Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Muppets (2011)

       Years have passed, but the good ol' Muppet gang is back for a big screen show like never before. Probably what makes this Muppet movie so different is its self-aware attitude, and I must say, it's the best self-aware movie I've ever seen. As for the movie overall, if it isn't excellent, it sure as hell is fantastic. With great and hilarious performances from Jason Segel (who co-wrote the film), Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, and of course, the Muppets, The Muppets succeeds in making us believe in magic and optimism all over again and putting a huge smile on our faces.

       The story concerns Walter, the brother of Gary (Jason Segel); Walter is technically a Muppet, but the movie doesn't directly state this. He's been a fan of the Muppets nearly all his life, so when his brother tells him they're going to Los Angeles, Walter is ecstatic to see the old Muppet Studios. Once there, they realize it's pretty much run down and is to be taken over by a rich oil tycoon by the name of Richman (Chris Cooper). Walter decides to reach out to Kermit the Frog and the other Muppets to raise the appropriate funds to save the studio. All the characters in this film are great: Peter Linz voices Walter, an energetic character and a great addition to the Muppet cast; Segel is terrific as Gary, who's heart is always in the right place; Amy Adams plays Gary's girlfriend (of ten years) Mary, who is absolutely cool and adorable at the same time; Chris Cooper couldn't be funnier and more awesome as Richman; and all of the Muppets (Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, etc. etc.) are at the top of their game (for the most part, anyway). What's great is that every character gets their time to shine, which is something I really appreciated - plus, there are a ton of awesome cameos. My favorite characters, of course, are Statler and Waldorf, the two old Muppets who are always cracking jokes; each of their scenes is gold.

       Something that's note worthy are the effects. The Muppets look excellent and are as believable as they can be in a movie about Muppets. There are also musical numbers, which should be expected from a Muppets movie, but anywho: each of these musical numbers turns out being wonderful in some way or the other. And of course, this movie would be nothing without its jokes, but don't expect me to tell you what they are - there are too many to count anyway. Just be alert that this film's full of them and there's a high chance you'll laugh at each one (hopefully).

       Regardless of what you may think before or after the show's over, whether you grew up with these characters or don't even know who they are, The Muppets is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and keep you happy and optimistic the whole way through. It features great performances from all involved and leaves you with a wonderful attitude. In a world where cynicism and negativity reign, it's extremely nice for a movie like this to come along and show us that sometimes all we need to do is believe in ourselves and keep smiling. Movies like The Muppets need to come out more often.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Superman II (1980)

       Superman and Superman II were originally to be filmed back-to-back, but ultimately, production on II was halted to complete Superman. Once it was completed and a success, the crew went back to finish II. However, Richard Donner, the director of the first film, was not asked to finish the film (that job went to Richard Lester); the reasons vary, but the main reason seems to be creative differences. At this time, Donner had already filmed what he says was 75% of the film, so what ended up happening was Lester re-filmed certain scenes and changed up some stuff, which led to the film being, technically, co-directed, with 65-75% of the film being shot by Lester and the reaming being done originally by Donner. To this day there is still controversy on the whole thing. Donner's true vision was never shown to the public until him and some of the crew restored and made Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut in 2006. Regardless of the controversy and problems, Superman II was a big hit with fans and critics alike, with some saying it surpasses the original. 

       Indeed, Superman II manages to be better than its predecessor - as a movie, anyway. What I mean to say is this: Superman had a better story but Superman II was a better movie overall. Much of this has to do with the fact that Superman II is really a continuation and conclusion (of sorts) to the story that began in Superman. The film stars everyone who was important in the first film (except Marlon Brando) and the cast do an excellent job again. While some characters don't get as much spotlight as they did in the first film (Lex Luthor, Perry White) the film makes up for it (and makes you forget about it) with three characters that first appeared in the original: General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O'Halloran). These three are the main villains of the movie and are the best part of Superman II. But what would Superman II be without the Man of Steel himself? Christopher Reeve returns, being just as great as he was in the first one and Margot Kidder also returns as Lois Lane, who is much more likable this time around.

       The story continues from Superman, bringing along with it slight allusions to the story of Christ (Resurrection) and great themes concerning the idea of self-fishness and accepting one's destiny. Like I said, the story isn't as good or as epic as the first film, but it's continuing a story so it's understandable and forgivable, especially when the action makes up for it. That's something Superman II has that Superman didn't seem to have too much of: action.

       The bad guys are great and true individuals: Zod is an arrogant egomaniac who keeps telling people to kneel before him and plans to rule the planet Earth (because he can, right?); Ursa is Zod's second in command and she is a sexy and cold foe with moves of her own and an attitude that shows she cares not for human life (her outfit is also the only one of the three that has opened slits on it's arms and legs, revealing her skin, which didn't seem like a surprising choice of style in her costume's design); Non is a brute that is -what else?- mute, but still a force to be reckoned with. The three Kryptonian villains wreak havoc whenever they're around and it's their interactions with Earth and it's people that is, in my opinion, the best part of the movie. Every scene involving them is excellent and arguably their scenes alone can make the film worth watching. As for Superman? He's just as super as ever: saving the day and being the good guy he was born to be. Clark Kent is also just as fantastic, maybe even better than how we was last time, but that's debatable (not to mention a pointless thing to debate). Lois Lane seems to be the most improved here, not being as annoying and being more entertaining. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman, receiving top billing once again) is just as arrogant and hilarious, but like I mentioned before, he isn't in the movie as much (some of his scenes were cut). Even so, he still has scenes that are true highlights (one scene involving him and Ursa is a particular favorite of mine).  

       Sadly, I don't have as much to say about this film as I did for the first (probably because it's not as epic and doesn't have as much depth), but I do have some other things to say: The film is a bit shorter than Superman. II also features a main title sequence nearly identical to the first film (with some scenes from the first movie thrown in). The score isn't composed by John Williams this time, but it still features some of his original compositions. Unlike Superman, II doesn't seem to take place in a specific year, but we can only assume it's '79 or '80. The film has plenty of humor but didn't make me laugh as much as the first film did - maybe because I saw it in the morning in a college library as opposed to how I saw the first film: in my house at night with a glass of soda. There's also a scene that I thought was awesome for no reason involving Superman and a cellophane S (you might even know what I'm talking about). Also, Marlboro has its brand shown more than once throughout the film, but is only obnoxious about it in one popular sequence; this is because Marlboro was II's biggest sponsor. The one scene I found a tad unnecessary involves Zod and Ursa using their blow-wind-from-my-mouth power to blow people and cars away. There's nothing wrong with the scene itself, I just think it went on longer than it had to. Also, it should be mentioned that the special effects in this film are spectacular.

       Superman II is a film that doesn't so much improve on its predecessor as much as it takes a slightly different approach and makes a better film overall. While the story isn't as grand, the film has more action, more enjoyable characters, a great ending, and terrific dialogue, featuring some of the best quotes I've heard in any movie ("Lex Luthor, ruler of Australia"). The action is great and the romance between Lane and Kent builds up to gather interest (or at least some interest). And even with a less than amazing story, the film still manages to address grand themes of sacrifice and destiny that, if elaborated on in this review, would surly spoil the film. Overall, Superman II is an excellent picture that rivals the original and has still to this day garnered respect and praise by fans and critics alike.