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Non-Review Review: Sausage Party

Perhaps the most charming thing about Sausage Party is that it exists in the first place.

After all, a computer-generated animated movie about foul-mouthed hyper-violent and aggressively sexual anthropomorphised food products was always going to be something of a tough sell. More than that, there was always a risk that the film’s best joke could not sustain the necessary ninety-minute runtime. “Let’s do an R-rated comedy animated in the style of a Dreamworks or Pixar film!” is very wry, but it seems like the kind of idea that brews in the early hours of the morning at a wild party and is promptly forgotten.

Food for thought...

Food for thought…

At one point in Sausage Party, the heroic hotdog Frank encounters a group of ancient foodstuffs hiding out in the liquor aisle of the shopping market that he calls home. These old and experience foodstuffs recall how they carefully cultivated and curated the mythology of the supermarket, building a religion that treated consumers as “gods” and which encouraged the store’s food and drink to dream of being “chosen.” There is even a hymn that the food sings every morning. A wisened old liquor bottle explains that this whole plan was the result of a massive stoner session.

In some ways, Sausage Party feels like it had a similar genesis, beginning with a goofy joke among friends that escalated and evolved into a surprisingly fleshed-out and developed world. Sausage Party works remarkably well given that it is essentially one very clever joke spread across ninety minutes, padded out with healthy doses of absurdity and puns. While the movie can occasionally feel a little indulgent and meandering, that charm carries it a long way. Sausage Party is one extended gag, but it is just about funny enough to pull it off.

Sweet mother of mercy...

Sweet mother of mercy…

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Star Trek – The Lights of Zetar (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

The Lights of Zetar is another third season ghost story.

The third season of Star Trek is populated with these weird stories about long-dead souls refusing to pass on. There is Kirk’s haunting of the Enterprise in The Tholian Web, the dead world of Scalos in Wink of an Eye, the replicas of the long-dead Losira in That Which Survives, the title character in Requiem for Methuselah, the escapes into the past in All Our Yesterdays. It is almost as though the third season is working through its anxieties, a season television trapped between two cancellations.

Flash of inspiration.

Flash of inspiration.

The Light of Zetar features yet more death and destruction. The mangled bodies inside the Memory Alpha facility, contorted over the furniture. The lone survivor, screaming in agony. The eponymous spectral apparition that “cannot be a phenomenon of nature.” The inhabitants of Zetar, rendered non-corporeal through the destruction of their world, refusing to acknowledge that they have truly been dead for thousands upon thousands years. The argument that Mira Romaine must sacrifice herself so that the Zetar might live.

More than a ghost story, The Lights of Zetar is an exorcism story.

More like Memory Omega.

More like Memory Omega.

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Seventies Heaven – The Shifting Gaze of Cultural Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a funny thing.

It is infinitely more complex than most people will allow. By its very nature, it is highly fungible, intertwined with concepts like memory and politics in a way that does not always make it easy to parse. Nostalgia hits in waves, but those waves do not always hit at the same time with the same intensity. Nostalgia is not a single monolithic concept, it pulls and pushes from moment to moment. What is the nostalgia of the moment? The eighties nostalgia of Stranger Things? The nineties nostalgia of Independence Day: Resurgence?

theniceguys2

Trying to define a pattern in pop culture’s nostalgia is like trying to read the tea leaves, falling somewhere between a conversational art and outright hucksterism.  Still, one of the more interesting – and least discussed – aspects of the grand nostalgia industrial complex is the state of transition. Big waves become little waves, emphasis shifts, focus goes elsewhere. One of the more interesting shifts in nostalgia over the past couple of years has been a transition from a strong sixties nostalgia into something altogether more seventies.

It is a rather weird sight to behold, as if watching the popular image of one decade fade into the popular image of the other.

elvisandnixon8

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Non-Review Review: War Dogs

At one point in the movie War Dogs, manipulative sociopath Efraim Diveroli presents his naive business partner David Packouz with a gift.

It is a sequence that is as illustrative of War Dogs as it is key for Efraim. The gift in question is a golden hand grenade, a gesture of tremendous subtlety on the part of the film and its secondary lead. See, Efraim and David are self-described gun runners. More than that, they are ostentatious over-the-top gun runners with no sense of tact and the bare minimum of business sense. What better way for Efraim to convey this to David (and for the film to convey it to the audience) than through the gift of a gold-plated hand grenade.

"Quick question: do we HAVE to be framed with these picture of Bush and Cheney? I mean, I think people get it."

“Quick question: do we HAVE to be framed with these picture of Bush and Cheney? I mean, I think people get it.”

However, the kicker comes in the inscription that Efraim has engraved on the bottom of the ridiculous gift. “The world is yours,” the grenade seems to promise its owner. It is, of course, a line from Scarface. It is, in fact, a line from both versions of Scarface. It is the bitterly ironic sentiment that closes out the film, an encapsulation of the greed and hubris that led the two gangster protagonists their downfall. Conveyed through advertising, it was also a stinging commentary on the American Dream. It was the height of irony, a cynical sting at the end of a moral fable.

There is a sense that Efraim does not necessarily understand irony. Having watched War Dogs, it is not entirely clear that the film does either.

Cool gun runnings.

Cool gun runnings.

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Star Trek – The Mark of Gideon (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

The Mark of Gideon is in many ways a direct counterpoint to Whom Gods Destroy.

Both The Mark of Gideon and Whom Gods Destroy have what might charitably be described as “major logic problems.” Both episodes were produced on a tiny budget, with those constraints bleeding through into almost every frame of the finished production. Both stories engage with the idea of utopianism as an essential ingredient in Star Trek storytelling. Both episodes are very much third season episodes, in terms of production and construction and storytelling.

Viewing screen on.

Viewing screen on.

However, Whom Gods Destroy manages to turn all of these elements into an ambitious mess. Although far from the strongest episode of the season, or even a half-decent episode of television, there is an endearing charm to Whom Gods Destroy that carries the episode far further than it should. In contrast, The Mark of Gideon is dead at arrival. It is an episode with a striking premise and set-up that has no idea where to go from that starting point and so meanders limply and lifelessly through forty-five minutes of television.

It also offers a pretty reprehensible vision of the franchise’s utopia.

This is an accurate representation of the third season's viewing figures.

This is an accurate representation of the third season’s viewing figures.

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Star Trek – Whom Gods Destroy (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Whom Gods Destroy is a mess.

In a lot of ways, Whom Gods Destroy is shoddy and lazy. In many ways, the episode plays like a collection of familiar Star Trek elements blended together to pad out forty-odd minutes of television with no regard for internal logic or plotting and with minimal regard for the characters caught in the middle of it all. There are very few ideas in Whom Gods Destroy that have not been done before, and done better. The episode is not only a rehash of familiar concepts, but it is an exercise in diminishing returns.

Dance with destiny.

Dance with destiny.

This is to say nothing of the chaos unfolding behind the scenes during the production of the episode. It seemed only appropriate that Kirk’s latest mission would take him to what is effectively a gothic asylum in outer space, because it seemed more and more that Star Trek was turning into a madhouse. Veteran staffers were leaving the show in droves, while tensions were mounting on the set, and Fred Freiberger was struggling to keep the budget under control. More than that, there was a clear sense that the series was over, and this was the end of the line.

Whom Gods Destroy really sounds like a disaster. It is certainly not a good episode of television. However, this is the third season. Whom Gods Destroy is interesting enough that it works much better than the season’s weaker episodes. It is elevated by a manic energy that goes some way towards covering for the more illogical elements of the plot, and three central performances that play into the high camp of the premise. Whom Gods Destroy is far from classic Star Trek, but it is much better than it has any right to be.

Absolute madness.

Absolute madness.

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Star Trek – Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield is iconic Star Trek.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield is a reminder that the iconic Star Trek is not necessarily good Star Trek.

Half and half.

Half and half.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield has become a cultural shorthand for the show.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield is a testament to the weird influence that the dysfunctional third season has on the cultural memory of Star Trek.

Two sides of the same coin.

Two sides of the same coin.

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