When things go very, very wrong in this movie, as they so often do, we get to see a series of television news broadcasts from around the world showing the destruction of various iconic monuments, as we so often do. And then something different happens. One of the newscasters points out that this particular un-natural disaster seems inexplicably and improbably primarily directed at national landmarks. So this is a movie with a sense of humor about itself and its audience.
As long as you don’t expect it to have much to do with the story or illustrations in the classic book by Judi and Ron Barrett, you can settle in for an entertaining and, yes, delicious family film. In the book, instead of rain and snow, food falls from the sky in the town of Chew and Swallow. In this movie, we get to see how that came to be.
It begins, as so many stories for children begin, with a kid who feels like an outsider. Flint Lockwood (as an adult the voice of Bill Hader of “Saturday Night Live”) is a curious kid who likes to invent things but does not always think things through. His spray-on shoes are so indescructable they never come off. His gadget to allow Steve the Monkey to speak works perfectly well; it’s just that Steve doesn’t say much worth hearing. His mom believes in him, but after she dies he just has his dad, all eyebrows and mustache (and voice of James Caan) thinks he should just give it up and come to work with him in his sardine shop.
Sardines are the sole product of Flint’s town, called Swallow Falls. But then, disaster happens. Everyone figures out that sardines are yucky. And so the town falls on hard times. Can one of Flint’s inventions save the day?
Well, not really. An invention to turn water into food goes awry when it is shot into the air and the next thing the town knows, what once was rain, snow, fog, and hail is now pancakes, sushi, BLTs, and jellybeans. The mayor (voice of B-movie star Bruce Campbell) sees this as a chance to revitalize the town’s economy through tourism. And as a chance to eat a lot of food and get very fat. The former mascot of the town’s previous sardine industry, the now-grown “Baby” Brent (voice of SNL’s Andy Samberg) sees this as a threat to his popularity. And a junior employee at the Weather Channel who wants to be a newscaster (Anna Feris as Sam Sparks) thinks she has to hide her brains and curiosity to get people to like her and sees this as her chance to show what she can do.
That is a lot to sort out, not to mention a fabulous mansion made of Jell-O and some action sequences involving space travel and a peanut allergy. But it is all handled well without getting frantic or losing its sense of fun. This is a fresh and clever film, with both wit and heart, a family delight, more fun than a hailstorm of jellybeans followed by pizza flurries.
What role has been the most fun for you so far?
The most fun I have had in a role, so far, is my character in The Spy Next Door, Ian. He is a nerdy kid who becomes cool with Bob’s (Jackie Chan) help.
Which has been the biggest challenge?
I would say the most challenging scene I have done was when my character on Dirty Sexy Money had to say good bye to his dad. Both Glenn Fitzgerald and I cried for hours.
Have you done any stunt work?
Yes! I got to do all my own stunts for Spy, including working with a harness and wires. That was really awesome! We had a great stunt coordinator (Bob Brown) who took lots of time to teach me.
What actors do you most admire?
I am very lucky in that area, I have been able to work with some pretty great actors, who I’ve learned a lot from. Who doesn’t admire Donald Sutherland, Peter Krause and of course, Jackie Chan?
What’s the best advice you ever got from a director?
To just be natural and to follow my instincts.
What’s on your iPod?
Believe it or not, I don’t have an Ipod.
Do you have a favorite movie?
If I have to pick one, it would be Transformers. It was a really great action movie.
My son teaches chess — what do you like about chess?
I’ve been playing chess since I was five. I like the strategy of thinking ahead several moves. I really like that I can challenge the adults I work with, and usually beat them!
If you could play any character from a book, who would you choose?
I would love to play “Dan” from the book series, 39 Clues. He is a collector of many things and goes on great adventures.
Would you ever like to produce or direct?
I would, It would be great to be able to have the opportunity to have a lot of input on a project.
What makes you laugh?
Irony, a good joke, word play, my dog
It is always a lot of fun to talk to WGN’s Nick Digilio and I especially enjoyed our discussion of the best and worst of 2009.
New Year’s resolutions tend to be about losing weight, quitting smoking, saving money, or getting more exercise. But some studies show that number 1 is spending more time with friends and family. I See Rude People: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society is a new book by syndicated columnist Amy Alkon with some good ideas on how to make the best of that time. It is not about what we usually think of as manners — who gives the bridal shower, whether asparagus may be eaten with the fingers in polite society — but about civility, the very small elements of every interaction throughout the day that cumulatively leave us feeling either connected, safe, appreciated, and generous or angry, hurt, frustrated, and isolated.
Alkon tells stories of bird-flipping motorists, internet bullies, clerks and tellers who recite bureaucratic oblivious cell phone talkers, parking hogs, and others who in a world both increasingly connected and increasingly fragmented has made it easier for us to depersonalize those around us as we connect to those those who are not here at the moment via cell phone, blackberry, texting, tweeting, and watching tiny little screens. She is very funny, but she makes clear the impact of all of these insults, large and small, to our notion of being part of a caring community.
And she takes us with her as she insists on better treatment. From everyone, including bank executives who will not help her find the impostors who pretended to be her so they could withdraw money from her account and the hit and run driver who banged into her car. And the guy who stole her pink rambler — let’s just say he got a lot more than he expected and not in a good way and it features a surprise guest appearance from an Oscar-winning actor. And then there’s the time she tracked down the guy behind the robocall and called him at his house during dinner. She also invoiced another caller for the use of her time.
Alkon does not let her commitment to courtesy prevent her from being very clear and forthright to those who do not treat her appropriately and about them on her blog as well. (Warning: she also has no hesitation in using very strong language.) As she piles up the litany of all-too-familiar abuses, it seems that there is a downward spiral insensitivity that leads to insularity that leads to a sense of entitlement. Read the comments on any blog — do you think some of those people would speak that way if they were in the same room with the person they are complaining about?
I was very amused to see Alkon including “Goofus and Gallant” cartoons I remember from Highlights magazine when I was a child, but they make her point very well — that we know the right way to behave and that if we don’t, common sense and common courtesy (neither of which are as common as they should be) will guide us. This is a worthy book — along the lines of the delightful Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss.
Note: It is never too early to talk to kids about good manners, especially because there are so many bad examples around them and in the media. There are some great books like What Do You Say, Dear? and What Do You Do, Dear? But the only real lessons they ever learn in manners are the ones they see demonstrated around them every day. Let them see you say “please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “excuse me,” write thank you notes, and treat others not just the way we would like to be treated but the way we would like others to treat our children.