Considering it doesn’t demonstrate any real ambition outside of providing 90 minutes of goofy, disposable family fun, the act of criticizing The Secret Life of Pets is almost literally like kicking a puppy. But while its pluses mirror those of many 21st Century efforts of its kind – sensational animation, a zippy pace, famous comedians voicing animals, yadda yadda – it’s hard not to see directors Yarrow Cheney’s and Chris Renaud’s outing as a bit of a blown opportunity, given that it keeps hinting at a potential greatness it seems forever uninterested in pursuing.

Friday, July 1, 10:45 a.m.-ish: My latest quadruple-feature begins with The BFG, and the movie is a bit of a BFD, because it’s been nearly five years since Steven Spielberg directed anything a little kid might conceivably want to attend. (And even that 2011 release was The Adventures of Tintin, so, you know, it’s actually been more than five years.) But even though the crowd I’m with is barely deserving of the term “crowd” – it’s merely a couple-dozen tykes accompanied by taller chaperones – you can tell that this gentle, charming adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel is working for them, because they’re unusually quiet during Spielberg’s many moments of lovely stillness, and they really dig the fart jokes. And hoo-boy are there fart jokes.

Blake Lively in The Shallows


Unless you’re in the ocean and one is heading directly toward you, dorsal fins, thanks to Jaws, are inherently funny/scary. So is director Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows, in which Blake Lively finds herself tormented by a shark for close to an hour and a half. I’ll offer further plot synopsis, but that’s pretty much it. It’s Blake Lively, and a shark, and about 90 minutes – and happily, the star, the fish, and the film’s length are all just what you want and need them to be.

William Fichtner, Jeff Goldblum, and Brent Spiner in Independence Day: Resurgence


Independence Day: Resurgence boasts white heroes, black heroes, and Chinese heroes and is still, by a considerable margin, the most colorless movie of the year. It doesn’t even resemble a typical 21st Century blockbuster sequel so much as those sad, 20th Century sitcom reunions – The Brady Girls Get Married, say, or The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island – that existed only to remind you how old beloved figures had gotten, and just how stale “timeless” material can become. Roland Emmerich’s 1996 original was an easy film to laugh both at and with, but despite the derisive chuckles it inspires, the most proper response to the director’s wildly unnecessary follow-up would be a two-hour yawn.


Taken on its own, Pixar’s Finding Dory is a delightful time: smart, clever, entertaining, gorgeously animated, and, Pixar being Pixar, all but guaranteed to get you weepy on at least three occasions. But I also can’t help feeling just a little bit pissed at it, if only because of how irrevocably it might change the experience of its predecessor.


During its entire first hour, and at random times during its second, Now You See Me 2 is something I never thought it would be: fun.

Colin Farrell in The Lobster


At nearly any given moment in its two-hour running length, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster has the power to make you laugh or cry. If you choose to laugh out of derision or cry with frustration, that’s your business, and it’d be hard not to empathize with either reaction. If, however, you find yourself on Lanthimos’ and his movie’s shared, absurdist-deadpan wavelength, you might find the Greek writer/director’s latest tragicomedy – and first English-language one – both extraordinarily funny and almost embarrassingly moving. Never before has the mere sight of a Shetland pony made me chuckle, or well up once I registered exactly what it was I was chuckling at.

Friday, June 3, 10 a.m.-ish: Maybe it’s because I go the full eight-hours-plus without eating, but by the end of my latest quadruple feature, I can’t help but think of the day’s collective screenings as a cinematic four-course meal. In retrospect, I should’ve skipped dessert.


Michael Fassbender in X-Men: Apocalypse

Everyone knows that when the world is imperiled in a comic-book movie, the world is never truly in peril; it’s not like costumed characters, after the Earth’s destruction, are gonna take their in-fighting to Mars for the inevitable sequel. But despite its foreboding title, the stakes in director Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse are particularly low, given that the action takes place in 1983, a full 17 years before the events of Singer’s 2000 X-Men. Clearly, as evidenced by the franchise forebears, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto and James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier will survive the climactic devastation, considering they still need to turn into Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Cyclops and Storm and Jean Grey are all on safe ground, as are Mystique and Beast and Nightcrawler. The winged bad guy Angel can probably go, unless he finds a way to remain a teenager for two-decades-plus and turn into 2006’s good-guy Angel. But are the filmmakers really going to kill off recent recruit Quicksilver when, as personified by Evan Peters, he’s been the best reason for the series’ last two films to exist?


The Angry Birds Movie

Like many adults, I tend to bemoan the prevalence of easy fart, poop, pee-pee, and mucus jokes in animated kids’ movies – conveniently forgetting, of course, that when you’re a kid, those jokes tend to be hysterical. Well, this past weekend brought with it The Angry Birds Movie, and I guess I don’t have to tell you that it, too, boasts a fair share of gross gags for the pre-teen set. But I should perhaps mention that when a giant eagle voiced by Peter Dinklage took a full minute to urinate, visibly and loudly, and a trio of birds stared at the repellent sight with unblinking, slack-jawed disgust, I would’ve better registered the audience’s delight if I myself weren’t laughing too hard to hear them.