Skip to main content

You may have seen a meteor shower, but you’ve never seen a shower meatier than this.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
(2009)

Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s big screen debut, whenceforth they have conjured box office gold from all manner of unlikely properties (a Johnny Depp TV series, Lego). Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a surprise hit for Sony, successful enough to spawn last year’s sequel (and no doubt another beyond that). It’s one that failed to pique my interest. Maybe it was the trying-too-hard title, or the anonymous style of animation. Why, I didn’t even realise Bruce Campbell voiced a character. And… the movie’s… okay. If you’re a fan of CGI cheeseburgers, you probably can’t go far wrong here, but if you want to see an animated feature with mouth-watering food, stick to Ratatouille.


Lord and Miller adapted Judi and Ron Barrett’s children’s book (first published in 1978; it’s really old, kids – ancient!) in which raining food is not the result of genius boy scientist’s dabbling and does not solely constitute junk food. And when said comestible deluges become uncontrollable they have to move to a more customary precipitationary environment. There’s a moral in there, I think, since the townsfolk must discover how to obtain food in the usual way. Not having read the book, I presume the usual way is the tried and tested capitalist route – so most of their needs are met by cheap labour in third world countries – rather than grown locally, in gardens, allotments, or surrounding farmland.


In the movie version, the one everyone will remember from now on, inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is responsible for the fast-food flurries. His mono-browed, with matching moustache, widowed father (James Caan) wants him to join the business (selling sardines), and his constant companion is a monkey called Steve (Neil Patrick Harris). Flint’s reputation for failed and problematic creations precedes him, so when he conjures up food on tap it’s an enormous surprise and one the mayor (Campbell) gets fully behind.


Just to make sure all the necessary boxes are ticked, there’s TV weather girl Sam (Anna Faris), who used to be a nerd and of whom were informed reverting to type (cosmetically) is a good thing (well, it gets the science nerd hot under the collar); “This is the real you”. Actually, isn’t it just Flint’s idea of the real her? That’s right, allow others to tell you who the real you is; it amounts to about the same as peer pressure conform to some beauty myth. At least Lord and Miller are intent on giving kids conflicting messages; way to really mess with their heads. Flint grows up convinced he is different and that he has something unique to offer the world, a contrast to the resolutely un-special Emmett in The Lego Movie.


There are vague rumblings of economic commentary in here, but it is unclear to what end. When the local cannery closes, the townsfolk must subsist off sardines; Flint’s invention is a result of his attempts to aid the populace in their plight, but gets out of control. There’s a “perils of science unleashed” theme in here, except that it is only the greed of the locals for more and more that causes the mutations that blight their prosperity (so science unshackled from the constraints of market forces will be wholly beneficial?) Alternatively, one might see the rain of junk food as a metaphor for homogenous branded outlets destroying local communities’ identities and self-sufficiency; they provide a quick fix until it is realised there’s nothing left. Which means Flint is the big corporations (the science nerd made good), apparently serving our needs but actually massaging his own ego and bank balance. The ever-expanding mayor, the politician pressing after votes rather than a better life for his constituents, is the incarnation of greed and profit itself.


Yet there isn’t anything really daring or intriguing or surprising about this movie. Nothing more than a lesson kids are told anyway; junk food is bad for you (I’m not sure that “Sardines are super gross” is entirely fair, however; I’ve always rather liked them). Free junk food is bad also. Just like junk food you have to pay for. It makes you fat. There might have been room for a The Man in the White Suit lesson in the perversity of a profit-based system, where the invention of something that removes the need for labour and toil (and jobs) is rebelled against, because it undermines the familiar system (Tesla; see below). What if Flint had created unlimited supplies of nourishing food instead?  How would the cartoon corporations react to the promise of free food for all, an end to starvation? Nah, it’s just a kid’s film.


The asides the directors and their animators throw in are more engaging than the plot itself. Posters on Flint’s wall depict Alexander Graham Bell and Nikola Tesla (Hollywood has come round to bigging up the latter, but what chance of shedding a light on his less accepted ideas; not much, I suspect, although Flint’s lab is modelled on Wardenclyffe Tower, site of Tesla’s curtailed experiments with wireless electricity transmission). The only requirements for a weather girl are to be cute and “super perky”. A sardine, breaking free of Sardine Land, shouts for joy only to be carried off by a passing seagull. A cello made of jello. “I need a celery. Stat.” There’s also the occasional full-on portion of weirdness (for a movie with giant food stuffs plummeting from the heavens, the picture surprising lacks any real spark or distinctiveness); Flint and his pals are surrounded by a platoon of plucked, headless chickens, straight out of a David Lynch film. Gummi bear “gremlins” cause havoc on the wing of a plane. However, the third act action food storm spectacle, as Flint attempts to save the day (to right the mess he made, essentially), is little more than a de rigueur series of CGI toonery action set pieces.


Lord and Miller are funny guys with an untarnished Midas touch. I particularly look forward to seeing what they do with one of my ‘80s TV favourites, The Greatest American Hero (how to fill the gap of the unassailable Robert Culp, that’s the big challenge). They took on Cloudy after it had been in development for several years at Sony, and delivered something watchable and occasionally witty, but it lacking the style and personality of the best animation fare. That slickness is evident in The Lego Movie too; the appeals to the heart or delivery of moral lessons (they really just wanted to make a disaster movie here) are prescribed within the family movie formula, rather than elements they have nurtured and care about.





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c