After an extended hiatus we have returned! In our latest dispatch Fernando and I discuss the many cinematic delights of this year’s PiFan Film Festival in South Korea, highlightng films as diverse as Miike Takashi’s For Love’s Sake and Zal Batmanglij’s Sound Of My Voice. Enjoy!
For the first time in twelve years, Jim Henson’s iconic puppet characters return to the big screen, but does anybody care? This is the question at the heart of James Bobin’s new film, written by comedian Jason Segel (who also stars) and Nicholas Stoller, and proves the masterstroke of this shamelessly nostalgic exercise. By their very nature, The Muppets have no place in today’s world, cinematic or otherwise, where ground-breaking computer animation and 3D technology have become almost de rigeur for films aimed at a younger audience. Instead of trying to compete with the likes of Pixar and DreamWorks, instead The Muppets embraces the obsolescence of its characters and tells its story around that very notion.
Gary (Segel) has always done right by his brother, Walter (a muppet – though this is never mentioned). As Gary grows up, Walter has remained two feet tall and when the big boys become too large to play with, seeks solace in televised re-runs of The Muppet Show. Eventually Gary agrees to take Walter to visit his friends at Hollywood’s Muppet Studios, on a trip that will double as a romantic getaway with Gary’s fiancée Mary (Amy Adams). Once there, they discover the studios have closed down long ago and Kermit the Frog lives a hermitic life in his dilapidated mansion.
The plot kicks into gear when Gary & Walter discover that The Muppet’s Theatre is going to be sold to an evil oil baron (a delightfully game Chris Cooper), leaving them no choice but to hit the road, get the old gang back together and put on a telethon show to buy back their home. And thus the film adopts the blueprint of the original 1979 movie, and facilitates any number of gags about struggling has-beens, celebrity cameos, not to mention a barrage of fantastic new musical numbers provided by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie.
The beauty of The Muppets is that, while many of the original voice actors have passed on, including original creator Jim Henson, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie and the rest of the gang remain exactly as we remember them from the foggy memories of our childhood. Segel and Stoller understand this sentiment precisely, ensuring that familiar routines and gags are referenced without merely being rehashed, and reward their audience with, for example, a genuinely tear-jerking rendition of Rainbow Connection.
Adults of a certain age may find themselves quite unprepared for the emotional journey on which the film takes them, with a big-hearted earnestness that is so-often sneezed at in this overly cynical age. There is plenty for younger viewers to enjoy too – this is a broad comedy about goofy puppets after all – but the truth is that The Muppets is a film for the original fans, and it works to absolute perfection. This is not only the first muppet movie in over a decade, The Muppets might be the best muppet movie ever.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel is one of the most beloved musicals of all time, is Broadway’s Longest Running Musical by more than 2000 performances, and is second in the West End only to Les Miserables. To celebrate the show’s 25th Anniversary, a special performance was staged at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 1st & 2nd October this year, and has been filmed for the enjoyment of cinemagoers everywhere.
Audiences are treated not only to a wonderful rendition of Lloyd Webber’s tragic romance, but also the rousing curtain call, standing ovation and series of impassioned speeches that followed the performance. Lloyd Webber was in attendance, and gives an emotional account of Phantom‘s origins, as well as inviting some of the musical’s best-loved performers onto the stage, most notably Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman – original tars of both the London and New York productions. Whether you are already a fan, or completely new to the show, this is a wonderfully inventive way of experiencing The Phantom of the Opera.
This filmed version gets you up close to the performers, giving you excellent coverage from a variety of angles, as well as fully appreciating the nuanced performances. Ramin Karimloo is the Phantom, a role he played previously both in the West End and in the short-lived sequel, Love Never Dies. His co-star from that production, American actress Sierra Boggess, plays Christine – the beautiful soprano with whom the Phantom becomes infatuated – and is far and away the highlight of the production. Her incredible vocal range is given a thorough workout by the challenging and layered score, and Boggess is flawless in what is not only a highly skilled performance, but an incredibly demanding one, both physically and emotionally.
Viewers may be wary of the lengthy running time and higher ticket price, but The Phantom of the Opera cannot be compared to a regular movie-going experience. This is an opportunity to enjoy the world’s most successful theatrical show at a price that wouldn’t even get you through the door of the West End or Broadway productions. The show does keep the 20-minute interval, so viewers can stretch their legs and grab a snack, but they won’t hesitate to rush back to their seats for the spectacular second half of this genuine classic of 20th Century theatre. An unusual filmgoing experience, to be sure, this can’t compare to actually “being there”, but for those of us who don’t have a live production playing on our doorstep, this is the next best thing, and an unforgettable night out.