As a member of the Museum of the Moving Image, I get a chance to see screenings. The museum has a great new theatre, and again this year the Museum has also gotten some seats at the Variety Screening Series. And with awards season going, it's screening after screening after Q&A after Q&A as the studios try and attract attention of Oscar voters and other Guild members in NYC. And I've been finding time for some other films as well.
I'm just back from seeing Like Crazy, an interesting romance with Anton Yelchin, who played in the Star Trek reboot as the young Chekov. Good, not perfect. It's a little too quiet in that amerindie kind of way, and I never quite felt the heated passion between the two leads that I was supposed to. Which is more the fault of the script than of the direction, because Yelchin and the female lead Felicity Jones get more out of their roles with charm and bonhomie and Yelchin especially with youthful good lucks than I think is there in the script. In fact, script-wise, I was rooting for the girl to pick the other guy, that was the relationship that seemed more real to me. And then the movie ends on one of those notes of indecision. Good enough, but I think the critics have overpraised. Prior reference point: Green Card. Which this kind of updates a bit in a post-9/11 kind of a way. At the AMC Empire 25, #24. Playing now.
Maybe I'd have dozed off in Like Crazy if I hadn't gotten a little napping in earlier in the day, during Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This new version of the John LeCarre classic cold war spy thriller, earlier a British TV mini-series with Alec Guiness, comes from the directorial hand of Tomas Alfredson, who previously directed the intriguing Let The Right One In, a Scandi vampire movie that was remade as the inferior US film Let Me In. Tinker Tailor is awfully well made, beautifully photographed and edited and good music cues and all kinds of good British actors, but it's also so cerebral and so back and forth in time and so true to the intricacies of the original novel that it's rather a dreary chore to actually watch and keep track of. I don't mind going to and even enjoying a good movie that might be a little depressing. But I don't really go the movies to do work, and this was a little too much work for me. While I can recognize what's good about the film, which is an awful lot, I think the whole is somewhat less than the sum of its excellent parts. At the DGA Theatre, Manhattan. Opening in December.
Last night it was The Descendants. This is the new film from Alexander Payne, 7 years after his Sideways, and his earlier films include About Schmidt, Election and Citizen Ruth. The Descendants has gotten some rave reviews, I wasn't sure what I'd think because Sideways was a movie everyone loved, which I happily and contentedly ended up sleeping through. Tinker Tailor, I hated that I was having trouble staying awake, Sideways was one of those movies when I'd wake up, and then decide I really needed the nap more. But why dump on Sideways, when the simple fact is that The Descendants is indeed one of the best movies you'll see this year. George Clooney gives a stellar performance. The script and direction are perfectly attuned to the real world reality that people are often kind of textured, and we keep finding layers peeled back on the characters, the annoying in-law and loving father all in one, the surf dude annoying boyfriend who has a lot more going on than just that. There are just a lot of things that come together in the best scenes in the movie, starting with a uniformly excellent cast but including how the scenes are lit, how they're framed, how they're scored, how they're edited. I could go on and on diagramming everything in the hospital scene with George Clooney and his in-law. I won't. I'll just say this is the real thing, that rare critic's darling that deserves every bit of praise, every accolade, every kind word. It's in limited release now, coming soon to many more theaters, and so totally worth seeing. I'd be surprised to find a better performance than Clooney's for Best Actor this year. Moving Image theatre.
Thursday night was The Muppets. The Museum of the Moving Image has been running a Jim Henson exhibit that's been at other museums across the country, probably not so often with such an extensive program of weekend events including the family, long-time co-workers, more. Doesn't hurt that the home base for Muppet manufacture is just a few blocks away from the Museum. This screening of the new Muppet movie was attended by Henson's wife and daughter. Talk about awkward! One can't say enough about Jim Henson's legacy, and my greatest fear has been that this attempt to reboot the franchise after so many years of creative uncertainty and ever-changing ownership would totally suck. Which, yes, is really awkward if you've got Henson's wife and daughter sitting in the theatre with 200 people who aren't liking what they see. Well, that totally isn't what happened. The Muppets is good, maybe even better than good, not Jim, nothing can really be Jim Henson at his best, but good. There's a new Muppet in town facing an identity crisis, he doesn't quite know he's a Muppet but he knows he loves them, and he has to get the old gang back together to save the old Muppet Studio and Muppet Theatre from an oil tycoon. The plot is a little unoriginal, though of course the original Muppet Movie was a "let's put on a show" variant so we can't fault The Muppets for being the same. It's maybe too self referential. There are some nice new songs and good production numbers here which owe something to Enchanted, but there's also a reprise of Rainbow Connection -- two of them, actually, one an ad for a seedy Reno hotel which might alone be worth going to the movie to enjoy. But couldn't we have tried for another new song to rival the perfection of Rainbow Connection, instead of going at it twice? Star Jason Segel co-wrote and got the film going by sheer force of will, at least according to the press notes, so it's a little disappointing that he seems ill at ease acting opposite the Muppet, the best humans in The Muppet Movie or on The Muppet Show always seemed perfectly at ease, Segel doesn't. I'm focusing on the things that didn't quite work, but that isn't the message I should be giving, which is that this is an entertaining film that is 100% certain to satisfy all of us baby boomers carrying fond memories of growing up with Jim Henson and The Muppet Show. It's harder to say how today's children will react, this was the big concern expressed by my guest for the screening, author Myke Cole, I'm less worried about that than he is but it's a legitimate worry. I may end up going to see this again with my brother and 13-year-old nephew over the holiday weekend. If I do, it won't be reluctantly. Which is the main thing, this may not be a movie that I'll cherish seeing every few years the way I do The Muppet Movie, but it's a movie I'll happily see at least once more. Oh -- it is preceded by a delightful Toy Story short. Moving Image Theatre.
Let me also circle back to Being Elmo, a documentary about Kevin Clash, the puppetteer behind Sesame Street's Elmo. This delightful film is still playing here and there around the country and worth seeking out. Clash grew up idolizing the Sesame Street muppets, and took to making his own creations. Which led to a job on local TV, then to a job on Captain Kangaroo, eventually to Sesame Street where he took an anonymous puppet that wasn't quite working and made of it the Elmo that launched the Tickle Me phenomenon. It's a heartwarming story, of course. Clash was at the screening I saw and seemed as genuine and heartwarming in person as the version of him presented in the film. In his life story, in his journey, in his enjoyment at what he does, there's this temptation to say he's the next coming of Jim Henson. Except of course that Being Elmo also reminds that Jim Henson was so much more than most mere mortals, not just as a puppeteer but as businessman, as a writer, as a visionary, as technician, so much in so very very many ways. Being Elmo does a great job of telling us how special and wonderful it is to have one or two of Henson's gifts, and at the same time reminds us of how sad it is that someone with all of Henson's gifts died so young.
Other movies I've seen recently, but I'll have to call it quits here. It's nice to find some time to do at least a few quick takes, and wipe a cobweb or two from the blog.
Concluding message: The Muppets is the family film to see this Thanksgiving, and The Descendants is the one for the adults to enjoy.
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.