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Movie Review: “The Secret Life of Pets”

Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks
Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney

Illumination Entertainment showed such great promise with their debut film “Despicable Me.” It wasn’t quite Pixar-esque in terms of greatness, but the movie had its heart in the right place, delivered some quality laughs, and included great jokes for the adults that were also appropriate for kids (“Bank of Evil, Formerly Lehman Brothers.”) They’ve responded to the success of the first film by exploiting Gru’s minions like they were a limitless supply of programmable Olsen twins. The minions dominated “Despicable Me 2,” much to that movie’s detriment, and they finally got their own film, which to date is the worst film in Illumination’s history (yes, it made over $1 billion worldwide, but so did “Alice in Wonderland,” and that movie is a hot mess). Worse, they even appeared in costume form in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” They’re like alien spores, hell-bent on consuming all life on Earth.

This brings us to Illumination’s latest film, “The Secret Life of Pets,” which does not take place in the minions’ universe, yet contains three references to them: the word ‘Illumination’ in the studio’s title card flickers so that only the letters spelling ‘minion’ are visible; a character dresses up as a minion for a party; and there is a short film starring the minions before the main feature (to be fair, that bit is somewhat amusing, and proves that the minions are funnier when administered in smaller doses). That might sum up Illumination’s problem better than anything: they care more about branding than they do about the quality of their films.

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Movie Review: “Million Dollar Arm”

Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Bill Paxton, Alan Arkin, Aasif Mandvi
Craig Gillespie

For about seven years, Disney cornered the market on ‘true sports’ movies (“Remember the Titans,” “The Rookie,” “Miracle,” “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” etc.). Unfortunately, that seventh year was eight years ago, which makes “Million Dollar Arm” quite the fish out of water. Perhaps Disney thinks that this is the one that will start the next wave of true sports movies. They’d be mistaken, though: the movie is at least 20 minutes too long and spends too much time setting up the redemption of the lead character. It boasts solid performances from the supporting cast, and has heart and smarts to spare, but even this diehard baseball fan was looking at his watch before the credits rolled.

Sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is running out of options. The upstart firm that he started with friend and colleague Aash (Aasif Mandvi) is nearly broke and has no roster to speak of. When his chance at reeling in a big fish goes south, J.B. realizes that he needs an angle, something no one else has considered in terms of global scouting. Inspired by Aash’s love of cricket, J.B. decides to head to India to hold a competition to find the next great baseball pitcher in a country rich with athletic talent. The two finalists are Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal, who looks like an Indian Bruno Mars), and J.B. takes these two boys, who have never left the towns in which they were born, to Los Angeles, and expects that they will be fine on their own in a hotel. Hey, he’s a single guy, and he doesn’t have time to be an agent and a role model and a caretaker. He has deals to make and women to bed, people!

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A chat with Katie Aselton and Lake Bell (“Black Rock”)

“Black Rock” hits theaters this week, starring Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell and director Katie Aselton. The latter two sat down to talk to us regarding the making of the thriller, set on a deserted island where three friends have to fight for their survival. Bell and Aselton forged a quick friendship, with Bell taking on a character far different from the one she plays on Cartoon Network’s “Children’s Hospital,” while actor/director Aselton faced off against the elements and sometimes husband/screenwriter Mark Duplass in her creation of a true labor of love.

BULLZ-EYE: Katie, could you tell me the genesis of the story?

KATIE ASELTON: It’s the story of three childhood friends who have grown apart, and in an effort to reconnect, revisit an island that they used to frequent as kids. The movie really starts off as a chick flick/romantic dramedy and takes a severe turn when they learn that they are not the only ones on the island. There are three men out there hunting. After a series of unfortunate events, they find themselves in a fight for survival in an effort to get off the island alive. My first film, “The Freebie,” was a very quiet, intimate, emotional, talky-talky movie that was all inside a very small, Spanish bungalow. I felt the need after that to get outside, move my body and maybe kill someone. It’s just something I had to do. I don’t know why.

LAKE BELL: You had to express yourself.

KATIE ASELTON: Honestly, I’m new at this whole filmmaking thing and I’m trying some different things out and experimenting with different genres and seeing what I like. This type of thriller, this approach to a thriller that is very reality based, very truthful and simple in story and concept is something that excited me. It’s the kind of movie that I love to watch. I love “Deliverance.” I love “Misery,” even “The River Wild.” I used those as my points of reference. I also loved the idea of working with women. The TV show that I am on, I am the only girl with five guys. So, it was really exciting to get the chance to sit with two girls and kick some guys’ asses. That was fun, too.

LAKE BELL: Including the crew.

KATIE ASELTON: Including the crew. I kicked their asses too. And I had female crew members as well. It was a movie about strong women made by strong women and female producers. I had a female DP. I, myself, am female.

LAKE BELL: She is female.

KATIE ASELTON: And I had Lake and Kate [Bosworth], who are super rad ladies. It was a really, really fun experience and something that I had never done before and something that I’m very glad I did.

BE: With this being your second feature, what advice did Mark give you?

KATIE ASELTON: Well, we came up together. We made all of the movies together. He is wonderful about letting me have my own independent voice that is not his movie. What’s special about our collaboration professionally is that he really lets me do my thing and tell the story I want to tell the way I want to tell it. He got to write a script that’s very different than what he’s ever written before. He’s just really supportive. I will definitely run things past him. There were certain things he was very supportive of and certain things he was very critical of and I will take it or leave it. (laughs)

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A good old fashioned premiere party with Lake Bell and Karina Smirnoff

The new comedy, “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy,” celebrated its premiere Thursday night at the Lexington Social House in Hollywood with a Maxim party for all cast and guests. Star and Maxim cover girl Lake Bell arrived in a killer Cushnie Et Ochs black dress paired with Salvatore Ferragamo shoes. Bell went straight to take photos with the giant magazine cover of herself. Also joining her at the event were co-stars Will Forte, Angela Sarafyan, Lindsay Sloane and more.

“Dancing with the Stars” performer Karina Smirnoff joined the party straight from the movie premiere in a floor-length Cynthia Vincent pleaded creme dress — perfect attire for Lexington Social House’s most desired outside patio. The Maxim girls carried an oversized Sobieski bottle and posed for photos with partygoers. Guests enjoyed Sobieski cocktails all night long with movie-themed drinks including The Good Old Fashioned, Ring My Bell and Dirty Martinis.

Check out the trailer for the film below and then read more about “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy” in our September movie preview.