12 August 2016

The Dragon's Sausage Party

We are getting to the end of it, folks. The Summer Blockbuster season has just about concluded. While Suicide Squad (2016) was ostensibly our last major intellectual property adaptation (our new official word for "movie"), there are still a few big blockbuster-y attempts hanging out to close out our August Adventure. As always, our goal here is to attempt to examine the critical, cultural, and commercial potential of each major new release. This week we have three really different, really weird ones dropping, which is rad. Let's get started with Florence Foster Jenkins (2016).

Alright, so this flick doesn't have a lot of company. It's that kind of old person Academy-friendly kind of picture that typically drops in limited release in October or November. It's maybe acceptable as the mid-August release that it is, but with the creep of a lot of major July releases like Star Trek Beyond (2016) and Jason Bourne (2016) still in theaters, where is the room for this one?
What do we call this

Well, there are two things at work here. First is that aforementioned audience who has really been drastically under-served this summer. The closest thing to appease that huge boring section of the population looking for adult films (not that ADULT) is probably Free State of Jones (2016), which also seemed to drop at the wrong time of year. That audience is out there and could come out. It's not four quadrant stuff, but it's there.

The other underlying issue with my judgment is that it's filtered through a pretty jaded blockbuster-loving bro (Not really. This should prove that, but I'm currently between The Lobster [2015] and Summer of Sam [1999] on my Netflix queue). Still, for better or worse, I am hardwired with that sort of "fuck this shit" attitude whenever I see something like Florence Foster Jenkins. Of course, the movie tells an actual bizarre story of the eponymous rich heiress who took up a career in Opera singing despite any sort of obvious talent. Meryl Streep is apparently a revelation (what is that, nomination #58? 59?), but what else is new? It's an interesting enough story, but if I didn't go out of my way to cover this shit every week I'd also have no idea this was coming out this week. And my television has been on for 114 straight hours watching Olympic coverage.

I'd call its commercial prospects minuscule to the point of parody, but it could have some cultural weight if Meryl gets a nomination. It's already a decent critical success, but I also feel like we've seen this film quite a bit before. It really depends on if its actual tangible quality can elevate it beyond the typical biopic (subject matter says it should), and if it can find its niche. I'm tempted to say the release date is too early for even that, but weirder shit has happened at the Oscars.

So we move on now to what should look like the weekend's winner, although it's not nearly sexy enough to take down Suicide Squad. Pete's Dragon (2016) is the latest effort by Disney to bring back one of its old properties in a live action remake, although the original from 1977 was a hybrid live action / animation anyway, so does it really fall in that category? It's more like a straight re-make.
Yeah that's pretty sick.

This isn't exactly like The Jungle Book (2016) or Alice in Wonderland (2010) or any of the other dozens of live action remakes Disney has in the works, though, because frankly, the original Pete's Dragon (1977) wasn't all that good. It's not really a beloved classic or anything. It's that kind of film that sounds a little familiar; like you think "oh yeah, Pete's Dragon!" then you think and you're like "wait, what the hell is Pete's Dragon?" then you look it up and think "Oh, that's not what I was thinking of." For the record, I was totally thinking of this motherfucker. Pete's Dragon was not familiar to me at all.

This all makes it a sort of weird choice for a remake, although to be honest, it has a crisp $65 million budget and a cherry 102-minute runtime. It probably has to clear at least $50 million to beat Suicide Squad (maybe $45 mill, apparently its decline is looking awfully steep), which seems unfeasible, but with a $30 million opening and a solid all-clear run through August with good critical word-of-mouth and suddenly it has its budget back, even if the lack of overt spectacle likely handicaps it in the global market.

And apparently it is pretty good. This is certainly a distinguishing feature from the original. It's amazing that that's really all we need. As much flack as this summer should get for the onslaught of truly terrible films, it should get some damned good credit for Captain America: Civil War (2016), The Legend of Tarzan (2016), and Star Trek Beyond (2016). Only the former really did great at the box office, but each one at least attempted to be an actual good movie. I'm all about good movies. I don't really care about the inspiration or intellectual property or anything. The only thing that matters is if the film is good or not. Pete's Dragon is a case where I could less than a shit about the source material, but I'm down to watch a good film that dares to be more Iron Giant (1999) than Age of Extinction (2014).

This again presents a lot of weird things to consider. It's apparently got a solid dose of Iron Giant (although this is only by staying close to the original - so who's ripping off whom?) with a mix of Tarzan, and other "wild kid" movies like, I don't know. Jungle 2 Jungle (1997)? Most importantly, though, it's actually a family film, which seems really rare these days. This distinguishes it from a child's film or an animated film (which, as we'll see in a few paragraphs, are decidedly NOT the same). That's also a decently under-served market this summer, and it could break out if people are feeling it.

That's the big question, though - because no one is really feeling it. We're all pretty exhausted. As for the cultural reverb, I don't really see it breaking out. It's got to really up its cool factor. It needs some kind of iconic scene or moment, which I'm not sure it has. There hasn't been a ton of compelling reasons to put this in our lives. The dragon (whose total dragon-like name is "Elliot") looks pretty cool, so there's that, even though he hasn't really been revealed that much. Sure that's a nice bit of mystery, but at some point you also need to make sure people actually watch your movie.

So at the end of the day we're left with Sausage Party (2016). There's really never been a film like this ever made before. Which is cool. I feel like I've been hearing about this thing forever, and it largely looks pretty damn stupid, although that could be in part because according to co-director Seth Rogen, there's not many clips they can actually show. Suddenly the fact that they've literally only ever shown that potato-peeling scene makes a lot of sense.
Gotta be better than Your Highness (2011), right?

This is apparently the raunchiest movie ever, and it comes disguised as a Pixar film. That's actually a fairly brilliant deconstruction of the "secret world of inanimate objects" bullshit that Pixar does in just about all of their films. Rogen and company are pretty reliable even if they're decently unproven in the animated business.

Commercially I can't see this doing well at all. Then again, most non-Neighbors 2 (2016) Rogen films somehow do pretty well. It's almost as if the more out-there the premise and more hardcore R he pushes it, the more success they have. What an amazing proposition...giving directors and stars creative control to make the original films they want... I saw this most with This Is The End (2013) which seemed so over-the-top and weirdly specific to its own meta-world but somehow banked $101 million at the box office. Then again...Sausage Party is really really out there. I don't have a clue how it'll do, but I'd guess it comes in behind Suicide Squad and Pete's Dragon.

Or maybe it rides the college crowd which STILL hasn't really latched on to any specific comedy this summer outside of Central Intelligence (2016) and makes it the late August smash in the vein of Knocked Up (2007) nine years ago. Knocked Up was nine years ago! Shit! I can see this going either way. It's also apparently very funny and inexplicably doing well with the critics.

That leaves its cultural hole, which I can see being pretty significant. It's already developing a reputation for its ribald humour and distinctive nature. It does fill that perfect gap of a really good natural idea for parody that's largely untapped. I might say it stays around for a while.

So that's that. We've got one more week of Summer analysis to take on...Ben-Hur (2016), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), and War Dogs (2016)? What the fuck? Yeah, we better kill this after that. What are you seeing this weekend?

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