The Secret Life of Pets

Quick gags and incredible visuals save this Secret and predictable Life of Pets we already knew about.

There’s a new foil for movies and it’s getting more and more prevalent, especially in holiday trailers. It happens when misinformation is conveyed about what a movie is about. This is a funny, cute, well-made animation film but it was advertised to be something that it’s not. Kids are likely to enjoy this more than adults, there’s no humor for grownups.

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The Secret Life of Pets
Cast

Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart

Directed by

Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud

Written by

Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch

Other Info

Animation, Comedy, Family
Rated PG
90 min

The Secret Life of Plants (1973) is a book by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. It was once part of pop culture consciousness. Among other things, the book and study indicated that plants grow better when they’re spoken to. I can’t help but suspect the sound of the title resonated well when they named this film. It was advertised of a year with a trailer that should pets doing things in their apartments: playing records, rocking out and head banging, and getting a massage from the electric mixer whisk. Those are only the initial scenes. After that they leave the apartment building and have a rip-roaring adventure on the streets of New York. This is no “mellow at home” peek at the secret life of Pets, which is unfortunate, I would have liked to have seen an understated funny film like that.

Katie is Max’s owner, he’s a little white dog. She leaves him in the apartment every day when she goes to work. Through a random sequence of events that don’t need detailing, Max is kidnapped. The dogs in his building, led by Gidget, a female white fluffy dog. The movie consists of finding and rescuing Max. I might add that the kidnappers are a rouge group of animals that have escaped from the animal shelter. The number of animal characters is overwhelming. Short little gags bring you back but most of the movie it’s hard to follow the motivation of any given character. It is a children’s film so I ignored that flaw. Still, movies like Toy Story showed how to have a lot of characters without losing the focus on the primary characters.

the-secret-life-of-pets-has-record-breaking-opening-at-the-box-officeThere are interesting voices here but honestly, they sort of fade into the collage of action happening in the movie. I usually am very curious to look up who the voices are, not so this time. It’s too busy to hear any soul or expression from the voice actors. There is a scene where Duke is pulling Max on a rope through the water and he says: “You’re not doing great but you’re not drowning and that’s something.” I think that summed up the film for me. It had the flash that would attract the kindergartners but won’t charm the older kids or the adults.

The best thing about this film is the small gag stuff, I wish it had a lot more. For example, when the pets are cleaning up after their party, one yells to the hamster atop the vacuum “Myron Vacuum!” Myron is riding the vacuum in a hilarious way. You have to see it to laugh I think. There are a handful of moments like that. They hold the attention of the viewer. The story is not very tender or endearing. There is never a reference to what time it is that would bring the suspense up remembering when the dog owners are coming home. It felt like they deviated from the original idea and added a Flushed Away type adventure that would be fine for another movie but not this one. This film aspires to be something original but ultimately, it’s like so many other animated films we’re seen come down the pike in recent decades. Because the writing was not endearing to the animals it portrayed and because I felt it was advertised incorrectly, it lost two stars with me. I recommend it for very young kids, say 11 and under.

Nine Lives

Nine Lives is a Disney-like film that reminded me a bit of Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Since I review movies quite a bit, I pay attention to the critics. Since they were not kind to this film, I let it leave theaters. My 9-year-old daughter asked me to watch it with her tonight and I was amazed at how funny and well-made it was. This is another reminder to not trust the critics.

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Cast

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Directed by

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Other Info

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The cat they got to play in this film is great. He’s very fluffy which makes you want to hug him. Unfortunately, I could never have a cat that hairy because it sheds and makes my nose itch. But this cat does great on the screen. I had feared there wouldn’t be enough cat stuff for my daughter after reading the premise of the film. I’m happy to say there is enough cat-on-screen time to satisfy the kids’ curiosity.

Christopher Walken is great in this, though he plays nearly the same role as he plays in Adam Sandler’s Click. There are a couple of scenes where he says things that are downright spooky. They aren’t spooky like a horror movie but rather like Goosebumps spooky. Jennifer Gardner is beautiful and does a great job as the wife and mom. Kevin Spacey is hilarious as a “Trump-like” business mogul who doesn’t spend enough time with his family.

After demonstrating to the audience he is an egomaniacal workaholic, Kevin Spacey’s character stops by a creepy cat store in a last-ditch effort to buy his daughter a cat for her birthday. The shop owner, Walken, puts a mystical spell on Spacey that later switches him into the cat’s body and vice versa. Through a course of events, the family and Spacey learn about themselves and it’s a hilarious ride as they go.

This is not a perfect film by any means. The jokes are all canned and it needs cat jokes and cat images often to keep it palatable. My 9-year-old laughed all the way through so that says a lot for its appeal to young kids. I thought it was cute and it gave me a chance to laugh with my daughter and enjoy some funny cat scenes. They indeed are the best part of the film. I recommend this one for parents to see with their 5-12 year olds as a light bonding movie where everyone can relax and have a laugh. I think the critics were way too hard on this one.

The Last Airbender

This is an exciting adventure film for all ages. It combines amazing visuals with a story about the quest of the Avatar. Though some may find the cartoon imitation more suited to teens and under, it has something for everyone: swashbuckling martial arts, a hero, creatures, a villain, and fireballs aplenty.

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The Last Airbender (2013)
Cast

Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone

Directed by

M.Night Shyamalan

Written by

M.Night Shyamalan

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Family
Rated PG
1h 43min

As I did for my last review, I watched a movie tonight in preparation for the podcast I’m doing with a new movie reviewing friend Darren Lucas. We’re set to discuss the movies of M. Night Shyalaman, this was another one I hadn’t seen yet.

It’s a story about a teen who has incredible “airbending” powers enabling him to defeat opponents almost effortlessly. I knew the basis of the character because my son watched this anime style cartoon when he was in elementary school.

It started out exciting. In some ways, I think M. Night tried too hard to make it look like the cartoon, it is live action. Nonetheless, it has a hateable villain that we are meant to somewhat have empathy for since he was burned by his father. It also has a pretty supporting actress. Her presence and acting reminded me of Hilary Swank in her old school Power Ranger character of the 1990’s.

There are some other great characters that do a good job supporting the Last Airbender in his struggle. Of course, there is almost credits-to-credits martial arts in a pseudo form. Throwing of fireballs is common.

I enjoyed the film, it was definitely an adventure. Another effect that some will find noteworthy is the cgi animal the Avatar rides. There are several creatures and they are done far more well than the creature in my last review of “After Earth.” M. Night definitely pulled together the right resources to make these effects work

My word to the wise: This is an amazing Action, Adventure, Family film. I usually don’t watch movies like this: anime, Naruto, the Avatar, etc. but I did love Speed Racer back in my younger breakfast-cereal-in-front-of-the-tv days. Still, I was glued to this one. What does it say about the work of M. Night Shyalaman? He can apply himself to multiple genres and create an entertaining film. After all, he has written screenplays for movies from the family film “Stuart Little” to the horror/suspense film “Devil.” For many other genres he has both written and directed the films. We see the child in him in “The Last Airbender.” It certainly brought out that childlike wonder in me. I recommend this one. It did lose a star with me because I would have liked to have seen it adapted more to the dramatic screen, relying less on trying to make it look like the carton.

Win Win

Win Win is about a man who learns that using people to get money is a lose lose.

“Win Win” was released in 2012. The film was directed by Thomas McCarthy (known for: 2012 and Meet the Parents). It is about a man who learns that using people to get money is a lose-lose. The acting is excellent and the script first rate. It’s about the choices we make regarding the people we let into our lives.

The story begins as a struggling lawyer, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), takes over guardianship of his client, Leo Poplar (Burt Young). At first it seems to make sense to make money off Leo. After all, Mike is almost broke and has a family to feed. It appears to be a “win” for Mike for a little while. Unfortunately though, the situation soon goes bad. Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), shows up one day looking for his grandpa. Kyle has run away from his mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) who is a drug addict and Kyle needs refuge from her.

Mike takes him into his own home and finds out that Kyle is a star wrestler. He has a chance to be a real champion, which Mike uses again for personal gain. Things go along pretty smoothly for a while until Kyle’s mother shows up with an attorney, Mike sternly realizes he will gain nothing through taking care of Leo and Kyle. He has to make a moral decision at that point which makes the title Win Win indeed an ironic one.

This is a heart warming story. The characters are real, like the ones on an ordinary suburban street. Are people more important than profits? That’s the basic question Win Win raises. There are slow moments but it’s an entertaining vignette of Mike and the choices he makes.

The Jungle Book (2016)

This is a trip through the jungles of India adults and children will never forget. Disney nailed it with this one.

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I liked the cartoon from 1959 and I figured this might be boring. I was happily wrong! This is one of the best family movies I’ve seen in a long time, probably since Disney’s all animated feature, “Meet the Robinsons.”

The Jungle Book is a 2016 American fantasy adventure film directed by Jon Favreau, written by Justin Marks and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s eponymous collective works and inspired by Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film of the same name,[[6] The Jungle Book is a live-action/CGI film that tells the story of Mowgli, an orphaned human boy who, guided by his animal guardians, sets out on a journey of self-discovery while evading the threatening Shere Khan. The film introduces Neel Sethi as Mowgli and also features the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito and Christopher Walken.

The best part of this film for me was of course the animals. Out of all those animals, I liked the wolves best. We have a longstanding tradition in the family of going around and everyone telling our favorite part. My daughters liked different animals from me so I imagine many animals appeal to many different viewers. The wolves were amazing.

Scarlett Johannsen is an incredible boa constrictor. In fact all the characters are voiced incredibly well. My wife and I had fun figuring out who the voices were. Some were easier to detect than others. They spared no expense in the casting.

The film was directed by Jon Favreau. When I discovered this I got excited for him the way you do when you hear a high school friend has done something. I loved him in “Swingers” and “Chef.” To me it’s a sign of a great artist that can act in films like that and also direct an amazing film like this under the Disney banner.

I recommend this one highly.

The Love Bug

There are formulas that work in movies. Walt Disney was always looking for the next hit. “The Love Bug” is a family film that carries its own weight off the race track!
Title: The Love Bug
Number of times I’ve seen it: Probably a dozen
Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy
MPAA Rating: G
Year: 1969
Director: George A. Romero
Top Billed Cast: Dean Jones, Michele Lee, David Tomlinson
Brief Synopsis: A washed up race car driver returns with the help of a supernatural VW.

I remember the warm feeling I had seeing this in the theater around 1977. It is a 1969 release that played over and over for years in theaters, always selling plentiful tickets. Who can resist when Herbie honks his horn and saves the scene. The actors are top notch as well. It’s no wonder there were so many sequels. “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” is another one I enjoyed in my youth. The cliche “They don’t make them like they used to” comes to mind. I had fun watching this most recently at age 46: the same age of the movie!

Mr. Peabody & Sherman – 4/5 stars

Anyone from Generation X (my generation I should add) is likely to remember Rocky and Bullwinkle on television where you’d hear Bullwinkle open by saying “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.” That was the show we watched when our homework was done or after soccer games on Saturday. In the deeper recesses of our pop cultural memory, you find the sub-show inside that was the original Mr. Peabody & Sherman. It was sarcastic yet subdued. Perhaps the time gave it an air of university, peace, and love. Rod Serling? Beatniks? I don’t relly know how to explain it. The era was indefinable. In the show, the ingenious Mr. Peabody has “a boy,” the inverse of a boy having a dog. Yes, Mr. Peabody is a dog but he’s also a history buff, a professor, and a time traveler. This dog got it goin’ on! Still, you never get the impression that Mr. Peabody “loves” Sherman as his son. Trust me, I watched a bunch of old episodes on Youtube this morning and you don’t. Then there’s the new film. A somewhat different animal.

The film Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) creates the duo well and we are given much adventure in the process. Unfortunately, for this viewer who came with high hopes, it fails to recreate the cult feel of the 1959 animated shorts. It’s sort of like that but set to Jimmy Neutron styled animation. They also make a huge deal out of Sherman being his “son.” This gets odd, even for me an adoptive father. I think they took that “new” slant on the time traveling story and made it the bedrock of the movie, It should never have been added. The feel of the old cartoons was enough to build without additions. Still, the animation is incredible. The kids of today will also get some historical references they may have not heard in their short lives. I took all three of my kids and they seemed to enjoy it beginning to end. For me as their dad, that says a lot about how I will rate a family movie. 4/5 Stars.

The Impossible

The Impossible is about the 2004 Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. Naomi Watts does a stellar job portraying the real life mother in a family that struggles to survive.

The Impossible is a film about the 2004 Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people and a family that fought to survive in its aftermath. Naomi Watts does a stellar job portraying the real life mother that struggles to survive and to reunite with her family.

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (known for Orphanage and a host of movies made in Spain). It stars Ewan Mcgregor and Naomi Watts who are widely known for many things. Both do an amazing job in this film portraying the mother and father of a family that goes through adventures that are often bordering macabre to attempt to survive.

The Impossible is a true story of a family separated by a natural disaster. When a middle-to-upper class family of 5 gets in the way of a Tsunami wave, they are separated and forced to find inner strength and survive. The disaster puts them in the company of hundreds of thousands of strangers with death at every turn. Still, they keep hope alive in the film and we see them fight for survival in many inspiring ways.

I didn’t think this movie would be very good after seeing the preview. It looked like another sappy “I love my kids so much I’ll kill for them” type of survival movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The movies’ portrayal of this family’s struggle to survive and “find each other” is so realistic and gritty. At the same time, it has some truly touching scenes of human love both within the family as well as with strangers it comes across. This movie seeks to show us we are stronger as humans than we think and it achieves that through portraying this incredible true story. For that reason, I gave it 5/5 stars.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

When this animated film was released, it appeared in the ads to be similar in its stop action and quirky appearance to some of its predecessors like: Wallace and Gromit, Flushed Away, and Chicken Run. It certainly piqued my interest with its mega marketing campaign.

I must have seen the trailer 100 times both in theaters and on the web. The Pirates! Band of Misfits was directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt who are the masterminds behind Aardman Animations which is known by some to be one of the most prestigious animation companies in the world. One thing that sets them apart in my view is that they produce stop animation where the camera must be stopped intermittently and the figures are moved millions of times to create the animation.The biggest voice actors are Hugh Grant as The Pirate Captain, Martin Freeman as The Pirate with a Scarf, Imelda Staunton as a ruthless Queen Victoria, David Tennant as Charles Darwin, Jeremy Piven as Black Bellamy, and Salma Hayek as Cutlass Liz. It is most definitely a quirky work with little inside (often hidden) jokes throughout. For example, when Peg Leg Hastings says “lock up your daughters” it’s a reference to a Slade song. But you wouldn’t get that if you were a kid right? I know mine didn’t get it. It’s too bad that much of the humor of The Pirates! Band of Misfits is lost on kids.

Original and quirky, but over kids’ heads is how I would describe this movie in a sentence. For that reason, I’d only recommend it for Aardman enthusiasts and not optimal entertainment for kids 13 and under. Mine were bored most the way through.

The story is about Pirate Captain who is seeking to be “Pirate of the Year.” Through a disjointed and often unexplained chain of events, he comes into contact with the historical figure Charles Darwin. Darwin is taken aback by Captain Pirate’s dodo bird and convinces him to come to London with the bird to present it at a science convention. From there, Queen Victoria gets involved who hates pirates and loves to eat endangered or exotic animals. Confused yet? Well, like most animated movies, there is a happy ending where everything gets wrapped up in a pretty bow. For me, the metaphorical beauty was the end credits. Watching my kids yawn, ages 13, 7, and 5, was far too contagious for I myself to fend off.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a visually stunning film. The filmmakers have my respect for their compelling stop action animation. Unfortunately the story is not engaging and lacks side-splitting humor like, for example, that of the slugs in Flushed Away. Still, lovers of the animation style will enjoy it. It’s not the best Aardman feature but it’s not a bomb either. I hope the next one considers the kids a little more because I will certainly want to see what Aardman does next.

Bambi

All Disney movies have moral messages in them. This, being one of the first, is no exception. It’s interesting to identify the subtle moral signposts in Bambi.

Bambi was released by Walt Disney Productions in 1942 as a full length animated movie. The supervising director was David Hand, known for Snow White. There were also 7 other directors of this early Disney film. The task of writing was shared by several as well. Among them was the supervising writer Perce Pearce, also known for Snow White. The voice talents, whose identities now are known on the internet and other sources, were uncredited in the movie. Bambi is 70 minutes long and was nominated for 3 Oscars.

It is the story of a baby deer who grows up alongside a cast of silly but speaking animal characters. The most memorable arguably is Thumper, a baby rabbit so-named for the way he stamps his feet. Bambi grows up learning from his friends and after a time, he loses his mother to a hunter’s bullet. This scene is done in a tasteful fashion so children will not be scared but it is meant to be sad. Bambi then meets his father and has to grow up without his mother. A series of events over time, including a horrendous forest fire and haunting thunderstorm, teach Bambi lessons of life and leave him with a measurable amount of maturity. His friends grow up with him and he finds love with Faline, a pretty young doe. The stages of life we experience with Bambi are delivered in a clear timeline that belies the dreamy style of the settings. It’s no wonder Bambi appealed to all ages and personality types at the ticket counter. Bambi clearly was made for a universal audience but it does hold some partisan and controversial messages. Around 70 years later, they hardly seem controversial but considering the time, they were.

Animation for the big screen was still in its infancy but Bambi help catapult it into a brave new world. It would signal an era where animated movies held moral messages. Watching Bambi now, it’s clear to see some moral and cultural trends of the times. It was a time of war and a time where men and women had clearly defined roles. It’s likely the Disney studio execs, especially Walt himself, had a hand in whether a scene or line made it in the final cut. Knowing that, I found a couple scenes surprising. For example, the hunting scenes. Birds and animals are being hunted and some are even shot in the movie. This was a movie aimed at kids. This may be indicative of the popularity of hunting at the time. The point of view of the camera demonstrates how inhumane the act of hunting is. This is an avant garde aspect of the film I think. During World War II, it was probably more popular to preach hunting than pacifism but this movie does. War might be considered a form of hunting. It was not a time like Vietnam where movies could open challenge war and the government. It had to be done subtly or a world that supported war and would not pay admission. All Disney movies have moral messages in them. This, being one of the first, is no exception. It’s interesting to identify the subtle moral signposts in Bambi.

Disney financed the movie himself and it was a hefty project to support. He believed in his vision and its legacy lives on today. It uses old methods of achieving cinematic effects with much success. For example, the thunderstorm sound effects are not actual storm sounds. They are mimicked evocatively with an orchestra and a choir. With regards to effects, less “technology” is more in Bambi. It is a movie I have purchased and I will take it out when I want to relive what the early magic of Disney.