Tag Archives: Muppets Most Wanted

Wednesday Collective — Irish Abandon, Italian Beauty, Ukrainian Soul

The first two articles this week are the very definition of how to write about film. Anyone who studies or makes movies should read them. Let’s dive right in.

“How John Ford Fought McCarthyism”

The Quiet Man

This is an engaging look back at John Ford’s The Quiet Man, a movie about a man so fed up with America, he moves to a third-world, 1950s Ireland. Ford is best known for his Westerns, but The Quiet Man is a subversive reaction to the witch hunt for Communists orchestrated by Senator Eugene McCarthy in the 1950s. In detailing how Ford got outspoken McCarthy supporter John Wayne to star, how critics stepped lightly in their reviews, and how the film was a box office smash, New Republic writer Ben Schwartz outlines how Ford’s film attacked the very nostalgia on which McCarthy’s breed of hatred was based.

La grande bellezza, The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty came out for home release this week. The Oscar winner for best foreign language film is written up by Alessia Palanti in a spectacular essay that also tackles nostalgia as a political tool, while linking the sin-eating nature of circular consumerism, the self-fulfilling prophecy of celebrity-as-celebrity, and the hijacking of connoisseurship. It’s a truly stunning essay from a writer who uses her historical and technical knowledge to break the film down into its cultural components.

“The Occupied Soul of Ukraine

My Joy

I’d say Ukraine’s been in the news a lot lately, but since it doesn’t have a missing passenger plane CNN can theorize was hijacked by a psychic alien yeti, it really hasn’t. Regardless, Anthony Kaufman at Fandor writes about Sergei Loznitsa, a Belarussian filmmaker whose My Joy and In the Fog contemplate the sense of dislocation caused by the oppression Russian and European Ukrainians exert on each other.

You might also check out this Hollywood Reporter brief about the (so far losing) effort to keep Ukraine’s national film industry bipartisan.

Recreating Genocide in Clay

The Missing Picture

The Missing Picture is a film about the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. It’s directed by Rithy Panh, who lost his father, mother, sisters, and nephews, and was himself enslaved. There are very few documents that survive to tell the story – the Khmer Rouge systematically destroyed nearly all film and video evidence of their atrocities. Every connection to his past was taken from Panh, even the evidence to communicate to others about his loss. He decided to tell his memoir through what footage is left and the use of clay figurines to stand in for what was missing. Fast Company tells the story of how he came to that decision. I can barely get past the trailer at the bottom; I fear and anticipate the import and impact of an hour-and-a-half of it.

Storytelling in the Circus – James Thierree

James Thiérrée

Never mind that he’s Charlie Chaplin’s grandson, James Thierree himself has long been an artist of renown. His approach to circus is small-scale, technically complex, and emotionally engaging. Thierree places a concise vernacular on the balance between possessive and generous storytelling that artists of all stripes seek.

Thanks to Elizabeth Quilter for the heads-up on this.

The Disconnect Between Critics and Audiences

I don’t like scoring movies. It’s too arbitrary a way to define any piece of art, especially one on which hundreds – sometimes thousands – of artists have collaborated. Avatar may be a tremendous piece of entertainment, but is it as important as even the most middling documentary? Should there be separate scores for entertainment and importance? Lost in many critics’ weekly reviews is the search for meaning both present and missing in particular movies, replaced by a good-bad scale that’s become obsolete.

So I don’t like scores, but they’re useful for the kind of statistical analysis writer-producer Stephen Follows posts on his blog. It concerns how critics and audiences diverge in scoring individual movies, genres of movies, and even movies from specific studios. His analysis isn’t so much a solution as it is a part of the diagnosis, but he comes up with some revealing findings.

Yours, Mine, and Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars

Scott Tobias at The Dissolve considers the creative choices of Veronica Mars, a TV show that used Kickstarter to crowdsource more than $5 million for a movie continuation. How much is a Kickstarted film creatively constrained by a need for fan service, versus a comparable movie like Firefly-spinoff Serenity, which owed its existence to fans, but didn’t owe its funding to them? Tobias claims Veronica Mars as a movie is sidetracked by its allegiance to fans, while Serenity owed its allegiance to the story its creator wanted to tell.

Under the Skin, part two

Under the Skin

I wrote about Mica Levi’s brave, disturbing score for Scarlett Johansson-experiment Under the Skin last week. You can listen to the whole thing over at Pitchfork.

Celebrities Mug for Muppets

Muppets Cameos

Were you wondering about all the celebrity cameos in Muppets Most Wanted? Worried that you missed one? Did you even want them ranked (wrongly)? Then you should see a doctor about these urges. In the meantime, this list from film mag Vulture should sate your unnatural cravings.

“Muppets Most Wanted” — Comedic Success and Missed Opportunity

Muppets 2

Muppets Most Wanted is a comedy in which the main characters are three-foot puppets, a la Sesame Street. The most famous is Kermit the Frog, who leads his eclectic band of performers to put on shows that are part variety act, part rock concert, and part circus. Most of the humor isn’t designed to make you laugh uncontrollably as much as to make you smile broadly. It’s written for adults as much as it is for children, but because its biggest charm is its good intent, it needs to be funny to adults without falling back on suggestive jokes.

This is a tall order for a movie. It was pulled off in 2011 when the dormant franchise got rebooted in The Muppets, but that film rested its narrative on the journey and love story of two non-muppet humans played by Jason Segel and Amy Adams. The muppets themselves were only half the story.

In Muppets Most Wanted, the muppets are now on their own. There are supporting human players – British comedian Ricky Gervais returns, now playing Muppets manager Dominic Badguy. He replaces Kermit with lookalike frog Constantine (“the most dangerous frog in the world”) in order to use the Muppets’ world tour as a front for robbing museums and banks across Europe. Kermit himself is snatched by police after a case of mistaken identity, and sent to complete Constantine’s prison sentence in a Siberian Gulag.

Muppets Gulag

Ty Burrell (Modern Family) plays French investigator Jean Pierre, who is more often on-break than he is on-the-case. Tina Fey (30 Rock) is Nadya, the strict officer in charge of the Gulag. She steals the show pretty regularly. The whole concoction makes for a great family movie. There’s slapstick humor for the kids, the musical numbers are clever and varied, and the film is rife with sight gags and celebrity cameos for the adults. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Ray Liotta (GoodFellas) and Danny Trejo (Machete) auditioning their song-and-dance routine for the Gulag’s all-prisoner variety show. The film fires gags so fast that if one misses the mark, you don’t have time to think about it before the next one hits.

I can’t help but feel that Muppets Most Wanted misses an opportunity, however. Writer-director James Bobin is so intent on communicating the many needless details of what’s really a very simple plot that he forgets to create many sketches – nearly all of the jokes are one-offs.

This is a genre of comedy that’s strongest when it blends together the entire history of cinema. There are clever visual gags that reference everything from M to Lawrence of Arabia to Silence of the Lambs, but they’re gone as quickly as they’re delivered. The only time Muppets Most Wanted even hints at a full sketch is in its songs, particularly when Jean Pierre and his muppet CIA partner, Sam Eagle, question various muppets about the international heists. These situational sketches are potential goldmines for comedy, but they’re constantly passed over. It makes you feel like the best bits might be happening in between the scenes you get to see.

Muppets 6

Muppets Most Wanted is pleasing. You’ll want to see what visual gag or surprise cameo is around the corner. There just isn’t as much to invest in this time around. The Muppets had some surprisingly moving moments, such as the song “Man or Muppet,” in which two brothers – one man, one muppet – both faced taking a step into the unknown and away from each other. It hearkened back to the moment Kermit sat on a rock with his banjo and lamented “It’s not easy bein’ green,” a song that in 1970 sparked families to discuss diversity and intolerance with their children, topics that were being asked about by youth, but that were being shied away from in popular culture.

“Man or Muppet” is a song that made my niece – five at the time – ask me about taking chances in life, about the hopes and fears you can have even in an average schoolday. Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t have any such moments. It’s cute and funny. It will definitely make you smile. It just lacks that little bit of emotional resonance that earned its predecessor a spot in so many hearts. Muppets Most Wanted is rated PG for action.

Muppets 4