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Sausages, Caterwauling, Dragons and Mel Gibson – It’s a Party at the Multiplex!

Hope Madden Hope Madden Sausages, Caterwauling, Dragons and Mel Gibson – It’s a Party at the Multiplex!
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A paltry number of films opened across Columbus screens last weekend, but don’t be down! This weekend there is something for every imaginable taste: kids movies, cartoons for adults, Meryl Streep, Frank Zappa, horror, documentary, foreign, Mel Gibson. Nothing is off limits!

Sausage Party

Set in a Shopwell supermarket, every morning products sing about their desire be chosen by “the gods”—those big things wheeling the carts. Little do the foodstuffs know what terrors await them on the other side of the pneumatic doors.

The movie certainly employs a fair amount of wiener-based humor and a variety of food-centric ethnic stereotypes (for example, the sauerkraut jars are a bunch of fascists bent on exterminating “the juice”), but the movie turns to a surprising exploration of faith vs. skepticism and the extent to which religious belief fosters divisions, hostility, and repressed sexuality.

Although the movie manages to provide enough offense to go around, the majority of the jokes are actually quite funny. The cast is certainly strong. Seth Rogan and Kristin Wiig are joined by Nick Kroll, Salma Hayek, Michael Cera, James Franco, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Edward Norton, Craig Robinson, David Krumholtz, and Paul Rudd, And the sex-positive food porn scene exceeded my expectations of what was bound to happen once the wiener (Rogan) and the bun (Wiig) finally got together.

Seeing Sausage Party ain’t a bad way to pass the time. But, for the love of God, please don’t take your kids.

Grade: B

Florence Foster Jenkins

In the title role of Stephen Frears’s new 1944-set biopic, Meryl Streep gets to strain her vocal cords while showing off her comic sensibilities. No surprise, she does both with aplomb in the role of the NYC heiress who loved music far more than it loved her.

Jenkins honestly believed her caterwauling to be the tones of a sublime soprano. Her husband had so insulated her from critics who might burst that delusion that she willed herself to the stage of Carnegie Hall.

There could not have been a better choice to play Florence’s devoted yet philandering husband than Hugh Grant, whose scheming is rarely in the service of self. Meanwhile Simon Helberg, playing Florence’s accompanist, steals scenes – from Meryl Streep, no less! – with the barely contained giggle or outright expression of bewildered wonder. To a certain degree, he represents the audience, forever asking: How is all this possible?

To Streep’s credit, we all feel as protective of Florence as her husband and accompanist do. She finds the right combination of entitlement, tenacity, vulnerability and true, blinding love of art to make the character more than just a joke. Everyone can understand deeply loving something you simply don’t have the talent to succeed in.

Unfortunately, Frears can’t quite deliver the poignancy or even the universality that should undergird the giggles and screeches. Despite moving performances, the film dips too frequently and too deeply into sentimentality. Worse, though, is the fact that you come away from the film thinking: Can you believe she really sang at Carnegie Hall? She’s still a joke. She should be a bit more of an inspiration.

Grade: B-

Pete’s Dragon

Much has changed since Disney’s 1977 cartoon, starting with the surprisingly tragic depiction of how a very young Pete becomes an orphan and is befriended a dragon.

Pete will call his dragon “Elliot.”

Director/co-writer David Lowery makes a monster-sized pivot from the poetic desperation of his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and while Pete’s Dragon is rife with gentle sweetness, it’s lacking in both depth and wonder.

After the bracing prologue, characters and situations are broadly drawn. The less than subtle, too often sappy treatment undercuts later attempts to resonate on a more metaphorical level.

Does Pete’s desire to stay with Elliot represent that wish to escape adult responsibilities and hold tight to childhood wonders? Maybe, but that Neverland remains out of sight.

We do get perfectly acceptable, albeit generically feel good lessons on the importance of family, and that’s fine. But despite those wings, Pete’s Dragon never quite soars.

Grade: B-

Blood Father

Talented French action director Jean-Francois Richet directs social and professional pariah Mel Gibson in Blood Father.

The story is right out of the Liam Neeson playbook: ex-con father, clean and sober but struggling to suppress his rage and shame, needs to use his particular set of skills to save his teenage daughter from a drug cartel.

While Blood Father is absolutely faithful to its genre, there is genuine craftsmanship in the effort. Richet allows the California desert to cast an apocalyptic spell over the tale, then brings in just enough Mad Max touches to command a burst of joy.

Gibson’s character doesn’t call for a great deal of nuance, though the actor does deliver a gruff and realistically damaged performance. He’s aided by the kind of supporting cast you just don’t find in films like these.

A tale told in tattoos and bullet wounds, Blood Father is still, at its heart, a love note from a shitty father to his damaged daughter – a welcome dose of near-reality in a genre saturated with creepy paternal child worship.

This is not a great movie. But you know what? I swear to God, it is not bad.

Grade: B-

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words

Who was Frank Zappa? A singular, curmudgeonly, cynical voice that echoed around the fringes of American culture for far too short a time. Known more for his personality than his music – each of them equally ingenious and caustic – Zappa became a peculiar kind of icon. He was associated with a hippie culture he disdained, linked to extreme liberalism though he was a conservative, and for many he stood for the hedonistic rock star lifestyle that would corrupt our youth, though he was a loyal family man.

Frank Zappa was a conundrum.

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words underscores every seemingly inconsistent element of that mad genius, sharing nothing but interviews from the musician over the course of his career. Documentarian Thorsten Schutte crafts a portrait free from the analysis of others – no friends of the family, no insights from the director himself. Zappa is best understood – if he can be understood at all – on his own terms.

Pulling an even-handed, honest documentary that sheds light on this particular individual could not have been easy. It must have been tempting to pick and choose – Zappa the wild man, Zappa the political mind, Zappa the underappreciated genius. But Schutte balances those, throwing in the ugly with the funny with, in one especially uncharacteristic and moving segment, the tender.

Frank Zappa had a larger effect on American culture than you may realize. You should get to know him. Here’s how.

Grade: A-

Also opening in Columbus this weekend:


Reviews with help from George Wolf and Christie Robb.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly horror movie podcast, FRIGHT CLUB.

Looking for more film events in Columbus? CLICK HERE to visit our Events Calendar.

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The Urban Living Tour returns (with strict safety guidelines) on Aug 30!