Tag Archives: The New Yorker

the Muppets: Most Wanted

Muppets-Most-Wanted-wallpapers-3

 

What’s better than a Muppet movie? A Muppet movie I can discuss on my blog! And I finally have one!

First, I must say that I loved the Muppets movie that came out in 2011. Loved it!  Growing up, I was more of a Sesame Street girl–Oscar the Grouch, most specifically.  He was the misanthropic dumpster-dwelling inspiration for my misanthropic apartment-dwelling personality now. I didn’t see a lot of the classic Muppet movies that came out in the ’80s.  But I loved the 2011 Muppets movie.  And I was so excited about this sequel. I must have watched this trailer 20 times over the last 3 months, waiting for this movie:

So, naturally, I went to see the movie the first day it was out. I don’t think there was any chance it could have met my incredibly high expectations, but it came close!

The plot (as the trailer shows better than I can describe) revolves around mistaken identity.  Constantine, the world’s most dangerous criminal/frog, looks just like Kermit with a mole!  Obviously, as would happen in normal life, Constantine breaks out of the Siberian gulag where he was imprisoned, blows up several things, and trades places with Kermit.  Kermit is off to the gulag, under the supervision of guard Tina Fey,

muppets-wanted

Meanwhile, Constantine puts some green makeup on to cover his mole, and leads the rest of the Muppets gang on a world tour–spearheaded by tour manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais).  It’s pronounced Badgeee. It’s French.

ricky-gervais-muppets-most-wanted

Shockingly, Dominic Badguy turns out to be a bad guy! He’s in cahoots with Constantine. You can tell they are in cahoots because they wear smoking jackets and look over old maps and whatnot.

Legitimately the funniest thing I’ve seen in months is Constantine trying to change his Russian bad-guy accent into the familiar, soothing Kermit voice we know and love. Also his attempts to get the names of the Muppets correct.

I think it’s pretty exceptional that with the same small puppet, the puppeteers can provide a totally different character, just based on the facial expressions he makes. Particularly when you think that the complicated facial expressions are made with someone’s hand!

The New Yorker complied the ‘Seven Fundamentals of Great Muppet Cinema’, and this movie does have all 7.

I must say, it’s not better than The Muppets. It is good in its own right, but not as good.  I mean, ’80s Robot barely gets any screen time at all–what the hell?! And Miss Piggy, who in the previous movie was a badass Editor-in-Chief at French Vogue, spends the entire money begging Kermit to marry her.  Piggy has always been an interesting figure, simultaneously very feminine, but also very tough.  She’s one of the only female characters in the Muppets, and I wish they gave her more depth in this movie.  The fact that she identifies the correct Kermit at the end, solely by watching him hem and haw over the idea of marrying her, is kind of a sad cliche. I feel like she should move on at this point, I mean it’s been decades and Kermit is still not willing to commit.  On the other hand, I don’t ever want to get married, so perhaps my advice is not particularly sound in this arena.

I did notice one very interesting and mostly pathetic thing about the marketing for the movie.  The UK trailer (above) shows Sam the Eagle (symbol of all things patriotic and ‘Merican) and Ty Burrell (playing a French Interpol agent) comparing badge size, because that is probably legitimately something American officials would do.  In the UK trailer, it looks as if Burrell’s character has the biggest badge.  But in the US trailer, not so much:

We don’t want to see a movie where it looks like a French person might have something even slightly larger and more ostentatious than an American person might have! That’s so unpatriotic! You’re only a patriot if you don’t believe that any other country can be as good or better than the US at absolutely anything.  Otherwise, you’re a pinko commie bastard.  Obviously.

Hilariously, a lot of people are trying to relate this Muppets movie to the Putin v. rest of the world saga going on in Crimea and Ukraine right now.  That’s just silly, and probably just clickbait for journalists. Mother Jones did a good article on why it’s total rubbish. Some loons actually think that Constantine = Putin and Miss Piggy = Angela Merkel.  WTF?  Go put your tin foil hats back on and stay away from beloved children’s characters.

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Well, we now all know that my predictions (based entirely on rumor) from earlier in the year were completely wrong. This was, most certainly, not a crime novel.  I struggle to categorize it actually, except that it was very definitely adult.  More on that later.

The New Yorker did a (long) piece on JKR and the new book last week. They called it Mugglemarch, which is an obvious combination of Muggles and George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I wasn’t crazy about the article, but that’s not really important. The name stuck with me. I read Middlemarch last year.  It’s considered a true classic, and is the most famous of George Eliot novels.  I have to say I didn’t love it, and even though it’s considered a classic I haven’t met anyone else who has actually read the thing.  Assuming you haven’t either, here’s a very brief description–Middlemarch follows the lives, marriages, and fortunes of a large ensemble of characters, all of whom live in the eponymous town.  There is room in the narrative for the poor and ignorant, for the wealthy and intolerable, and, mostly, for the middle classes.  There are lots of interweaving plots and themes, from the invasion of the railroad into the country to medical reform, from ill-advised marriages to scandals involving wills and estates.  It’s subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life” and that is very accurate–Middlemarch, the town, is the most important character of the novel.

Why am I yammering about Middlemarch?  There are obvious similarities.  It takes place in a small, picturesque town and revolves around the lives of locals. It features the terribly poor, a bit of the very wealthy, and a lot of the middle classes. The town, Pagford, is its own character in the novel–though in this case I found that the town was always described in terms of what others felt about it. Good or bad, accurate or not, their opinions and emotions were what defined the town, rather than the truth of the town.  There is a local election, just like in Middlemarch. 

Another big similarity: I am not sure I like it.

I was expecting to like it.  I was confident that I would like it.  I like to read, and very rarely do I dislike a book I pick up.  On top of that, I am a huge Harry Potter fan, as anyone who reads this would know.  I trust JKR as a storyteller, and I don’t limit myself to specific genres or types of writing.  I had no reason not to like this new book…unless it just wasn’t good. Which, to be honest, didn’t really enter my mind as a possibility.

I’ve been trying to pin down what I dislike about it.  Nothing. There’s nothing.  But it just pales so much in comparison to HP, that I find it hard to enjoy.

The writing is the same style, lingering between literary and popular fiction.  It sort of takes popular fiction and adds more depth, emotion, and strong storytelling.  But it never makes the jump to challenging, and that can sometimes mean it never takes on the role of being extremely meaningful.  When you’re in a world where fate and destiny play huge roles in the lives of your characters, that is less important.  Everything is meaningful and it’s easy to take allegory away from the characters and the stories. Everyone can see that Voldemort is like Hitler, without much prompting.  But when you’re dealing with ordinary life, and you have things like sex, drugs, child abuse, and banality, something is almost lacking.  The story is about ordinary people, and the writing never verges into the extraordinary.  Which means the whole novel feels a bit flat at times. I would still prefer this to pretentious stories about ordinary people (*cough*Jonathan Franzen*cough*), and if she hadn’t written Harry Potter first, then perhaps I wouldn’t be disappointed by this.  But she did, and I don’t think there’s any way to not be disappointed at something that doesn’t quite match that achievement.
Another thing that seems missing is the humor. I know that people described it as a ‘dark comedy’, but I think those people are loose a screw. This is a tragedy.  It even passes the “tragedy ends with a funeral, comedy ends with a wedding” test of ye olde dramatic categorization.  There are moments where particularly obnoxious characters are put in their place, but I did not find those moments funny.  Usually, in order to give those characters a much-needed ego check, someone else has to suffer.  In one scene, a pretentious council member is explaining that no government funds should go to treat drug addicts, because they are costing tax money when all they need to do is stop taking drugs.  His doctor then points out that if he thinks it’s so simple then why doesn’t he stop gorging himself on foods (he’s quite overweight) and asks if he knows how much his bypass surgery cost the taxpayer. There is a savage pleasure in hearing this man put in his place, and this scene made my jaw drop.  But at the same time, the hatred and anger everywhere is tiring and made me so anxious that my hands were shaking.  And of course, there were consequences for the doctor as she was breaking patient privilege saying these things in public.  Compare this to a scene in which Draco Malfoy or similar is firmly humiliated.  Of course, I found most of those scenes counterproductive and unrealistic.  But the realism of The Casual Vacancy was too much for me to feel comfortable with.  It made my palms sweat.

Much has been said about the sex scenes and the other explicit material.  I was a bit shocked by it, I’ll admit.  Then I asked myself, would I even blink if this wasn’t a writer I associated with a, frankly, sexless world.  No, I wouldn’t.  There was nothing so crazy or unusual in the scenes. It’s just that they were there that makes ripples.

As much as I feel conflicted about this book, there are parts of it that are so JKR and so well done that I would be amiss not to mention them.  Most obviously, her understanding of teenagers.  She has a great talent for describing any number of people and creating characters who are believable and tangible, but none more so than teenagers.  This book is no exception. They are all terribly visible, real, and easy to conjure in your mind. I don’t find that any of them reminded me of me, but I could see snippets of friends and crushes from high school in each one. I think much of it is her way of describing characters from their very first scene that lets you settle them in your mind as definite and tangible–never hazy or cloudy.  Even before you know much about them, you can see them.  She still has this ability.

She can also produce incredible emotional range in the audience (or, in me anyway).  I raged at times, I cried for sure.  I wish there had been more to laugh or smile about.

And so many of the characters are shown only as their worst possible selves, that there is little faith that they will really make things better.  It’s more realistic this way, but I apparently don’t read books for their absolute realism.  I just found it too depressing to want to read it again.

And I think that’s the real root of the problem. I suppose it’s a bit similar to Romeo & Juliet. The town is made stronger, but only through some incredibly senseless loss and tragedy. But even though it ends on something of an upswing, I find I’m too mired in the loss to move on and feel that it was worth it. The loss is too pointless and awful to make up for the meager offerings and motions toward a better world that are made in the last few pages.