Movie Review: The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Welcome to Muppet Mondays! Over the next several Mondays I will be working my way through the various movies in the Muppets and Jim Henson oeuvre.

Title: The Great Muppet Caper
Release Date: 26 June 1981
Director: Jim Henson
Production Company: Henson Associates | ITC Entertainment

A sequel that confusingly really isn’t a sequel because the Muppets play different characters but with the same names.  This was how it was explained to me as a child, especially to make sense of why Kermit and Miss Piggy were romantically involved in the movies, but Miss Piggy’s love is unrequited on the tv show.  At any rate, I don’t think I’ve watched The Great Muppet Caper since I saw it in the theaters long ago with my father, (perhaps I saw it later on tv, but never as often as the other Muppet movies I watched as a child).  The Great Muppet Caper has a reputation for being a disappointing follow-up to The Muppet Movie, but even with a sophomore slump, I think it holds up remarkably well.

In this movie Kermit and Fozzie are twin brothers who work as reporters, with Gonzo as their photographer, who travel to London to investigate the theft of fashion designer Lady Holliday’s (Diana Rigg) jewels. There they meet Miss Piggy, Lady Holliday’s new receptionist with aspirations for modelling, and several other Muppets who populate the fleabag Happiness Hotel.  Lady Holliday’s brother, Nicky (Charles Grodin), and a trio of models are behind the jewel heists and its up to the Muppets to foil their plot.

Much like it’s predecessor, this movie relies on meta-fictional humor and recurring sight gags.  Movie tropes, particularly heist movies, are parodied and there are grand song and dance numbers that harken back to Astaire & Rogers and Ethel Merman, except they feature Miss Piggy.  While The Muppet Movie wowed us with Kermit riding a bicycle, this movie shows the whole cast of Muppets bicycling and performing tricks!  Throughout the movie, Muppet characters seem to move autonomously in remarkable ways.

The criticisms that I have for this movie is that it feels very episodic and the humor is not as sharp. Joe Raposo’s soundtrack doesn’t include any songs as memorable as Paul Williams’ Muppet Movie soundtrack.  And the cameo performances aren’t as funny, with one notable exception. John Cleese and Joan Sanderson appear as an upper-class British couple carrying on the most boring, awkward conversation as Miss Piggy breaks into their house.

The Great Muppet Caper is not the all-time classic of its predecessor, but it’s still a funny and creative step forward for Jim Henson and the Muppet performers in film-making

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: A Fish Called Wanda (1988) #AtoZChallenge

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: A Fish Called Wanda 
Release Date: July 15, 1988
Director: Charles Crichton
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | Prominent Features

English gangster George Thomason (Tom Georgeson) and his right-hand man Ken Pile (Michael Palin) plan a jewel heist. They bring the American couple Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto West (Kevin Kline), who claim to be siblings but are actually lovers. The robbery goes off without a hitch and then the members of the gang double-cross one another.  Wanda and Otto turn in George to the police, and Wanda plans to turn on Otto too, until they discover that George moved the diamonds to a different hiding place.

Wanda decides to seduce George’s barrister Archie Leach (John Cleese) so she can learn if George plans to turn over the diamonds for a reduced sentence.  Her attempts to get to know Archie are interrupted by a jealous and stupid Otto (“Don’t call me stupid!”).  Meanwhile, Ken attempts to assassinate an elderly woman who is a witness that identified George as being a robbery.  An animal lover, Ken is broken-hearted that each of his three attempts to kill the witness lead to the deaths of one of her tiny dogs.

Despite the odds, Archie and Wanda form a real attachment and through a screwy series of events the diamonds are recovered, and they escape to the South America with them.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

I was at my peak period as a Monty Python fanatic, watching all their movies and taping every Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode off of MTV and PBS, as well as various other projects involving one or more Pythons.  I was ecstatic when I learned that there was a brand new movie involving two members of Monty Python and saw it soon after release with my family.

Kevin Kline was the revelation of this movie.  At the time he’d been mostly in serious dramas up to this point (although later in life I saw Sophie’s Choice where his character was both hilarious and terrifying).  His performance as a stupid American, ultraviolent jerk steals the movie.

What Did I Remember?:

“What was the middle part?”  I remembered pretty well how the movie began and ended but it was fun to rediscover how they got from point a to point.

What Did I Forget?:

Like I said above, I forgot the middle part.  I also forgot the subplot about Otto pretending to be gay with a crush on Ken, probably because it’s one of the few gags in the movie that doesn’t hit the mark.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie features a hilarious script by Cleese and Crichton and four actors putting in one of their career best performances while all playing against type. It’s really sad that they couldn’t find the magic again when they made Fierce Creatures.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

So many comedies that I loved in the 80s cause severe cringe, and I was worried that A Fish Called Wanda would be the same. Blessedly, the movie holds up well, I think because of the fact that everyone in the movie is clearly an awful person, so it’s not like your dealing with a sympathetic character doing awful things.

Even at the time it was released, the movie was criticized for Ken having a significant stutter.  I enjoy Michael Palin’s performance so I want to find a way to justify it, but there’s no denying that the jokes come at the expense of people who stutter.

Is It a Classic?:

It’s definitely a standout comedy film, although it may fall short of the all-time great movies list.

Rating: ****

5 more all-time favorite movies starting with F:

  1. Fargo (1996)
  2. Field of Dreams (1989)
  3. Finding Nemo (2003)
  4. The Fisher King (1991)
  5. The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)

What is your favorite movie starting with F? What is your guess for my movie starting with G? (Hint: this movie gave rise to a psychological term). Let me know in the comments!


Classic Movie Review: The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Title: The Thomas Crown Affair
Release Date: June 19, 1968
Director: Norman Jewison
Production Company: The Mirisch Corporation | Simkoe | Solar Productions

The Thomas Crown Affair is probably less regarded as a classic film than as a classic Boston film, and is discussed in Ryan Walsh’s book on Boston in 1968, Astral Weeks.  And like at least 90% of movies set in Boston, it is a crime movie, but instead of mobbed-up guys from Southie, the criminal is a bored millionaire from Beacon Hill.  The movie starts out great with Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) organizing a bank heist of five men who don’t meet until the robbery begins and who never see his face.  The film uses extensive split screens to depict the action, which reminds me of a 1970s historic site visitors center introductory movie, but it does add a flair to the action occurring simultaneously.

After the successful heist, the bank brings in the Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway). Initially, Anderson and Crown play a flirty game of cat and mouse.  But the movie fizzles out about halfway through.  We’re supposed to believe that they actually fall in love, on their many trips to ride a dune buggy around Crane Beach, but the romance is not convincing at all. Anderson’s belief that their love will make Crown confess seems especially pathetic.

I’ve never liked Dunaway as an actor, but in this case, I think both leads were miscast.  They needed something like a Cary Grant/Grace Kelly level of talent, but they weren’t up to the task.  I did like seeing all of the on-location scenery shot in 1968 Boston (and the one scene where Dulles Airport is made to appear as if it’s in Boston).  Mt. Vernon Street on Beacon Hill, seen in a scene where Crown douchely crashes a detectives car into a tree, looks virtually the same 50 years ago as it does today.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Inception (2010)

Title: Inception
Release Date: July 16, 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan
Production Company: Legendary Pictures | Syncopy

This action/thriller drops one right into the midst of a heist where corporate espionage is achieved by using technology that allows entry into other peoples’ dreams to steal their most sensitive thoughts.  Leonard DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb leads a team of extractors while contending with the guilt of losing his late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) who appears as an antagonist in his dreams.  Businessman Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Dom with a proposal to perform “inception,” that is rather than extracting a thought, actually placing an idea into the mind of his main rival’s heir.

In typical heist movie fashion, Dom pulls together a team to carry of the inception. A key figure is Ariadne (Ellen Page), an architecture grad student new to the shared dream world who asks all the questions the audience wants to ask.  Nevertheless, Inception doesn’t make much sense and like The Matrix – a clear influence – internal logic is dispensed with if there’s an opportunity for a cool gun battle.  I do like Inception more than The Matrix, though, as it has much more heart.  And honestly, who ever expects dreams to make sense?

Rating: ***