Puss in Boots cat’s meow, Margin Call is money, Main Street meanders

by Mark Burger

Puss in Boots is pure entertainment for all ages. Not only does it successfully spin off the animated character introduced in Shrek franchise — with Puss adding considerable life to the later installments — but it successfully establishes a potential, and palpable, screen franchise in its own right.

Antonio Banderas once again provides the enthusiastic voice for the title character. The felicitous feline is a lover, a fighter, a scoundrel and a rogue — but he’s got a heart of gold and his upturned eyes never fail to melt hearts, no matter the species upon which he lays on the gaze.

With a zesty, momentum that never flags, Puss in Boots is pleasing throughout. There’s action, adventure, romance (provided by Kitty Softpaws, voiced by Salma Hayek) and a splendidly spicy Spanish flavor that both celebrates and gently sends up the culture. The laughs are consistent and sustained, and the CGI animation, whether seen in 2-D or 3-D, spectacular. Unquestionably, this is a film designed — in every sense of the word — for box-office success. And, on every level, it succeeds.

The voiceover cast also includes Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as a particularly nasty Jack and Jill, Zach Galifianakis as Humpty Dumpty, director Chris Miller, and even Guillermo del Toro — also one of the film’s executive producers. Although the Shrek series lost steam as it went along, this gets the Puss in Boots franchise off to a roaring start. This cat’s the coolest.

Margin Call ( ), which opens Friday, is a very good feature debut for writer/ director JC Chandor depicting a very bad day in the life of a Wall Street brokerage firm on the eve of the 2008 financial collapse. It’s a cautionary tale familiar to many, but this film never gets bogged down in the financial jargon and concentrates instead on the human element — those who find themselves standing on the deck of a multi-billion-dollar Titanic rushing into a financial iceberg.

By the time it becomes clear just how dire the situation is, it’s too late — and the repercussions will be both widespread and cataclysmic.

The film, loosely based on actual events and corporations (obviously), rarely leaves the confines of its corporate enclave in midtown Manhattan and is almost structured like a stage play, with each of the actors enjoying at least one Big Scene.

Occasionally the film is a bit talky, but all in all, the cast delivers: Kevin Spacey (superb), Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto (also a producer), Simon Baker, Penn Badgley, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci (in an electrifying cameo that bookends the story) form a sharp ensemble cast. They bring an urgency, and even a human element, to a story about we all know the ending — and it’s not a happy one. Given the recent protests on Wall Street, Margin Call couldn’t come at a better time. It brings painful memories from the recent past back into clear, infuriating focus.

Opening Friday, Main Street ( ) is a misfired melodrama whose sum never equals its parts, including the final screenplay by Horton Foote (to whom the film is dedicated) and a great cast including Ellen Burstyn, Colin Firth (sporting a Texas twang),

Patricia Clarkson, Amber Tamblyn, Orlando Bloom, Andrew McCarthy, Victoria Clark, Margo Martindale and one-time “Duke of Hazzard” Tom Wopat. Everyone tries….

Set and filmed in Durham, this stumbling parable explores, in a fashion better suited to the small screen, the erosion of historical and emotional landscapes in Small Town, USA — or, in Durham’s case, Small City, USA — as observed and/ or experienced by a diverse group of characters, some of whom seem to wish they were somewhere else. (Some of the actors do, as well.)

First-time director John Doyle is singularly unable to bring the disparate strands of plot together, although he doesn’t squander his cast, relying on the actors to provide momentum, even where none exists. Filmed in 2009, the film’s circuitous production is far more interesting than the resulting film. Main Street isn’t a bad try, but given its pedigree feels more keen a waste than it might otherwise have.

Main Street is also scheduled for DVD and Blu-ray release Nov. 15 from Magnolia Home Entertainment.

Mark Burger can be heard 8:30 AM Fridays on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.

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