Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Muppets Most Wanted (U)

I may have mentioned previously that getting to the latest filums is proving a tad tricky - what with life getting in the way n that - but I get there in the end.


But these delays cause other problems - not least when the rest of the world has already had its say on a film.

And EVERYONE has had their say on The Muppets.

You see, the problem with the Muppets is that people love them - and when you produce a film as good as the last one, expectations are high for the sequel. Almost unreasonably.

But they knew that.

Hence the opening song.

And in that opening four minutes you get all that is great - and bad - about Muppets Most Wanted.

Hell, they make the joke themselves about how the sequel is never as good as the previous film. They also point out that this isn't their first sequel.

And it's this self-knowing referential style that is the cause of some the problems with Muppets Most Wanted.

Granted I may be over-thinking this, but a film about theft (the gang go on a world tour so the top two criminals in the world can try and pinch the crown jewels) that steals from a myriad of other films is almost trying to be too clever.

Pretty much every prison break-out is ripped off, there's a gag about the number of famous cameos using Robin, the Marx Brothers' mirror scene makes an appearance... And the whole thing is put together like a long episode of the TV show that gave Kermit and the gang their big break.

Actually, on the subject of cameos, I think this is where the film may have suffered a bit in America - the majority of 'blink and you'll miss 'em' performances seemed to be the great and good of British film and TV.

Much as I love him, I'm pretty sure no one in America has heard of Russell Tovey.

And then there's the songs. There are so many shoehorned in that it actually derails the plot. And man are they shoehorned.

That's not to say the songs aren't good, they are - but it feels like the action stops every five minutes just to get another musical number in.

Although if I find out which writer came up with the Celine Dion number I will be using Harry's explosive skills to get revenge.

I can understand the flack this film has come under - it doesn't have the heart, love and sheer unbridled joy of the first one...

...but that doesn't make it a bad film.

I still laughed. A lot. All the main Muppets put in good performances. And the main human co-stars (Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell) shine.

Yes, the jokes are a bit lame (take a bow, Usher) and laboured at times - but that's kind of the point.

And no, it's not The Muppets (the last film, not the cast) - but it was never going to be once Jason Segel moved on to other projects.

But Gonzo's still Gonzo, there are two Kermits, Fozzy still isn't funny and Beauregard gets smacked in the face by a pigeon. That's pretty much all boxes ticked.

Most Wanted won't live long in the memory for many who saw it, but there is so much going on, so many little bits packed in to each and every scene, it will benefit from a second viewing.

If only to give you the chance to see what's on Dominic's business card...

Monday, 14 April 2014

Captain America The Winter Soldier (12A)

Time can be a cruel mistress - not only has it taken longer than is really acceptable to actually catch Steve Rogers' third cinematic outing, but further delays have resulted in a later-than-wanted review.

Sometimes I think it would be easier if I'd been frozen in ice for a few decades.

But that's by the by - it's been watched, it's being reviewed and all is hopefully well with the world.

Oh, and Robert Redford is in it.

Which is nice.

For the Marvel geeks out there, you know the score - this all happens post-New York, Rogers is out of the ice and kicking the butt.

For the casual reader who thinks Avengers was a piss-poor film version of a much-loved TV show, strap in. This could be bumpy.

(Marvel fans, go get a drink)

Right, in the first Captain America film, we are told the story of how the Cap came to be, and then came to be in modern America having been frozen in ice being all heroic during WW2.

And he missed his date with his gal, so he wasn't happy.

Then The Avengers happened, aliens tore New York a new one and Joss Whedon showed the world just how you make a multi-star epic work.

Which brings us to now.

(Marvel fans may return to the room, you've missed nothing)

It's a slightly odd wotsit that Winter Soldier is a sequel to an ensemble film rather than the first Cap film, but really that's where we're at.

Marvel is treating the film world like it's book universe - crossovers galore and you don't always need to have read/watched the previous instalment.

And that's certainly the case here.

There's enough filling in of backstory subtly laced through Winter Soldier to mean the casual film-goer won't have missed anything - and there's enough nods to what's happened to keep those in the know happy.

A good balancing act if you can pull it off.

This time around, Steve Rodgers is just kicking about waiting for his missions and making chums when...

...Well, quite a lot happens.

The mission  isn't what he thought it would be, people are working on 'needs to know' settings and Government actions become questionable.

Now, you may have seen or heard the odd review saying Winter Soldier has a kind of 70s thriller vibe going on.

It doesn't.

The only reason people are saying that is Redford. And he's not playing that guy. Quite the opposite.

Also, 70s thrillers - good as they are - don't tend to have 20-minute action set pieces where, variously, boats, cars and lifts full of people end up in bits.

And Winter Soldier is far more in tune with modern suspicions and paranoia. Although, to be fair, the 'what is The Man doing now?' motif is pretty timeless.

That said, there is far more going on here than simply another super hero blow-em-up blockbuster.

The opening salvo is pretty mild. Rogers is jogging, meeting a new friend, going on a mission - all ho-hum set-up stuff.

And then you realise that you haven't moved for a bit.

The tension and drama creep up on you while you're watching Nick Fury (yup, Sammy Jackson's back again) get shot at by the boys in blue.

Before you know it, you're gripped - and that's not a word one usually associates with a comic book caper.

Entertained, yes. Blown away, probably. Enthralled, almost certainly. But gripped?


You see directors Anthony and Joe Russo have managed to blend serious amounts of suspense, drama and plot twists with the big fight scenes we've come to expect.

Chris Evans, back as The Cap, has clearly found his feet and settled in to the shield, Scarlett Johansson has now made Black Widow her own, and Anthony Mackie soars as Falcon.

To be honest, Redford slightly jars here as he clearly wants to add a level of gravitas that seems slightly out of kilter - but hey, it's Bob, he still pulls it off.

And that's the only complaint.

Yes, it's long, but you barely notice. Yes, the final showdown is long, but it's shorter than the final battle in Avengers. Yes, if you've read the cast list there's a massive spoiler concerning the Winter Soldier, but that was always going to be a tricky cover given the fans knew what the score was.

Oh, and the hand-held camera work can induce mild sea sickness in those susceptible.

But these really are quibbles.

The action is very fast-paced. The slower, more political side of the plot still licks along at a fair pace, the performances are - to a man/woman - top draw, and there are a few laughs to keep you ticking along.

And the ending provides enough ammunition for the Marvel geek set to argue over where the film universe is heading for the next five years.

Pre-Avengers, Iron Man was leading the way for the film adaptations, with Captain America perhaps being more one for the fans.

Post-Avengers, there's a clear, darker tone as Marvel build to their next big showcase, and of the ones that have come out so far (Iron Man 3 and Thor 2), Winter Soldier is by far the best.

I know some believe Winter Soldier to be the best yet, a point I would have probably argued as I left the AMC in Manchester - but looking back, I think this could be the next big Marvel game changer.