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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

I didn't kill her. I just relocated her.

The Discovery (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Discovery assembles not wholly dissimilar science-goes-metaphysical themes and ideas to Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated 1983 Brainstorm, revolving around research into consciousness and the revelation of its continuance after death. Perhaps the biggest discovery, though, is that it’s directed and co-written by the spawn of Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (the latter cameos) – Charlie McDowell – of hitherto negligible credits but now wading into deep philosophical waters and even, with collaborator Justin Lader, offering a twist of sorts.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …