Super Saturday: Megamind

Megamind (2010)

Dir: Tom McGrath

I saw this back in 2010 when it was released, but didn’t pay much attention to it. The reason? I had recently seen Despicable Me less than 2 months earlier, and expected this to be much of the same. I was totally wrong, and on seeing it again this week, I realise just how wrong I was!

Evacuated from his home planet as a baby, alien Megamind (Will Ferrell) unfortunately crash landed in a high-security prison, and rather than become a hero like fellow-alien refugee Metro Man (Brad Pitt), he is raised to become an evil genius and adversary. When he finally defeats the hero of Metro City (or Metrocity) after years of battles, he finds that the victory isn’t as sweet as he’d hoped, and so devises a way for hapless cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill), to become his new super-powered opponent. When this backfires, he discovers there may be a better way to handle things that may actually also get him the girl he likes, reporter Roxanne (Tina Fey).

I like the idea of taking the hero story from the side of the villain, it’s slightly different, and Megamind is a pretty good villain, not in terms of genius villainy but in terms of family fun. The story cleverly takes some tropes of the genre and has fun with them, bearing many similarities to the origins of Superman, even throwing in a really clever reference that one of Megamind’s disguises bears a strong resemblance to Marlon Brando.

One similarity with Despicable Me is that they both have minions. While Gru has many yellow cute ones, Megamind has just one, not cute, but brilliantly voiced by David Cross. I think he’s superb in Arrested Development, and in this his voice carries with it all the comedic qualities that his performances usually do. The same can be said for some of the other voice cast, Ferrell is consistently good, and Jonah Hill wasn’t quite as experienced as he is now but you really get the same sense of mischief as you do from him in things like the Jump Street movies.

Behind the film are a number of notable figures with strong reputations in both comedy and action. Ben Stiller serves as a producer, and I was surprised to see Guillermo Del Toro is credited as a consultant. With them and the rest of the voice cast it’s really a good combination for a film that’s a lot of fun and full of good animated action fight scenes.

Still, my one problem is that I’m not a fan of Dreamworks’ way of animating a lot of their humans, there’s something off-putting about Roxanne’s face, and I had the same issue with ‘Monster vs. Aliens’. They’re fine at designing characters when the leads are non-human, but the often angular and oddly proportioned human faces are hard to like. It may be that they are trying to make sure their style is distinct from Disney’s way of drawing faces, but surely there’s got to be another way that works, especially as it’s not the case with all of their films.

It’s one of the few animated ‘super films’ that I’ll be reviewing as part of my ‘Super Saturdays’, but a worthy addition to my list as it’s nicely different. Though not as loved as Despicable me as to garner a sequel (as yet), it’s a lively animated comedy that has a far wider appeal than I realised at first, and seems to have a great love for superheroes such as Superman, while playing with the genre.

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Chef

Chef (2014)

Dir: Jon Favreau

His ex-wife is Sophia Vergara… his girlfriend is Scarlett Johansson… I really need to learn to cook!

Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is stuck in a creative rut, cooking the same popular menu he has been for years, he longs to try some new recipes but his employer (Dustin Hoffman) is content with the current dishes. After the menu leaves a renowned food critic (Oliver Platt) unimpressed and his scathing review spreads online, Casper gets into a heated social media argument, and loses his job. His ex-wife (Sophia Vergara) suggests Carl just gets a food truck, and with a vehicle from her other ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr.), he sets off on a road trip around America cooking the food he loves with friend Martin (John Leguiziamo) and Carl’s tech-savvy and enthusiastic son Percy (Emjay Anthony).

The story is quite clearly somewhat allegorical, and it has been widely commented on how it mirrors Favreau’s film career, sometimes making the big blockbusters that are poorly received by critics but aimed simply at bringing in the money from audiences. Favreau has directed such excellent films such as Elf and Iron Man, but then also made others that were poorly received such as Cowboys and Aliens, and of course Iron Man 2. Interestingly, his film almost appears to be an Indie film, but as often goes with being a big name director, it’s stuffed (like a chicken… or a roasted pepper for veggies) full of huge and bankable stars.

As well as directing, Jon Favreau is leading this from the front as the main character, and I must say it thankfully feels like a piece of fitting casting rather than a vanity move. Key to the film working is his ability to portray the character well in both the personal side of the story and the professional aspects of being a top chef. To me, his chefing skills look incredibly authentic, it would undermine the film completely if they were lacking, but I completely believed in him as being a skilled chef. Plus the finished food all looks delicious, it’s like watching a feature-length Marks & Spencer food advert, often described as ‘food porn’.

I enjoyed how the film also comments on some of the pros and cons of social networking. Firstly it’s shown as the means of Casper’s fall from grace, opening his work up to widespread criticism and going viral, but then on the flip side  his son Percy makes clever use of many social networks and features to help promote the food van. Talking of Percy, Emjay Anthony who plays him is really excellent, much better than many child actors I’ve seen in some recent films. In fact, the whole cast really is very good, a nice mix of recognisable stars in varying sized parts but all feel well suited for their roles, especially Dustin Hoffman as a restaurateur who is mostly interested in profits, and Robert Downey Jr. whose character is so instantly memorable.

I must also mention that the film features some great music, as the film becomes a road trip and they tour the different states cooking as they go, the music changes with them, and this provides a lively soundtrack. It’s only a seemingly small aspect, but adds to the feel-good tone of the film and helps to really make it exactly that, a very enjoyable film, that if it wasn’t for the strong language, would probably be a great movie to enjoy as a whole family.

‘The Babadook’ is a film you shouldn’t watch alone, this is definitely one that you shouldn’t watch hungry! Filled with tasty food, tastier ladies, some well seasoned performances and an appetising story, it’s metaphorically as close to a well-balanced meal as you’re likely to get!

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