If ‘Men in Black’ and ‘Shaft’ are sold out, here are two mediocre picks to fill your time
“The Secret Life of Pets 2” (Rated A)
Cast: Kevin Hart, Patton Oswald, Tiffany Haddish, Harrison Ford
Genre: Animated, Adventure/Comedy
Good looks can only get you so far.
That’s a debatable statement. But with the fleeting and highly subjective nature of beauty – and seeing the number of attractive people who should probably be doing a lot better in life than they are – it seems like a pretty reasonable thing to say.
And if all one can offer is merely eye candy, and little sustenance, it seems it would be only a matter of time before even those eyes get weary.
Consider the new animated film, “The Secret Life of Pets 2”, a giant piece of eye candy. It is exceedingly and astoundingly beautiful; an exuberant and fantastic celebration of art. The animators of Universal Pictures’ Illumination (“Despicable Me”, “Minions”) appear to be working with a color palette that has yet to be discovered by those over at the competing studios in the Disney and Pixar portfolio. This bright and cheery flick would likely be mesmerizing and entertaining even watching on mute.
But like 2016’s “The Secret Life of Pets”, and unlike most of what comes out of Pixar, this sequel is still a relative lightweight when you look beneath and beyond the glossy surface.
Max the terrier (now voiced by Patton Oswald, because Louis C.K. has since 2016 become a pariah – and deservedly so) must cope with some major life changes when his owner gets married and has a baby. When the family takes a trip to the countryside, nervous Max has numerous run-ins with canine-intolerant cows, hostile foxes and a scary turkey. Luckily for Max, he soon catches a break when he meets Rooster (Harrison Ford), a gruff farm dog who tries to cure the lovable pooch of his neuroses.
That’s only half the plot though. There’s a whole other concurrent storyline featuring the previous film’s standout character Snowball the bunny (Kevin Hart). He teams up with new character Daisy the Shih Tzu (Tiffany Haddish) on a mission to free a white tiger named Hu from a circus, while being chased by a mean Russian circus owner with some very disagreeable wolves.
Plus, Gidget the Pomeranian (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy from a Cat Lady with a horde of cats.
All of this “action” presents a unique set of challenges for this sequel. The original was fun and hopelessly “cute”, and yet not outside the realm of possibility for the sorts of adventures one might imagine household pets to embark on in any given day when we are away from them.
The plot here, though, is much more convoluted and unrealistic, and now, also busy. The stories do converge eventually, but overall it’s just a little too fantastical.
Sure, it’s an animated feature, and those are usually all about fantasy. Nevertheless, a group of dogs rescuing a tiger while being chased by wolves through modern-day Manhattan is just plain silly.
But boy is it pretty!
“Ma” (Rated T)
Cast: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, Allison Janney
The epidemic of trailers revealing everything about a movie continues. And we have one of the worst offenders to-date with the new film “Ma”.
If you’ve seen any of the previews for this horror/thriller, you probably figured this flick out weeks ago. There’s been a ridiculous number of ads for this movie, each revealing new details, and as a result, there are no surprises left.
As the commercials all showed in great detail, Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer plays a lonely middle-aged woman who befriends some teenagers and decides to let them party in the basement of her home. But there are some house rules: One of the kids has to stay sober, don’t curse and never go upstairs. They must also refer to her as Ma. But as Ma’s hospitality starts to curdle into obsession, what began as a teenage dream turns into a terrorizing nightmare, and Ma’s place goes from the best place in town to the worst place on Earth.
And from there, we have the typical teen horror flick.
But there are relatively decent performances, especially from Spencer, in a fun, Kathy Bates-like “Misery” role. The other “older” cast members are also pretty good in their small parts, including Juliette Lewis, Missi Pyle, Luke Evans and Oscar-winner Allison Janney, in an odd but weirdly appealing turn as Spencer’s character’s boss.
There’s supposed to be an important underlying message here too. But those of you old enough to remember, will have seen more effective and powerful stuff on an after school special. Or even in a trailer!
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.
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