Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Trio of Reviews: MUPPETS...MOST WANTED, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, and VERONICA MARS

Entertainment
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MUPPETS: MOST WANTED

Back to old-school Muppet movies and that's....okay. Mostly it's okay because of the musical input of Bret McKenzie (of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS) for the songs. The previous MUPPETS movie was a true "meta" film focusing on reintroducing the Muppets to relevancy in the modern day with a clever parallel storyline with the Muppets themselves attempting to reenter the public scene relying on nostalgia to fuel their move into the future. This movie is not q...uite as clever in that sense. It just picks up the baton from the final scene of that movie and jumps right into another Muppets adventure that fits within the same pattern as THE MUPPET MOVIE, THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER, and THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTEN.

This is not a bad thing, but it is a slight step back in terms of that higher sense the previous movie had about exploring universal themes of self-identity and self-worth. This one is simply going for laughs and it delivers. It's funny. It's enjoyable. It's clever. Tons of gags throughout but the best bits involve a musical theater performance by the celebrity inmates at a Siberian gulag and the comedy gold interplay between Ty Burrell and Sam Eagle.

Ty plays a French detective with Interpol and Sam is CIA. They team up to track down the Muppets because they believe they are involved in a series of heists throughout Europe. Every moment between these two is totally hilarious and the highlight of the entire movie is their "Interrogation Song". Funniest thing I've seen in a long time and worth the price of admission.

I wish the movie was laugh-out-loud hilarious all the way through, but it isn't. It's enjoyable but I wasn't always laughing. The previous film didn't have me laughing all the way through either, but as I said it had some higher themes it was exploring that gave it a little more depth. But I'm not going to complain because it was still fun and the celebrity cameo choices were positively inspired at times and wholly unpredictable.

Fun for the whole family. Enjoy.

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
 
 
 
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Such a strange movie. It's typical Wes Anderson in that exists in a super-stylized fairytale land divorced from reality but it tells an oddly compelling story.

It time jumps backwards then moves forward with the story of Gustave H., the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel in the early part of the 20th century. The story is being told to a modern writer by an aged former lobby boy who worked as a boy for Gustave.

The story involves the spread ...of fascism in Europe, the theft of a Renaissance painting, a battle for an inheritance, and framing an innocent man for a murder. Along the way, the quirkiness of the characters takes center stage as Wes Anderson and his repertoire of favorite actors pop in and out to fill in roles where needed.

Ralph Fiennes makes the movie bearable. F. Murray Abraham and Jude Law are also compelling but their bookend parts are too small to be very relevant. Fiennes plays Gustave and he creates a character who I love without reservation. He is so smart and worldly wise but he hides it behind a façade of a narcissistic fop -- which he is anything but. In this, he reminds me of the Scarlet Pimpernel a bit. Watching the subtleties of his performance is what makes this film worth seeing. Adrian Brody and Willem Dafoe are ridiculous caricatures and Tony Revolori plays young Zero as flat as a first year middle-school theater student in his first play. Without Fiennes' fully realized performance the entire film would have fallen apart.

I know Wes Anderson films can be polarizing for some and there's almost this hipster-esque attitude with some of his fans as if they feel like they are part of a special little clique of specials who "get" it and everyone else is just too square. I guess there's always that possibility but I think I'm pretty hip to Anderson's approach and I think I "get" it, but whereas I thought last year's MOONRISE KINGDOM was excellent from start to finish, this one is a lot more miss than hit and Fiennes is who carries the entire film.

For the record, those of you who are self-appointed members of that Wes Anderson "clique", can you do me a favor in the future? Can you stop being so vocal in the theater and over-laughing at things that are chuckle-inducing at the most? That would be great. Also, if you could stop over-laughing everytime George Clooney, Bob Balaban, or whoever the next cameo appearance is shows up on screen? Yeah. That'd be great too.

Thanks.

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
 
VERONICA MARS
What's the most common complaint when a television series makes the jump to the big-screen? I would expect that the most common reason I have encountered over the years is the complaint about changes made to the show (or the viewer's expectations). With VERONICA MARS, I can assure any fans of the old TV show that they have no reason to worry about that.

The Kickstarter-funded VERONICA MARS movies is exactly what a fan would want and expect. It is a murder ...mystery in Neptune, California that involves Logan, Dick, Max, Wallace, Keith, Veronica and all the gang. The only difference? It's 10 years later, and set against their high school 10 Year Reunion.

It felt as comfortable as a good old shoe with memory-foam soles. The mystery has some surprises, but it all fits within the pattern of the rest of the mysteries in the series and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Grown up Veronica is just as good as teen Veronica and the dysfunctional chemistry between her and Logan is just as strong as it always was.

I felt like it was about as good as something like this could get. I hope they can crank out some more Veronica Mars films or "kickstart" a new tv-series out of this. It was not entirely clear to me whether someone who had no prior knowledge of the tv show would be able to enjoy the movie. It can be difficult to separate your past experience in a situation like this. My teenaged daughter, thankfully, got immediately hooked into the movie and is now interested in going back and watching the tv show. So that gives me hope.

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

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