Sausage Party Review (Guest Post)

[My twitter friend Travis Fazekas was kind enough to write up a review of the R rated animated film Sausage Party. Please follow him on twitter at @travisfazekas]

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Sausage party is one of the most interesting animated movies in recent memory.  The movie starts off with a Disney style musical number called the Great Beyond, which is composed by Alan Menken (yes the same Alan Menken who did the music for many Disney classics) and it is just as catchy as his Disney classics.

sausage party3The animation is delicious and brought to life by co directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan who truly give the movie a very bright and colorful look with the supermarkets setup.

sausage party2The plot to the movie is very good, which we see what happens when food is brought home from the supermarket and what happens next well they discover that it ain’t sunshine and rainbows.

The person who believes this the most is Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) a hot dog who is in love with Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig) a bun. Along the way we meet a various characters such as Sammy Bagel Jr (voiced by Edward Norton with a Woody Allen style voice), Tersea del Taco (voiced by Salma Hayek) who has feelings for Brenda and the villain of the movie Douche (voiced by nick kroll). He is upset at Frank and Brenda for what they did to him.

sausage party4The pacing is very nice and it truly does not stop with a third act that is very crazy which shows how far Rogen and co writers Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Schaffer will go for a laugh.

sausage party5The voice cast is perfect which also features Rogen usuals such as James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny Mcbride and others who truly make their characters unique in their own special way.  At 89 minute sausage party is one of the funniest movies of the year and is another hilarious effort from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that definitely earns its R rating, which is not for children

Overall Grade A-

[If any of you see Sausage Party put your comments below. Thanks again to Travis for the review]

Extraordinary Tales Review

extraordinary talesI feel like I try to have a good handle on the animated films coming out but it seems like every month there is a new one I wasn’t aware of.  In September it was Un Gallo con Muchos Huevos. This month it was Extraordinary Tales, an anthology film telling 5 of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories.  It is available on demand and that’s how I saw it.

Before the review I must own to not being a hard core Poe fan.  I don’t mind his writing but am certainly not passionate about the stories.  I guess that makes me both more and less critical of this offering than Poe purists might be.

extraordinary tales4Extraordinary Tales is directed by Raul Garcia, a point we see reminded 7 times with each short getting their own introduction and credit section. We get it Raul directed the movie! We don’t need to see a full credits for each short!

In truth Extraordinary Tales isn’t really a movie in the modern sense.  It is 72 minutes but there are 6 minutes of  just closing credits and the transition segments with Poe as a Raven feel like they are on slow motion with voices not matching to the mouth movements of characters.  It all feels very slow.  I would honestly think when you get to just the 5 shorts it is around 45 minutes of actual story.

But as with this years The Prophet the key to a film like this lies with the quality of the shorts. I’d say only 1 I liked, 2 are artistically interesting but flawed and 2 were amateurish and cheap with one being kind of disgusting. extraordinary tales1111. The Fall of the House of Usher-

This is a Poe story I was unfamiliar with and it is about a man who visits a friend of his in a grand house who has an illness that causes them to have visions including a sister of his who died and that the house may be haunted.

The highlight of this short is the narrator is voiced by the late Christopher Lee.  I believe this is his last performance and it is very immersive.

Unfortunately I felt the story wasn’t that engaging and the animation was amateurish and cheap. It looked like a video game from the 90s.

extraordinary tales72. The Tell-Tale Heart-

By far my favorite of the shorts and my favorite Poe short story.  It is done in black and white shadows and isn’t a style I’ve seen done very often so I enjoyed it.  The story is about murder and guilt and how it will eat you up inside.

Another neat touch in this short is the use of a 1940s recording of The Tell-Tale Heart by horror great Bela Lugosi.  The scratchiness and sound of his voice add to the crime noir feel.

extraordinary tales33. The Facts in the Case of M Valdemar-

This is another short worthy of praise for its artistry.  It is done using a comic book feel and it reminded me of old illustrations in Dickens or Alice in Wonderland from the turn of the century.

The story is fine about a man who see’s a hypnotist and goes into a kind of midway point between life and death.  It’s definitely confusing but I liked looking at it enough to recommend it.  Julian Sands narration is also very good in the segment.

extraordinary tales94.  Pit and the Pendulum-

This short I did not care for.  It tells the story of a man incarcerated who is tortured with various devices including a pit and a pendulum.

I know this is the Poe story but I found it unpleasant to watch and kind of gross.  It’s one thing for something to be gross or shocking but in this short they keep repeating the same disgusting imagery again and again until I was tempted to fast forward.

For example, there are probably 6 or 7 scenes with rats crawling all over the man, eating food off the man, eating from his bowl of porridge, crawling on his leg etc.  It was gross!  I also thought the CG in this short looked pretty amateurish.

extraordinary tales65. Masque of the Red Death-

Basically this story is about a house where they are hiding from a plague symbolized by a grim reaper type with a red cape.  They have a masquerade party where there is sex (strong nudity shown) and all kinds of mayhem going on in different rooms of the house. Eventually Red Death makes his way through the house claiming his victims as he goes.

This is a story I wasn’t familiar with but I liked the artistry in the short.  It looks like a gothic watercolor and it was effectively creepy yet beautiful.

However, the mature content I could have done without and with really no story but people being naughty and dying it didn’t hold my interest despite looking nice.

So overall it isn’t a total loss.  If you are curious and it sounds like your cup of tea then I would go for it.  However, for me The Tell-Tale Heart was really the only short I loved.  The rest had major flaws that took me away from the film.

And like I said the transitions and all the credits made it a bit of a slog to get through.

But that’s just me.  If you see it let me know what you think! It’s certainly a unique project and I’m glad I gave it a shot.

Overall Grade- C- and that is probably being generous.

Is Animation for Children?

Today I want to talk about a topic that is constantly at the forefront of the online animation fandom discussion.  Is animation for kids?  In fact, just last week I called in with a question to the Rotoscopers about why Hotel Transylvania 2 would have Mel Brooks, a star probably not familiar to children, for only 15 minutes of the film?  To me that makes no sense.  They had some insight but Mason said ‘animation isn’t for kids’.  So evidently Mel Brooks in his mind was brought into the film for the adults watching not the children.

Fair enough.  I can buy that but I do have a few things to say on this topic.

As far as I can see it you have 3 groupings of animated films. 

You have films made for just children.

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This collage is just 4 movies made primarily for children. Whether the are good movies is up for debate. The target demographic is why I picked them.

These are movies you drop the kids off and they have a great experience.  But they aren’t made for adults nor should they have to be.  There are even different ages of children films like say Sesame Street is made for kindergarten aged children and it won’t appeal to older kids.  Not everything should have to be everything to everyone.  That said it is not an excuse to be lazy just because ‘it is for kids’.

Then you have movies that are made for adults. 

OneDrive24These movies are often rated R or a hard PG-13.  They are pretty rare but they can be a beautiful part of the animated landscape.  In these films typically there is little to no attempt to appeal to small children as the content is not appropriate for them.  Whether they are fine for older children and teenagers is up to parents, but the primary audience is mature adults. These films I treat like any live action film for adults. Some of them have content I can tolerate and others are too much.

Then we get to movies that are made for both children and adults.

adults and childrenI would say this is the majority of animated films.  It certainly includes all the Disney Canon films, all Pixar, Dreamworks and Studio Ghibli.  None of these studios have made films that are exclusively adult that I am aware of.

Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame_gargoylesLet’s take a film like Hunchback of Notre Dame.  I got a lot of flack in my review for pointing out the marketing of the film.  I showed the Hunchback nursery rhyme tape and the Burger King kids meal tie-in.  Why did I do this?  Because it was to counter anyone who might claim ‘well that movie was made for adults’.   My response is ‘no it’s not’.  It was clearly made and marketed  to children; therefore, I have the right to call it out when I feel like the content is not appropriate for children.  If they wanted to make a movie like Akira or Chico and Rita that is for adults I would applaud them but that’s not what Disney did.  They added singing gargoyles to appeal to children so when I see disturbing violence and sexuality frankly discussed it is within my rights to say ‘wait a minute…’.

If you are fine with that content for your kids no judgement from me, but I at least think it is worth discussing the value of such content in a film aimed at children.  It was made with kids in mind therefore it should be judged as such.

return to ozReturn to Oz is another one people claim ‘it wasn’t made for kids’. Hogwash.  You don’t make a movie with a moose sled that sings if you aren’t trying to appeal to children. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask questions of whether the content is reasonable for kids.  Some say yes, I say no.   I guess that’s not animation but it scared the begeebees out of me as a kid. You’ve got a Dorothy tied down and given electro shock therapy and wheelies and a hallway of heads marketed and made for kids…Are you kidding me?

minions2Minions is another recent example.  It is a film clearly aimed at children.  They are the one’s who love the Minions most and yet we get boob, butt and torture jokes.  That’s not okay in a film for children in my book.  Perhaps I would have been less annoyed if the movie had been funny but it wasn’t so the inappropriate stuff bothered me even more.

But I feel like when I point these things out some are quick to say ‘but Rachel animation isn’t just for kids’.  I say some is, some isn’t and when something is made at least partially for them there are boundaries I don’t think should be crossed.  I just don’t.

Kids have a very limited time period to mold their intellects, moral centers and judgement, so the entertainment they see should be carefully chosen.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be challenged by a film like Wall-e or Fantasia that is artistically difficult or have an occasional joke that goes over their heads, but we should error on the side of caution.  It is also okay to introduce them to difficult topics like death, depression, or anxiety without it becoming unseemly.  Song of the Sea, Inside Out even Lion King are great examples of films for kids that helped them contemplate adult topics in an appropriate way.

over the garden wall5The other day a friend was asking me if I thought her kids would like Over the Garden Wall and as completely brilliant as I think the series is it was hard for me to answer.  It is pretty scary for a child under 6.  Scares are perhaps the area with the most leeway and variance depending on the kids.  Some kids would have no problem with Return to Oz but I did.  I hated The Rescuers because the idea of being abducted and forced down a cave was scary.  Other kids love that movie so that’s where careful parenting comes in.

The truth is I ask the same question of live action films like Marvel or Harry Potter but most of those films are made for teenagers over 13.  Most animated films are PG or lower and that means sometimes parents need guidance (Parental Guidance is what PG means after all!).  So as bloggers we can provide a service to parents to help them know what elements of a film are not appropriate for children.  I think that is a very good thing and I hope I help out my friends with kids in that department.

Regardless, I don’t think it is wrong to ask the question of an animated film ‘is this appropriate for kids’?  With the exception of the adults only films, most animated movies are made with kids at least tangentially in mind. I don’t know how that can even be argued.  As I see it, it is a fact and one the studios make billions of dollars on in merchandising and marketing.

So I will continue to ask if these animated films are for kids, and if they aren’t, I’ll tell you.  That’s my commitment to all of you!

Cheatin Review

cheatin10A few days ago I posted my belief that “whether 2D, 3D, stop motion or live action it all comes down to the story“.  I genuinely believe that to be true for 99% of films but like any rule there are exceptions. Some films are obviously an excuse  for art and the story takes a back seat.  Usually to work these types of films have to give us something new.  They have to be over-the-top and challenge us artistically otherwise the movie doesn’t work.  Fantasia, for instance, gave us something new.  Something that has never been topped artistically to date. Another example, last years Rocks in My Pockets did have a disturbing and profound story but it still took a back seat to the imagery presented.

This years Cheatin’ is another example of such an artistically bold film. It is not a film for everyone.  It is challenging and like most new things a little tough to digest but I’m glad I saw it.

Created by animator Bill Plympton, Cheatin’ tells the story of a beautiful woman named Ella who is tired of superficial men. To her chagrin she gets wrangled into attending a carnival when she wants to just read her book.

cheatin21Eventually she is convinced to ride the bumper cars but there is an accident and she is trapped. Fortunately, she is rescued by a jock type named Jake and they instantly fall in love.  None of this is done through any real dialogue but through music, opera, grunts, screams, yells, sighs and other expressions.

cheatin19The artistry throughout is just beautiful.  I mean look at this shot.

cheatin18So they get married and Jake is completely loyal to Ella.  However, a woman who is in love with him stages a photo to make it look like Ella isn’t faithful to him.  This breaks Jake’s heart.

cheatin16With his broken heart he falls prey to temptation and becomes a serial adulterer.  These scenes are fairly graphic for an animated movie.  But they are so non-realistic that I wasn’t really offended but I can see that others would be.  The music is amazing throughout in mixing opera, jazz and the score by Nicole Renaud.

Meanwhile Ella is devastated at her husbands cheatin ways and fantasizes what she wants to do to him.

cheatin14In her remorse she stumbles upon a magician who has a special machine that will allow her to enter the bodies of the women her husband is seducing.

cheatin11The magician knows this is a mistake but she sneaks in and does it anyway.

cheatin13Eventually Jake realizes the photo was a phony and that he was wrong about Ella but it is too late? We don’t know.

cheatin15Cheatin has an interesting back story.  Bill Plympton raised over 100k on Kickstarter to make the movie and backers received the film in August of last year.  This is why it was submitted to the Academy and Annies for 2014. (I guess that means it is out of the running for 2015?).

All the animation was drawn by Plympton himself which is kind of amazing (40,000 drawings all done by him!).  What an artist! A staff of 10 people then did the colorization and compositing.  It’s hard to believe so few people and such a tiny budget could make a film like this.

If 2D proponents are looking for signs of hope the Cheatin’ Kickstarter success and the quality of this movie should give it to them.  Hullabaloo animated project got over 400k in only 1 month of fundraising with a goal of 80k so there’s that as well.  Not half bad!

But back to the movie.  It is challenging.  It is different but I like films like that.  The story isn’t much but it is audacious and bold enough in the visuals to not need it.

I think if you watch the trailer and it looks like you’d hate it you probably will.  If it looks like the type of art you like and something interesting then give it a shot.  You’d be supporting a small animator trying to do something in a big pond. I was more than happy to throw $10 his way to buy it on demand. $4.99 to rent.

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/cheatin

Overall Grade- B+, Content Grade- C

Rocks in My Pockets: A Review

rocks in pockets4 One of my goals this year is to watch the hidden animated films of 2014.  I have already reviewed Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, Wrinkles, Miniscule: the Valley of the Lost Ant, and Tale of Princess Kaguya.  I am planning on seeing Song of the Sea this weekend so look for that review to be coming.  All these smaller films have been beautifully animated with unique stories you won’t get from the major studio.  I highly recommend taking a look at the reviews and finding the film that looks the most interesting to you.

Today we are going to talk about the adult animated film Rocks in My Pockets.  This is an extremely challenging film and it is definitely not for everyone but I’m glad I saw it.

Trailer

It is the work of Latvian artist Signe Baumane and it is practically a one woman show.  She writes, directs, animates the entire film.  She even provides the narration which is problematic as she is clearly not a native English speaker and it comes off very robotic. At first I actually thought it was a computer translator not a person.

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The animated Signe

Rocks in My Pockets is the tale of Signe’s family history of mental illness.  It is done using hand drawn and paper mache stop motion.  It is brutal, disturbing, vulgar and upsetting at times.  That’s why I say it is definitely not for everyone but I also found it moving, raw, honest and beautiful in the way disturbing art can be.

rocks in pockets10

She starts with the story of her Grandmother who tried to commit suicide in a river but did not have rocks in her pockets so she failed in her attempt.  I don’t know if I’ve seen a movie that so accurately describes the panic, madness, and strange peace that happens inside the heads of those dealing with mental illness.  I have never had that serious of an incident but I have had panic attacks so I related to all her descriptions.

rocks in pockets5

In the former Soviet block nation of Latvia the psychiatrist hands out pills, mainly valium or puts the mentally ill in an insane asylum; thereby either trying to dull or hide the problem.  We have come a long way in a sense but we still have a long way to go on the stigma and treatment of mental illness in America today.

rocks in pockets3

Signe then tells the stories of 4 of her cousins and  in the most painful segment her own story of  battling schizophrenia.  Like I said it is disturbing and brutal stuff but I was strangely moved by it.  I guess it felt like someone sharing their soul through art and I appreciated that.

rocks in pockets1

The section on post partum depression was interesting. Signe says it is the ‘legitimate’ mental illness.  I never thought about it but that is really true even if it is still not treated with the weight and importance it should.  There is a very disturbing section where her Grandmother see’s a rabbit eating her own babies and she looks at her 8 children and for a second is envious of the rabbit.

rocks in pockets2

When Signe has her own baby and it is a transcendent experience for her but it doesn’t make the mania inside her go away it was a very poignant moment.  Her cousins have the same problems wanting to love desperately but feeling unable to do so.

rocks in pockets6

The animation is gorgeous and constantly daring and surprising the viewer. I loved how it moved and felt like a sketch from inside Signe’s mind.   Since all the stories are about women the female bodies are intentionally drawn in a way so they look nude despite being fully clothed (except for one scene where a back is shown). You get a feeling Signe feels naked while drawing this story and that leads to her visuals.

rocks in my pockets14

With mental illness Hollywood tends to either make the sufferer scary and erratic or loveable and sweet.  Signe does none of that.  She tells their story in all its rawness yet still has great love and sympathy for the characters.  It defies every cliché you could imagine and that moved me.

It is also unafraid to talk about self harm and other destructive techniques of ‘indulging your insanity not fighting it”.  The end of the film she talks about her day to day life and how she has learned to cope with her illness finally summarizing her survival method beautifully.

“I am a working artist.  This is my work in progress.  I have to continue to live to complete it” 

rocks in my pockets13

That’s not to say it is perfect because it’s not.  Signe’s narration is a huge problem.  Like I said it is robotic and very off-putting and since there is no other dialogue that is unfortunate.  I don’t know if we needed to hear about every cousin and Signe and the Grandma. It’s a 126 minute movie, pretty long by animated film standards.  I would have cut it down to 90 minutes.  As it is you leave the experience exhausted.  You are stimulated and maybe even inspired but exhausted.

Rocks-in-my-pockets

Signe also doesn’t give us any answers.  She just tells the story but maybe in a way that is the answer? “You will never  be able to walk and talk again without the yellow green and pink pills” said the doctor without giving her a diagnosis. Her sister then says ‘Maybe it’s good to tell everybody so that they know what’s in their genes…It’s in the genes. You were designed to be crazy”

Maybe we just need to let people tell their stories?

Like I said not for everyone but I was moved by it.

The score by Kristian Sensini is also extremely strong and moving.

Overall Grade- B (mainly because the narration is a big stumbling block. If they changed that to a professional actor it would get an A).