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Feature Presentation: The Secret Life of Pets

the_secret_life_of_petsThe Secret Life of Pets starring the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Renaud, Steve Coogan, Michael Beattie, and Sandra Echeverria

Universal Entertainment/Illumination Pictures, 2016. Rated PG

Synopsis: Max has the perfect life with his owner Emily until one day she brings home Duke, a dog from the pound. When the two dogs get lost in the city and are on the run from animal control and a homicidal former magician’s rabbit named Snowball and his army of abandoned pets, they are going to have to rely on each other if they are going to get home to their owner.

Having grown up with pets (dogs, to be specific), I won’t deny there were times when I wondered what they did while I was at school or at work. I don’t think my dogs did anything nearly as epic as getting recruited by a gang of former pets dwelling in the city sewers or breaking into a sausage factory to find food. But that isn’t to say that pets don’t have adventures while their humans are away. What I liked about the film is the realistic personalities of each animal, especially the dogs. I also loved the blasé attitude of Chole the cat, who unwittingly gets dragged along on a mission to rescue Max and Duke. I was thoroughly amused by the fact that in almost every scene when she is in an apartment, she is sitting in some container – a box, a bowl, etc. I also appreciated the initial rivalry between Max and Duke, the former of whom feels threatened when Emily first brings home Duke. Max is so used to being the only dog in the house and the notion of having to share his space, his toys, and his human is absurd. But what Max learns over the course of his adventures with Duke is that the larger dog has also had his share of difficulties that have left an impression on him. The compassion the dogs eventually develop for each other and for Snowball and his gang leave the viewer with a warm fuzzy feeling that will have them wanting to give their own pets some love. It’s a fun family film that will delight pet lovers of all ages.

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Feature Presentation: Minions

minionsMinions starring the voices of Pierre Coffin, Geoffrey Rush, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, and Jennifer Saunders

Illumination Entertainment, 2015. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Ever since the dawn of time, the Minions have lived to serve the most despicable of masters. From T. rex to Napoleon, the easily distracted tribe has helped the biggest and the baddest of villains. Now, join protective leader Kevin, teenage rebel Stuart and lovable little Bob on a global road trip where they’ll earn a shot to work for a new boss-the world’s first female super-villain-and try to save all of Minionkind…from annihilation. – from Universal Pictures via IMDb

This movie relies quite a bit on slapstick and physical humor, some of which may go over the heads of younger viewers. And yet, it’s another film that makes you wonder who these animated family films are really aimed toward: the children or their parents? The latest installment in the Despicable Me universe follows the lives of the minions before they became Gru’s right hand men…or whatever. Since the dawn of time, the minions have been serving master after master, some of them working out a little better than others. I thought it was amusing that there was a villainy conference at which villains could show off their dastardly deeds and minions could meet with recruiters to try and find the best match. Despite the fact that most of the dialogue spoken by the Minions is largely indistinguishable, it’s hard not to root for the little yellow…whatever they are. Bullock and Hamm are hardly recognizable as super-villain Scarlet Overkill and her husband Herb. The couple is just as amusing as the minions themselves: Scarlet clearly wears the pants, and Herb seems to be okay with that – even though he could probably be a villain all on his own given his dastardly inventions. The plot’s humor is evenly split between more adult jokes and kid jokes, though as I mentioned before, older viewers may get more of a kick out of it than its target audience. It’s a story about fun, adventure, and the pursuit of that which is truly despicable.

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Feature Presentation: Inside Out

mv5botgxmdqwmdk0of5bml5banbnxkftztgwnju5otg2nde-_v1_sx640_sy720_Inside Out starring the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MachLachlan, and Richard Kind

Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios, 2015. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school. – from IMDb

This is one of those movies that my coworkers kept telling me to see and for some reason or another, I kept putting it off. And then, of course, after I saw it, I was sorry it took me so long. This is a family film with a wide appeal that will take you on an emotional roller coaster and make you think about how you process your own thoughts. It puts a different spin on what goes on inside your head as you go through your day and how you handle the changes in your life. It personifies the science, in a sense, and it makes sense. It makes sense that there would be these little people in our heads that help us process our thoughts and emotions. It shows what happens when there is an absence or suppression of emotions, what drives us to make the decisions we do. The premise is surprisingly believable for being a film largely ground in fiction. I loved Poehler as Joy and Smith as Sadness and the two women play off of each other very well. Smith (whom older viewers may recognize from The Office) has a delightfully melancholy voice that gives Sadness a bit of humor, though it typically represents a very low emotion. I also loved the fact that Black (who is an angry comedian) is Anger. Even though the actors aren’t actually physically interacting together, the cast feeds into each other and really bring each of the emotions to life. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t going to cry during this movie, but I have a feeling even the most stone cold of persons may shed a tear or two remembering their own childhoods and their own lost/faded memories. It’s a fun, funny, and thought-provoking film that is sure to please the crowd.

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Feature Presentation: Mockingjay, Part I

mockingjay-1-posterThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Clafin, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Julianne Moore, and Donald Sutherland

Lionsgate, 2014. Rated PG-13

Synopsis: The country is in chaos after the 75th Hunger Games. District 12 has been destroyed. The other districts have drawn battle lines, some siding with the Capital and others with the rebels of District 13, thought to have been wiped off the map. Katniss is trying to keep herself together after learning that Peeta has been captured and used by President Snow to try and draw her out. With the world falling apart around her and inside her, Katniss must find the energy to become the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope for those who fight.

I’ll spare the reader my rant about how Mockingjay didn’t need to be two movies but because of consumerism blah blah blah. That aside, this second-to-last installment in The Hunger Games trilogy had a lot going for it, but I think largely because of the decision to split the film into two parts the story lost a lot of its power (so to speak). Yes, this gave the filmmakers a little more license to show the viewer some corners of the districts we don’t get to see in the books and there’s a more extended scene involving a rescue toward the end of the film that’s exciting. Yet, I left the theater thinking about just how much fluff was inserted just for the sake of squeezing as much money out of this thing as possible. There’s books, you know, it’s not like we don’t know what happens. There’s not a whole lot you can hold back from us at this point. Lawrence is still making us believe in Katniss, but unfortunately because Katniss’s character has become so flat, we almost-kinda-sorta don’t care much about her anymore. She’s lost most of her drive with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) largely out of the picture and Gale (the always gorgeous Liam Hemsworth) doesn’t seem to be helping when he tries to console her. The viewer is almost frustrated watching the movie (or at least, I was) because we want to reach through the screen and shake Katniss until she snaps out of it even though we know that she won’t without Peeta. If that’s not some element of foreshadowing, I don’t know what is. The most redeeming scene in the film is the one in which Katniss sings ‘The Hanging Tree’, which in the following scenes becomes an anthem for the rebels still struggling under control of the Capital. The song is depressing, but it’s moving to see Lawrence singing in a rare moment of peace between battles. I’m hoping Part II has a little more of the substance we were missing from Part I.

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Feature Presentation: Despicable Me 2

despicable-me-2Despicable Me 2 starring the voices of Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Benjamin Bratt, Ken Jeong, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, and Moises Arias

Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment, 2013 . Rated PG

Synopsis: Gru is a changed man. He’s traded his evil plans for jam and jelly recipes and focused on being the best dad to his three girls, Margot, Agnes, and Edith. But even though Gru’s no longer scheming and plotting, other villains are, and the Anti-Villain League wants to recruit Gru to aid them in helping save the world. With the help of Agent Lucy Wilde, Gru agrees to the mission, but can he manage to maintain his cover and avert suspicions while still keeping an eye on his girls?

Sequels can go either way, but very few manage to improve on the original. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Despicable Me 2 isn’t a good movie – because it is a delightful movie – but I still like the first one better. The film starts up where the first left off, with Gru taking care of his adoring daughters after having decided to focus on being a dad rather than an evil mastermind. I appreciated that the original voices came back for this installment, and the actors have brought the same charm and wit to the characters that made us fall in love with them. The new characters are equally likable: Lucy Wilde, an over-zealous Gru fan who has been tasked with being his partner; Eduardo, a gregarious restaurateur who appears to be hiding more than just a top secret salsa recipe; Floyd, a hairpiece enthusiast who has taken a keen interest in Gru’s bald head. The animation style is also consistent with its predecessor: bright, fun colors that help to fuel the energy of the film, even when things get a little less than sunny. The humor tries to appeal to its target audience, but, let’s face it, there’s a lot of jokes that will go straight over kid’s heads but earn a chuckle from the parents. It’s a fun family film that explores the challenges of being a single parent and the strangeness of falling in love that will put a smile on your face and make you want to get up and dance.

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Feature Presentation: Inkheart

InkheartposterInkheart starring Brendan Fraser, Sienna Guillory, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, Andy Serkis, Matt King, Steve Speirs, and John Thomson

New Line Cinema, 2009. Rated PG

Synopsis: Mortimer “Mo” Folchart has the ability to read characters out of their books, but one night while reading a story aloud, his wife gets read into the story and replaced by three rather sinister characters from a fantasy novel – Inkheart. Mo’s daughter, Meggie, is unaware of her father’s talent until he is approached by one of the men that was pulled from the pages of his book. When she learns the story of why and how her mother disappeared, Meggie becomes desperate to help Mo retrieve a copy of Inkheart and return her mother to the real world.

I’m still trying to decide if it behooves one to have read the book before seeing the movie, although there are elements to the movie that will leave fans of the book somewhat disappointed. Granted, films take liberties to make the story more exciting or characters more likable, but I think perhaps what I didn’t like the most about the movie was that toward the conclusion, it became somewhat obvious that it was trying to keep from becoming a franchise or having a sequel. It draws in a number of elements from Inkspell that allows the movie to have more of a finality to it, but it skews the fates of the characters. It bothered me that the characters remained relatively consistent up until the last ten minutes of the movie when there was a change of heart/personality/goals/etc. that resulted in the story having a ‘happier ending’. And other than the fact that the filmmakers seem to have spent more of their budget on the casting than the special effects, it was a generally enjoyable movie. The acting is good and the cinematography matches the sweeping and epic nature of the story, giving the viewer a glimpse into a part of the world that is still somewhat reminiscent of its medieval roots. It’s a charming family film that will encourage our own adventures both within the pages of books and out in the real world.

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Feature Presentation: Home

home_ver10_xlgHome starring the voices of Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Steve Martin, and Matt Jones

Dreamworks Animation, 2015. Rated PG

Synopsis: The Boov are good at running. From everything. They would rather run from danger than toward it. So when they run to Earth and relocate its inhabitants, they think everything will be fine and they will be safe from their enemies. But when Oh accidentally sends out a party invitation to the entire galaxy, the Boov must figure out a way to intercept the evite before they have to evacuate. Tip, a young girl who escapes the human relocation, reluctantly agrees to help Oh escape capture by the Boov if he promises to help her find her mother. Through their misadventures on their way across the world, both alien and girl discover what makes the other special and come to find the true meaning of the word ‘home’.

The previews for this movie got my attention because Jim Parsons (Sheldon, The Big Bang Theory) is voicing Oh and there was something about his casting that made me want to see it. The Boov are little purple aliens with eight pods for legs, two curly tentacles that act as both ear as nose, and change color according to their mood (how postmodern). They are scaredy cats with a rather interesting interpretation of Earth and humans that don’t seem to use contractions in their speech, which is part of what endeared me to Parsons voicing of an animated character. Both Oh and Tip both struggle with being different: Tip is a new girl that just moved to the city and Oh is a non-conformist who has a unique password for his email, but both desire desperately to have friends and to fit in. But as the movie goes on, the audience begins to see that it is the characters differences are not only what draws them together, but what is going to help bridge the gap between the two species. I loved the story because everyone can relate with the struggle to fit in. We all want to find a sense of home and a sense of belonging no matter where we are, and it transcends the generational gap. Though some of the humor may go over younger viewers heads, there’s still enough little kid humor and bright colors to keep everyone glued to the screen. The computer animation is top notch, and I can’t help but marvel at the advances we’ve made in digital technology even in the last year. Particularly, I enjoy how the hair is rendered – it just looks so real, and they manage to capture the unruly nature of curls as we watch Tip try to wrangle her hair into a ponytail over the course of the film. It’s a wonderful family film with a heartwarming message that will appeal to a wide age range and a plethora of quotable moments that will stay with the viewer long after they have left the theater.

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Feature Presentation: Divergent

DivergentDivergent starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, and Kate Winslet

Summit Entertainment, 2014. Rated PG-13.

Synopsis: Beatrice “Tris” Pryor lives in post-apocalypse Chicago in which society has been divided into five factions: Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intellectual), Abegnation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), and Candor (the honest). When she takes the test designed to tell her to which faction she belongs and the results are inconclusive, Tris finds herself having to choose her own path. Choosing to become part of the Dauntless, Tris discovers another side of herself and the society around her, leading her to uncover the darker side of the fragile system that holds their world together.

I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations when it came to this movie, and to be honest, I was glad I didn’t because so much of this movie was a complete train wreak. I liked the casting (Kate Winslet makes a rather diabolical villain and I’m glad to see her changing up her repertoire a little bit), but it was so hard to take Woodley and Elgort seriously in these roles as brother and sister when they were paired as a couple in The Fault in Our Stars. It’s not actually their fault that they have good chemistry or that they play well off each other, but I spent a large majority of the film having to remind myself that the characters were not going to go into a corner and make out like I subconsciously wanted. My other issue with the movie was that the writers appeared not to have even read the book and instead chose to get a summary from Roth herself (who was a producer) and then stick in bits and pieces from the Wikipedia page. They give a lot of screen time to Winslet’s character, which gives us a chance to see how multi-faceted she is, but doesn’t give Jeanine the darker edge we got from her in the book. I didn’t like how they explained – or rather didn’t explain – Tris’s visit from her mother and the visit to her brother. Fans of the book will notice numerous plot threads get dropped abruptly or just left out all together, largely due to running time, but there are so many holes in the story that, again, makes the adaptation hard to take seriously. Granted, I have seen worse book-to-film translations (I’m looking at you, Princess Diaries), but this movie is so focused on cashing in on the fact that its source material is a best-selling YA novel and making an action film that we’re losing what made us like the book in the first place. It certainly has entertainment value, but fans of the book will likely be split between loving it and thinking its crap. On the plus side, it has a pretty kicking soundtrack that makes for some good workout music.

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Feature Presentation: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

catching_fireThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plumber, Sam Clafin, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland

Lionsgate, 2013. Rated PG-13

Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen has managed to survive the Hunger Games, but her fight is just beginning. It seems that her actions in the arena have incited rebellion within the districts, a rebellion the President Snow wants crushed. But when it is announced that for the next Hunger Games, the tributes will be reaped from the existing pool of victors, Katniss finds herself in yet another fight for her life. Desperate to keep herself and Peeta alive, Katniss begins to formulate a plan that she hopes will help them survive against the odds that appear to be ever-growing against them.

The second installment in the book-to-film trilogy is an improvement on the first, most notably in regards to the camera work. Francis Lawrence, the film’s director, made the wise decision to use steadicam shots rather than the handheld work of The Hunger Games, which for me made it a much more enjoyable viewing experience. I COULD ACTUALLY FOCUS ON STUFF BEFORE THE CAMERA MOVED AWAY. IT WAS AMAZING. The stakes have been raised with the announcement that past winners will be facing off against each other, creating even more anger and unrest within Panem as the nation is forced to say goodbye to people with whom they have created a ‘personal’ connection. It gives us a sense of the impending chaos about to erupt if the peace cannot be kept. While the viewer doesn’t have much of a connection with the ‘new’ tributes, we are endeared to them: Finnick (Sam Clafin), who deals in secrets; Johanna (Jena Malone, who has finally been cast in a role that doesn’t make her look like she’s twelve), who just wants to be left alone; Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), whose inventions have revitalized Panem; Mags (Lynn Cohen), who volunteered herself as tribute for Annie. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson still have the same electric chemistry that made us cheer for them in The Hunger Games, the same energy that is driving their characters to survive and look out for each other, even if Katniss still isn’t sure how she feels about Peeta. The scope of the film is much grander this time around as well: the parties on the victory tour are grand, the arena is much more dangerous, and the costumes are more intricate. The viewer is also seeing a little more of District 12 and Panem itself, giving us a taste of the unique cultures and peoples in each district. It’s a film that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat and gives them feels. So many feels.

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Feature Presentation: The Lego Movie

The_lego_movieThe Lego Movie starring the voices of Will Arnet, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, David Burrows, Charlie Day, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, and Chris Pratt

Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow Pictures/RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 2014. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Emmet is an ordinary construction worker, until one day after work he sees a mysterious stranger poking around the construction site. When he follows her, he comes across a special piece that attaches itself to him and the mysterious stranger, Wyldstyle. Believing Emmet to be “The Special”, Wyldstyle, her mentor Vitruvius, Batman, UniKitty, and a cast of other Lego characters must help Emmet use the special piece to stop a plot by President Business to destroy life in the Lego-verse as they know it.

I’ll be honest: I thought this was going to be one of those movies where only the good parts were shown in the trailers and it wound up being disappointing. This turned out not to be the case. The movie was surprisingly funny and full of heart, telling the story about how even though we don’t feel important, we still have something to offer the world. Emmet is a truly vanilla construction worker that wants nothing more than to fit in, but it turns out that his relative invisibility is an advantage because no one really expects him to be the person her turns into by the close of the film. The film has something to offer viewers of all ages, but older viewers will definitely see the social commentary that is prevalent throughout. Plus, there are references galore that will go over the heads of younger viewers, particularly those related to the Lego pieces themselves. My friends and I spent a good majority of the movie oogling over the collection of Lego pieces and reminiscing about the sets we used to play with when we were younger, and we got a particular kick out of the glow-in-the-dark pieces that show up toward the end. The movie does a good job of contrasting the two different kinds of Lego builders: those that follow the directions (like Emmet) and those that work with the pieces to make their own creations (here called the Master Builders). While there will always be that division, there is still the message that there is no wrong way to create, whether we are making the creation that is featured on the front of the box or we are mixing up the pieces to make something new. It also demonstrates that double-decker couches are not quite as dumb as they initially seem. It’s a comedy that reminds older viewers of their childhoods and younger viewers of the power of imaginative thinking.

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