Movie Reviews: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Directed by Phil Lord & Chris Miller

Review by Tony Sheppard and Malcolm Maclachlan

Tony says: Frustrated young inventor Flint Lockwood manages to create a machine that converts water into food.  After it gets launched into a nearby cloud formation, it produces a heavy shower of cheeseburgers. (And the physics engine in the graphics program is great – watching animated cheeseburgers hit the ground, bounce and fall apart might never get old). This is seen as a boon to a small island community that has been dependent on sardine fishing. It's especially appealing to the town's mayor, who might be the most tourism-hungry elected official since "Jaws." But one of the problems is that for every food item that falls and is consumed by the precipitously opportunistic townfolks, another hundred go uneaten and are dispatched to the local landfill. 

All of this is played for effective and cute laughs from tiny audience members. However, in a current climate of children's movies that are often loaded with environmental and partisan messages, what is surprising is that it's not more politically charged. There are never any statements about limited resources. This is a kids' movie for kids' sake, and a pleasantly successful one.

Malcolm says: This is the rare movie that is much better than its preview. The preview was all nonsensical action, while the film itself has a dry, subtle humor at times, with plenty of jokes the adults in the audience will get while most kids don't. In fact, the inclusion of the long-lost Mr. T essentially playing himself as the town cop was entirely aimed at Gen X parents-my girlfriend and I found ourselves explaining what the "A-Team" was to her two tween kids on the drive home.

The action here is also amazing at times. One storm sequence is among the best animated sequences I have ever seen, as we follow Flint through a twister, somehow never losing perspective as he flails between different props and settings. While it's showing in 3D everywhere, this one was definitely worth seeing on the big IMAX screen for the immersive effect.

But, to echo Tony, I can't help but think the team behind this one left something on the table, so to speak. There is certainly a theme about gluttony and waste here, well illustrated by the giant dammed-up landfill needed to hold all the excess food-not to mention the grotesque villain. But while we hear that something-for-nothing "isn't good for people," the excess is rarely linked directly to modern America. But maybe that would have been too preachy for a movie whose primary draw is splatter noises and other food-based pyrotechnics.

The Baader Meinhof Complex
Directed by Uli Edel

Review by Tony Sheppard

Recently, terrorism has become virtually tied in the American public consciousness with fundamentalist Islam – largely because many talking heads on television won't allow the two phenomena to exist in a sentence without being connected. But if you grew up in Europe in the 60's and 70's (as I did), stories about terrorism were as likely to conjure thoughts of Irish, Spanish, and German attackers, with the Baader-Meinhof Group and Red Army Faction competing for headline space with the Irish Republican Army and the Basque separatists, ETA. 

Andreas Baader firebombed a department store, in 1968, accompanied by partner Gudrun Ensslin and two colleagues, with the trial being covered by journalist Ulrike Meinhof. In a poster case for hard-nosed law and order proponents, the arsonists first became truly organized while on the run after being paroled pending an appeal (and much later remain active despite incarceration). Baader was picked up again and freed by the others with Meinhof's assistance, at which point she joined the group and continued to provide written commentary on their actions.

The remarkable film works as both an account of the rise to prominence of the urban terrorist organization and also as a lesson and reminder in how little much of the rhetoric has changed in 40 years. We see disaffected German students and young people outraged at domestic authoritarianism that they see as dangerously close to their own history, and similarly disgusted with American intervention overseas and the perceived arming of Israel to control Middle East oil supplies (what decade was this again?). All of this makes for a hotbed of potential civil disobedience from sign-waving to bomb-placing. It also demonstrates the dangers of encouraging subsequent waves of recruitment and violence as a result of the believed ill-treatment of earlier captives and popular heroes (what decade was this again?). Despite occasionally being an exercise in speed reading, this is worth watching.

Bright Star
Directed by Jane Campion

Review by Tony Sheppard

Campion ("The Piano") brings us a beautiful period drama and love story that's an extraordinary reminder of the depths of passion that once arose from brief kisses and shared correspondence. In an era of online matchmaking, formulaic romantic comedies, and cinematic first dates that can out-sex a Victorian marriage, this story of romance between the ill-fated poet John Keats and young neighbor Fanny Brawne has more depth of feeling and onscreen chemistry than anything I've seen recently, with none of the skin. Keats was destined to be under-appreciated until after his passing – "Bright Star" is deserving of a better fate.

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