There was a time when I believed I would never meet a bigger Muppet fan than Jason Segel.
Then I met James Bobin.
I really liked his work on "Flight Of The Conchords," and I was just excited to have him working in features in general. I didn't realize how big an influence the Muppets were on him until talking to Jason Segel about it on the set of "Five Year Engagement" this summer. He told me that meeting Bobin was sort of like looking in a mirror that turned you British, and that he felt like "The Muppets" was in the perfect hands.
Having seen the finished film, I concur. Bobin was programmed to make this film from a very early age, and all you have to do is look at the way he stages his version of the iconic opening sequence to the original "Muppet Show" to see how OCD can, indeed, prepare you for a life in the arts. It is perfect, down to the smallest detail. That seems to be something that can elude filmmakers, no matter how much they try to reproduce things. Look at the "Halloween" series, for example, where they never seem to be able to get the Michael Myers mask to look the same way twice. Bobin does such a good job making his film fit into a visual world that has already been established that he makes it look easy, and people may not realize just how deft his sleight of hand really is.
There was a time when I believed I would never meet a bigger Muppet fan than Jason Segel.
As always, Martin Scorsese says it better than I ever could.
Little by little, I've started to feel like Film Nerd 2.0 is one of the most significant things I've done since I've started writing about film online in 1995, and it's part of a bigger plan I have. I eventually plan to get involved in creating and implementing some very real educational reform involving media education that runs K-12, so that kids are given a media literacy on par with any print literacy that is taught. I think we have a responsibility, given the omnipresence of media in the lives of modern children, to not only encourage them with choices about what to watch, but also to teach them how to watch. Without context, how do you expect them to navigate the ocean of choice available to them at all times these days?
Martin Scorsese has spoken at length in the press about wanting to make a movie that his 12-year-old daughter could see, and how much he loved 3D in the '50s, and how this movie serves as, in some ways, autobiography because of his own childhood spent trapped by asthma in a private world, cut off from other kids. All of that is true, but the moment you start putting labels like "kid's film" on a movie like "Hugo," you are being reductive in your thinking, and that's missing the point entirely. In its own way, this is "Film Nerd 2.0: The Movie," and perhaps the most head-over-heels-in-love movie about movies since "Cinema Paradiso."
On Toshi's third birthday, I took him to a very unusual puppet show, unusual because it wasn't being staged for a real audience. It was on one of the soundstages at Paramount in Hollywood, and it was a musical called "A Taste Of Love," with all the puppets by the Henson Studios. The only people witnessing take after take of the big finale of this show were extras, hired for the day, and the crew of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." If you've seen the film, you remember the moment, the big wrap-up for the character played by Jason Segel. This is his life's ambition realized, and watching Segel and his co-star Bill Hader actually operate their custom-created Muppets for a full day of shooting was one of those great random glad-I-was-there moments.
Toshi had no idea what was going on, but he enjoyed the noise and the energy and the puppets, and at one point, I had a conversation with Segel about his training with the Henson performers, and how that was the fulfillment of his own life-long dream. He confessed his Muppet love to me at that point, and talked a bit about how he'd very much like to one day figure out a way to make a movie with the Muppets. It was the first time he'd mentioned anything like that, but seeing him work with his Dracula puppet all day, I could see how firmly the idea had hold of him.
One thing that makes the long tradition of movies about Santa Claus so interesting is that there is no one accepted story that defines Claus around the world. Different countries can't even agree on what the tradition is, so there's certainly no consensus on who Santa is or what he means. This means that anyone who wants to can play mix-and-match with various Santa stories from different cultures, or they can just ignore them all and create their own, which makes Santa a particularly fertile icon in terms of storytelling.
”Arthur Christmas” is the newest film from the Aardman studios, and as such it comes with lofty expectations attached. After all, these are the people who created Wallace and Gromit, two of the most durable characters in modern UK cinema, animated or live-action. To me, this is a group of artists that I respect as much as Pixar, and when I see something new from them, I hope it's going to be something that adds to their reputation. They've had a rougher time in features than they did in shorts, but overall, they've still got a great track record.
I'm working reeeeeeeeeeeeal hard to pace myself.
If you're a "Dark Knight" addict, you've probably been mainlining paparazzi photos for months, to the point where you feel somewhat bloated and over it at this point. I've been so careful not to do that to myself. I am not the most ardent fan in the world of "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," but I do like them both quite a bit, and I'm absolutely ready to see how Nolan wraps up his time as the architect of Batman's fate.
As a comic fan, I am aware of the various battle lines that exist in fandom, and one of them is how you felt about Bane when he appeared in Batman comics. If you don't know his storyline, I won't lay it out here, but I'll say that it was a fairly iconic move by DC, one that had some long-range impact on the entire DC world. Like Venom is for Spider-Man, Bane represents a challenge that genuinely tested the hero in question, one that became a major player in the rogue's gallery rotation. Bane appeared in Joel Schumacher's detestable "Batman In Rubber," and he was portrayed as a large grunting latex suit in a Mexican wrestler's mask who stood around in the background of scenes where Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger overacted.
Nostalgia is a funny thing, and I've certainly written here at length about the way I think it can often blind people to quality, or the lack thereof. And when you're talking about nostalgia, The Muppets loom large for at least one generation, and it would be easy to assume that any praise you hear for the new film is based on a long-instilled affection for the characters.
The thing is, if that were true, then everything the Muppets have ever appeared in would be praised highly, and that is absolutely not the case. I don't care for many of the feature films that the characters have starred in over the years, and their last theatrical outing, "Muppets From Space," was fairly wretched, as was their "Wizard Of Oz" riff for television. I spent many years convinced that the spirit of the Muppets had died along with Jim Henson.
I was wrong.
You know where it turns out the spirit was hiding? Inside the kids who grew up with "Sesame Street" and "The Muppet Show," who were still soaking up culture when the Muppets were at the height of their cultural currency. One of those kids was Jason Segel. Another was James Bobin. Yet another was Nicholas Stoller. And Bret McKenzie, he was one. And I'd wager that Amy Adams, Rashida Jones, Emily Blunt, Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman, and more were Muppet kids, too. And while it might be enough to make a few jokes, have some celebrities interact with the Muppets, and make a few nods to the past, that's not what Segel and his collaborators have done here.
As I expected, I'm already getting yelled at by "Twilight" fans because I dared to dig into the text created by Stephenie Meyer, whose name always appears in red as I write a piece about her or her "Twilight" series because she spells it wrong, and I dared to dislike the film based on what her books say about who she is.
The thing is, I can't just switch off the analytical part of my brain when I watch something, and I don't believe anyone should. Yes, films are entertainment. Yes, many of them are about as deep as a puddle. But should a lack of ambition be the thing we reward in films? And should ambition be considered a bad thing when a movie is trying to do something different?
George Miller obviously doesn't think so, and thank god for that. When he makes a sequel, it seems like he goes out of his way to avoid simply rehashing the film we've already seen, and that has thrown people consistently throughout his career. I may love "The Road Warrior" on a nearly-chemical level, but if you were a fan of "Mad Max," it must have felt jarring to go from this personal revenge story to what is essentially a spaghetti western set after the end of the world. I know that when I first saw "Max Max Beyond Thunderdome," it threw me because I wanted more of "The Road Warrior," not a story about the Lost Boys of the Outback. When audiences saw "Babe: Pig In The City" the first time, it must have been a real shock, and it seems like some people (Ron Meyer, I'm looking at you) still haven't gotten over it. I love that Miller's film was almost completely different from the original, which seemed appropriate since the setting was so different.
If you're already onboard and dying to see "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part I," then just go. Enjoy the movie. Have fun, and don't bother reading this review. There's no point. And I don't begrudge you that at all. If you love the books and you just want to see the film version of the story you already know, I'm sure you'll be delighted, and if you haven't liked the films so far, I don't think this is going to radically change your mind.
For the rest of you, here's what I wrote at the end of my review for "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse":
I find myself in an interesting position as we face down the prospect of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn," because I like and respect Bill Condon as a filmmaker. I think he's got good taste. I think he's made really strong films so far as a director. I think he's worth paying attention to, and I think he's got a real taste for genre material that he hasn't really indulged since he went mainstream. He's a smart guy, a writer first, and I think he knows how to shape difficult material for the screen. And yet, I truly believe that "Twilight" is worthless as source material. I do not believe there is a filmmaker alive who could manage the impossible feat of creating a faithful adaptation of Meyer's book and also making a good movie. Going into the home stretch, I think this is one of the worst blockbuster franchises of all time, inept from start to finish, and getting worse as they go. There will come a time when we look back on these films and wonder what sort of mob insanity drove their success, and we will laugh and shake our heads and pretend they were never really that popular.
I will say this for the new film… you cannot accuse it of being all tease and no delivery (pun fully intended), which was one of the main dramatic issues with both "New Moon" and "Eclipse." This is a movie that begins with a big event, ends with a big event, and which expends tons of energy trying to convince us that every single thing that happens in-between is also a VERY BIG EVENT. This is almost too rushed, a breakneck ride that doesn't feel like any of the other films.
The overwhelming response you all had to the recent special "Star Wars" series we did as part of Film Nerd 2.0 has been beyond anything I could have hoped for, and I am genuinely thankful for each and every response. Today, though, I think I've got something even better for you.
For the last couple of years, Toshi's been coming with me to occasional press days because of timing and logistics, and each time, he's been intrigued by the entire process. He's told me several times now that he wants to grow up to do the same thing that I do, and while I think that's a big choice for a six-year-old to make, I am in a unique position to occasionally put together opportunities that are very special.
For example, with "The Muppets" coming out this month, I had a pretty good idea that we'd be speaking with some of the classic characters as part of the press day, and sure enough, when the invite came in, I saw that one of the interviews was a double-header with Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy.
This week's Motion/Captured Podcast is one of my very favorites we've done so far, and I owe it all to the fickle nature of film releases.
When I saw "Bellflower" at this year's Sundance Film Festival, one of the first things that made me fall in love with it was the way the film made subtle nods to George Miller's amazing "Mad Max 2," better known here in the US as "The Road Warrior." Now, I've got Evan on the podcast to talk about the home video release of his film, and it just happened to be the same week that Miller's new film "Happy Feet Two" is arriving in theaters.
The way we handled the recording was by having Evan come out to the house on Sunday night to record the main body of the podcast, and then I talked to Miller by phone on Monday afternoon. There's a great deal of give and take between the segments, and I think it's a really great conversation that unfolds as a result.
We've also got a call this week during our Movie God/Remake This! segment from Keven Van Den Brink, one of our regular callers now, and he's once again calling in from the Occupy Nashville site, so we talk a little bit about how that's going and how things have evolved since the last time we spoke to him.