Lets put in on front street, A Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my number one favourite films of all time. I watch it every Christmas with my family, and even if it were not an amazing film it is imbued with enough fond memories, and the weight of tradition, that I would love it anyway. It is in this context that we must consider my opinions regarding the latest Muppets offering, Most Wanted. That is to say, my entire Muppet rubric is framed within A Muppet Christmas Carol. Those other films, Treasure Island, and In Space, and whatever else there was, as well as the show, barely register on my radar, such is my all encompassing love of the Christmas tale. Those films are not bad or anything, I just don’t watch them every year without fail. The thing is, the Muppets are now conceptually attached to a certain time of year, a certain feeling, and clearly, the Christmas Carol being my primary frame of reference, it is also unavoidable that it will become my key comparison piece. Is Most Wanted better than A Christmas Carol? Honestly, absolutely no idea, it might well be. It has brilliantly utilized cameos, a storyline which bumbles along nicely without being too complicated, but with enough going on to have some Muppet madness, and a good few laughs for good measure, as well as being aware enough of the Muppets mythos as to make it interesting for aficionados. But the question is, does it all feel a little flat because it is not Christmas Eve? Because there is no penguin skating party? Because Michael Caine is nowhere to be seen? I am afraid I will never be able to answer, because I plan to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol every year until I die…or some kind of disaster befalls the planet and all Muppet based visual media is destroyed, and it shall forever remain at the very centre of my Muppet heart.
I am not usually a fan of films with narration. It seems like a bit of a cop out, a bit lazy, a bit like the film makers couldn’t quite come up with a way to convey everything they wanted to, or the actors don’t quite have the range. The last resort is to just have them say what is going on inside their brains out loud. Not the case here through, the absolute honesty of the narration here is what makes it brilliant. The films basic philosophy is that getting rich is easy, at least it was a little while back, so easy in fact that if you are not rich then basically you are either too lazy, too stupid, or perhaps to honest, and really you deserve absolutely no sympathy. It’s exceptionally assholey about it as well, and this makes it gloriously good fun. No one really believes this, even if it was once true, I guess banking regulations have come a long way. But the tales of ludicrous mansions, beautiful (really, honestly beautiful) cars, insane parties and ridiculous yachts are so endearingly jealousy inducing that it almost makes one want to believe that there is still millions to be made and smuggled into accounts manned by fantastic Swiss bankers. It is so easy to watch because no one really has a bad time in this film, even when bad things are happening, money makes bad things far more exciting than the everyday normal bad things that happen to the rest of us. It all comes back to that narration, its what holds this philosophy together, what explains it, and what makes it all seem more realistic. Well it is based on a true story after all, how true? I am sure we’ll never know.
The first Raid film was something of a manly masterpiece, it could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. The second installment had something to live up to then, and a lot to lose. I am pleased to report though that it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, I would be so bold as to say it exceeds the original. That film was a pretty simple affair plot wise, sounding dangerously like a computer game, our hero had to fight his way up a building to the highest floor, where some sort of boss character waited. The second film does away with this plot, presumably because it can only really be done once, and relegates the titular raid to the very end of the film, leaving the rest wide open for all sorts of amazing fights in prisons, fights in night clubs, fights in offices, fights in kitchens, fights in car parks, fights in loading bays, fights just about everywhere to be honest … and a car chase. In between all the fightin is a far more involved plot than the first film, which is especially impressive because here we pick up almost immediately after the first installment ended, and are launched into the confusing and dangerous world of crime syndicates, corrupt cops and undercover work that would inevitably follow a raid of such epic proportions as the first film depicts. The only real issue is that it requires slightly more from the viewer in terms of suspension of disbelief. Whereas the first film involved falling through floors, taking people by surprise and generally a whole bunch of improvised weapons, the second film rather assumes that crime syndicates will not, on the whole, have a large stash of automatic weapons laying around, and that the best way of taking people out is not, contrary to popular belief, putting a slug in their dome, but to send large numbers of relatively inept henchmen to fight them to death. None the less, if the only issue with a film is that it wouldn’t really happen like this in the real world, its gotta be a pretty good film.
Batman. I really like Batman. So it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch the Lego Batman movie. Pinpointing the source of this trepidation is difficult. The Lego movie was brilliant, Batman is amazing, there doesn’t seem like much that can go wrong with the combination. The issue though was that the Lego movie relied heavily on its meta-this is controlled by human/creativity is good storyline, and this is essentially something which can only be done once. I was wondering just how they were going to play this. Well, the first thing to note is that the film works, its really good fun, the story bumbles along nicely and the film makers have really managed to carry on performing that special trick of making Lego characters engaging. This is what is confusing for the first half an hour though, the fact that it is Lego Batman, rather than just Batman, doesn’t seem to make the slightest bit of difference. No one does anything specifically ‘lego-ey’. It is all made far more confusing by the go to Batman reference point being the 89/97 Batman quadrilogy, its like the Nolan trilogy has not happened, until a hokey and overly self aware Joker fails to blow up a building on the first try, a la the brilliant hospital scene in The Dark Knight. Its like the fun mash up Lego-ness has morphed out of the bricks and into a confusing (but exciting) plethora of cultural references. Brilliant fun, but the question remains, why does this need to be Lego at all? Unfortunately it remains that these films are there to sell the games which may or may not be there to sell the actual, physical Lego, who knows which makes the company more money, and the tie in for DC comics is nothing short of marketing genius. As the film progresses the Lego element does become more pronounced, things get rebuilt and re-arranged, a pretty brilliant costume change involving whole legs and torsos occurs and the Green Lantern shows up, a character whose power seems to cohere so well with the concept of Lego that its a wonder the movie we saw in the cinema wasn’t based around him entirely. Its a good movie, fun, interesting and just self aware enough to have something for die hard Bat fans as well as, well, people who like Lego I guess, but no matter how good it is it will never escape the fact that it exists really to sell something else.
In the middle of a Non Stop (see, thats the title right there) flight Bill, a lonesome alcoholic grumpus with a heart of gold, receives a message telling him that unless lots of money is transferred to a specific account, someone is going to die on the plane. He has twenty minutes to get to the bottom of it or transfer the money, or the whole cycle begins again. The thing is, Bill is Liam Neeson, and Liam Neeson has a very specific set of skills in every film he is in. Here his specific set of skills is plane based detective work, general fightin skills, and being awesome. In real life Liam Neeson has an OBE. Skills. Its a sort of air based whodunit, with added Neeson, there isn’t anything spectacularly original here, but its brilliantly made, ratchets up the tension well and is a lot of fun. The film relies heavily on something that everyone ambiguously refers to as “the network”, some kind of magical in flight wifi/phone system, so one assumes that in the Non Stop world the whole “can we use phones on planes” thing has been resolved. It also makes pretty heavy use of controversy surrounding air marshals (go figure), but doesn’t go out of its way to resolve anything. Anyway, its a solid watch, with Neeson doing what he does best , because really, who doesn’t want to see Neeson fighting four guys at once in a stewards cabin.
Robocop raised a lot of issues that could have just as easily been discussed in relation to Captain America : Winter soldier. Likewise, a lot of the issues surrounding the purpose and likability of the main character in that film apply here also (aka, go read that article too: http://wp.me/p2VTuq-9Q ) . In many respects the two films can be seen as very similar, they both feature a strong hero who has found themselves out of place, time, body – somehow, fighting against a larger, oppressive force that seeks to employ drones to control a population. That these two films deal so explicitly with this is indicative of increasing concerns around the use of drones both in combat situations and in everyday life. Or at least, this is what the studios would like you to think. That both of these films require that the drones they depict require no human intervention to decide, and act with lethal force upon their targets is equally indicative that there is a perception in Hollywood at least that this is a universally recognized line in the sand, to use the accepted political terminology. What is interesting though is the heroes. Both Captain America and Robocop are clearly products of very complicated technology. It is only because their ‘humanness’ is emphasized throughout that they are allowed to operate with lethal force. Both Captain America, and Robocop kill people. Within the logic of these films they are permitted to do so because they have the ability to determine the guilt of that person, an ability they possess because they are human, but one they can act upon because they are technologically advanced. In effect, whilst they are clearly attempting to stop the emergence of an authoritarian technocracy (in a literal sense) they are in fact instigating their own, micro, versions of that very same dystopia. Why is this a problem? It is only a silly Robocop action movie after all. Well, that is kind of the problem. When I sat down to watch Robocop I wanted to watch
robots/humans/cops/robohumans/hucops/romans/robocops fight in ridiculous action scenes, I didn’t ask for a social commentary that is so half thought through that it contradicts itself in a most spurious way. In fact, there are even action films which do this properly anyway (Judge Dredd, Blade Runner). What it all comes down to this, I want Robocop and Captain America to kick bad guys asses, and all the bad guys have to do to be bad guys is kill a few innocent bystanders, or maybe drop kick a baby to earn the wrath of our heroes, not bloody well build machines to kill every person on the planet in a sort of twisted version the first grand theft auto game. These films should be seen for what they are, attempts by the studio to engage with hot button issues in a vague (and vain) attempt to make their product seem more socially conscious and intelligent. We’ll see if the relative success of the no nonsense Expendables movies bears this out, but I don’t watch this type of film to think about the potential of our world to descend into technological warfare. If this means Arnie and Stallone have to be cryogenically frozen and wheeled out to make an old school action movie every five years, thats technology I am getting behind.
I am a big fan of the First Avenger, the first of the Captain America movies. Far from coming off like a jingoistic asshole as I feared he would, he was presented as a sort of down to earth, slightly conflicted, but quite relatable guy who you couldn’t help but like. This sense of the person remains intact in Winter Soldier, what has fallen apart though is the world the Cap inhabits. Whilst the first film depicted a charmingly silly WWII scenario, Winter Soldier has transplanted the poor old Cap to a cold, impersonal present day. The subtle, and fun satire of the Captains unwitting journey to propaganda icon, interspersed with some well shot action scenes has been replaced with ‘out of your time’ confusion, largely signaled by an inability to form heterosexual relationships, but also a list of ‘things to do’ in the future (the future being something like now). Heterosexual included there just because who says he even wants to go out with the nurse down the hall. The action scenes are still there, and they are pretty damn good, but really, aside from his ability to sling a shield at people, or even the fact that he has a shield at all, this could have been any old person. We could transplant Bond into his place without a second glance, all we have to do is take away the shield and replace the ‘not sleeping with the nurse’ storyline with a ‘sleeping with the nurse’ storyline. It is not a bad film but any stretch, it is exciting, its just lost all the originality that made the first one fun.
American Pie: The Reunion is a really enjoyable film, as enjoyable as the others, and a fine send off (one imagines…) for the characters, American Pie : Mid Life Crisis pending. What is also is though is one big ruse. The film goes well out of its way to convince us that these people, who we grew up with, who we related to, who we felt for, are now experiencing the same sort of issues that we are. It wants to convince us that we have all grown up together. One of the key aspects of the appeal of the American Pie movies was the absolute absurdity of the scrapes the characters find themselves in, but also that those same storylines contained just enough truth that it was easy to relate to them. So, as all the key characters reprise their roles in The Reunion those original problems, girls, boys, getting caught masturbating, problems in the bedroom have ostensibly transformed into the issues of a set of friends who have moved on with their lives. A good example of this is the issue which ties the film together, now, supposedly, the ‘we’re not having enough sex because we have a child’ issue. A grown up issue. Except, its not, really, the problem is actually just still ‘we’re not having sex’. I am not arguing that this is a problem which ruins the film, I’m willing to suspend disbelief in the name of fun, however it seems incongruous to go to such great lengths to establish the characters in such a way that they still retained a sense of being at least a little like you, then to have them accidently attend parties with eighteen year olds and generally behave in ways which mark them as more problematically immature than in the other films. Moreso in that the issues which people experience in college or high school are usually relatively benign and, in hindsight, quite silly. The issues the American Pie guys are facing though are less so, a potentially failing marriage, a loveless relationship, a deep seated unhappiness with where one has found oneself, the list goes on. To treat these issues with the same throw away silliness as the ones encountered in the other films is one thing, but to present, at the finale of the film, easily attained solutions to each of them is to denigrate them to the same level as being caught masturbating by an unwitting parent. One can only hope it is so simple in the real world.
‘Grey Wolf : Hitler’s Escape to Argentina’ is the least enigmatic title you’ll hear today. It is a docu-drama about, you guessed it, Hitler’s supposed escape to Argentina at the end of WWII. He didn’t die you see, in a move that marks him as significantly more cowardly than his (actual) course of action, he ran away. What a little shit. Needless to say, there are quite a lot of issues with this film. Starting with the obvious, that title. It leaves nothing to the imagination. Now, we live in a post Titanic world, whilst that film serves as a bastion of predictability in a volatile world, at least that wasn’t actually called “Titanic : It sinks”. To help out the film makers when they try to tell this film overseas I have come up with a few better potential titles. They are as follows: ‘HITLER : ALIVE’ – Short, to the point, and straight up scary, I’d watch this in an instant. ‘Return to Castle Grey Wolfenstein’ – To get the early 2000’s video game crowd interested, they are all grown up now and never met anyone to reproduce with (because: gamer stereotype) so have all the money. Finally, ‘Hitler’s Summer Kampf’ – which beside being in brilliantly bad taste is significantly better than ‘Grey Wolf’ which sounds like an action movie with an aging cast, plus the laboriously boring “Hitler’s Escape to Argentina”. If you are going to make an exploitative, ridiculous film like this at least name it
appropriately. One doesn’t need to watch the film because clearly its going to tell me that Hitler, fully the most hated man of WWII, didn’t in fact die in a bunker as his reich collapsed around him, but went and escaped to Argentina. He really, probably, almost certainly, probably, didn’t. There is an attempt to imply that the FBI were aware of all these nefarious goings on and let it go. One was not fully paying attention at this point (snoozing) but it is safe to say, the reasons given fall under the category of farm waste. The second issue with the film is perhaps a little more nuanced. It is based on a book, which apparently is far more detailed, as if more detail were needed in the telling of this annoying little story, which in turn relies in the eye witness testimonies of … eye witnesses. The film is structured in such a way that each of these eye witnesses basically voice overs their section of the story, so there is pretty much zero diagetic dialogue. This has two side effects. The first is that every time a new person starts speaking their name is written across the screen, even if we have heard them eight or nine times. The second, far more vexatious side effect is that, aside from the voice over, it is essentially a silent film, with exactly the sort of over zealous, flamboyant acting that silent films are famous for. Hitler’s friends in Argentina come off like a sort of collection of incongruous clowns, mugging and gesturing at each other as if emotion can only be conveyed via the medium of over zealous facial expressiveness. Finally though, what it comes down to is Hitler. No one is a fan of Hitler. I mean, say one was in the pub, slightly half cut, and woozily leans over to ones chum and stating “Hitler didn’t kill himself you know, he went to Argentina and lived there in a big old house then died… like, when he was old. He went all mad with the guilt and that as well”, thats interesting, thats a conversation starter, thats a way to awaken you and your drinking aide from an alcohol induced intellectual fug with a rousing “No bloody way, who says? there is no way that is true” before googling it to find out that only four ‘eye witnesses exist’. The point is, it doesn’t, shouldn’t, take 94 precious minutes to convey this idea. If it is true, so what? The asshole escaped justice by offing himself anyway, and the film implies that whilst he was shacked up in a pretty nice place in Argentina he hardly lived the life of riley even if he didn’t end it all in 1945, what with everyone in the world hating him, being betrayed by his own men, and generally losing his mind (one hopes from guilt). Telling this story isn’t going to make anyone feel any better about the man. Lets go back to that title attempt: “Grey Wolf: Hitler might have escaped to Argentina, where he died”. Now you don’t need to watch the film.
I felt a forceful dislike for The Piano grow within me as I watched it. An overwhelming, passionate hatred. Ostensibly a tale of repression, desire and ultimately love it is in reality an unsavory depiction of a love triangle populated at each corner by a person with, at least, severe mental problems, and more likely acute psychosis. One cannot honestly give a synopsis of the film, such is its downright preposterousness, needless to say it focusses on Ada, voluntarily mute, her violent husband through arranged marriage, and the illiterate man next door. In the center of this foolish trifecta is the piano. Set in a wet, muddy New Zealand wilderness the only aspect of the film which works is the juxtaposition of the ridiculous, inane, pompous, hateful whites with the native Maori, who, though showing signs of assimilation have retained a wisdom and honesty that marks them as the only truly likable characters in the film. We learn at the outset that even Ada herself doesn’t know why she is mute, aside from the fact that the film would ultimately not work if she chose to speak (or indeed, if George, the neighbor could read). Herein lies a problem which is indicative of the film as a whole, it relies fundamentally on its main characters simply deciding to not only do frankly reprehensible things, but also to carry them out in ways which would never occur to any normal person. One supposes this is the point, this, it seems is what love or sex, or lack of sex, or lack of love does to a person. But what are we if we are not perpetually not in love, or in love, or having sex, or not having sex. And yet somehow one makes it through entire days without doing unexpectedly deranged things to those around me and myself. One could argue that perhaps it is though that one is simply not passionate, or repressed enough, one however must then disregard the passion with which I dislike the Piano.