‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ Shoots for the Stars!

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When You Wish Upon a Puss in Boots… (CREDIT: Dreamworks Animation)

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Harvey Guillén, John Mulaney, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo, Wagner Moura, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Anthony Mendez, Kevin McCann, Betsy Sodaro

Director: Joel Crawford

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: PG for Cartoon Kitty Catastrophes

Release Date: December 21, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: A talking cat? A talking, swashbuckling cat?! Well, yes indeed. We’ve known this debonair furball for years at this point. Decades even. He lives in a fairy tale world where plenty of the animals are anthropomorphized, after all. Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has had no trouble making a name for himself. But alas, he seems to be losing a bit of his mojo lately. And when you’re a feline, that means having only one of your reputed nine lives left to spare. But this being a fairy tale world and all, there exist methods for magical restoration. So when Puss hears about the existence of a Wishing Star, he naturally wants to get his claws on it. But he’s not the only one, as Jack Horner (John Mulaney), Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the three bears (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo), and Puss’ old flame Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) all have their own plans to procure the star’s powers. Also, Harvey Guillén voices a dog.

What Made an Impression?: If the only Shrek film you’ve seen previously was the first one, you could be forgiven for not realizing that Puss in Boots: The Last Wish takes place in the same universe. Sure, both of them are populated by fairy tale characters, but their modus operandi are totally different. Where the green ogre was irreverent, his feline colleague is more purely adventurous. The likes of Jack Horner, Goldi, and Pinocchio are thein window dressing in a sense, with their cultural histories mostly beside the point. The Last Wish‘s spacey climax on the Wishing Star feels like something out of an LSD trip, or a Super Mario video game, which is to say: not at all what I was expecting.

In that vein, The Last Wish actually reminded me of Halloween Ends, insofar as they’re both latter-day franchise entries with confoundingly unpredictable narrative left turns. In both cases, it’s plenty fascinating, and I suspect it will be easier to get away with this time around, since Puss doesn’t have to bear the weight of expectations that Michael Myers does. If his creators want to make his latest adventure more fantastical than any corner of the Shrek universe has ever been, then there’s really no reason not to. It certainly gives the voice cast something new to bite into, to the point that John Mulaney appears to be experiencing Heath Ledger-as-Joker-level glee in his revolution of a classic character. There’s room to color outside the lines here, and I can’t complain about that.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is Recommended If You Like: Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch

Grade: 3 out of 5 Swords

21st Century ‘Black Widow’ Movie Review

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Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, Ray Winstone, William Hurt

Director: Cate Shortland

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: July 9, 2021 (Theaters and Disney+ Premier Access)

“Plug it in, plug it in.” That’s the classic slogan of the famed Glade air freshener line of products. I currently find myself revisiting it in light of having recently watched the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film Black Widow, as my primary reaction to that movie was, “Well, that character has now been plugged into the MCU.”

Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova? She’s been plugged in. David Harbour as the Red Guardian? He’s certainly been plugged in. And Rachel Weisz as Melina Vestokof? Yet another character that’s been plugged in! Yes indeed, they plugged ’em all in.

Grade: 4 or 5 Tasks out of 1 Taskmaster

‘Cats’ is a Jellicle-Only Affair

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Francesca Hayward, James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Ray Winstone

Director: Tom Hooper

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG for CGI’d Cat-People Lifting Their Legs Up Suggestively

Release Date: December 20, 2019

I admire the people who have made Cats, including all versions of the musical and this here film adaptation. The whole premise is thoroughly ridiculous, and all the little details only make it more so. So anyone who has given it their all at the Jellicle Ball has no time for the shame that such an enterprise might convey. That sort of pluck and resilience will get you far in life. It doesn’t necessarily make for good filmmaking, though. In this case, at least, it just transfers something truly baffling in one iteration into something just as baffling, in the same ways and more, in another medium.

The plot, such as it is, is immensely inconsequential, but it has something to do with new cat in town Victoria (Francesca Hayward) trying to find her place in cat society while devious cat Macavity (Idris Elba) plucks away his competition for the Jellicle Ball, which I’m pretty sure is some sort of talent show. Meanwhile, all the other cats prance about and sing their signature songs to let us know who they are. So far, so phantasmagorical. This could be appreciated as a bizarre theatrical extravaganza if the staging and choreography were decent. But director Tom Hooper has a way of shooting every scene that makes it feel like everything is so far away, even the close-ups. It confers an elusive nature that is the opposite of the extreme intimacy of high-frame rate, and thus it is difficult to connect with whatever emotional resonance the actors are able to summon. If something is going to be as unbelievable as this, it ought to also be unforgettable. Alas, Cats is just a piffle that my subconscious doesn’t even want to bother with.

Cats is Recommended If You Like: Thorough nonsense

Grade: 2 out of 5 Jellicles