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 In fact, he’s been replaced by an impostor; the master criminal Constantine who happens to look exactly like Kermit, with a mole on his upper lip being the only discerning feature (but a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: Jeff Who Lives At Home (2011)

jeff-who-lives-at-home-trailer-headerThis is the story of Jeff (Jason Segel) a thirty-something-year-old burnout and his family who consist of mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon) and brother, Pat (Ed Helms).

Sharon works a thankless office day job while Jeff bums around at home smoking a lot of pot and not really achieving much beyond smoking more pot. Pat lives with his wife but the relationship is rocky because he’s not the businessman he perceives himself to be and finances are tight putting a strain on their home life.

Jeff has one task for the day (to buy some glue and fix a broken wooden door) which Sharon states must get done before she gets home or there’ll be trouble. He resolves to do this but not before he smokes pot and watches television when he receives a phone call from a wrong number. Or is it?

It actually is a wrong number but Jeff believes in the interconnectedness of all things and that the universe will lead him to his destiny. Fixating on the name Kevin, his drug-addled mind drives him to drop his duty of buying glue and gets off the bus he’s on to follow a kid with “Kevin” printed on the back of his basketball shirt.

As the day unfolds, Jeff and Pat’s paths cross (destiny?) and they team up to spy on Pat’s wife to find out whether or not she’s having an affair. Meanwhile Sharon has been contacted by a secret admirer who works somewhere in her building to which she has mixed feelings about whether it’s a practical joke or not.

Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass who previously made Cyrus, this wasn’t going to be the smoothest ride through laughter town with the slice-of-life realism they bring to the plate in their storytelling and flawed characters. This movie did however provide some genuine laugh out loud moments and the characters are likable enough to keep me paying attention to the end.‘Jeff-Who-Lives-At-Home’-2It’s a well-spun story that pays due attention to its theme without feeling overly-contrived with exception perhaps to the climax but by then, I was hooked and really felt for Jeff, his family and what they all have to deal with. Perhaps it’s also that I feel like I know these characters to some degree and care for them beyond what I saw on the screen.

So, if you like your comedies a little bittersweet, this one’s for you. I look forward to the future of what these guys have to offer.