Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Dogs, Cats, Aliens & Robots

The Secret Life of Pets 2 – This is a sequel to an animated film I never saw, and though I enjoyed it, I don't plan to go back and see the original. I'm all about moving forward, you know. An Illumination/Universal Pictures animated feature, it capitalizes on the voice talent of Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, and Harrison Ford to depict an eccentric cast of cats, dogs, and a bunny having adventures in the big city as well as (in a fish-out-water side plot) down on the farm.

Hero dog Max (a Jack Russell terrier) struggles to accept that the little boy in his family, whom he is sworn to protect, is about to start school. Then he finds out about country life and has to accept an entirely new level of risk. Meanwhile, back in town, the other pets in the apartment building get involved in a caper to save an abused tiger from a cruel circus trainer and his pack of hench-wolves.

It's full of cuteness, comedy that mostly works, and some exciting action sequences, including a car-train chase assisted by the ultimate crazy cat lady. Three scenes that made it for me: (1) Rooster, the old sheepdog, forces Max to save a sheep from falling off a cliff. (2) Gidget, a perky Pomeranian, has to impersonate a cat to infiltrate crazy cat lady's apartment and rescue Max's favorite toy. (3) The climactic battle on the train in which Max heroes up against the evil Sergei and his pet monkey.

Men In Black International – The MiB mythology moves on without Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. With a globe-trotting mission based at the secret E.T.-policing agency's London office, it features Ray-Ban wearing Agents named mostly after letters of the alphabet, played by the reassuring Emma Thompson, the intimidating Liam Neeson, the always punchable Rafe Spall, the studly but also punchable Chris Hemsworth, the beautiful but weird Rebecca Ferguson (OK, she's a crook, not an Agent) and no-nonsense point-of-view player Tessa Thompson. It has terrifying twins who seem to have been ripped off from the Matrix trilogy, a tiny comic relief alien voiced by the guy from The Big Sick, and a bunch of stuff about opening a rip in space to let in bad things from beyond the stars. I'm not saying it wasn't a fun movie to watch, but I think the last time this franchise made an indelible mark on movie culture was Movie 1.

I've actually let this review go too long to remember a lot of the details, but the passage of time has boiled it down to the Three Things That Made It For Me: (1) The cute little baby alien whose first words, spoken to the girl who saved him from being scrobbled upon arrival on Earth, translate roughly (we find out much later) to "I'll kill whoever you want." (2) The realization that Agent H (as in Hemsworth) has been neuralized, conveniently explaining his recent erratic behavior. (3) The weird battle in the street with the twin aliens, seemingly defying the laws of spacetime.

Lost in Space, Season 1 – This review is about a DVD of the Netflix original series, not the 1960s TV show – although Bill Mumy (the original Will Robinson) makes a cameo appearance early in the series and gamely tries to get the cast and crew hip to the original-series catch phrase "Oh, the pain" in some special features. The main act, however, is a terrifically written, produced and acted arc of serialized sci-fi storytelling, featuring a boy, his robot, his interplanetary colonist parents and siblings (who have gotten separated from their space caravan and land on the wrong planet), a cunning and manipulative outlaw who calls herself(!) Dr. Smith, a hotshot pilot who ends up being one of the Robinson girls' main squeeze, and a pet chicken – apparently because none of the chimps who tried out for the role had the bird's charisma.

The family drama is solid. The alien environment, creatures, gizmos and space itself are very convincing. The storylines are fraught with tension and emotional power. The suspense achieves heretofore unrecorded levels as the Robinson family ekes out a narrower and narrow margin of survival at every turn. What doesn't happen to these poor folks? One of the girls gets trapped in ice. The other girl is stalked by blind, apex predators in their home cave – sort of like "A Quiet Place," only full of fossilized poop. The parents get sucked into a tar pit. The boyfriend is inside a space ship when it falls off a cliff. The dad and the boyfriend are in a rocket that explodes in takeoff. A weather balloon tries to drag the mom off a cliff. And poor Will, realizing that the robot who listens to nobody but him is a danger to others, has to order his best friend to walk off a cliff. Seriously, this world has too many cliffs. Something should be done.

Toby Stephens and Molly Parker headline an excellent cast as the Robinson parents. Parker Posey, playing the heavy, is surprisingly effective. If these three needed to carry the whole show on their talent, they could. But they don't have to. Cheers to the people who put this cast together and gave them the material to create excellent TV.

For now, however, all I can do is tell you about the Three Things That Made It For Me – in the case of this spectacular series, a difficult choice. (1) Mom to Dad (as his two-man rocket is preparing to lift off): I love you. Dad: I love you. Hotshot pilot: I love you, too. (2) Younger daughter tells her first boyfriend that she doesn't think they should see each other again – after he's betrayed her and her family multiple times. I couldn't help yelling, "Good girl!" (3) Hotshot pilot: No. Older daughter: *puppy dog eyes* HP: No. OD: *puppy dog eyes* HP: No, no, no, no, no. OD: *full blast puppy dog eyes* HP: Dammit! OK, so Will Robinson and his robot aren't in any of my top 3, but they're a pretty good piece of a very good show that I fully intend to watch in future seasons.

No comments: