Paws-ity of laughs in latest 'Cats & Dogs'

By Tom Von Malder | Oct 11, 2020
Photo by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment They are back. "Cats & Dogs 3" continues the every decade saga.

Owls Head — Cats & Dogs 3: Paws Unite! (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 84 min.). About every 10 years, there comes a “Cats & Dogs” movie, with “Cats & Dogs” in 2001, “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” in 2010 and now this miserable cur. Almost nothing works in the film, which is live action, but the animal’s mouths are computer-animated so they can appear to talk. Frankly, the results are visually creepy and the voice work is rather boring, except for an obnoxious cockatoo. The animal side of the story could have been a good James Bond-type satire, but loses that possibility after revealing the secret hideout in the apartment building. The human side of the story, about two lonely teenagers, one with a too-dominating parent and the other with a too-laissez-faire parent, is too superficial to be interesting.

The setting is 10 years after the creation of the Great Truce between cats and dogs, which is regulated by the surveillance system known as FART (Furry Animals Rivalry Termination), which is the sad extent of the film’s humor. Roger (voiced by Max Greenfield) is high school tennis star Max’s dog, and Max is the one with the overbearing mother (Kirsten Robek), who is trying to live through her son’s athletic success. Gwen (voiced by Melissa Rauch) is Zoe’s cat. Zoe’s father (John Murphy) is a singer-songwriter, whose debut album sold a million copies 20 years ago, but he has not done much since. Max is played by Callum Seagram Airlie and Zoe by Sarah Giles.

Suddenly, cats and dogs are once again at each other’s throats as Pablo (voiced by George Lopez, annoyingly), head of POOP (Pets Out of the Ordinary Pedigree), which is a collection of “secondary animals” at the Paw Street Market, has managed to hack into wireless networks to broadcast frequencies that force dogs and cats to get irritated with each other. His aim, aided by the electronic wiz lizard Zeek (voiced by Paul Dobson), is to have humans buy the secondary animals instead of cats and dogs for pets.

Extras include a making-of featurette (5:17; shows how the unconvincing paw-action was done); some thought-balloons for the animal actors (3:17); and a gag reel (1:37). Grade: film and extras 1.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Before the Fire (Dark Sky Films, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 91 min.). This film, written by Jenna Lyng Adams and directed by Charlie Buhler, could not be more timely as in it an influenza pandemic has struck the world, but writer Adams, who also stars as Ava Boone, makes what follows less about the pandemic and more about settling old family scores. The pandemic is at the forefront initially, as Ava and her boyfriend (Jackson Davis as Kelly Rhodes) try to get an airplane out of Los Angeles, only to find the airport has just been shut down and all flights cancelled. After that, though, the pandemic’s effects are mostly heard on radio or TV broadcasts.

Kelly, wanting Ava to be safe, forces her to fly out to his family’s isolated farm, even though Ava believes Kelly’s brother (Ryan Vigilant as Max) dislikes her. At the last minute, Kelly switches planes and flies to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, as he is a TV news reporter. Ava, we learn later, is the star of a TV show about werewolves.

Ava settles in on the farm, helping out with chores, including building a fence with hired hand Jake (Dakota Morrissiey). What we are only told obliquely is that Ava’s family apparently lives in the same town and a man, who probably is her father, is angry over her leaving and wants to force her back. A woman, who is possibly her stepmother, also arrives, seeking money. The man creates a militia that recruits Jake and apparently goes around killing everyone who is not family, as bodies, including those of military guards at the town’s outskirts, are casually shown later. (Why were military guards guarding this remote location anyway?) Ava’s position is not helped when Kelly is reported missing.

The film really does not give enough information, so Adams fails as a writer, but she does fare better in her portrayal of a tenacious woman, forced to overcome some dangerous situations. The only bonus feature is a deleted scene (6:15). Grade: film 2 stars; extras ½ star

Save Yourselves! (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 93 min.). Our second film with an exclamation point in the title is way better than the first. Su (Sunita Mani of “Glow”), short for Surina, and Jack (John Reynolds of “Stranger Things”) are a Brooklyn couple who take up a friend’s offer to stay at his grandfather’s cabin in upstate New York. With Su feeling they need to connect to each other more, they decide to spend a week at the cabin, without using their cellphones or the Internet. Unfortunately for them, aliens invade Earth just after they head north.

Much of the first half of the film is a light-hearted look at figuring out stuff with one’s partner, and Mani and Reynolds work very well together. When the alien threat is revealed, it is by aliens who look like fuzzy footstools – Su and Jack call them pouffes; others call them fluffers. The aliens have quickly-darting string-like tongues that can cut through metal, as they like the ethanol in gasoline. The middle of the film deals with Su and Jack’s growing paranoia and they have a funny and scary escape attempt that includes finding a baby. Muddle through they do, though.

One disappointment is the film is open-ended, without a real conclusion. Extras include five deleted scenes and one extended scene (7:31); a blooper reel (5:50; shows the very low-tech behind the aliens); and audio commentary by director-writers Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 2 stars

To Your Last Death (Quiver Films, Blu-ray, NR, 92 min.). This animated film – animated in the moving-comic book style – is a very bloody horror film, in which a patriarch plans to kill his four children as revenge for their scuttling his run for vice president five years earlier. It starts a bit slowly, but soon is thick into the action and blood.

The heroine is Miriam DeKalb (voiced by Dani Lennon), who is the sole survivor of her father’s evil plan. Miriam runs PANAC, an organization to help children, while her father runs a munitions company that builds drones for bombing. Dad is Cyrus DeKalb (Ray Wise of “Twin Peaks,” with the animated character looking very much like him). The police are not buying Miriam’s account of what happened and she is hospitalized under guard. Then a supernatural being (Morena Baccarin of “Deadpool” as The Gamemaster) appears in her room and offers her the chance to save her three siblings – rocker Ethan (voiced by Damien C. Haas), Kelsey (Florence Hartigan) and Collin (Benjamin Siemon) – as she can turn the clock back 24 hours. Miriam agrees.

With this reboot of the evening, the viewer gets more details on how Cyrus planned to off his children. This gives the film very much “Saw” scenarios. While Miriam has some initial success, The Gamemaster keeps changing the rules/scenarios, as she is dealing with several other celestial beings who are betting on the action. William Shatner (“Star Trek”) provides narration as The Overseer. Bill Moseley (“House of 1000 Corpses”) voices Pavel, one of the three sadistic Serbian henchmen hired by Cyrus. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Invincible Dragon (Hong Kong, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 99 min.). This film is initially difficult to get into and remains confusing for most of its run time, but it features some terrific fighting –especially in a commuter train and atop a Hong Kong tower – that makes it worth seeing for the novelty of the fight settings.

Max Zhang (“Ip Man 3”) plays Hong Kong detective Kowloon, who carries on his body the tattoo of a 9-headed dragon that he supposedly encountered when he was 3 years old. Kowloon is a very good detective, but a trigger-happy one. In an opening case, he chases the bad guy ultimately through a wedding reception, where Kowloon kills him in cold blood. Kowloon is then exiled to a much smaller police station, on a hill and facing the ocean. His new post is investigating the murder of a second policewoman. After the third killing of a policewoman, Kowloon sets up a decoy operation, which goes very wrong, resulting in the death of an officer and the abduction – and probably murder – of his finance, who also was on the police force. The result is Kowloon gets suspended.

However, a year late, a policewoman is murdered in Macau and Kowloon is sent to investigate. There, he encounters an old boxing opponent of his (Brazilian mixed martial arts champion UFC fighter Anderson Silver as the mostly English-speaking Alexander Sinclair). Their old animosity flares up, leading to a battle scene. Sinclair is married to Lady (JuJu Chen), who runs a gym and becomes a suspect because she was seen warning the last victim to stop coming to her gym.

One fighting highlight has Kowloon, on foot, battle three motorcycle assailants in an alley. The most astounding one has Kowloon and Lady fighting in a commuter train car, using the standing poles to swing around for kick attacks, and the fight continues when the train goes off the tracks and the section they are in tumbles repeatedly. Then, there is the crazy final fight, high up a Hong Kong tower and on the outside, where there are no railings. For its finale, the film returns to its fantasy element. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2.75 stars

Star Trek: Picard: Season One (CBS/Paramount, 3 Blu-rays or DVDs, NR, 8 hours 8 min.). In this CBS All-Access series, Patrick Stewart returns as now-retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (seven seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and several “Star Trek” films). Picard has been retired 10 years and has settled on his Chateau Picard vineyard. However, he still has dreams of old android friend Data (Brent Spiner).

Meanwhile, the core of the season begins elsewhere as a woman (Isa Briones as Dahj) and her boyfriend (David Carzell) are attacked by three Romulans in her apartment. The boyfriend is killed, but something is triggered in Dahj and she kills all three Romulans. She then has a mental image of Picard, who see seeks out at the chateau. Picard comes to believe that Dahj is a synthetic – human-looking android – created from one of Data’s neurons, possibly by Bruce Maddox. As Picard looks for answers, Dahj is killed by another Romulan attack. A former associate of Maddox indicates that if Dahj was a synthetic, she would have a twin somewhere.

That twin is Soji (also Briones) who is working at the Romulan Reclamation Site, which is a former Borg Cube artifact that the Romulans are adapting. Soji is approached by a new worker (Harry Treadaway as Narek) with whom she starts a relationship, not realizing he is a Romulan spy, working under Starfleet Command’s Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), who actually is working against Starfleet as part of the Romulan secret police, Zhat Vash.

The backdrop to all of this is that Picard, when he learned the Romulan sun was about to go supernova 14 years ago, convinced a reluctant Federation to agree to relocate the Romulan population (900 million) to safe worlds. That plan was discarded when a group of rogue synthetics attacked the Utopia Planitia shipyard, killing 92,143, while destroying the rescue armada and setting the Martian atmosphere afire. Since then, synthetics have been outlawed and Picard retired in disgust over the rescue mission not being renewed.

Another wrinkle is that Picard has been diagnosed with a rare, fatal brain condition, the problem is in his parietal lobe. Picard’s own rogue mission is aided by Raffi (Michelle Hurd), pilot Rios (Santiago Cabrera) and synthetics expert Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill).

The new story is intriguing and the series has lots of nods to Picard’s previously-known history. It is well-paced and looks marvelous.

The set comes with more than two hours of special features, including behind-the-scenes episodic featurettes for all 10 episodes and “remote” video commentary by executive producers Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman and Michael Chabon, supervising producer Kirsten Beyer and director Hanelle M. Culpepper for the first episode. Other featurettes look at what it took to get the series going and bring Picard back (10 min.); a look at Picard’s new crew and the actors who play them (19:10); a look at the xBs aliens with lead creature designer Neville Page, Vincent Van Dyke and his prosthetics team and make-up and prosthetics department head James MacKinnon (12:34); a tour of the props with property master Jeffrey Lombardi (13:20); a tour of the main stages with production designer Todd Cherniawsky (14:30); a gag reel (7:56); four deleted scenes (5:30); and the “Star Trek: Short Treks” episode “Children of Mars” (8:21), along with audio commentary by Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet and Beyer. Grade: season and extras 4 stars

Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile (2003, Acorn, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 102 min.). With a new theatrical adaptation, Acorn has issued David Suchet’s classic appearance as Hercule Poirot. While vacationing in Egypt, Poirot intervenes when a jilted woman (Emma Griffiths Malin) harasses her former friend (Emily Blunt of “A Quiet Place,” “Mary Poppins Returns” as Linnet Ridgeway, a wealthy British heiress on her honeymoon. JJ Field plays the man in question. Poirot was reluctant to get involved at first, but murder occurs while the four are on a Nile cruise together. Also in the cast are Daniel Lapaine, David Soul (“Starsky & Hutch”), Judy Parfitt (“Call the Midwife”) and Barbara Flynn. Thee are no bonus features. Grade: 3.75 stars

The Good Fight: Season Four (CBS/Paramount, 2 DVDs, NR, 5 hours 41 min.). After Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart lose their biggest client, Chumhum, and their founding partner’s name was tarnished, Diane Lockhart (multiple Emmy Award-nominee Christine Baranski), Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo), Liz Reddick (Audra McDonald) and Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) find themselves navigating a very different landscape. They are forced to accept an offer by huge multinational law firm STR Laurie to become a small subsidiary. Now, all their decisions can be second-guessed by the giant firm above them, although initially things seem benevolent. Quinn tackles a high-profile divorce case and Boseman considers an intriguing proposition from the DNC. Joining the cast are John Larroquette and Hugh Dancy, and Michael J. Fox returns as Louis Canning.

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