Welcome to the Cory C.O.R.N.E.R. (critical observation regarding neo-entertainment, respectfully), a time where your resident know-it-all cinephile, a multi-time Scene-It champion and only slightly-annoying dinner guest, shares his thoughts on whatever movie-ness needs to be movie’d.

Always remember these three things: Stinky Pete was right; the Death Star’s real problem were the enemies it made along the way; Blame Canada!

In the world of Cory’s cinematic cross-sections, you never know what you’re going to find within a week of film watching. In the simplest sense, it’s just going to vary, and you’d better buckle up.

This week finds Cory enjoying a movie sequel about talking pets more than a Steven Soderbergh film about the immorality of tax law, which is not a sentence he ever thought he would write. He also sat between two ferns with Zach Galifianakis to learn just how far one can stretch an internet video out into a full-length movie.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (Home Video)
Secret Life of Pets 2

It’s not that the first film in this doggone series of talking animals in New York City (we think) was bad, per se, but if you’re going to copy the Toy Story formula, you’d better come in guns blazing. Rather than dig at anything vaguely intriguing or clever, the first Pets film sniffed the butt of every Facebook meme that gets overshared on your feed and just ran around in tired circles. It was not a good boy. Its follow-up made the wise decision of ditching Louis C.K. for Patton Oswalt and boring pet humor for an actual story with emotional stakes. It’s funny what eating your kibble can do for making the rounds.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is not going to reinvent the hamster wheel, but it’s amiable to be what it is and tries to improve itself from the first outing. The story tries to give kids a nudge to face their fears while allowing parents not to be dominated by theirs. It also attempts to have a full heart rather than a full stomach of cheesy asides and lets our main good boy Max get something out of this adventure of substance. Illumination is finding more of its voice in films like this, and even if it’s not the loudest bark, it still will have you wagging your tail in delight. (Gene Shalit bushes a windchime, honks a horn, lights himself on fire)

The Laundromat (Netflix)
The Laundromat

The king of adult contemporary minimalism, Steven Soderbergh just about makes a movie or two every year and rarely ever makes one that you won’t want to watch. The guy is a machine and is so efficient that he almost just doesn’t know how to lose. He’s patient, engaging in style, never afraid to try new things and subtly innovative in his style (i.e., he’s using iPhones to make theatrical movies now). His latest though, The Laundromat, pushes the limits to his minimalist approach and just doesn’t strike with the same effusion of efficiency and economy as his other recent works.

In other words, the Soderbergh decade streak is over, and what a streak it was. His latest film is kind of like The Big Short at half-speed and read to you by Ben Stein in Icelandic on Ambien. It’s a slow burn like all of other Soderbergh’s films, but it lacks a coherence in its narrative flourishes. It breaks the fourth wall like that Oscar-winning colleague, but it doesn’t quite have the snark or sound of fire and fury that Adam McKay and Charles Randolph brought to its tale of the 2008 financial collapse. Soderbergh seeks to shine a light on the U.S.’s shady tax laws, and tax morality is a hotbed right now, and absolutely worthy of a film’s worth of exploration. But the vignettes Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns uses have no flow. They’re fractured, random pieces connected to make a flawed machine. All involved are usually better than this, and they will be in three-to-four months when Soderbergh releases something else.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie
Between Two Fern The Movie

The awkward nirvana of Zach Galifianakis’ Funny or Die web series “Between Two Ferns” works so well because of its brevity. The comedian “traps” celebrities in an airless elevator of farts and forces them to snark their way out of it. We know it’s always fake, but it burns as if it were true. It’s the most joyful arguing at the dinner table at Thanksgiving with your uncle you’ll ever have. The decision to expand the format into a feature-length presentation was an inspired one, but it was also quite risky. The real estate was perfect as it was. It didn’t necessarily need expanding.

The film showcases some of Galifianakis’ sheer force of will when it comes to bridging the uncomfortable gap between him and his interviewees, and one short involving Matthew McConaughey is so ludicrous you have to applaud it for having the gumption to become so gonzo and grand. But the seams show more than they ever have, and the narrative tissue is a bit more friendly Tim and Eric than anything else. There’s nothing for anyone to be disappointed in with such an ambitious feat of making a movie out of a web short, but it’s a middling film with middling results. Galifianakis generates a lot of goodwill, and it’s still Between Two Ferns at its core. But you’re happy with five minutes of it as opposed to 90.