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Review: ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ Has More Bark Than Bite

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The Secret Life of Pets MovieSpoon.com

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are animated movies that have stories of real character and those that just want to make jokes. Illumination Entertainment, best known for their success of Despicable Me and Minions and now The Secret Life of Pets, seems to only be interested in jokes.

The Secret Life of Pets MovieSpoon.com

One dog finds a new use for a mixer.

At some point in the studio, the animators started drawing up some gags based on pets. They kept going with comical ideas about what pets might do when we’re not looking – from waiting patiently at the door to using appliances as massage instruments. These visual gags continued to mount until the studio decided they should make a movie out of this concept. They clearly didn’t have a story, but such trivial aspects do not matter to a studio that specializes in cute and crazy. Just slap on a standard adventure across the city, add some celebrity voice talents and production can proceed with animating dogs, cats, birds and bunnies doing wild comedy.

Max (Louis C.K.), a simplistic little terrier, has his happy life with his young hipster owner threatened by an addition to his Manhattan apartment. His master, Katie (Ellie Kemper), brings home a large and dominant Newfoundland by the name of Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The high-spirited Duke decides not to share, as the living space appears to not be big enough for the two of them.

The Secret Life of Pets MovieSpoon.com

The new dog Duke makes a grand entrance.

They fight and squabble until they find themselves lost on the streets of New York City where they’ll have to cooperate to make it back home. Their buddy adventure is typical enough that even the movie feels the need to glaze over much of their predictable arc. Don’t expect to care about this duo the same way you did with Woody and Buzz Lightyear or Marlon and Dory; the movie won’t let you get that involved.

The second and far more interesting plot in The Secret Life of Pets involves Max’s best friend and love interest, a Pomeranian by the name of Gidget (Jenny Slate), staging a search and rescue. On her quest, she assembles a host of interesting characters including a lonely hawk (Albert Brooks), a reluctant cat (Lake Bell) and an old basset hound (Dana Carvey) that’s been around the block enough times to know how to navigate a construction site.

Gidget’s adventure is just as predictable, but has a much different drive and far better gags. Her stumbling into a party of dogs sniffing butts in a circle and filming pet-related accidents for viral videos easily trumps Max and Duke having a non sequitur of a sausage factory raid (complete with a dream sequence of dancing meat that I’m sure will come back to haunt me when viewing Sausage Party).

Stealing the show in The Secret Life of Pets is the antagonist bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart), the leader of an underground gang devoted to exterminating pet owners. That may sound as if they’re a dangerous group, but, in the realm of Illumination Entertainment, they’re all talk. In this sense, Kevin Hart is perfectly cast as an insane rabbit that runs his mouth about killing humans. Snowball and his band of evil pets only exist for more jokes and a light amount of danger. It’s no surprise or spoiler to reveal that everything will work out for this cute little bunny gone bad. We couldn’t have anything bad happen to such a cuddly figure.

The Secret Life of Pets MovieSpoon.com

Kevin Hart is feisty as the bunny Snowball in ‘The Secret Life of Pets.’

For kids and pet owners, the gags and characters are cute and clever. The first ten minutes of showcasing the behavior of pets when humans head off to work could have made for the perfect short film. It’s simple, sweet, amusing and is thankfully utilized as a satisfying bookend to the picture. It’s not until the movie starts looking for a standard lost-in-the-city story that the movie starts to lose its way. There should be some chemistry and comradery to the adventures of Max and Duke, but it seems to be sideswiped at every turn for more examinations of pet behavior.

There’s a unique moment when Duke finds the house of his old master and is dismayed to discover that he died years ago. There should be some real emotion here, but we’re never given enough time to develop these characters to feel much of anything. The movie seems to rely on them just being cute pets as their only development, never spending too much time on any one moment that isn’t silly or frenetic.

Read more to check out the trailer for The Secret Life of Pets:

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“Glass” Glows Amid Dim Weekend

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The weekend of the Super Bowl found the box office low about as expected with not a single film making over $10 million for the weekend. As such, there were very few surprises with which films ended up where. Just as with last week, Glass is at #1 for its third weekend, coming in with $9.5 million, shaping up to be another financially successful film from M. Night, though it’ll start dropping as we head into February. Just behind it is the dramedy The Upside, pulling up close with $8.8 million as it expanded into a few more theaters for the weekend.

The premiere for the weekend, Miss Bala, a cartel thriller, only debuted at #3 with a box office debut of $6.7 million. Not a very strong opening but it did manage to get just above the December box office hang-on superhero movies of Aquaman and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, still in the top 5. Green Book, coming up on awards season, soared higher in the box office upon expansion and The Kid Who Would Be King, unfortunately, won’t be seeing much of an audience going into February.

Debuting in a very limited engagement is Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, a WWI documentary with restored footage. The film had originally opened the last week of December in a handful of theaters but thankfully expanded into more theaters where it was strong enough to make it to #10.

Glass ($9,535,000)
The Upside ($8,850,000)
Miss Bala ($6,700,000)
Aquaman ($4,785,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($4,410,000)
Green Book ($4,317,000)
The Kid Who Would Be King ($4,200,000)
A Dog’s Way Home ($3,510,000)
Escape Room ($2,900,000)
They Shall Not Grow Old ($2,405,000)

Next weekend is all about the LEGO. LEGO Movie 2, the animated sequel, will be hitting over 4,000 theaters. Also opening will be the thriller Cold Pursuit in 2,500 theaters, the killer-kid horror The Prodigy opening in 2,500 theaters, and the gender comedy What Men Want in 2,800 theaters.


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Box Office

“Glass” Holds Firm, “King” and “Serenity” Sink

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M. Night’s Glass already had a lot of hype for being the most anticipated movie of January and the popularity is proving it. Now in its second weekend, the thriller has made another $19 million and has shown itself to be a box office success even in the colder months of January where it’s not exactly pulling in the largest of box office numbers. Not exactly a twist from a director known for twists.

The premieres for the weekend didn’t fare well at all. The Kid Who Would Be King, Joe Cornish’s kid-oriented fantasy of modern knights and demons, debuted only at #4 with a weekend gross of $7.2 million, lagging not far behind Aquaman which made $7.3 million. It seems strange that family entertainment wouldn’t be a bigger hit in a month with little of that. But then again, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is still in theaters and still doing well at #5, proving to have the legs to stick around into February as it continues to win awards for being a groundbreaking animated film.

Also debuting lower is Serenity, a new drama by Steven Knight. This one doesn’t seem as surprising given both the lack of promotion for the picture and the abysmally negative critic reviews, declaring the film as an early front-runner for the worst of the year. The movie only came in at #8 for the weekend with a gross of $4.8 million.

Worth noting is that Dragon Ball Super: Broly is still hanging in the top 10, latching onto the #10 spot with a gross of $3.6 million. Though not the biggest box office compared to its competition, it’s a big success for FUNimation pushing anime into theaters given they’ve yet to have as big of a release as this one and for such a long time. Most anime they release in theaters are only present for a weekend if that and tend not to crack the top 10 as often. Dragon Ball Super has become the exception and may lead to more anime screenings to larger theater counts in the future.

See the full top 10 for the weekend below:
Glass ($19,049,000)
The Upside ($12,240,000)
Aquaman ($7,350,000)
The Kid Who Would Be King ($7,250,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($6,150,000)
Green Book ($5,413,000)
A Dog’s Way Home ($5,225,000)
Serenity ($4,800,000)
Escape Room ($4,275,000)
Dragon Ball Super: Broly ($3,600,000)


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Review: “Alita: Battle Angel” Fights Faithful, Dark, Fun

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When it comes to films based on Japanese anime and manga, they have a record far more stumbling than that of video game movies. These types of movies have been plagued with everything from confused direction (Dragonball Evolution) to cheap translations (Fist of the North Star) to awkward whitewashing (Ghost in the Shell). But Alita: Battle Angel may just be the first film to break that mold, at least from a translation point.

One would hope that the screenplay writer James Cameron would put some dedication into this project he had been talking about making happen for nearly two decades. Surprisingly, he matches the source material well. The world is perfectly defined with a cyberpunk dystopia of the far future, the elites residing in a metropolis of the sky while the poor cyborgs struggle on the surface world of garbage. Also present is the grim atmosphere which I questioned if Cameron would delve into, given that the original story was a depressing one of pathos, amputation, decapitation, bifurcation, and the murdering of a dog.

Keean Johnson (left) and Rosa Salazar (center) in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

The film has all of this in telling the story of Alita (Rosa Salazar), a mysterious teenage cyborg found with very little of her body in a heap of dumped robot parts. Determined to rebuild her and give her a new life as a teenage girl is Doctor Ido (Christoph Waltz), committed to being a charity of a cybernetics doctor when so few can afford so much in artificial limbs they need. Alita is a kind girl, made all the more sweet with those artificially giant eyes added digitally. While this may really give her the look of an uncanny valley creation in hopes of replicating that anime style, it works well in defining Alita as both an artificial being and fitting in with the odd nature of cyborg society.

There’s a progressive build of Alita discovering both the world around her and uncovering her cloudy past. She takes as much of an interest in the fast-paced violent sport of Motorball as she does the scrappy young Hugo (Keean Johnson), potential boyfriend material. But she’ll soon come to learn that not everybody is who they appear to be, as both Hugo and Ido have secrets they haven’t revealed as the web of corruption in the city runs deep. All of it relates back to the giant floating paradise in the clouds that everybody shoots for, including the smug gangster leader Vector (Mahershala Ali) who acts as a puppet for those above, sometimes literally. Everyone wants to make it to the top and they’re willing to break any rule to get there.

Rosa Salazar (Alita) and Keean Johnson (Hugo) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

Of course, it’s no shock that Alita is the girl to shake things up and fight the system. This is where director Robert Rodriguez takes the helm of this project and gives it his own flavor of slick and violent action. He really pushes that PG-13 rating to the limit of how much you can get away with in dicing up cyborgs, staging intimidating barroom brawls and vicious battles on a giant racetrack. Even for a director known for plenty of violence in his films, Rodriguez still manages to cram in a number of ouch-worthy moments where characters are sliced in half or have their faces chopped at an angle. Also present is Rodriguez’s trademark humor that manages to fit in snugly amid the more tragic parts of this cyberpunk tale.

Alita still has a few kinks in the armor with some clunky bits of dialogue and emotions that run a little flat here and there. But I must admit I was surprised with how well this film holds together for being so ambitious in pursuing such a story, sticking to its essentials while still giving off a vibe all its own. I recall far back as being a teenager when hearing about Cameron’s plan to adopt the original manga into a live-action movie and doubting it would ever see the light of day, especially with his crowded schedule and the lacking adaptations over the years. But, lo and behold, I’m astounded to not only see the movie made but that it’s also well-made and true to its roots. A solid picture for fans of the manga/anime and a pleasing cyberpunk tale for newcomers of a teenage cyborg kicking metallic butts.

Rosa Salazar stars as Alita in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.


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