The Secret Life of Pets is one of those movies that is probably critic-proof because the trailer is so darn cute and promising that kids (and many adults too) will be eager to see it, no matter what. Still, I would be remiss to give it a glowing endorsement when I was, in fact, disappointed. I loved the first 15 minutes and the last 10 minutes of this movie. But everything in between dragged for me as the tone of the movie turned rather dark. The premise is awesome — what kind of lives are our pets leading when we leave them home alone for hours at a time? They party! They get together for walks! They watch telenovellas! The characters (dogs, cats, bunnies, snakes, etc.) are all well-drawn, and well-voiced by the likes of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, and Albert Brooks. My issue is with the shift in tone from fun animal adventure to animated crime saga. The Secret Life of Pets is certainly way better than recent duds Ratchet and Clank, Norm of the North, and Angry Birds… but not nearly as good as Finding Dory and Zootopia. Oh well. I may not have loved The Secret Life of Pets, but I do predict the movie will boost attendance at theaters, animal shelters, pet stores, and dog parks! There’s also a cute short before The SLOP that features the Minions of Despicable Me fame.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is like a shallow(er) version of Wedding Crashers, with a twist. Adam Devine and Zac Efron play hard-partying brothers who must find dates for their sister’s destination wedding in Hawaii. And not just any dates – nice girls, the type who will make a good impression on the family. So of course, the brothers take their search online and get inundated with prospects. Tables get turned, however, when the guys are out-smarted by two party girls (played by Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) who transform themselves into dream dates to secure an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a raunchy formulaic R-rated comedy that serves as mindless summer entertainment that is instantly forgettable.
Life, Animated is an insightful documentary about Owen Susskind, a young man whose obsession with Disney movies provided him a unique context for communicating after he was diagnosed with regressive autism around the age of three. Owen would – and still does- relate the people around him, as well as life’s moments – big and small – to the characters and scenes found in Disney movies, from Peter Pan, to Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Little Mermaid, and more. The documentary is based on a book written by Owen’s father, journalist Ron Susskind, on the whole family’s role in adjusting to Owen’s autism, learning how best to communicate with him, and making sure that he has the tools and resources to live the most fulfilling and independent life possible. The documentary benefits from some sophisticated editing with hand-drawn animations featuring a story within a story that Owen created in which sidekicks are the heroes. The film feels a bit long and slow in parts, but it will definitely strike a chord with anyone who knows anyone whose lives have been touched by autism, or those wishing to learn more about the rather mysterious neuro-developmental disorder that can suddenly and profoundly impact a person’s communication and social interaction skills.
Zero Days is a documentary from one of the more prolific documentarians of our time, Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron, Steve Jobs, The Armstrong Lie, etc.) who is especially adept at shedding light on a variety of complex and complicated people and issues. This time around, he pulls back the curtain on some scary Cyber Warfare stuff going on in the U.S. and around the world. It’s not his best work, but it offers up some interesting food for thought. ‘Zero Days’ refers to the time at which a computer virus starts to attack. The film delves into various efforts to assess a threat, trace its origins, and figure out how to stop it (or worse, replicate it!). U.S. policy and secrecy plays into the plot, as does the notion of where the next battle lines are being drawn. The film drags in the middle as it relies on a bunch of fancy graphics to help demonstrate programming code and explain jargon that will surely fly over the heads of anyone who doesn’t drool over the latest issue of Wired magazine. And, it’s about 20 minutes too long. But it’s a good doc for computer buffs, political science wonks, and conspiracy theorists.
For more discussion and debate on the movies listed above, and other stuff too, tune in to Cinema Clash with Charlie and Hannah. New episodes of the podcast air weekly on radiostpete.com, about 5:10 p.m. on Saturday and 9:10 a.m. on Sunday.