Tag Archives: Lake Bell

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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Bad Trip

Owen Wilson and fam run into trouble on other side of the world

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No Escape

Starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan

Directed by John Erick Dowdle

R

Less than 24 hours after relocating to take a new job in Southeast Asia, an American businessman and his family find themselves in the middle of a violent political revolt.

That’s really all there is to No Escape, but it’s enough to fill 103 minutes with a surge of raw, primal-survival adrenaline as Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), his wife (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) make a life-of-death dash along a terrifying gauntlet of madness, murder and mayhem.

The movie was filmed in Thailand, but the country in which the (fictional) No Escape takes place is never named—likely because the filmmakers hope no specific part of the world (like Thailand) takes it personally. The rioting “natives” are a nameless, voiceless, mostly faceless horde of marauding Asians, but they might as well be zombies—or mutants, demons or even the Devil himself. Director John Erick Dowdle, working from a script co-written with his collaborator/brother Drew, keeps pulses pounding with some of the same pulpy shocks and lurid sights he used in the schlock-horror flicks Quarantine (2008), Devil (2010) and So Below (2014).

Dowdle knows what makes an audience jump, jolt and squirm—like with a sequence in which Jack has to get his family, and himself, from one high rooftop onto another. But other parts of the movie are a mess: the editing is a jumble; action scenes downshift into slurry, blurry slow-mo for no good reason; in one scene, daylight abruptly turns into full nighttime; in another, it’s dry one second and pouring rain the next.

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Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson

Bodies pile up, buildings are bombed into rubble, Americans are slaughtered in the streets. The title tells us there’s “no escape,” and for much of the movie, it sure looks that way. (The movie was originally titled The Coup, but test audiences apparently found that “foreign” phrase unappealing.) Thank goodness for Pierce Brosnan, who keeps showing up at just the right time as a British expatriate who knows his way around town, and then some. His character also provides a mini-lesson in the politics, multinational colonialism and economics that have caused the roiling ruckus—and the mob’s seething hatred of Americans.

Wilson is best known for playing doofuses, and it’s interesting to see him in an out-of-his-element “everyman” role with more grit than goof-ery. Bell, currently starring in the Netflix comedy series Wet Hot American Summer, isn’t given much to do other than react to the horrific scenario.

Dowdle amps up the tension, in scene after scene, of the terror of a white man, his wife and their two young daughters under the constant threat of being beaten, raped or killed by an all-male horde of “fourth-world” monsters. You may wince at its less-than-noble notions of race and cultural relations, but you can’t say that No Escape isn’t well timed. With a leading U.S. presidential contender campaigning to put up a wall to keep immigrant “rapists” and “killers” at bay, it seems safe to say a good number of people won’t have much trouble relating to Jack Dwyer’s desperation to shield his wife and kids from people on the “other side” of the world practically salivating to make them suffer and bleed.

At one point, Brosnan’s character notes the situation’s blurred moral boundary lines—which give clarity to their situation. “There’s no good or bad here,” he says. “There’s just getting you and your family the hell out.” Once a lot of viewers get out of the muddled, nightmarish obstacle course that is No Escape, they might just see clearly enough to vow to never venture off the green, green grass of home ever again.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Here’s The Pitch

Jon Ham stars in unlikely true underdog baseball tale

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Million Dollar Arm

Starring Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma & Alan Arkin

Directed by Craig Gillespie

PG, 124 min.

Based on a true story from 2008, Million Dollar Arm stars TV’s Mad Men leading man Jon Hamm as a struggling sports agent who goes scouting for baseball’s next pitching superstars in an unlikely part of the world.

After hopeful negotiations to rep a pro footballer (played by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga) fall through, Hamm’s character, J.B. Bernstein, and his business partner (Aasif Mandif) turn their sights to baseball, hoping to find a young, unknown, unsigned player. But where? All the international hot spots (Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, even China) have already been staked out and tapped.

In a flash of inspiration, J.B. sees a cricket match on TV and gets an idea: Go to India, a country where baseball is virtually unknown, find cricket “bowlers” who can pitch, and bring them back to America.

MILLION DOLLAR ARMSo he concocts a contest, called the Million Dollar Arm, and sets off to the other side of the globe to discover what he hopes will be the next ballpark sensations—and the ticket to keeping his small agency afloat.

Hamm is the star of this show, clearly, but Million Dollar Arm is also a movie about journeys, geographical as well as emotional. As J.B. adjusts to his new surroundings in India, we meet the two young men, Dinesh (Madhur Mittal, from Slumdog Millionaire) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma, the star of Life of Pi), that will eventually be chosen for a shot—a long one, at that—at baseball’s big leagues, and we come to understand their anxieties about leaving their families, their rural villages, and the only ways of life they’ve ever known.

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Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma portray the two contestants ultimately chosen to come to America.

J.B. is accompanied on his trip by a grumpy semi-retired American baseball scout (Alan Arkin, dialing in his usual comical crankiness), and he ultimately brings his new recruits home to learn fundamentals under the tutelage of a former MLB player now coaching college ball (Bill Paxton, portraying real-life USC coach Tom House with just the right dose of sunburn and seasoning).

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Lake Bell and Jon Hamm

Bollywood actor-comedian Pitobash brings both heart and humanity to his sidekick role as J.B.’s volunteer Indian assistant, who dreams of someday becoming a baseball coach himself. But the movie’s real “heart” belongs to Lake Bell, as J.B.’s brainy med-student guesthouse renter, whose graceful, unforced acting keeps her character’s slow-blooming romance with J.B. feeling more sincere than sappy.

The Disney folks surely took some license, as moviemakers often do, but all of this really happened. To see just how closely the film paralleled the real characters, stay for the credits and the photos, video clips and other postscript highlights.

More cynical viewers might wish for a more cynical movie, a movie with more rough edges or tough breaks or dark corners. But for anyone who wants to bask in a ray of early summer sunshine, this uplifting, spirit-boosting tale of baseball, dreams, second chances and the grand, glorious game of life itself could be just the ticket.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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