Posted on 12/13/11 07:57 PM
When I first heard about this movie, I was a little skeptical. Based on some recent "re-imaginings" of old childhood favorites, I could easily see The Muppets crashing and burning as it tried to appeal to the current idea of child's "humor". However, the two head-liners gave me hope. Jason Segel's comedy, as seen in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man, is very cleverly written and Amy Adams' performance in Enchanted gave her a credible background for a role in a Muppet movie. Therefore, I went into this film with an uncertain anticipation. Luckily, The Muppets was a smash.
The film opens on a narration by the central puppet character, Walter. He describes his relationship with his brother, Gary (Jason Segel), and his early obsession with The Muppets. Years later, Gary is taking his girlfriend of ten years, Mary (Amy Adams), to LA for their anniversary. He gleefully tells Walter that Walter is also coming in order to visit the Muppet Studios. The two describe their happiness with the film's opening number, "Life's a Happy Song". This is probably the second best song in the film and involves a large cast of extras and multiple situational gags that set the tone of the film proper. At the end of the song, we meet Mary, who expresses her slight disappointment that Gary is bringing Walter on their anniversary trip.
The three travel to LA and arrive at The Muppet Studios, which is very rundown and only open to cheap, unsatisfactory tours led by Alan Alda. Walter breaks away from the small group to look through Kermit's Office. He is forced to hide, however, as Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) enters with Statler and Waldrof (up to their usually dry gags), Bobo Bear, and Uncle Deadly. Richman is pretending to buy out the studio to turn it into a museum while actually planning to tear it down and drill for oil. He also cannot laugh, instead repeating the phrase "Maniacal Laugh!" over and over again while Bobo and Deadly laugh. Walter rushes out of the office to tell Gary and Mary the news.
At Walter's prompting, the group sets off to find Kermit. They find his mansion, but cannot get through the locked gate. Kermit arrives to let them in, accompanied by the head lights and voices issuing from a passing church choir bus. Mary informs Kermit of Richman's plan (Walter being too much in awe to speak), and, after a sad little ditty about the times gone by ("Pictures in my Head"), Kermit agrees to get the Muppets back together to put on a telethon in order to raise 10 million dollars (the only way to buy back the theater before the contract expires). With 80s Robot at the wheel, they set off to find The Muppets.
They locate Fozzi at a casino in Reno, Gonzo at his plumbing company (The Royal Flush), and Animal at a anger management session with court appointed sponsor Jack Black. A montage ensues as the rest of the Muppets are collected. A reluctant Kermit agrees to also retrieve Miss Piggy from Paris, and the group travels "by map" to France. Piggy, however, refuses to join the group because Kermit cannot commit to her, always being busy managing The Muppets as a whole. To replace Piggy, the Muppets take-on Miss Poggy, a rather masculine female pig from The Moopets, the band at the casino where Fozzi was working.
Next, the Muppets have to find a station to air their telethon. No one accepts their idea until they visit cde. Veronica (Rashida Jones), the network manager, at first refuses, saying the Muppets are no longer popular. However, cde's most popular show, "Punch Teacher", is being sued by the Teacher's Association and she is forced to cancel it's 120 block. As a result, the Muppets are put on the schedule. The Muppets then clean The Muppet Theater to the popular rock tune "We Built This City". Gary realizes that Walter is becoming more of a Muppet and leaving him behind. Kermit tries desperately to find a celebrity host, calling old celebs like President Carter and Molly Ringwald, all of whom apparently cannot attend the telethon.
Just before rehearsals begin, Miss Piggy arrives and scares off Miss Poggy, who promises to be back. Rehearsals are rough as Animal refuses to play the drums because they cause him to lose control of his anger. Miss Piggy refuses to sing a duet with Kermit, trying to make him realize how much he personally needs her. As a last resort, Kermit decides to ask Tex Richman for the studio back.
Tex Richman turns the Muppets down with a rather hilarious rap about his enormous wealth (he is joined by showgirls that he apparently keeps in his closet). He also inform the Muppets that the contract they signed to give Richman the studio also hands over The Muppet name, which Richman intends to give to the Moopets (this is Miss Poggy's revenge). Distressed, Kermit gives up hope and leaves. Miss Piggy, however, motivates the group and they kidnap Jack Black to act as celebrity host against his will. After convincing a pessimistic Kermit to come back on board, the Muppets return to the theater to put on the telethon.
Gary is so caught up with the Muppets that he forgets about his anniversary dinner with Mary. He rushes back to the motel to discover that she has departed, leaving a note asking "Are you a man... or a Muppet?" Gary and Walter then "reflect on their reflections" with the film's funniest song. During the song, Gary is joined by a puppet Gary and Walter is joined by Jim Parsons (his apparent human form). Gary decides that he is a man and goes home to join Mary while Walter declares himself a Muppet and stays behind.
The telethon begins with an audience consisting only of Hobo Joe (Zach Galifinakis). As the telethon progresses, more and more people gather in the theater and the donation count rises steeply. The telethon is classic Muppets, with Fozzi jokes and barbershop quartets. Tex Richman sabotages the telethon by taking out the power. Gary and Mary arrive to save the day, Mary re-wiring the transformer. Kermit reconciles with Piggy and the two sing the classic "Rainbow Connection", leaving five minutes left in the telethon. Richman takes Deadly up to the roof to try to cut the power lines, but Deadly fights Richman, declaring himself a "Muppet, not a Moopet". Walter ends the telethon with a whistle aria to thunderous applause. Just as they are about the hit the ten million dollar mark, Richman takes out the telephone lines, bringing donations to a halt. Fozzi hit the money count in anger, and it is revealed that they actually only raised $99,999.99. Richman claims the theater and the Muppets leave in disgrace. Kermit lifts their spirits by saying that they can keep on making people happy, with or without the Muppet name. They exit the theater, however, to find an enormous crowd of people, all screaming for The Muppets. All join in the finale version of "Life's a Happy Song" and Richman is hit with a bowling ball thrown by Gonzo, who earlier could not release it during his "Head-Bowling" trick in the telethon. Richman sees the humor of the Muppets and gives back the studio. Gary proposes to Mary, but instead of accepting, she launches the group into "Mahna Mahna", which plays during the credits.
The greatest part about the Muppets is its quick witted humor and satire, poking fun at many movie cliches (traveling by map, for example) and making multiple references to the fact that The Muppets is a movie ("This is going to be a really short movie.", "Was that in the budget?", etc.). The second jewel to be found in the film is the excellent set of songs written by Bret McKenzie. I highly recommend the soundtrack for this film (it also includes a cover of Fuck You sung by Camilla and the chickens). The only real downside of this film is that it is rather long for a kids film and (as I have seen) can lose the interests of some of the younger viewers. The puppetry and acting are up to their usual standard, with the actors taking on stereotypical roles and adding new life to them through perfectly executed humor.
Posted on 11/28/11 06:53 PM
2011 has been a great year for super-heroes. Over the summer, we saw the release of three Marvel-based motion pictures (X-men:First Class, Thor, and Captain America), all of which were well-received by critics and fans alike. I was lucky enough to see First Class and Captain America in the theater, and I loved them both (First Class becoming one of my favorites of all time). I wanted to see Thor, but I never got around to it. However, based on the reactions of the critics, I was rather confident that I would find it enjoyable. Finally, I was able to rent Thor and view it for myself. I must say, I was a little disappointed.
The film starts with a short intro, showing Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) hit a newly-arrived Thor (Chris Hemsworth) with her research van. This short scene seemed to short to feel necessary, especially as it is revisited almost verbatim not thirty minutes later. We are then transported back in time to Asgard, from whence Odin (Anthony Hopkins) barely scratches the surface of Norse Mythology and the defeat of the Frost Giants centuries ago. After the Frost Giants once again invade Asgard, interrupting the crowning of Thor as king of Asgard, Thor becomes hot-headed and decides to take on the giants in their own realm against his father's wishes at the advice of his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Unsurprisingly, the invasion goes awry, and Odin is forced to save Thor and his friends. Odin then banishes Thor to Earth and drains him of his power, bringing us to the intro scene. It is also revealed that Loki is in fact a Frost Giant taken in by Odin after the great war.
Thor has to become accustomed to life on Earth, and he his helped along the way by Jane Foster and her two companions, Darcy and Dr. Selvig. What follows are a few humorous scenes in which Thor does things like rudely call for another coffee and rush into a pet store looking for a horse. Eventually, he discovers that his signature hammer has also landed on earth and is being guarded by S.H.E.I.L.D. With the help of Jane, Thor breaks into the facility and tries to lift the hammer but fails. This scene contains some well choreographed hand to hand combat and a Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) cameo. S.H.E.I.L.D. captures Thor and questions him, thinking him a normal human. During the interrogation, Loki arrives and deceives his brother by saying that Odin is dead (he has merely fallen into Odinsleep), informing Thor that Loki is the new king. As Loki leaves, he tries to lift Thor's hammer, but fails, showing that he is not his brother's equal. A grieving Thor is rescued by Dr. Slevig and is brought back to the research camp of Jane Foster. He then shares a rather romantic night with Jane and the audience is meant to believe that the two are deeply in love from here on.
Thor's friends, aided by the gatekeeper, Heimdall, go to Earth to retrieve the Thunder God. They are only there for a few moments when Loki sends an Asgardian metal guardian to destroy his brother. During Thor's time on Earth, Loki has made a deal with the Frost Giants that involves them killing Odin so that Loki can become the permanent king. The guardian easily defeats Thor's friends, and Thor approaches it for a final showdown. Thor appeals to his brother (his friends have informed him of Loki's deceit) to spare the townsfolk, to kill him alone. The guardian then seemingly dispatches of the God with one blow. However, Thor's selflessness proves that he is worthy to once again wield his hammer, and it comes flying from its crater and into his hands. Thor regains his power and slays the guardian. He then rushes off to face his brother in Asgard, but not without first kissing Jane good-bye.
In a plot twist, Loki kills the Giant King before he can kill Odin, attempting to show his prowess as a ruler. Thor arrives, unconvinced the Loki has Odin's interests in mind. The two duel with plenty of special effects. Loki attempts to drive the Bifrost Bridge into the Frost Giant Realm, but Thor stops him. Thor is forced to destroy the Bridge, barring his way back to Earth and Jane. Odin awakes just in time to save Loki and Thor as they are tossed from the collapsing bridge. Loki tries to explain that he only wanted to destroy the Frost Giants to prove his worth. Odin tells him this is wrong. Distraught, Loki pushes himself off into open space, presumably killing himself. The film ends with Thor in grief for his brother, but hopeful that he will one day see Jane again.
I will not discount the fact that this film is full of astounding special effects, from lightning bolts to the city of Asgard. I will also not deny that it is reasonably well acted, with the exception of Portman, who seemed flat to me. However, this film has many flaws. In my opinion, the major issue is that the film feels lengthy but does not seem long enough to really cover the immense plot. There seemed to be too many unnecessarily elongated scenes followed by quickly covered plot points in order to catch up to the pace of the film. This is especially evident at the end as the return of Thor's power and the final battle take place within a span of about fifteen minutes. Also, the relationship between Thor and Jane never really developed to my satisfaction, and it seemed rather abrupt when Thor sacrifices himself to save her. This lack of a real connection between the two will no doubt cause the believability of the relationship to become even more strained in future sequels. I also did not like that the film seems to skip over the powers of the gods in its explanation of Norse Mythology, putting too much faith in the idea that the audience already knows the film's background. For instance, the fact that Loki is the God of Mischief is stunningly left out, forcing the film to play a lot of catch-up in forming a background for his dastardly deeds. Again with the mythology, one would think that the conflict between Thor and Loki would have been established long ago (there are even a few moments when Dr. Selvig refers to these types of stories), but the film makes this seem like a rather recent development. The gods, therefore, do not come off as ancient as the film claims them to be. Aside from these plot hitches, there are also a few odd camera angles throughout the movie that look intentionally place to convey some sort of idea but instead disrupt the viewing and make the filming seem disjointed.
Overall, Thor was an entertaining piece of cinema with enough action, special effects, and corny Marvel moments to carry it through its somewhat messy plot. I would recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed other Marvel films, but I do not think that many outsiders and more critical movie-goers will find it as entertaining as it has been advertised to be. I can actually almost recommend it solely on the performances of Hemsworth, Hopkins, and Hiddleston, who portray their respective gods with just the right combination of immortality, humanity, and (in Loki's case) villainy, making the relationships between their characters seem more real than any of those within the relatively small human cast (as a side note, there are actually very few interactions between Thor and the humans, making his time on Earth seem almost pointless).
Posted on 10/10/11 08:55 PM
It feels good to watch a ridiculous comedy like Shaolin Soccer and not feel cheated out of 90 minutes. Although I was a little skeptical at the very start of the film, Soccer quickly established an easy-going pace and a zany standard of humor that was kept up right until the end. When you can watch a film that includes kung-fu, silly special effects, clever one-liners, and a random musical sequence and still easily follow the plot, something has been done right. Shaolin Soccer is that film.