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.
Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 feature-length debut, Blue Valentine, was a dark, upsetting drama. Telling a story of a broken marriage as it falls apart the movie was one of the most assured debuts I’ve seen in a long time. He follows it up with this month’s The Place Beyond the Pines another family orientated drama but this time round the scale is a heck of a lot bigger. As well as bringing back Ryan Gosling, who also starred in Blue Valentine, Cianfrance’s cast is built by the likes of Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta and Eva Mendes all of whom pull in stunning performances to bring us another harsh slice of lives in poverty in America.
The way in which The Place Beyond the Pines’ plot unravels came as quite a surprise to me and I’m sure it will do to all of you so I can’t say too much. What I will say is the film ended up becoming a whole lot more of an epic that I thought it would be. It acts as a multi-stranded tale with fully-realised characters that seem as if you could have just picked up off the street. The film, mostly, does away with a structure for plot development and instead just ebbs and flows like life itself. There are no goodies, there are no baddies and everyone makes a mixture of good and bad decisions and everyone has to face the consequences of each others actions. The film has a very grand purpose behind it, but it’s a driving force that Cianfrance pulls off with the skill of a seasoned professional creating a deeply meaningful and affecting real-life which I rarely see coming in from over-the-pond the only comparisons are can draw to it are British directors like Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. That’s not to say, though, that …Pines doesn’t have something inherently American about it and it’s in the spark of originality that you can find Cianfrance’s auteuristic personality beginning to shine through, if he can do that after just two features I can’t wait to see what he can do with more.
If I can manage to stop waffling on about deep meanings of the film you need to know that it is, simply, a really great movie. Expertly cast with a group of actors all on the very cusp of being the biggest in the world, who are taken care of by one of the most promising directors in the last decade. The Place Beyond the Pines is a strong contender for film of the year already and I can not wait to see what Cianfrance has up his sleeve for us next.