Tagged: Louis C.K.

Box Office Democracy: The Secret Life of Pets

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how at this point in my life I’m through being cool.

I’m 32 years old, I’m engaged to the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, and I just closed on a house. I don’t need to do things anymore because I think they make me look cool. I’m going to use clip-on sunglasses, wear flip-flops despite my giant feet looking goofy in them, and I’ll wear shorts after dark if it’s a warm evening and I feel like it. If something I like happens to be cool then that’s a great coincidence, but otherwise I’m willing to wear wrestling shirts and play needlessly complicated board games.

By the same token I’m willing to say that I wholeheartedly enjoyed The Secret Life of Pets despite it being a bit shallow from a narrative perspective, and despite the fact that at this point in Minion-mania Illumination Entertainment might be the least cool movie studio on the planet.

The Secret Life of Pets is a pretty standard hero’s journey story, plucky everydog Max (Louis C.K.) has his idyllic life disrupted by newcomer Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the two eventually get lost in New York and a ragtag group of other pets come together to save them. It’s not the most original story in the world, but it’s a perfectly strong framework to hang 90 minutes of reliable pet humor. Dogs are earnest and dumb, cats are aloof and egotistical, and birds are surprisingly clever. I suppose a megalomaniacal rabbit and an army of neglected pets bent on the subjugation of human life is a little new, but no one strained under the narrative weight here. What shines is the jokes and more importantly, the execution.

The casting for Secret Life of Pets is impeccable, and while I usually want to resist the trend of hiring mainstream actors to do voice work (is it even a trend at this point? It’s basically a cultural norm) I can’t deny that the performances here are top notch. C.K. and Stonestreet are good enough, the former is doing a generic enough good guy persona and the latter a performance that’s 98% bumbling goofball the supporting cast is where the real gems are. Jenny Slate is a revelation as the lovesick Pomeranian who live across the street from Mac and leads the effort to return him home. She’s spunky and funny but most importantly really genuine. Slate has been bubbling just below the audience consciousness line for a while, and I hope that she can finally start breaking through with efforts like this. Albert Brooks is a legend for good reason, but I never knew I always wanted him to play a hawk with an honesty problem. He steals every scene he’s in and, most importantly, sounds nothing like Marlin from when I saw him a couple weeks back. Kevin Hart has spent the last couple years slowly winning my heart and he deserves all of that love here. It’s his trademark big over-the-top character I’ll probably see four times this year but it consistently got the biggest laughs in the theater.

There’s a moment in the second act where I thought Secret Life of Pets was finally going to try for a big emotional moment, to step above what I expect from Illumination and join the Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks upper echelon in animated storytelling. They start talking about Duke’s original owner and the life they had together and when they return to find said owner, the current occupant of the house (a cat) tells Duke that his owner has passed away. They are clearly trying to pull at the heartstrings with this revelation but the moment gets no time to breathe, feels a little out of nowhere when it comes up, and is never even referenced again. I wanted a bigger moment, I wanted to know what Duke’s original owner called him, I wanted something bigger. If you’re going to go for it commit all the way and if you aren’t going to make a real effort maybe that time would be better served with a couple more good jokes.

Marc Alan Fishman: Stand Up For Integrity

This past week, Marc Maron interviewed Mike Myers on his WTF Podcast. Myers, a consummate pro very much at peace with the world, had only one itch to scratch with Maron: His infamy in being known as hard to work with. His response was direct. If he was hard to work with, it was only because he was standing up for his creations. And if that in turn caused people to be irked by him, well, so be it. Had I not been driving at the time, I would have stood up an applauded. And to the couple on I-294 I accidentally cut off because I attempted it… I’m really sorry about that.

It got me thinking about creative endeavors, and how Myers’ ideology is the ideal that would make the world that much more of an amazing place to live. It’s a crazy notion that I’ll happily back with a litany of examples. If I may be so bold:

Louie, on FX, is an astoundingly brilliant, genre-challenging show that simply could not be made any other time than right now. Because Louis C.K. had the wherewithal to stick to his guns and demand complete creative control over his end-product, every episode is appointment-worthy TV. By comparison, IFC’s Maron is so tragically focus-grouped, it took two seasons to reach any worthy catharsis. And even then, it was a barely-there conceit that Maron should appreciate life more. To compare the two shows is perhaps a bit mean-spirited – Louis C.K. is a filmmaker, and Maron a podcaster – bit the reality remains the same. What makes Marc Maron an amazing figure is his ability to touch on the humanity within nearly any subject in front of him. IFC sought no gravitas with their adaptation of his life. They wanted a hip, edgy comic to bring some Louie-esque cred to their backlog of Portlandia repeats. And for the quasi-fame and cash, Maron went all in.

The silver screen aside, we need only look to the cinema for even better examples. While we know, no doubt, that it takes a village to raise a child – a child being a movie in this case – very few films are wholly a singular vision given their relative cost. But when a creative team that clearly anguishes over every minute detail together as a team and makes the movie they truly wish to make, the results represent art over commerce. Take folks I love like Quentin Tarantino, Stephen Chow, or the infamous Kevin Smith. Each man’s films are intrinsically connected to their source creator. That is to say nearly all of them. Let’s try to forget Cop Out, shall we? But in the best of cases, movies as diverse as the original Clerks, Pulp Fiction, or Kung Fu Hustle were built on houses of cards. No financier could look at any of those preliminary spec-scripts and say without falter that they’d be commercially viable. Even with each man’s pedigree in tow, it took integrity of self and one’s creation in order to complete their respective films. And because of it, I’d say in each of those cases the world was treated to amazing art. Yes, Clerks included.

And where would my op-ed be without touching on our medium of choice here at ComicMix. I’ll be frank: I just don’t know how to defend my point whole-heartedly here. Whereas in my examples above, the end-product – damning the man who would try to control it – ended up both a critical as well as a commercial darling. In contrast, comic books simply don’t sit at the same table. The most profitable comics seem to swirl around character regardless of how the fanboys are reviewing it that week. Per my recent columns, I’ve pontificated that in most cases as well the parent publishers must keep the rags on the racks for no better financial reason beyond being able to control the licenses that live between the pulp. With all that said, I’m still adamant in my original conceit. Removed from the external control of governing bodies that care more about latent data points, letting an artist make the art they want will always yield a better finished product in my mind. It’s the difference between Revival and whatever crossover-of-the-month is raging on. And lest we not find a silver lining to this all, we need look only to The Walking Dead – a book built and maintained by a singular vision, not a corporate marketing report. And certainly that turned out pretty well, all things considered… no?

Ultimately Mike Myers’ feeling that his vision was best, gave the world the rebirth of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in lieu of a Guns N’ Roses single. And because of it, Queen hit the top of the charts again, nearly two decades later. More importantly, you can’t hear the song at 4:07 and not bang your head accordingly. As artists we are often pawns to the masters of the finances. In order to see our visions given birth, we are challenged by those not in the know to concede to another opinion. Beyond simple collaboration, there exists a conflict of interest when those who can pull the trigger choose to question the viability of a given creation.

It is up to us, the creators, to then hold steadfast. It is far better to be proud to put your name on something because it truly represents your vision, then to compromise for the sake of a paycheck.