Movie Review: The Muppets (2011)

Title: The Muppets
Release Date: November 23, 2011
Director: James Bobin
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Mandeville Films

After a 12-year absence, The Muppets return to the silver screen with a nostalgia-laden story seemingly formulated to tug at the heartstrings of Gen-Xers.  Nostalgia, Inc. has ruined many a good thing this way, but fortunately The Muppets strikes the proper balance between dropping in beats for fans to recognize and telling a new and original story. Ok, so it’s not exactly original since it’s the “getting the band back together” trope, but it’s done in the uniquely Muppet style.

The story focuses on two brothers, the puppet Walter (Peter Linz) and the human Gary (Jason Segel) who grow up as big fans of The Muppet Show.  Gary takes a vacation to Los Angeles with his longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and invites Walter along so he can visit the famous Muppet Studios. During the tour of the now-decrepit studio, Walter learns that an oil baron (Chris Cooper) will be demolishing the Muppet Theatre to drill for oil and the only way to stop him is for the Muppets to raise $10 million before their original “rich and famous” contract expires. Walter finds Kermit (Steve Whitmire) and together they bring the Muppets back together to perform a telethon.

The movie has the requisite corny gags and lots of recreations of famous Muppets moments in the telethon.  But it also has a certain gravitas of old friends putting aside some bad history to come back together again.  Segel and Adams are fine in their roles as the human characters, but they do seem extraneous.  The one big exception is the musical number “Man or Muppet” performed as a duet between Segal’s Gary and Walter which is a hilarious performance. I hadn’t watched The Muppets before, and I was skeptical that it would be good, but I’m glad I finally caught up.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Finding Dory (2016)

Title: Finding Dory
Release Date: June 17, 2016
Director: Andrew Stanton
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

I know I watched Finding Dory, but for some reason I didn’t review it on this blog.  Watching it again there were big parts of the movie I didn’t remember at all (I know, ironic, considering Dory’s condition) especially the conclusion when Hank the Septopus (Ed O’Neill) is driving a truck and crashes while a Louis Armstrong tune.  Did I not review this movie because I didn’t finish watching this movie? Did I fall asleep?  I hope not.

Anyhow, I’m glad I got to rewatch this sweet gem.  Dory (Ellen Degeneres) works through her short-term memory loss by trying to find her parents. The search leads her the fictional Marine Life Institute on the coast of California. There she meets and is helped by cranky Hank, Destiny the Whale Shark (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey the Beluga Whale (Ty Burrell).  Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) follow along and try to catch up to their friend Dory, learning to be more like Dory in the process. And we meet Dory’s parents, voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy.

This movie is more of spinoff than a sequel to Finding Nemo, and it makes good use of the undersea universe to tell a fresh, funny, and heartwarming story.  I especially like that Dory and most of the animals at the Marine Life Institute have a disability and the movie serves as a metaphor of how people live good lives with disabilities without being heavy-handed about it.

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: FREE I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For by Illuminati Hotties

Album: FREE I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For
Artist: Illuminati Hotties
Release Date: July 17, 2020
Label: Self-released
Favorite Tracks:

  • freequent letdown
  • melatonezone
  • content/bedtime
  • reasons 2 live


Singer/songwriter Sarah Tudzin’s pioneering work in “tenderpunk” takes a turn in this brief (12 songs in 24 minutes) but eclectic collection. This is the band’s sophomore effort after Kiss Yr Frenemies and shows a willingness to experiment.  The album comes in the wake of their record label’s demise explaining why it is self-released and probably why it is so short.  Still, if this is just a place holder until the next “real” album comes out, then we can expect great things.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 29

Mortified :: How to Run a TV Network as a Teenager

This story of a man reminiscing about the fantasy tv network reminds me of my own childhood.  I had my own radio station – WLTS – which I recorded on cassette tapes with me as the DJ.

99% Invisible :: The Revolutionary Post

The United States Post Office is under attack from right-wing politicians.  This podcast explores the history of how the USPS actually created America.

Radio Boston :: Remembering Anthony Martignetti, Star Of Prince Spaghetti Ad

The star of an iconic advertisement filmed in Boston’s North End has died at the age of 63. In 1969, the North End was an ethnic enclave of Italian Americans and spaghetti was a dish not familiar in mainstream America.  How the times change in one lifetime.


Book Review: A Field Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by Kurt F. Johnson

Author: Kurt F. Johnson
Title: A Field Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
Publication Info: Farcountry Press (2013)

A really spectacular guide book to the animals, plants, fungi, waterfalls, geysers, and even the night time sky in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  This is an excellent reference to have handy when traveling in the parks and wondering just what exactly is that!

Rating: ****

Book Review: A Ranger’s Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes by Roger Anderson and Carol Shively Anderson

Author: Roger Anderson and Carol Shively Anderson
Title: A Ranger’s Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes
Publication Info: Farcountry Press (2013)

If going to Yellowstone, you’re going to need to get off the road and explore Wonderland on foot.  Trouble is,  if you have old legs and are traveling with kids less keen on hiking, you’ll want to be prepared.  This book has 29 hikes of various skill levels and lengths in various different park environments.  Some of them are just a short addition to visiting some of Yellowstone’s most popular attractions, such as Mammoth Hot Springs and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, that take you away from the tourist throngs.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Watching Yellowstone & Grand Teton Wildlife by Todd Wilkinson

Author: Todd Wilkinson
Title: Watching Yellowstone & Grand Teton Wildlife
Publication Info: Riverbend Publishing (2008)

This book does just what it says on the tin: tells you the best places to see wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  The critters each get their own page with gorgeous photographs, a description of the animals habits, and tips on where to spot them in the park. It will be a useful tool on our visit to the parks.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: North by Northwest (1959)

Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: North by Northwest
Release Date: July 1, 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

North by Northwest is Hitchcock and his Hitchcockian excess.  In many ways it is a remake of The 39 Steps with an ordinary man getting swept up in the machinations of spies and getting into and out of trouble.  Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, the “everyday” ad executive mistaken by the bad lads as a fictional spy named George Kaplan. Eva Maria Saint plays Eve Kendall, a woman who helps and seduces Thornhill on a train, who *surprise* is the real good spy.

Along his journey to escape the evil spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) and his henchmen, including Leonard (Martin Landau), while trying to prove his innocence Thornhill survives many dramatic set pieces. These include forcibly driving drunk on a cliffside road, a knife murder in the United Nations, getting chased by a crop duster in an Indiana cornfield, and climbing down the presidential heads on Mount Rushmore.

Grant plays Thornhill as a man who is put upon but nevertheless enjoying every minute of his adventure.  I especially like when he acts like a buffoon at an auction in order to get arrested so he won’t be captured by Vandamm and Leonard.  Saint is okay in her role but it is a flaw of 1950s chauvinism that even when she’s supposed to be a master spy she spends most of the movie as a helpless damsel in distress. I enjoyed most of the movie but by the time of the Mount Rushmore set piece, it felt overlong and over-the-top.  Some judicious editing and understatement would’ve improved this movie.

Rating: ***

Movie Reviews: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Title: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Release Date: June 11, 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Production Company: Universal Studios | Amblin Entertainment

E.T. was a huge monster hit right at the time when I was the target demographic for this story of an alien botanist stranded on earth and his friendship with a young boy.  And I didn’t really like it.  Watching this movie again for the first time in decades, I found myself far more moved by it than I did when I was 8.

I do remember seeing this in the theater with my family and my sister and I were allowed to go up to the balcony on our own.  Except that I found the movie too scary and forced my sister to go back downstairs to sit with our parents.  Well, it turns out, the first 20 minutes or so of this movie are pretty creepy from John Williams’ music to the slasher film perspective of E.T. running through the woods.  Later in the movie, when a bleached-out E.T. is discovered in a ravine and then the government agents invade the house are also creepy and scary moments.

Of course, the whole movie isn’t creepy.  It’s actually very sweet and a remarkably well-written (by screen written Melissa Mathison) story that balances the humor, drama, and pathos of a realistic childhood friendship (in a Sci-Fi setting, of course). It helps that the movie stars some terrific child actors in Henry Thomas as Elliot and Drew Barrymore as his little sister Gertie. All in all, this movie is much better than I remembered although it does tend to get overly manipulative of the emotions towards the end.  While I wouldn’t put it on my favorite movies of all time list, it is definitely worth watching.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

Author: Jeffrey Brown
Title: Jedi Academy 
Publication Info: Scholastic Inc., 2013

Jedi Academy is a story set in the Star Wars universe about 200 years before the movies, and features Roan Novachez, a farmboy from Tatooine selected to attend the Jedi Academy on Coruscant.  Drawing on elements of Hogwarts and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this richly-illustrated early reader book follows Roan through his misadventures and struggles to fit in with more advanced users of the Force.  I think I was a kid I would’ve been annoyed by the many references to schools in our universe, but as an adult I’m less attached to pure canon to let that interfere with my enjoyment of some silly gags.  This is a good book, and the start of a series, for the young Star Wars fan in your life.

Rating: ***1/2