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Non-Review Review: Les Misérables

It’s hard not to admire Les Misérables. It’s the first honest-to-goodness entirely sincere and mostly unironic big budget musical that we’ve seen released in quite some time. While song and dance will always be a part of the movies (The Muppets, for example, carrying many a dainty tune last year), there’s something quite impressive about seeing a music as epic and as iconic as Les Misérables carried across to the big screen. The stage musical became something of a cultural phenomenon on the West End, and Tom Hooper does an effective job of transitioning from stage to screen – even if he doesn’t consistently capitalise on the format shift.

There are some fundamental problems. The second half is a little too awkwardly paced and too disjointed to come together as well as it should, and Hooper seems to have a great deal pitching the right amount of camp (and humour) for an Oscar-bait musical about the aftermath of the French revolution. However, if you can look past those problems, the opening half is a superbly staged musical and the performances are impressive. Including the much maligned Russell Crowe, who might – hear me out – be the best thing about the film.

Sing when you're winning... or at least nominated...

Sing when you’re winning… or at least nominated…

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My 12 for ’12: The Dark Knight Rises & Blockbusters with Brains…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #1

There’s a popular idea that just because a movie makes a lot of money, or just because it attracts a large audience, or just because it features fantastical elements, that it is somehow unworthy of discussion and debate. The Dark Knight Rises has been a divisive film, sparking a lot of debate about its relative merits and those of Christopher Nolan, the director and co-writer. Following on from the massive success of The Dark Knight, Nolan opted for an unconventional approach for his sequel. Structurally and tonally, The Dark Knight Rises represented a significant departure from The Dark Knight. While the The Dark Knight had been an urban crime thriller exploring the wake of 9/11, The Dark Knight Rises was an epic social drama pondering how divided American society had become.

It isn’t quite as fantastic as The Dark Knight, but it was strong, bold, vibrant and challenging film making – proof that budget does not belie brains.

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: Chris Cooper Raps (The Muppets)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #1

If you ever need proof of how delightfully absurd The Muppets was, the sight of Oscar-winner Chris Cooper dancing and rapping across his desk, only to unleash a storeroom full of chorus girls while Jason Segel looks on in confusion should do the trick. It’s a fantastic moment because it’s so ridiculously surreal. Cooper is rapping for about a minute of screen-time, meaning that it’s over before it has really begun – leaving both the characters and the audience wondering what the hell just happened.

In a great way.

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My 12 for ’12: The Muppets & Everything You Need, Right In Front Of You

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #3

I can’t help but feel that The Muppets probably aren’t quite as popular over here as they really should be. After all, we had to wait about three months for the eventual release of the film in Irish cinemas. Even later this year, following all the publicity around the recent revival, I was only able to find one cinema in Dublin doing three screening of The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, despite the highly-publicised re-release. However, perhaps I shouldn’t take their international publicity for granted either. After all, Jason Segal spent six or seven years trying to guide everybody’s favourite felt performers to the big screen again.

Still, The Muppets demonstrated that the gang had lost absolutely nothing in transitioning out of retirement and back to the screen, demonstrating that all these sorts of characters need is a bit of sincere love and affection.

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Non-Review Review: The Muppets

It’s interesting to imagine what the reaction in the room must have been after Jason Segal was asked to name his next project, building off the success of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The fast-rising actor and writer could have had his pick of any number of features, and yet he chose to work on a revival of The Muppets. After all, these were a group of characters who had enjoyed a reasonable revival with The Muppets Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island in the early-to-mid-nineties, but had seen their fame quickly eroded with a string of poorly-received television and movie projects. It’s easy to imagine discussions being had about the “relevance” of the Muppets in the era of reality television and pandering television, as the film portrays with a fictional executive portrayed by Rashida Jones. It seemed like there was a lot of weight riding on the project, both for Segal and the studio, and for Jim Henson’s creations themselves.

I think they can all be extremely proud. I think it’s safe to describe the finished product as the best family film of the past year.

Brush with greatness?

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You’d Be Muppets To Say No: Let the Muppets Host the Oscars…

UPDATE: Well, time marches on. Sometimes by the hour. It’s Billy Crystal. Not that I expected the gang to get a look-in. Still, I think the points stand.

There are days when it seems like the internet is about to explode. Somebody has a random thought, posts it or shares it, and it just catches on like wildfire. Before you know it, it seems like half the world is saying “that’s actually not a bad idea!” and the other half is saying “that’s a great idea!” The campaign to have the Muppets host the Oscars is one of those things that has just come to life, like a phoenix from the ashes of Brett Ratner’s resignation and Eddie Murphy’s departure. I generally don’t comment on these things, because they speak for themselves, and I don’t like to just run a post saying “everything these guys are saying is true!”, but this is the exception rather than the rule. I want to see the Muppets host the Oscars. I know it isn’t going to happen, but damn if it isn’t the most outrageous, ambitious and insane idea that has been suggested.

And that, my friends, is exactly why it should happen, even if it probably won’t.

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Out With the New: What’s Wrong With A Little Reimagining…?

I have to admit, I’m looking forward to The Muppets. That makes it all the more unfair that I’ll have to wait until 2012 to see it in a cinema – something that breaks my heart just a little bit. However, I’ve been fascinated by some of the discussions generated by the film, particularly with classic “muppet” staff coming out of the woodwork to comment on what they’ve seen of the rebooted muppets so far. Frank Oz has even offered some pretty harsh commentary:

“I wasn’t happy with the script,” he said about his decision to turn down the film. “I don’t think they respected the characters. But I don’t want to go on about it like a sourpuss and hurt the movie.”

There’s been quite a bit of focus around Fozzie the Bear’s “fart shoes” featured in one trailer:

“We wouldn’t do that; it’s too cheap. It may not seem like much in this world of [Judd] Apatow humor, but the characters don’t go to that place,” said one Muppets veteran. Another laments, “They’re looking at the script on a joke-by-joke basis, rather than as a construction of character and story.” Another is even concerned about stepping outside the established mythology saying that the upcoming film “creates a false history that the characters were forced to act out for the sake of this movie.”

I can certainly understand the feeling. However, part of me wonders if we are too concerned with preserving the “integrity”of classic franchises and stories, and if trying to limit the risks taken with them might ultimately be counterproductive.

Driving the franchise to ruin?

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