“The Secret Life of Pets”
Excluding the overlooked “Sing Street” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” animation has provided the most enjoyable films of 2016. “The Secret Life of Pets” joins “Zootopia” and “Finding Dory” as films that enthrall kids while captivating adults.
There are many reasons to praise “The Secret Life of Pets,” but let me begin with the simple fact that most of the animals manifest traits familiar to pet owners. Since we have six small rescue dogs and one cat in our home, I’m speaking from personal experience.
Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is a tiny dog living in a small apartment. He sits at the front door and stares with unashamed glee as he waits for his loving mother to return. However, everything is turned on its head when she comes home with Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a large, goofy dog that she has rescued from an animal shelter.
Given their unresolved animosity, the entire film follows our two spuds as they hit the street with the hope that one will become lost. In the process, they are forced to confront a cruel world, and the adventure is filled with hijinks that will leave you laughing repeatedly.
Let me mention that the film is dominated by an ongoing battle between a crew of animals led by a fluffy little dog called Gidget (Jenny Slate) and a horrid, hysterical bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart). Though Gidget finds great strength trying to help her old friend Max, Snowball is one nasty bunny who leads an underground army of escaped animals and reptiles who are bent on destruction.
There are some additional magnificent contributions coming from Albert Brooks (Tiberius), Lake Bell as the chubby little cat Chloe and Dana Carvey as the old canine Pops. This movie is a box office hit for a very good reason, and I can only repeat that adults should see it in the theater with or without children.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” ranks as one of the most stirring films released in 2016. It leaves you frequently laughing while simultaneously breaking your heart.
Director Taika Waititi, who brought us the very amusing “What We Do in the Shadows” (2014), brings us the story of Ricky (Julian Dennison), a homeless boy who was placed in a country home by the New Zealand government to give him one last chance at being part of a family. You will fall in love with Julian as he plays a city kid who has all but lost hope with living in the real world.
His new family consists of Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata), an adorable, humorous woman who immediately understands Ricky’s needs. On the other hand, her husband Hec (Sam Neill) is a sullen man who views Ricky as little more than an aggravation.
Tragedy follows, forcing Hec, Ricky and his little dog Tupac to flee to the wilderness as the government seeks to return Ricky to a juvenile facility. As they live off the land for weeks, a national bulletin is released offering a reward for their capture. In the process, Hec and Ricky have to confront their own relationship as they flee pursuing government forces.
Neill is marvelous playing the taciturn Uncle Hec, and you begin to learn why he is all but incapable of experiencing any joy. Neill hasn’t been this good since his classic role in the original “Jurassic Park” (1993).
There are other remarkable performances from several supporting actors, but let me acknowledge Rachel House and Rhys Darby. House plays Paula, the brooding director of Children’s Services who seeks to capture Ricky regardless of the consequences. Darby is outstanding as he plays a borderline insane hermit who tries to help our fleeing duo. It is impossible not to repeatedly laugh at their exploits.
This is a film about hope, love, tragedy and despair wrapped tightly around the secret ingredient of life’s journey, humor. I treasured every moment as I watched this splendid film.
As I watched the highly entertaining “Ghostbusters,” I was reminded of the old song by Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Director Paul Feig brings us a quartet of women who clearly enjoyed their raucous performances.
If you were worried that this film would be some type of tawdry remake of the original movie, set those concerns aside. This is a completely fresh take, and the interaction of our four heroines as they energetically pursued ghosts is fun to watch. On top of that, the script by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig had a sarcastic edge that added to the film’s strength.
Sure, there were some cameos from Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver and Dan Aykroyd, among others, but the film belongs to Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. While all four play characters filled with equal parts of intelligence and wit, I must say that McKinnon dominates in her performance as Jillian Holtzman, a scientist dedicated to her inventions designed to capture ghosts. She is a bundle of fury under a mop of blonde hair that reminded me of a female Christopher Lloyd from “Back to the Future” (1985).
I must also say that the girls have a great deal of fun with Chris Hemsworth, playing their boy-toy receptionist Kevin. Hemsworth might have been a functional idiot, but he was an extraordinarily handsome one, and you will always remember Wiig’s first question in his initial interview, “Are you dating anyone?”
Though the special effects became a bit repetitive, it really didn’t hurt the film. Feig again found a way to use the talents of McCarthy in the same fashion as displayed in previous films “Bridesmaids” (2011) and “Spy” (2015).
I’ve always felt that a good movie is defined by whether it is enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be great, only good. “Ghostbusters” is good. You may know who is going to win but enjoy the ride.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.