Monday, June 17

The Secret Life of Pets 2 Review

The Secret Life of Pets 2
Dir: Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, and Harrison Ford

I once took care of a small puppy, Bode, for a friend over a long weekend. Bode was a rambunctious little one; he loved running for walks, chasing the ball for what seemed like constant hours, and tugging on the chewing rope to the point that you could almost lift him off the ground. Bode also loved my brand-new swede couch and escaping from the makeshift sleeping pen that I would make for him at night. Needless to say, after a long weekend, my swede couch was never the same.

The Manhattan apartment pets return for more escapades in “The Secret Life of Pets 2”, an easy-going sequel that offers a few laughs for both grown-ups and kids while also quickly occupying the 86-minute running time with an amusing mix of stories. It’s one of those lazy weekend movie excursions that will put a smile on the faces of everyone in the family.

All the animal culprits are back.  Tiny dog Max (Patton Oswalt) is finally friendly with Duke (Eric Stonestreet), the big dog that joined the family in the first film. However, they have some new humans to deal with this time around, one of which is a little baby who Max has grown to love…and over protect from the scary world around them. The fluffy bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart), whose confidence has grown to superhero proportions, also returns, along with other friends, for new adventures that bring them all together to battle an evil circus promoter named Sergei (Nick Kroll).

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” starts off fairly familiar but quickly moves in an interesting direction by separating the storytelling style into something that feels more like an anthology instead of one cohesive storyline. The subjects of each story involve the three best characters from the first film, the tepid Max, the brazen Snowball, and the independent Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate). Each has their own adventures that loop into the climatic finale, it fits nicely together in the end even if it doesn’t connect too well during the journey. Still, the writers do a nice job of giving these three characters a connective feature that has them adopt different personas in order to move the story forward; Gidget must take the form cat in order to invade an apartment filled with felines, Snowball moonlights as a superhero in order to save animals in danger, and Max finds an unlikely mentor in a farm dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford) who has all the qualities Max doesn’t have. 

The conflict for these characters shows up a little too late in the story to really have the menace to make the third act more exciting, but it doesn’t feel like that was a high priority for this film at all. While “The Secret Life of Pets 2” may have a few hiccups along the way, the overall feeling is one that is purely fun. If you are looking for a better review of this movie before your next family cinema adventure…every elementary school child was laughing and cheering throughout this film. For a cartoon sequel, that’s the best review you could have.

Monte’s Rating
3.00 out of 5.00

Monday, June 10

Streamathon - June 2019 – Life’s A Beach & Now You’re Dead

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711

Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of NetflixHuluAmazon Prime VideoMubiShudder, The Criterion Channel and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.
June 2019
Spring is over and it’s hot outside again. And while everyone else is flocking to the beach, I’m turning my A/C to “kill” and getting settled in for some of my favorite Summer flicks. I specifically like to watch horror films in the Summer, especially if they scare and discourage me from leaving the couch. I watch JAWS every Summer religiously. I usually fit in one of the versions of PIRANHA (Dante or Aja). And I don’t even want to admit to how many heads I’ve seen on a single shark on the Sci-Fi channel on Saturday afternoons. And as if this wasn’t enough, Jordan Peele’s beach-themed doppelganger horror, US is due for Blu-Ray release later this month. I’m very excited to rewatch this one with the hopes that it will be added to my Summer routine.

So, with that in mind, here are some horror films available to stream right now that take place on or around a beach. 

The Stream

COLD SKIN (2017) 
Directed by Xavier Gens – Streaming on Shudder

So, this ‘beach’ is more of an Arctic coastline, but I play fast and loose with my own rules so I’m including it. It’s a Shudder Exclusive right now and I really think it’s worth the watch. The Lovecraftian creature design is fantastic, and the under-siege lighthouse scenes are exciting and well put together. The whole thing is shot beautifully.

Directed by Makinov – Streaming on Shudder

To be clear, this is a remake Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (’76) a far superior film. But I still kind of appreciate what this film went for and what it accomplishes. This version trades in the slow burn and social commentary for adrenaline and gore. Which makes it easier fare for an 87-minute distraction.

Directed by Jon Wright – Streaming on Hulu

This is just a very well-made horror/comedy from across the pond. A sleepy Irish island is overtaken by sea monsters and their only line of defense is an alcoholic police officer and his newly assigned partner. It is one of the most fun times you can have with movie monsters. The two main characters played by Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley have a great chemistry together and the comedic dialog is exactly what I've come to expect from British writers.              

Directed by Ingmar Bergman – Streaming on The Criterion Channel

Psychological torment is a common theme in Bergman’s work. But this is probably the only film that dives off into the deep end of horror. Artist, Johan (Max Von Sydow) and his wife, Alma (Liv Ullmann) are staying on a remote island in this surreal work. I’ve probably watched this one about a half-dozen times and I seem to come away with a slightly different interpretation every viewing. The Gothic imagery that occupies the screen will keep you guessing exactly how literally you’re supposed to be interpreting it.

I also find it interesting within the context of Bergman’s entire filmography. He has plenty of films depicting the fragility of the human psyche, the majority are about women’s mental state. Films like THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (’61), CRIES AND WHISPERS (’72), THE SILENCE (’63) and of course PERSONA (’66) lead some (myself included) to question how Bergman felt about the opposite sex. And I think it’s fascinating that his lone exploration of a weak-minded man also turns out to be his only true horror.

Directed by Colin Eggleston – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

If you only watch one movie from this list, make it this one. It recently showed up on Prime and you can never be too sure how long it’s going to stay. Traditionally, this one has been a bit more obscure and hard to get a hold of. Recently, Synapse released a beautiful Blu-ray and I believe that the Prime version is the same transfer.

‘Man vs. wild’ has always been a favorite sub-genre of mine. Stories about people getting lost in the wilderness and braving the elements are a good way for me to experience the worst of nature without having to leave my couch. This one is not your typical fare though. It’s far more unnerving, without ever introducing a supernatural element. It plays out like an environmentalist’s moral tale. A couple of suburbanite weekend warriors pick a fight with nature without even knowing it. Soon their lack of respect and dignity reap the wrath of their surroundings. But the story is far less straightforward than I’m alluding to. The horrors play out over a slow burn in night sounds and disturbing imagery. 

THE LURE (2015)
Directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska – Streaming on The Criterion Channel

And you didn’t even know that you needed a Polish musical comedy horror about a couple of cabaret mermaids. Spoiler Alert: You do. It’s a spectacular modern times Eurotrash retooling of the Hans Christian Anderson story. Watch this for the color palette alone. In fact, invite your Mom and sister over for a MAMMA MIA! Marathon and then put this on instead. They’ll thank you. I promise.

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Friday, June 7

Dark Phoenix Review

Dark Phoenix

Dir: Simon Kinberg

Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Jessica Chastain

Before “The Avengers”, before “The Justice League”, before “Spider-Man”, the foundation for the modern era model for comic book movie franchises was started with a 2000 film called “X-Men”. Nineteen years later and the X-Men have gone from wrapping up one storyline to rebooting the entire series of characters altogether, the twelfth installment of the long-standing franchise concludes once again with the film “Dark Phoenix”.

Director Simon Kinberg, who has produced a wealth of action and comic book films, helms his first feature with “Dark Phoenix”. Unfortunately the results aren’t terrific but there are moments of potential with certain characters and with some of the moments of spectacle. For a franchise that has seen its progression roller coaster from fantastic heights to disappointing depths, “Dark Phoenix”, though not the worst in series, deserved a better sendoff for its characters and storyline. 

Professor Xavier’s (James McAvoy) School for Gifted Youngsters has grown into a veritable superhero training academy and, for some, a safe place for young mutants to educate themselves and hone their powers for inclusion into the “normal” world. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Professor X’s prized pupil, continues to develop at staggering pace along with the rest of the young team which features Ororo “Storm” Munroe (Alexandra Shipp), Scott “Cyclops” Summers (Tye Sheridan), and the team leaders Raven “Mystique” (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). During a mission into space the X-Men team encounter a powerful force that embeds itself into Jean Grey, turning her into an unstoppable force consumed by anger and rage. 

The character of Jean Grey is a fascinating and intriguing villain, a force of dominance amongst the X-Men world but also a character with a rich backstory who is directly connected to all the core characters in this world. There are narrative themes associated with trauma that shape the story early in “Dark Phoenix”; Jean has a past steeped in pain and sorrow, her newly achieved power opens up these memories that Professor Xavier has been trying to hide, unknowingly adding to the traumatic elements that Jean has already experienced in her life.  The story does a nice job initially of displaying the turmoil Jean has been through but also proposing that Professor Xavier’s best intentions for the mutant world may be more self-serving than helpful. It’s a nice element introduced for these characters.

Unfortunately, these interesting insights and intriguing narrative themes dissipate as Jean grows into a force that is being hunted by the X-Men, the Government, and an old foe named Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The film quickly introduces another villain, a rogue group of alien beings led by a determined and stoic Jessica Chastain, and all the work to establish “Dark Phoenix” like a Jean Grey focused film disappears into the same familiar formula we’ve seen before in the X-Men Universe before. While this narrative formula isn’t necessarily bad, there are some nicely composed battles and some interesting references for fans, after twelve films it just feels overly familiar. 

Sophie Turner, unfortunately, isn’t provided the proper character to develop here, any nuance of emotion is replaced with big bursts of raw anger and sadness that never feels necessary or provides the scenes with the kind of power they are shooting for. Ms. Turner is a talented actress capable of so much more. Even Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy aren’t provided the character structure to build upon. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto character doesn’t change much throughout these films, so the actor does a decent job of being brooding and filled with rage, hellbent for revenge. 

“Dark Phoenix” has a few moments when the action takes over, director Simon Kinberg seems most comfortable during these big scenes, nicely composing effects with crisp clarity and utilizing the best abilities from the characters to showcase some great fight moments. It’s a shame that more attention wasn’t provided towards the story or characters interacting throughout. The film is trying hard to rise above the other films in this franchise, though it’s far from terrible, “Dark Phoenix” gets lost along the way.

Monte’s Rating

2.75 out of 5.00