Puss in Boots


Puss in Boots

Some cats are just cooler than others.

(2011) Animated Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie, Guillermo del Toro, Ryan Crego, Tom Wheeler, Conrad Vernon, Nina Barry. Directed by Chris Miller

Some characters are larger than life. Others are life-sized. Some are one size fits all. However, there are those characters, rare as they might be, that leave such an indelible impression that it doesn’t matter what size the canvas is, they seem to dominate it large or small.

Puss in Boots (Banderas) is a kitty raised in an orphanage in the tiny town of San Ricardo under the loving guidance of Imelda (Marie). He befriends Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Galifianakis), an egg who endures constant humiliation at the hands of his fellow orphans. Humpty longs to go on adventures, particularly finding the magic beans that will grow a beanstalk that will take them to a castle where the goose that lays the golden eggs resides. Such a goose would make him wealthy beyond imagining.

Humpty proves to have few scruples and ends up robbing a bank which the felicitous feline is framed for. Puss goes on the run, becoming an accomplished cat burglar, the finest in all of Spain. When he hears about the magic beans turning up in the hands of a couple of unsavory sorts named Jack (Thornton) and Jill (Sedaris), he runs into another party who is interested in the same merchandise – Kitty Softpaws (Hayek), a competitor of like skills.

It turns out Kitty has been meant to bring Puss aboard a more elaborate attempt to capture the beans, one masterminded by Humpty. Puss trusts the egg about as far as he can fry him but Humpty proves persuasive and the quest begins. Can Puss redeem himself and give up the outlaw life?

This is meant to be a prequel to the events of the Shrek movies and to the credit of the writers and filmmakers they take it far away from the landscape dominated by the jolly green ogre and place the action in what is identified as Spain but looks more like the California of the Zorro series (there are many allusions to Zorro, a nice touch as Banderas famously played the part in two hit movies). That reminds me a little bit of Rango, but there is definitely more of an Old California feel to it.

The Puss character that Banderas has brought to life is a compelling one. He is in many ways a stereotypical Latin hero – brave, loyal, honorable and irresistible to the ladies. He’s no different than Zorro in that regard.  However, he has the feline cockiness that is absent in the masked hero, plus a hint of a sophisticated cat thief a la David Niven in Pink Panther.

He has an able adversary in Hayek, who has worked with Banderas extensively in the El Mariachi series from Robert Rodriguez, among other films. She gives Kitty a certain sauciness (sorry, couldn’t resist) and a bit of a sexual tension (as sexual as tension can get in a family animated film anyway). They make a fine duo.

Humpty is not a terrific character, although Galifianakis gives it a good go. Unfortunately, he’s too much like the Syndrome character from The Incredibles as voiced by Jason Lee for my comfort. He’s just…a rotten egg (I’m having trouble resisting today).

This is a good looking movie that has some of the sass of the Shrek series but not enough of it, although it distances itself wisely in other ways. Puss could certainly carry a franchise all by his lonesome and I don’t doubt given the opening weekend success that a sequel that might bridge the gap between this movie and Puss’ first appearance in Shrek 2 might not be unwelcome.

I liked the movie and it has a good shot at a Best Animated Feature Oscar next February, with this being an off-year for animated features in terms of quality. However, this seriously doesn’t measure up with the best of the Shrek series let alone any of the Pixar gems; it’s kind of upper middle of the pack in that regard. Hopefully the next one will be better; until then, good enough will have to suffice.

REASONS TO GO: Puss is a compelling character and taking him completely out of the Shrek landscape was a smart move.

REASONS TO STAY: The plot is nothing much to write home about. Nothing really got a huge laugh.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few jokes that are on the rude side.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally meant to be a direct-to-DVD release but DreamWorks decided because of home video market conditions to make it as a theatrical release instead. It is the first film in the Shrek franchise not to be set in Far Far Away, Duloc or Shrek’s swamp.

HOME OR THEATER: If you have kids you’re going to see it in a theater sooner or later. Might as well make it sooner.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Daredevil

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New Releases for the Week of October 28, 2011


PUSS IN BOOTS

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie, Guillermo del Toro, Ryan Crego. Directed by Chris Miller

Everyone’s favorite swashbuckling feline from the Shrek series gets a film of his own as we get to see his humble origin story. Here he teams up with cat burglar Kitty Softpaws and the legendary Humpty Dumpty to save the town. I’m wondering when all the king’s horses show up.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some adventure action and mild rude humor)

All’s Faire in Love

(Patriot Pictures) Christina Ricci, Matthew Lillard, Ann-Margaret, Cedric the Entertainer. A football star working off non-attendance at his Renaissance literature class and an investment banker who really wants to be an actress join a theatrical troupe at a Renaissance Faire. They must fend off a rival troupe in order to win the coveted Shakespearean stage spot and perhaps even fall in love.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content including references)

Anonymous

(Columbia) Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis. There are scholars who contend that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays he is credited with. Director Roland Emmerich of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow contends that Shakespeare was a front for a member of the royal court for whom anonymity was a necessity.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and sexual content)

In Time

(20th Century Fox) Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Alex Pettyfer. In the not-too-distant future, people stop aging at 25 and time has become the new currency. When you run out of time, you run out of life. When Will Salas, who lives minute to minute, gets an unexpected windfall, it upsets the balance of things and triggers some very desperate people to do some very dangerous things.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and brief strong language)

RA.One

(EROS International Worldwide) Shahrukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Sanjay Dutt. This is the prequel to the enormously popular found footage horror series. It depicts, in the 80s, how the supernatural forces that beset Katie and Kristi came into their lives as young girls.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Superhero Sci-Fi Action

Rating: NR

The Rum Diary

(FilmDistrict) Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins. From Hunter S. Thompson’s first novel, this is the story of a rumpled American journalist from the 1950s who leaves behind the New York City beat for a more laid-back lifestyle in Puerto Rico. There he discovers shady land developers, disreputable newspapermen, sexy Connecticut debutantes and perhaps a vestige of his own dignity.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language, brief drug use and sexuality)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army


Hellboy II: The Golden Army

How about a little eye candy little girl?

(2008) Action (Universal) Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Seth McFarlane, Anna Wilson, Brian Steele, Roy Dotrice, John Hurt, Jeffrey Tambor, Jimmy Kimmel, James Dodd, Andrew Hefler, Ivan Kamaras, Mike Kelly.  Directed by Guillermo del Toro

We’ve seen in movies like An Inconvenient Truth and Wall-E cautionary tales of what happens if we continue to abuse our environment. The end of mankind on Earth may come in an unending pile of garbage in the latter, or in the inability of our planet to sustain us in the former. Of course, what nobody realizes is that our ecological irresponsibility is pissing off the faeries.

That’s right, the races of myth and legend – the trolls, faeries and so on – have been living underground as the result of a treaty imposed on them by humankind  for eons and they are heartbroken at what we’ve done to their planet. One of them – Prince Nuada (Goss) is a little bit more than heartbroken. He’s cheesed off and has decided to resurrect an indestructible Golden Army that will eradicate humans from the Earth if he’s successful.

Of course Hellboy (Perlman) and his cohorts Abe Sapien (Jones), a half-fish half-man telepath, Liz (Blair), a pyromancer, and Johann Krauss (Dodd, voiced by McFarlane) who is more or less a ghost inhabiting a mechanical body, object to this in the strongest possible terms. They do so with the assistance of Princess Nuala (Wilson), Nuada’s twin sister whom Abe has fallen for like a salmon in spawning season.

The group will battle lethal tooth fairies, gigantic squid-like demons, a very dangerous Troll Market and finally the Golden Army itself to save mankind from the mad Prince. There are times that Hellboy has to wonder if we’re really worth saving.

Del Toro, who did this movie immediately after the Oscar nominated Pan’s Labyrinth, is one of the most visually striking directors on Planet Earth. He has an imagination and a vision that is extraordinary and singular; the result is that Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of the most visually intriguing movies of the past five years. Not only is Mike Mignola’s comic book brought to life, it’s actually fleshed out into a world even Mignola couldn’t adequately create. The movie has an epic quality to it as a result.

Perlman has made Hellboy a relatable character, one who has been forced into isolation for his demonic background and whose many idiosyncrasies rather than make him a caricature serve to make him more human than his visage would allow. While he is less a center of focus than he was in the first film, he is nonetheless a major reason why this movie works so well.

The supporting cast fares pretty well. Tambor, as the bureaucrat who runs Hellboy’s BPRD, is solid and witty, while there is a melancholy element in Goss’s villain performance which makes him stand out among a galaxy of comic book villain who really are more or less all the same. Jones as the lovelorn Sapien gets to voice a character he only played physically in the first movie (David Hyde Pierce gave the original Abe Sapien voice) and does it well. Blair’s character is a little less interesting here than in the first one but she fills it out nicely.

The story here is simple enough on the surface, but there are a lot of complications and it gets a little muddled, particularly near the end. That’s all right; every frame of this movie is an absolute gem, something that you’re going to ooh and ahh at for generations to come. The movie pulled disappointing numbers, to my mind mainly because it was exiled to an August release date in a year where blockbusters limited the landscape and wound up getting trumped by the better-promoted Journey to the Center of the Earth. It’s a shame audiences didn’t get to discover it on the big screen – it was as amazing a theatrical experience as I had that year, and to my way of thinking the kind of movie that should be seen in a movie theater and not streamed to a laptop. Some movies just need to overwhelm you, and this one is definitely one of those.

WHY RENT THIS: Serious eye candy. Del Toro is one of the most visually imaginative directors working today.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is a bit muddled.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of foul language but mostly there’s a lot of violence and fantasy/sci-fi action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Thomas Kretschmann was originally cast to voice Johann Kraus but when del Toro found his work dissatisfactory he brought in “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane to do the voice making this McFarlane’s feature motion picture debut.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The 3-Disc DVD includes a featurette on the Troll Market and one of the most informative and detailed making-of documentaries ever. An animated comic serves as an epilogue on the movie that fills in some blanks you didn’t even know were there. The Blu-Ray features a BD-Live chat with del Toro that is quite enlightening on projects he was working on (and is no longer) and the future of the Hellboy franchise. There’s also an interactive feature that allows you to pull still pictures from the movie and create a comic book, complete with word balloons which is a very little fun feature to play with.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $160.4M on an $85M production budget; the movie lost a little money.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: City Island