MOVIES: 'J. Edgar,' 'Puss in Boots' & 'The Three Musketeers'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Masterfully embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar Hoover was the most powerful man in America as the iconic, if paranoiac, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years. Serving eight presidents through three wars, he used evidence gained from surveillance to try to blackmail Roosevelt, Nixon, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, while shrewdly manipulating the media to support his ruthless pursuit of Communists and gangsters.
"No one freely shares power in Washington, D.C.," he maintained. "Information is power."
Dominated by his possessive mother, Annie (Judi Dench), intoning, "You're destined for greatness," ambitious Hoover methodically organized the Library of Congress cataloguing before he moved into law enforcement, where he founded the FBI, fighting fiercely to introduce fingerprinting and other scientific methodology, establishing his own set of professional policies and procedures. Crime-fighting was his passion; secrets were his weapons.
The most pivotal case in Hoover's career was the abduction of celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh's baby, which led to Congress making kidnapping a federal offense, as Hoover established a framework for collecting and testing forensic evidence from a crime scene and popularized the "G-Man" image.
A dapper, self-aggrandizing, megalomaniacal, right-wing ideologue, Hoover was also an isolated, emotionally repressed, sublimated homosexual whose small circle of trust included his devoted secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and dutiful, observant companion, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).
It's uncanny how Leonardo DiCaprio breathes life into unblinking, eccentric conviction, delivering an enigmatic, powerhouse performance while receiving terrific support from Dench, Watts and especially Hammer ("The Social Network"), the great-grandson of industrialist/art collector/philanthropist Armand Hammer.
Dustin Lance Black ("Milk") has written a sensitive, nuanced screenplay, filled with flashbacks, which Clint Eastwood meticulously transforms into a riveting, eye-opening character study, covering Hoover's career from the so-called Bolshevik invasions in 1919 through his death in 1972 at age 77 -- speculating about the Machiavellian essence of his relationships. Yet Eastwood, like J. Edgar, never forges an emotional connection.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "J. Edgar" is an inscrutable, ambivalent 8 -- with Leonardo DiCaprio emerging as a definite Oscar contender.
"PUSS IN BOOTS"
After the exploits of this intrepid feline adventurer (voiced by charming Antonio Banderas) were acclaimed in "Shrek 2," a picaresque spin-off for the supporting star seemed inevitable.
Designed as a prequel, this fairy tale/nursery rhyme-based plot revolves around the backstory of Puss and a glib egg named Humpty Alexander Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), who became childhood "brothers" in the Spanish orphanage of San Ricardo, maternally run by Senora Imelda (voiced by Constance Marie). Growing up, they dreamed of finding those magical beans that would lead them up the Beanstalk into the giant's fortress in-the-clouds, where Mother Goose guards her precious child, the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs.
Years later, as now-notorious, debonair Puss in his signature plumed hat is trying to steal the genuine beans from avaricious Jack & Jill (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris), he unexpectedly encounters a sultry, slick-fingered, feline femme fatale, Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Salma Hayek), who is after the same treasure. As the two of them join manipulative Humpty Dumpty -- who has a jealous, duplicitous streak -- in their mutual quest, there are numerous double-crosses and betrayals, along with a flamboyant flamenco-dancing interlude in the Cat Cantina.
Behind-the-scenes, "Shrek" animators were inspired by Antonio Banderas' suave performance in "The Mask of Zorror" (1998), so they modeled Puss to play off Banderas' Spanish background, marking a literary departure from the traditional French concept created by Charles Perrault's 1697 "Master Cat"/"The Booted Cat." Writer Tom Wheeler amplifies a revenge-and-forgiveness story he devised with Brian Lynch and Will Davies, as lead animator Patrick Mate and his staff, directed by Chris Miller, generate the stylish computerized visual elements.
Film aficionados may recognize the voice of San Ricardo's official commandante and the mysterious Moustache Man as belonging to filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Puss in Boots" prowls in with a swaggering 7. It's furry, frisky, family-friendly fun. And you don't have to pay extra for the 3-D, since the 2-D version is just as good.
"THE THREE MUSKETEERS"
Alexander Dumas would scarcely recognize this latest incarnation of his swashbuckling tale, what with its airborne CGI galleons and armed Milady who secures rappelling apparatus within her corset.
The prologue begins in 17th century Venice, where sardonic Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), good-humored Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and astute Aramis (Luke Evans) team up with intrepid Milady DeWinter (Milla Jovovich) to steal blueprints for a war machine from Leonardo DaVinci's Vault. But they're betrayed by Milady, who delivers the plans for the dirigible/sea-faring galleon to the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and then allies herself with scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz).
A year later, the cocky, young son of a Musketeer, D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman), is traveling to Paris to become one of the elite soldiers sworn to protect France's foppish, teenage King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox). En route, eye-patch'd Capt. Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), the leader of Richelieu's Guards, mocks his horse, Buttercup, earning D'Artagnan's eternal enmity. D'Artagnan later joins up with disillusioned Athos, Porthos and Aramis -- who feel they're obsolete and in search of a cause -- and he becomes smitten with lovely Constance (Gabriella Wilde), lady-in-waiting to the Queen (Juno Temple). As the plot thickens, there's in an unlikely escapade in which Milady steals the Queen's diamond-studded necklace as part of Richelieu's diabolical plan to provoke war between England and France.
Written by Alex Litvak ("Predators") and Andrew Davies (TV's "Pride and Prejudice," "Little Dorrit") and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, it's dazzling in its opulent, expensive, 3-D extravagance but the crass concept lacks substance, the vapid characters are never individualized, and the dialogue is so stilted that the Three Musketeers seem transformed into The Three Stooges. Even the Hong Kong-inspired but badly edited swordfights lack tension and suspense. Perhaps one should know that actress Milla Jovovich is married to the director, and they've made millions from their "Resident Evil" franchise.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Three Musketeers" is a hammy, campy 5, concluding with the threat of a sequel as a British armada sailed toward France.