The Secret Life of Pets 2

Posted on June 6, 2019 at 5:15 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Cat becomes intoxicated on catnip
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action/cartoon-style peril and violence including whip, gun, taser, and tranquilizer dart used on animals, fistfight played for humor
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 7, 2019

Copyright Illumination 2019
Well, what a nice surprise! “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is a vast improvement over the original, which had a promising beginning but ended up with a lackluster imitation of “Toy Story.” This sequel combines three different stories and adds some terrific new characters all in a zippy under 90 minutes. It is colorful, exciting, and a lot of fun.

Our hero is still Max (Patton Oswalt, taking over from Louis CK), a lovable mutt who does not like change but has made his peace with his new apartment-mate, Duke (Eric Stonestreet). But more change is ahead. Max’s owner (that is what he calls her) Katie (Ellie Kemper) meets Chuck (Pete Holmes) and soon there is another new resident in the apartment, a baby named Liam. Max, who thinks he does not like children, cannot resist the baby who clearly adores the two dogs. But the changes are very stressful, and when his anxiety about keeping Liam safe is so severe he has to be taken to the vet and finds himself in the Cone of Shame, to keep him from scratching all the time.

Katie and Chuck take Liam and the dogs to visit their family on a farm. Max asks Gidget (Jenny Slate) to watch his favorite toy, Busy Bee, while they are away. (Fans of “Best in Show” will remember Parker Posey’s frantic search for a dog toy called Busy Bee on the day of the dog show.) Gidget, whose unrequited crush on Max is the movie’s weakest plot point, agrees, but almost immediately manages to knock it out of the window, and it lands in the apartment of the cat lady to beat all cat ladies.

Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), a soft, fluffy white bunny whose little girl owner dresses him as a superhero, begins to believe he really is one, and when newcomer Daisy (a terrific Tiffany Haddish) asks him for help freeing a friend of hers who is being abused, he is happy to agree. The friend is Hu, a white Chinese tiger, and he is in a cage at a circus, guarded by wolves.

Max will get some guidance on dealing with his fears from a wise farm dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford!! At his Harrison Ford-iest, which is awesome!). Gidget will have to get cat lessons from the languid pudgeball Chloe (Lake Bell) on how to be a cat so she can go undercover to get Busy Bee back, in the movie’s best scenes. And Snowball and Daisy will have a lot of wild adventures along the way.

It all moves along with brisk good humor and some nice lessons about how to handle being scared and what we learn when doing what scares us gives us the chance to be surprised at what we can do. The design of the characters and settings is witty and engaging enough to invite repeat viewings. Parents may need to talk to their kids about some of the plot points — we don’t want anyone trying to let a tiger out of the cage, sometimes it makes sense to listen to your fears and not take risks, and kids should know there are laws protecting animals from the abuse Hu suffers. But this is a treat for the family that makes me hope number three is in the works.

Parents should know that this film includes comic/fantasy/action peril and violence including very dangerous stunts, a protracted fistfight, and a man who threatens animals with a whip and a gun, some potty humor and schoolyard language, and a cat becomes intoxicated on catnip.

Family discussion: What did Max learn from Rooster? Why did Rooster give him a bandana? Was there a time you pretended to be braver than you felt? Why did Max change his mind about Liam? Which pet in this film would you like to have?

If you like this, try: “Despicable Me” and “Rio”

There are a lot of cool extras on the DVD/Blu-Ray:

BONUS FEATURES ON 4K ULTRA HD, BLU-RAY™, DVD & DIGITAL
Mini Movies
Minion Scouts – When Margo, Agnes and Edith return from Badger Scout camp, three of the Minions are entranced by the girls’ merit badges. Their own attempt at scout camp results in attracting a bear, eating poison berries and eventually blowing up a dam, creating a massive flood. But, when they arrive back home, the girls share their badges, encouraging the rest of the Minions to try their hand at scouting.

*DVD format includes over 75 minutes of bonus content
Super Gidget – When Max is kidnapped by an army of squirrels, Super Gidget is the only one who can save him. It turns out that Max’s captor is a flea with the power of mind control. Gidget must use her pluckiness, strength and smarts to save her one true love…until it turns out it was all just a dream.
The Making of the Mini Movies – Every Illumination film is accompanied by mini movies that are a production all their own. Each film’s directing partners will explore how the mini movies were made.
Deleted Scenes
Wake Up – Max and Duke have a new morning routine with Liam.
Duke Explores the Farm – Duke has a funny interaction with a goat.
Snowball Karate – Snowball does his superhero warm up.
Secret Confessions – Dogs gather to talk about their deepest secrets
A Tapestry of a Tail: The Making Of – The plot of The Secret Life of Pets 2 involves multiple storylines ultimately coming together to create a larger than life tale. We talk with the filmmakers, editor and cast about the delicate dance of juggling multiple narratives in one movie.
How to Draw – Hosted by Head of Story, Eric Favela, follow the step-by-step tutorial to learn to draw Max, Snowball and Chloe
Frame by Frame: How to Make a Flip Book – In this DIY-style vignette, Head of Story Eric Favela will teach viewers about the essence of animation and how they can create their very own flip book animations at home.
Character Pods – Get a closer look at your favorite characters of The Secret Life of Pets 2 with these delightful character pods that might just give away a few more pet secrets.
Patton Oswalt – Max
Kevin Hart – Snowball
Eric Stonestreet – Duke
Jenny Slate – Gidget
Tiffany Haddish – Daisy
Lake Bell – Chloe
Nick Kroll – Sergei
Dana Carvey – Pops
Bobby Moynihan – Mel
Harrison Ford – Rooster
A Party Fit for a Pet – Using stop motion animation, this step-by-step guide teaches you everything you need to know to throw the very best party for your pet!
Pops’ Puppy Training School with Kevin Hart – Join Kevin Hart as he shows off his dog training skills.
Pets Yule Log – Sit back and relax in front of this exclusive The Secret Life of Pets 2 themed animated ‘Yule Log.’
Lyric Videos
‘Panda’ Lyric Video
‘It’s Gonna Be A Lovely Day (The Secret Life of Pets 2)’ Lyric Video

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I Do…Until I Don’t

Posted on August 31, 2017 at 5:27 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual material and language
Profanity: Very strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 1, 2017
Copyright 2017 Ways & Means

Hopes are high for Lake Bell after the delightful “In a World….,” which she wrote, directed, and starred in.  A terrific cast, a peek at the unfamiliar world of voice actors, and an endearing heroine made it an exceptionally promising debut.  Unfortunately, her sophomore effort retains only the superb casting and the affection for title ellipsis. “I Do…Until I Don’t” is more like an r-rated episode of the cheesy anthology series “Love American Style” than it is like “In a World.”

Bell clearly wants to explore the challenges of monogamy and marriage, a topic well worth exploring because most movies about romance end with the wedding, the “happily ever after” to be imagined.  Where “In a World…” benefitted from the sharp, vivid observations of a person who thoroughly understood a world that the audience had never seen before, in “I Do…Until I Don’t,” the barely-out-of-the-newlywed-stage Bell (she and her husband were married in 2013) is trying to explain marriage to an audience who have all literally lived in or with the experience of marriage as husbands, wives, children, and family members.  Her portrayal of three different couples is immediately apparent as superficial and unrealistic.

The entire premise is artificial.  Bell imagines a cynical documentarian named Vivian (Dolly Wells) who is determined to expose the essential impossibility of the idea of marriage.  Her theory is based on the tired theory that the idea of lifelong monogamy was developed in an era when the average lifespan was less than four decades and is therefore unrealistic when we are living twice as long.  Of course when the lifespan was three decades marriages were more likely to be based on alliances of property and money than romantic love, which might have played into the expectations of the participants, but that has nothing to do with Vivian’s premise.  And of course she has a villainous British accent just to remind us that she’s the bad guy.

Three couples become the focus of her film.  Two of them are so unpleasant it is impossible for us to care very much whether they prove Vivian wrong, except to keep them off the market so they can’t marry someone nicer.  All three of them are so thinly conceived that even the very able work of an outstanding cast cannot give them any depth or reality, even in a heightened comic setting.

Bell plays Alice, married to Noah (Ed Helms).  Their business is failing. So are their efforts to become parents.  Alice tells Noah Vivian will pay them a lot of money to be in her film. It is a lie. She has to find the money somewhere, so she agrees to provide “happy endings” at a massage parlor run by Bonnie (the terrific Chauntae Pink).

Harvey (Paul Reiser) and Cybill (Mary Steenburgen) are middle-aged and constantly snipe at each other, especially Cybill, who puts real effort into it while Harvey is mostly playing defense.

The third couple is not married and has an open relationship because why not.  They are Fanny (Amber Heard) and Zander (Wyatt Cenac), free-wheeling hippie stereotypes.  Alice thinks Noah is into Fanny for no particular reason other than her own insecurity over not being honest with him about pretty much anything.

These people are not interesting and their realizations are completely unfounded.  My advice: don’t.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and explicit language, explicit sexual references and situations, prostitution, drinking, and marital problems.

Family discussion: Why is it so important to Vivian to be right about marriage? Which couple changes the most?

If you like this, try: “In a World…” from the same writer/director/star

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Million Dollar Arm

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:00 pm

milliondollararm

The folks behind feel-good, based-on-a-true-sports-Cinderella-story, Disney movies “The Rookie” and “Miracle” are back with another.  This time it is the story of a real life Jerry Maguire sports agent named J.B. Bernstein (a terrific Jon Hamm) who has fallen on hard times, despite the optimistic name of his firm: 7 Figures Management.  Think of it as Jerry if Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character quit him, too.  He needs some athletes to sell to major league baseball and there isn’t anyone in the world who plays baseball who isn’t already represented.  He even has a line almost identical to Jerry’s famous “Help me help you.”

In one of those crazy ideas borne out of complete desperation (plus watching Susan Boyle wow the judges on “Britain’s Got Talent”), Bernstein figures that the only place left to look is India, which must be perfect because (1) no one there plays baseball, so no agents have signed anyone up, and (2) it is the second most populous country in the world, so the odds are that there must be someone there who can throw a fastball.  What do they play in India instead of baseball?  Among other sports, they play cricket, which J.B. describes, with all the cultural diplomacy we might expect from someone who has some important lessons to learn by the time we finish our popcorn, as looking like “the insane asylum opened up and all the inmates made up a game.”

He decides to go to India to look for what we like to call a long shot.  He will stage an “American Idol”-style competition with (per the title) a million dollar prize.  He gets the money for this from the wealthy Mr. Chang (Tzi Ma), who is not too worried about whether there really is a major league throwing arm in India because he figures that the competition will stir up interest in baseball for the first time in a brand new country with up to a billion new fans.  And that is money in the bank.

So J.B. goes off to India where, predictably, he runs into problems with exotic food and cultural and language barriers.  “Indians love honking and bypassing the system,” his affable new aide advises him.  Less predictably, he runs into not one but two young men who can throw fastballs hard, Rinku (Suraj Sharma, who had his own “Million Dollar Arm” moment in real life when he was selected from 3000 actors who auditioned to star in “The Life of Pi”) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal of “Slumdog Millionaire”).  He finds them with the help of an adorably cranky old scout played by Alan Arkin, as always, the best part of any movie he’s in.  Of course he’s the old guy showing everyone how it’s done playing the old guy who shows everyone how it’s done, so he’s got that going.  “Don’t wake me up until someone’s throwing a baseball,” he says, explaining he does not have to look at the contestants because he can hear pitching speed.  And he can.

Slight problem: they not only have never played baseball before; they have never seen a baseball game and have no idea how to play or what the rules are.  And it is difficult for them to learn because (1) their knowledge of English is only slightly better than their completely nonexistent knowledge of baseball, and (2) playing any sport at the professional level is very, very, very, very hard for people who have been working on it for decades and has to be impossible for anyone who has never played before.

But then, if they couldn’t do it, we wouldn’t be here, now, would we?

J.B. brings two young men back home to California.  The only thing he has paid attention to is the number on that radar gun that clocks the speed of the throws, which is an impressive number.  And maybe the number in his bank account, which is not a good number.  He has not noticed that these are very fine young men or that they have never been away from home before.  He learns very quickly that he cannot leave them in a hotel.

They move into his bachelor pad, marveling over the room for just one man but confused that they don’t see anywhere to pray.  They are befriended by his tenant, a beautiful and kind-hearted doctor (Lake Bell).

JB turns the young men over to college coach Tom House (Bill Paxton), who explains why you can’t turn a non-baseball player into a major league pitcher in a matter of months, in time for the try-out Mr. Chang has put together.  “It’s completely different motions, biometrics.”  They do not know what a baseball glove is.  But J.B. is good at one thing, persuasion.  “You certainly don’t need any help with your pitching,” House tells J.B. He agrees to try to teach them that “it is not about throwing hard, but throwing right.”  And they study a copy of Baseball for Dummies.

Writer Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “Win Win”) keeps things from getting too twee.  The film clearly respects Rinku and Dinesh and their country, though it skirts very close to Magical Negro territory and the fish-out-of-water cultural clashes stay on the surface.  The young men are not allowed to be much more than amiable innocents whose job is to give the soulless white guy an important opportunity to reconnect with his humanity (and, as a consequence, with the beautiful doctor as well).  This is J.B’s story and Hamm is a pleasure to watch, with full-on, big-time movie star magnetism, and his scenes with the lovely Bell (“In a World”) have a real warmth that makes the happy ending feel earned.

Parents should know that this movie includes some mild language and sexual references.  Characters have casual sex (off-screen).

Family discussion:  What were the most important things JB learned in India?  When he got home?

If you like this, try: “The Rookie” and “Miracle” from the same producers and also “Bend it Like Beckham”

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