Monday 27 February 2023

Review: Broker

Cert: 12A / 129 mins / Dir. Hirokazu Koreeda / Trailer

Snobbish though it may undoubtedly be, there is an accepted feeling - in provincial multiplexes as much as the cosmopolitan arthouse - that foreign-language films attract a better class of viewer; more thoughtful, more considerate, quite frankly there to appreciate The Form rather than turning up for car chases and loud bangs.

It also appears that this memo hadn't got as far as the young student-looking chap three seats away from me, who spent the first hour of this film munching his way through a takeaway-boxed 12" pizza and had to get his phone out midway through to reject an incoming call because he hadn't put it on flight mode. As it turns out, the first of these transgressions was probably the culinary equivalent of a Rocky Horror singalong screening, but more on that as we go...

And so to Broker, a South Korean drama from a Japanese director about the black market trade in abandoned babies. When Moon So-young (Lee Ji-eun) leaves her infant child in the 'baby box' of a city church, she returns the next day with a change of heart only to find her young son has been abducted by orphanage worker Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who has teamed up with local launderette owner Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), the pair of whom steal newborns left at the church and sell them on to wealthy clients who cannot legally adopt. She confronts the pair and they convince her to be part of their enterprise, splitting the money as a result*1. They are, however, being watched and trailed by a pair of police detectives (Bae Doona, Lee Joo-young), who are determined to catch them in the act of transaction and put an end to the enterprise. As their collective road-trip progresses, each of the protagonists reflects on their place in a system which allows this to happen.


Also, it's nowhere near as bleak as that summary suggests. Amazingly. At its heart, Broker is a film about abandonment and a society where it's not exactly approved of, but certainly accepted. There's little actual judgement about the existence of the baby boxes, but they're never treated glibly or taken for granted. The film is about what that does to people when it's so commonplace, and what good can be found in it. But for all the introspection there's also crime, no small amount of intrigue and even a little light farce in here. I can't even imagine how an English-language version of this film would be presented (which it no doubt will, if this is successful). A Vince-Vaughn comedy? A Paul Dano melodrama? Certainly not with the lightness-of-touch in this telling.

Koreeda's direction is languorous, happy to take its time but never drawn out, with lingering character-shots adding to the overall ambience and giving the story (and the audience) space to breathe. The film looks gorgeous, set in run-down urban environments throughout but never framed as squalor, and there's a real tranquility to Hong Kyung-pyo's cinematography. Choi Tae-young's sound design is also very intimate. Too intimate, in fact. A lot of characters in this film spend incidental time eating and drinking, and the up-close audiography means you hear every slurp, chew and clack while they speak with their mouths full. Sufferers of misophonia may want to watch Broker at home where they can turn the volume down to manageable levels (hey, you're reading subtitles anyway).


All of the central characters are well-defined, and Koreeda spins the plates of distributing meaningful screen-time among them with real skill. But there's a price to be paid for this cinematic rumination, and that's a third act where the pace noticeably sags when it really feels like events should be accelerating to a head. As a result, the story's end seems sketched-in, almost rushed in an effort to wrap things up. Outside of perhaps the oddness of the central premise*2, the unflinching humanity of the story means it translates well for international distribution. It should go without saying that this is a slightly odd film, but if you're aware of that on the way in you'll have an easier ride.

Broker is beautifully filmed, exquisitely performed and gorgeously soundtracked. It's also too slow, too long and too scattershot in its storytelling. But slip a pizza out of your backpack and you'll have a great time...

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Initially this is going to be one million South Korean Won, but increases to four million as the script progresses. This sounds like quite a formidable sum of course, until a quick search afterward tells you that 4 million won is roughly £2,500. Which doesn't feel like a lot for an actual human, somehow. Even a small one. Obviously there are differences in the structure of the economy etc, but still. Of the many issues this film raises, the apparent cheapness of buying miniature people isn't one of them... [ BACK ]

*2 Not going to lie, I did have to Google and see if Baby-Boxes (literally the equivalent of leaving a baby on the church steps in classic literature) are a real thing in South Korea in the present day. They are. But it's not just an Eastern or developing-countries thing, they have them in Germany and the USA, too. Like, currently. Obviously it's good that they exist, but it's fairly mortifying that they need to. Probably best not to dwell on that, I suppose. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Sunday 26 February 2023

Review: Ant-Man And The Wasp - Quantumania

Ant-Man And The Wasp:

Cert: 12A / 124 mins / Dir. Peyton Reed / Trailer

It's a weird one, I don't know what critics want. I mean to be fair, I am technically part of 'critics' and I don't really know what I want, so how would I have any idea what would keep other people happy? Not a clue. Anyway, Marvel Studios' Phase Five begins with another outing for Ant-Man and The Wasp, as Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are joined in their eponymous roles for a full adventure by Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer as Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, along with Kathryn Newton as Ant-Man's daughter Cassie, all shrunk to sub-atomic size and battling their way to be free of The Quantum Realm, much to the chagrin of Jonathan Majors' Kang The Conqueror...

And the critics really aren't bothered about it. The film's been on general release for a week*1 and the aggregated score over at Rotten Tomatoes is firmly middling. Far from being trashed, but way below what was expected or even hoped-for. Civilian viewers are digging it a bit more, but frankly they're often more fickle than the folks' who write it all down afterwards. There seems to be the received thought that Quantumania (looks good written down, but a dreadful title to say aloud) is a decidedly average outing which is more suited to the hardcore Marvel fanboys. But given that this is the 31st feature film in a steadily-formulaic series, the fifth screen appearance of Ant-Man and his third own, actual movie, it's hard to know who else the audience is expected to be...


Part of the reason that this review has taken over a week to surface is that I thoroughly appreciated this latest flick, and at the same time I completely understand that criticism. It's reassuringly underwhelming, in a way that seems almost unique to the Ant-Man films. The cast are reliably great (Majors is especially fun, bringing the only real sense of gravitas to the entire thing while still treating it like a pantomime), and the screenplay does just about everything its able to, acknowledging that the story is Fantastic Voyage retooled for the MCU. And bearing in mind the rescue of Pfeiffer's Janet Van Dyne in Ant-Man's first sequel set up precisely this, it hardly comes as a surprise.

Inside of the 'normal world' framing device which tries (and only scrapingly succeeds) to recapture the easygoing, low-key charm of 2015's Ant-Man, the pacing of this movie is relentless, and it's frankly draining. After shrinking, the heroes are split into two groups (standard), with their adventures intertwining to tell the story. Unfortunately, despite industrial amounts of backstory and exposition, none of it slows down enough to convince the viewer of why this matters (other than: trying not to die in the Quantum Realm). There's little room for the story to breathe, and the expansive CGI surroundings (admittedly necessary) create a weird claustrophobia as the main body of the film exists without sunlight. The visual debt to modern era Star Wars is - in places - absolutely off the scale, with pretty much every character in the Quantum Realm looking like they've either stepped out of Maz Kanata's watering hole or just gotten off the shuttle from Jakku.


The real problem is that much like its 2018 predecessor, there's little that's actively bad about Quantumania but it feels like it doesn't really have a proper place to sit; especially as the film takes place in its own micro-universe where outside time doesn't exist. The potential for these events to spill over into the 'real' world is more than hinted at, of course, but this feels like a very expensive project just to establish a recurring villain for Phase Five. That said, they'd better use it as such, because it's even more of a waste of money to cue up multiversal Kang on the big screen and then not exploit the absolute hell out of him.

Rudd is always fun to watch of course, and this is no exception. But even at his comedic height of working with the Judd Apatow crew, Rudd was always an ensemble player; frequently one of the best things about a movie, but not its leading man. He works best when he's got others to bounce off so it seems slightly unfair to expect the guy to carry the weight of an entire movie on his own, and yet he's the only character upon whom the script allows any real focus.

Then Bill Murray shows up for a restaurant scene which is slightly too long to be classed as a cameo, and not really meaningful enough to be anything but. And as much as we all love Bill, the thought soon emerges that much like Jeff Goldblum in Ragnarok, he's been hired to just turn up and play himself, suggesting the Marvel casting department are now running on fumes. The film is entertaining as hell all the time it's on, but doesn't leave the audience with much other than wanting to see how Kang develops.


So does this have the whoops of No Way Home, the snarls of Multiverse Of Madness or the camaraderie of Love And Thunder? No, it doesn't. Then again, it doesn't have the appalling accent work of Black Widow, the personality-vacuum of Eternals, or the plotline which deliberately excludes legacy characters and then can't find anything interesting to do with the ones still left of Wakanda Forever, either.

All Quantumania is trying to do is bimble along and have a laugh, and if anything that's far more respectable than striving for greatness where it can't exist. From a wider angle, the film contains very on-point messages about responsibility and personal growth (delivered both straight-faced and with wry smiles), but after two hours, at the movie's very crescendo, when all else lies in ruins and ashes, this still somehow comes down to two guys in a room punching each other...

But there I go again, complaining about a film whose side I'm on.

For better or worse, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania is essentially a very loud, very bright, two hour chase/fight sequence, with a near-constant exposition track and which still makes almost no sense.

Not going to lie, I rather enjoyed that.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 That's right, I watched this ten days ago and the review is just landing now. That finger-on-the-pulse, agile responsiveness is exactly what you lovely people come here for and I love you for it. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Thursday 16 February 2023

Review: The Son

The Son
Cert: 15 / 123 mins / Dir. Florian Zeller / Trailer

It's Earnest™-season so here comes Florian Zeller's The Son, a turgidly po-faced, navel-gazing domestic melodrama starring Hugh Jackman as the worst type of Pantomime Business Dad who doesn't know how to set his phone to do-not-disturb for meetings, who pulls sad-faces for two hours because his teenage boy doesn't appear to be coping well with his parents' divorce from a decade earlier.

Laura Dern turns up intermittently to sob into her Martini, Vanessa Kirby pouts around an apartment which thinks it's too good for wallpaper, and Anthony Hopkins phones in just enough of a performance to secure the 'and' in the credits-ranking. Hugh's boy is played by Zen McGrath, setting out his stall here for a tour of the Northern club circuit as a Timothée Chalamet tribute act*1.


This is one hundred and twenty minutes of characters angrily asking each other what's wrong and nobody having the answer. It's depression. The kid has clinical depression. It's no-one's fault and it can't be cured, only treated. There, saved you two hours. To be fair, the film doesn't come up with any magic solutions for all this, not least because there aren't any of course, but in the meanwhile it wallows in knowing that anyway and tormenting members of the audience who can see it a mile off.

The whole thing might be meaningful if it wasn't so offensively average, whilst also apparently refusing to explore the subject it's chosen for itself. Going full-Atonement in the last stretch just isn't good enough. Adapting his own play (again), Florian Zeller is happy to churn out a desaturated Channel 5 weekday afternoon angst-a-thon, and Jackman is happy to take the money for pretending he can do serious films as well. Theirs is the only happiness you'll see here.

And I'm taking points off for the shot where the kid is filmed walking alone the 'wrong way' down a heavily signposted one-way street. That's GCSE film-making.

Beautiful Boy was far better at all this, and at least there was some excitement 'cos of all the skag...

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Oh and Hugh Quarshie turns up as well - that's right, Captain Panaka - as a hospital administrator, and nobody calls him Dr Griffin which means this film doesn't take place in the same continuity as Holby City despite having the obvious opportunity and quite frankly I'm probably more furious about this than I am about the appalling approach to mental health issues (including the very scene which Hugh Quarshie is in, for the record).[ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Sunday 12 February 2023

Review: Knock At The Cabin

Knock At The Cabin (Spoilers)
Cert: 15 / 100 mins / Dir. M. Night Shyamalan / Trailer

It's the quintessential case of Cause And Effect™; a 300lb wrestler swings a home-made battleaxe in Pennsylvania, and a series of tsunamis destroy the Caribbean. And if you're fine being told these events are linked without actually being shown any evidence, you are going to love Knock At The Cabin.

Adapted from Paul Tremblay's 2018 novel by Steve Desmond, Michael Sherman and M. Knight Shyamalan, the story centres on Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), on vacation in the eponymous remote cabin with their young daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). Their rural tranquility is shattered when four religious missionaries (Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn) arrive, warning of the end of the world and the choices which need to be made to avoid it...


Credit where it's due, the cast are fully committed here and Shyamalan's directorial work is superb at ramping up tension. The first act in particular fizzles, not because the quartet of interlopers are shouting, violent maniacs, but because of how reasoned, reluctant and ultimately resigned they are to their duty. This is thanks in no small part to Bautista's lead antagonist, Leonard, and the actor is the note-perfect mix of intellect and braun*1 to carry the sense of conflict over to an audience trying to make sense of it all. Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Abby Quinn are great as Leonard's cohorts Redmond, Sabrina and Adriane, but ultimately lose out in the battle for screen-time.

Over on the sensible side of the fence, Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge are very solid in balancing parental protectiveness, survival instincts and blind panic as their (personal) world is threatened seemingly out of nowhere and for no poetically-viable reason*2. And as above, Kristen Cui brings an assured performance as their daughter (the one who should be losing it completely, but somehow isn't), even if that's overshadowed by everything else that's going on in the film.


The problem is that the mechanics of film itself just don't work. The first act contains perfectly workable scripted allusions to the backstory of Eric, Andrew and their adopted daughter, then the rest of the film repeatedly cuts to needless flashback scenes showing the audience what they've already been told. This feels like a deliberate attempt to temporarily move the action out of the cabin, and destroys the necessary sense of claustrophobia as a result.

Outside of the central premise of the story (more on that very shortly), the screenplay presents a mashup of contemporary issues, from societal homophobia and victim-culture to social echo chambers, confirmation-bias and online radicalisation. Precisely none of these are explored properly (and really can't be due to the urgency of the main narrative), so they add no texture to what is a very straightforward plot. Although at least this follows traditional horror movie conventions by having protagonists under duress make exceedingly stupid decisions, like hoping a locked bathroom door will contain brick-shithouse Leonard, having just watched him commit three murders with a five-foot axe...


Okay, gloves-off, heavy spoilers from this point in. I won't bury them in the footnotes with highlight-to-read tags, since these are the intrinsic problems with Knock At The Cabin. The strongest setup, frowniest chin-stroking and best performances count for little when a screenplay spells out the why in small words, but blithely skips over the gaping holes in the how.

The central premise is this: Leonard explains that the four of them have had visions of the end of the world, and that they've been told in these how to avert it. The visions have drawn them all to this cabin (not knowing exactly who they'd find there), and told them that the three family members have to decide amongst themselves which one of them is to be sacrificed by the other two. This will stop the world from ending. The prophets can't kill the family member, and one of them can't choose suicide. It has to be a willing sacrifice. When asked by the strangers who they nominate, failure of the family to make a choice means that one of the strangers will be killed by the others (in front of the family), and a catastrophic event will be unleashed upon the earth as a punishment. The family will then have time to reflect upon this until being asked again, and the cycle repeats until they either choose one of themselves to die, or all the prophets are killed and the world finally ends in screaming flames and disease.

The central problem is this: We see all of this happen - more than once, as the film escalates its drama - with Eric and Andrew unable to make a choice (obviously, since in the first instance this is all at the word of four nutjobs who have just shown up at the front door). Redmond (Rupert Grint) is first to forfeit his life as part of the prophecy, desperately furious but ultimately accepting his part of the larger picture as he kneels at the family's feet while Leonard swings his home-made axe (a broom handle tied to an array of meat cleavers, by the looks of it) into Redmond's ceremonial white hood*3 and ending his life in no uncertain terms. The remaining members of gang switch on the TV*4 where news channels are swamped with reports and mobile-footage of tsunamis and tidal waves wreaking global havoc. Except the family made their non-choice less than 90 seconds earlier, and all of these social media videos have already made their way onto broadcast television*5. Meaning these events have already happened and have nothing to do with what's going on in the cabin. Eric and Andrew even point this out in the scripted dialogue and it's still roundly ignored. And even if the news was somehow a superbly organised real-time commentary, Leonard and his mates could avoid the end of the world by simply not killing Redmond. After all, Len states that it's their subsequent actions which unleash the disasters, no matter how piously they try to shift blame onto the family. Big shades of 'look what you made me do', here...


In another weird failure to commit to responsibility, every time one of the film's close-quarters murder-shots occurs, the moment of deadly impact happens just out of frame. This is often with the camera purposely drifting away from the action, leaving it up to the sound designer and audience's imagination to complete the gory puzzle. It would be easy to say that unflinchingly showing such violence on-screen would be exploitative (not to mention expensive for the effects teams), and that the actions of the antagonists should be implied rather than demonstrated. But ultimately, this is an exploitation flick; it's certainly not a post-modern examination of Western morality in a godless 21st century. Shyamalan gleefully sets up the most brutal sacrificial deaths with one hand, and then chickens out of showing them with the other, acting as if no-one in the audience has seen Midsommar. It's almost as if he wants to make a provocative film without upsetting anybody.

Speaking of which, the script here talks heavily of prophecy and sacrifice, but barely mentions God at all. And the disasters which beset humanity - earthquakes, tidal waves, pestilence - are distinctly biblical, and yet the actual Bible doesn't get a look in. It's possible that this pseudo-religious imagery transcends organised religion of course, and is instead a more primal force hitherto unrecognised by millennia of clergymen, but tapping into the same superstitious fear of natural disasters. I mean it's possible but it's not likely because the film never addresses this. Shyamalan just uses a narrative divine hammer to punish, while being too fearful to name the one who's holding it. It's almost as if he wants to make a provocative film without upsetting anybody.

That said, the entire subtext of Knock At The Cabin is that a same-sex couple adopting a child has angered an unnamed deity to the point where the world is going to be destroyed if the pair don't renounce their ways by irretrievably breaking up the family unit. So at least no-one was worried about upsetting the gays, then?

It would arguably be interesting if it wasn't all so pathetic.*6


One would imagine that with a cast of seven people, even M. Knight Shyamalan wouldn't be able to crowbar-in one of his legendarily awful cameo appearances. WRONG. Ironically, it was at this point that even an old atheist like me developed enough faith to start praying for the end of the world to come early. I've had a more convincing sense of the apocalypse listening to Keeper Of The Seven Keys, and at least Helloween managed to keep it all to under a quarter of an hour...

As should be apparent by now, I have not read the source-novel for Knock At The Cabin, so I don't know how much of the above is a problem with author Paul G. Tremblay or co-screenwriter M. Knight Shyamalan. But since ultimate responsibility for the content of a film falls upon the shoulders of its director, let's go with the latter.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I have a lot of time for Dave Bautista. He's got good range, great timing and with the right script he's a joy to watch. Thankfully he seems to have coasted through the Schwarzenegger-route of faintly sub-standard action comedies and got to a place where he can actually concentrate on the acting. But - so far - he's always playing Dave Bautista™, and that charm is definitely limited. When it runs out, the industry and audience alike will turn on him, and I have to admit that I will probably have run out of patience even before that point... [ BACK ]

*2 As great as they are, this is atrocious casting since Jonathan and Ben look just like the same actor on different days. And when the four antagonists have such intrinsically distinct appearances, it means the two leads essentially become one character whenever both of them aren't on-screen, which I'm pretty certain runs against the whole idea of having a same-sex couple at the centre of the story. Well done everyone. [ BACK ]

*3 This isn't a 'KKK' style white hood by the way, but a close-fitting, featureless whole-head mask. If anything, I suspect the production-design of this has something to say about face-masks in the COVID pandemic, but any pointed meaning gets lost in the directionless noise of the rest of the film. Although ironically enough, the character of Redmond probably is a racist. He's certainly shown to be a red-neck homophobe, after all... [ BACK ]

*4 Because the cabin is so rural and remote that there's no mobile signal meaning that they can't call for help once the land-line has been cut , but there is a hi-def TV signal and/or broadband connection? Okay M Knight, got it. [ BACK ]

*5 And while Knock At The Cabin is far from the only cinematic culprit in this regard, TV stations don't just broadcast anonymous unedited phone footage of ongoing disasters where people are dying on-camera. Even in America. And it's not out of good taste or respect for privacy, but because they'd get sued to absolute fuck by the families of the deceased. [ BACK ]

*4 And they do it in the end, obviously. The sacrifice. The world needs to be saved, and this film just isn't misanthropic enough to admit that humanity's had its turn. Andrew, who took the knock on the head in Act I and has been concussed for the entire film, convinces Ben in a state of blunt-force trauma and extreme situational stress to kill him, so Ben does it. We don't get to see that kill either. More worryingly though, the end of the film features an extended and badly assembled faux-BBC News report once all the apocalypses have stopped, involving a nurse standing outside an Intensive Care Unit saying that nobody in there has died for over two hours and how unusual that is. Is this the happy ending, M. Knight? Judgement day has been averted and now there's no more death any more and everyone's going to live forever? The planet can barely support 7.9 billion people as it is; I really don't think that the accelerated destruction of the Earth's resources which comes from the inevitable overcrowding of an exponentially-increasing global population is a cause for celebration. I imagine that'll get blamed on the gays as well, will it? Fuck's sake, M. Knight... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday 7 February 2023

Review: Puss In Boots - The Last Wish

Puss In Boots: The Last Wish
Cert: PG / 102 mins / Dir. Joel Crawford & Januel Mercado / Trailer

It feels somewhat disingenuous to call Puss In Boots: The Last Wish an unasked-for sequel, not least because the world's biggest unasked for sequel is currently still in cinemas and is by all accounts making ridiculous sums of money. Nevertheless, arriving eleven years after its direct predecessor, courtesy of two directors, two story writers and two separate screen writers, the feeling of a cinematic fifth-wheel remains...

The film follows Puss (voice once again by Antonio Banderas), as he recklessly finds himself on his ninth-and-final cats' life. Having heard the legend of a lost shooting star which crashed to earth and will bestow any wish upon the discoverer, our hero sets out on a quest to find it and be granted a reset of his feline power-ups. Along the way he is joined by jaded mercenary and former-partner Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault), and the brightly optimistic chihuahua Perrito (Harvey Guillén). The journey won't be easy however, as the trio are being tracked by evil business-magnate and collector of fabled antiquities Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney), as well as cockney crime-family Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Florence Pugh, Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman and Samson Kayo). To make matters worse, Puss himself is being stalked by the literal lupine personification of the grim reaper (Wagner Moura), intent on claiming the cat's final life for himself.


Taking the good points into account first, the central narrative has a stripped-down simplicity which, while it never feels dumbed-down, will be ideal for the younger members of the audience to follow and enjoy. This is a straightforward treasure-based adventure, and the use of the map as a central plot-point (physically changing the terrain depending on who holds it) is a nice anchor point for the story to keep things firmly on-track. Banderas is enjoying himself immensely in the title role, Hayek is solid (although the mostly-subdued nature of her character means the actress' vocal performance is frequently drowned out, tonally), and Guillén plays 'annoying yappy comedy dog' in precisely the way you'd imagine. The supporting voice-cast are all having great fun, and mostly merge with their animated counterparts very well.

At 102 minutes including the credits this isn't overly-long, but nor does it feel padded out. The film is a PG rather than the expected U because of the wolf's characterisation, and a string of bleeped-out profanities from Perrito are played to maximum comic effect; but apparently Olivia Coleman saying that the cat-lady's house smells of piss is just a bonus. Fair. Everything here moves at a bright, brisk pace, and the story markers are set out clearly, with frenetic action sequences and careful exposition scenes carefully placed so as not to run into one another. It's just that...


...well, as a standalone action feature this is way more of a mess than Dreamworks should ever have put their name on. In addition to the scattering of writers and directors, the central characters have full CGI model-rendering complete with the associated fur texturing you'd expect to see. But many of the players further down the ladder seem to be working on reduced-polycount models, giving them an overly angular appearance reminiscent of 1990s animation. The surface-texturing is photorealistic in some places (the main characters, again), given a watercolour effect in others, and even just flat-shaded in a few. The movement and film style is standard for the most part, then drops into anime effects and editing for the fight scenes, but still with the full CGI models. The film is a headache for anyone looking for a coherent experience.

On top of all this, the script takes repeated pot-shots at Disney, using its fairy-tale-world setting to include IP-baiting references to Jiminy Cricket, Pinnochio himself, and the bag/umbrella motifs from Mary Poppins. This might be charming or even cheeky from an independent studio, but given Dreamworks' standing as firmly second-tier to the House Of Mouse it feels more than a little bitter. By the time you consider the dearth of cat-jokes that a movie like Puss In Boots seems custom-built to deliver (and did, last time), you begin to wonder if all of this happened because an executive found an old contract behind a radiator which tied Banderas to one more project.

Despite my moaning, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish isn't bad. But given Dreamworks' past glories, it's pretty far from great. The Last Film would have been a more reassuring title...

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.