The Secret Life of Pets


Just one big happy family.

Just one big happy family.

(2016) Animated Feature (Universal/Illumination) Starring the voices of Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Renaud, Steve Coogan, Michael Beattie, Sandra Echeverria, Jaime Camel, Kiely Renaud, Jim Cummings, Laraine Newman, Tara Strong. Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney

 

We all lead busy lives. We spend most of our waking hours at work or school, hanging out with friends, being everywhere but at home. Those of us who own pets know that one of the best things about leaving the house is coming back home to our beloved fur babies (and scale babies and feather babies). Dogs, with their over-the-top “I thought I was never going to see you again” greetings, cats with their indifference – it doesn’t matter. We are always happy to see our pets. But have you ever wondered what your pets are up to while you’re out earning a living?

Wonder no more. The filmmakers behind the Despicable Me franchise have figured it out for you. Max (C.K.) is a pampered terrier living in a New York apartment with his sweet owner Katie (Kemper) to whom he is absolutely devoted as only a dog can be. Elsewhere in the apartment complex are a menagerie of pets – a fluffy Pomeranian named Gidget (Slate) who has a major crush on Max, the good-hearted but not-bright bulldog Mel (Moynihan), the punk poodle Buddy (Buress), Chloe (Bell), a cat with the kind of appetite that would put a competitive eater to shame and Norman (C. Renaud), a guinea pig lost in the air ducts for two weeks.

Max’s world is turned upside down though when Katie brings home Duke (Stonestreet), a shaggy bear of a dog who is a rescue pet. She introduces him as his new brother, but Max isn’t so sure. The ginormous Duke quickly takes over all of Max’s creature comforts from his plush doggie bed to his bowl of kibble. For his part, Duke sees Max as a rival for Katie’s affection who needs to be put in his place. The two begin to conspire against each other, which leads to the two of them after a somewhat unlikely series of events being stranded outside of the apartment.

Chased by animal control and a group of pets who had been abandoned or flushed out into the sewers, led by a manic bunny named Snowball (Hart) who has a thing against pampered pets, the two flee through the streets of Brooklyn, trying to find their way back home to Katie. Forced to work together, they develop a grudging respect for one another. However, Gidget isn’t letting Max down; she organizes the rest of the pets into a rescue team. Aided by Tiberius (Brooks), a hawk who is trying to keep his appetite under control, and Pops (Carvey), a partially paralyzed beagle who has “connections,” will they find their friends before one of the two groups chasing them do, or will Max and Duke make it home on their own? Or will everyone fail, leaving the two “brothers” at the mercy of animal control or the homicidal bunny?

I was a little bit disappointed by the movie. The animation is top notch and is definitely a love letter to New York, which is rendered with charming detail. It’s the idealized New York of Gershwin and dozens of sitcoms since, and it works as a believable environment for the characters. The cast of some of the best comedians working in the business today deliver their lines with snap and patter and there are plenty of moments that are laugh-out-loud funny for both parents and their kids.

The problems are however that you feel that you’re watching a bunch of other movies. There are a ton of references to other films, stylistically, subtly, sometimes in your face and through little Easter Eggs. It’s the kind of pop culture deluge that made some of the later Shrek films kind of a slog. While I liked the concept just fine, the execution was where it fell down. The middle third – which commences once Max and Duke leave the apartment – goes at a bit of a crawl. Yes, the animation is wonderful but I found it a bit of a bore to be brutally honest.

In a summer where it seems family movies are king, The Secret Life of Pets has been a blockbuster and a sequel has already been greenlit. I don’t know that I liked this as much as some of the other animated features I’ve seen this year – to be honest few of them have really been better than average – but there is enough to satisfy the target audience nicely and not be too difficult for a parent to sit through multiple times. I certainly have no difficulty imagining that this will be a regular request for kids once it hits the home video market. Still, I would have liked it to be a bit less pop culture-oriented and a bit more timeless, like some of the films it paid homage to. The Secret Life of Pets had all the ingredients it needed to be a classic and at the end of the day, it’s just a decent kid-flick. That’s not nearly good enough given what it could have been.

REASONS TO GO: There are some really funny sequences here. The animation is superb.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie drags quite a bit over the middle third. It’s a little too derivative for its own good.
FAMILY VALUES:  A little bit of rude humor and cartoon action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the first film to gross over $100 million in it’s opening weekend that isn’t a sequel or based on previously released material.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/7/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Toy Story
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Equals

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Hotel Transylvania 2


Drac is back.

Drac is back.

(2012) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Mel Brooks, Asher Blinkoff, Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Dana Carvey, Rob Riggle, Jonny Solomon, Chris Kattan, Jon Lovitz, Nick Swardson, Rose Abdoo. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

People and monsters may look different, but inside they really aren’t. The things that don’t conform are usually the things we fear; if we can’t keep everything in its proper compartment, the world becomes a much scarier place.

Dracula (Sandler) is in a happy place. His daughter Mavis (Gomez) is happily married to human Johnny (Samberg) and the two have had a baby named Dennis (Blinkoff). Proud grandpa is sure that the baby is going to be a monster but Mavis isn’t so sure that Dennis won’t turn out to be human and therefore be raised among humans. This terrifies Drac who doesn’t want Mavis to leave for the human world of Santa Cruz (where Johnny’s parents live) and lose both his daughter and grandson, so he concocts a plan to force Johnny to “get his fangs” which must happen before his fifth birthday.

So as Mavis is checking out California, Drac and his friends are trying to find ways to force little Dennis to find his inner monster before the dreaded fifth birthday. Drac is desperate as Mavis seems to lean more to going human – so desperate he’s even willing to enlist the help of his own father Vlad (Brooks) who doesn’t approve of human-monster intermarriages. And when all these monsters and humans get together, all hell is going to break loose.

Director Tartakovsky is proving himself to be one of the ablest directors of animation in the business currently. I can only imagine what he would do with the resources of a Pixar, but nonetheless he generates some of the best stuff out there. This really isn’t up to par with the best of his work but it’s still better than most of the animated features out there.

Sandler’s live action output in the last few years has been mostly lackluster but he seems more at home here. Many of his pals from his live action films are here, including James, Spade, Riggle and Samberg are here mainly reprising roles from the first film. Having Smigel in as a writer helps a lot; the plot is actually a little bit more sophisticated than the first film

The animation is pretty solid, although there is a bit of a cartoon-y feel to it which is just fine. The level of sophistication skews younger here but again, that’s five. There’s nothing here ostensibly offensive and parents won’t be bored watching this with their kiddies. Certainly the writing is better than most, as the movie explores themes of tolerance and acceptance and will give the kids something to think about – maybe their parents too.

Still, this isn’t anything that’s going to make the animated fan sit up and take notice. It’s pleasant and charming and of course anything with Mel Brooks in it is worth investigation, even if the comedy legend is barely in the movie at all. It’s a diversion for the older crowd and a video babysitter for the younger. I won’t recommend it highly but it’s still a recommendation.

WHY RENT THIS: Kids will undoubtedly love this.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not terribly memorable.
FAMILY VALUES: Some mildly scary images and rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jonathan’s parents are played by real-life married couple Offerman and Mullally.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Lots here as with most kid movies. There’s a music video from 5th Harmony as well as a look at the development of the drawings from sketch to finished product. The Blu-Ray edition also includes a karaoke track, instructions on how to throw a Hotel Transylvania-themed party, a how-to guide on drawing the various characters and a feature on how the sound effects were made.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $468.2M on a $80M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, M-Go
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mad Monster Party
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Jane Got a Gun

Jack and Jill


 

Jack and Jill

Dumb and Dumberer.

(2011) Comedy (Columbia) Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Al Pacino, Elodie Tougne, Rohan Chand, Eugenio Derbez, David Spade, Nick Swardson, Tim Meadows, Norm MacDonald, Allen Covert, Geoff Pierson, Valerie Mahaffey, Dana Carvey, Regis Philbin, Gary Valentine. Directed by Dennis Dugan

 

Have you ever had a houseguest who just drove you up a wall? Their habits were completely disgusting; they broadcast their opinions at volumes that would drown out a jet engine and before long even the  sight of them makes you want to scream. And why would you admit a houseguest like that? Because they’re family, that’s why.

Jack (Sandler) is a successful TV director who live in a beautiful home in Beverly Hills, a beautiful wife (Holmes) named Erin and two beautiful kids. He has a Mexican gardener (Derbez), courtyard seats at Laker games – everything you need for what qualifies for the perfect life in El Lay.

He also has two impossible tasks in front of him. The first is to satisfy a client – Dunkin Donuts to be exact but who’s keeping score – who want him to sign Al Pacino to be the celebrity spokesman for their new Dunkaccino product. Yeah, that’ll happen – but the most daunting task is to survive the annual Thanksgiving visit of his twin sister Jill (also Sandler) without shooting her in the face and dumping her body in a wood chipper.

That’s because Jill has all the tact of a rampaging rhinoceros on crystal meth. With her broad Bronx accent (which her brother has pretty much lost) and near-incomprehensible dumbness (she doesn’t know what the Internet is….seriously?) she may be the single most obnoxious and unlikable character in the movies in the last 20 years that I can think of. Maybe ever.

She wants some “twin time” so her Thanksgiving stay stretches into December, through Chanukah and beyond. Jack wants her gone by the time his family leaves for a much anticipated and much needed cruise. She has a list of things she wants to do, including  a Laker game where Jack runs into Al Pacino (playing himself). To the astonishment of everyone not named Al Pacino (including everyone in the audience) Pacino falls crazy head over heels for Jill which to me should have alone qualified him for an honorary Oscar, if not psychiatric evaluation.

Now Jack has the perfect “in” with Pacino but Jill, being the dim bulb she is, refuses to help a brother out. Now Jack stands to lose everything – including the sister who was one his Womb Mate (bwah haw haw haw haw). Maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

This is a real mess. The crux of the movie is Sandler playing two roles that are similar but with some compelling differences beyond the obvious one of gender. Whereas Jack is composed, literate and successful, Jill is shrill, oblivious and a bit of a failure. Yet they still have the same mannerisms and look a lot like Adam Sandler which is pretty unfortunate for Jill because she looks pretty mannish and is never really convincing as a woman – she lacks the innate grace of movement that women possess. She is literally the Man Who Came to Dinner…and then stayed..and stayed…and stayed.

In fact Sandler is so unlikable in both roles that he won Razzies for both – the first time an actor has taken awards for each gender in the history of the dubious honor that is the Golden Raspberry. Jack and Jill in fact took a total of ten of them including all of the “major” awards, marking it the worst film of 2011. I guess you can make a case for it, although personally I’d have put Hop and Melancholia both ahead of it.

What saves this movie for me is Pacino. He is the very definition of a good sport, lampooning himself somewhat as a hyper-sensitive, temperamental diva of an actor who has abysmal taste in women and sees something in Jill NOBODY else can see; not even her brother. Sometimes strangers see us more truly than our own family does.

It’s easy to kick a dead horse, and this movie has all the stench of a rotting equine cadaver. While there are some bright spots – besides Pacino, Holmes acquits herself well – the lack of a truly funny script sinks the movie beyond all redemption. The sad thing is, the makers of this movie have all made very funny film previous to this, so it’s obvious they know how. Unfortunately, this is all base stuff that has the humor level of two six year olds on a school playground screaming “PEE PEE! DOO DOO! CACA!” and laughing hysterically at each other as they do. If you still do that, by all means rent this. If you think Adam Sandler can do no wrong, rent this. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

WHY RENT THIS: Holmes at least maintains a shred of dignity. Kind of fun seeing all the SNL vets onscreen, plus all the celebrity cameos. Pacino is fun to watch.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Hideously unfunny. Sandler overacts shamelessly as Jill.

FAMILY VALUES:  The humor can be pretty crude; there’s also a little bit of violence for comic effect as well as some bad and/or suggestive language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Allen Covert plays Otto in the movie, the same role he had in Happy Gilmore.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on filming on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Allure of the Seas. There’s also a featurette on the various cameos that appear in the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $149.7M on a $79M production budget; the movie just about broke even.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mr. Deeds

FINAL RATING: A very generous 4/10

NEXT: Goats