"Monkey shines in TV cartoon's big-screen adaptation"

Children, parents, and Cartoon Network junkies can finally enjoy a TV-cartoon-to-big-screen translation that really works — and features a more dynamic talking animal.

Of course, it's been said that everything is funnier with a monkey — especially when said primate is a super-intelligent, megalomaniacal talking simian who wants to take over the world.

Director Craig McCracken — creator of The Powerpuff Girls animated series on the Cartoon Network — applies this credo and successfully delivers a near-90 minute film version of his 30-minute pop-culture phenomenon without compromising the show's unusual mix of universal and offbeat humor. McCracken also keeps non-cable subscribers in mind by utilizing the clean-slate approach: We see how do-gooder Professor Utonium creates Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, and how Mojo Jojo (the girls' main nemesis) becomes an evil supermonkey with a huge, exposed brain in the film's raucous opening. Then the chaotic fun begins.

Taking a cue from the growing popularity of PG-rated animated fare, Powerpuff distracts the kids with animated violence, and stimulates the adults with a steady dose of droll, albeit silly, dialogue — with neither side outdoing the other. In fact, witty interaction between the girls and other characters, as well as shots of police officers hanging out at a donut shop, suggests the creators aren't just targeting the kiddies.

Like several past animated and live-action superhero films, the villain practically steals the show in Powerpuff — though Mojo Jojo (God bless his Asian vocal affectation and animal tantrums) does get a little help from his fellow furry friends. The film's funniest sequence, features Mojo Jojo transforming a zoo's worth of primates into criminal masterminds who take over Townsville while the girls are in temporary exile on an asteroid. What follows is a series of delightful, clever, and intentionally cheesy bits of animated carnage that followers of the everything's-funnier-with-monkeys philosophy will eat up. — Albert Lopez

Dir. Craig McCracken; writ: Craig McCracken, Charlie Bean, Lauren Faust, Paul Rudish, Dan Shank; feat. Cathy Cavadini, Tara Strong, E.G. Daily, Tom Kenny, Roger L. Jackson, Jennifer Hale, Tom Kane (PG)

"Soap opera redeemed by three stars"

A soap opera redeemed by its three stars, Second Skin, a Spanish film set in modern-day Madrid, has one of those stories that squeezes as much anguish as possible out of its simple premise. Alberto (Jordi Molla, last seen as Johnny Depp's unstable drug-dealing partner in Blow) is a successful aeronautics engineer. He has a beautiful wife, Elena (Ariadna Gil), a model son and a dark secret: He's having an affair with a surgeon named Diego (Javier Bardem).

At first, as the film contrasts the largely unexpressed disquiet of Alberto and Elena's home life with the graphic rutting of Alberto and Diego, it seems to be about a late-blooming homosexual who can't bring himself to break with his hetero past. But Alberto's conflicts are too deep and too fatally ingrained; he wants to be Diego's passionate lover, but he wants to be Elena's loving husband too. Unable to choose, he heads toward a crack-up that will surely leave him as neither.

For much of the film, Alberto is a less-than-sympathetic figure — you want to give him a good slap and tell him to shit or get off the pot — mainly because his turmoil is so damaging to both wife and lover. He's a wreck and a congenital liar, to himself above all others. But as his descent into corrosive desperation proceeds, Molla manages to convey the character's essential, damaged humanity.

Diego is his exact opposite, comfortable with his sexuality and tolerant of his half-mad lover to the point of near saintliness. This is a very different type of gay character from the one Bardem played in Before Night Falls, being more intelligent than instinctual, charming and quintessentially civilized. And Gil, as the wronged wife — traditionally the scenery-chewing role — is mostly low-keyed, a study in stunned fragility.

The film, like Alberto, doesn't seem to know how to resolve its conflicts and its deus ex machina ending would seem facile if it weren't so effectively moving. By that point the soap opera, by dint of three flawless performances, has lifted itself into the realm of genuine tragedy. — Richard C. Walls

Dir. Gerardo Vera; writ. Angeles González Sinde; feat. Javier Bardem, Jordi Molla, Ariadna Gil, Cecilia Roth, Javier Albala, Adrian Jac (Not Rated)



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