The Secret Life of Pets (2016): Depends on the Cute Factor and the Story is Weak

The Secret Life of Pets poster

  When I review films I usually break it up into pros, cons and okay…this film there isn’t much to say on it so I’m going to write about it in a small essay form. The film isn’t bad, but it isn’t even close to good and was even boring at times, which is one thing no story should be. The idea of pets living another world when humans are away is intriguing, it just never gets all that complex the way other films of the same nature have done. The film did make me want to watch the “Despicable Me” films since I heard those were good, and they were from the same studio who did this film, so it has that going for it at least.

   The film was directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, written by Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and produced by Chris Meledandri and Janey Healey.

   The story involves Max (Louis C. K.) and life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) and how it changes when she adopts Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the pound leading to Max and Duke trying to kick each other out of the house leading to them getting lost and Max’s friends having to rescue them while Duke and Max must learn to get along.

    The story is a lot like “Toy Story,” with Max as Woody and Duke as Buzz, but unlike “Toy Story” the writing never rises that high. More often than not it depends on what we associate with animals (lazy cats, over excited dogs) to get the humor across while never rising up to deep characters like a Pixar film.

     This isn’t Pixar but I was hoping to actually care about the characters. Besides the ending when Max and Duke repair their issues with one another, I cared less about them. If there were good side characters this wouldn’t be so bad…

     There are two interesting side characters, Gidget who has a crush on Max and Snowball who is leading a rebellion against humanity with a bunch of abandoned pets. They are each interesting because they have personality traits that stand out. Gidget is obsessed with Max and extremely naive (talks to a hawk who wants to eat her) but can befriend anyone and Snowball is crazy but shows that he just wants to be cared about at the end of the day when a little girl adopts him. Seriously, these two could have carried the film and brought it up to maybe a 6 or 7, but we are left with the bland leads going through two folks learning to get along which we have seen in animation done better, and this time it isn’t even done in an interesting way.

     At the end of the day this was a predictable film that lacked in humor and and characters with depth. This is bad because if the leads can’t carry a film I need other characters who are around enough or comedic enough to keep me entertained. This film failed on this basic part and in the end wasn’t an enjoyable drama or comedy. The soundtrack like the characters didn’t stand out so I can’t really recommend that either.

    If you have kids and don’t want to see “Finding Dory” again I’d tentatively say you should see it. The kids may be entertained, but they deserve better. Take them to “Finding Dory” instead or show them one of the many amazing animated shows currently on television.

Final Score: 5.2 / 10

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Justice League: War (2014) – Moments of Charm But “The New 52” Brooding Brings Down

Justice League War

      Outside of “Batman: Under the Red Hood” I haven’t really checked out much of the DC Animated Universe outside of the Bruce Timm Universe which is one of my favorite animated universes and is truly the best of the DC Universe outside of the Batman Nolanverse. This a film with “New 52” vibes as all the characters are amped up and they are in a universe that isn’t a fan of them…so from the beginning it is starting out dark, which has been the whole theme of the new DC run of “The New 52.” There are some good moments in this, but the grim dark really brings it down.

     The film was directed Jay Oliva and written by Heath Corson and produced by Sam Register, James Tucker and Alan Burnett and based off the comic series “Justice League: Origin” by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Scott Williams.

    The story involves the Justice League coming together as they face off against one another to face the greater threat of Darkseid and his alien invasion.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is beautiful and is one of the best parts of the film. The animation flows, tonally it keeps the dark and shadows of this new universe  and the action is great.

The Action – The action is also one of the best parts of this film. The fights between our heroes and against the alien invasion flow nicely and you feel the punches and destruction on the screen.

Green Lantern – Hal Jordan is likable in this as Batman is his mentor figure as he learns to rise to leadership among the rag tag group of outcasts. He’s a great character and I liked that he felt so weak around the others and kept trying to make up for it by jumping into battle. His dynamic with Batman is really what made him enjoyable though.

Batman – Batman is the cool head in this who knows who all of the Justice League are and helps Hal Jordan rise to the challenge and begin working with the others on the team. In this his lack of super-humanity is played up and he wins through dialogue most of the time. He’s also pretty respectful too. The one thing that felt off is when he says his name and motivations (I became Batman to avenge my murdered parents) to Hal, if I was Hal that wouldn’t make me feel any less comfortable with him being “Mr. Spooky.”

Okay/Pro: The Flash – The Flash is alright but it feels like a lot of his positive and snark were picked up by Hal Jordan instead, so he is never allowed to become the full person he is on a team in other versions of the character. I like that we see his life as a civilian though and the fact that Batman respects his work and vise versa.

Cyclops – Cyclops is the superhero who never chose to be one as it was in a fit of anger that he is warped by technology his father is studying. He is the closest thing to a main character the movie has but he still feels underdeveloped. Beyond impressing his father, he doesn’t really have a motivation.

The Cons: Shazam – Shazam is a little kid who turns into a superhero who idealizes Cyclops from when he was a football star and now that he’s a superhero. His character creeps on Wonder Woman and as a kid he’s just annoying. Seriously, I really hope this character doesn’t get his own film.

Darkseid – Darkseid is weak. The Justice League takes out his eyes and knocks him back into his portal. Most of his power is from his alien army and outside of that he’s pretty forgettable. Never felt like he’d be all that much of threat given he’d been handled better in Bruce Timm’s DCAU and the comics.

Wonder Woman – This film plays up Wonder Woman being a woman out of time (kind of a Thor like character) but never fully explores it. I felt like we never got to fully know her character and motivations beyond her feeling like she’s fighting among the gods. What doesn’t help is how most of the male superheroes objectify her.

Superman – The guys a creep who doesn’t care about controlling his power. Seriously, this version of him is a douchebro. He’s creepy and eyeing Wonder Woman, he’s beating on the other heroes because he can…I really hate this version of him. Seriously, give me the Bruce Timm one or one who still remembers who the ideal hero is.

Every Guy Wants to be with Wonder Woman – This is a Justice League Team with 6 men and 1 women, at least 5 of the men want to be with Wonder Woman…what the hell? You don’t even know her. This was really annoying and I hated how each was either trying to impress her or act like they owned her feelings (Superman, seriously screw that guy). It was uncomfortable and it was hard to believe they’d ever become a team with them already objectifying one of their Team Members during an alien invasion.

The Dialogue – The dialogue is really stilted and took me out of the film on more than one occasions. There are often awkward pauses and some things people say don’t feel natural at all.

This was a film that okay in the end. When it managed to give time to develop it’s heroes I felt like I could appreciate what it was trying to do. Sadly the eyeing of Wonder Woman (almost as if ownership over her (disgusting)) pulled me out of that though. In the end it felt like so many of them were competing and because of this all the civilians dying around them during the invasion were completely forgotten. This also happens when Superman fights Green Lantern and Batman…it’s like he’s out of “Man of Steel” as he cares nothing for the buildings he destroys when fighting people who are just trying to figure out what’s going on, just like him. In the end, it’s up to you if you want to see it. It’s hard to really recommend either way as there is so much to dislike even though some things were done alright.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003): A Truly Epic Tale of the Clone Wars and the Fall

Star_Wars_Clone_Wars

   Tartakovsky’s “Clone Wars” is one of the greatest things to come out of the “Star Wars” Universe and shows us just how great the Prequels might have been with vision, direction and the consequences of War fully explored and realized. This is a series where even the minor characters are given moments to shine and we see just how powerful the Separatists truly are as well as Sidious’s endgame and watch him put all the pieces in motion for Anakin and the Republic’s fall.

      The series was written and directed by Genddy Tartakovsky and produced by Sam Register and George Lucas.

      The story involves Anakin’s fall as the planets continue to fall to General Grievous and the Separatist forces as the Jedi fight against them, making their forces thin. Elsewhere Dooku and Sidious plot while the war continues leading to a large scale attack on Coruscant.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is beautiful and reminds me of “Samurai Jack.” Genndy Tartakovsky did a great job and it is beautiful watch as he uses his strength in this animation style to capture the wonder of these worlds and Universe.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful and feels very “Star Wars.” It captures the epicness of battle or the individual fears and struggles as the characters wrestle with the Dark Side in opponents or themselves. James L. Venable and Paul Dinleter did a great job.

The Writing – Tartakovsky and his writing team did a great job on this script. The main focus is on Anakin and how different worlds fair against the threat of Dooku and the Separatists and we see an overall narrative leading to the Climax of the battle of the Episode III with Grievous’s invasion of Coruscant and the capture of Palpatine. It’s powerful and there is so much showing rather than telling, clearly George Lucas did not write this script.

The Universe – The “Star Wars” universe is rich and we get to see so many worlds in this. From the homeworlds of the Mon Calamari to the Capital Coruscant…and many Separatist worlds. Each one is distinct and rich.

The Organizations – The Separistists and the Republic both get development, as do the Jedi as we get to see their philosophy.

The Separatists – The Separatists don’t have the complexity they recieve in “The Clone Wars,” but they feel like a threat the entire time. Their generals manage to defeat and kill many Jedi and their superweapons are pretty well designed and are usually only taken out by Jedi Masters.

Asajj Ventress – Ventress wants to be a Sith and bests all the contestants in Dooku’s competition. She is just evil in this and isn’t as complex as she is in the “The Clone Wars” but she achieves a similar purpose in driving Anakin to the edge as his obsession to try and kill her and defeating pushes him closer to the Dark Side. She is an awesome threat and Grey DeLisle (Azula) does a wonderful job.

Count Dooku – Dooku defeats all his Generals and apprentices and even Grievous who we have seen kill multiple Jedi at once can’t hold his own. Dooku is fully in control of the War and working with Sidious is making the Jedi spread thin so that their attack on Coruscant will most likely succeed and the Jedi will fall. Corey Burton does a great job voice acting.

General Grievous – This is the General Grievous I expected in Episode III and “The Clone Wars” and only found disapointment. This Grievous is scary and is a warrior with honor who can take on multiple Jedi at once and kill them. He’s a Jedi killing machine and nothing can stand against him, you get why he’s a general and Dooku’s apprentice and he’s always one step ahead. John DiMaggio does a great job adding threat to his voice too and he is the scariest enemy in this series…it’s a shame that this is the only place you will find a Grievous worthy of his name.

The Republic – The Republic is interesting though we don’t get much development of side characters who aren’t Jedi (similar problem “The Clone Wars” had though they were better at developing senators) we still get a glimpse of an Empire about to fall as they are cut off from the war until it arrives on their doorstep and the populations of the Republic are far too dependent on the Jedi to protect them. In this we get to see Padme in action as she helps rescue a few times and goes on mission with Yoda.

The Jedi – The Jedi are interesting in this but I’m going to focus on the ones who I felt got special exploration and were more compelling because of it.

Master Luminara and Barriss Offee – These two give us the philosophy of the Jedi as Barriss is making her lightsaber when Dooku attacks the Temple with some cloaked droids leading them nearly dying even though they manage to take out a lot of the droids. It is only when Padme and Yoda arrive that they are rescued showing just how threatening even the non-organics of the Separatists can be.

Yoda and Windu – These two are powerhouses and they earn their stripes as Master in this. It is very superpowered in some ways but given the mystique surrounding these characters it was great to finally see how powerful their connection to the force was in action. Yoda is extremely entertaining too as he has a great sense of humor to balance out Windu’s seriousness. He feels like the wise sage in this.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – In this we see how great Anakin and Obi-Wan’s friendship is as Obi-Wan goes against part of the Council to promote Anakin becoming a Knight. It shows that he knows Anakin is prideful and an outsider but truly values him as a friend and companion. We see Obi-Wan’s patience too as he fights an enemy who refuses to die (Durge) and is the calm to Anakin’s passion in their adventures when Anakin is Knighted. Obi-Wan is also always the diplomat as he learned countless languages from his time with Qui-Gon.

Anakin Skywalker – This series really shows Anakin’s fall as we see his obsession with winning and defeating his enemies lead to him chasing Ventress to a world where his troops are all killed by her and he is nearly killed as well driving him into a rage where he leaves to her die as he is consumed by his darkness. He later has a vision quest on a world where he seeking the warriors of their people and sees that he will someday become Darth Vader. This doesn’t stop him from saving the twisted warriors and bringing an end to the experiments showing that even in his rage, Anakin and Vader have some semblance of honor to what they do.

    This was a show that took it’s characters and worlds seriously. We see countless people die to the different forces and see just how much of a threat the Separatists truly are. It was a shame that “The Clone Wars” and “Episode III” turned Grievous into a joke (though I appreciate how much development it gave Ventress), the story is self contained and doesn’t feel like it is 2 hours long as it the action, animation and character development keep the story going to the point that you want to see more. In a way the biggest downfall is that we don’t get enough of Tartakovsky’s vision…we get a wonderful glimpse and story within the world he made but there is more that could have been told.

Final Score: 10 / 10. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes Star Wars or his past works.

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 15 – “The Jihad” – Too Much Tell and not Show

Star Trek TAS S 1 E 16 The Jihad

     “The Jihad” had some interesting ideas, for example Spock and Kirk being on a secret mission with a bunch of other alien representatives to prevent a war is pretty cool. Sadly we get almost entirely tell and not show which makes it one of the worst episodes of the “Animated Series.”

    The episode was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by Stephen Kandel.

      The story involves Kirk and Spock being chosen by a powerful and ancient species to recover a Skorr artifact of religious significance in order to prevent a Jihad on the galaxy as the Skorr were once a war like species and it was only their religious awakening that now keeps them in check. Kirk and Spock must work with other aliens to retrieve the artifact and prevent the war.

The Pros: The Alien Team – The idea behind the alien team is really cool, with Kirk and Lara as the human representatives who flirt with each other a few times while the others are more extreme in emotion or balanced. Tchar is the leader who betrays them in the end as he wants the war and to re-establish “greatness” in his people again.

Spock and Kirk – Spock is logical and sound and is always a pleasure and these two have great chemistry again that shows why slash fic exists, especially as Kirk is way more interested in the mission and Spock than her even though she is down with hooking up over the course of the mission on the dangerous planet.

The Cons: The Writing – The script is really bad. Everything is explained and  because we are told everything it makes the very bad animation all the more apparent. If the writing had been okay this would be an okay episode, but because it is terrible it makes the episode terrible. Doesn’t matter how good your actors or ideas are if the script can’t carry the episode.

  This is an episode I would not recommend at all, at it is a shame since there was so much potential here. We should have spent more times with the different aliens and gotten to know the Skorr more, instead we had a very poor execution of “Man vs Nature” and an obvious betrayal that never really made sense.

Final Score: 2 / 10

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 15 – “The Eye of the Beholder” – Obvious Message not Done Well

Eye of the Beholder Star Trek TAS Season 1 ep 15

   The idea of aliens seeing humans as animals is a cool idea but really hard to execute, and honestly the original “Planet of the Apes” did this idea so much better. I wasn’t sure who the aliens were in the end or why they thought humans and Vulcans were animals, they were supposed to be higher beings without it ever being demonstrated and that more than anything brought the story down.

The episode was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by David P. Harmon.

The story involves the crew of the Enterprise seeking out Markel who had made a command decision that had got him and his crew trapped on an unknown planet. When the crew of the Enterprise arrives they are trapped and put into a zoo and must find a way to communicate with their captors or escape.

The Pros: The idea – The idea of aliens seeing humans as animals is a good one but the slugs are so boring we got know idea of their culture of society.

Okay: The Crew – Kirk tries to escape and the others talk to Markel but we don’t really get much. Scotty has a moment of the baby alien getting into his head and that is the extent of the interesting stuff, it was just that unmemorable.

The Cons: Execution – The zoo was poorly designed, the aliens culture was completely unknown and our crew  does nothing of significance. It’s just a bad episode.

The Message – Animals are just trying to communicate with us and are the same or could be the same as us someday. Not a bad message but very poorly done and if there is another message it was unclear to me.

This was not a good episode. Not much happens or is fleshed out and an interesting idea of first contact is completely wasted and goes cliche (they’ll be ready to meet us in 30 of their years). Was not a fan.

Final Score: 3 / 10

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 10 – “Mudd’s Passion” – Mudd is a Terrible Person and this Episode is Weak

Harcourt_Fenton_Mudd_2269

    Harry Mudd is a terrible character and I’m not looking forward to my eventual watching of “Mudd’s Women” his introduction episode. In this he is a simple and very selfish con who has no redeeming qualities. This episode also suffers from “Star Trek” not being all that good at comedy. Still, there were a few things I enjoyed, though this is still not an episode I’d recommend.

“Mudd’s Passion” was directed by Hal Sutherland written by Stephen Kandel.

The story involves Mudd conning some minors with love crystals that end up working and leading the crew to act crazy as he makes his escape and must be captured once again to be brought to justice within the Federation.

The Pros: Spock and Kirk – The crystals make these two lovy with one another and I love it as I have always been a fan of Spock and Kirk as more than friends but also potential lovers, as they had more chemistry with one another than any woman that was supposed to be a love interest.

The Rock Monsters – At one point Rock Monsters are attacking Mudd and Nurse Chapel and they have a great design.

The Cons: The Premise – They to go to stop a con job by Harry Mudd on a world that isn’t even under the Federation, it is pointless from the beginning and Nurse Chapel falling for the con against a proven con is just bad writing.

The Message – Love can be induced by artificial means? I don’t think this episode knew what it was exploring and any message gleaned is a negative.

The Characters – With the exception of Kirk and Spock everyone is written terribly. So much flirting and acting stupid for contrived reasons. Not worth your time.

Harry Mudd – Why did they bring this guy back? He is useless, annoying and if he is anything like this in his introduction episode I am going to run into an episode that I will probably hate. Of all the people to bring back…why not Kor or one of the Klingons or the Romulan Empress? Not Harry “fracking” Mudd.

Mudd and terrible writing are the biggest problems with this episode. It reminds me why in improv my mentor Brian told was that acting drunk was a copout, this was that with contrived writing. It was trying to be easy rather than telling a good story. I do not recommend at all and and Harry Mudd is a terrible character.

Final Score: 2 / 10

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 7 – “The Infinite Vulcan” – New Purpose

Spock_2,_Keniclius_5,_and_Enterprise_crew

  Walter Koenig (the actor who plays Chekov) is a great writer! He has a lot of big ideas he deals with in this (the survival of a dying species and how to change ideals) and does a really good job with it! This was an episode that could have been terrible. Clones generally are a bad idea, especially cloning a major character, but this episode rises above this generally bad idea.

   “The Infinite Vulcan” was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by as stated above, Walter Koenig.

      The story involves the Enterprise being ordered to a planet at the far reaches of the galaxy where a dying plant species called the Phylosians has made a deal with a man from the Eugenic Wars who has chosen Spock to clone in order to create his Master Race to bring peace to the galaxy. It is up to the crew to stop him.

The Pros: Phylos – Phylos is a really cool planet. It is entirely made of plant life with both predatory flying plants as enemies and the dying race of the Phylos as the dominant species. It is colorful, green and dangerous and I wish the planet would make appearance in other “Trek” things.

The Phylosians – This species is fascinating as they latch onto the man Dr. Stavos who almost killed them from his germs but did everything to save him. They were once a war making species but now only want to be peacekeepers…much like humanity and Dr. Stavos.

Uhura – Uhura has a minor but great role in this. She researches the Eugenic Wars and finds that Stavos fought in it and it is from her research they are able to reason with the man and Spock 2 in order to save Spock and keep Stavos’s ideals from becoming a nightmare. 

Sulu – Sulu also has an active role in this as it is the Phylosians who save him from a plant that poisons him and it is he who later defends them when they are attacked by the Phylosians by easily throwing one. He shows that he is adapt, witty and can match wits with any crewmember or alien. He’s a lot of fun in this and Takei brings his charm.

Scotty – Is the acting Captain and does a good job as we see that he is the one who tries everything to reach Kirk as he doesn’t want to cause a war during first contact. He truly is the best engineer in “Star Trek.”

Dr. Stavos – Stavos is the idealist run amok who has lost all faith in humanity so wants to create a master race to enforce peace between worlds. He ran away from the Eugenic Wars because of the ashamed he was of his people and the war and that shame rubbed off on him when he nearly wiped out the Phylosians from simply being part human. This makes it possible to reason with him though and in the end he becomes an ally of the Federation.

Spock and Spock 2 – Spock 2 is Spock’s Clone who has Stavos’s ideals but also the Vulcan logic which leads to him stopping further clones from being created and mind melding with the original Spock in order to save him. He later stays to help Stavos further his research and save the Phylosians.

Spock agrees with the Clone and calls out Kirk for his aggression while complimenting him for when he acts with a cool head.

Kirk –  This is a good Kirk episode as we see him deal with threats in a reasoned way while still using force when absolutely necessary. He is convincing too and manages to turn the Phylosians and Dr. Stavos who were once enemies into allies of the Federation.

    This was a really great episode with the only cons being the fact that what Dr. Stavos did during the Eugenic Wars is never gone into. In a way it isn’t needed but it would have made the episode perfect if we had more time. I really recommend this episode. I had no idea Walter Koenig could write, but he did a great job.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10