Muppets Most Wanted

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2011’s reboot of The Muppets was exactly what the furry troupe needed with Jason Segel sentimental yet warmly funny script and Brett Mckenzie (of Flight of the Conchords) trademark comedy song writing we were treated to a movie which stood up to the original series and in some aspects surpassed them. It was a box office smash and now being a Disney property a sequel was inevitability. This time round Segel’s no longer on board but with a replacement human lead in the form of Ricky Gervais and more original songs from Mckenzie this crime caper adventure still held promise.

Muppets Most Wanted begins exactly where The Muppets left off, it literally begins with the ‘The End’ firework that closed the first movie and we immediately found ourselves treated to our first musical number, ‘We’re Doing a Sequel’ and from here on the laughs come thick and fast. The plot sees Gervais’ Dominic Badguy assuming control of The Muppets and offering to take them on a world tour. Little do they know Badguy is not all kosher and is in fact in cahoots with the most wanted criminal in the world and Kermit doppelganger Constantine. Together they’ve hatched a plan to switch places with Kermit seeing the friendly frog sent to stay in Gulag while Badguy and Constantine find a way to the crown jewels framing The Muppets as they go. Hot on their trail though are Sam the American Eagle and French police office Jean Paul Napoleon (Ty Burrell) who provide us with perhaps the best laughs of the film most of which come from the ridiculous stereotypes exemplified by Burrell’s delightfully over-the-top Frnechman. Similar amounts of humour are to be found in the Gulag scenes as Kermit is entailed to teach inmates, who include the likes of Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta, how to perform a Broadway musical. Though the laughs don’t stop this film does suffer from a lack of heart, that sentimentality that Segel managed to inject into part one is missing here and by the films overlong climax this does become quite apparent and unfortunately for me the last ten to fifteen minutes don’t manage to keep the momentum going.

Overall though this is a sequel that on a comedy aspect is perhaps even better than the first part, however, its lack of heart means that as a while this isn’t quite a complete piece of work. Definitely worth a watch though for some light entertainment with good jokes and some great songs.

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Starred Up

starred-up_1109This week I got gifted to a free preview screening of this new prison drama starring Jack O’Connell. Eric (O’Connell) is a young offender with a real violence issue who is transferred for the first time to adult prison. He is prematurely transferred as the term ‘starred up’ means he has caused too much trouble for the juvenile prison to contain him. Things don’t go well to begin with at the new prison and then he runs into his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who is himself very quick to anger and has caused Eric some real emotional trauma in the past by being absent (presumably behind bars). An anger management counsellor, Oliver (Rupert Friend), tries to take Eric under his wing and begins to make real progress but Neville doesn’t like to think that someone is doing a better job with his son than he is and what follows is a gripping, gritty and important prison drama for our times.

In all the reviews I’ve read for the film so far the acting has been the main source of praise, and it’s hard to argue with that. O’Connell’s troubled youngster is so believable its hard to separate the actor from the character. A perfect example of the kind of kid that society has given up on. Mendelsohn is also brilliant, his Neville is short on brains and an obvious pointer to why Eric is the way he is, he’s made into a fully fleshed human being by Mendelsohn and is exactly the kind of character you imagine would exist in jail. The writing deserves commendation as well creating a simple plot that remains gripping throughout and really manages to gain an emotional attachment with the audience, it is only let down by an abrupt ending that seems a bit out of place and far-fetched, it’s as though they previously thought the ending didn’t have enough punch and ended up rushing an over dramatic set piece finish. That said it’s not enough to make you view the film as a lesser piece of work, this is one of the most complete British drama’s you will find at the cinema this year.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Starred Up would be a cheaply written, youth oriented prison drama for the Kidulthood generation but in reality this is a gripping, realistic portrayal that brings forward some important issues about our society. One of the very few great British dramas around, go and see it!

True Detective – Season 1

HBO's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary FukunagaHBO’s latest offering brough us Matthew Mconaughey and Woody Harrelson as two homicide detectives involved in a dark case. With the initial murder taking place back in 1995 the show flits between then and now. Mconaughey’s Rust Cohle and Harrelson’s Marty Hart are first time partners on the original case but in the modern day Rust has gone off the rails and is a chain-smoking alcoholic, and the pair haven spoken for years. Being interviewed separately about the case they believed to have been solved seventeen years ago but another body has been found. All eight episodes of the season are written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga giving the series an overall style and feel that many shows can’t manage as a collaborative medium.

It’s true that there are a lot of detective shows out there, in all different shapes and forms television has always been obsessed with murder investigations and dirty cops. So the question is why should True Detective be the one you watch? Well, where to begin. The most staggering thing about this series is the quality of the writing. It’s a very dialogue heavy show, which may not suit everyone, but this provides an excellent basis for character development and it doesn’t take long before you see these two A-List movie stars as their characters. Pizzolatto’s scripts are deliciously dark with very little in the way of happiness but he has a real knack for creating flawed protagonists that are still likeable if, at times, questionably immoral. As the tension of the investigation builds so does the action, which is handled ridiculously well by Fukunaga, you may have seen around that episode four (perhaps the greatest hour hour of television you will see for a long, long time) features a six-minute unbroken tracking shot during an undercover mission where, to put it bluntly, shit hits the fan making the show every bit as exciting and cool as any blockbuster movie you’ll go and see. And of course, none of this greatness could have been achieved without a cast to match and Mconaughey and Harrelson deliver some of the best performances of both their careers. Mcounaghey, of late, has become the most exciting actor around and his turn here is probably equal to that of his Oscar winning portrayal in Dallas Buyers Club. Harrelson is just as good, neither of the two ever steal the attention and instead manage to create this very real volatile relationship with each other.

Television is improving at such an astonishing rate that we will soon never be without top quality shows like this. True Detective shows us just how far TV drama has come in recent years and brings with it some of the best stuff you will see on your screens this year. let’s hope they don’t ruin it with a lacklustre second season because this is damn near perfection.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

grand-budapest-hotel-filmWes Anderson for some time now has been one of the biggest indie directors around. With a slight dip in form occurring with 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, both of which are enjoyable but lacking a certain heart, Anderson seems to have rediscovered himself following on from his animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. So in 2014 he returns with The Grand Budapest Hotel, a sprawling crime caper with a cast bigger than one of those terrible ‘New Years Eve’ type movies. Starring Ralph Fiennes as the spectacularly posh/camp owner of the Hotel, M. Gustave, a character who has always had a special relationship with his older lady visitors is gifted a priceless painting by one of his closest visitors when she is murdered. This doesn’t go down particularly well with her sons though and this begins a manhunt for Gustave with an aim to frame him for the murder.

This is perhaps Anderson’s most precise work, known for his meticulous style The Grand Budapest takes this a new level, at least in live action. It’s so perfectly framed with every little detail designed to be just so the film often feels like an animation in the same vein as Fantastic Mr Fox. And here the script really suits the style, the script and the aesthetic merge together to create what could well be Anderson’s best realised comedic universe yet. The casting is flawless too, Fiennes’ performance is inspired as the rather bizarre but inifinitely likeable Gustave and other highlights come from his lobby boy, newcomer, Tony Revolori who is Gustave’s protege and best friend. Willem Dafoe as Jopling, is a psychopathic son of the murdered Madame D. and with very few lines he brings probably the most laughs of anyone. The cast is so large, though, and all of them perform so well that I can’t mention tham all as much as I would like. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a bit slow to kick things off and it does spend slightly too long setting the scene but when events do start picking up it is well worth the wait and as it builds to a climax the visuals become more and more impressive in equal measure to the humour. This is a prime example of an auteur confident, accomplished and at the top of his game.

This may not be a film for people who aren’t familiar with Anderson but for those who are this is certainly one of his best. And a prime example of his unique style. Although I wouldn’t go as far as this is his best film this continues a blinding run of form for the writer-director and is up there with his best works.

House of Cards – Season Two

Kevin-Spacey-in-House-of-Cards-Season-2-Chapter-26Since season one of the show I have watched the first two series of the original British version. What’s quite impressive is that the first three-part British miniseries covers the same more ground than the entire first 13-episode American season. By the end of this second season we have still only reached the point in the plot that the original British version reached in three episodes. That said it would be a bit too easy to judge this American incarnation on the fact that it’s spread the plot across so much more material, and it would be very unfair. So we rejoin Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) after seeing just how ruthless the pair of them can be at the end of the first season.

Episode one doesn’t hang about in hitting that ruthlessness home with a very sudden and unexpected death of a major player in proceedings. From here on in Frank and Claire become more and more cold and calculated as they plot Franks rise to the Presidency not caring about any casualties on the way. In the first season one of the issues was that the power-hungry couple were unrivalled in their ability and only a very small handful of characters had them properly sussed. In this season that issue is addressed and it makes for much more entertaining viewing seeing the Underwoods struggling to keep people on their side, and for the first time see their positions actually threatened. However, when the episodes start to come to an end it seemed as though none of this threat had any point to it and we come out of season two still believing that Frank and Claire are completely untouchable. On top of this we have a number of new storylines in this season which when we get to the end seem to have very little bearing on what actually matters. For example we have our computer hacker, Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson) who has quite a few scenes and whenever he’s around I just simply didn’t care. We also had Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan) an ex-call girl linked with Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) who until the very end of the season seems to have very little bearing on the main plot, that said she does do something very interesting when the season draws to a close. It may well be that these stories will eventually have bearing on proceedings but in season two particularly in the middle section that they just detract from what the shows actually about. I can’t even begin to try and understand why they felt the need to include a scene involving Franks, Claire and a certain assistant in some sharing a very strange experience which again seemed to have no point other than to provide the show with a sex appeal that it didn’t have before, but did it need it?

For me season two is another very enjoyable collection of TV but it felt like it spent too much simply treading water, though I said it would be unfair to judge it against the concise nature of the British nature I really think this could have done with being significantly shorter. That said this is still a show worth watching and I look forward to it’s third season.

 

CAGE RAGE: Zandalee

Zan1Zandalee looked very much like a promising venture for Cage. Featuring one of the most insane Cage meltdowns and casting the man himself as a manic artist who acts on impulse and is, supposedly, really sexy. What ensued however was one of the worst things I have ever witnessed in my life.

The plot, if you can call it that, follows Zandalee (Erika Anderson) who is having marriage problems with her poet husband, Thierry (Judge Reinhold). Being such an emotional sol Thierry has deemed himself unfit to have sex with Zandalee anymore, this is explained through his ridiculously non-sensical and just plain boring dialogue. It actually beggars belief just how absolutely awful his dialogue is, its as if with every line he’s attempting to speak poetry but none of it sounds good nor has any meaning. After watching this film for ten minutes you learn that it’s actually impossible to pay any attention to any of the dialogue because its such utter drivel. So, anyway, Zandalee and Thierry are having their problems and then Cage turns up and Zandalee falls for him eventually leading to a sexual fling. After a couple encounters between the pair Thierry catches on to what’s going on between them and starts to go about dealing with the issue in a really bizarre way. There are ridiculous scenes in which he talks in his strange anti-poetry and explains that he should be angry with someone for sleeping with his wife but is actually grateful that he’s satisfying her in a way that he can’t. When things draw to a climax the three of them go on a trip away with a speed boat and things kick off in what is possibly the lamest resolution ever written. After this Cage has his meltdown, in which he covers himself in black paint.

As great as the meltdown is this makes up for five minutes of an hour and forty of completely awful shit. This may well be the worst film I’ve ever seen, perhaps, even worse than Stolen and not even a Cage meltdown can save this, its a wonder anyone involved in this movie went on to have a career in the business.

CAGE RAGE RATING – 4/5 (begrudgingly)