Film reviews round-up: Sausage Party, Morgan, ChickLit, Jim

A cast of celebrity voices can't enliven a supermarket-set adult animation, while director Luke Scott follows in his father's footsteps with a dystopian sci-fi thriller

Tuesday 30 August 2016 14:50 BST
Sausage Party is an animated feature with a very dirty mind
Sausage Party is an animated feature with a very dirty mind

Sausage Party (15)


Dir: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon, 89 mins, voiced by: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Paul Rudd, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek

Sausage Party culminates in one of the great orgies in recent cinema – a scene so extravagantly decadent that it makes Tinto Brass’s Caligula look understated. The twist here is that the writhing bodies copulating in such enthusiastic fashion belong to products from the supermarket shelves.

It’s a moot point as to whether the premise here is original or simply idiotic. This is an animated feature with a very dirty mind. Its characters all speak in the same over-emphatic fashion as the toys and fishes in kids’ cartoons. The plot line could just about pass muster in a kids’ cartoon too.

The sausages, buns, bagels and lesbian taco shells all dream of a world beyond the supermarket. They think that, when they’re picked up and put in a shopping basket or trolly, they are being carried away to some Elysium where they’ll live happily ever after. In fact, as returned products who came back to the shelves warn them, it’s hellish out there. Humans actually eat the food.

The screenplay contrives a love story between Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen), who’s a sausage of course, and the very curvaceous hot dog bun, Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig.) Occasional moments are inspired. For example, there’s a mind-bending sequence in which some of the groceries come face to face with a junkie (voiced, inevitably, by James Franco) who can see and communicate with them. There’s also a very spirited battle sequence in which the groceries wage war on the shoppers using toothpicks as weapons.

The film, though, very quickly passes its sell by date. There are nagging questions which ruin the spell – for example, just how does Brenda manage to get in and out of the sealed bun packet quite so easily?

The filmmakers’ target doesn’t seem very well chosen either. It is lampooning animated features but the best of these – whether Pixar’s films or The Lego Movie – are often partially tongue in cheek and with a strong strain of humour aimed at adults anyway. What’s more, their plots stack up, which is something that can’t be said at all for the supermarket products which pass for heroes in Sausage Party.

Morgan (15)


Dir: Luke Scott, 92 mins, starring: Rose Leslie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Mara, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti, Michelle Yeoh, Toby Jones

Produced by Ridley Scott, directed by his son Luke, Morgan is like Blade Runner re-made as a rural chamber piece. This too is a dystopian story about androids which look and sound exactly like humans.

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Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a very advanced model. She is kept in quarantine in an underground lab at a house on the edge of a big forest. The team of scientists looking after her all dote on her as if she is their sister or daughter: Toby Jones is like a father to her, Rose Leslie’s character behaves as if she is Morgan’s rebellious sister, and Michelle Yeoh is like a proud mother.

They all want her to be “the best of what we are”, a super-advanced human who has empathy as well as extraordinary intellectual and physical prowess. She is only five or six years years old but has the body and appearance of a truculent teenager – and she even wears a hoodie.

One of the original aspects of what develops into a gripping sci-fi thriller is that the story, although set in the future, takes place deep in the countryside. It is character-driven and doesn’t rely too heavily on special effects. Kate Mara plays Lee Weathers, the equivalent of the Harrison Ford character in Blade Runner. She is a consultant from “Corporate” (the shadowy organisation behind the robot programme) who has been sent to investigate Morgan’s erratic behaviour.

Like an adolescent psychopath, Morgan has, for some reason, savagely assaulted one of her scientist carers (Jennifer Jason Leigh). “She’s a good girl, she got all mixed up, just for a moment,” the scientists protest. They’re all terrified that Lee, who works on the theory that Morgan is “not a she, it’s an it,” will shut the programme down. Paul Giamatti is the expert who specialises in psychoanalysing robots (Morgan is clearly a suitable case for treatment).

In its early scenes, this could almost be a country house drama, or a film about the perils of bringing up a teenage daughter. The scientists live in their cosy little world, a long way from the big, bad city. They’re so close to Morgan that they don’t even begin to suspect that she might be manipulating them. Without realising they are doing so, they project their own anxieties and feelings onto her.

Mara plays her character in impressively chilly fashion. She is the management consultant type whose only concern is in ensuring that the project is working efficiently.

Certain elements here are on the generic side. There is a big twist in the final reel that canny spectators will anticipate well in advance and that feels a little contrived. At times, the settings are too claustrophobic and the storyline is stretched at feature length. You yearn for the seething, rainswept cityscapes in which Deckard carried out his investigations in Blade Runner.

Nonetheless, Morgan is a provocative and atmospheric reworking of familiar sci-fi tropes. The excellent supporting cast helps anchor the film even in its more improbable moments.

ChickLit (15)


Dir: Tony Britten, 96 mins, starring: Christian McKay, Dakota Blue Richards, Caroline Catz, David Troughton, Miles Jupp, John Hurt, Eileen Atkins

ChickLit has a reasonable enough starting point but is badly undermined by its cumbersome exposition. This is an Ealing comedy-style yarn about four domino-playing men from Norfolk who write an erotic novel together in a bid to save their local pub from closure.

Their ringleader is local journalist David (McKay) who has long dreamed of dashing out a novel instead of reporting on village fairs and flower shows. He has noticed that his lawyer wife (Catz) reads huge amounts of steamy books with titles like She Came In Chains, written by authors with names like Lydia Lovemore. The local bookshop is also doing a roaring trade in 50 Shades Of Grey-style fiction.

In greatest secrecy, the four friends each write a quarter of Love Let Her. David then makes a day trip to London to deliver the manuscript to a very world-weary publisher, Peggy Law (Eileen Atkins), pretending he is representing the author. Peggy and her business partner Francis Bonar (John Hurt with a very big moustache and in fruity form) agree to take it on.

The hitch then is that the friends need to find a young woman to portray the novelist on the book tour. Enter Dakota Blue Richards as David’s struggling actress niece.

In its own bumbling way, ChickLit is amiable enough. McKay harrumphs away in fine comic fashion. The film, though, is generally as prudish and as timid about “mummy porn” (“something nasty they publish for women of a certain age”) as its main male characters. We get little sense of what the four authors are actually writing about other than that their prose is very purple. There are some predictable gags about BDSM and about the reading habits of the Norfolk gentry but the filmmakers steer away from exploring any of the sexual politics behind the fiction.

Jim: The James Foley Story (15)


Dir: Brian Oakes, 111 mins, featuring: James Foley, Katie Foley, John Foley Sr., Unai Aranzadi, Zac Baillie

There is grief and bafflement at the heart of this affecting documentary, reflecting on the life of journalist James Foley, murdered and beheaded by Isis two years ago after a prolonged period of captivity. His family, colleagues and several of the European hostages who shared his captivity all portray a generous, courageous and big-hearted man; they are devastated by the loss. The US government emerges very badly, seemingly doing next to nothing to try to secure his release.

The circumstances of his death were cruel in the extreme, and he achieved a very macabre posthumous celebrity. One consolation for his family was that his achievements as a war reporter were recognised too. But there are omissions here – for example, the film casts very little light on his relationship with John Cantlie, the British journalist arrested at the same time as Foley.

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