The Secret Life of Pets Review

Genre: Animated adventure/comedy
Year: 2016
Rating: PG
Runtime: 87 minutes
Main Cast: Louis C.K.
Eric Stonestreet
Kevin Hart
Jenny Slate
Production Company: Illumination Entertainment
Written by: Brian Lynch
Cinco Paul
Ken Daurio
Directed by: Chris Renaud
Yarrow Cheney

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Written by Nelson Cumming

If there’s a time the makers of Minions should be appealing to kids, now would be that time. The Secret Lives of Pets is a movie that achieves the sole purpose of keeping the kids occupied for two hours while the adults smile because the kids are happy. I think The Secret live of Pets is fine. Just fine.

The story follows a dog called Max (Louis CK) who loves his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) until she gets a new dog called Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Through a complex series of events, they get lost in New York City. Both Max and Duke try to find their way home and the neighboring animals including Gidgit (Jeny Slate) who’s Max’s love interest.

A tired premise.

Does the premise sound too familiar? A tad formulaic? Well, the movie is just that at its core. However, it is covered with surgery, surgery sweetness that makes the pill easier to swallow.

This movie almost exactly reminds me of watching Angry Birds. They both have vibrant and colorful animation and the story flows in a nice linear fashion. Both movies also have likable characters but both movies lack something animation itself cannot fix: substance and meaning. What both have in common is they both were entertaining enough to watch that made me feel ok by the end.

Comedically speaking, The Secret Lives of Pets has nothing that you can take away from unless you have never owned a dog. There are so many dog gags that it gets too repetitive. From Max instinctually surrendering by rolling on his back to dogs chewing shoes and finally to dogs getting distracted by a ball. This is the level of humor that permeates this movie. While that is not bad, it doesn’t offer anything new to the doggy bowl.

The movie borrows from many animal movies over the decades through its premise of animals going through the low life of the streets while comically bumbling their way through to reach their ultimate goal. Unfortunately, The Secret Lives of Pets does not add anything new in that department either.

The animation and cinematography are top notch.

What is so good about The Secret Lives of Pets is the colorful, vibrant animation and the sweeping cinematography that gives the movie it’s positive energy. There are landscape shots of New York city that are both beautiful and overwhelming. There are also shots where the movie sweeps up, down and around New York like we are looking through the eyes of a swooping bird that was pleasing to the eyes.

The overall sound is good to listen to.

Illumination Entertainment has hired the right people to do the voice overs for their roles. Kevin Hart sounds great playing Snowball the bunny. I thought Jenny Slate had the perfect voice to accompany Gidget the little white dog. Slate also voiced the antagonistic mayor in Zootopia, though she is much more fitting for the role here. The sound of all the voice acting was unusually crystal clear which is good.

The Secret Life of Pets also has a musical selection that fits with the movie’s tone. Bright, happy and adventurous are the words to describe not only the music or the movie but the elements that Illumination constantly strive for in their filmmaking. They succeed at hitting those goals but they can only get you so far.

The Verdict

There is nothing wrong with The Secret Lives of Pets, it’s just now with the standards of quality filmmaking and storytelling that people are used to in animation the movie feels like a “less than” movie. The movie is good for the weekend but Illumination Entertainment is sticking to their comfort zones, which you cannot do for long before the animation world passes by. Maybe Sing will make me change my mind for the company later this year. I hope it does. ***

P.S. Shoutout to Dana Carvey who is the Pops in the movie. He is finally recovering from the movie The Master of Disaster and Jack and Crack. He spent years away from the limelight to focus on his family. It’s about time he made a successful comeback 🙂

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, The Touring Years Review

Genre: Documentary/Musical
Year: 2016
Runtime: 97 minutes
Starring: The Beatles
Production companies: Apple Corps Ltd.
Imagine Entertainment
White Horse Pictures
Written by: Mark Monroe
Directed by: Ron Howard

 

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Written by Nelson Cumming

I am a Beatle fanatic. When I was fifteen I didn’t have a job so what I did was I saved pocket money from my parents to purchase physical copies of the album and the presents I got from my birthdays were either Beatles t-shirts or picture books. I also watched “The Beatles Anthology” documentary online until I used all my parent’s Internet data and made the internet run at a very slow speed for nearly a month. That was how much a fanatic I was.

So you can imagine that I was excited to hear that there was a new Beatles movie that was sponsored by the surviving members of The Beatles and had all their original songs. The Beatles: The Touring Years aims for a blast-from-the-past experience that gives the interviewees to recall the experience while the audience tries to relive it. It succeeds on that level.

The Beatles: The Touring Years is a title that explains the premise. It is a documentary about the Beatles from their first years in Hamburg Germany to the final performance of their touring career at Candlestick Park in America in 1966.

Like The Beatles themselves: The movie is fun!

I believe that this was put well together as a whole in terms of making a movie fun and informative. There are accounts from famous people who watched The Beatles perform that was unexpected and insightful. It’s one of those documentaries where you are excited about people’s experiences because you have either had or want to have an experience meeting the fab four.

Even as a Beatle’s fan, there was a couple of small, trivial facts that I didn’t know which I found interesting. I, for instance, didn’t know that The Beatles were one of the first bands that were so popular with people that event organizers had to use stadiums instead of concert halls to fit as many people as possible. It’s something that is a given today.

There was also other insider knowledge that I didn’t know about like Brian Epstein and also how historical events that were impacting the band at the time. If Beatles fanatic like me didn’t know everything, there is something for every Beatle fan to gain knowledge from in this movie.

Too good to be true? Well…

Because this film is designed to cast a shining light on the band at the time, there comes the one flaw of the documentary. At times it feels like a revisionist historical documentary. There were many important people that were around the Beatles at the time that simply was not mentioned, nor did they elaborate on some of the most interesting events during their tours.

The main reason for this I believe is because some of the stories were not as lighthearted as the rest of the material, but a lot of that stuff is damn interesting. I would have loved it if they did a scene about former members Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. Also, because the film is about their touring years which means their time between 1967-1970 is barely mentioned (except for their rooftop concert in 1969) When you realize who they dedicate the film to you have to forgive them for that.

But mostly, The Beatles: The Touring Years is a fun innocent documentary/musical hybrid with plenty of songs from their mop top era to enjoy. Their personalities are charming and fun. If you are a fan of the music or you have seen them live, you will be a fan of the film. ***3/4

Pete’s Dragon Soars in Spring

Genre: Adventure
Year: 2016
Rating: PG
Length: 102 minutes
Main Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard
Oakes Fegley
Karl Urban
Robert Redford
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Written by: David Lowery
Toby Halbrooks
Directed by: David Lowery

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Written by Nelson Cumming
Pete’s Dragon is a remake of the 1977 animated original. The remake is a live-action film (unfortunately, the dragon is only animated) and is really good in its storytelling, it’s ability to go places other filmmakers would say is audacious to try and it’s ability to know and play the audience like a symphony. It was an awesome summer flick.

Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a 9-year-old orphan that encounters a friendly dragon in the forest through a series of events and lives in the forest with the dragon for six years. In the town that occupies the forest, no one believes in the dragon’s existence when Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) tells children, through storytelling, his experience of encountering the Dragon many years ago. Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) a park ranger and daughter of Mr. Meachem finds Pete and he tells the dragon’s existence. Grace then explores the forest to see if the dragon is real.

Director David Lowery loves playing the audience

What is great about this film is that it manages to change from uplifting happy moments into sad, poignant moments and it does this from scene to scene. The funny thing is that Pete’s Dragon is a rare film where the constant mood change feels seamless and not erratic. The kids at my screening were into this film. The kids cheered when Lowery wanted them to cheer and there was stunned silence or gasps when there was a poignant or tense scene.

In a fun way, I was thinking “I know what you are trying to make me feel you bastard but goddammit it’s working” David Lowery just knows how to get people to react in a positive way that I cannot quite explain. The best thing I can think of is he gets every element that makes a good film right.

Every actor plays their part

While I don’t believe there was a noteworthy performance in Pete’s Dragon, every actor played a good performance. Oakes Fegley, the child actor who plays Pete gives a good performance. I always respect it when child actors are entertaining throughout a movie. He was supported through Bryce Dallas Howard who helps give the movie some chemistry with everyone she interacts with and Karl Urban was great at being the antagonist. Urban reminded me that I can still dislike a villain despite him being a G-rated kids villain.

Pete’s Dragon: A courageous movie in subtle ways

I am going to be blunt here: I love it when a movie has balls. I love it, even more, when I think a movie won’t have balls then gives them to you when you least expect it. Ten minutes in I have the pre-conceived notion of “This is a kids film, they will only infer bad things, not show us” I was glad to be proven wrong.

There were moments in the movie where they went places I didn’t think they would go, even more, surprising was they depicted inheritally graphic events in a way kids could digest and not shy away from. When loggers find the dragon and perceive it as evil, they try to capture it by throwing a lasso over its head and hanging it from a tree. Another graphic event occurs at the climax. Trust me, it is not as bad as I described, but the filmmakers went there to make us believe that the heroes could lose. Surprisingly, those scenes were greatly executed and unexpected from me.
Pete’s Dragon is a movie that fits into the odd category of being a great movie without any one thing standing out. I think it’s because everything works and everyone who worked on the film just wanted to do a real good job as a unit. The end product is better than the sum of its parts. This is the first time that I have reviewed three movies in a row that have gotten more than or equal to four stars. The past two months have actually been great with only one film getting less than three stars. Shows you there are good movies out there. Don’t believe a person when they say “movies are dead” ****1/4

Sully Movie Review

Genre: Drama
Year: 2016
Runtime: 96 minutes
Main Cast: Tom Hanks
Aaron Eckhart
Laura Linney
Main Production Company: Village Roadshow Pictures
Written by: Todd Komarnicki
Directed by: Clint Eastwood

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Written by Nelson Cumming

Sully is a movie based on the real-life event of an American Airlines incident where the pilot made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. It is a 206-second incident that was stretched out into 96 minutes which is greatly executed.

Tom Hanks plays the role of pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the person who decided to land an American Airlines plane on the Hudson River. None of the 155 passengers on board died, however, there is speculation that Sully and co-pilot Joe Skies (Aaron Eckhart) could have landed the plane safely at another airport. Both Sully and Skies have to prove they did the best possible server under the most unique and dire circumstance.

Hanks and Eckhart are awesome together

I was invested in both these actors roles. Eckhart and Hanks have good chemistry as they play off each other. After London Has Fallen, it is a sigh of relief that Eckhart plays a character that is treated as a significant player in the movie. Both actors didn’t overdo their roles, they were both calm and collected. Hanks was more stoic than Eckhart but Eckhart manages to be lighthearted at the right time and place. It felt that it was crucial to have both these guys together. I believe the movie wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if Hanks was on his own.

The Flashbacks were good, with reservations

Without getting into too much detail, there are multiple flashback sequences of the airplane landing of the Hudson River. I believe that was a smart move as each flashback added a new layer to the story and it is mesmerizing. The good and bad part of the flashbacks is there was a stoic calmness to the way it was handled. It was subtly tense. The great thing about that is it’s a different direction than if everyone was screaming, running around with their heads cut off (which is tiresome and repetitive). The sad that about it is that it undercuts it’s own narrative stakes. Speaking of stakes…

The Stakes. Didn’t work completely, but they sincerely try.

There is sincerity with the narrative stakes but I just didn’t fully buy them. That’s because the way in which Sully professionally handles the plane crash in the series of flashbacks made me believe that the outcome for the main characters was never in doubt. To be fair, “Sully” had the disadvantage of a story with no villain and story that people already know. I personally didn’t know about the real life story, but I knew the outcome was a given with 30 minutes to go.

Therefore I wasn’t biting my nails thinking and asking myself questions like “Does Sully win? Does Sully lose? Will he be seen as a respected hero? Will he be shunned by the media?” They do try to incorporate stakes several times without trying too hard. They did that well, but I couldn’t buy it. It didn’t harm the movie’s quality but it ultimately prevented it from being a classic movie people will talk about once the hype for “Sully” dies down.

“Sully” is worth watching for anyone as it is entertaining throughout, from the acting chemistry between Eckhart and Hanks to the multiple depictions of the plane landing in the river and the short running time of 96 minutes makes it feel short and sweet. The event may have been 206 seconds but “Sully” Stretches it out for 96 solid minutes. It would have been more interesting if “Sully” was released in June. Only the people who saw the movie will get that joke. ****

The Negative Star in Me

 

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Oh, negative star, where art thou?

 

I have updated the star ratings of Dirty Grandpa and Mothers Day. There is a reason why. When I started my blog, I said the star rating system will range from 5 stars to minus five stars. To get a negative star rating you have to really piss me off to such an extent that I leave the cinema feeling like crap. Boring me to death is not enough. I wanted negative star reviews to be rare but not one-film-in-seven-months rare.

No Wiggle Room 😦

Dirty Grandpa was one of the first movies that I ever reviewed. I was so disgusted and defeated by the horrific and endless acts of pure shock value. I gave it minus one star because I thought I would have to endure worse films throughout the year. Over fifty movies and seven months later I realized there was only one movie even came close to it which was Mothers Day and there was very little room for a negative star review because it would have to be as bad as Dirty Grandpa.

I have Made Wiggle Room 🙂

So I did something I swore I would never do: Change the star ratings of my reviews. I have only done it on those two movies that I have mentioned. Every other movie rating will stay the same. I just know you guys love it when I hate a movie (and I personally love writing about them, not seeing them.) I just gave Dirty Grandpa and Mothers Day worse star ratings so there is more wiggle room for movies to make it into negative star territory.

Don’t get me wrong, it will still be difficult for a movie to get a minus star rating (even Gods of Egypt didn’t make it) but at least there is a 3% chance of that happening instead of 1% chance. Most importantly, I miss the negative star gimmick, it’s so fun and I think it is a great way to show how much I hate a movie. It was an emotional release just to type “-*” again. I am a sad masochistic man 🙂

 

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It sounds like I desire anger, what I actually desire is a release from anger

 

Sunset Song Review

Genre: Drama
Year: 2016
Runtime: 135 minutes
Rating: MA
Main Cast: Agyness Deyn
Peter Mullan
Kevin Guthrie
Written and directed by Terrance Davis

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Written by Nelson Cumming
Movies rarely leave me just sitting there in awe, peacefully taking in what I just witnessed by the end. This was a movie I wanted to see for months now and viewing it matched the level of anticipation. Sunset Song is a movie that seamlessly embeds itself into a story of struggle, life, and loss. It is also a great coming of age film. It is a rare feat that a movie makes you feel that you have experienced that life for yourself.

All of this is done through Terrance Davis’ direction and how he envisions his character developments being influenced by the historical events that play a subtle but major part throughout the plot. It is also helped by the good acting as well. There isn’t a bad performance.

Sunset Song is set in Scotland and starts just before the First World War. It tells the story about a country girl called Chris (Agyness Deyn) who aspires to become a teacher but events in her life take her another way. She is presented as the solid foundation for the film as the people that live with her leave, some return and some don’t. She leaves a mark on each person she lives with and they return in kind.

Above all else, Sunset Song is a film about enduring through suffering, the suffering that makes us learn and mature. It is a story about people who are victims of circumstance and the one woman who deals with it. This is a memorable film fit with so many memorable sequences including a long take that involves woman’s brother who is constantly whipped by her father but never utters a cry, and in doing so, stood up to the abusive relationship he had. Another that was an overhead shot of No Man’s Land where you know a war was fought and you felt the loss of soldiers lives even if you didn’t see the fight.

Another great thing about the movie is the pacing. The pacing is deliberately done slowly. The filmmakers give everything the time it needs for us to sink in the atmosphere and through slow camera moments and fading. It made events in the movie feel seamless The last half an hour of Sunset Song felt like one whole stretch of film despite the fact it is set in two different places. It was just a beautiful piece of filmmaking.

Sunset Song just keeps building up the momentum it needs to make a great film. It starts off ok before going to good, then great, then fantastic. It’s memorable from the first shot where sh is lying on the ground in a field of wheat to the final shot from a Scotsman playing the bagpipes to remember the departed ****1/4

Sausage Party Review

Genre: Animated Comedy
Year: 2016
Rating: MA
Length: 88 minutes
Main Cast: Seth Rogen
Kristen Wiig
Jonah Hill
Production Company: Annapurna Pictures, Point Grey Pictures
Written by: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Story by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jonah Hill
Directed by: Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan

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Written By Nelson Cumming

Love it or hate it, Sausage Party is a movie that you will remember. It is a type of movie I have never seen this year. It is an r-rated, rude, crude animation comedy. It has the iconic actors that are a part of the new wave of R-rated comedies such as Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. With such talent signing up for this movie I was highly anticipating it for weeks. The multi-million dollar question for movies as innovative and promising as this is: Does it live up to its hype?

Yes, but…

That would be the short conclusion to my review of Sausage Party.

The plot revolves around personified foods at a supermarket who are eager to be bought by people as they believe that “The Great Beyond” (which is outside the supermarket) will lead them to a better life Frank (Seth Rogan), a sausage, finds out the fate of “The Great Beyond” is not as lush as it seems for the perishable foods and they must stop humans from consuming them.

Really Long Highs, Followed by Really long Lows

When Sausage Party is funny, it is damn funny. When it isn’t funny, it is a little flat in the room. When it wasn’t funny it wasn’t a crowd killer like Zoolander 2 was, but I felt the audience wanting to laugh because the first ten minutes was so good. There was a period where no one laughed for 20 minutes, but at the same time, I felt that no one turned against the movie. Despite the fact the movie is only 88 minutes long, they didn’t have enough tight comedic material to warrant 88 minutes.

Nothing is Sacred

With Sausage Party, they dared to go to the worst places for humour and I loved it. They had fun with religion (A personified Lebanese bread hoped there would be 72 extra virgin olive oils at The Great Beyond) they did a lot of gags about pot (If Seth Rogan is in it, what do you expect?) and there are a lot of sex jokes.

The great part about a lot of the gags that hit in Sausage Party is that they are smartly written in a way that works for both observant and unobservant audience members. The depictions of food torture were highly graphic but easily watchable and humorous. A lot of the best humor works on multiple different levels and is innovative.

The Swearing and Swearing Leaves a Lot Less Caring

The second and last major problem with Sausage Party is there are a lot of f-bombs (and three c-bombs) used in a tiresome manner. Initially, it was surprising because they were swearing in enthusiastic ways. Eventually when they kept doing it, it became tiresome.

I predicted it was on the Wikipedia list for the most uses of the f- word in a film. You need to say it 150 or more to qualify. That’s how many I predicted. The only other time that thought crossed my mind in a movie was in Dirty Grandpa and sure enough, it sad the f-word 160 times. It’s also right alongside Dirty Grandpa. Click here if you don’t believe me

My Conclusion

Sausage Party is outrageously funny enough to overcome its demerits. You can say it’s orgies of fun but the climax is fucked up ***1/2