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Every so often a film comes along that fits so squarely and neatly inside one’s own per­son­al set of interests and enthu­si­asms that it is impossible to be object­ive about it. I try and keep my work here dis­in­ter­ested and arms’ length – clin­ic­al, if you will – but, y’know, I’m only human. Just so you know. With that dis­claim­er out of the way, then, here’s my review of Puss in Boots.

So. Much. Fun. Soooo. Much. Fun. As one of the smart Embassy staff poin­ted out to me after­wards, Puss (Antonio Banderas) has been basic­ally single-pawedly keep­ing the Shrek fran­chise alive for a while so a spin-off was not only likely but neces­sary. And welcome.

A dash­ing feline hero – egot­ist­ic­al, nar­ciss­ist­ic but with a heart of gold – Puss roams the coun­tryside get­ting in to trouble with own­ers of shiny things and own­ers of lady cats. But he has a dark secret, a shad­ow, a bur­den to carry: a tra­gic mis­car­riage of justice back in his home town has made him a fugit­ive determ­ined to clear his name. A chance meet­ing with child­hood best friend Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zack Galifianakis) offers him a shot at redemp­tion – along with some magic beans that could lead to golden eggs in a castle in the sky.

Full of witty dia­logue, cat jokes, visu­al puns and immacu­late com­ic tim­ing, Puss in Boots is a must-see for cat lov­ers of all ages. If you are more of a dog per­son then stay tuned, there’s some­thing for you later on. Before I leave Puss, though, I want to pose you a ques­tion. If tra­di­tion­al anim­at­ors can do such amaz­ing and amus­ing work with only their mice to work with, why do we need all that new-fangled per­form­ance cap­ture tech­no­logy? Seems increas­ingly like a solu­tion look­ing for a prob­lem to me.

So, let’s assume that non-cat lov­ers will get a kick out of Puss in Boots. That is called tran­scend­ing your sub­ject mat­ter and it is a ter­ribly dif­fi­cult thing to do – par­tic­u­larly with doc­u­ment­ary. A good example might be Man On Wire which is ostens­ibly about tightrope walk­ing and yet it appealed to mil­lions of non-tightrope walk­ers all over the world. It tran­scen­ded its sub­ject mat­ter in a way that Jig, about com­pet­it­ors at the 2010 World Irish Dancing Championships, does not.

If you already have an interest in com­pet­it­ive Irish dan­cing, then Jig is prob­ably going to be cat­nip for you. If not, then you’ll be bored rigid – much as I was. I’m old fash­ioned enough to think that if a film takes up space on our cinema screens I’d expect it to jus­ti­fy itself some­how and on that basis Jig fails where an equally unprom­ising top­ic like TT 3D suc­ceeded. It belongs on tele­vi­sion – where fans can find it – which is pre­sum­ably why BBC Scotland paid for it to be made in the first place.

Red Dog is for the dog lov­ers among you. It’s based on a novella by Louis de Bernières (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) which was in turn based on the true story of a fam­ous can­ine char­ac­ter who spent the 1970s roam­ing the remote north west of Western Australia – and legend has it even fur­ther afield – mak­ing friends along the way. The town of Dampier is a com­pany town, hun­dreds of mostly migrant work­ers open cast min­ing iron ore and salt in the bru­tal Australian sun. Red Dog does a fair job of evok­ing the uncom­prom­ising life­style that these men have chosen for them­selves but that’s roughly where its qual­it­ies start to fizzle out.

Manipulative is quite a charged word in review­ing circles – after all isn’t all art about pro­vok­ing a reac­tion – but I take it to mean the dif­fer­ence between being invited to have an emo­tion­al response and one being deman­ded of you. Red Dog is manip­u­lat­ive. It requires tears and it won’t rest until it has got them.

Much more subtle, much more open to inter­pret­a­tion, is Céline Sciamma’s quiet little puzzle Tomboy. Ten year old Laure (Zoé Héran) moves with her par­ents and young­er sis­ter to a new town. It’s the sum­mer hol­i­days and while her mum and dad are busy with their grown-up ver­sion of set­tling in, shy Laure tries to find new friends. When she is mis­taken for a boy by Lisa (Jeanne Disson) she becomes Mikel and plays along with her new iden­tity until soci­ety demands that she can’t simply choose her gender any more.

One syn­op­sis I’ve read for the film sug­gests that Laure becomes a boy to fit in – to avoid embar­rass­ment among her new friends she doesn’t cor­rect them and it soon becomes too late to go back – but it seems to me that it is much more of a con­scious choice, an extreme ver­sion of the kind of exper­i­ments that all chil­dren go through. Laure’s attrac­tion to Lisa may be a factor too, but who knows? That’s the strength of Tomboy, it doesn’t hand you everything on a plate or dic­tate the response it expects you to have. It’s a film about a ten year old that treats you like an adult.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 7 December, 2011.