Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Captain Fantastic, Our Little Sister, Nuts!, Zero Days

The Secret Life of Pets (my rating)
The Secret Life of Pets (Scruffies' rating)

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
Captain Fantastic

Our Little Sister

Zero Days

Tonal dissonance is the common thread in a weak week at the movies:

Illumination’s “The Secret Life of Pets” offers pet parents (such as this recent convert) several laughs of knowing recognition. In today’s pet-crazed world, it’s a brilliant bit of marketing. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a subplot involving Kevin Hart’s bunny Snowball as the leader of a gang of human-hating animals throws a wet doggie blanket over the fun. Co-directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney don’t go dark enough to put much at stake, but the concept standing alone simply isn’t funny… Jake Szymanski’s “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” also never settles on a comic tone. It’s another throw-everything-against-a-wall movie comedy, with profanity and vulgarity the only constants. The great Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza land most of the laughs (though Kendrick’s wigmaker should be shot), while Zac Efron provides eye candy and Adam DeVine tries way too hard. The best line comes when Plaza’s coaching Kendrick for their audition. “What do you like to do?” Plaza asks and, without pause for thought, Kendrick answers, “Drink”… Writer-director Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic” is utter bullshit. Every scene is bullshit. Almost every line is bullshit. It’s what a comedy writer might come up with if charged with a parody of Sundance movies (yes, it played there). There is five times too much dialogue. The quirk level is off the charts. A too old Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, a recently widowed hippie and father of six kids (with names like Vespyr and Rellian) whom he home schools in the forests of the Pacific Northwest out of a bus named Steve. (Hippies do not typically wait until their mid-thirties to begin procreating.) Much time is devoted to Ben’s Deep Springs-esque pedagogical approach; not a moment of it rings true. I was a smart kid and I’ve always hung around other smart kids, but the way these kids talk and behave is pure script bullshit. The seven-year-old considers War and Peace light bedtime reading. Daily exercise means climbing unassisted to a peak just short of Mt. Hood’s. Throughout, Ross scatters bumper-sticker leftist droppings such as the kids’ happily celebrating not their own birthdays but Noam Chomsky’s (are you fucking kidding me?), presumably to push the buttons of his already smack-ably smug target audience. Frank Langella is once again the disapproving father, who rightly denominates Ben’s parenting as child abuse, while Ross mistakenly assumes we’re on Ben’s side. There are multiple scenes of graphic violence to animals, as well as a bizarre exhumation that caused one friend to throw up her hands with impatience. The movie tries to end itself eight times before succeeding. It’s one of the few worst of 2016… Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda has garnered international acclaim for such films as “After Life,” “I Wish,” and “Like Father, Like Son.” In case you missed them, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, what they all have in common: booo-oooring. His new picture, “Our Little Sister” (“Umimachi Diary”), fits right in, a decorously dozy 128 minutes in which three sisters – the serious older one, the party-girl midkid, and the immature youngest – take in the half-sister with whom they shared a “kind but useless” father who dies as the movie opens. After that, not a whole hell of a lot happens… A singularly unpleasant documentary about a singular man – the 1920’s American huckster John Romulus Brinkley – Penny Lane’s “Nuts!” is a macĂ©doine of animation, archival footage and interviews about the self-labeled doctor who claimed to cure impotence by grafting goat glands onto men’s nether regions. I love larger-than-life people, and Brinkley – who would come to own one of the world’s most powerful radio stations and probably would have won the governorship of Kansas under modern election rules – qualifies, but the all-over-the-map modulations of Gene Togancci’s narration rubbed me wrong. I wasn’t sure whether Lane was attempting what Russ Hexter achieved in 1996’s brilliant “Dadetown” or playing it straight until the movie’s best scene, a cross-examination of Brinkley by an attorney for the doctor he (profoundly unwisely) sued for defamation… The pick of the week is Alex Gibney’s documentary “Zero Days,” about the Stuxnet virus and other forms of international cyber-warfare. A bit overlong, a trifle unfocused – Gibney’s turning out movies too quickly – it offers a frightening glimpse into a domain shrouded in secrecy. But one observation heartened me: among their many “no comments,” Gibney’s intelligence-community interviewees noted that if Iran reneges on our new deal with them, we have worms so deep inside their computers we could stop them before they started.

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