Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Short Take: "The Muppets", "The Adventures of Tintin".

Appealing to nostalgia might not be the best angle to use in a society where history is constantly relegated to a previous, usually inferior, level of existence, however this is exactly what The Muppets does and it does it magically. Based on the beloved characters made famous by Jim Henson in the late 1970s, the film tries to rekindle the memories of those who loved the Muppets, while introducing them to a whole new generation.
Injected with the fresh blood of director James Bobin and musical composer Bret McKenzie (two of the men behind the amazing Flight of the Conchords) and writer/actor Jason Segel, the movie is a pure labor of love, done by the people who grew up with these characters and who wanted younger people to get to know them.
The movie in a way is a fictitious version of its creation. When it starts we meet Gary (Segel) and Walter, two brothers who live in Smalltown, USA and who grew up loving the Muppets (one of the first scenes has them watching the show together in an episode with Steve Martin as a guest). Walter has a special reason for loving them more: he is a Muppet himself.
Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Adams) take Walter to Los Angeles so he can make his dream come true and visit The Muppets' studio, however once there, Walter is appalled to find out that not only is the lot practically deserted, but an evil businessman (Cooper) has decided to steal it and turn it into an oil refinery.
Walter sets out on a mission to get all the Muppets back together and raise the money to save the studio.
Call it a mix between a telethon (moviethon?), an old fashioned "let's put a show together" spectacle and a trip down memory lane.
The film goes the extra mile to put a smile on audience faces while paying tribute to the enormous legacy The Muppets have had in pop culture but more than that it works as a superb exercise in postmodern theories regarding memory and its direct relation with mass entertainment.
Many people may not remember when they took their first step or when their first tooth fell out but they're more than likely to remember the first time they watched their favorite movie or their favorite TV show. Why and how media has developed parallel to our sensory is perhaps a matter best left to anthropologists and sociologists, however the issue with this film is that it taps onto something similar to an imagined collective consciousness; its pleasures exclusive to those who feel at home watching The Muppets.
The film's meta elements wonderfully convey the nature of filmmaking and interestingly enough lead us to question the prevalence of film as a medium, for example how will future generations feel about the use of current celebrities as "stars"? The film itself makes a point - in some truly outrageous jokes - about the ups and downs of star power. If people fifty years from now think of Jack Black as a movie star, then the movie will have huge nostalgic power, however if they wonder who the hell the fat guy with the weird smile is, the film will prove a point. Either way The Muppets come out winners.

The Adventures of Tintin might very well be the best movie Steven Spielberg has made in a decade. Unlike his "live action" projects which suffer from his excessive use of sentimentality and his need to tie everything up with a lovely bow, this graphic novel adaptation is served from its source material's no-bullshit approach to entertaining, which is something Spielberg has truly excelled at.
Tintin reminds you of the Indiana Jones movies and some of his family classics like E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial because you can feel how the director is loving every minute of it. Motion capture seems to have opened up a door that he's kept shut in favor of more "serious" films. From its lovingly detailed opening sequence, to its wonderful homage to Lawrence of Arabia the film thrives with a restlessness that becomes truly addictive. The work of the actors is superb and the film has one of the most exciting sequences Spielberg has ever shot.
It's refreshing to see how medium experts are finding new life in modern techniques.

The Muppets ***½
The Adventures of Tintin ***

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