Monday, September 21, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I’ll admit, my expectations were about mid-level. Something along the lines of Kung Fu Panda. Cute, occasionally funny, and some brief moments of originality. But all in all, nothing particularly special.

And what a pleasure to be completely proved wrong. This movie was AWESOME! And not just from the perspective of a kids movie, but all in all a really great flick. We’re talking Pixar quality, people. That’s not an honor I like to hand out.

In fact, I never have before. No other computer animated movie, from any other production company, has ever come close to standing next to movies like Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc.

Until now.

The plot line is pretty simple. A kid named Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) who doesn’t fit in likes to invent things. Problem is these things he invents always seem to get him into trouble. One day, as a young man, he invents a machine that turns water into food. Things go haywire, the machine ends up in the sky, and it starts raining cheeseburgers. And so on.

But the magic of this movie isn’t in the story. It’s in the incredible attention to detail of packing humor into nearly every opportunity that presents itself. Like a poster of Nikola Tesla bearing the label: “Rockstar Scientist!” Or Flint’s constant single word narration of his progress montages: “Motivating!” “Researching!” “Painting!” Or just the little things, like the town’s cop (voiced by Mr. T) whose chest hair tingles whenever danger is a foot. You can’t help but laugh at stuff like that.

What really ties the movie together is the top notch animation. You really experience the range of emotions from a world where food falls from the sky. Who wouldn’t want to sit in a restaurant with no ceiling, hold out your plate, and wait? And when things go haywire, and the food gets giant, there’s a background of fear behind all the visual gags of giant meatballs and sushi rolls destroying one building at a time.

How close this movie was to the book, I couldn’t say. I did read the book, when I was like seven. So it’s pretty safe to say I don’t remember. But, whether or not it matters? That I can answer: No, it doesn’t. Because the movie is entertaining enough that you could really care less.

All I can say is that I hope movies like this are a coming trend. Silly, slapsticky, packed with jokes, and a whole lot of fun to watch. I don’t care if they are kids movies. If they’re good, they’re good. And I know I’ve talked about this before, but it really helps when the humor is self-contained rather than an incessant barrage of pop culture references that will be out of date in a couple weeks.

Should you go see this movie? Yes. Do you need a kid to go see it with you? No. You’ll find yourself laughing your ass off, one way or the other. Just like you did when you saw all those Pixar movies.

Monday, September 14, 2009


There have been a few points this year when my five hundred word goal on every review seems a bit too long. One would think it’s an easy goal, just five hundred words, anybody can do that, right? Well, go see Extract and tell me if you have that many words to say about it.

I very much wanted to enjoy this movie. Having followed Mike Judge’s career with a great amount of enthusiasm over the years, I was more than excited to see he was offering up another morsel of Americana. It’s hard not to love the spin he puts on every day life. We’ve all found ourselves quoting Office Space at one point or another. King of the Hill (may it rest in peace) is what good TV should be: Surprisingly familiar characters with humor being driven by their personalities, rather than laugh tracks and stupid jokes. And who of my generation can say that Beavis & Butthead wasn’t anything short of groundbreaking?

If you’ve never seen Idiocracy, his previous film, you’re missing out. It’s equally funny and terrifying. Try it out. Not a perfect movie, by any means, but I’ve never seen one quite like it.

So imagine my disappointment when Extract fell so flat. More than anything it’s just uneventful. One could make an argument that the movie is trying to capture the humdrum life that the main character is stuck in, but I’ve never been a big fan of arguments like that. You go to the movies to be entertained, not bored. No matter the justification.

Beyond that, it’s hard to come up with more to say about the movie. Jason Bateman is hard not to like. JK Simmons is another one of those actors who can’t not be funny. The various players of the factory floor, the film’s premiere stage, are expectedly familiar. But the show is pretty much entirely stolen by Ben Affleck. I don’t know if anyone saw that coming, but all of the most entertaining moments of the show feature him.

All in all, don’t bother seeing this in the theater. It won’t be there long anyway. Wait until it’s playing on Comedy Central some afternoon a couple years from now. Kill a couple hours, get a few chuckles, etc.

I met Mike Judge once. Back in Seattle, 2005 I think it was, at he and Don Hertzfeld’s touring Animation Show. I shook his hand and told him King of the Hill was a great show. He said, “I think we’ve got one season left.” That was four years ago, and I just watched the series finale last night. I’m gonna miss that show.

Every filmmaker is allowed one bad movie. Let’s just hope this is Mike Judge’s lowest point. The man’s just got too much to offer on the American experience to fall by the wayside yet.