REVIEW: The Secret Life of Pets

11 07 2016

Universal Pictures’ Illumination Entertainment has been collecting plenty of money in the 2010s thanks to films like the “Despicable Me” series, but what is their identity? Prior to “The Secret Life of Pets,” the answer was unclear. Now, they might have found their answer.

Each prominent animation division has its strengths – Pixar’s is packaging adult themes into child-friendly tales; Disney Animation’s, charming with old-school fairy tale morality; DreamWorks’, creating parallel humor tracks for children and parents. Illumination feels well-positioned to capture a middle ground between all three, should they follow in the example of “The Secret Life of Pets.” And they definitely should.

The film feels like their “Toy Story” in many ways, and not just because the premise, story and characters feel so obviously indebted to Pixar’s debut feature. What that 1995 film did for toys in the chest, Illumination does for pets in the crate. Coming over twenty years later, their work might not feel nearly as ingenious, but it is still quite imaginative nonetheless.

Much like Woody was threatened by Andy bringing home Buzz, comfortable house dog Max (voice of Louis C.K.) feels endangered when his big-hearted owner rescues the lumbering stray Duke (voice of Eric Stonestreet) from the pound. Rather than finding a way to coexist, the two wind up lost and endangered. Only for these conflict-riddled canines, the environment they must navigate is not a nondescript suburban neighborhood. It’s the sprawling metropolis of New York City.

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REVIEW: Sisters

16 12 2015

The pure bliss of simply seeing Tina Fey and Amy Poehler reunited on screen for something other than an awards ceremony makes “Sisters” worth the price of admission. These two comediennes feed off each other in a way that no other pair can match, and there is never a dull moment since their live wire energy can always produce sparks.

Whether the material they work with is as good as they are, however, is another matter. “Sisters” piles on the raunch and the craziness, which is slightly out of their usual wheelhouse of safe for network TV antics. Paula Pell’s script is a hard R, and those laughs come somewhat at the expense of genuine characters.

The duo’s last big screen outing, 2008’s “Baby Mama,” found that sweet spot of believable exaggeration for both women, stretching responsibility and irresponsibility to rational extremes. “Sisters” casts Poehler as the good egg of the siblings, the youngest child who strove to overachieve out of genuine compassion for others, and it’s almost like getting to watch her play Leslie Knope again.

Fey, on the other hand, throws everyone for a loop by playing the callous, selfish older sister. It proves surprising, even jarring, to watch scenes where she is not the smartest person in the room. Heck, sometimes it even seems like it throws her for a loop. Tossing out insults and profanities – rather than receiving such barbs from the “30 Rock” cast – is something she gradually grows into over the course of “Sisters.”

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