2014 Written by James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller
Directed by James Bobin
The Muppets return again with a new adventure that feels strangely familiar. While it is great to see the Muppets actually being the stars of their movies again, Muppets Most Wanted lacks the emotional depth of some of the prior films to focus instead on a heist caper that features an evil twin and Muppets running wild under no supervision. The center core is buried a bit deeper, showing the Muppets can’t really survive on their own as they need Kermit’s guidance to keep them from drowning in their own excess.
In Muppets Most Wanted a new manager – Dominic Badguy – signs with the group and gets them to go on a world tour that suspiciously is happening in towns needed to get pieces for a jewel heist. More importantly, Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog, has escaped from his Russian gulag and managed to switch places with Kermit, who finds himself incarcerated while Constantine takes the place of our main frog. Hijinks then ensue. Muppets Most Wanted shines when it’s doing meta-commentary and breaking the never-present fourth wall. It continues literally from the final seconds of The Muppets, complete with Muppet confusion on what to do next. The opening song will go on to be touted as a manifesto for the film itself, and I particularly like the song Constantine sings as an apology to Miss Piggy, because it summarizes his entire allure to the group and why no one seems to notice anything is wrong. Constantine becomes a Satan character, promising the Muppets whatever they want to keep them happy while he and Dominic Badguy plot to steal the crown jewels of England. The various characters take this to extremes, resulting in increasingly bizarre and disastrous acts. Both Constantine and Dominic use unbridled freedom as a weapon and a distraction, but it soon becomes apparent just why oversight and control is needed. At times Muppets Most Wanted turns into Muppets Needful Things, but luckily things get solved for they start getting Stephen King disturbing.
Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) – Kermit is the leader of the Muppets and totally is not a dangerous criminal mastermind with a mole.
Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson) – The fabulous Miss Piggy may have finally convinced Kermit to marry her. But why does she feel weird about it?
Fozzie Bear (Eric Jacobson) – No he’s a-not, he’s a-wearin’ a neck tie!
Constantine (Matt Vogel) – The world’s most dangerous frog has escaped from Siberia and has a plan to go down in history as a master criminal. And it involves the Muppets! Posing as Kermit, Constantine lets the Muppets do whatever they want to distract them from the truth.
Walter (Peter Linz) – Walter is back and on tour with his new family, the Muppets. Only something is wrong….
Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) – The French-named new manager of the Muppets who leads them on the world tour that’s just an excuse to get the items needed for a heist.
Nadya (Tina Fey) – Runs the Siberian gulag that Constantine escaped from and Kermit is now held at. Like everyone there, they know Kermit isn’t Constantine but does nothing because she’s obsessed with Kermit and won’t let him go.
2012 Written by Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy
Directed by Jay Roach
Meeting of the International Brotherhood of Serious Men
Arriving early enough we aren’t sick to death of political commercials yet, The Campaign delivers solid laughs as it carpet bombs the political process. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis pull no punches in the dirtiest campaign ever, but sadly what might just be a glimpse at the future. As the battle gets increasingly fierce, the antics get increasingly wild. And just you watch, some idiot candidate will copy something from this film. It will happen.
What happens when you eat too much Curves cereal!
Money rules politics, now more than ever. The Campaign does more to show the problems with the Citizens United verdict than any documentary. Comedians are one of the few brave enough to spit truth in the face of grand power, and the only ones to do it in a way people will listen. The Campaign uses actual political parties, which I thought would hut the film, but actually makes it a stronger piece. It manages to hit all sides of political excess and holds no punches. Director Jay Roach was fresh off of Game Change, a serious look at the 2008 presidential election and the Sarah Palin decision, giving him added insight that helped sharpen the knives here.
Basic political speak is taken to the woodshed, and you realize just how stupid some of the buzzwords sound when outside of the political framework. Dogs are declared unAmerican, the Chinese become scary words as the current job-taking enemy du jour, and everyone under the sun becomes the backbone of America.
And once again Tars has sold out, as this was a pre-release free screening that I scored tickets to.
Snakes on a Campaign!
Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) – Your typical Bill Clinton Democrat, saying broad platitudes that even he knows are useless, all while banging any piece of tail that heads his way. His wife is there just because she likes to ride with winners, and Cam Brady is so caught up in being Congressman Cam Brady that he begins to make some fatal mistakes.
Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) – Noted community weird guy, Marty Huggins shows up out of nowhere to be the candidate on the Republican ticket. His innocent ways are soon steered into the mud thanks to a campaign runner provided by the Motchs (Tim Wattley) who teaches Marty how to fight dirty. Marty can become the candidate needed to defeat Cam Brady, but is he still Marty Huggins? The North Carolina setting is like coming home for Galifianakis, as his uncle was North Carolina Congressman Nick Galifianakis.
2011 Directed by James Bobin
Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
After a far-too-long absence at the theater (I remember going to see Muppets From Space in a deserted theater like it was yesterday…), the Muppets return to the big screen in a big way. And as you can guess from the mention of seeing Muppets From Space, I’m a huge Muppets fan. Enough that I can rattle off obscure background Muppets and spot errors on the Muppet wiki. But I’m putting the fanboy aside to give a nice objective review. And that review is positive. Not because I liked the film (I did), but because it’s a good film.
The Muppets are more than just puppets, just entertainment for kids. The Muppets are entertainment for all ages, treating the audience of all ages with respect and dignity. They may not have invented that kind of entertainment, but they rode it to a new plateau. Jim Henson was never afraid to tread new ground, always experimenting and improving, wanting to put out quality products that appealed to everyone.
As for the Pixar short before it – most of the jokes seem to be just the concepts of the fast food toy characters rather than actual story. But it is funny and does deal with abandonment issued and support groups. And some of those toys look like they come from neat fake franchises. I should just design fake Happy Meal toys as a hobby…
It’s time to start the music…
Gary (Jason Segel) – Our hero from Smalltown who loves his brother and also the lovely Mary. His attempts to please both of them cannot continue forever.
Mary (Amy Adams) – Gary’s long-suffering girl who has been waiting for him to propose for a decade now.
Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) – Evil oil baron who will buy the Muppet studios and tear it down to get oil. Spends most of the film trying to sabotage the plans to save the studio. And rapping.
Walter (Peter Linz) – Gary’s brother who was born a Muppet. Becomes obsessed with the Muppets and their number one fan. And begins the crusade to reunite them and save their theater from Tex Richman. As fun as Walter is to follow, I’m not sure he has what it takes to be an iconic Muppet. But when there’s a sequel they can probably come up with something cool to do with him.
Kermit (Steve Whitmire) – Our Muppet leader who realizes that the gang has dispersed and must go and get everyone back together to save the day again.
Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson) – Kermit and Miss Piggy have gone their separate ways, largely due to her gracious forcing of issues vs. Kermit’s low-key attempts to keep everything together. She is now a high-profile fashion editor at Vogue. But true love cannot be defeated, even between a pig and a frog on two different continents.
We all knew there would be a Puss in Boots movie the second the image of Puss with his giant cute eyes became a computer desktop background months before Shrek 2: Dark Territory hit theaters. And while the Shrek series has been on a rocketship to planet Crap, Puss in Boots manages to be more entertaining than any Shrek sequel. And I’m not just saying that because I liked the film and saw it for free at an advanced screening. In fact, I had a bad time at the theater until the film started, thanks to some awful customer service that guaranteed I’ll never buy concessions there again. But the humor was good enough to calm my nerves and even get me happy again.
Puss in Boots is a spinoff of the Shrek films, but manages to feel somewhat independent of the Shrek universe while still being a part of it. There are still fairy tale elements running around, but the desert environments, Mexican flavor, and wild west inspiration give us a different spin. We follow our familiar character, Puss in Boots, as he has a prequel adventure that is both a story of its own and an origin story (done in flashback.) The decision to not make it a direct origin story, but to start from a familiar place and then go backwards before heading forwards was the right one. We already like Puss in Boots, and don’t need to be sold on liking him. The flashback to his childhood instead is plot related, making it feel important and not just filler.
Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) – Our title kitty is the solo hero this time out. And gives us some much-needed awesomeness on full throttle. Puss in Boots was always awesome, and he’s still awesome when the spotlight is shone on him.
Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) – The famous feline thief you may have heard of, but if you haven’t, it’s only because she’s robbed your memory. The greatest thief eve becomes the love interest for our feature.
Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) – Puss’s old pal who turned to a life of crime and roped Puss into it. Now reformed, he’s trying to recruit Puss into one last big score, robbing the goose that lays the golden eggs.