Puss In Boots * * * *
Cert U, 90 mins
Spanish actor Antonio Banderas has the greatest voice in cinema today.
Even as a man of evil in this year’s brilliant 18-rated Pedro Almodóvar movie The Skin I Live In, he was compelling.
But he’s even more so here as the titular hero of Puss In Boots, the latest computer-generated U-certificate animation.
Aimed fairly and squarely at youngsters but deserving of wider appreciation for all ages, this is – in crude terms – a spin-off from the utterly exhausted Shrek series.
When the second adventure arrived in 2004, Banderas alone was its saving grace.
“After opening impressively, the plot of Shrek 2 nosedives,” I wrote.
“But salvation awaits – with Antonio Banderas reprising his Mask of Zorro turn by voicing the sword-wielding cat, Puss In Boots.’’
The new story reinvents anyone and everything from Jack and Jill to the Golden Goose, Jack and the Beanstalk and Humpty Dumpty just so that the fugitive Puss can clear his name while dealing with a female rival, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek).
Directed by Chris Miller (lucky to get work after Shrek the Third), this is a prequel in as much as it details Puss’s pre-Shrek origins.
Surprisingly, even though this is animation, some of the chase sequences aren’t as good as the ones Martin Scorsese has conjured up in his debut live action 3D movie, Hugo.
But while most Pixar movies struggle with the eyes of its characters, this DreamWorks’ film does a good job with Puss in Boots’ emerald mince pies.
More than that, his jagged little teeth are wondrous things to behold – light years ahead of the bland veneers so prevalent in movies like New Year’s Eve.
Every time Puss opened his mouth to speak I was so captivated by his gnashers they helped to make this one of the most entertaining animations I’ve seen since The Incredibles and Happy Feet.
His fangs are a glorious reminder that Hollywood’s obsession with human dental perfection is grotesquely misplaced – and that more cock-of-the-walk behaviour from Banderas would have been just as good as any number of high-energy chases. GY
New Year’s Eve * * *
Cert 12A, 117 mins
Last year, director Garry Marshall assembled a truly stellar cast for his film Valentine’s Day, interweaving many stories taking place on February 14.
Now he ditches the likes of Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Anne Hathaway and Shirley McLaine, keeps a couple of the cast – Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Hector Elizondo – and gives them new characters, and recruits a whole lot more A-listers for a New Year’s Eve outing.
He’s also shifted the action to New York, surely the best place to spend the festive season. The action surrounds the famous midnight ‘ball drop’ in Times Square.
Hilary Swank is in charge of the celebrations, at which rock star Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) is playing, and hoping to win back the heart of caterer Katherine Heigl. Lea Michele should be his back-up singer, if she wasn’t stuck in a lift with her neighbour Ashton Kutcher, who hates New Year’s Eve.
Jessica Biel could win $25,000 if she gives birth to the first baby of 2012. Also in hospital is Robert De Niro, dying of cancer, and his nurse Halle Berry.
Josh Duhamel is racing to New York for a romantic rendezvous, but who is the mystery girl? And motorbike courier Zac Efron helps Michelle Pfeiffer fulfil some of her New Year’s resolutions.
Incidentally, we are supposed to believe that 24-year-old Zac is the brother of 46-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker.
Like most parties, it drags on a little too long and some guests are more entertaining than others. There are too many people to connect with any of them, and it’s often too schmaltzy and contrived.
And yet, New Year’s Eve is still laugh-out-loud funny in places and tries to be heartwarming.
Singer Pink urges us to Raise Your Glass over the closing credits and amusing out-takes, so at least we leave smiling. RL
The Deep Blue Sea * * *
Cert 12A, 98 mins
The bleak tone for this human drama is set from the off, as Hester (Rachel Weisz) recites her suicide note. As we flit backwards and forwards in time, we learn what drove her to try to kill herself. Set in London in 1950, she is married to kind, but dull, judge Sir William (Simon Russell Beale), but falls in love with dashing young pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), who keeps telling her what he did for ‘dear old Blighty’ – “I survived the Battle of Britain, old fruit.”
She leaves her comfortable existence to live with Freddie in a run-down boarding house.
He’s selfish and doesn’t feel as much for her as she does for him, so it’s bound to end in tears. “I never asked to be loved,” he tells her, cruelly, during one of their rows.
Performances are very good but I found it hard to feel for the characters, especially as we learn so little about the background to the relationships.
At times it is obvious that it’s adapted from a play, by Terence Rattigan, as the dialogue feels stilted and there’s very little movement or choice of locations in Terence Davies’s direction.
Weisz looks radiant, even when heartbroken, but there are only so many shots of her looking moodily out of a window and smoking that I can take. I also grew tired of the melodramatic and annoying violins scraping away in the background.
If you admire Weisz, or feel like wallowing in misery, this might be worth seeking out at Birmingham’s mac and Electric Cinemas. But don’t watch it if you want cheering up. RL
The Big Year * *
Cert PG, 100 mins
If you are stuck in a rut and really want to follow your dreams, try this gentle, light-hearted comedy.
Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson star as three determined, rival bird watchers keen to break the record for number of different types of birds spotted in a year.
Never mind them, the varied scenery alone might just make you want to pack your bags and set off for the great outdoors.
Considering the director is David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), some will find the comedy bar has been set far too low.
And that watching men watching birds – of which there aren’t enough of, save for a spectacular eagle mating display – is never going to appeal to everyone.
Despite the star names, the biggest surprise about The Big Year is that it never really tries to be funny.
On the other hand, its understated nature is one of the reasons I quite liked it and also because I’ve had enough Hollywood smut this year to last a lifetime.
Pensioners who don’t get out much will certainly enjoy The Big Year just as much as they might have loved Anthony Hopkins in the little seen Roger Donaldson movie, The World’s Fastest Indian. GY
The Thing * *
Cert 15, 102 mins
This is the third incarnation of The Thing, after John Carpenter remade the 1951 horror classic in 1982. Strictly speaking this one’s a prequel, ending just as Carpenter’s film began.
Palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by scientist Dr Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to join a Norwegian scientific team that has discovered a crashed alien spaceship buried in Antarctica.
Aboard is the frozen corpse of a creature, which turns out to be alive and with the ability to imitate humans. As it picks off the team one by one, suspicion falls on everyone.
The special effects have moved on considerably since 1982 and are impressive, if very gory. There are a few tense moments, but the plot is packed full of clichés – imagine, the radio is dead and there’s a storm coming! Someone says the inevitable line: “We gotta get out of here.” I tend to agree. RL
The British Guide To Showing Off *
Cert 15, 97 mins
If you have never heard of The Alternative Miss World Show, then rest assured.
You haven’t been missing anything for nearly 40 years and you won’t regret missing out on this at the mac in Cannon Hill Park.
The British Guide... is a colourful documentary showing how artist and show creator Andrew Logan has kept reinventing his friends-and-party format as and when the funds were available to help poke fun at traditional beauty pageants.
The competitive element of The Alternative Miss World enabled anyone to enter and win.
You could be as ugly as sin to walk away with the title but, as a film, The British Guide... simply becomes a series of talking heads like Ruby Wax, interspersed with animated sequences and boring meetings.
Think of this as a home video record for all of those involved and then dig out your old holiday snaps for superior entertainment instead. GY