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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New Releases for the Week of July 8, 2016


The Secret Life of PetsTHE SECRET LIFE OF PETS

(Universal/Illumination) Starring the voices of Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Albert Brooks, Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Eric Stonestreet. Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney

From the humans that brought you Despicable Me comes this charming animated feature about what goes on with the pets in a Manhattan apartment building while the owners are off at work and school. For Max, a terrier whose whole life revolves around his owner, things take a turn for the worse when she brings home a new dog who Max simply doesn’t get along with. When the two find themselves alone on the streets of the city, they must work together not just to get home by dinner time but to thwart the evil plans of a maniacal bunny to turn the pets of the world against their owners.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for action and some rude humor)

The Dog Lover

(ESX) James Remar, Allison Paige, Lea Thompson, Jayson Blair. A beautiful young girl who is committed to the cause of animal rights joins an organization that lobbies for better laws that protect animals and conducts animal rescues. She is given an assignment to infiltrate a suspected puppy mill, but falls for the charismatic owner and realizes that there are shades of grey in this game. Based on a true story.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, brief disturbing images and some language)

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

(20th Century Fox) Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Adam DeVine. Two brothers, hard partier frat boy types, are given an ultimatum by their family; to bring nice girls as dates to their sister’s upcoming wedding in Hawaii or be barred from attending. Not knowing any nice girls, they take to social media and daytime talk shows to find the right girls. Unfortunately the girls they find have an agenda of their own.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some graphic nudity)

Sultan

(Yash Raj) Marko Zaror, Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Randeep Hooda. Although shot in a documentary style, this is actually the story of a fictional wrestler who rose to be one of the most popular athletes in India. After falling from grace, he mounted a comeback as a coach and then, again as a wrestler defying all the odds as he has done his entire career.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Identity Thief


Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy see the critics approaching with torchs and pitchforks.

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy see the critics approaching with torchs and pitchforks.

(2013) Comedy (Universal) Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, Genesis Rodriguez, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Jon Favreau, Morris Chestnut, John Cho, Robert Patrick, Eric Stonestreet, Brett Baker, Ron Falcone, Matthew Burke, Angelyn Pass, Lori Beth Edgeman. Directed by Seth Gordon

Identity theft is a big problem in the digital age. When someone is able to get your personal information, they are literally able to steal your identity, getting into your bank accounts and credit cards, able to ruin your credit and sometimes your good name (by committing crimes under your “name”). They are very difficult to catch and often can go from one identity to the next, spreading chaos and destruction in their wake

Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman) is finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. He’s been working for the most despicable boss (Favreau) in history, but a group of fed-up employees have defected taking their clients with them, opening up a new well-financed company and his friend Daniel Casey (Cho) who is the president of the new company, has offered him a VP position there.

That couldn’t have come at a better time. Sandy’s wife Trish (Peet) is expecting their third child, they’ve been just able to keep their head above water financially and the increase in salary is just what they need to get back on their feet.

But then Sandy’s credit card is declined at a gas station which is puzzling; he only uses the card for gas and coffee and there should have been plenty of credit available. Then he’s pulled over and arrested for failing to appear at a court date in Winter Park, Florida.

The problem is that Sandy lives in Denver, Colorado and has never been to Florida. A mug shot from the Winter Park police is enough to clear up the matter but then the last straw is when the cops show up again at Sandy’s new job looking for evidence of drugs, once again because of a charge in Winter Park, Florida.

With Sandy’s job teetering on the brink, he knows that this identity thief must be stopped. However, the Denver cops can’t go chasing off to Florida and the Winter Park police aren’t really looking for the culprit. So Sandy heads down to pick up his tormentor himself. Turns out that the identity thief is a woman, whose name may or may not be Diana (McCarthy) – it’s hard to say because she uses so many different names but we’ll call her Diana just to make things relatively easy.

Of course Sandy finds her right away (take that, WPPD!) and at first she’s understandably reluctant to go – in fact she downright refuses. But when a couple of thugs (Rodriguez and Harris) break in with the intent to do some serious bodily harm (read as kill) to Diana and anybody unfortunate enough to be in her company at the time, she changes her attitude real fast.

However, the thugs aren’t the only ones on her tail as a grizzled skip tracer (Patrick) and the cops are on their tails. While Sandy and Diana are initially wary of each other, they’ll need to rely on each other to make it to Denver in one piece if at all.

Seth Gordon has directed some pretty good films up to now, including the wonderful documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and the terrific comedy Horrible Bosses. He’s actually been associated with a lot of decent movies up to now; unfortunately this one isn’t up to their standards.

Part of my issue with it is that it’s not very funny – it’s one of those comedies whose best moments can be found in the trailer. It’s also not the way I’d have gone with a topical subject like identity theft. It’s a road buddy movie that really could have used any sort of circumstance; unfortunately the writers tended to throw logic and reality out the window. So much of the character’s actions don’t make sense but serve as plot contrivances. There is some lazy writing going on here.

Bateman is one of my favorite comic actors working right now. He is such a likable guy that you root for him in every picture he’s in. Yeah, I know that his characters tend to be pretty similar but then that’s true of nearly every actor – few go bouncing around into disparate roles. Hollywood likes to keep its stars compartmentalized. Still, Bateman does what he does (the annoyed and put-upon nice guy) better than anyone. He’s more of a straight man.

McCarthy is taking a lead role for the first time in a feature film and she acquits herself pretty well. She’s a fearless comedienne, allowing herself to look like a cartoon character if it’s for the good of the project. She’s given a lot of physical humor to do and she does it pretty well (she’s hit by a car at one point and pops up like a bobblehead from hell) and she has a couple of dramatic scenes which she hits out of the park, to quote Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly.

I think that the slapstick is a miscalculation. Diana is portrayed as being street-smart more than clever and that’s a mistake as well. She’s so flamboyant and foolish that you can’t see her not getting caught in ten minutes flat. Her character would have benefitted from being a little bit smarter than those around her and you never get that sense.

Diana was originally written to be a male part but Bateman insisted on rewriting it for McCarthy which was a brilliant move on his part – she and he are the best things about the movie and their chemistry is undeniable. I’d love to see them work together with some better material to work with. This could easily have been a bad film but it’s just on this side of recommendable thanks to the talents and likability of its stars.

An aside to Rex Reed and those criticizing Ms. McCarthy because of her size; while there are a couple of jokes that refer to it and I’m sure she is well able to defend herself, taking shots at an actor for their looks is unprofessional and pathetic. They may be public figures but they’re people too.

REASONS TO GO: Bateman is always worth seeing. McCarthy is endearing in places.

REASONS TO STAY: A case of talented comic actors not given a whole lot to work with.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some pretty sexual humor, a big bad dose of bad language and obscene gestures as well as a bit of violence, mostly of the slapstick variety.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the road trip every car after the original rental had a crushed can of Red Bull on the dashboard.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/17/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 24% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100; the reviews are awfully putrid.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Midnight Run

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Side Effects

New Releases for the Week of February 8, 2013


Identity Thief

IDENTITY THIEF

(Universal) Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Genesis Rodriguez, Morris Chestnut, John Cho, Robert Patrick, Eric Stonestreet. Directed by Seth Gordon

A mild mannered account rep discovers that someone thousands of miles away has stolen his identity and is threatening to take everything away from him. When the police prove to be powerless, he decides to go after the culprit himself. However, she proves to be far more formidable than he could have imagined – a one woman tsunami of awfulness.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content and language)

Side Effects

(Open Road) Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones. When a psychiatrist prescribes a new anti-anxiety medicine for a woman, it has unexpected and terrifying consequences in her life, her marriage and gosh, everything. The latest thriller from director Stephen Soderbergh.

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Rating: R (for sexuality, nudity, violence and language)

Special 26

(Viacom 18) Akshay Kumar, Kajal Aggarwal, Jimmy Shergill, Manoj Bajpai. Based on an actual event that took place in the 1980s, a group of men posing as tax agents bilk politicians, businessmen and jewelry dealers out of money and jewel worth millions. Also known as Special Chabbis.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR