Friday, July 15, 2016

"The Secret Life of Pets" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Secret Life of Pets" as well as DVDs "Zootopia" and "All Roads Lead to Rome."  The Book of the Week is "Never a Dull Moment: 1971 the Year That Rock Exploded."  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Peeping Tom."]

The Secret Life of Pets

The inside scoop on what your pets are up to when you are not at home (and maybe you don't really want to know)!

The story centers around Max (Louis C.K.), a terrier who feels his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), is his soul mate.  They are blissfully happy.  When Katie has to leave the house each morning, Max has his routine. After being as cute as he possibly can be so she won't leave, he mostly just sits by the door waiting for her to return, but in the meantime he is visited by his neighboring pet friends: Chloe (Lake Bell), the fat cat; Buddy (Hannibal Burress), the dachshund; Mel (Bobby Moynihan), the hyperactive pug; Sweet Pea, the parakeet; and Norman, the lost guinea pig (Chris Renaud), who keeps popping out from the air vents asking if this is his apartment. Max is also adored from afar by Gidget (Jenny Slate), the white ball of fluff Pomeranian who looks lovingly at him from her window. 

All is blissful for Max until one day Katie brings home a rescue dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a huge mutt that looks part sheepdog and part wooly mammoth.  Max takes an instant dislike to Duke, and it doesn't help that Duke takes over his bed and food dish.  However, Max blackmails Duke into docility when he threatens to tear up the house, something Katie would blame on Duke because, of course, "Max would never do such a thing."

One day, while Max, Duke and all of the other neighborhood dog friends are being taken to the off-leash dog park by the dog walker, Duke discovers a way out of the park and, wanting to teach Max a lesson, grabs Max's leash (the dog walker was side-tracked by a pretty girl and didn't take off Max's leash) and drags him out of the park where they find themselves in a big, bad part of New York City filled with feral cats.  The cats attack, and Max and Duke run off, but not before the cats get their collars, thus making them easy prey for Animal Control. 

Animal Control does pick them up, but they are rescued by a cute little bunny, Snowball (Kevin Hart), who is less cute little bunny and more "I will rip your throat out if you cross me." Turns out that cute, cuddly Snowball is the leader of the Flushed Pets Gang, pets that have been flushed down the toilet by their owners who no longer wanted them. The toilet aspect must be a metaphor, though, because one of the pets is a large pig that was used by a tattoo parlor for the novice tattooers to practice on. I hardly think he would have fit down the toilet.  Anyway, let's just say Snowball's stock in trade is his cutie pie looks until his true evil side shows up.  You don't want to mess with Snowball

Snowball and his cohorts, alligators, snakes, lizards and more, all hate humans, because of how they were treated, and they all live down in the sewers of New York City, plotting how to get back at the humans who mistreated them.  You know all of those rumors that alligators roam the sewers because people bought baby alligators in Florida, brought them home and then flushed them down the toilet?  Maybe not an urban legend after all!  Max and Duke talk their way into the gang until those feral cats show up and blow their cover, telling Snowball they are really domesticated dogs and not human haters. Now Max and Duke need to get the hell out of Dodge! 

Meanwhile, Gidget discovers Max is missing, and since he is the unrequited love of her life, she engages the local gang, Buddy, the dachshund, Sweet Pea, the parakeet, Norman, the guinea pig, Buddy, the dachshund, Mel, the pug and a hawk, Tiberius (Albert Brooks), who had wheedled his way out of his cage on the roof. They all consult with Pops (Dana Carvey), an elderly Bassett Hound who hilariously gets around with the help of wheels on his hind legs, and off they all go to find Max and Duke. 

All kinds of zany adventures ensue not just for them, but for Max and Duke as well, when the psycho bunny discovers they really aren't one of them.  It's a kind of doggy buddy film as Max and Duke try to find their way back home. And when the plot is all wrapped up, our pets get home in time to greet their returning owners who have no idea what their darling little critters have been up to all day! 

Directed by Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud, the plot gets pretty silly halfway through, and the message is not as strong as "Finding Dory," which exalts the love of family or "Zootopia (see review below), which sends the message that we need to all get along despite our differences.  Though a case can be made for the message being the power of friendship and the love between humans and their pets, the plot and message doesn't really matter as much as the dialogue and the characters and, boy, what characters they are! 

The writers and animators have hilariously captured every dog, cat, bird, gerbil - you name it - stereotype and delivered a funny and sweet mix of characters that you will want to take home, though cat lovers will probably get their noses out of joint because the cats are always portrayed as lazy or stupidly playing with a light beam or being shady or crabby.

Louis C.K. couldn't have been a better choice for Max with his dry, deadpan delivery and Jenny Slate as Gidget is also a highlight.

My only criticism has nothing to do with the film itself but with the accompanying cartoon which we have come to expect when we attend animated features.  It was a short starring the Minions, and all I am going to say about that is - I do not get the Minions thing at all!  Someone will have to explain to me why they are so popular because I found them not only unfunny but dumb, even for little kids.

Rosy the Reviewer says..."Pets" has gorgeous animation and adorable characters, and you will never look at your pets the same way again!

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
      (And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now on DVD

Zootopia (2016)

A rookie bunny cop and a cynical fox must work together to solve a mystery.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) lives in the country on a bunny farm with her parents, but Judy wants to go to Zootopia, the big city, to become a cop. Her parents try to discourage her, but Judy believes anyone can be anything, so Judy leaves her bunny farm for Zootopia.  Judy loves her parents, and she and her parents go through all of the things that parents and children go through when the child leaves home for the first time, but Judy is determined.  Judy attends the Police Academy, and despite her diminuative size, not only makes the grade but is Valadictorian.  She is assigned Precinct I - City Center - Zootopia.

Now what you need to know about Zootopia is this.  For our little anthropomorphic friends who live in the country, Zootopia is the Big City, but it is also the Big City where everyone gets along - predators and prey living side-by-side in harmony and everyone is happy, though some stereotypes remain based on an animals species, such as a recurring theme that foxes are sly and not to be trusted.

Unfortunately for Judy, she is discriminated against too...because she is a bunny. The ZPD has never had a bunny cop before. Instead of getting a patrol assignment, gruff water buffalo Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns Judy to parking ticket duty.  Judy is disappointed, but by god, if she has to be a parking ticket cop, she is going to be the best parking ticket cop in Zootopia.  And she is. 

But then when an otter, Mr. Otterton and several prominent predators go missing, Judy begs Chief Bogo for the assignment, and he relents but tells her she has only 48 hours and if she doesn't solve the mystery, she must resign. See, the bar is always higher for us women! Judy runs into Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con artist fox.  She has bad memories of a fox bullying her back home, so she is suspicious of him but they end up joining forces to find Mr. Otterton.

Turns out Mr. Otterton went berserk in the back of a limo and attacked the driver.  Something is turning the predator animals vicious which, in turn, is causing a backlash against all predators and a call to round them all up.  Discrimination against the predators ensues and it's up to Judy and Nick to solve the mystery and save the harmony that once existed in Zootopia.

One of the funniest scenes happens when Judy and Nick go to the DMV to get some records and the clerks are all sloths doing everything v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y.  Ring a bell? 

Then there are Judy's expressive bunny ears.  They should get their own billing.  They go up and down depending on Judy's moods.  And speaking of Judy, there hasn't been an animated character this charming in a long while, and the fact she is a girl who believes that she can do anything, makes her a wonderful role model for little girls.

Written and directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore (and others), the animation is amazing, but it has been interesting for me to review this film along with "The Secret Life of Pets (above)," and "Finding Dory," which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.  All have been huge box office hits.  "Zootopia" has grossed $341 million in North America alone and "Secret Life of Pets" just topped over $100 million in its opening weekend.  "Finding Dory" has made almost $570 million so far. Clearly, we love our animation. 

But, though "Zootopia" has its many fans, I have to say that I think I enjoyed "Dory" and "Pets" more, but there is a reason I say "I think," and I have a theory about why I say that.  I am starting to believe my own hype about the magic of the theatre experience ("Why Movies Matter").  I think movies have more of an impact when seen in the darkened theatre with no home life distractions.  I saw "Dory" and "Pets" in the theatre and "Zootopia" at home on DVD, so I am suspicious of my liking "Pets" and "Dory" more, so take that with a grain of salt.

And don't get me wrong. "Zootopia" is a wonderful little film that you and your family will really enjoy, which is a good thing because if you have little ones, you will probably be watching it over and over and over and over...

Rosy the Reviewer says...a sweet and funny film with a good message about the importance of everyone getting along despite their differences: "Try to make the world a better place...change starts with you, it starts with me, it starts with all of us." Some words of wisdom from some cartoon characters that seem to know more than we humans about the solutions to a world today in turmoil.

All Roads Lead to Rome (2015)

Maggie fondly remembers teenaged summers in Tuscany and takes her out-of-control teen daughter back there in hopes of some mother/daughter bonding.

Sarah Jessica Parker plays Maggie, a recently divorced and uptight writer whose daughter, Summer (Rosie Day), is a real pain in the butt.  Maggie takes Summer to Italy to get her away from a bad boyfriend, and so that Summer can, hopefully, experience some of the fun Maggie had there when she was a teen.  However, Summer has other ideas, especially when Maggie throws Summer's phone out the window.  As soon as she can, Summer steals a car and makes a run for it. 

In the meantime, Maggie has met up again with her teen love, Luca (Raoul Bova, a handsome hunk who you may remember romanced Diane Lane in "Under the Tuscan Sun"), who just happens to still be in that same Tuscan village.  How convenient. And before Summer could get the hell out of Dodge, Luca's mother, Carmen (Claudia Cardinale) blackmails Summer into taking her along, thus turning Summer's run for it into an intergenerational road trip.  You see Carmen has to be in Rome by 3pm sharp for a mysterious appointment.  Luca and Maggie also team up and hit the road in pursuit of Summer and Carmen in a silly small time version of "The Great Race."

All kinds of hijinks ensue as well as romantic comedy clichés such as Maggie and Luca having to share a hotel room because the hotel only had the one room.  Can't movies come up with other ways to get people together?  And then the mother and daughter learn some things about each other, which we knew was the whole point of this movie, though throughout the whole thing I thought Summer just needed a good swift kick, as my mother used to say.

It was fun to see Claudia Cardinale again, an actress and sex symbol back in the 60's.  Here she plays a grandmother and it's clear she has decided not to go the plastic surgery route, which is always refreshing and she looks fine. She looks her age.

One wonders why SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker to you and me) has not had more success in American feature films considering her starring role in "Sex and the City."  She had to go all the way to Italy to make this film, and it was only released to On Demand and then directly to DVD.

Directed by Ella Lemhagen and written by Josh Appignanesi and Cindy Myers, this is a predictable little romantic comedy that won't hurt anyone, the Italian countryside is worth the ride, and if you like SJP and miss her, you will enjoy it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like Lifetime, wait. This is more Hallmark than Lifetime.  A sweet romantic bit of fluff that you will enjoy and then forget about. 

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

244 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Peeping Tom (1960)

A shy reclusive movie cameraman gets his kicks murdering women and filming their last terrified moments.

Director Michael Powell had a string of hit films with his partner Emeric Pressburger.  The two of them formed the British production company, The Archers, and directed and produced the classic films "The Red Shoes," "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and "Black Narcissus," among others.  However, when Powell went off on his own and directed and produced this film, it was reviled by the critics and audiences alike and was basically buried for years.  Powell, considered one of Britain's best movie directors, credits this film with ruining his career.

One reviewer suggested that the film should be disposed of and then thrown into a sewer and, even so, the stench would remain. Another claimed that the film was more nauseating and depressing than the leper colonies of East Pakistan, the back streets of Bombay, and the gutters of Calcutta.  That's how much the critics hates this film It was banned in Finland until 1981. However, it gained a cult following and today the film is considered a masterpiece and one of the best of all British horror films. 

What could have caused such a strong, bad reaction?

Carl Boehm plays Mark Lewis, a movie cameraman who films movies by day and by night takes nudie pictures that he then sells to news agents who resell them to their customers.  By night, he also targets prostitutes, nude models and actresses to kill so he can film their dying moments.

Though we quickly learn that Mark is a killer, his shy self effacing manner belies his intentions.  Anna Massey plays Mark's neighbor and romantic interest, Helen.  Massey is a face you will recognize even if you don't recognize her name, and this is a strange bit of casting for an actress who in later years almost exclusively played homely old maids and other supporting characters.  But despite the fact that she is the ingénue, there is some foreshadowing of her later film roles as plain janes because Helen is a librarian! Is there no end to the librarian stereotype?

Helen is curious about Mark as he sits up alone in his apartment watching his films.  When pressed, Mark shows Helen a film of him as a boy. It is film footage taken by Mark's Dad, who was a scientist who wrote the definitive books on fear.  It is disturbing to Helen because it shows some experiments Mark's scientist Dad would perform on him in his quest to study fear. Mark's Dad would awaken the young Mark and shine lights in his eyes or put lizards in his bed, all for a reaction of fear that he could film.  Geez.  And we wonder why Mark turned out to be a strange Peeping Tom obsessed with other people's fear reactions.

Though the acting at times is a bit histrionic, the film is riveting, especially Boehm's characterization of Mark.  His shy, stumbling, lonely character belies his deeds.  Much of the film is shown through Mark's camera lens and point of view, which is also effective and scary.

Why it's a Must See:  "...compared to...Alfred Hitchcock's somewhat likeminded shocker Psycho (also 1960), the vivid Peeping Tom comes across as more immediate and ultimately more frightening.  We're shoved down into the recesses of a madman's brain, and Powell doesn't give us an easy way out."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

So what made everyone hate this movie so much when it was first released?

It's a film about a voyeur, which, in and of itself, could make an audience uncomfortable.  But it's also a film that makes the statement that we movie goers are perhaps also voyeurs. It is a subtle indictment of us, the audience, as the ultimate voyeurs, who while we watch Mark committing the murders, we are somehow complicit in his crimes.  As we watch we are enabling him.  That, too, would also make an audience even more uncomfortable.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a disturbing film ahead of its time.

***Book of the Week***

Never a Dull Moment: 1971 the Year That Rock Exploded by David Hepworth (2016)

A month by month history of 1971.

This is not just a book about Rock & Roll.  It's also a book about everything that happened in 1971 and there was a lot happening!  It was a year of seminal recordings by Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Who, Rod Stewart and Carole King (how many times have you listened to her album "Tapestry?"), but it was also the year that the Beatles broke up, Mick married Bianca, and hot pants were hot, and more importantly, the U.S. was in recession, unemployment in the inner cities was 10%, the war in Vietnam was still in full swing and The World Trade Center was half finished.

In 1971, author Hepworth was 21 and living in London.  There is a decidedly British feel to this book, but it doesn't take away from the enjoyment, especially if you were there...and by there, I mean 1971, not London.

I was there.

I graduated from college in 1970 and moved to San Francisco with flowers in my hair and the hope of hanging out with those Summer of Love hippies.  Unfortunately (and I didn't know it - hey, I was from Michigan.  What did we know?), the Summer of Love was long past and the Haight-Asbury district, where I found myself, was more homeless kids begging for drugs than hippies handing out flowers.

Hepworth takes us back month-by-month to examine the year that he describes as "the busiest, most creative, most innovative, most interesting, and longest-resounding year of that era."

So let's take a look at July 1971, 45 years ago this month:

On July 3rd, there was news of the latest airliner hijacking (those things were big and frequent back then); Joni Mitchell's "Blue" was the hot album, Cat Stevens had emerged and Rod Stewart came out as the major player he still is today, and Jim Morrison had just died in Paris, though believe it or not, Louis Armstrong's death at 69 was given more press.  Morrison's death was a small story on the inside page of the "New York Times" that "pointed out to its middle-aged readers that the Doors were a rock group who played loud, amplified music, still a minority taste." 

And there I was in San Francisco 1971, wearing my Betsey Johnson dress that I bought in a boutique on Union Street, and I didn't even know who Betsey Johnson was:


Rosy the Reviewer asks...where were YOU in 1971? 

If, like me, you were a Baby Boomer somewhere in your early 20's and immersed in rock & roll and other pursuits, this moment in time will bring back some memories.  For those of you who didn't get to live through 1971, I feel sorry for you, but you can learn something about your parents and the history of classic rock from this book.

That's it for this week!
Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for

 "Movie Sequels and Remakes I Don't Hate"

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  1. I wore a dress almost like that to a wedding in 1977. It wasn't orange, and it was GunnySax instead of Betsey Johnson, but it was frilly and cottony, and had a bib bodice just like yours. The sad part is, it was a bridesmaids dress and I wore it in a wedding! (I'll bet that bride looks back at her photos and cringes!)
    I love the way you always posed for your fashion shots. I remember standing there with my arms hanging limply while wearing my questionable fashion choices (lace baby-doll dress and chunky white sandals with panty hose), but you knew you had it goin' on!

    As far as the music of 1971, I was more into Pop than Rock so I was loving Donny Osmond, the Carpenters and The Partridge Family. Just like in fashion...there's no accounting for taste!

    1. I was actually posing in that picture because it was my wedding day. I had just gotten married to husband #2 at the San Francisco courthouse on my lunch hour from work. Went back to work after! I thought wearing a red wedding dress was very daring. As for the music, you are just enough younger than I to be a Donny and David fan. I liked the Carpenters, too, but didn't dare admit it to my Grateful Dead Head friends!

    2. Oops. That was rude of me!
      I must say, you looked LOVELY, my dear! A bride always looks beautiful on her wedding. Even if it was 1971 in a red prairie dress.. (I'll bet you were humming "We've Only Just Begun....")

    3. I think I probably was! :) You are never rude. I enjoy your comments immensely!

  2. Good call on that "All Roads Lead to Rome".....this was definitely a Hallmark Channel class movie. I thought Claudia looked a lot better then SJP....