Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 29 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 29

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THE MUPPETS Yes, it may be true that The Muppets is a film for the whole family, but here's a cruel suggestion: Hire a babysitter and leave the kids at home. After all, what grownup weaned on a steady diet of Muppet episodes and movies wants to interrupt their jaunt down memory lane by having to escort weak bladders to the bathroom or hungry mouths to the concession stand? Jason Segel, a self-proclaimed Muppet devotee who co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, plays Gary, who takes his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and his equally Muppet-obsessed brother Walter — who, incidentally, happens to be a puppet himself — to Los Angeles for vacation. When they stop at the old Muppet studio, they're shocked to see it dilapidated and abandoned; they're even more upset when they discover that ruthless businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to buy the property, tear down the studio and drill for oil. In an effort to save the hallowed ground, the trio head off to find Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest of the gang. On the down time, Walter's pretty much a drip, both as a character and a Muppet, and instead of even creating him in the first place (when you think about it, he's not really necessary to the overall arc), I would rather Segel and Stoller had spent more time on the already established puppet personalities. And the cameos, by and large, are a disappointing lot. 1979's The Muppet Movie gave us comedy titans like Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Bob Hope and Madeline Kahn; this film can only counter with Ken Jeong, Zach Galifianakis, John Krasinski and Selena Gomez. Running the risk of sounding like Statler and Waldorf, though, I had best stop with the naysaying. At any rate, the majority of the film is pure pleasure, full of knowing winks to the franchise's time and place in history: the bouncy "Mahna Mahna"; Kermit's celebrity Rolodex, long outdated ("May I speak to President Carter?"); the lovely "The Rainbow Connection" (just try and not tear up during that moment); and the creation of '80s Robot, whose computer-related gag provided me with the biggest laugh I've enjoyed in a theater this year. ***1/2

PINA An Academy Award nominee this year for Best Documentary Feature, Pina involves perhaps the most unique style of 3-D I've yet seen in a film. It's so subtle, unobtrusive and low-key that at times I felt like I was watching the movie through a View-Master rather than the requisite plastic glasses. That's not meant as a knock; indeed, one of the pleasures of the latest from director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) is that it realizes the artistry on display is less in this technological toy than in the action it's capturing on screen. Wenders' tribute to the German choreographer Pina Bausch (who passed away in 2009, just as the filmmaker was prepping this movie), this is a lovely, lyrical valentine that focuses on performances of Bausch's dances while also spending some down time with her disciples in the Tanztheater Wuppertal. Ever the innovator, Wenders doesn't exactly employ the reliable "talking heads" format; instead, he individually films members of her ensemble as they sit close-mouthed, with their words heard in voice-over. Their dialogue consists of remembrances of Pina Bausch the Artist; moviegoers expecting to learn any juicy details about Pina Bausch the Person will be sorely disappointed. But it's refreshing that Wenders focuses on the craft without cluttering up the film with messy details — although, admittedly, a bit more info on her life as it relates to her approach to art would have been appreciated. Dance connoisseurs and novices alike will suitably be impressed with the showcase routines, which take place not only indoors but outside in the natural world. Bausch herself said that dance helps communicate situations that otherwise "leave you utterly speechless." As we watch her talented troupe glide around chairs, weave through traffic or frolic under a waterfall, we are indeed struck dumb by the poetry in motion. ***1/2

PUSS IN BOOTS Stanley Roper was arguably the funniest character on the long-running TV series Three's Company (not a difficult feat, admittedly), but that didn't mean it was wise to yank him and the missus out of their supporting stints on that hit show in order to place them front and center in a sitcom (The Ropers) that barely lasted a year. Similarly, Jennifer Garner's Elektra worked well in tandem with Ben Affleck's blind superhero in Daredevil, but absolutely no one cared when she was given her very own starring vehicle. So even though Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots owned the Shrek franchise from the moment he was introduced in the second film, that was no reason to elevate him to, erm, leading-cat status in Puss in Boots. Certainly, the fault doesn't rest with Banderas, who's as game as ever. But this animated effort wants to have it both ways: It retains the sort of tiresome, snarky humor that defined the Shrek series while also trafficking in the type of obvious morals found in more traditional toon fare. The end result is a listless movie that doesn't have much to offer beyond keeping the kids quiet for 90 minutes. The plot concerns the uneasy alliance between Puss, the equally accomplished Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, re-teaming with her Desperado co-star) and the annoying Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) as they attempt to first steal three magic beans and then the fabled Golden Goose. There are a handful of amusing exchanges ("I thought a cat always landed on its feet." "No! That's just a rumor spread by dogs!"), but for the most part, the stale wisecracks are on the order of "First rule of Bean Club: You do not talk about Bean Club." With soft lobs like this, it's clear Puss in Boots is one movie that was declawed before it even got close to the screen. **


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