Film Review: “Gifted”

Starring: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace and Jenny Slate
Directed by: Marc Webb
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 41 mins
Fox Searchlight

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Here’s one for you: What do you get when you pair up the star of the Captain America films with the director of a couple Spider-man movies? I have no idea what your answer is but mine is you get one hell of a fine film.

Frank Adler (Evans) seems like your normal single dad. He lives with his daughter, Mary (Grace) outside St. Petersburg and repairs boats. But this is not your typical family and, as the formerly home-schooled Mary prepares to head off to public school, you can sense the fear, and anticipation, in both of them. You begin to understand the worry when, after challenging her teacher (Slate) after being asked to add one plus two, Mary herself is challenged, dropping jaws all around when, using only her brain, she quickly computes 53 x 127. Now do you see why the film is called “Gifted?”

A perfect gift just in time for Easter, “Gifted” could have easily been a two-hankie made-for-television Lifetime movie. However it rises thanks to the work of the cast, especially soon to be 11-year-old McKenna Grace. You may recognize her as the President’s daughter on television’s “Designated Survivor,” but her limited work on the series will not prepare you for the tour-de-force performance she delivers her. Whether interacting with Frank (who we soon learn is actually her uncle), her kindly neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) or her overbearing Grandmother (Lindsay Duncan), Mary is the emotional heart and soul of the film. Evans is equally strong here. If the only time you’ve seen him is when he’s wearing Spandex, you may be surprised by the emotional depths he reaches here. As the film progresses, and we learn more about the lives on-screen, the deeper our own emotional depths are reached. You find yourself struggling to understand the decisions made, sensing how each one will affect the other.

If you have no desire to watch Vin Diesel drive a car this weekend (guilty!), I recommend you give “Gifted” a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Film Review: “The Secret Life of Pets

Starring the voices of: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart
Directed by: Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hour 30 mins

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

As a long time dog lover (and owner), I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I’ve been looking forward to this movie since I saw the first trailer last year. And while that trailer promised a fun look at what our doggies and kitties do when we leave the house, it’s not all fun and games. In fact, you can say it’s a dangerous jungle out there.

Meet Max (C.K.). A friendly dog who has lived with Katie (Ellie Kemper) since he was a pup. Life is good for Max, who spends his time with Katie snuggling and playing with his ball. His time without her is either spent watching the front door until she comes home or hanging out with his fellow pet friends in the neighborhood. However, things change when Katie brings home Duke (Stonestreet), a big shaggy mess of a dog she picks up at the pound. When Max and Duke find themselves on the run from Animal Control, they must join forces or face the consequences.

First the good stuff. “The Secret Life of Pets” is from the same studio that brought you the adorable Minions from the “Despicable Me” films, and the animation is amazing. One scene finds our two pups in water that looks so realistic you can feel the wetness. The characters are well voiced. Besides the two main mutts, Kevin Hart is perfectly cast as an evil bunny while Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks and Dana Carvey shine as well.

Now the bad stuff. Did you notice above when I referred to Kevin Hart as a EVIL bunny? That’s because he is. When Max and Duke find themselves underneath the street and in the sewers of New York City they come across a group made up of animals that have been flushed down the toilet. They are only accepted when they tell a gruesome story about how the killed their masters. KILLED THEIR MASTERS! I almost fell out of seat. Have we come to a point where it’s o.k. for a cute cartoon bunny to jokingly talk about murder in a PG rated film? And a fellow critic pointed out how weird it was that the soundtrack features the song “Bounce” by System of a Down which, depending on who you talk to, is either about drug use or an orgy. Jeesh!