Tag Archives: Albert Brooks

Go! Sit! Stay!

Manhattan menagerie has wild adventure in fetching family flick

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The Secret Life of Pets
Starring the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell, Kevin Hart & Jenny Slate
Directed by Chris Renauld & Yarrow Cheney
PG

Like Toy Story did with playthings, this wildly imaginative animated family flick—from the makers of Despicable Me and Minions—starts with a very simple premise: What do our domesticated animals do when we’re away?

Quite a lot, it turns out!

In a Manhattan high-rise, we’re quickly introduced to Max, a well-groomed Jack Russell terrier (voiced by Louis C.K.); Chloe, the tubby tabby cat next door (Lake Bell); and Gidget (Jenny Slate), a prissy puffball of a Pomeranian down the street who has a crush on Max.

Max’s walking buddies include Buddy, a slinky dachshund (Hannibal Burress), and Mel, a squirrel-obsessed pug (Bobby Moynihan).

Things are sailing along fine for Max until his owner brings home a second pet, a big, slobbery, rescue-dog mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max and Duke don’t get along, and soon they’re in a real doggie dilemma, rounded up by Animal Rescue without their collars or tags—and about to begin an even bigger, wilder adventure.

2426_SMX_DS_S1230P0220_L_COMPO_RENDER_0127RThis involves even more colorful characters, including a Snowball, a gonzo white rabbit (Kevin Hart), leader of an underground activist group called the Flushed Pets—animals who’ve been “thrown away by our owners; now we’re out for revenge!” There’s Tiberius, a rooftop hawk (Albert Brooks) comically torn between his longing for companionship and hard-wired predatory instincts. Pops (Dana Carvey), an elderly basset hound, may be paralyzed in his back legs—but he sure knows how to get around town!

Director Chris Renauld, whose resume includes the Despicable Me franchise and The Lorax, and co-director Yarrow Cheney, a former production designer and animator, keep the jokes flying fast and funny and the plot moving at a brisk, lively trot as Max and Duke try to make their way home. Things get especially hairy when Snowball’s subterranean army—a motley crew of critters, from alligators, turtles and snakes to cats, a tattooed pig and “Sea Monkeys”—turns against them when they find out they’re really “domesticated” and not truly “liberated.”

2426_TP4_00079ARThere’s a chaotic traffic-jam cliffhanger on a New York City bridge, with a bus driven by a Max and Snowball (“You drive like an animal!”). In one dream sequence, hot dogs dance to “We Go Together,” the “rama lama lama ding dong” song from Grease. A poodle rocks out to heavy metal the second his owner is out the door. One tiny pooch, with a camera atop his head, films funny cat videos and uploads then to a Times Square jumbotron.

It’s all great, clever, whimsical fun, with a heartwarming, cuddly overlay of friendship and “family.” You may not (or may!) have a dog or cat as adventurous as Max, Duke, Gidget, Chloe, Buddy and Mel, but just about anyone can relate to the montage at the end of the movie—when all the pets exuberantly welcome their owners home to the tune of Al Green’s “Lovely Day.”

Any pet owner knows, and it’s no secret: That display of loyalty, love and affection from a pet—no matter where they’ve been or what they’ve done—makes it a positively lovely day, indeed.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Just Keep Swimming

The forgetful little blue fish from ‘Nemo’ makes a splash of her own

(Pictured) DORY. ©2013 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Finding Dory

Starring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell & Idris Elba

Directed by Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

PG

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,” said Dory, the little blue tang in Finding Nemo, the 2003 Disney/Pixar hit about a father clownfish’s across-the-ocean search for his abducted son.

And keep swimming she has—Dory now splashes right into her own movie, a sea-worthy spin-off about her own search for the loving parents she barely even remembers.

In Finding Dory, which takes place one year after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory—still coping with her lifelong inability to remember anything—suddenly recalls a memory fragment of her mother and father (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). Overjoyed that she has a family, she sets out on a quest to locate them, bringing along young Nemo and Marlin, his reluctant dad.

Ellen DeGeneres once again provides the voice of Dory, with a perfect grasp of the delicate emotional shadings of comedy, drama and trauma in her struggle to piece together the shards of her past as she leaves her colorful coral reef and heads to the dark, debris-clogged shores of California. Albert Brooks reprises his role as Marlin, and newcomer Hayden Rolence is Nemo.

FINDING DORYThe new movie does a great job, just like Nemo, of creating a world teeming with aquatic creatures—although we meet most of them not under the sea, but inside a marine institute, which is where Dory, Nemo and Marlin eventually come to the surface. Two sea lions (The Wire’s Idris Elba and Dominic West) fiercely guard their rock from interlopers. Ed O’Neill is a hoot as Hank, the misanthropic camouflaging “septopus” (an octopus with only seven tentacles) who longs to remain in captivity rather than return to the wilds of the ocean. Modern Family’s Ty Burrell cracked me up as Bailey the beluga whale, so proud of his abilities of echolocation, the sonar-like location of objects by reflected sound. Paired with Destiny (Kaitlin Olsen from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), a nearsighted whale shark, they’re quite a team.

FINDING DORYThere’s a road full of adorable otters, a loveably dorky ocean loon, Becky, who doesn’t say a word, and a great running joke about real-life actress Sigourney Weaver, who’s heard but never seen.

From the opening Pixar short (Piper, about a little sandpiper) to the credits (when Hank the octopus gets one last time in the spotlight), it’s all great fun, rollicking adventure and quite heartwarming. Director Andrew Stanton, who also steered WALL-E and Finding Nemo, and co-director Angus MacLane keep the pace lively, the jokes funny and the message clear: Friends are family, too.

There may be tears, and little ones, especially, may be more affected than grownups about Dory’s wrenching separation from her parents and her unflappable hopes that she will find them. This is, after all, the House of Mouse, the company that gave us Bambi, Pinocchio and Dumbo—not to mention Old Yeller, The Lion King and that flashback scene in Up.

But remember what Dory says: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. You’ll make it.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Butting Heads

Will Smith tackles the NFL 

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Concussion

Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin & Albert Brooks

Directed by Peter Landesman

PG-13

Will Smith has fought zombies, space aliens and killer robots. Now he’s squaring off against an even bigger, completely human foe—and certainly a much more popular one.

In Concussion, he plays Dr. Bennett Omalu, who discovers the link between football and CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy—potentially fatal brain damage from repeated concussions.

The true story (originally told in a 2009 article in GQ magazine) begins as we meet Nigerian-born Omalu in 2002, while he’s working in Pittsburgh as the county coroner’s forensic pathologist. The untimely death, and bizarre final days, of a former Pittsburgh Steeler football Hall of Famer, Mike Webster (David Morse), troubles him: Webster’s autopsy reveals severe brain trauma that caused him to go crazy, freak out and eventually expire of a heart attack. When Omalu learns of other NFL players dying in similar fashion, he investigates further and comes to a conclusion that almost no one wants to hear—especially not the National Football League.

Playing football can kill you.

Unlike some other creatures, such as the woodpecker or the bighorn sheep, Omalu points out, humans have no natural shock absorber in our skulls to cushion the blow when one of our noggins impact with something hard—like another noggin. Nature, or providence, simply did not equip us that way. Therefore, Omalu reasons, “God did not intend for us to play football.”

Smith, a bona fide movie star, is outstanding in a non-flashy role that doesn’t involve car chases, spaceships, shootouts or CGI special effects—just straight-up, strong, dig-in acting and a very plausible, start-to-finish nail-down of Dr. O’s West African accent and mannerisms. He makes you feel Omalu’s passionate sense of commitment—and his dream to be accepted as “American”—as the NFL tries to quash his research and discredit him.

Albert Brooks is Cyril Wecht, the county coroner who helps Omalu while warning him of squaring off against with the NFL. “You’re going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week,” he tells him. Alec Baldwin plays Dr. Julian Bailes, the former Steelers team doctor who assists Omalu in getting his message to football players, managers, agents and the commissioner. “You’ve turned on the lights and given their biggest boogeyman a name,” Bailes says.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Will Smith star in Columbia Pictures' "Concussion."

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Will Smith

British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Prema, the Nigerian student who becomes Omalu’s wife, reminding him that his family name means “He who knows, speaks.”

But the movie belongs to Smith, who tackles what might be his one of his trickiest, juiciest roles—a crusading underdog with a potentially life-saving message that falls on mostly deaf ears. “Tell the truth—tell the truth!” a frustrated Omalu jabs at a NFL team neurosurgeon who refuses to admit there’s any connection between football and brain injury.

As millions of football fans tune into the big game this weekend, it’s a truth that will likely be drowned out by the symphony of cheers all across America.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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