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‘PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie’ Review: The Plucky Pups Get a Super-Powered Sequel

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‘PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie’ Review: The Plucky Pups Get a Super-Powered Sequel

The “PAW Patrol” franchise is now 10 years old — 70 in dog years — and with each installment, children and their parents have been treated to exciting adventures, wholesome characters and cool new merchandise. What began as a preschool TV series in 2013 got the silver-screen treatment in 2021 with the inventively named “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” broadening its scale and reach but sacrificing none of its lesson-learning or toy-slinging. Given the property’s theatrical and streaming success, there’s an audience perpetually hungry to connect with the ongoing saga of a tween boy and his pack of four-legged heroes. The fantasy-forward follow-up “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie,” involving a meteor, magic crystals and a mad scientist (who hates being called that), expands their journey to saving the world.

This time, their mission holds greater challenge and peril — raising the bar creatively and bumping the MPAA rating from G to PG. While not as subversive as its predecessor, it delivers on the promise of a smart and salient sequel with bolder action, bigger stakes, and deeper resonance for all ages.

Adventure City is safe and secure on land, at sea and in the air thanks to the elite PAW Patrol and their efforts to quell crime and avert disasters. Team leader Ryder (Finn Lee-Epp) is so confident in their ability to keep the peace that he’s decided to take on three young, clumsy and over-eager trainees: Nano (Alan Kim), Mini (Brice Gonzalez) and Tot (North West). Though the newest member of the pack, headstrong dachshund Liberty (Marsai Martin), is initially opposed to the idea, she stays behind to train the trio when the others are called out to fight danger. Little do they know a lurking evil is about to upend their lives.

From her lair in an abandoned observatory, scientific mastermind Victoria Vance (Taraji P. Henson) plots to magnetically harness a meteor and mine it for its powers. However, her plan goes awry, putting citizens at risk and the pups in its path. While Vance is sent to jail for her misdeeds — where she connects with the pups’ longtime foe Mayor Humdinger (Ron Pardo) and his Kitten Catastrophe Crew — the patrol learns the massive rock contains special crystals that give them amazing abilities: Pilot Skye (Mckenna Grace) can fly and has super strength; police dog Chase (Christian Convery) has super speed; bulldozing bulldog Rubble (Luxton Handspiker) can turn himself into a wrecking ball; firehouse dalmatian Marshall (Christian Corrao) can throw fireballs; aquatic diver Zuma (Nylan Parthipan) can control water; and gadget guru Rocky (Callum Shoniker) is magnetic. But just as The Mighty Pups are honing their newfound skillsets, a trap is set that threatens their livelihood.

Similar to their first big-screen adventure, another pup suffers from a crisis of confidence: Skye, whose small stature causes her to question her self-worth. Yet returning writer-director Cal Brunker and co-screenwriter Bob Barlen add different facets to her arc to distinguish it from Chase’s anxiety issues. Her tiny pink bandana acts as a literal and figurative tie to her past. They include a beautifully poignant, “Jessie’s Song”-like backstory that blends Christina Aguilera’s tear-jerking ballad “Learning to Fly” with breathtaking animation. The filmmakers also turn their focus to Liberty and her heartrending struggle to figure out her purpose as well as her power. Still, the emotional weight of these sentimental storylines won’t overwhelm youngsters, as it’s all layered in with finesse.

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Action sequences and their aesthetics have evolved. Scenes that show the team functioning as a well-oiled machine are exhilarating, but pull double duty narratively, propelling the characters and their conflicts further. It’s also fun to see this turn into a family affair with returning player Kim Kardashian West — who perfectly voices prissy poodle Delores — accompanied by her children North and Saint in supporting roles. Composer Pinar Toprak’s evocative score is complementary without being pushy, enhancing character drive. Fur, water, lasers, fire and cloud elements are visually dazzling, while the climactic face-off between the puppy protagonists and their adversary feels electrically charged in these capable animators’ hands.

The consumerist underpinnings that were so prevalent in its predecessor are, of course, still evident — perhaps now even less cloaked, with their new souped-up vehicles and “Tron”-esque bodycon suits revealed in the expected hype-montage style. There’s even a fourth-wall-breaking joke ironically stated by a newsman (Lil Rel Howery), as if it were news to us, that makes us chuckle through our complicity. With much humor and charm, this second chapter reads fairly well for all ages. It may not reinvent the wheel, but it certainly knows how to cleverly repackage and resell the goods.

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Movie Reviews

‘It’s Not Me’ Review: Leos Carax’s Cinema Collage Mixes Movies, History and Real Life into a Personal Manifesto

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‘It’s Not Me’ Review: Leos Carax’s Cinema Collage Mixes Movies, History and Real Life into a Personal Manifesto

After Jean-Luc Godard, Leos Carax is probably the French filmmaker most associated with the term enfant terrible. In some ways, he’s been even more terrible than Godard ever was, adopting a pseudonym (he was born Alex Dupont) as a teenager and bursting onto the scene at age 24 with Boy Meets Girl — Godard made Breathless when he was 30 — which immediately turned him into a major young auteur to be reckoned with.

He followed that up with the powerful, AIDS-inspired Mauvais Sang, and then made The Lovers on the Bridge, a film infamous for being a French Heaven’s Gate that went way over budget and flopped (it’s still a fantastic movie). After that Carax disappeared for a while, then reemerged to make a few shorts, compose pop songs and shoot a new feature every decade, the last one being the Adam Driver-Marion Cotillard starrer, Annette.

It’s Not Me

The Bottom Line

A short and dense film autobiography suited for the auteur’s fans.

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Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Cannes Première)
Cast: Denis Lavant, Nastya Golubeva Carax, Anna-Isabel Siefken, Bianca Maddaluno, Kateryna Yuspina, Loreta Juodkaite, Peter Anevskii
Director, screenwriter, editor: Leos Carax

40 minutes

His latest work, the medium-length, autobiographical collage It’s Not Me (C’est pas moi), is both that of an enfant terrible and a true-blooded Godard disciple. It mimics, or pays homage to, the late Franco-Swiss director’s montage films like Histoire(s) du cinéma and The Image Book, using the same colorful on-screen titles that JLG once used to comment on footage both old and new.

That footage was assembled by Carax for an exhibition meant to happen at the Pompidou Center a few years ago, but still yet to take place. (Back in 2006, Godard was asked to do his own show at the same museum, then abandoned it due to “artistic, financial and technical difficulties,” only to replace it several months later with what was best described as a “non-exhibition.)

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In preparation for the show, the organizers ask Carax a simple question: Who are you? The answer, according to It’s Not Me, it that he’s everything from silent movies to Hollywood Golden Age classics to scenes from his own work. He’s also the music of Nina Simone and David Bowie and The Fall, as well as Ravel and Beethoven. He’s Monsieur Merde (Mister Shit), a raving alter-ego played by Denis Lavant, who’s starred in nearly all of his films. And he’s above all a person who defines himself through the cinema, whether it’s the movies he loves or those he’s made throughout his turbulent career.

People unfamiliar with Carax’s oeuvre will likely be lost here, while fans and cinephiles will find a hearty meal to feast on. It’s Not Me is chock-full of references and influences, from F.W. Murnau to Jean Vigo to Godard himself, whose trembling voice is heard on a voice message he once left the director.

There are also scenes featuring Carax’s real family, including his daughter, the actress Nastya Golubeva Carax, whom we see skipping along the Seine in old cell phone footage, then marvelously playing piano in a scene illuminated by candles. The auteur himself appears a few times as well: at the very start, where he’s lying on something like his deathbed, and later walking through the Buttes-Chaumont park accompanied by Monsieur Merde, who gleefully runs down a hill and defecates in a bush.

The film jumps around so quickly that it’s sometimes hard to follow the director’s lead. At other moments Carax more succinctly expresses his views, such as in a rapid-fire montage of world leaders that groups together Putin, Trump, Kim Jong-il and Benjamin Netanyahu. Another scene provides a brief history of Roman Polanski’s tumultuous and controversial life, in what seems like a plea for his defense.

While Carax’s movies have never been overtly political or historical, this one makes several references to Hitler and the Nazis. In one sequence, the director cuts in footage of Isadore Greenbaum, the Jewish plumber who tried to interrupt a pro-Nazi rally held at Madison Square Garden in 1939. In a later scene staged by Carax — and shot by cinematographer Caroline Champetier, the DP of Holy Motors — a mother sits beside her children in bed, eerily reading a bedtime story that describes the Final Solution.

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Again, it’s a hearty meal, and also a condensed one at only 40 minutes. The auteur seems to be squeezing everything he can into a personal manifesto in which cinema, history and real life become interchangeable, and in which he tries to situate his work within film’s larger trajectory. The most telling evidence of this is a sequence which cuts from Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering photos of a horse in movement to a tracking shot of Lavant gloriously running and dancing down a Paris street in Mauvais Sang.

At such moments, it’s clear that Carax has not only reserved his own place in cinema’s trajectory, but that his films remain instantly recognizable through their romantic exuberance and visual splendor, their dark humor and existential gloom. These traits may not describe who Carax is or wants to be — if one is to believe that his latest movie is not, in fact, him (c’est pas moi). But they’re what we know and love about a great filmmaker, and still very much an enfant terrible at age 63, who’s always put the whole of himself into his work.

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Black Dog: Chinese director Guan Hu makes Cannes debut

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Black Dog: Chinese director Guan Hu makes Cannes debut

2.5/5 stars

Black Dog begins with all the trappings of a revenge Western. Set in a godforsaken town where bad guys roam around with impunity, it revolves around a reticent man returning home after a decade-long absence to confront his sworn enemies.

It also seems to have everything in place for a political allegory. Juxtaposing images of crumbling tenements with incessant radio news bulletins about the Beijing Olympics, the story, set in 2008, could offer commentary about the clash of reality and dreams in 21st century China.

As it turns out, Guan Hu’s film is neither. From the big bang of its first half-hour, Black Dog is slowly reduced to a whimper, as what was set up to be a hard-boiled genre film turns into a sentimental relationship drama about a wayward man’s attempt to connect with his family, friends, foes and his new four-legged buddy.

Having transformed himself from a Sixth Generation indie filmmaker to a master of battle-heavy blockbusters like The Eight Hundred and The Sacrifice, Guan begins Black Dog with what is arguably the most stunning set piece in mainland Chinese cinema so far this year.
Somewhere amid the tumbleweed-filled steppes of northwest China, hundreds of dogs run down a mountain towards a remote road, causing a travelling bus to flip over. Among those who crawl from the debris is Lang (Eddie Peng Yu-yan), a mysterious, taciturn ex-convict returning home after a decade away.

Settling into his long-abandoned home, his past returns to haunt him in the form of the local butcher, who accused Lang of having caused his nephew’s death.

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A still from Black Dog.

But the bad guy in town is Yao (Jia Zhangke), the chain-smoking leader of a bunch of “dog management officers” who capture strays and steal pets in order to resell them elsewhere for a profit.

Lang joins Yao to earn some hard cash, only to find his humanity flickering back to life when he forms a bond with a raging, rabies-stricken hound. This inspires him to reconcile with his adversaries, his ailing zoo-master father and his younger self.

While there’s nothing wrong with Guan’s decision to steer a fatalistic tale towards a happy ending, the change of tone does Peng few favours, as he is forced to reprise the kind of gawky man-child role he has been typecast in for just too long.

A still from Black Dog, set in the steppes of northwest China.

Meanwhile, the flood of positive energy in the second half of the film renders its remarkable set design evoking doom and gloom irrelevant. The same can be said even of apparently important characters: Dong Liya’s circus acrobat, for example, is left with nothing to do as the prospect of forming a relationship with Lang evaporates.

The canines are cute, though – and for some, perhaps, that is Black Dog’s main draw.

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Kinds of Kindness: Poor Things director at his most elusive

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Kinds of Kindness: Poor Things director at his most elusive

In the first, “The Death of R.M.F.”, Jesse Plemons plays Robert, a man who appears in thrall to Raymond (Willem Dafoe), who sets Robert’s agenda, from his diet to his sexual encounters.

In the second, “R.M.F. Is Flying”, Plemons plays Daniel, a cop whose wife Liz (Emma Stone) has gone missing; when she returns, he is convinced she is an imposter.

Finally, in “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich”, Stone plays Emily, a woman who seeks out a cult leader (Dafoe) for a spiritual and sexual awakening.

Hong Chau in a still from Kinds of Kindness. Photo: Atsushi Nishijima

Inevitably, as is the case with most portmanteau films, one episode stands out – in this case “The Death of R.M.F.”, which has an unnerving quality to it.

The second instalment is the most shocking, featuring Liz and Daniel sitting around with friends (Mamoudou Athie and Margaret Qualley) watching a highly explicit sex tape the four of them made.

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Bringing up the rear is the final short, which rather drags with its depictions of sweat lodges, bodily contamination, and Stone skidding around in her cool-looking Dodge Challenger.

With Hong Chau (The Whale) and Joe Alwyn (who featured in Lanthimos’ The Favourite) also appearing, it is undoubtedly a fine cast, one led by Plemons, who truly understands how to perform in the Lanthimos style.

Stone, now on her third movie with the Greek director, seems to relish the extremes she gets to go to.

(From left) Willem Dafoe, Jesse Plemons and Hong Chau in a still from Kinds of Kindness. Photo: Atsushi Nishijima

Quite what it all means, however, is another thing entirely. The characters seem to be in states of crisis, with miscarriage a common theme.

Looking at humanity in all its weirdness, Kinds of Kindness is a baffling film to take in, as abrasive as its musical score from Jerskin Fendrix, who performed similar tricks on Poor Things.

Certainly, compared to his more accessible films, such as The Favourite and Poor Things, this feels like Lanthimos at his most elusive and frustrating.

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