Tag Archives: The Muppets

Muppets Most Wanted

Kermit in Muppets Most Wanted
Kermit in Muppets Most Wanted

It’s a definite step down from their big comeback, but Muppets Most Wanted is still a lot of super happy fun.

by Callum Petch

Muppets Most Wanted opens with a musical number where Kermit and Fozzie sheepishly admit that “everybody knows the sequel’s never quite as good”.  It could be taken as a pre-emptive apology on the behalf of everyone involved; an admission that everyone knows that they will not recapture the lightning that 2011’s The Muppets so effortlessly bottled and a warning to tone down your expectations.  Admittedly, I found this self-deprecatory plea rather humorous seeing as it was paired with a song that I thought was better than any of the ones The Muppets cooked up (yeah I said it, I have a soft spot for knees-up sing-a-long show tunes, and I will gladly fight you over this), but they’re not wrong to give you the heads up as, no, Most Wanted is nowhere near as good as The Muppets.

Then again, it’s not exactly trying to be.  See, 2011’s The Muppets was, for all intents and purposes, a fan film.  A fan film written, directed, starring and scored by fans as a love letter to the Muppets themselves.  It was a labour of love and it wore that and its heart on its sleeves, it was sentimental and nostalgic and was counting on you feeling the same way so that, when Rainbow Connection finally appeared, you too would be bawling your eyes out.  Most Wanted does not have such ambitions.  Most Wanted doesn’t want to make you get all nostalgically teary-eyed, it just wants you to laugh.  It wants you to laugh and laugh and laugh so loudly that the sheer volume of your laughter causes distressed family members to look at you suspiciously.  Because of this, it was never going to be as good as The Muppets, in much the same way that The Great Muppet Caper was never going to be as good as The Muppet Movie.  And that’s fine, because laugh I did.  A hell of a lot.  To the point where I left the cinema with a jolly little skip instead of just going “Yeah, that was not quite as good as the last one.”  I liked it on its own merits, for what it was because it is damn good at what it does.

The set-up for the jokes, then.  Shortly after the conclusion of The Muppets, the Muppets are tapped by a big-shot tour manager named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais at his smarmy best) to go on a world tour of their show so that they can capitalise on their return to fame whilst they still have it.  What the Muppets don’t know, though, is that Dominic is in league with an escaped master criminal named Constantine who is a dead ringer for Kermit, save for the mole on the former’s face, and that the pair are planning on using the tour as a cover to steal various elements that would help them steal the crown jewels.  With Kermit being shanghaied off to a Russian Gulag under the strict watch of secret Kermit super-fan Nadia (Tina Fey), Constantine takes his place as the leader of the Muppets and his laissez-faire attitude to his cover allows the rest of the gang a degree of creative control that it be better they didn’t have.  And not helping matters are the Interpol (Ty Burrell) and CIA (Sam the Eagle) agents on their tail after the heists start causing too much noise.

It’s a farce, basically.  A good old-fashioned farce where the stakes are relatively low, the mood is nice and light and breezy and features a plot where everything could have been solved in five seconds if any of the characters involved had their brains switched on that day.  Like I previously mentioned, there’s little emotional depth going on here, the sole exception being Miss Piggy’s continued attempts to finally get Kermit to put a ring on her finger, which makes things much more easily disposable.  Do not expect to be moved and, honestly, don’t fully expect to still be thinking about it about a week or so removed from seeing it.  Again, this is not the film’s intention.

And that would be a legitimate problem if it weren’t for the fact that Muppets Most Wanted is absolutely hilarious.  It can’t quite sustain its manic pacing for its near-two-hour runtime (I honestly feel like it could have trimmed a good 10 minutes and ended up with a wall-to-wall hysterical 95 minutes), but it comes damn near close.  Nearly everything that Constantine says in his awful-Russian Kermit impersonation (that at times seems to inadvertently slip into Transylvanian but only adds to the effect) is comic gold, especially his butchering of classic Kermit phrases.  Nadia’s simultaneously hard-assed and affable prison warden (she doesn’t even really try to stop Kermit’s escape attempts because she knows every single prison escape trick in the book, because she’s seen every prison break film ever made, yes, even the ones in space) is a near-perfect usage of Tina Fey.  The constantly bickering nature of agents Jean-Pierre and Sam the Eagle is priceless and equally as priceless are the running jabs at France’s… lackadaisical attitude to work breaks by having Jean-Pierre literally take a break every single time that something big happens in the case.  And as for the film’s best gag?  I won’t spoil it but, as a lifelong Muppet diehard, it was exactly the kind of reverential self-deprecatory gag that is capable of making me burst out into extreme laughter.

More importantly, though, it’s consistent.  This is not the kind of film that blows all of its best gags in the opening 30-odd minutes or revealed all of them in the trailers.  The giant laughs are infrequent but well-spaced out and linked with consistently chucklesome or chortle-worthy material (and I apologise for using the phrase “chortle-worthy” but it’s the best I could come up with for “laughing loudly material that’s not as laughing loudly-worthy as the film’s best jokes”) so I spent the majority of the film with a giant smile on my face.  It also helps that the human cast trio are almost equally happy to be here.  Nobody’s at Jason Segel-levels of “Oh, man, I COULD NOT BE MORE STOKED TO BE HERE!” because that is almost impossible, but everybody is game for whatever the script throws at them.  Ricky Gervais seems positively thrilled at getting asked to have his boss tap dance on his head during a song entirely designed to disparage his character’s role in the story; it’s his best performance in years.  And while most may think that Ty Burrell is the standout human actor, and they can be forgiven for thinking that (he is excellent as a cartoonish Swiss stereotype), those people will immediately realise just how wrong they are when Tina Fey pulls out a newspaper clipping of Kermit The Frog and starts snogging the lights out of it.  She’s pretty funny in this.

A brief note on the celebrity cameos.  Yes, there are a lot of them.  However, this is not a problem and everybody who is trying to insist otherwise is wrong for these reasons.  1] Celebrity cameos have always been inherent to the world and premise of The Muppets.  They’ve been there since nearly Day 1 and anybody who has a problem with them now is either not familiar with The Muppets or their nostalgia goggles happened to forget everything about the cameos.  2] They’re not just “Look at this A-lister we got for these five seconds!”  There will be just as many that go over your head as there will be that you recognise.  For every Lady Gaga, there’s a Tom Hollander, for every Christoph Waltz, there’s a Hornswoggle from the WWE.  3] There are no more cameos here than there were in The Muppets.  4] They never take the focus away from the Muppets themselves.  When Tom Hiddleston pops in for five seconds, that’s all he does.  He’s not stealing vital plot and screen time from the Muppets themselves.  In fact, this is probably one of the more Muppet-focussed Muppet movies, the attention is on them at nearly all times and I don’t think that there’s a scene in here that doesn’t feature a Muppet in some way, shape or form; news that will likely please Muppet purists.

And as for Walter, who basically led the last Muppet movie despite it supposedly being about the other Muppets themselves?  Well, and most likely for the better, he slides comfortably into the supporting Muppet cast as the closest thing the film gets to a straight man.  He fits the role well and he’s a nice part of the overall ensemble.  Speaking of that ensemble, it’s also mostly well handled.  Gonzo fans will likely be disappointed that, again, he’s pushed to the side-lines and only really gets a couple of really funny moments, but the Muppets are a large cast of characters and I think it’s to the film’s credit (or, at least, I’m pretty sure it is, it may also just be my fan nostalgia talking) that most of the cast get a defining line or action.  Most of the cast get the chance to do or say something extremely funny which is probably the best we can all hope for as, let’s face it, everybody has different Muppet preferences and no two people are going to be 100% satisfied with how the balance turns out in a Muppet film.

If there is one thing I can properly knock the film for, besides its slightly-too-long running time, though, it’s the occasional usage of CGI.  Now, I know that the merest mention of CGI will likely immediately send most Muppet diehards running for the Internet message boards to complain, but there is good news about this.  The most prominent usages of CGI come in Constantine’s prison break sequence and his first musical number, both of which are dealt with in the opening 30 minutes.  Afterwards, if there are a tonne of CGI-enhanced shots, I didn’t notice them.  The bad news, however, is that the CGI in those two sequences (and especially Constantine’s prison break) is awful.  It sticks out dreadfully, moves shoddily and cheaply and looks like it was done in about 15 minutes before a lunch break.  I wonder if that was the intention, quite frankly, because everything else in the film looks spectacular (these are master puppeteers at the helm, after all) and it only leaves such a sour taste because it’s one of the very first things you see after the opening musical number and you know what they say about first impressions.

Still, two instances of dreadful CGI in the opening 30 minutes are not enough to distract from what Muppets Most Wanted is good at and that is making the viewer laugh something fierce.  It lacks the openly sentimental heartfelt-ness of The Muppets but it’s still top-quality entertainment.  And, in all honesty, if you can easily apply the phrase “it’s The Great Muppet Caper to the original’s The Muppet Movie” in regards to a film sequel, then it’s not exactly a comment that’s supposed to be taken as a knock against the film in question.  More film sequels should strive to that kind of level as a minimum baseline.  Muppets Most Wanted is huge fun, has great songs and I left with a big old smile on my face, what more of a recommendation do you need to go and see it?

Callum Petch had no choice but to get down, down, down, down.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

2012: The Year in Film (in Music)

2012 was the first year in a long time where I didn’t compile a playlist of my favourite songs of the year. Either I’ve reached the age where I can’t hear ‘new’ music because nothing will ever top Mansun’s Attack of the Grey Lantern, or I’ve been too focussed on film to notice. I just haven’t had time to properly explore the great new music that is out there (although I did really enjoy the new Spector album). I did, however, listen to  more film soundtracks than ever before. I present a virtual mix-tape of my favourite musical moments in film during 2012.

holy_motors_accordn_sept12Let My Baby Ride – Doctor L (Holy Motors)
Otherwise known as ‘that awesome accordion song from Holy Motors’, which is exactly what I typed into Google to find out its proper name. One of the most exhilarating moments of Leos Carax’s bonkers masterpiece. Sadly there is still no sign of a Holy Motors soundtrack, so watching this on YouTube will have to do for now.

Tainted Love – Soft Cell (Sightseers)
One of the great advantages of discussing the best music used in film during the year is that a few stone cold classics will appear. This is one of those old songs given new life by a new context; this time by Ben Wheatley in his black comedy about a couple on a caravanning holiday who enjoy the thrills of serial killing. Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’ gave the film a beautifully dramatic climax, but Soft Cell’s electro classic is the song that everyone remembers from the start of the road trip.

Firework – Katy Perry (Rust and Bone)
Another song given new meaning by the context bestowed on it, this time by Jacques Audiard in my favourite film of the year. As well as being the soundtrack to a tragic accident involving a killer whale, it is used to even greater effect in one of the film’s most touching moments. Sadly not included on the official soundtrack, which means I’ve had to actually buy a Katy Perry track.

Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall)
You can judge a Bond film very quickly by the quality of its pre-credit sequence, and its theme tune. Skyfall delivered wonderfully on both counts, with Adele’s effort creating the best Bond theme since Goldeneye, and a throaty homage to Shirley Bassey at her best.

Jamming (live at the Jamaican Peace Concert) – Bob Marley (Marley)
I know this feels a little bit of a cheat, a  Bob Marley song from a documentary about Bob Marley. However, this version (as used in the film and on the official soundtrack) is taken from a pivotal moment in the life of Bob Marley; his return to Jamaica to headline the 1979 Peace Concert where he persuaded the two political rivals of the time to shake hands on stage. An incredible moment.

Who Were We – Kylie Minogue (Holy Motors)
Another entry for Holy Motors, this time performed by the wonderful Kylie Monogue and written by Neil Hannon (of The Divine Comedy) in full-on Jacques Brel/Scott Walker mode.

man or muppetMan or Muppet – Jason Segel & Walter (The Muppets)
The song that earned an Oscar for one half of The Flight of the Conchords, and the highlight of Brett MacKenzie’s soundtrack for one of the funniest films of the year. I have adopted it as my own personal theme tune.

The Concept – Teenage Fanclub (Young Adult)
The resurrection of this classic track from the vaults of Scottish indie-band Teenage Fanclub was made possible by writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, who used it to great effect in one of the most underrated films of the year. What made this song unforgettable for me was how integral it was to the film, and how it became the trigger for Charlize Theron’s character (in an incredible performance) to go fully off the rails.

Song of the Lonely Mountain – Neil Finn (The Hobbit)
Watching The Hobbit felt like slipping on a pair of comfortable slippers. I knew exactly what I was going to get, and I was very content to spend a few more hours in Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth. A major contribution to that was provided by the Howard Shore score, and in particular this song which combined the vocal talents of the wonderful Neil Finn with Shore’s recognisable music, and the sound of Dwarfs singing and hammering on metal.

As well as these individual songs, I cannot end my round-up of the great film music of 2012 without mentioning the incredible work of Alexandre Desplat. This year alone he has produced brilliant scores for Moonrise Kingdom, Argo, Rust and Bone, and Rise of the Guardians. I cannot think of a more consistent brilliant composer working today.

The Failed Critics Awards – Editor’s Choice

The votes have been cast, and the polls are now closed for the first ever Failed Critics Awards. While you’re going to have to wait until New Year’s Eve for the results, James Diamond (Founder, Editor, and all-round Svengali of the site) presents his personal picks of 2012.

Best Films of 2012

Sightseers10. Sightseers

From the opening bars of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, to the epic climax featuring The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Ben Wheatley’s third feature is gloriously British and reminiscent of a time that many of us have long-forgotten. It’s also very, very funny – like Mike Leigh directing the League of Gentlemen.

9. Holy Motors

The few of you who caught Holy Motors will not have seen anything else like it this year, or possibly ever. Leos Carax’s surreal odyssey stars Denis Lavant as a performer travelling Paris by limousine and performing ‘assignments’ along the way – including kidnapping Eva Mendes and licking her armpits, singing with Kylie Minogue, and leading the finest marching accordion band committed to film.

8. Untouchable

The kind of film you imagine Hollywood screwing up royally (and we’ll know for sure when the inevitable remake appears), Untouchable tells the true story of a millionaire paraplegic and his assistant from the clichéd ‘wrong side of the tracks’. What lifted this film above my low expectations of a saccharine-saturated heart-warmer is its cutting and cynical humour and brilliant central performances (particularly Omar Sy as Driss).

berberian sound studio7. Berberian Sound Studio

This wonderful exploration of the use of sound in cinema reminded me of David Lynch at his creepy best. Toby Jones is sublime as the sound engineer summoned to Italy to work on the sound for the intriguing giallo film-within-a-film The Equestrian Vortex. Funny, and spine-chilling in equal measure.

6. Argo

Who would have guessed back when he was starring in Gigli that Ben Affleck would become one of the most reliable directors in the business. After serving his apprenticeship on low-key films like Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck nailed the classic Hollywood thriller with Argo – the ‘true story’ of the showbiz-facilitated extraction of US Embassy staff during the Iranian uprising. I’ve backed this as my outside bet for Best Picture at the 2013 Oscars, which guarantees it won’t win, sadly.

5. Avengers Assemble

In my humble opinion the best blockbuster of a year that saw the conclusion of the Nolan Batman series, the reboot of Spider-Man, and the return to the Alien franchise of Ridley Scott. Joss Whedon’s supergroup of a comic book adaptation improved on every single Marvel lead-up movie, and more. Featuring a typical Whedon script that managed to be funnier than most ‘comedies’ (I’m looking at you two in particular, The Dictator and Ted), as well as introducing a number of children to the year’s best insult (“you mewling quim”), Avengers Assemble has it all. Except a decent name in the UK. With Whedon already planning a sequel, and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang screenwriter) in charge of Iron Man 3, Marvel looks to have stolen a march on DC Comics who are frantically trying to pull together a Justice League film to retaliate.

4. Safety Not Guaranteed

Finally getting a UK release on Boxing Day, this smart and funny film from first-time director Colin Trevorrow is full of charm, humour, and no little romance. I saw it at Sundance London in May, and wouldn’t shut up about it for the following seven months. I challenge you not to fall in love with Aubrey Plaza as Darius, the magazine intern who is investigating a small ad that simply reads:

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

The man who placed the advert is seemingly dangerous loner Kenneth (Mark Duplass), and the resulting film is part-adventure/part-romance in true 1980s Amblin style.

3. The Imposter

This is one of those documentaries that hammers home the cliché that truth really is stranger than fiction. It tells us the story of a young French man who impersonated a missing 13-year-old boy from Texas, ensconcing himself within the family home and their community with tall tales of being trafficked by the military. What makes this film more than a weird Channel 5 documentary is its innovative use of recreated flashbacks and, most importantly, interviews with the people at the centre of this strange situation – including the con-man himself. A true story that plays out like a Coen Brothers thriller, this film really has everything.

2. Amour

Michael Haneke’s second Palm d’Or-winning film is a brutal study of the inevitability of death, ever-so-slightly tempered by a wonderful portrayal of octogenarian love. With his trademark long-takes allowing space for the incredible performances of Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant to breathe, Heneke has created a near-perfect film that immerses the viewer into a world more than the technical wizardy of 3D and 48fps could ever hope to. As patrons left the screening I attended no-one wanted to speak to each other. The silence was a sign of the sheer power of this film.

rust-and-bone1. Rust and Bone

Beaten by Amour at Cannes, and unlikely to renew battle at the Oscars after France nominated Untouchable for the Foreign Language award, at least Rust and Bone director Jacques Audiard can take consolation in grabbing the number one spot on this list. I fell in love with this film back in November, and I have struggled to communicate exactly why since. I mean, it’s the story of a killer-whale trainer who loses her legs in a tragic accident, and her heart to a drifter and single parent who finds his niche in bare-knuckle boxing. It sounds ridiculous, but it is an incredible study of romance, and the importance of finding ‘the one’. Marion Cotillard is incredible, but Matthias Schoenaerts holds his own as her extremely flawed lover. Yet another brilliant Alexandre Desplat score (surely the best composer working in cinema right now) is backed by an eclectic soundtrack, with an unbelievably moving use of Katy Perry’s Firework. Honestly.

I’ve seen 75 films so far this year, so some great films were always going to miss out, and the following were very close to making my top ten.

The Muppets – A wonderful mix of the anarchic Muppet humour, the charm of Jason Segal and Amy Adams, and the brilliant songs of Brett ‘Flight of the Conchords’ McKenzie. The most fun I’ve had in a cinema for years.

Shame – The second Steve McQueen/Michael Fassbender collaboration, I enjoyed this even more than Hunger. A fascinating study of addiction, with plenty of The Fass and Carey Mulligan on show for those who are interested in that kind of thing.

The Raid – Quite literally the best pure-action film I’ve seen since Hard Boiled. The action world has a new star in Iko Uwais.

Skyfall – After the mess that was Quantum of Solace, this was a welcome return to form for 007. Equally influenced by the TV series Spooks and Home Alone, it featured the best Bond villain in years.

Holy Motors Denis LavantBest Performance

Denis Lavant (Holy Motors) and Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)

Best Soundtrack

I can’t choose between three very different soundtracks. Rust and Bone for its fantastic score and eclectic track selection; The Muppets for the best original songs in the cinema this year; and Searching for Sugar Man for introducing me to the wonderful story and music of Sixto Rodriguez.

Biggest Surprise

I have spoken about Matthew McConaughey’s rebirth as a credible actor at length, so I’ll have to give this jointly to 21 Jump Street and Goon for being far funnier (and more sweet and charming) than Ted or The Dictator.

Worst Film

This Means War was an abomination with even Tom Hardy looking confused. Dark Shadows though, was the film that made me loudly and involuntarily exclaim “oh, for fuck’s sake!” in a reasonably busy cinema.

The Failed Critics Awards will be presented during the Failed Critics End-of-Year Podcast Special.

Failed Critics Triple Bill: TV-Film Adaptations

In honour of this weeks Triple Bill – TV-to-Film adaptations – we upped the budget slightly and went to the continent on holiday to record it. Owen booked us into an unfinished hotel, James got drunk on local alcoholic concoctions, Gerry got into fights with all the foreigners over sunbeds, and Steve found love.

The end result is flashier, but ultimately less satisfying than the original series – unlike our choices of our favourite TV-to-Film adaptations!

Next week we return to normality with the Failed Critics Review covering Paranormal Activity 4, and in Triple Bill we choose our scariest moments in cinema.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Failed Critics: Episode 10 – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

“Four score and seven days ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new film podcast, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all critics are created equal.”

Wise words from famous Failed Critics fan Abraham Lincoln. But how we feel about him, and his vampire killing exploits? Find out in this week’s podcast. Also this week we discuss films from the beginning and end of Spielberg’s career as James reports back on the new Jaws print, and Owen gives us his verdict on War Horse. Steve decided to watch Kill Keith. Yep.

In Triple Bill this week we discuss our favourite films that have been adapted from novels – and we have the first ever full-house as every critic (including the absent Gerry) picked the same film for their list.

James would just like to apologise for his performance this week. He was hungover, and ill-prepared. He let you all down, and he let himself down. Still, Steve is the one who gets the title of 3 films wrong…

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

The Good, the Bad, or the Ugly 0:00:00 – 0:32:52
Triple Bill 0:32:52 – 1:09:15
Main Review 1:09:15 – 1:24:00
Spoiler Alert 1:24:00 – 1:24:36