Reviewed: Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Muppets-Most-Wanted-PosterThe Muppets have been around since forever. Like many, I grew up watching and loving all things Henson on screen. On TV there was Sesame Street, The Storyteller and re-runs of The Muppet show. Film-wise there was The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and of course, the Star Wars films.

There’s an art to conveying convincing puppet characters and the Henson crew are masters. Perhaps this is the reason for the longevity of the Muppets because honestly, they’re kind of lame. The jokes are often well-worn and predictable with a vaudeville quality that is by far past its use by date for a modern audience – and yet it still works.

Retrospectively it’s possible to divide the Muppet films into three distinct phases. The first commenced in 1979 with The Muppet Movie, the second in 1992 with The Muppet Christmas Carol (the first post-Jim Henson film), and the third in 2011 with Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s energetic take on the franchise. That 2011 film The Muppets (directed by James Bobin) brought these out-of-time characters kicking and screaming into the 21st century and the results were well-received. So much so, that it was granted a sequel and here it is: this film here.

Muppets Most Wanted picks up right where the first one left off and continues the story of the Muppets bringing their insane brand of variety show to the world. With the help of Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), they take the show on tour but something’s not quite right. Since their stopover in Russia – Kermit’s not been himself. In fact, he’s been replaced by an impostor; the master criminal Constantine who happens to look exactly like Kermit, with a mole on his upper lip being the only discerning feature (but a little make-up will take care of that).

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While the rest of the Muppets continue their world tour, Kermit has been sent to the Gulag and must deal with the harsh conditions of prison life as well as the even harsher prison guard Nadya (Tina Fey).

Meanwhile, international detectives Sam Eagle and John Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) are on the scent of the impostor trying to unravel the truth behind the trail of crimes following the Muppet tour.

As a Muppet outing should, this film is filled with cameos from a host of celebrities and they all seem to be having a lot of fun doing it. Brett McKenzie is back as the man behind the music and if you’re a Flight of the Conchords fan, I highly recommend this (and the first film) just for that – the boy from New Zealand has done well for himself.

And last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that there are no fart shoes in this movie (a low point of the 2011 film). It’s a genuine return to form and tone of what the Muppets are about when it really works.

Reviewed: The Quick and the Dead (1995)

quick-and-the-dead_posterHere we have a Western under the directorial supervision of Sam Raimi with stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman and Lance Henrikson. How could this not be a brilliant movie? Oh wait, it’s a Sharon Stone vehicle. Aha! There’s your problem. Now, the reason I’m reviewing this is that I was looking through the history of films I’ve written about and I didn’t have a title beginning with “Q”. Being the anally retentive guy that I am, this would not do – so I pulled this relic from 1995 out as it has a whole lot of interesting elements that don’t quite add up to a decent movie.

It’s a revenge film that focuses on an annual gunfight tournament staged by local tyrant Herod* (Hackman) in his own perverted effort to keep himself on top and eliminate any competition that might come his way. This year a stranger wanders into town. Her name is Ellen (Stone) and she wants to join in the fun but she won’t reveal her reasons. There’s a whole host of comic book characters to join in the fight plus Cort (Crowe) who’s some sort of anti-violence preacher who Herod forces to join in the hi-jinks.

Now, the thing I like about Westerns as much as the violence and tales of hardship on a hard land are the sweeping shots that make things like the Anamorphic format worthwhile. However, this is a Sam Raimi film – a Sam Raimi film with a script by a guy who mostly wrote for TV previously. And though you might think Raimi would be a great choice for the genre (his highly stylised vision may well have drawn more than a thing or two from Sergio Leone), the film is rather claustrophobic. Perhaps a directorial choice to put us in the thick of the tournament – perhaps a budget restriction, maybe even oversight on the part of writer Simon Moore’s made-for-TV background. Whatever it was, the difference between Leone’s gunfights which incorporated all manner of tricks and close-ups to put us right there in the action were also nicely balanced with the space and pacing of the old west.

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Nothing against Raimi, he does good work (and there are some really nice Raimi moments within this one) but he does his best work when he’s closely connected to the material. As a gun-for-hire, I feel he’s just going through the motions. And I felt that was what everyone was doing. For DiCaprio, it was early in his career – released the same year as the vastly superior Basketball Diaries. This is also Crowe’s first US film but he didn’t really make an impact over there until two years later with L.A. Confidential. As for Henrikson, well… I love him and so do many others but he’s not known for turning up in the world’s greatest films. Hackman does a fine job for what it is and Stone does what you expect. Even the soundtrack is lacklustre. Alan Silvestri does fine work and he’s serviced Westerns before (although not stereotypically) with Young Guns II and to a lesser extent Back To The Future III. What he does here is what you’d expect with all the nods in the right places and yet, there’s that persistant feeling of dialing it in.

The longevity of this flick will lie mostly in the fact that a) Sam Raimi’s take on the west b) Russell Crowe’s first Hollywood flick and sadly, c) Sharon Stone’s boobs. If you want to see a decent Western, this is not for you.

 

*Herod?! I know, right?

Reviewed: The Lego Movie (2014)

the-lego-movie-posterYou what?! – made a highly entertaining, imaginative, visually stunning and dare I say emotionally charged story with Lego? Did you also insert a subversive message about the evils of big business using the very tool you’re crying out against? Well done, folks – very well done.

Okay, that’s enough lip service. Now to figure out why it works so well. At first glance it seems like a pretty standard hero’s journey with Emmet (Chris Pratt) being our hero who doesn’t know his full potential. Crossing paths with Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) draws him into a world of adventure that he could never dream of as it is revealed to him that he may be more important to everything than he ever could have imagined.

The evil he’s fighting against is Lord Business (Will Ferrell) who only really wants to keep order in his domain and that’s not such a bad thing for everyone if you don’t have a problem with being a drone and playing ball with the system in place.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller are the masterminds behind this one. Their previous efforts helped make Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs the success that it was and they bring the magic to this too.

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It’s a really pretty movie. The choice to make it CG but make it look stop-motion was perfect. Building the universe almost completely out of existing Lego pieces is another stroke of genius. Up close everything looks so tactile and the wide-shots and backgrounds are simply breathtaking. As Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs does, this film taps into childlike ideas and presents them as exactly that – giving it an earnestness that one can’t help but get swept along with.

The voice cast is perfect with Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks leading the charge against Will Ferrell, and support from a range of others such as Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and a most memorable Will Arnett as Batman.

Like many others about my age, I dare say that Charlie Day’s Bennie will leave quite an impression with his note-perfect older generation character brought to life in a most amusing way.

Hell, this is all coming off as one big love letter. I’m trying to be subjective but it’s not going as planned. Basically, if growing up you ever had an obsession with Lego, this movie is for you. If you like good stories, this movie is for you. If you want get in touch with your inner child for 90 or so minutes, this film is for you. Get on it.

Reviewed: RED (2010)

RED_posterThis here film was well-received enough that it got a sequel – the sequel’s quite good but let’s go back in time to 2010 to where it all started…ish (I’m sure Bruce won’t mind – he loves time travel).

For a while there, I’d lost my faith in Bruce Willis. After the atrocity that was Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free Or Die Hard) it seemed it was getting harder to find a project with him in it that didn’t feel like he was just going through the motions. Sure, I didn’t watch Cop Out but did I really need to? Then this little gem came out of left field. Based on a DC comic penned by Warren Ellis (the beardy English writer, not the beardy Australian muso) and drawn by Cully Hammer, what we have here is a solid action movie infused with a decent amount of humour and warmth of character delivered by a superior cast.Red_1The story follows retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Willis) who we find is having a little trouble adjusting to the humdrum life of a regular citizen. His phone conversations with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) who works at the government pension processing office is the only thing in life that he looks forward to. As is wont to happen with ex-CIA, the past comes back to haunt Moses and he finds himself in the sights of his old place of employment and he must get the old crew back together in order to clear his name and get to the bottom of who it is that wants him killed and to what end.

Featuring Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban and a handful of greats from yesteryear as well – this one should put a smile on your face and hell, it may even get you in the mood for the sequel.