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

Wanted


Wanted

Angelina Jolie always gets her shot.

(2008) Fantasy Action (Universal) James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terrence Stamp, Common, Thomas Kretschmann, Kristen Hager, Marc Warren, David O’Hara, Konstantin Khabensky, Chris Pratt, Lorna Scott.  Directed by Timur Bekmambitov

Some of us fall into a vocation due to circumstances. Others pursue a career with a vengeance. However, there are those who are almost pre-determined into a role because of genetics.

Wesley (McAvoy) is a cube drone whose life is a series of unending humiliations; his boss bullies him, his girlfriend openly cheats on him. His life is going nowhere and what’s worse, he knows it and doesn’t think it’s ever going to change.

But change it does (trust me, nobody wants to see a movie about a doormat for two hours). A beautiful woman who identifies herself as Fox (Jolie) saves him from a gunman and the two indulge in a wild car chase in the city of Chicago. Wesley is brought into the world of the Fraternity, a brotherhood (and sisterhood) of assassins who have been trained to perform impossible kills, curving bullets to defy gravity and engaging in single hand-to-hand combat that would make Jackie Chan jealous. The Fraternity is led by Sloan (Freeman), a taciturn killer himself. He gets his marching orders from the Loom of Fate whose fabric contains skewed threads that act as a kind of binary code. It’s very complicated and weird.

Wesley finds out that his father was once one of their members but was murdered recently and the man who murdered him is after Wesley but before he can go up against someone like that, Wesley is going to have to train and I mean big time. When he gets hurt, he’s put in a special wax bath that heals his wounds.

Soon he’s ready for his first kill and it turns out Wesley has quite a knack. Genetics, you see. Soon Wesley is embroiled in the mystery of his father’s assassination and discovers revenge can lead to all manner of questions, some of which have some dangerous answers.

This is Bekmambitov’s first English language film after the excellent Russian CGI-fests Night Watch and Day Watch. He has a definite visual style and an affinity for action. These are some of the most innovative action sequences since The Matrix which is high praise indeed.

McAvoy was apparently a hard sell to the studio because of his somewhat understated quality but here he proves himself capable of leading an action movie (which he has done since in X-Men: First Class this past summer). He plays both the nebbish and the stone cold killer with equal believability which is vital for the success of the movie.

Jolie is as good a female action star as there’s ever been and you can tell she was born for roles like this. A femme fatale with a cold exterior and colder interior, she’s sexy and deadly. Although she’s too big a star to do it now, she’d make the ultimate Bond girl. She does her stunts with the grace and elegance of a dancer.

Bekmambitov has a wonderful visual style that draws a distinct line between the dreary cubicle-dweller’s life and the life of a career assassin. The colors are muted and drab in the former; vivid and electric in the latter. The pace is mile-a-minute and although there’s kind of a lull when the big twist is revealed, it picks up towards the end.

This is mindless summer fun that defies logic but so what? Those who studied even the most remedial physics will know that this stuff doesn’t ever happen but this isn’t the real world, it’s movies so you physics majors can take your objections and stick them where it’s anatomically impossible to put them.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing stunts and a wonderful visual sense. Jolie seems to hit her stride in these sorts of action roles.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Stretches believability to the breaking point.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of violence – some of it gruesome. There’s also a bit of bad language and a bit of sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was shooting in Chicago at the same time The Dark Knight was. Wanted creator Mark Millar was caught sneaking onto TDK set to check out the Batpod by producer Lauren Shuler Donner and was escorted off the set.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a motion comic and on the Blu-Ray edition, the Universal U-Control feature puts assassin profiles on the screen whenever new assassins pop up.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $341.4M on a $75M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond