Film Review: The Secret Life of Pets (dir by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney)


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If you own a pet, then you know the experience of wondering what they do all day while your away from the house.  My sister Erin and I own a black cat named Doc.  When I leave the house in the morning, he’s usually sleeping on the couch.  When I come back home 8 hours later, he’s usually still there.

“Doc,” I’ll say, “didn’t you do anything while I was gone!?”

“Meh,” Doc will reply, before getting up, stretching, and then hopping off the couch.  He’ll then lead me into the kitchen and demand that I feed him.  Once he’s been fed, he’ll hop back up on the couch, curl up, and wait for Erin to come home.

Now, personally, I think that’s all an act.  There’s no way that any living creature could spend 8 hours doing nothing.  My theory is that Doc spends the day patrolling the house, taunting the dogs next door, and watching old movies on TCM.  But, until I learn to speak his language (because he has shown next to no interest in learning how to speak English), I will never be able to talk about classic Hollywood filmmaking with him.  And that’s a tragedy.

The new animated film, The Secret Life of Pets, shows us what pets do when their owners aren’t around.  (Or, at the very least, it shows what a small group of animals in Manhattan do.)  Some pets party.  Some hunt. A lost guinea pig named Norman (voiced by the film’s director,Chris Renaud) wanders through the heating ducts and tries to find his way home.  Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), a Tabby cat, lays about her apartment and talks about how apathetic she is.

Meanwhile, a terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) spends all of his time eagerly waiting for his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), to come home.  Max is very proud of the fact that he and Katie are best friends.  His life revolves around her, so you can imagine his surprise when Katie comes home with a new dog.  Duke (Eric Stonestreet) is a gigantic and shaggy mongrel.  Even though Katie says that Duke is now a part of the family, Max takes an immediate dislike to him.  When Duke’s attempts to be friendly are ignored, he responds by turning into a bully.

(In Duke’s defense, he has just gotten out of the pound.  Before he was captured, he was owned by a kindly old man but, one day, Duke got out of the house and got lost.  When you consider what Duke has suffered, you can’t help but feel that he has the right to be a little bit grouchy.)

After Max and Duke both get lost while being taken for a walk, Max decides to help Duke get back to his old home.  Meanwhile, under the leadership of Gidget (Jenny Slate), a Pomeranian who has a crush on Max, all of the other pets try to track down their friend and help him return home before he’s captured by animal control.

And, then there’s the revolutionaries.  Living in the sewers, a group of former pets are plotting to overthrow their former owners.  They are being led by a bunny named Snowball, who is not only a sociopath but also sounds exactly like Kevin Hart.

Anyway, The Secret Life of Pets is a cute film.  It never quite escapes the shadow of Toy Story 3 (which it frequently resembles) but it’s genuinely sweet and Louis C.K. does such a good job voicing Max that even a cat person like me couldn’t help but fall in love with that neurotic little dog.  There are a few jokes that don’t quite work (To cite just one example, the film introduces a hawk voiced by Albert Brooks and then fails to really do anything with the character) but you really can’t go wrong with talking animals.  The Secret Life of Pets is a cute little crowd pleaser.  It might not make you think in the way that a great Pixar film can make you think but it will definitely make you laugh and leave you feeling good.

It might make you cry, too!  There’s a montage of various owners coming home and being greeted by their pets and it caused my mismatched eyes to tear up because it was just so sweet!

I think I’m going to go give Doc a hug now…

Back to School #73: 21 Jump Street (dir by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)


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Though the TV series that its based is a bit before my time, the 2012 comedy 21 Jump Street is a personal favorite of mine.  The film tells the story of how nerdy Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular but none-too-intelligent jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) first met in high school, went to the police academy together, both turned out to really bad cops together, and then returned to high school together.

Why did they return to high school?  Because they’re both working undercover now!  As part of a recently revived program from the 80s (and that would apparently be the original television series), young cops are being sent undercover into high school.  As all the other cops involved with the program appear to be super cops, Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) has every reason to believe that Schmidt and Jenko will be able to discover who is responsible for dealing a dangerous new synthetic drug known as HFS.

One of the things that makes 21 Jump Street work is that, at no point, does the film pretend that either Channing Tatum or Jonah Hill could still pass for a high school student.  One of the film’s best moments comes when a drug dealing environmentalist/student named Eric Molson (Dave Franco, brother of my beloved James) tells Jenko that he suspects that Jenko may be a cop.  “Why?” Jenko asks.  “You’re taste in music. The fact that you look like a fucking forty-year old man,” Eric replies.

Not surprisingly, Jenko and Schmidt prove themselves to be fairly clueless about how high school has changed.  One thing that I’ve always found interesting about high school films is that often times, regardless of when a particularly film might be set, it still feels like it’s taking place ten to twenty years in the past.  That’s largely because most high school films are made by directors who are trying to relive their youth and, as a result, they end up making a film about a high school in 2014 where all of the students look and act as if they’re living in the 90s.  The truth of the matter is that things change pretty quickly.

That’s one reason why I haven’t set foot back in my high school since I graduated.  As much fun as I did have in high school and even though I’ve been told that I can still pass for high school age (and I still constantly get asked for ID), the fact of the matter is that it’s no longer 2004.

When Jenko and Schmidt return to high school, they do so expecting to have to return to their previous teenager personas.  That’s good news for Jenko and not so good news for Schmidt.  However, once they arrive (and after their class schedules accidentally get switched), they discover that high school has changed.  Jocks like Jenko no longer rule the school and Schmidt is now one of the popular kids…

Before I saw 21 Jump Street, I knew that Jonah Hill was funny.  But the film’s big surprise was that Channing Tatum is just as funny.  Throughout the film, Tatum shows a willingness to poke fun at his own image and proves that he can deliver an absurd one-liner as masterfully as just about anyone else working today.  There’s a lot of reasons why 21 Jump Street is a funny film.  It’s full of funny lines and the movie features a lot of very sharp satire of both the action and the teen genres.  But the true pleasure of the film comes from the comedic chemistry between Tatum and Hill.

It’s just a lot of fun to watch.

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What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Bridesmaids (dir. by Paul Feig)


Last night, I watched, via Uverse OnDemand,  one of my favorite movies of 2011 — Bridesmaids.

Why Was I Watching It?

Why!?  Because it’s just like one of my favorite movies of all time!  Seriously, I love Bridesmaids.

What’s It About?

To put it simply, this is a movie about a bunch of bridesmaids but really, it’s so much more.  Annie (Kristen Wiig) is struggling to get over the loss of her bakery and trying to find some sort of happiness in a purely sexual relationship with married Ted (Jon Hamm, at his sleaziest) when her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces that she’s getting married.  She asks Annie to be her maid-of-honor but Annie quickly finds herself locked in competition with Lillian’s other friend, the rich and snobby Helen (Rose Byrne) as well as in a tentative romance with Nathan (Chris O’Dowd, who is so cute and adorable here), who is a traffic cop but he’s also Irish so he can be forgiven.

What Worked?

Okay, so when Bridesmaids came out this summer it was advertised as being a “gross out comedy” for girls but it’s so much more.  I mean, I’m not a huge fan of gross out comedy, like not at all.  But I love this movie.  The film is full of great (but honest) dialogue and features some of the best ensembles of the year.  Along with Byrne and Wiig, the bridesmaids include Wendy McClendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, and Melissa McCarthy and they all get a chance to shine.  Especially McCarthy, who plays the sister of the groom and who gets to deliver all of the crude, laugh-out-loud lines along with getting a great, semi-dramatic scene towards the end.

This is a very funny movie but, ultimately, it’s funny because its true.  As Annie, Kristen Wiig is very funny and likable but ultimately, she’s a single woman struggling to maintain both her independence and her own sense of self-worth in a world that seems to exist just to judge, a struggle that leads her to live a little too vicariously through her best friend and try to justify being the lesser half in a degrading relationship.  And you know what?  We’ve all been there.  I know I have.  And, when you find yourself in that type of prison, sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from going crazy.

There are so many laugh-out-loud moments in this film that I don’t even know where to begin in picking out my favorites.  However, a few obvious highlights: the ill-fated trip to try on bridesmaid dresses and the equally ill-fated flight to Vegas.  I also have to give major kudos to the film’s opening, which is one of the few sex scenes ever to be found in a comedy that’s actually filmed from the woman’s point of view.

Finally, the film features Jill Clayburgh’s final film performance and she is hilarious.  Thank you, Bridemaids, for coming out after Love and Other Drugs.

What Doesn’t Work?

Any time you have a comedy like this, there will occasionally be a one-liner that falls flat or a joke that doesn’t quite work and Bridesmaids has one or two of these.  But the entire film is so likable that the jokes that don’t work are quickly forgotten.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments:

Oh my God, so many!  And it would probably be TMI for me to go into every single one of them but I will say that I’ve been a bridesmaid like five times and I was my sister Megan’s maid of honor though that was mostly because I cried until she agreed to give me the job.  And I actually really enjoyed it every time, mostly because it meant I got to be up at the front of the church instead of stuck sitting all anonymous-like in the back and I could stand up there and be all like, “See, I even make this dress look good.”

The second time I was a bridesmaid, I kinda got everyone mad at me because I made this gagging motion when they were lighting the unity candle but seriously, I just think unity candles are all silly and Vermont-like.  Plus, the marriage eventually ended in divorce like a year later so let’s hear it for me for being honest.

Lessons Learned:

Laughter is the best medicine.  Always.