Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Posted on December 21, 2022 at 12:40 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/violence, rude humor, language and some scary moments
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language and almost-language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril and action, comic "deaths," some scary monsters, a character embodies death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 23, 2022
Date Released to DVD: February 27, 2023

Copyright 2022 Universal/Dreamworks
The swashbuckling fairy tale cat Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) likes to remind everyone of his heroic, adventurous spirit, his skill with a sword, and his gift for singing. When pressed, as he is in “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” by a doctor, he will admit that he is not much at math. And this is relevant because, as we know, a cat has nine lives, and if Puss had been keeping score he would have realized that he has used up…eight of them. It does not require a lot of math skills to figure out that means he is on his last one and has to be careful.

And that is how, after an opening scene filled with swordplay, acrobatics, and valor, including the defeat of a superbly designed tree giant, Puss ends up living with a cat lady (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, warm-hearted with just a touch of dottiness). “I’m always on the lookout for a new lap cat!” she says. Puss sadly buries his feathered hat and boots and resigns himself to the indignities of blue booties, eating cat chow from a trough, and using a litter box.

But then he discovers there is one chance to reboot his lives. It involves a magical map to the location of a fallen star that can grant just one wish. He is not the only one who wants that wish, though. Goldilocks (a hilarious cockney-accented Florence Pugh) and her three bear crime family (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo) and Big (formerly Little) Jack Horner (John Mulaney in full sneer mode) want the wish. And so does Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), whose fearlessness and swords(wo)manship are every bit a match for PiB, with a history together that makes them both wary and attracted to one another.

And so, Puss is off on a journey and in a race with the other groups trying to beat him to the wish. And as we expect from the SCU (Shrek Cinematic Universe), there will be humor ranging from sly references for the grown-ups to slapstick for the young and the young at heart. And there will be action, adventure, some heartwarming lessons about friendship and a little bit of romance. It is always fun to see or rather hear “Desperado” co-stars Hayek and Banderas together again.

The character design and movement is very well done, especially the tree giant, the wolf/bounty hunter who represents Death, and Goldilocks. And the animation style is wonderfully dynamic and expressive. I especially enjoyed the mix of animation styles. We are all used to the hyper-realism of CGI, with every hair in a cat’s fur rendered individually. So it was especially nice to see the contrast between that realism and a more impressionistic depiction of fur on the coats of the three bears or the bark on the tree giant. The combination works surprisingly well and a slight strobe effect on some of the action scenes gives them a joyfully dynamic comic-book pop.

This new chapter keeps the best of the series’ humor and heart and adds new touches to keep the story and characters vibrant. If they can keep this up, Puss should have many more lives.

Parents should know that this film has some mild schoolyard language and some almost-language, some potty humor, and extended fantasy action with some peril and violence that almost reaches the PG-13 level, including flashbacks of Puss in Boots’ first eight “deaths.”

Family discussion: If you had nine lives, what chances would you take? What was different about what Golidlocks and Jack Horner wanted to wish for?

If you like this, try: The other Shrek and Puss in Boots movies and the fairy tales and nursery rhymes that inspired them.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Series/Sequel

Bliss

Posted on February 4, 2021 at 5:50 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for drug content, language, some sexual material and violence
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and some violence including an accidental homicide
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 5, 2021

Copyright Amazon Prime 2021
If you could, if it was possible, would you smooth all of life’s rough spots? Would you remove all worry, all fear, all sadness, all pain? Would you want to live in a world of perpetual bliss?

That is the question raised provocatively but very imperfectly in “Bliss,” with Owen Wilson as greg, a gray-spirited low-level worker failing in a soul-killing dead-end job apologizing to customers who call tech support. Our own anxiety levels rise as we see him seemingly not aware of the pressure he is under. The boss wants to see him immediately. But instead of leaving his office, he talks on the phone — to a daughter reminding him of the details of her graduation and to a pharmacy that refuses refill his pain-killer prescription. We learn from this that his marriage is over due to failures on his part, that his promises are not reliable, that he has a drug problem, and that he is in trouble at work. And we see him obsessively drawing pictures of place and a woman he has never seen, like Richard Dreyfuss sculpting mashed potatoes in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

But then it turns out our assumptions and his may be wrong. We find ourselves in a blue-or-red-pill situation, “The Matrix” without the bullet time, or the bullets. After things go even more terribly wrong, Greg finds himself in a bar, where a mysterious woman named Isabel (Salma Hayek) tells him he is “real” in a way the others in the room are not. There may be another reality or, perhaps, just one real reality, which is not the one with the office and the phone calls.

SPOILER ALERT: I am going to have to spoil a few things in order to be able to talk about the movie, so if you do not want any spoilers, stop reading now, watch “Bliss,” and then if you want to know more about what I think about it, you can come back. Isabel does not give Greg the whole story. She just takes him to stay with her at a makeshift shelter in an area where homeless people camp out. It turns out she and Greg are not just part of but responsible for an experiment in re-calibration for people who have found the idyllic life of the future so blissful the only thing they have to complain about is the temperature of the pool water. It just might be that even in a world supposedly free from stress there still remain concerns (about the legitimacy and success of one’s research in absolute terms and in the way it is perceived by others). It may also be that worry and fear are inextricably linked to creativity, imagination, and an innate human inclination to problem solving and some notion of progress.

These are wonderful questions to explore and there are moments of real emotion in the film along with superb design work by Kasra Farahani (“Captain Marvel”). But the script gets tangled up in its own perameters of the world or worlds it creates. The internal logic of the storyline is inconsistent enough to undermine our connection to the characters and to the issues it raises. In case you’re looking around wondering which reality you’re in, my advice is to bet on the one with Bill Nye the Science Guy in it.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, peril, and an apparent accidental homicide.

Family discussion: Which reality would you chose and why? What would happen if all trouble, stress, and worry was removed from our lives?

If you like this, try: “The Matrix,” “The Black Box,” “Black Mirror,” and “Passion of Mind”

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Drama movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Science-Fiction

Like a Boss

Posted on January 9, 2020 at 5:38 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, crude sexual material, and drug use
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Comic mayhem
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 10, 2020
Date Released to DVD: April 20, 2020
Copyright Paramount 2019

Sigh. And here we go. There will be lots of great and memorable and inspiring and funny movies coming in 2020, but first, as always, we have to slog through the misery of disappointing January releases, and “Like a Boss” is in that category. Three brilliant, funny women and a promising premise sink under the weight of frantic antics and an exhausting stream of raunchy references instead of jokes. A great Lizzo song plays over the opening credits and it’s all downhill from there.

Tiffany Haddish (who also produced) plays Mia, who lives and works with her lifetime BFF Mel (Rose Byrne) in blissful partnership. Their M&M make-up company is all about making women feel wonderful about themselves. Instead of the usual only-we-can-fix-you make-up sales pitch about covering up flaws, their you-go-girl vibe is about putting on make-up for fun, for exploring your persona, and for sharing good times with your own BFFs. The outspoken, more volatile Mia is the creative force behind the business, and the quieter, more practical Mel is responsible for the business side, though she has not been able to tell Mia that they are in far rockier financial shape than she thinks.

The M&M employees are Bennett (Billy Porter) and Sydney (Jennifer Coolidge). So far, so good. This is a powerhouse cast of brilliant comic actors who could probably read a recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches and make it funny. But a recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches would be funnier than this mess of s script, which relies much too heavily on insults and sexual references to disguise its absence of actual comedy.

Mia and Mel have a group of besties who sometimes teeter into frenemy territory when our heroines compare themselves to the friends who have graduated into an adulthood, with stable jobs and babies (presumably there are some life partners there, too) that Mia and Mel are not ready to measure themselves against. A baby shower with an extremely graphic cake depicting childbirth is so overwhelming that they have to go upstairs and smoke weed (dropping a joint next to a sleeping infant who may be sleeping due to a contact high, hilarious, amirite?).

M&M is nearly half a million dollars in debt. So when make-up mogul Claire Luna (Salma Hayek) offers to invest, it is an offer they cannot refuse. Mia insists, though, that they maintain 51 percent ownership and thus control. Claire knows, however, that she can get effective control by dividing and conquering, and begins to manipulate Mia and Mel by making them compete for her approval, with each other and with another BFF-led team (Ryan Hanson and Jimmy O. Yang, wasted, and not in the pot-smoking way). “No one stays besties once money comes in,” she says.

There are a few clever quips and bright moments, mostly when Billy Porter is on screen. “Witness. My. Tragic. Moment,” he says with delicious dramatic flourish after Claire forces M&M to fire him. But it is disappointing to see the duo from the ambitious “Beatriz at Dinner,” Hayek and director Miguel Arteta (who also directed the charming “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”) try to get by with this silly mess.

Parents should know that this film features pervasive extremely crude and raunchy humor with many explicit references to sex, body parts, and body functions and some very graphic images, extremely strong and crude language, drugs and drug humor.

Family discussion: What did Mel and Mia learn about themselves and each other from their involvement with Claire? Which of your friends would you like to be in business with?

If you like this, try: the “Horrible Bosses” movies and “Girls Trip”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- Reviews

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Posted on August 17, 2017 at 5:02 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and language throughout
Profanity: Extended very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence, guns, explosions, assault weapons, chases, car crashes, knives, many characters injured and killed, many disturbing bloody images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 18, 2017
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2017

Copyright 2017 Summit Entertainment
If they’re not going to waste time coming up with a story, I’m not going to waste time trying to explain it. The title says it all. There’s a hitman named Darius (Samuel L. Jackson). There’s a bodyguard named Michael (Ryan Reynolds). They have a history. And they quip, shoot, and punch their merry way through a buddy-cop action comedy so generic it may have been created by algorithm. More thought went into the various set-pieces, the chases, explosions, shoot-outs, and hand-to-hand combats than into the story, something about transporting Darius to the Hague so he can testify against a dictator charged with genocide.

This may not be the moment for violent and lethal mayhem as lighthearted summer fun, including the execution of a man’s wife and child as he watches in horror. A lot of heads explode when they are hit by bullets and the fact that we don’t know most of them because they are all faceless guys in riot gear does not make a difference. So, stipulating that the premise is dumb, the plot makes no sense, the genre has been played out endlessly over the years, sometimes worse but sometimes much better, including with these two actors, and that it is especially dispiriting to see Salma Hayek wasted in a silly spitfire role, I will share a couple of thoughts about the two stars.

Ryan Reynolds: I don’t know why you would want to give this movie any more of your time, but if for some reason you sit through the very long credits (lots of locations, lots of stunts), you will see a brief extra scene that will give you an idea of what a talented professional Ryan Reynolds is. He had just one job in that shot, to have a particular facial expression that matched the expression in another scene. He was ready to go when the shooting had to be held up because loud church bells began playing nearby. We hear someone from the crew yell out that they are holding for the church bells, and we see Reynolds hold that expression and that mood as the bells keep ringing and then keep ringing some more. He keeps it together for an impressive length of time, then finally gives up, wipes his eyes, and makes a quip. But it gives you a sense that even in a silly shoot-em-up like this piece of forgettable fluff, he holds himself to the highest standard. Also, the character here is designed around his strengths. He is at his best when he is playing a decent guy who is frustrated and snarky. The script doesn’t give him much to work with — the yadda yadda about his triple A rating is especially tiresome and the romantic complications are inane. But he makes the best of it with great timing and essential decency.

Samuel L. Jackson: Lord knows, he could phone it in by now. He’s done this exact role more times than even he can count. But he brings it, snapping out every one of those MFs like he’s been waiting to do it all his life and creating a character with no help from the script. He even has to sing. One smart move made by the screenwriter is giving Darius two impediments, one emotional, one physical to make it believable that Michael could be a match for him. Kind of like in “Batman vs. Superman,” when they had to kryptonite-ize Superman but not too much to make it an even fight.

Someday, when this movie comes on cable, just check it out long enough to see not why we pay these guys the big bucks but why they’re worth it.

Parents should know that this film includes constant peril and violence with chases, explosions, shoot-outs, assault weapons, knives, various other weapons, many characters injured and killed, graphic and disturbing images including bloody wounds and heads exploding, very strong language, drinking, drugs, brief nudity, and a brief glimpse of a prostitute.

Family discussion: Who was right about what makes a bad guy? Why was it hard for Michael to believe Amelia?

If you like this, try: “Midnight Run,” “Mr. Right,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance”

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Action/Adventure Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format

How to Be a Latin Lover

Posted on April 27, 2017 at 10:40 pm

Copyright 2017 Sony

I like everyone connected with this movie so much that I am especially sorry to give it a bad review. Mexican star Eugenio Derbez is a wonderfully engaging performer with enormous warmth and charm, as we saw in “Miracles From Heaven,” where he played the doctor. The supporting cast includes Salma Hayek, Kristen Bell, Rob Riggle, Raquel Welch, Michael Cera, Michaela Watkins, Rob Lowe, and even Weird Al Yankovic. The director is the very funny Ken Marino (“Burning Love”). And it introduces a terrific young actor, Raphael Alejandro, who is the highlight of every scene he is in. But all of that talent cannot overcome a painfully unfunny script by Chris Spain and Jon Zack.

In the opening scene, a young brother and sister see their father drive into their house, creating an explosion that kills him and destroys their home. There’s a way to start a comedy!

This is an important lesson in the uncertainty of life, which the boy interprets as: Find a wealthy lover and be pampered for as long as you live.

As a healthy and handsome young man (played by Derbez’s very attractive young son), Maximo woos a wealthy, middle-aged lady (Renee Taylor). Twenty-five years later, Maximo (now played by Derbez) is living a blissful Richie Rich life, except that he has to sleep with a very old lady. A battalion of servants attends to his every wish, even turning his poolside lounger to follow the sun or turning the pages of his e-reader. He never even has to take a step: he glides through the mansion on a hoverboard. The most exercise he gets every day is reaching over to his wife every morning so he can put a mirror under her nose to see if she is still breathing. And maybe pointing to the new sportscar he says he is buying for her but is really buying for himself.

Unfortunately, the car salesman sells himself along with the car, and Maximo is out on the street with nothing but a faint memory of an ironclad pre-nup. He needs a new old lady to marry, and until then he needs a place to stay. Which is how he ends up knocking on the door of his sister Sara (Hayek), a widow with a young son, Hugo (Alejandro). Many slapstick encounters ensue, including a guy in a wheelchair getting hit by a car three different times, a tenderhearted girl getting shredded by her cats, but mostly about Maximo helping Hugo talk to Arden, the girl he has a crush on (Mckenna Grace of “Gifted”) so he can make a move on Arden’s rich grandma, played by Raquel Welch. Yes, let that sink in for a moment: Raquel Welch. Also, some guys want to beat him up but I don’t need to say why because you can assume that pretty much everyone is on their side by this point. I’m guessing you will be, too, when I explain that in addition to the wheelchair “joke,” it is also supposed to be humorous that Maximo removes a disabled character’s prostheses and that when he tries to dye his hair with shoe polish and dives into the pool, everyone things, well, you know what’s hard to tell from Shinola. I’d say the same for this screenplay.

Parents should know that this movie has material that pushes the limits of PG-13 with a lot of crude humor and comic peril and violence. There is very strong language, some to a child, alcohol, sexual references and situations, and “humor” about disabilities.

Family discussion: Was any of Maximo’s advice to Hugo worth following? Why did Maximo choose that career?

If you like this, try: “Stuck on You” and “Shallow Hal”

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Comedy
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