What We’re Watching – 12/7/2011
The Muppets: So, there’s a new Muppet movie. You may have heard of it; it’s called The Muppets. I LOVE The Muppet Show, but the only Muppet movie I have every really cared for is Muppets From Space. (I am fully aware that this is an unpopular choice for favorite Muppet movie. There are some who would like to forget this film was ever made. Pshaw, I say to them. It’s lovely.) My husband nagged me and nagged me to go to this, and since I force him to watch an unusually large number of Bob Hope movies, I graciously complied.
Walter and Gary (Jason Segel) are brothers who live in Smalltown USA. While Gary has grown up, Walter has stayed the same height since childhood, probably because he is of the Muppet persuasion. He and Gary have had a lifelong love of the Muppets, and when Gary decides to take his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles for their anniversary, he invites Walter along to tour Muppet Studios. Alas, it turns out that Muppet Studios is in disrepair and the Muppets are no longer in contact with each other. While on the tour, Walter discovers a fiendish plot by Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who wants to demolish Muppet Studios and drill for oil. Walter, Gary, and Mary hunt out Kermit to let him know what is going on, and they decide the only way to save Muppet Studios is to get the Muppets back together to perform a show that will raise the money they need.
I know everybody loves this movie. Take your kids; it’s fine; whatever. It wasn’t heinous, but it was no Muppets from Space. It felt like a Muppet tribute movie and not enough like a Muppet movie; it was too weighed down by nostalgia for me. I also wanted way less Walter and Gary and more Muppets, and the eighties robot was like Jar Jar Binks. But worst of all, they made Kermit weak. Kermit is smart, funny, wise, caring, nurturing, and sometimes sassy. He can also get angry and make mistakes. My favorite Kermit moments are when he is running around backstage with his body trembling and his arms waving in the air. This Kermit was sad, easily defeated, and with next to no personality. That’s wrong.
A Kiss Before Dying: There are certain movies that I watch when I am sick because I know they are not going to disappoint me and leave me bored and restless; A Kiss Before Dying always keeps me entertained. (There is a 1991 remake with Matt Dillon and Sean Young, but I don’t care for it much. Best to stay with the original.) It’s easy to give too much away with this one, so I am going to tread lightly here. Rich coed Dorothy Kingship (Joanne Woodward) has a little problem. Turns out she is pregnant by her boyfriend, played by Robert Wagner, and it appears that he is a little reluctant to marry her. He had plans of eventually tying the knot, but does not want to risk alienating her father anymore than he already has. You see, Dorothy has a lifestyle that Robert Wagner would love to become accustomed to, and he doesn’t want a shotgun wedding to jeopardize that. She however, wants to get married right away to make it all legit. They talk a lot and then things happen.
This movie, based on an Ira Levin novel, has a nice noirish feel to it and some really good performances. Robert Wagner’s character is sooo bad, but also good-looking and charming; it’s no wonder Dorothy falls for him. Joanne Woodward is also great as Dorothy. She is young and sweet and just annoying enough that the audience can sympathize with Wagner’s impatience with her. If only she would just comply with his requests, things would go so much smoother. It’s also enjoyable to watch the relationship dynamics between Wagner and Mary Astor, who plays his mother. Listen, to say any more would ruin things. It’s a really enjoyable film that benefits from not having too much information beforehand. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a view. Maybe not a great classic, but a tightly plotted and well-acted film, perfect for a weekend morning or afternoon when you want to spend some time with a well-told tale.
Deathtrap: Also based on Ira Levin source material, Deathtrap is a 1982 movie adaptation of a play by the same name. And like A Kiss Before Dying, Deathtrap benefits from having not much of the plot revealed before viewing. Playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) has had one too many flops and is feeling very bad for himself when he receives a play by a former seminar student Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve). Clifford’s play is so wonderful “a gifted director couldn’t even hurt it.” Sydney expresses his anger over this turn of events to his wife Myra (Dyan Cannon), and in his ramblings, he jokes about inviting Clifford over, killing him, and stealing his play. Myra, it turns out, does not find this funny, and she finds it even less humorous when Sydney actually invites Clifford over to “talk.”
This movie didn’t really work for me this time around; I’d seen it once a looooong time ago, and had pleasant associations, so thought I would watch it again. Movies made from plays can be really stagey, and this one is no exception. The director, Sidney Lumet, tries to open it up from the one set in the play, but it doesn’t really work. Also, acting in a play is different than movie acting, and some of the line readings here are distinctly play-like. The plot itself is clever, and the acting, for the most part, is not bad. Michael Caine, as usual, gives a good performance, and Christopher Reeve is at his best (although that really isn’t saying much). Poor Dyan Cannon doesn’t have much to work with and comes off shrill and annoying. All in all, I found it watchable, but not as good as I remembered. However, if you have not seen this movie you may enjoy it more than I did. A great deal of the pleasure associated with this movie is not knowing what happens next. I may have noticed more flaws the second time around because I already knew all the good stuff. So, if you haven’t seen it and you’re interested, you should give it a try.
Rio Bravo: For my money, Rio Bravo is the best Western ever made. Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) and drunk-ass deputy Dude (Dean Martin) have arrested Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) for murder. Burdette is the brother of rancher Nathan Burdette ,who does not take kindly to having his brother arrested. He decides to get his brother out of jail before the U.S. Marshal comes for him, but Chance and his allies are having none of that. Chance and Dude are aided by Stumpy (Walter Brennan), another deputy; Carlos (Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez), a local hotelier; Colorado (Ricky Nelson) a gun for hire; and Feathers, (Angie Dickinson) a mysterious woman staying in town. Chance doesn’t really want any additional help, but he’s gotta sleep sometime. They just need to hold off Burdette’s men long enough for the Marshal to come and take this problem off their hands.
The plot of this movie is hardly original; director Howard Hawks made it as a response to High Noon, which he hated. In that film, the sheriff tries to drum up help from everyone in town. In this film, Chance resists getting help because it is his job to face down danger and protect the town. The plot in this movie really is secondary, though. Rio Bravo is great because of the characters, and, more specifically, the relationships between them. Here, Angie Dickenson is sublime as Feathers, Walter Brennan is hysterical as Stumpy, and Carlos and Colorado both are there to help save the day. But the real center of the movie is the relationship between Chance and Dude. Dude, also known as Borrachón (drunkard), used to be a sharp shootin’ deputy, until his heart was broken by a bad lady. He knows he needs to sober up in order to be of any help to Chance, and it is their friendship that gives him the strength to do what he has to. This is my favorite Dean Martin movie because he is just so damn good in it. I know it is hardly the fashion anymore to love John Wayne, but I do, and he shines here. Tired and practical, Chance does what is right, while trying to protect all those fools who are trying to protect him.