Post Date Sep 23 — Storks

Storks Movie Review“Storks” is shockingly good — way better than it looks. It’s got a zippy, zany streak filled with absurdist asides reminiscent of “Looney Tunes” cartoons. But it also sneaks up on you with genuine emotion by the end. Just don’t look for real-world logic here — and enjoy those awkward conversations with your kids about where babies come from during the car ride home. My review.

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Post Date Sep 16 — Dancer

Dancer Movie Review“Dancer” is an intimate, riveting documentary about Ukrainian ballet superstar Sergei Polunin, the media-hyped “bad boy” who reached the heights of success at an astonishingly young age, only to walk away from it all at 25. Director Steven Cantor explores the paradox of having it all and still not feeling satisfied. My review.

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Post Date Sep 9 — Other People

Other People Movie Review“Other People” breathes new life into the formulaic dark comedy about death. Molly Shannon will rip your heart out as a wife and mother of three who’s battling a rare form of cancer. It’s a career-changing performance in an auspicious feature debut from writer-director Chris Kelly. My review.

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Post Date Sep 2 — The 9th Life of Louis Drax

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie ReviewThis is a very strange, little movie. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I liked it a bit more than I didn’t like it, if that makes any sense. I appreciate what it’s trying to do in mixing Hitchcockian suspense with magical realism. It works, and it doesn’t. My review.

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Post Date Aug 19 — Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie ReviewThe latest stop-motion animation extravaganza from Laika is as poignant for adults as it is entertaining for children. Inspired by a multitude of Japanese art forms, it’s textured yet crisp, frighteningly dark yet radiant with bold color. It’s a classic hero’s journey full of action and adventure, but it’s also an intimate fable about love and loss, magic and memory. See it with your kids. See it if you don’t have kids. My rave, at

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Post Date Aug 12 — Joshy

Joshy Movie ReviewFor better and for worse, the largely improvised “Joshy” believably creates the sensation of a low-key weekend hang with a bunch of bros. You probably wouldn’t want to spend that much time with these people yourself, but at least they’re never boring. My review.

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Post Date Aug 9

Nine Lives

Rated PG for thematic elements, language and some rude humor.
Running time: 87 minutes.
Two stars out of four.

It’s hard to explain how incredibly strange “Nine Lives” is. I mean, the premise is pretty simple: Kevin Spacey plays a talking cat. It’s as high-concept as you can get. But the execution of that idea, and the caliber of talent that agreed to take part in this project, are just mind-boggling.

Barry Sonnenfeld directs. Spacey stars. Jennifer Garner plays his wife. Cheryl Hines plays his ex-wife. And in the greatest coup of all, Christopher Walken plays the “cat whisperer” who’s responsible for the cosmic human-feline body swap that sets the story into motion. The performance is exactly what you might expect if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to see Christopher Walken play a cat whisperer.

And yet … and yet. I didn’t completely hate it. I laughed here and there, simply because “Nine Lives” seems fully aware of its innate ridiculousness and willing to embrace it. The script is awful, of course, full of wacky antics and hokey, third-act changes of heart. And it’s squirm-inducing watching Spacey and Walken, two of our most enduring, influential actors, exchange the inane dialogue they’re stuck with here. (Somehow, it took five credited screenwriters to come up with snarky retorts for the supremely gifted Spacey such as “Seriously?” and “Nailed it!”)

It’s not that “Nine Lives” is terrible. It’s just that it’s not terrible enough. It certainly isn’t such a travesty that it needed to be withheld from critics. I took Nicolas to a 6pm showing the Thursday night that it opened, and he was cackling consistently from the opening montage of real-life YouTube cat videos. This is your target audience: 6-year-olds on summer vacation. But for all its shoddy CGI and convoluted plotting, “Nine Lives” is certainly more enjoyable than … oh, say, “Suicide Squad,” for example, and of those two movies, it’s the one I’d rather watch again.

Speaking of the plot, here’s what “Nine Lives” is actually about: Spacey stars as Tom Brand, an egomaniacal, billionaire industrialist who’s obsessed with building the tallest tower in North America. (Gosh, an arrogant and abrasive real estate mogul who’s preoccupied with size … who could have been the possible inspiration for this character?) When he once again forgets the birthday of his 11-year-old daughter, Rebecca (Malina Weissman), his neglected wife, Lara (Garner), insists that he get her the gift she really wants to make up for it: a cat. Naturally, Tom hates cats.

But between abrupt business meetings and terse exchanges with his older son/protege, David (Robbie Amell), Tom finds time to stop by a pet store and pick up a cat. This is no ordinary pet store, though. This is like some creepy curiosity shop Harry Potter would wander into in Diagon Alley. There, Walken’s Mr. Perkins says a few cryptic things to him, hands him an angry-looking, gray-and-white fluffball named Mr. Fuzzypants and sends him on his way with a bowl and a carrying case.

The way the actual body swap goes down — if you can call it that, because it’s unclear whether the cat conversely ends up inside Tom’s body — is sort of adorably retro. He literally gets zapped by lightning while standing at the top of his skyscraper. At the hospital, while Tom lies in coma, his soul or spirit or personality or whatever magically has transferred inside Mr. Fuzzypants.

Madcap hilarity ensues, as Tom-in-cat-form pees inside an expensive handbag belonging to his boozy ex-wife (Hines), leaps into the kitchen cabinet to eat an entire box of cereal and struggles to use a pen and an iPad. So much of what the cat gets himself into is so insane and so cheesy-looking that it’s good for a goofy giggle — including the overall fact that his mouth doesn’t even move. We’re just hearing his thoughts while the other characters think he’s meowing. That’s how low-budget this whole endeavor is. I will admit I enjoyed the sequence in which Mr. Fuzzypants figures out how to open a decanter of 50-year-old Scotch, pours it into a crystal ashtray and then laps it up like milk — all without the benefit of opposable thumbs! Smart kitty.

And Spacey playing a sardonic cat just makes so much sense. In the best of his performances, there’s often a rage simmering just below the surface, waiting to explode. And that’s Mr. Fuzzypants. It makes you long desperately for stronger writing — hell, halfway-decent writing — to make the most of Spacey’s abilities.

What’s worse, though, is that Tom is supposed to learn a lesson about the importance of family and right longstanding wrongs while being trapped inside the cat. This involves board meetings with old white men pressuring Tom’s son to take the company public. Capraesque, it is not. It’s barely even Cat Fancy. But you could do worse in August.

Post Date Aug 3 — Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad Movie ReviewThe summer of disappointing blockbusters continues unabated with the slog that is “Suicide Squad.” Even Will Smith and Margot Robbie — two of the most charismatic people on the planet — can’t make this thing fun. My 1 1/2-star review.

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Post Date Jul 29 — Bad Moms

Bad Moms Movie ReviewI really liked “Bad Moms.” It’s my favorite documentary so far this year. My review of the comedy — which I watched totally sober, I’ll have you know — at

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Post Date Jul 19

The Secret Life of Pets

The Secret Life of Pets Movie Review

Universal Pictures
Rated PG for action and some rude humor.
Running time: 91 minutes.
Three stars out of four.

I realize I’m egregiously late in writing about “The Secret Life of Pets” — or any recent movie, for that matter — but I’m playing catch-up after being out of town with my family for a couple of weeks. So, apologies. But I wanted to get a few thoughts down quickly, especially because I had the pleasure of seeing “The Secret Life of Pets” while I was away.

It’s always fun to see movies in other places. I’m so accustomed to the ArcLight, The Grove and the AMC Century City, not to mention all the various screening rooms and revival houses around town. We’re truly spoiled having so many options here in Los Angeles. While on vacation for two weeks in Boston, New Hampshire and Montreal, Nicolas and I caught the first possible showing near us: 7pm on a Thursday at the Cinemagic theater in Hooksett, N.H., where an entire auditorium sold out, requiring the opening of another one. (We also caught the “Ghostbusters” remake in Montreal, where, at first, we accidentally went to the theater where it was playing in French as “SOS Fantomes.” But that’s another story for another time.)

Nic has been seriously pumped for “The Secret Life of Pets” for months now. We are a Minion-friendly household, in case you weren’t aware, and the marketing for “Pets,” which comes from the same production company (Illumination Entertainment), made it look as if it had a similarly adorable, anarchic humor. It’s actually the summer movie I’d been looking forward to most myself, between the impossibly cute characters, the strong voice cast (Louis C.K., Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Albert Brooks) and the clever premise.

Yes, it’s essentially “Toy Story,” only with dogs and cats. But still — who doesn’t like that idea? And who hasn’t wondered what their pets do all day while they’re away? (We don’t wonder, however. We have a 14-year-old Boston terrier who’s deaf and has one tooth left in his head. We know what he does all day: He sleeps on the couch.)

It is an incredibly simple yet irresistible idea for a movie. It’s also exactly what you think it’s going to be — no more, no less. But the film from co-directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney is so perky and agreeable and eager to please — not unlike our own pets — that it’s hard not to be charmed. No, it does not have the thematic depth, narrative complexity or emotional power of a Pixar movie. Most other animated offerings don’t. But it’s beautiful to look at in terms of color, lighting and texture, it zips along nicely and it’s a totally delightful way to spend the afternoon with your family.

There is indeed a plot, albeit a thin one, which relies heavily on amusing sight gags. (Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch wrote the script.) Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is an enthusiastic terrier mix who’s fiercely loyal to his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). The two of them have a cozy life together in their tiny Manhattan apartment, and when Katie leaves for work in the morning, Max is content to sit by the door and wait for her to return. He also has friends who keep him company through neighboring windows, including Gidget (Slate), a posh, puffy Pomerian who’s secretly in love with him; Mel (Bobby Moynihan), a nutty pug who’s constantly on the alert for squirrels; and Chloe (Bell), a surly, portly cat who has a love-hate relationship with the food in the refrigerator.

One evening, the kindhearted Katie comes back with another dog: the garrulous and galumphing Duke (Eric Stonestreet), who proceeds to make himself right at home to Max’s shock and dismay. But then the two of them end up off-leash together, no thanks to their distracted dog walker, and must rely on each other to get back home. Along the way, they cross paths with an underground group of homeless former pets — a truly random menagerie led by an insanely cute (but also just plain insane) bunny rabbit named Snowball (Hart), who’s hell-bent on revolution.

Manic animal antics ensue through the streets, alleyways, sewers and rivers of New York City. And that’s about all there is to it. Snowball wants Max and Duke to join his crusade, but they kind of like being domesticated. The biggest question isn’t whether they’ll ever get home again but how — something they figure out when their friends come to rescue them with the reluctant help of a hawk voiced with rich, gravelly menace by Brooks.

He is, of course, a standout among the cast, but my favorite of all is Slate. And this is something I’ve actually thought and talked about quite a bit since seeing “The Secret Life of Pets,” because Nicolas likes to hash through plot points after we’ve seen a movie together, and he keeps asking me who my favorite character is. It’s Gidget. (He likes Max best, in case you’re wondering, and Louis C.K.’s trademark smarts and self-deprecation are just right for the role.) Slate’s husky earnestness gives the film real warmth, and I love the fact that her character looks sweet and small but she’s actually quite brave and ballsy.

And you’ve gotta love a hero’s journey in which the real hero ends up being a woman.