Friday, July 22, 2016


I hate it when a movie's title makes no sense, like this one.
I saw Equals shortly after my best friend's family—and by extension my family—had suffered a horrible loss. So I think I was more affected by its message than I would've been otherwise. Director Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) retreads very, very familiar territory (think The Giver mixed with Romeo & Juliet) and doesn't have anything new to add to the conversation, and on top of that, the film's cop-out ending made me groan. But since Equals' story centers around the question of whether it's better to experience the highs and lows (but especially the lows) that come with being human versus feeling nothing at all, and since I would've done anything to stop my friend from feeling the pain she was going through at that time, I was captivated for 101 minutes, if nothing else.

Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) are part of "The Collective," our future society where human DNA has been manipulated in order to prevent emotions. Most of the population has been wiped out thanks to a world war, although there's talk of a group of people who live outside of The Collective and still have feelings. Silas, Nia and their robot-like counterparts at work are able to have discussions and whatnot, but their lives are pretty darn boring.

Then one day Nicholas realizes that he's starting to have dreams and feel slivers of emotions—and he has reason to suspect Nia is as well. Oh no! This means they are both "infected" with Switched On Sydrome (SOS—GET IT?!?) and are going to be thrown in "the den" to be experimented on and will never be seen again.

Let's just stare at each other... FOREVER
It's obvious that despite the imminent danger they'd be in if they start acting on their emotions, Silas and Nia will soon fall for each other anyway and then have to work increasingly hard to keep their forbidden relationship a secret. This whole "star-crossed lovers" thing inspired cinematographer John Guleserian to give us lots and lots and LOTS of longing looks and glances and dreamy closeups of faces and lips and hands touching. (These are things Stewart is really good at from her Twilight experience, though, and I'm not even joking.) However, no matter how earnest the leads are in their roles, the extreme multitude of the aforementioned shots—combined with the sometimes-overbearing emo score from Sascha Ring and Dustin O'Halloran—make the film come off as more than a little ridiculous.

The only breath of fresh air arrives in the form of a few scenes with other "infecteds," played by Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver, among others. The pace picks up a bit when they hatch a plan to help Silas and Nia escape The Collective. But it's not enough to save the film overall.

We all already know that as much as it hurts to experience loss, sadness and pain, having the full spectrum of human emotions is still worth it. It's a shame Doremus couldn't find anything else to say besides the obvious in Equals.

    Saturday, July 09, 2016

    The Secret Life of Pets

    Good dog. Bad movie.

    I had such high hopes for The Secret Life of Pets (despite the fact that the grammar nerd in me instantly hated that it wasn't called The Secret Lives of Pets).

    As the owner of a black lab who freaks out every time I leave and return, I have often wondered what he does when I'm gone, and this film from directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney promised me some entertaining answers. Its trailers—filled with head-banging poodles and toilet-water-chugging bulldogs—showed promise. And to be fair, the opening act and the final scene of the movie were funny, clever and moving. If you're a pet owner or animal lover, you WILL well up at the end.

    The problem is that almost everything in the middle was cringe-worthy or otherwise disappointing, and had absolutely nothing to do with what pets get up to behind closed doors.

    The plot is basically Toy Story, except with animals. The main character Max (Lewis C.K.) is horrified and hurt when his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the NYC pound. Max does everything he can to get Duke out of the picture, and then when his plan finally succeeds but puts both of them in danger, the two rivals have to band together to get back home safely. In the meantime, a ragtag group of other pets, led by the fluffy Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate), venture out into Manhattan to rescue their friends. (All of this is set to a surprisingly great soundtrack, by the way.)

    I was enjoying everything until Max and Duke get lost in New York and run afoul of "the flushed pets"—a group of abandoned animals that live in the sewer. Led by the bent-on-revenge bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart, a great choice), these forgotten pets have one goal: to kill humans. You read that right. When Fluffy and his crew first meet Max and Duke, the two domesticated dogs lie and say that they offed their owner, and Fluffy wants details. He demands to know exactly HOW the dogs killed their owner. And then he vows to kill Max and Duke after they escape from the sewer. I could not believe what I was hearing. This is supposed to be a movie for kids! (It reminded me of why I despised Cars 2 so much—all the talk about shooting and killing.) How hard would it have been for writers Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio to have had the animals speak in more vague terms about the flushed pets wanting revenge? (Or to have just thought of another way for the story to go entirely.)
    Don't be fooled by appearances.

    And don't think for a second that they were trying to make some bigger point about how animals aren't objects to be tossed out after the responsibility of having a pet gets old. They were doing no such thing. This film is not that deep.

    So after Fluffy enters the picture, the story is no longer about what pets do when humans aren't around. The animals are chasing each other all over the city and none of it has anything to do with the original premise. During this disappointing middle section of the film, there were a few points where the directing and writing team could've at least paused the action for a moment and taken the opportunity to pull on our heartstrings a little. A scene where Duke visits his old home is a prime example. We learn something about Duke's old owner and then... nothing. We're left hanging. No closure. What were they thinking?!?

    In addition to all of the talk about killing and death, one character does actually meet a violent end, Gidget beats up another animal, Max and Duke nearly die a few times over, and in general there's just a very icky undertone to most of the film. It's like a totally different team made The Secret Life of Pets' thoroughly enjoyable start and finish.

    I will not be taking my 4.5 year old to see this one. Not because I think he would be scared by it or disturbed by it or even understand the parts I'm upset about. But rather because there are enough GOOD kids' movies out there that there's no reason to give money to one that took the lazy, easy way out.