The Muppets (2011)

No Drums!  No Drums!  Jack Black Said No Drums!

The impetus behind my decision to pull this movie out of a RedBox was the nagging of the inner child I had thought I had killed years ago.  That little bastard and I had a battle many years ago where I left him for dead, bleeding like a stuck Miss Piggy.  It turns out he had been nursing his wounds, waiting for the right moment to shoot himself out of a cannon and back into my heart.  When today’s movie came out in theaters, I started getting threatening messages with letters cut out of magazines that never really amounted to anything.  Today, when this movie came out on DVD, he knew this was his chance to strike.  That really strange story aside, I rented today’s movie from a RedBox and decided to give it a shot to live up to the love I had for this crew in my youth.  Today’s movie is The Muppets, written by Jim Henson, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller, directed by James Bobin, and starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black, Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt, Zach Galifianakis, Donald Glover, Dave Grohl, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal, and Sarah Silverman, the voices of Peter Linz, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Tyler Bunch, Alice Dinnean, and Jerry Nelson, and notable cameos by James Carville, Bill Cobbs, Feist, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, John Krasinski, Rico Rodriguez, and Mickey Rooney.

Walter (Peter Linz) and Gary (Jason Segel) are brothers that live in a small town called … Smalltown.  But Walter was born with a birth defect of sorts that makes him a Muppet.  Because of this, Gary and Walter become big fans of the Muppet Show.  When they grow up, Gary is preparing to go on vacation to LA with his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and surprises Walter by taking him with them.  While in LA, they visit the abandoned Muppet studio.  Walter sneaks into the office of Kermit the Frog and finds out that Statler (Steve Whitmire) and Waldorf (Dave Goelz) are selling the theater to oil magnate Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who intends to demolish it and drill for oil beneath the studio.  Walter, Gary, and Mary manage to convince Kermit to get the band back together to raise $10 million to save the theater before it’s too late.

My inner child must’ve fixed his hooks in pretty deeply, because I was still charmed by the Muppets.  I realize that, beyond nostalgia, it doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for adults, but kids should probably enjoy it.  I base that mostly on the crap I’ve watched that kids are into today (I’m looking at you, Dora and Yo Gabba Gabba!).  The Muppets are way better than the crap kids watch today, and I stand by that!  I actually got goosebumps when watching the opening to The Muppet Show that I had not seen in ages.  It’s silly and ridiculous, but generally it’s well aware of that fact.  What’s more important is that it’s charming, and there are actually a couple of genuine laughs in the movie.  I especially liked some of the 4th wall-breaking jokes, like when Kermit said he wasn’t going to get the band back together and Mary said, “This is going to be a really short movie.”  I also liked when the Swedish Chef said, “Say hello to my little friend,” before using a flamethrower on a mold-infested fridge, mainly because it came out as, “Herdy gerdy me Gerdy Fler!”  If you want to nitpick (and you know I do), there are a couple of things in the story that didn’t make sense to me.  First, that Walter and Gary are so starstruck with the Muppets when Walter is, himself, a Muppet.  Okay, you let that one go.  The one that bothered me (and yes, I know, more than it should’ve) was the prospect of earning the money to save the theater.  I know that every problem in Muppetland is solved with a show; that’s not the problem.  The problem is, while getting the band back together, they had to get Gonzo from the business he owns (the world’s most successful plumbing parts business) and Miss Piggy from running Vogue Paris.  They couldn’t toss a couple of bucks towards saving the theater?  They might not have wanted to supply all $10 million, but you could’ve given them at least half and let the people do the rest.  The musical numbers were a little cheesy for my taste, but I didn’t really expect much else.  The one that Amy Adams does by herself is just sad.  Not because of her voice, but because doing a musical number about trying to act happy that you’re spending time by yourself while no one else is joining in is one of the most depressing things ever.  I also found it very amusing that they had an all chicken rendition of Cee-lo Green’s “Fuck You”.  That’s an interesting choice for a Muppet movie, but I guess “Buck buck” is not that offensive, even if it’s chicken for “Fuck you.”

The performances of the people had to be hammed up because it’s a kids movie, but no one really did bad.  Amy Adams is super cute, Jason Segel comes off as a nice guy, and Jack Black just acts nuts.  The performance of the Muppets is still a well honed art.  By this time, you know these guys are experts at making felt look like it has emotions and personality, and I don’t think enough credit goes to these guys for that skill.  We just take it for granted.  I’ve also notice that computer graphics (and probably green screens) have enabled them to do more things with the Muppets than they used to be able to, allowing them to do full body Muppet movements by having the puppeteer wear a green suit.  That ability doesn’t add a whole lot to them, but it’s interesting.  One of the most interesting things about this (and a lot of other Muppet movies) is the cameos.  Though many of them only pop in for a second, or just for one line of dialogue, the cameos are really widespread and eclectic.  Zach Galifianakis was funny in his part, and was actually around a bit longer than most.  Jim Parsons (of the Big Bang Theory) plays Walter’s imaginary human form, so people that watch that show might be interested in that.  I was also super impressed with myself that I was one of the few people that would be able to recognize the singer Feist and Bill Cobbs even though most people couldn’t recognize them given an entire day and their scenes combined added up to about 10 seconds.  You can read the credits up above to have as comprehensive a list of the cameos as I could muster.

I kind of liked the Muppets movie.  It’s both not meant for me and completely meant for me.  It’s made for kids, which I am not, but it’s also made for people who loved the Muppets when they were kids, which I am.  Speaking to parents, I would say to try to get your kids into the Muppets instead of the crap that they watch now.  Muppets are so much better than that shit they’re watching now, and you can actually watch and enjoy the Muppets instead of watching with a morbid curiosity in the same way I watched Yo Gabba Gabba.  Now that it’s available from RedBox, I’d say you should give it a watch, especially if you loved the Muppets in your childhood or if you have kids and you don’t want Dora to teach them Spanish.  The Muppets gets “Kermit, you’re my hero.  You’re on my watch” out of “We all agreed: celebrities aren’t people.”

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The Dark Crystal (1982)

I Hate Your Whimper!

I may have the day off for Thanksgiving, but I don’t have the day off my reviews.  Thems is non-stop, all day every day!  Turkey Day’s movie is a movie picked at random from Netflix Streaming, as I have been doing recently, and is also one that I’ve heard about for a really long time, yet never gotten around to watching.  It’s generally regarded as a classic, but it has eluded me until this Day of Eat Turkey.  This movie is The Dark Crystal, written and directed by Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and David Odell, and starring the voices of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, Percy Edwards, Barry Dennen, and Michael Kilgarriff.

Jen (Stephen Garlick) is the last of an Elfen race of puppets called Gelflings who lives with a manattee group called the Mystics until his master dies after telling him he has to find a shard of the Dark Crystal and ram it into the back door of the greater part of the Dark Crystal.  Jen sets off to look for Aughra (Billie Whitelaw), a crazy old lady who lives in an observatory.  Jen retrieves the shard from her and is immediately attacked by some black crab creatures called Garthim, sent by the big bad creatures, some evil, Vulture-lookin’ things called the Skeksis.  They’re trying to stop Jen because a prophecy has foretold that a Gelfling will stop them from achieving immortality at a planetary alignment that happens in a few days.  Jen escapes and soon comes across Kira (Lisa Maxwell), a female Gelfling and cock-blocker for Jen’s former title of “Last of the Gelflings”.  Jen forgives her, and together they go to fulfill their destiny.

Unfortunately, I fell like this movie also suffers from the same curse of being talked up too high as other movies I have reviewed.  This is a good movie, but the talk I had heard about this movie was that it was amazing.  I would probably give it my assumption that this movie was pretty amazing at it’s time, but I didn’t see it then.  Since this movie preceded Labyrinth, this is the first big, puppet movie that I know of.  Unfortunately, I feel like my current age causes a certain degree of disinterest in puppets.  That being said, it’s still an accomplishment and enjoyable to watch, but it feels a bit dated.  The settings and props in this movie were all pretty spectacular and well built.  I especially like the the observatory contraption in Aughra’s place.  You could tell a lot of time went in to these sets.  The puppets themselves, however, were occasionally hit and miss.  The puppets for the Mystics and the Skeksis allowed for them to put a lot of personality into the performances, but the Mystics were barely in the movie and they just went overboard in making the Skeksis seem overly disgusting, especially in the dinner scene that served no purpose other than to show their awful table manners.  The Gelfling and the Podling puppets, however, did not allow for a lot of emoting from their mask-like faces.  It didn’t matter for the part ewok, part Jar Jar, part Fraggle Rockian Podlings because they were scarce in the movie, but the stars of the movie were those Gelflings.  I feel like they should’ve put a little more articulation into their faces to keep them from looking so creepy.  Those crab-like Garthim things, though, were pretty badass and scary.

The story of the movie is pretty classic, but still good.  You’ve got the whole rags to riches type thing, though the riches is more just fulfilling his destiny.  You have a love interest, a big bad guy, a potential cataclysm, and a happy ending.  The thing that struck me as strange about this movie is that it was a Jim Henson movie and seemed like the kind of movie that would attract kids, but there was a lot of hardcore fucking in it.  No, I’m kidding.  What actually surprised me was how much death was in this movie.  In the opening narration, every other word is “death”.  A lot of things died during the course of the movie as well.  It wasn’t gory or anything, but it seemed to include more mature topics than I would expect out of a movie I assume is for kids.  There was also one part that made me laugh.  Jen and Kira came up on a place that made Kira say “Bad things happened here once.  Now we don’t go in there.”  That must really limit the amount of places you can go, right?  Bad things have happened a lot of places.  “Oh, I don’t go in my bathroom.  I stubbed my toe in there once.  But I REALLY haveta go.”

I kind of talked about the performances already when talking about the puppets, and since there wasn’t really any live action in this movie, I’ll have to skip the performances.  The sound did occur to me at one point.  For the most part, the sound was very good.  It seemed to be an orchestra and usually fit the scene, but there were a couple of points where something exciting was happening and the music wasn’t really swelling as it should in such a scene.  It seemed like the music was there and trying to support the action, but someone forgot to turn up the volume.

I wish I had seen this movie when I was younger, so that the memory of loving it then would help me love it now.  I saw Labyrinth when I was younger, and I still really like that movie.  I still appreciated this movie for it’s achievement, but also wish the main character’s puppets had more articulating faces.  The story was fine, the sound could’ve been mixed better, but it was a fine movie.  I feel comfortable saying you should watch this movie, but you probably won’t like it as much as you would if you saw it when you were young.  The Dark Crystal gets “Sometimes good.  Sometimes bad” out of “Heal the Crystal!”

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