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…

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.

It’s The 2014 Independent Spirit Nominations!


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The nominees for the 2014 Independent Spirit Awards were announced earlier today.  While the Spirit noms aren’t exactly the most accurate of Oscar precursors (and the rules of Indie Spirit Awards are pretty much specifically designed to honor the type of low-budget films that are often ignored by the Academy), more than a few of the Spirit nominees are usually remembered when the Oscar nominations are announced.

The winners will be announced, by Patton Oswalt, on March 1st.

Myself, I’m just happy to see Frances Ha and Upstream Color’s Shane Carruth nominated.

Best Feature:
“12 Years a Slave”
“All Is Lost”
“Frances Ha”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Nebraska”

Best Director:
Shane Carruth, “Upstream Color”
J.C. Chandor, “All is Lost”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Jeff Nichols, “Mud”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

Best Screenplay:
Woody Allen, “Blue Jasmine”
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight”
Nicole Holofcener, “Enough Said”
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, “The Spectacular Now”
John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”

Best Female Lead:
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”
Gaby Hoffman, “Crystal Fairy”
Brie Larson, “Short Term 12″
Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now”

Best Male Lead:
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

Best Supporting Female:
Melonie Diaz, “Fruitvale Station”
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Yolonda Ross, “Go for Sisters”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”

Best Supporting Male:
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Will Forte, “Nebraska”
James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Keith Stanfield, “Short Term 12”

Best First Feature:
“Blue Caprice”
“Concussion”
“Fruitvale Station”
“Una Noche”
“Wadjda”

Best First Screenplay:
“In a World,” Lake Bell
“Don Jon,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt
“Nebraska,” Bob Nelson
“Afternoon Delight,” Jill Soloway
“The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” Michael Starrbury

John Cassavetes Award:
“Computer Chess”
“Crystal Fairy”
“Museum Hours”
“Pit Stop”
“This Is Martin Bonner”

Best Cinematography:
Sean Bobbit, “12 Years a Slave”
Benoit Debie, “Spring Breakers”
Bruno Delbonnel, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Frank G. DeMarco, “All Is Lost”
Matthias Grunsky, “Computer Chess”

Best Editing:
Shane Carruth & David Lowery, “Upstream Color”
Jem Cohen & Marc Vives, “Museum Hours”
Jennifer Lame, “Frances Ha”
Cindy Lee, “Una Noche”
Nat Sanders, “Short Term 12”

Best Documentary:
“20 Feet From Stardom”
“After Tiller”
“Gideon’s Army”
“The Act of Killing”
“The Square”

Best International Film:
“A Touch of Sin”
“Blue Is the Warmest Color”
“Gloria”
“The Great Beauty”
“The Hunt”

Robert Altman Award (given to a film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast)
“Mud”

Piaget Producers Award:
Toby Halbrooks & James M. Johnston
Jacob Jaffke
Andrea Roa
Frederick Thornton

Someone to Watch Award:
“My Sister’s Quinceanera,” Aaron Douglas Johnston
“Newlyweeds,” Shake King
“The Foxy Merkins,” Madeline Olnek

Truer Than Fiction Award:
“A River Changes Course,” Kalvanee Mam
“Let the Fire Burn,” Jason Osder
“Manakamana,” Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez