Film Review: 'The Secret Life of Pets 2' is a well-crafted sequel
shows Liam, voiced by Henry Lynch, from left, Max, voiced by Patton Oswalt,
Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet in a scene from "The Secret Life of Pets
2." (Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - If the sweet,
animated 2016 film "The Secret Life of Pets" was mostly for kids, its new
sequel might be for another segment of the audience altogether — whoever is
buying the tickets. Amid the cute critter shenanigans, this one has plenty
of lessons for the parents.
Most of the same gang is back this
time: Kevin Hart as the fluffy white bunny Snowball, Eric Stonestreet as the
goofy giant Newfoundland, Lake Bell as the laconic cat Chloe and Jenny Slate
as the plucky Pomeranian Gidget. This time, though, our main hero terrier
Max is voiced by Patton Oswalt, replacing the disgraced Louis CK.
Both films in the franchise deal with a
new addition to the family. In the first, it was a new dog that allowed the
filmmakers to explore sibling rivalry. This time, the stranger is a baby,
who Max learns to love unconditionally but which also ups his anxiety
levels. (Any helicoptering parent out there knows what we mean.)
Returning screenwriter Brian Lynch and
returning director Chris Renaud, who also voices the guinea pig Norman, have
actually concocted three interlocking plots in "The Secret Life of Pets 2 ."
It's a wise decision since none are deep enough to carry the film alone,
forcing some convoluted stitching together. But they manage it, creating a
solid piece of entertainment for all ages, if not a terribly revelatory one.
In one story, Max finds himself ever
fearful for her owner's new toddler, stressing out as the boy's protector.
"Was the world always this dangerous?" he asks after a harrowing New York
City stroll. He even develops a nervous scratching tick that requires a
mortifying dog cone. A trip to a farm in the country seems to offer a
respite. Getting his head right is his quest.
Before he leaves, he asks Gidget to
take care of his favorite squeaky toy. She promptly loses it in a cat lady's
apartment filled with crazed felines. Getting it back is her comedic quest.
Meanwhile, Snowball is asked by a brave Shih Tzu (newcomer Tiffany Haddish)
to rescue a tiger cub held by a malevolent circus boss. His quest is, like
the others ones, to find his inner superhero.
Oswalt is a fine replacement for Max,
able to connect with the character's timidity, wonder and blossoming
courage. He is helped by a gruff farm dog voiced by Harrison Ford, who
unfortunately muddies his first animated voice role with some
Ford's alpha dog is pure action cool,
ripping off Max's cone in disgust (not the best message for kids in
treatment), rejecting Max's embarrassed neurosis and being the cold, silent
type. "The first step in not being afraid, is acting like you're not
afraid," he advises.
Ford gets to play with his own he-man
screen persona, but we're not sure this John Wayne bit — or the whole
dynamic of pampered city folks versus tough country folks — is what we need
right now. Another drawback is the scary elements: fearful wolves and an
awful villain with a whip and a cattle prod.
Even so, the majority of the film is
carefully constructed, switching from plot to plot to plot while also
incorporating old characters — Dana Carvey's elderly Basset hound and
Hannibal Buress as dachshund Buddy — in an increasingly complex patchwork,
fed by a lively soundtrack that includes Stevie Wonder, Jefferson Airplane,
Coolio and ZZ Top.
As signs of how well engineered this
movie is, a cover of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" is used at the end, a
callback to the original song's appearance in the first film. It also opens
with "Empire State of Mind," an echo of how the first one opened with Taylor
Swift's "Welcome to New York."
There are some nifty touches, including
a dream sequence in which Snowball fantasizes about being a caped crusader,
which creates a comic book sequence INSIDE an animated film. Bell pretty
much steals the movie when her cat gets high on catnip and later teaches
Gidget the "way of the cat" — complete with mandatory walking on a laptop
keyboard and batting mugs off tables. All this with extraordinary animated
effects. You will marvel at how real the illustrators have made this world,
from rocky cliffs to speeding cars and dazzling eyes. In a neat twist, too,
the cat lady becomes the butt of jokes but also this — a heroine.
It all builds to a climax where all
three plots converge, some stretched uncomfortably. Max is clearly the
emotional center of the film but Snowball's journey is just weird, starting
as a bunny who plays a dress-up superhero, morphing into a real superhero
who is revealed to be anything but, before proving he IS a superhero, kind
of. (Stick around at the end credits for a clip of Hart as a gangsta
Snowball rapping "Panda" by Desiigner.)
If the knock on "The Secret Life of
Pets" was that it was a rip-off of "Toy Story," then the second film better
grounds itself in its own universe. Like its main three characters, it has
learned to be comfortable in its own animated skin.
"The Secret Life of Pets 2," a
Universal Pictures release, is rated PG for "some action and rude humor."
Running time: 86 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Missing Lewis Chessman found, could fetch 1M at auction
This image shows a newly
discovered Lewis Chessman on display at Sotheby's in London. (Tristan
Fewings/Sotheby's via AP)
London (AP) — A chess piece purchased for a few
pounds by an antiques dealer in Scotland in 1964 has been identified as one
of the 900-year-old Lewis Chessmen, among the greatest artifacts of the
Sotheby's auction house said that the chess piece is
expected to bring between 600,000 and 1 million pounds at an auction next
The Lewis Chessmen are intricate, expressive chess
pieces in the form of Norse warriors, carved from walrus ivory in the 12th
A hoard of 93 pieces was discovered in 1831 on
Scotland's Isle of Lewis. It is now held in both the British Museum in
London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh — but five of the
chess pieces were missing.
The 3 1/2-inch piece to be auctioned July 2, the
equivalent of a rook, is the first of the missing chessmen to be identified.
It was passed down to the family of the antiques dealer, who did not realize
Sotheby's European sculpture expert Alexander Kader
said the find is "one of the most exciting and personal rediscoveries to
have been made during my career."
The X-Men struggle to the end
in ‘Dark Phoenix’
This image shows Sophie Turner in a scene
from “Dark Phoenix.”
(Twentieth Century Fox via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
The good news is “Dark Phoenix” is neither an apocalypse nor is it
“X-Men: Apocalypse,” but this latest installment is not exactly a solid
step forward or a satisfying ending for anyone.
It’s supposed to be the culmination
of 20 years of X-Men movies, and yet it feels more like a rushed and
inconsequential spinoff than something that we’ve been building toward
for two decades. Perhaps that’s because we’ve barely gotten to know this
version of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), whose transformation into the
all-powerful Phoenix is the thing that divides the X-Men into a tiny
A brief flashback to 1975 shows a
young Jean’s defining trauma, when the telekinesis she can’t yet control
results in a horrific car crash and her becoming an orphan. She’s taken
in by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who offers her help and guidance and
tells her that she can decide to use her powers for good, which is not
exactly top of mind for her when, 17 years later, she absorbs a deadly
cosmic energy field.
The main action is set in 1992, a
decade after the events in “Apocalypse” and 30 years after the events in
“X-Men: First Class,” and Charles is riding high on a tide of public
goodwill. The X-Men are finally being regarded as heroes and he’s become
the public face of the operation, with a direct line to the President of
the United States and everything.
Yet he’s getting a little cavalier
with his people, sending them off on an impossible rescue mission to
space which will render Jean into the Dark Phoenix. Even his longtime
allies like Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank/Beast (Nicholas
Hoult) are starting to question his motives. This, frankly, is the more
interesting thread but the film, written and directed by Simon Kinberg,
instead uses Jean/Phoenix — who, again, we don’t know very well — as the
embodiment of all of his ambition and failings.
Essentially, Jean discovers that
Charles has been hiding some information from her about her childhood
and she gets angry (dangerously so) and starts racking up a body count.
Even Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who is living in what looks like a
dystopian sleepaway camp, doesn’t want any part of it and she becomes an
outcast. So when an intense alien with nefarious plans and sky high
stilettos, Vuk (Jessica Chastain) tells her that she’s just
misunderstood and to follow her, Jean is all ears.
It’s a lot of fussy plot with not
much heart behind it, and while Turner is excellent at looking like a
woman in distress, she needs a character to back up all that conflict
and make us care. Even a pretty shocking death barely registers
emotionally. It probably also doesn’t help that this is coming on the
heels of “Avengers: Endgame.”
“Dark Phoenix,” a 20th Century Fox
release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for
“intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay,
disturbing images, and brief strong language.” Running time: 113
minutes. Two stars out of four.
‘Godzilla’ is back
and doing just fine
image shows a scene from “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
London (AP) -
It’s been a bit since moviegoers had the chance to catch up with
Godzilla, five years in fact, which in cinematic franchise time feels
like at least a few decades. In other words, it’s understandable if you
go into “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” a little rusty on just what
went down in Tokyo and San Francisco back in 2014.
To help us along, the filmmakers
have shifted the focus to another family entirely for this installment,
from the inert Brodys (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) to the
Russells, a now-broken family of scientists who lived in San Francisco
during the 2014 attack. There are a few holdovers though, mostly
employees of Monarch, the secret multinational organization that studies
the titans, like Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Graham (Sally
Hawkins), who are being accused of hiding Godzilla from world
governments who’d rather just destroy them all.
As far as the newcomers go, Dr.
Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) also works for Monarch and has developed a
machine called the Orca, which simulates the sounds of the various
titans. She believes this can be used to help manage them. Emma lives
with her 14-year-old daughter, Madison (“Stranger Things’” Millie Bobby
Brown in her first major film role), who is precociously enchanted by
her mother’s work and admires the primordial creatures.
Madison’s father Mark Russell (Kyle
Chandler, whose intensity is at level 10 for most of the movie) is not
really in the picture, having left after the San Francisco incident, but
is drawn back in when Emma and Madison (and the Orca) are kidnapped by
some militant eco-terrorists led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance).
This group wants to use the titans,
of which there are now “17 and counting” including a pretty dazzling
Mothra and a less-enchanting three-headed “Monster Zero,” to help reset
the planet and reverse climate change and overpopulation. There’s some
convenient explanation of why the radiation from the titans actually
helps revitalize vegetation, which, like many of the silly plot devices
in this movie, you kind of just let slide. That said, anyone currently
watching “Chernobyl” on HBO will likely be very stressed out about the
amount of radiation all the humans are likely absorbing just by being in
proximity to all these creatures.
Michael Dougherty has taken the
directing reins this time, from Gareth Edwards, and has done a fine job
capturing the grandness of the titans, keeping the action coherent and
balancing the human element thanks to a terrific cast that also includes
O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Thomas Middleditch. His script is also pleasingly
light and often funny, although Bradley Whitford’s Dr. Stanton goes a
little overboard trying to be the comic relief.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” a
Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association
of America for “sequences of monster action violence and destruction,
and for some language.” Running time: 131 minutes. Two and a half stars
out of four.