"The Muppets" has received a lot of praise since it came out and, in my opinion, it's completely warranted. Never mind the actual content itself, the fact that there's a movie out that manages to make both kids and adults laugh while successfully reviving a dead franchise... that's unbelievable to me. After all those terrible bastardized CGI remakes of all those great cartoons everyone my age or older grew up on, here's a movie that stays true to its form and keeps the irreverent and offbeat humor alive which was what made the old Muppets tv show and first few movies so fun to watch.
Much of the credit has to go to Jason Segel and his crew. This was Segel's dream project for the longest time and you can see just how much care and attention he paid in order to make this movie work. That love is there in all of the scenes as the movie doesn't waste a minute without making a great joke. There is so much to laugh at in this movie, so many cute quirks, and just enough self-referential jokes that really makes this a joy to watch. It does so many things so well that by the time you're hearing chickens doing a cover of "**** You" by Cee-Lo Green, you're laughing yourself silly.
So "The Muppets" opens up telling us the story of Gary and Walter. They are brothers who grew up in Smalltown, USA. Walter is a muppet, Gary is a human... but the movie makes you accept the fact that they're brothers without mentioning anything else about it. As they turn into adults, Walter's obsession with the Muppets show grows exponentially. This takes us to present day where Gary plans on taking his girlfriend Mary to a trip to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. Walter, of course, is coming too which excites him because he'll finally get to see Muppets Studio.
When they get there though, they find out the studio is all run down and is about to be sold to an evil oilman (Chris Cooper). The Muppets would have to raise $10 million in order to prevent this from happening. Finding this out, Walter and Gary decide to convince Kermit the Frog to get the gang back together for one last show in order to raise the money.
Seeing all the characters being re-introduced is like a trip down memory lane. All of your favorite characters appear from Fozzie to Gonzo to Animal to Beaker and ultimately to Miss Piggy. The movie is actually quite brilliant in the way that it reintroduces these characters as it's a good starting point for the young ones watching the movie as well as it is fun for the fans to see these characters once again.
One of the main highlights in the film are the musical numbers. They do a great job of incorporating new musical numbers with some old classics (Muppets Show Theme, Rainbow Connection) and the new musical numbers work on so many different comedic levels, it's a real riot. When we do get to the classics, like with Rainbow Connection, it's one of the sweetest and most poignant moments in any movie this year. The Muppets is about enjoying the past in a gleeful, nostalgic manner and at the same time being able to embrace change and move on to the future. What "The Muppets" sets out to do isn't just to write a different chapter in the Muppets canon, but to make a whole new book altogether. This is one of the few films I've seen lately where I can't wait to see a sequel. They did so many things right and they were firing on all cylinders that I can easily see them having plenty of material for a second and third movie with these guys.
Obviously not everything about "The Muppets" is picture perfect, but you know what, this is a better movie than it has any right to be. Before it came out, you wondered why it was getting made. Now that it's out, you can't imagine the world without it. The fact of the matter is that this movie DID need to be made because I really do think we were starting to forget about these guys. Hopefully this film will make them that much more impossible to forget.
Friday, November 11, 2011
The Tree of Life is such an accomplishment of artistic vision that it's hard for me not to want to embrace it completely because of how much Terrence Malick accomplished with this film. And yet, there is a part of me that feels hesitant to do that because I feel like I was thrown into an eccentric artist's mind and then was spit out and now I have to attempt to tell people what I saw. I don't know what it is I saw exactly, I don't really know what to make of The Tree of Life as a whole, but goddamn once The Tree of Life finds its groove and you start to settle into the movie, it's hard not to be blown away.
First of all, this is a film the demands to be seen on the big screen. Hopefully, watching it on blu-ray with a large tv screen will do it justice. But, you know, the fact that Malick had the balls to go as far and as deep as he did in this film makes me want to applaud him. It's not a perfect film, only because there is no way this film could've been perfect with the way Malick approached it. It's so all over the place and it's meant to be as it's a collection of memories and visions and thoughts and philosophizing. That can be a bit much for people and believe me it was a bit much for me at times. The worst thing you can do when watching The Tree of Life is trying to make sense of it all as you're watching it. The best thing to do is wait until the end and then try to think about it. I did a bit of both.
But let me tell you why this film must be lauded. Simply put, from the time the film shows you the creation of the universe to the moment in which it stops being about young Jack O'Brien, his two brothers, and his parents... The Tree of Life was quite literally the most perfect, masterful film I had ever seen. From those two points, I was just sitting in my seat being blown away by how minute and careful Terrence Malick was in fitting in every little detail and just the clarity of the vision (with the cinematography and the artistic vision itself) was so amazing. The whole film is a cinefile's wet dream, but for about an hour and 45 minutes, this film was firing at all cylinders and contains some of the greatest scenes Terrence Malick had ever been a part of.
You think that was an overuse of hyperbole? Bullshit. If you've watched enough films for over a 20 year period, you start to decipher among the bad, the good, the great, and the perfect. Watching the montage of little Jack from an infant to an adolescent re-confirmed my belief in filmmaking as a superior form of art. That the film can stir so many different emotions while being so simple in its depiction of childhood is just brilliant to me.
But the beginning and the end of the film is a bit of a hodgepodge and the scenes with Sean Penn just don't really carry any emotional weight at all. They make sense in a literal way since the film is basically told from within his mind, but I don't think it would've hurt the film if we knew just a little bit more about Jack as a grown up and how his brother's death affected him (oh yeah you find out a brother of his dies early on in the film, but I'm not gonna explain the plot to you, the plot doesn't really matter at all).
At this point, I've really enjoyed all five Terrence Malick films and this one seems to be his most personal and emotional. I just wish he were willing to be even more personal and emotional with us to help us make at least some sense of what it all means to him. But then again, that's kind of what is so appealing about a guy like Terrence Malick. Because we have so little insight of the man, we can only really begin to understand him by watching his films. And as with every other Terrence Malick film, its true beauty is revealed after multiple viewings. At this point, The Tree of Life remains a nearly perfect film about a man trying to come to terms with his past and his place in time. There is no doubt Malick knew exactly what he was doing with the editing style of the film and it's a film that begs for a proper dissection and discussion after multiple viewings. This is a very rewarding film for those who are willing to be patient with it and for people who are fans of Malick's other films, you will be in for a treat.
The Tree of Life is currently available on Blu-Ray/DVD, I managed to see it at a special screening at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema a few days ago.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
It's been seven years since Alexander Payne's last film and the last film he made was his best. Sideways came out in 2004 and became a critical darling, winning all kinds of awards, and even managing to nab an Oscar for best screenplay. Sideways was the perfect combination of drama and comedy. It had some silly moments, some thought-provoking moments, and overall it had characters you cared about. Alexander Payne was going to have a tough time following up that film, but he does his best with The Descendants. Even though it doesn't quite compare, it did remind me that I missed Alexander Payne and that he has to make more films. Bottom line it's an excellent comedy/drama that is about how people deal with pain and loss. It's also blessed with a nice cast starting with George Clooney and supported by Rob Heubel, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, and even Matthew Lillard comes out of nowhere and gives a pleasant performance.
The film is about Matt King (Clooney) who had been entrusted his family's land in Hawaii, who have owned the land for hundreds of years, and he has to debate whether or not to sell or keep the land. He also now has to deal with taking care of his daughters as his wife is in a coma from a boating accident. He's the back-up parent, as he says so himself. To make matters worse, he finds out that his wife had been in an affair before she had the accident.
That's really when the movie starts to pick up and seeing George Clooney as Matt King struggle with these conflicts is definitely worth watching. Here, Clooney shows emotional depth that hasn't really been seen from him before and the screenplay allows his feelings to unfold in a slow, natural, and realistic way. Alexander Payne has always been a mature filmmaker, but it's safe to say this is his most mature and dramatic film yet. That said, the combination of the relaxed, laid back Hawaiian pace and the very heartfelt emotional dramatic scenes can be a bit of an odd mix at times. The film is at its best when Matt King is trying to find the guy who his wife had an affair with. The scenes dealing with his wife in a coma can be a bit of a mixed bag. I think it was a mixed bag because it's tough to deal with such a serious subject and try to have light-hearted moments in the mix (kinda like with "50/50").
What makes this a standout film of the year is the way the movie takes a seemingly meaningless B-story (Matt King selling the island) and eventually ties it in with the main story. That's when the movie really starts coming into its own. Once you start to realize how serious the stakes are for Matt King, his family, his past, and his future, the current events that are happening in his family mean that much more. Matt King is a character with legitimate concerns who has to make tough decisions that really could go either way. As usual, George Clooney plays him effortlessly, and yet this is probably Clooney at his most emotional. Throughout his career, Alexander Payne has always had a way of getting the best out of his actors from acting giants Jack Nicholson and George Clooney to actors with much lesser resumes like Matthew Lillard, Chris Klein, Thomas Haden Church.
There are so many different facets to this movie, so many different tones to balance and it goes through the whole array of emotions but Alexander Payne handles it all very well. It's not quite his best, but it's still a film that reminds us why he's so revered as a director. I can't wait for more films from him. As for Clooney, I really hope to see him continuing to challenge himself as an actor. He's never gonna go too crazy in his choices of roles, but any movie that manages to get something different out of George Clooney is a successful movie.