Skip to main content

I’ve seen detergents that leave a better film than this.

The Muppet Movie
(1979)

(SPOILERS) I like The Muppets – love some of the individual ones – but I’m not sure the movie format has ever entirely suited them. Their best puppeteered foot forward in this regard may actually be the spoof/pastiche format adopted by The Muppet Christmas Carol and Treasure Island in the 90s, since it ensures a robust frame for whatever mayhem and gags they wish to hang on it. Here, in their first big screen outing, events are strung together in a freewheeling “genesis of The Muppet Show” narrated prequel format that only fitfully offers inspiration (and laughs).

The Muppet Show writers Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl duly transfer to screenwriting and James Frawley, of The Big Bus – producer Julia Phillips said of him, “I always think of him as Jim Fraud-ly. His claim to fame is that he failed as an actor and succeeded as the director of most segments of The Monkees” – was signed as director. It seems no one was very happy with the choice, Frawley included, hence the Jim Henson and Frank Oz helmed sequels. The picture does make that transition to locations effectively, though, even if the choice of full body muppets (Kermit on a bike, Fozzie dancing on stage) sometimes feels unnecessarily ostentatious.

The travelogue format – Kermit leaves his Florida swamp for LA with the promise of auditions for frogs (“You get your tongue fixed, you could make millions of people happy”), meeting various regulars along the way, while hassled by Charles Durning’s frog legs restaurateur, who wants Kermit as spokesperson – is simultaneously loose enough to insert whatever business comes to mind, but not sparky enough to lead to anything truly off the wall. The succession of cameos – James Coburn, Telly Savalas, Carol Kane, Elliot Gould, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Orson Welles, Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise – pass by largely without a titter. Steve Martin’s Insolent Waiter at least gets to riff a bit, while Mel Brooks rolls out a mad German scientist. Paul Williams also shows up, as well as providing the tunes. He’s a fine songsmith but none of the songs here really count as classics.

So it’s left to the more meta-elements to yield the best and cleverest laughs. The framing device finds the Muppets gathering for a movie screening showing how they really got started (“Well, it’s approximately how it happened”). Statler and Waldorf roll up in a limo (“We’re here to heckle The Muppet Movie”). At one point, Kermit pulls out a copy of the screenplay to avoid providing Dr Teeth and The Electric Mayhem with a lengthy recap of how he and Fozzie Bear came to be at their old church. Subsequently, this is used by Dr Teeth to find them when they are stranded in the desert (I did think they shouldn’t have cut away when Dr Teeth stops reading at the point of Kermit and Fozzie entering the church, and should instead have carried on to the point where Kermit hands him the script).

Later, the film breaks down – à la Gremlins 2: The New Batch – thanks to the Swedish chef’s inept projecting (“I’ve seen detergents that leave a better film than this” observes Waldorf). Come the end, Lew Lord (Welles) allows them to turn their trip to see him into their first movie (complete with studio flats), and as it concludes, Sweetums, who has been chasing after Kermit for most of the film, bursts through the projection room screen.

There are also some dependably dry remarks from Sam the Eagle (“Kermit, does this film have socially redeeming value?” he inquires before it starts; asked what he thinks at the end, his verdict is “It was sick and weird”) The characters themselves are dependable, from the Kermit and Piggy simmering, one-sided passion (“Miss Piggy, you look beautiful” before adding to the audience “Movie talk”), to Gonzo and his derring-do (in the desert, Kermit finds himself talking to his better self: “He’s a little like a turkey”; “Yeah a little like a turkey, but not much” comes the reply).

What’s notable is how massive the movie was, released as it was during the heyday of the show. Inflation-adjusted, it was far and away the biggest of the franchise, and reached seventh for the year at the US box office, trailing Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien, but beating The Jerk and Moonraker. It thus sent Lew Grade on an unwise mission, boldly expanding his film productions, which led to Saturn 3 and more particularly, the enormous bomb that was Raise the Titanic. The Muppets would return to diminishing interest in The Great Muppet Caper (that’s the one with the John Cleese cameo), and by the time of the next, The Muppets Take Manhattan, they were due one of their periodic hiatuses.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983)
(SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. That doesn’t mea…

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ (or Zootopia as our American cousins refer to it; the European title change being nothing to do with U2, but down to a Danish zoo, it seems, which still doesn’t explain the German title, though) creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). It’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

So credit’s due to co-directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (of The Simpsons, Futurama, and latterly, the great until it kind of rests on its laurels Wreck-It-Ralph) and Jared Bush (presumably one of the th…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

"Predalien" The Alien-Predator-verse ranked
Fox got in there with the shared universe thing long before the current trend. Fortunately for us, once they had their taste of it, they concluded it wasn’t for them. But still, the Predator and Alien franchises are now forever interconnected, and it better justifies a ranking if you have more than six entries on it. So please, enjoy this rundown of the “Predalien”-verse. SPOILERS ensue…
11. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
An almost wilfully wrongheaded desecration of both series’ legacies that attempts to make up for AVP’s relative prurience by being as transgressive as possible. Chestbursters explode from small children! Predaliens impregnate pregnant mothers! Maternity wards of babies are munched (off-screen admittedly)! It’s as bad taste as possible, and that’s without the aesthetic disconnect of the Predalien itself, the stupidest idea the series has seen (and that includes the newborn), one that was approved/encouraged by ra…

Supposing I help you fix the bishop?

The Avengers 3.20: The Little Wonders
More memorable for Steed (undercover, naturally) planting a smoocher on a surprised Mrs Gale than its plot of Mafia-esque “clergymen” electing their new leader. This isn’t bad, and Macnee’s having a lot of fun as the Vicar of M’boti, but you can’t help feel it should have been a lot more lunatic.

Beardmore: What if he’s a phoney, and doesn’t know Harbottle was playing a double game?
The mob organisation is known as Bibliotek, and Steed is replacing the deceased Reverend Harbottle who, we learn, has been involved with another group led by Sister Johnson (Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell, who strikes a very Bond-esque image at one point, blazing away with a machine gun in a nurse’s uniform). She’s posing as the carer of the Bishop (David Bauer), the head of Bibliotek, while attempting to bring about his demise with Dr Beardmore (Tony Steedman of Citizen Smith). Complicating matters in a way that fails to really elicit interest is a German doll containing mi…