It's been an eclectic and unusually fertile week of preview screenings at The Museum of the Moving Image. After showing Bad Words earlier in the week, there was an unusual double feature today of Muppet Most Wanted and The Raid 2, both quite enjoyable in their own different ways.
The best thing, and perhaps the only thing, that one needs to say about Muppet Most Wanted is that it's undoubtedly and undeniably a film Jim Henson could have made.
I'm not sure any Muppet movie will ever equal the consistent delight of the memorable tunes from the original Muppet movie, but there's no denying the quality of work that Bret McKenzie is doing for the current Muppet films. This movie starts with a production number where the Muppets celebrate the fact that they are getting to do a sequel (yes, Bunsen Honeydew does quite scientifically interrupt the song to point out that this is in fact the 7th Muppet movie), which features lots and lots of Muppets, happily breaks the third wall, goes big in the style of The Magic Store from the original Muppet movie or even big in the style of a big number from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life or Mel Brooks' History of the World Part One. There are other solid original numbers sprinkled throughout. And the movie's plot lends itself to paying tribute to the use of music in the original Muppet Show, so we get little gems like Miss Piggy doing her best Celine Dion with a number from The Muppet Movie. Of course, we later get Celine Dion herself. And the movie ends with a rendition of the song "Together Again" that seems like an homage to the Monty Python film Life of Brian. Yes, Jim Henson would have gotten this.
The movie is sprinkled with celebrity co-stars and celebrity cameos. I don't like Ricky Gervais, but I liked him here. He has a twinkle in his eye throughout and seems to clearly be enjoying playing second fiddle to The Muppets. And then there's Ray Liotta, and Tina Fey, and Usher, and Frank Langella, and many many more. I didn't recognize everyone; I'm getting to be an old man. But the cameos here should resonate with a mix of thirteen year olds and 53-year-olds, because the sheer abundance of them allows the film to cover all bases.
And the jokes cover all age bases. There's a lot of just plain silly for kids to enjoy. Then there's a quick reference to David Lean. Or to David Niven, while we're at it. Jim Henson would understand where the creators are coming from.
So three cheers to director James Bobin, who co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller. Almost 35 years after the release of the original Muppet Movie, they have the Muppets feeling fresh and new again.
The strange thing to me: Jason Segel, who did so much to help spearhead the return of the Muppets to movie theatres isn't here in any way, shape, or form, not even in the form of a no-show producer credit hiding somewhere.
A few years back there was a martial arts movie called The Raid which I didn't get around to seeing. It got some nice reviews, kind of wanted to, but it just never happened, I think in part because I have an informal quota on the number of martial arts movies I want to see and that might have been released in proximity to another one. But suffice to say when I saw that Moving Image was hosting a screening of The Raid 2, I wasn't going to miss out twice.
Glad I didn't. The Raid 2 is excellent.
Martial arts movies don't need a plot, necessarily, but this one has one Shakespeare would recognize, which centers around a father/son struggle over the future of an Indonesian crime family. The son thinks his dad has gone soft, and doesn't buy into the idea expressed to him at one point in the movie that the father now has enough respect that he doesn't still need to have fear going for him. Into the midst of this father/son struggle is thrown an undercover cop, the actual lead of the movie, played by Iko Uwais. He appeared at a Q&A afterwards along with writer/director/editor Gareth Evans, and Julie Estelle who is by default the female lead, because there aren't any females hanging around in this movie.
While it's nice to have a powerful primal central plot in the film, people don't go to martial arts movies for the plots. They go for the martial arts. And there are a number of incredible sequences using a variety or weapons and fighting styles. What's your favorite? The prison yard? The subway car? The hotel ballroom? The guy with the baseball bat? Kinetic fighting inside a four-seater?
Nothing's predictable. At the halfway point, after some great sequences in large rooms, I was thinking the director liked doing action on a big canvas. But that was until he started doing great fights in halls and alleys. By the time he gets to doing vibrant martial arts inside of a not-that-big moving car, you realize he'll do his action anywhere he can.
If I were one of those reviewers or critics who reviews multiple things and feels that requires finding some way to link them all together in the hook to that week's review colum, I guess I'd be talking about the shared love of film history that one sees in both this and Muppet Most Wanted. I saw lots of Kubrick in The Raid 2. The classical tune "Sarabande," which plays for an entire reel in Barry Lyndon gets a decent workout here. There's a hotel ballroom that could be considered the heir to the Gold Room at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, complete with a bathroom attendant, a decent facsimile of the bar itself, and a resplendent color scheme that goes well with the color of the blood that will be nicely spilled before the movie's 2.5 hours are over. Attached to the hotel ballroom is a nicely sized hotel kitchen that Dick Halloran would probably have enjoyed cooking in. At one point a car stops in the middle of a group of burnt-out buildings that would have done nicely for the major urban battle set piece in Full Metal Jacket. I was a little disappointed that we didn't get a full-on martial arts sequence in the space.
The movie's long at 2.5 hours, but it moves. If you see one martial arts movie in 2014, there's an excellent chance you'll wish it to be this one.
- 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.