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…

The Things You Find On Netflix: The Loft (dir by Erik Van Looy)


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The Loft‘s journey to Neftlix was a long one.

A remake of a Belgian film, The Loft was originally filmed in 2011 and was meant to come out in that year.  It was due to be released by Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Entertainment and Warner Bros.  However, when Silver had a falling out with Warner Bros and moved his operations over to Universal, he took The Loft with him.  And it turned out that Universal was in no hurry to distribute The Loft.  After sitting on the film for three years, Universal announced that they would release it in August of 2014 but, at the last minute, they changed their mind and instead released the horror film As Above, So Below in the spot that was originally set aside for The Loft.  Dark Castle then dropped the film, leaving The Loft in limbo until Open Road Pictures picked up the distribution rights and gave it a limited release in January of 2015.  The critics hated it, audiences were indifferent, and The Loft quickly vanished from theaters.  It’s now available on Netflix.

And, having watched the film, I can understand why the studios weren’t exactly enthused about it.  It’s not the type of film that works on the big screen.  The characters are too unlikable.  The plot is an unstable combination of silliness and melodrama.  The big twists are more likely to inspire groans than cheers.  It’s just not the type of film that you want to spend too much money on.

And yet, it’s the perfect film for Netflix.  What may seem over-the-top and annoying when viewed in a public theater becomes a lot more entertaining when viewed in the privacy on your own home.  The Loft is a film that works best if you don’t spend too much time thinking about how little sense it all makes.  It’s the perfect film to watch while you’re doing something else.

And if that sounds like faint praise, it’s not.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Loft without once mistaking it for being a “good” film.  Instead, it’s an over-the-top melodrama, with all that entails.  It’s ludicrous, it’s silly, and — when taken on its own terms — it’s also a lot of fun.

The film is about five friends and the loft to which they all have a key.  All five of the friends are married and all five of them have secrets.  Vincent (Karl Urban) is the unofficial leader of this group of friends, an architect who is also a compulsive cheater.  Luke (Wentworth Miller) is a nervous guy who appears to worship Vincent.  Marty (Eric Stonestreet) is an alcoholic who always manages to say the wrong thing.  Chris (James Marsden) is a psychiatrist who often seems to feel that he’s morally superior to his other friends.  And Phillip (Mattias Schoenarts) is Chris’s half-brother, a mentally unstable and violent guy who snorts cocaine and may have incestuous feelings towards his younger sister.

The five men use the loft to cheat on their wives.  The men are all confident that only they know about the existence of the loft and that they are the only ones who have a key.  So, naturally enough, they are all a little shocked when a woman turns up dead in the loft.  As the men gather in the loft, they debate who killed her and we get numerous flashbacks to how this all came to be.

Of course, it all leads to many secrets being revealed.  This is one of those films that simply cannot stop with one plot twist.  Instead, every twist leads to another twist until eventually, it becomes nearly impossible to keep up with who knows what.  In fact, the film features so many twists that it all quickly gets a bit silly.  But, at the same time, it’s also undeniably entertaining.  Strangely enough, the fact that it doesn’t make much sense only add to the film’s melodramatic charm.

As for the five men — well, none of them are particularly likable but at least they’re all interesting to watch.  Wentworth Miller is properly strange, Matthias Schoenarts is properly sleazy, and Eric Stonestreet is properly pathetic.  James Marsden often seems wasted in mainstream films (like Straw Dogs and The Butler) but he’s actually very charming when he appears in B-movies like this one and Walk of Shame.  And finally, you’ve got Karl Urban, doing great work and turning Vincent into the epitome of every middle-aged guy who has ever tried to flirt with me while I was waiting at a red light.

The Loft may not have got much respect when it was released into theaters but it’s entertaining enough for Netflix.

A Teasing Glimpse Into The Secret Life of Pets


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Pixar and Dreamworks had been the only two big boys in the CG-animated block, but in the last couple years we’ve had another studio make some inroads into that very block. It’s the studio that brought to the world Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2. It is also set to release Minions (itself a spin-off from the Despicable Me franchise).

Illumination Entertainment has released the first teaser trailer for their 2016 offering: The Secret Life of Pets.

From the look of the trailer we may be looking forward to a sort of Toy Story-type narrative but instead of toys coming to life and behaving like their owners it’s pets standing in.

The Secret Life of Pets is set for a July 8, 2016 release date.