The Week in Film by Robert Mann – Week Starting 18/9/09

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 3D ****½

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2D ****

With major animation studios Disney, DreamWorks and Blue Sky having already released their films for 2009 and Pixar’s latest effort still nearly a month away, animation fans will have to make do for now with the latest from Sony Pictures Animation, who, while clearly aspiring to take a place alongside their fellow animation houses, have failed to make it to the big time yet, with films Open Season and Surf’s Up being hugely underrated by both critics and moviegoers. With their latest film, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, however, their luck may be about to change. Based on Judi and Ron Barrett’s quirkily titled book of the same name, Sony Animation’s latest effort has the distinction of being their first 3D feature and also has a premise that shows a lot of promise for charming animated sequences and witty humour, or, failing that, at least a few food (or perhaps even weather) related puns. So, as a weather forecaster might say, the outlook for this film is bright and sunny. But as weather forecasters are quite notorious for not always being correct in their assessments the question is raised as to weather Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a gourmet viewing experience or just takeaway junk.

Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) dreams of being a famous inventor, but his creations always get him in trouble with the folks of his hometown, the small island of Swallow Falls. But Flint finally strikes gold with his latest invention – a food machine that makes scrumptious grub fall from the sky by turning water into food. This is the music to the ears of Sam Sparks (voiced by Anna Faris), a weather station intern who gets her big break when she witnesses one of the most spectacular meteorological occurrences of all time: cheeseburger rain. As Flint’s machine keeps dishing out helpings of food-filled weather he is propelled to stardom in his town and Sam’s career goes astronomical. However, the food machine soon begins going out of control, dishing out bigger and bigger portions and creating weather storms that threaten to destroy the world.

And the only people who can save the world from disaster are Flint and Sam.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is something of a culinary delight and this is thanks to the interesting direction in which the filmmakers have taken the story. Starting out as the simple tale of an inventor who longs to become famous for his creations, but whose inventions are, well, just not very good (but very, very funny) – remote control TV that runs away, hair unbalder that grows far too much hair, monkey thought translator that doesn’t seem to do much but say ‘hungry’ and ratbirds…anyone? – it gradually evolves into something very different…a disaster movie. And this proves to be a very smart move indeed, with the film offering some very impressive sequences, such as a spaghetti and meatballs tornado, and hilarious gags, including a witty spoof of the manner in which disaster movies always target places with landmarks. In fact, late on, the film essentially becomes the food equivalent to The Day After Tomorrow with events taking on a global scale, and smart touches like this are what makes the film really stand out. The film delivers elsewhere too, of course. As you might expect there are food puns a-plenty and countless ingenious sequences are made out of the concept – cheeseburger rain, nacho cheese hot springs, roofless restaurant, food dam, and the list goes on. All this makes for non stop laughs that, while not being as witty or as smart as what you would get in a Pixar movie, are likely to be enjoyed by both children and adults. The storyline is also quite strong, even if at times it does feel like certain sequences are just being stringed together and some characters could do with being developed a bit further. These are minor flaws, though, that most viewers won’t be able to taste among all the deliciousness the film has to offer. The voices are a particular strong point with both Bill Hader and Anna Faris really bringing their characters to life excellently and the great vocals don’t end there with hilarious turns from Andy Samberg (as Baby Brent), Bruce Campbell (as The Mayor) and a particularly entertaining, if brief, performance from Neil Patrick Harris (as monkey Steve). Other voices come courtesy of James Caan, Mr.T, Bobb’e J. Thompson and Benjamin Bratt. The animation is also very mouth-watering, and while it may not quite be up to the standards of other major animation studios it shows that Sony Pictures Animation is catching up. The visuals are extremely appetizing with characters, locales and food situations – a date in a jelly mansion and an ice cream snowball fight being two highlights – being beautifully rendered, with lots of colour and charm. The film’s use of 3D sadly isn’t the best seen to date, seeming as if it was converted in post production, but it still makes the film into a much more exciting viewing experience, which is whole point of 3D after all. So, overall, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a truly delicious course that should wholly satisfy all in the target audience. What do you know, the weather forecasters were right for once.


Gamer **½

Earlier this year moviegoers were witness to what is quite possibly one of the most raving bonkers films ever made – Crank 2: High Voltage. Following up the already outrageous Crank and topping the insanity level of every respect the film showed directing duo Neveldine/Taylor to be one of the most visionary filmmaking double acts ever to grace the movie world, at least when it comes to crude, offensive, unrelenting and all round OTT B movie actioners anyway. And now they have another movie coming out, the very idea of which will no doubt whet the appetites of ‘Crank’ fans the world over. Anyone who is expecting Crank 3 though may well be disappointed, as Gamer is considerably more conventional than the duo’s previous films. This, however, does not mean that it is any less extreme.

It’s sometime in the near future and reclusive, slightly deranged billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) has developed a controversial, ultra-violent online game called ‘Slayers’ that allows millions of players to take control of real human beings in full-scale combat. The humans happen to be prisoners on death row and if they survive 30 game battles they are set free. Kable Killer (Gerard Butler) is the cult hero of Slayers who, controlled by a young gamer named Simon (Logan Lerman), has survived 27 games. Separated from his family and forced into combat, the only thing that keeps Kable going is the hope of seeing his wife (Amber Valletta) and child again. But with the battles getting increasingly brutal, he realises that he must escape the control of Simon so that he can live enough to escape the game and save the world from its deadly obsession.

On paper the basic concept of Gamer sounds almost identical in some respects to last year’s Death Race and for this reason the film cannot claim the level of originality that was present in the Crank films. However, that is not to say that Gamer is anything like Death Race as it is more extreme in every regard, something that will be viewed as either good or bad depending on your own personal taste. It is certainly fair to say that anyone who doesn’t have a taste for extreme violence or scenes of depravity will want to steer well clear as film is unrelenting in its no holds barred representation of the twisted world it is portraying. Neveldine/Taylor certainly seem like the right people to direct this film with their unique bizarre touch being visible in several scenes, most notably scenes involving ‘Society’, another game based on the same technology as ‘Slayers’ and an unusual musical number sequence towards the end. However, unlike with the Crank films, there is a clash in the film, with the more unusual sequences often failing to fit in with the considerably more conventional storyline. And, in addition to this clash of styles and lack of originality, the film also lacks the strength of execution that was present in the Crank films. The storyline is far too incoherent, something that wouldn’t be too much of a problem in a Crank film given the generally random nature of the concept, but is a major flaw here mixed with a much more conventional plot. Also, many of the shooting and editing techniques used here get rather annoying after a while, particularly ‘glitches’ that seem to have been included deliberately to highlight the ‘virtual’ nature of the game. This isn’t to say that the action sequences aren’t good, however, with the action scenes being raw, gritty and bloody and quite entertaining, but their entertainment value is diminished somewhat by such flaws. The only other thing to comment on is the performances and in this regard is a mixed bag but the central performers do deliver. Gerard Butler is well cast in the central role, portraying the tough guy part well, although with only a few flashbacks for character development isn’t given much to work with. Michael C. Hall, on the other hand, really steals the show, making for a truly excellent psychopath. His performance is certainly worth seeing the film for. A number of other recognisable faces also put in appearances including John Leguizamo, Terry Crews, Zoë Bell, Aaron Yoo, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Kyra Sedgwick, Milo Ventimiglia and John DeLancie. Most of these are somewhat underused however. Overall, Gamer is a film that has its moments but doesn’t manage to be wholly satisfying. If you enjoy films with a twisted side, however, you will likely find a quite a bit to enjoy here but if you are squeamish you should definitely not play this game.


Reviews by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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