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CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (Blu-ray combo)

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Cloudy2coverGrade:  B-
Entire family:  Yes
2013, 95 min., Color
Rated PG for mild rude humor
Sony Pictures Animation
Aspect ratio:  2.40:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes Blu-ray, DVD, UV DigitalHD copy
Bonus features: B+
Trailer

The book by Judi and Ron Barrett that inspired the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a folksy story that began, “We were all sitting around the big kitchen table,” and as Grandpa flipped pancakes while he was making breakfast, the narrator, her mother, and brother Henry started thinking what it would be like if food “dropped like rain from the sky.” It was the only cue Grandpa needed to tell a tall tale about a town named Chewandswallow that was normal in every respect except for the weather. There, it rained soup, it rained fried eggs, it rained mashed potatoes . . . you never knew what was going to come down. But it was all a tall tale, and a testimony to Grandpa’s storytelling powers.

For the 2009 movie, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller got rid of Grandpa and the family and turned his tall tale into a story about a boy genius named Flint who grows up to be the crackpot inventor of a machine that turns water into food. And the town is relocated to an island, where the only thing they’ve had to eat is sardines, so of course they welcome a change of menu. That film ended with the machine going out of control and Flint needing to stop it to save the world.

This 2013 sequel from Cody Cameron (Shrek) and Kris Pearn (Surf’s Up) is even more fantastic and farther removed from the original book.  Bill Hader returns as the voice of Flint, who in this film is relocated with the rest of the citizens of Swallow Falls to California, so Live Corp can clean up the mess on the island. The CEO, Chester, is a big inventor himself, and he invites Flint to work at Live Corp.

Eventually he gives Flint the task of finding his machine, which had survived, and destroying it once and for all. Rather than going alone, as ordered, Flint takes along his meteorologist girlfriend Sam (Anna Faris), her cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), their friend, Officer Devereaux (Terry Crews), a monkey named Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), and a goofball named Brent (Andy Samberg). And Flint’s father (James Caan) tags along. It’s a Land of the Lost adventure for them, because somehow the machine has been making food creatures like tacodiles and cheeseburger spiders.

Cloudy2screenThere’s more to it, of course, but the fantastic and (pun intended) hard-to-swallow plot isn’t the main selling point for a film like this. Rather, it’s the creatures themselves and the insanely colorful and frenetic world that the Sony Pictures Animation crew brings to life. Kids will be drawn to the striking visuals and constant action and emotion. But the mood and pacing will seem a little too frantic for some viewers, and parents and older children may wish for a little more logic.

My family didn’t think this sequel was as good as the first film, which made more sense and was easier to follow. But it might be more imaginative. To enjoy Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 you’ll need to relax and just enjoy the colors and creative visuals. The animation is eye-popping and the menagerie of food critters is truly inventive . . . but it only makes me wonder what Sony artists could do with as really meaty screenplay.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (DVD)

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CaptainPhillipscoverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  No
2013, 134 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and substance abuse
Columbia/Sony
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Trailer

Family Home Theater has the tagline “stuff your kids can see,” and to that end I review films that are rated PG-13 or under. Not all PG-13 films are candidates for family viewing, and Captain Phillips is borderline. I’d say that children have to be at LEAST 13 to watch this taut thriller about a small band of Somali pirates who, in 2009, became the first to hijack a U.S. ship in 200 years. The nature of the film will make it more appealing to teenage boys than to teenage girls.

For all but 10 minutes, Captain Phillips plays like a thriller in the tradition of such siege pictures as Air Force One and Panic Room. For all but 10 minutes, menace, not violence, creates a tension that holds you in its grip until the final outcome. But there are, in fact, a few brief bloody moments, and the fact that the film is based on a true story makes those moments seem more intense. So does an ending that changes the whole feel of the film and appears largely designed to give Tom Hanks an Oscar moment by pushing his emotional range.

After a slow and contrived opening sequence that shows Phillips with his wife before she drops him off at the airport, where he’ll fly to Oman to take command of the container freighter Maersk Alabama and guide it through pirate waters off the Somali coast, the narrative almost shapes itself once Phillips gets onboard. You may have heard that crew members objected to the film because, in their words, Phillips “wasn’t that brave,” but this is Hollywood and one expects a degree of exaggeration in order to craft a more effective and powerful film.   More