Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Year 8, Day 125 5/4/16 - Movie #2,325

BEFORE: Happy Star Wars Day!  I don't have anything "Star Wars" related cued up, but I am planning on buying the DVD of Episode VII today.  And I've got Bill Hader carrying over from "Inside Out", and he's credited with being one of the voice consultants for BB-8 in that recent "Star Wars" film, so congratulations, Mr. Hader, you're today's Star Wars-adjacent celebrity of the day!  Note: there is no cash endowment that comes with this title, nor is there a prize.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" (Movie #1,103)

THE PLOT:  Flint Lockwood now works at The Live Corp Company for his idol Chester V, but he's forced to leave his post when he learns that his most infamous machine is still operational and is churning out menacing food-animal hybrids.

AFTER: There's a handy re-cap at the start of this film, just in case you forget what happened in the first film, or, if you're like me and you managed to watch 1,221 films in-between.  Flint had invented his "Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator" (or FLDSMDFR, pronounced just it looks...) which turned water into food, but it ran out of control, there were cheeseburgers falling from the sky and a spaghetti tornado, and near the end the food even became sentient.  

The sequel puts Flint in touch with his scientific idol, Chester V, who comes to town to help with the clean-up, and also offers Flint a job in his think-tank, Live Corp, and a chance to become one of his Think-quanauts.  But Chester is really there to find the FLDSMDFR, which is still active and is now churning out living food beasts, which are all combinations of food products and animals.  

(I almost HATE to point out that all life is carbon-based, and there's just no way to turn water, which contains only hydrogen and oxygen, into something alive.  Plus there's the whole "creating sentience" thing, which technology just doesn't have the ability or the moral right to do, but hey, this is for the kids, so forget I said anything, I guess.  Let their imaginations run wild while they may.)  

I think my favorite thing about this film is the wordplay, I love portmanteau words, these are words that are sort of smushed together, sometimes based on a common syllable, to define a new thing - "Brunch" is probably the most famous one, what better word could describe the meal between breakfast and lunch?  But portmanteaus are really hot right now in the food scene, like the cronut (crossiant meets donut) or its new cousin, the macaronut.  Frappuccinos have been around for a while, and so has the turducken.  Right now I'm wondering when the "Burgerrito" is going to catch on, that's a hamburger and burger toppings, inside a burrito.  

So in this film we're shown the tacodile, the hip-potato-mus, and even shrimpanzees - any way to get the name of a food and an animal together, I think they found it.  I didn't even realize that the snakes were apple pie-thons, but I thought the flamangos, wildebeets and watermelophants were great ideas.  They could have spent the whole movie just naming foodimals and I would have been happy.  

(EDIT: There's a wiki that lists most of the foodimals created for the film, even if they're not named in the film, some are really genius.  Cantalope?  Cucumbird?  Grizzly Pear?  Those are really good.)

I thought there were a few that didn't really work, though, like the bananostrich (why did it make a noise like a dolphin?) and the subwhales (what's the wordplay based on?) and one of the most prominent of all was the cheespider, but that word doesn't sound much like "cheeseburger", so was that really the BEST they could do?  And sometimes they just weren't trying, like the leek wasn't mixed with anything, it was just there so they could have a cheap joke, "There's a leek in the boat!"

There are so many potential problems with showing this film to impressionable kids, though - it's bad enough that they get bombarded by the vegetarian lobby, forcing them to think about the fact that some of their food used to be cute animals, now they'll start to realize that even vegetables were once alive, and from what I understand, it's already hard getting kids to eat their vegetables.  But now they'll picture fruits and veggies with faces on them, and won't that make it harder for kids to eat healthy things?  

Also starring the voices of Anna Faris (last seen in "22 Jump Street"), James Caan (last seen in "A Bridge Too Far"), Will Forte (last seen in "Nebraska"), Andy Samberg (last seen in "The To Do List"), Benjamin Bratt (last heard in "Despicable Me 2"), Kristen Schaal (ditto), Neil Patrick Harris (last heard in "Batman: Under the Red Hood"), Terry Crews (last seen in "The Expendables 3"), with a cameo from Al Roker. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 Food Bars

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Inside Out

Year 8, Day 124 5/3/16 - Movie #2,324

BEFORE: Maybe I'm the last person to get around to seeing this film - it did win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, after all.  But I don't have kids, so there's my built-in excuse.  I got around to it, eventually, these things all end up on premium cable - and my response time is getting shorter, because they only started running this one a few weeks ago.  I got "Sisters" on PPV to go with it, so I wouldn't have to circle back to Amy Poehler again.  Amy Poehler AND Bobby Moynihan carry over from "Sisters".

THE PLOT:  After young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions - Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness - conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school.

AFTER: And because I don't have any kids, I have no idea what goes on in the mind of a 12-year old girl.  Makes sense, I had no idea when I was 12 myself, so why would I know now?  I've had some success relating to adult women, but girls are still a mystery - I probably can't talk to them in a way that won't get me in trouble with their parents or the law.  

But kudos to someone who wanted to explore this, to make some visual and character representation of what might take place in that mysterious minefield, and they boiled it down to five emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust  (apparently Lust, Detachment, Guilt, Regret and Bitchiness come along later).  I mean, I get it, those are five different emotions, and it enables them to tell the story, but it's a bit overly simplistic, right?  And the downside for my nephew was the collaterally-induced fear that there were five small people living in his brain, causing him to have different reactions to things.  

OK, so maybe kids need to be a little older to appreciate this, and not be freaked out by it.  As long as they understand that everything is a metaphor, and not meant to be taken literally, there's a lot of good stuff here.  Depicting an individual memory as a shiny globe that rolls down a pipe is a very clear, instantly recognizable symbol, and then associating with a color for each emotion.  They become sort of like icons for files on a hard-drive, or songs on a playlist, and then they fill up racks and racks in long-term storage, like books on a shelf.  Brilliant.  And then when a memory fades, so does its color and shininess, and eventually the dull, colorless memories are destined to be thrown off a cliff, into the Memory Dump. 

Just like last night's film, problems are set in motion when a parents' house gets sold, in "Sisters" it caused a lot of memories and emotions and a killer party, and here the same situation causes a lot of emotions and upheaval in a young girl's life.  It's a common enough situation, where a kid has to move to a new city and a new school - jeez, that's tough for adults, I can't even imagine what it's like for a kid.  

Further problems are caused when Joy and Sadness get sucked out of "Headquarters" and accidentally end up in long-term memory, which is even further away from the core than Riley's five "Islands" that represent the main aspects of her personality, like Family and Hockey.  It initially seems like they can return fairly easily to Headquarters from these islands, but as aspects of the girl's personality become threatened in the real world, those routes become impossible, and the longer Joy and Sadness are away from Headquarters, the longer it will be until Riley is capable of feeling those emotions - so she can only react to things with combinations of Fear, Anger and Disgust.  

There is some science to this all, and I'm assuming that what we know today about the way the human mind works is more accurate than, say, Freud's interpretations.   I liked the fact that by the end of the film, Riley was experiencing complicated emotions - because that's a fairly adult notion, that a memory can make you feel more than one thing.  When you're a little kid, you're more likely to have simple, one-note reactions to things.  

And a couple short peeks into the parents' heads confirms this, by the time they're adults, their emotions have learned better ways of working together, and they both have larger control panels, ones where all of the emotions can sit together, in the Mom head the scene sort of resembles an all-female talk show like "The View", and in the Dad head, his five emotions are watching sports together.  Sure, these are stereotypes, but what's a mild stereotype but a quick, easy way of conveying a complex plot point?  As adults these people have been through a lot of tough situations, they've learned to weather emotional storms, either by logical reasoning or by tuning things out.  

But this film is calling out for a sequel - as Riley becomes a teen, naturally one would expect more complicated reactions to things, plus there's the opportunity for her to experience first love, heartbreak, being treated as a young adult instead of a kid, the story possibilities are there, and even hinted at in the final scenes of this film.  And hey, if it takes 5 years to make a sequel, that's OK, because then any 10-year olds who enjoyed this film would be 15, and then you just age the main character similarly. 

(And if they do that, I would suggest throwing Freud into the mix and creating a "SuperEgo" character, who could dress like a superhero, representing the drive for perfection, and he/she could act all arrogant and perfect, and fight his/her arch-nemesis, Dr. Id, who just lives for immediate gratification.  Just a thought.)

NITPICK POINT: If Sadness can make an old memory into a sad one, why isn't the opposite also true?  Why couldn't Joy touch an old sad memory and make it happy?  Or why can't a memory associated with fear be turned into one of joy, like if Riley was afraid of a roller coaster while on the ride, but later learned to appreciate the thrill of it?  Or if she later saw someone throw up on a roller coaster, then her memories of roller coasters would all be tainted with Disgust.  Just a few simple examples. 

Also starring the voices of Phyllis Smith (last seen in "Bad Teacher"), Bill Hader (last seen in "They Came Together"), Lewis Black (last seen in "Man of the Year"), Mindy Kaling (last seen in "This Is the End"), Richard Kind (last seen in "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn"), Diane Lane (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Kyle MacLachlan, Kaitlyn Dias, Paula Pell (also last seen in "Sisters"), Paula Poundstone, with cameos from Frank Oz (last heard in "The Muppet Christmas Carol"), Dave Goelz (ditto), John Ratzenberger (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Carlos Alazraqui, Rashida Jones, Flea.  

RATING: 7 out of 10 mind manuals

Monday, May 2, 2016


Year 8, Day 123 5/2/16 - Movie #2,323

BEFORE: So we went out to dinner last Friday, to a diner that occasionally has these "Chef Specials", and I ordered the lasagna, and the menu said that it came with salad.  But since it was an entrée, the waitress asked me "soup or salad?" and I knew that I was supposed to get salad with the lasagna, but I was also a little surprised that she would ask me this question, because I thought the salad was a given, and didn't realize they were offering soup as an alternative.  I told the waitress that I wanted the salad, meaning the one that was scheduled to come with my dinner, but I'd also like to get the soup, too, figuring this was just an add-on for a couple of bucks.  So I got my soup, I got my salad, and then when the lasagna came, there was more salad on the plate.  

So, what happened was, the waitress misunderstood the menu, didn't realize salad came with the lasagna, then offered me an appetizer salad also (or choice of soup).  If she had realized this was going to lead to two salads, she may have offered me just the soup, for no extra charge.  And if I had realized she didn't know the menu, and that we were talking about two different salads, then I would definitely have gone with the soup and had one salad later with the lasagna.  My wife misunderstood my order also, and we argued a bit over it, but the bottom line is that I got two salads, and I seemed to be the only one who knew that the dish came with salad on the side, therefore I never should have been asked the question "soup or salad?" in the first place.  Because no one ever in the history of dining has eaten a salad and then said, "Hey, you know what I could go for right now?  Another salad!"  The whole notion of that is just plain ridiculous. 

When the waitress saw that I didn't eat any of the second salad - because, why would I? - she didn't charge us for the soup, which was the exact right thing to do.  If she hadn't mistakenly offered me an appetizer salad, and somehow got the idea it was OK to serve someone two salads, then the soup would have been part of the price for the meal.  Case closed.  

Both Tina Fey AND Amy Poehler carry over from "Man of the Year", where they played themselves.  (good gig!)

THE PLOT:  Two sisters decide to throw one last house party before their parents sell their family home.

AFTER:  My wife doesn't usually watch these movies with me, but I do occasionally tell her what I've watched, and she had an insight the other day when I described "Snowpiercer", and how it was a commentary on class struggle in the future.  She pointed out the similarity to "Elysium", despite having seen neither film, and she was spot-on.  In the same way, throwing a party is a quite common plotline for a film, and it makes this film feel very, very generic - essentially, it's just a female version of "Grown-Ups", which also starred many ex-SNL performers like Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and David Spade.  OK, so it's a trend, anything that's popular can be remade with women in place of men, and that's how "The Hangover" begat "Bridesmaids", and why we've got a "Ghostbusters" remake coming out with a female cast. 

This starts out OK as a character study, the fact that one sister is a responsible nurse who's divorced and the other is a single parent with no job or place to live, and a more lengthy sexual history.  The two come to terms with who they are by reading their high-school diaries, realizing that much of who we are as adults gets formed back then.  So besides being a plot device, the "last blast" party is a chance for the responsible sister to finally cut loose, and the irresponsible one to finally act like a grown-up.  I think it would have been nice if the story played out that way, but the plans go awry, the house gets trashed, and they find that you can't really change who you are, deep down.

It's worth noting that the house is SOLD when the party begins, so the house does not even belong to their parents at this point.  The sisters might be there to clean out their old bedrooms, but legally, they're trespassing.  OK, maybe the new owners haven't closed the deal, but the deal is in progress, to even think about throwing a party that could get out of hand is an extremely bad idea.   Either way, the IMDB tagline is wrong, it says they decide to throw a party BEFORE their parents sell the house, but it's not before, it's after. 

Maybe that's what makes the ending feel so tacked-on.  You can't make up for years of being irresponsible with just two weeks of hard work and home repairs.  That would be like counter-acting years of bad eating behavior with a couple of veggie burgers and a quick jog around the block.  But no, it seems like everything works out for the best in the end, every character ends up in a better place - and the problem with THAT is, it seems to justify throwing the party, which as I stated, they had zero right to do.   And therefore it justifies bad behavior, and not learning how to have fun in an adult way.  There are plenty of people past the age of 40 who are out there having fun, going out to dinner, going to the movies, playing sports - and most of them seem to be OK with the idea of outgrowing drinking games and party drugs.  It's too bad screenwriters can't think of anything else for them to aspire to.

I didn't even understand why their parties were called "Ellis Island" parties.  I racked my brain trying to find some connection between getting drunk and processing immigrants, with no success.  Was it because everyone was welcome at the party, just as everyone is welcomed to America?  No, that can't be right.  Were they throwing a party for the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free?  Nope.  Turns out their last name was Ellis, I just figured that out from the cast list on IMDB.  It might have been nice to mention their last name early in the film, so that joke would have made sense. 

Also starring Maya Rudolph (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Ike Barinholtz (last seen in "Neighbors"), James Brolin (last seen in "Catch Me If You Can"), Dianne Wiest (last seen in "The Big Year"), John Cena (last seen in "Trainwreck"), John Leguizamo (last seen in "The Counselor"), Bobby Moynihan (last seen in "Delivery Man"), Madison Davenport (last seen in "Noah"), Greta Lee, Rachel Dratch (last seen in "Down With Love"), Samantha Bee, Matt Oberg, Santino Fontana, Britt Lower, with cameos from Kate McKinnon, Jon Glaser, Chris Parnell (last heard in "Turbo"), Paula Pell, John Lutz, Heather Matarazzo (last seen in "54").

RATING: 4 out of 10 expensive, fragile clocks (gee, I hope nothing happens to them...)