a Hollywood legend can make this clunker seem even passably interesting. If your kids make you see this dud, bring a pillow.

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I was pleasantly surprised by “Florence Foster Jenkins,” the new biopic from Stephen Frears. Meryl Streep stars in the title role; Jenkins was an early-20th-century socialite and avid patron of New York’s musical organizations. She was also determined to sing; because she was so darn nice (and such a frequent donor), no one had the gumption to tell her that she couldn’t hold a note. Jenkins escaped knowledge of her own tone-deafness by performing almost exclusively for small, private audiences, with the general public (and critics especially) left out in the cold. Hugh Grant charms as Jenkins’ adoring (if platonic) husband St. Clair Bayfield, and Simon Helberg stands in for the viewer as Jenkins’ accompanist Cosmé McMoon, first incredulous at the long con being perpetrated by the singer’s inner circle before eventually becoming enraptured by her spirit. With that cast and Frears at the helm, it was certain that “Florence Foster Jenkins” would be well-told; it is remarkable that it also emerged as touching, gentle and inspiring. Its obscure subject matter will keep the bigger crowds away, but those who buy a ticket will find a lovely film.

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The Montage: It’s time for Kids Fest at Row House Cinema, headlined by the Pittsburgh-area premiere of “Phantom Boy,” the buzzed-over French cartoon from Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, creators of the Oscar-nominated “A Cat in Paris.” The week also includes highlights from the New York International Children’s Film Festival as well as screenings of 2015’s “Shaun the Sheep Movie” and the 1982 cult favorite “The Last Unicorn.” Showtimes are here … Regent Square Theater’s Sunday-night theme this month is a goodie, exploring the bygone Red Menace on the big screen. “Reds: When Russians Were Scary” continues this Sunday night with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Head back to the Square on the 21st for “North by Northwest” and the 28th for “Pickup on South Street.”


Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner