Friday, October 30, 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

If I ever read the book that Sony's new animated movie was based on, I don't remember it. Essentially, it tells the story of Chewandswallow, a delightful little town in which the clouds rain food. The movie delves into the origin story of this community, and how its peculiar weather patterns came to be. It's a cute story, and has some potential for fun visuals (seriously. Raining food? That could be deliciously wacky). Unfortunately, though, this movie is indicative of what I see as a problem in the animation industry. Any charm or uniqueness is sacrificed for a safe bet, and 3D.

Naturally, this movie was indeed in 3D, though I did not see it as such. As usual, this proves to be a good litmus test on the directing of a movie. If it holds up without having to rely on cheap 3D tricks, they've done a good job. Unfortunately, Phil Lord and Chris Miller seemed to use the technology as a bit of a crutch. I appreciated the apocalyptic imagery of food raining from the sky, but there's only so many times you can see burgers falling past the camera before it gets old. There's very little in the movie besides what was presented in the trailers.

The story centers on Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), a dud of an inventor who wants nothing more than to make his father (James Caan) proud of him. Despite his machine to (unwittingly) make it rain food, their relationship remains strained. Naturally things have to go awry when the mayor (Bruce Campbell) of the economically depressed town takes over control of the machine. Throw in a struggling reporter/love interest (Anna Faris) and you have a recipe for an extremely generic movie.

One of the movie's biggest flaws (at least from the perspective of an animation student) is the inconsistency in style. Some of the characters, especially the police officer voiced by Mr. T, feature incredible quick and snappy animation. Whereas other characters are much more subtle and realistic. Both are completely valid, but they don't belong together.

In addition to the animation issues, the story had some pretty severe pacing problems. It started out quite funny and moved along pleasantly. However, the middle dragged terribly, and by the time the speedy third act came together, it was just too late. In fact, when they confront the machine head on, the movie becomes so rapid fire and absurd that it feels almost like a completely different movie.

There were some funny moments in the movie. Andy Samberg's role as Baby Brent, a former child star and spokesperson for the town made me laugh, and the relationship between Flint and Sam Sparks (the reporter) was endearing and even a little identifiable. The main problems with the movie were just consistency, both in style and in the story itself.


Saturday, October 3, 2009


This was one of the 20 movies I was most looking forward to the rest of the year- and I was a little disappointed. Actually, make that considerably disappointed. I think Surrogates has a very compelling idea that would make a great science fiction story. Unfortunately the movie itself just does not live up to the potential of the idea.

Surrogates takes place in the near future, and most people are living their lives through robotic proxies. This eliminates any sort of risk involved in your daily life. Of course, by extension, it also eliminates your ability to truly experience life. As the movie opens we're introduced to a murder. For the first time, a person is killed while operating their surrogate. This means that using surrogates is no longer a sure fire safe way to experience life. Bruce Willis stars as Tom Greer, a detective investigating this first homicide in a decade.

I think this is a great concept. It explores themes of what happens to people when they're physically cut off from the world. This naturally leads to an emotional distance. The movie touches on these themes- but just barely. Instead it focuses on Bruce Willis doing what Bruce Willis does best- kick some ass. Now normally I'd be okay with a movie centering on him trying to infiltrate an anti-surrogate sect living on a reservation in the heart of New York City. In fact, I'd probably downright enjoy it. But not when an idea has as much potential as Surrogates.

The anti-aging effects in this movie creating a younger Bruce Willis surrogate are awful. They make the young Patrick Stewart in Wolverine look amazing. But I was drawn in this time. The surrogates are supposed to be stiff and unnatural. I would almost swear they did it intentionally, and it added to the unsettling nature of a robot doppelganger. The stiff appearance, that's okay, but there's no excuse for equally stiff dialog.

Surrogates wasn't necessarily a bad movie. It had some interesting parts, before devolving into superhuman chase scenes. And the cast wasn't bad. I always enjoy Bruce Willis, and Rosamund Pike (his foil and wife). And I always enjoy James Cromwell, even if the motivation for his character as the creator of surrogate technology was severely stretched. The problem with this movie is simply that it fell far short of what it could have been. In a way, that's more disappointing than if it had just been bad.