Northampton Press

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Movie Review: Musical antics from Kermit the Frog and Elaine Stritch

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

For a sock puppet, Kermit the Frog has come a long way in his career.

Jim Henson's Muppets first appeared on a Washington, D.C., TV show 1955 - '61. "The Muppets Show" was televised nationally 1976 - '81. There have been numerous spin-off TV shows and television specials.

There've been seven previous Muppet theatrical feature movies: "The Muppet Movie" (1979), "The Great Muppet Caper" (1981), "The Muppets Take Manhattan" (1984),"The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992), "Muppet Treasure Island" (1996), "Muppets From Space" (1999) and "The Muppets" (2011).

"Muppets Most Wanted" is a reasonably funny movie that is mostly inoffensive, good-natured fun that should make young and old alike smile and laugh.

"Muppets Most Wanted" is actually a musical.

"Elaine Stretch: Just Shoot Me" is a documentary about the legendary Broadway musical star.

The simple plot in "Muppets Most Wanted" has to do with Constantine, a Russian frog said to be the world's most dangerous criminal, who looks identical to Kermit the Frog.

Constantine switches places with Kermit, just as The Muppets embark on a world tour of concerts promoted by Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Kermit is sent to a Siberian Gulag overseen by Nadya (Tina Fey).

During The Muppets' tour, Dominic and Constantine scheme to steal priceless paintings and objects of art in Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London. At first, Kermit's pals don't realize he's been replaced. When they do, they must return the real Kermit and thwart Dominic and Constantine's plans.

Kermit the Frog and his doppelganger, Constantine, along with Miss Piggy have the lead roles. Sam The Eagle is sidekick to Inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell), an Interpol officer. Other Muppets, Walter, Animal, Gonzo and Scooter, have prominent roles.

There are cameos galore: Statler And Waldorf, The Swedish Chef, Beaker, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Rizzo The Rat, and Camilla The Chicken

And that's just the Muppets.

Celebrity cameos, true to the Muppets TV show roots, include: Christoph Waltz, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Ray Liotta, Frank Langella, Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Lady Gaga, Sean Combs and Usher (who sets up one of the film's many groan-inducing puns).

James Bobin, who directed TV's "Flight of the Conchords" (2007 - '09) and "Da Ali G Show" (2003 - '04) and "The Muppets" (2011) re-sock, er, re-boot, has lots of fun with the puppets and live characters. Bobin co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, screenwriter, "The Muppets"; director, "Get Him to the Greek" (2010), "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (2008). Production values and details are excellent.

The Muppets and human characters frequently break into song and dance. The songs, written by Bret McKenzie, of "Flight of the Conchords," are quite funny. The choreography is impressive. Tina Fey is the standout live actor.

Once again, with "Muppets Most Wanted," Kermit The Frog and The Muppets sock it to you.

"Muppets Most Wanted," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children.) for some mild action; Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Crime, Family, Musical; Run time: 1 hr., 47 min. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: During the "Muppets Most Wanted" end credits, Fozzie Bear hangs his hat on the credits and at the very end looks out at the movie theater seats and announces, "That's it ... The movie's over. Go home."

With a sardonic title like "Elaine Stretch: Shoot Me," you know you're in for a ribald film-going experience. Elaine Stritch doesn't disappoint in this often profane, sometimes profound and always peppy documentary about her life and career.

Stritch was the queen of musicals. She initiated the role of Joanne in Stephen Sondheim's "Company" (1970). Noel Coward wrote the role of Mimi Paragon for her in his musical, "Sail Away" (1961).

Stritch, three-time Emmy Award recipient (guest, comedy,"30 Rock," 2007; performance, music program, "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," 2004: guest, drama, "Law and Order," 1990) who received a Tony Award ("Elaine Stritch at Liberty," 2002), fumes at life's slings and arrows, even as she slings a few zingers of her own.

We learn about Stritch and her era, the long-gone Golden Age of Broadway, roughly from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s when classics that contributed to the Great American Songbook ruled the Great White Way.

The film, directed by Chiemi Karasawa in her directorial debut, concentrates on Stritch preparing for a one-woman show at the Cafe Carlyle, The Carlye, New York City, and then taking her show on the road.

Stritch, 89 in February, was beset by difficulty remembering lyrics, the arduousness of rehearsals, as well as health problems, which landed her in the hospital.

Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, John Turturro and Harold Prince, among others, weigh in on Stritch.

"Elaine Stretch: Shoot Me" is a must-see for theater buffs. For the casual theatergoer, the documentary offers a from-the-wings view of the actor's life, far less glamorous than "civilians" (non-entertainers) might think.

The film is inspiring because of Stritch's indomitable spirit. As depicted in the film, she's a dynamo who just won't quit.

"Elaine Stretch: Shoot Me," No MPAA Rating; Genre: Documentary; Run time: 1 hr., 20 min.; Distributed by Distributed by Sundance Selects.

Box Office, March 28: On a weekend when heavy rains in the Northeast were a symbolic movie studio promotional tie-in, "Noah" rose to No. 1, opening with a solid $44 million, diverting "Divergent" to No. 2, $26.5 million, $95.3 million, two weeks;

3. "Muppets Most Wanted," $11.3 million, $33.2 million, two weeks; 4. "Mr. Peabody & Sherman," $9.5 million, $94.9 million, four weeks; 5."God's Not Dead," $9 million, $22 million, two weeks; 6. "The Grand Budapest Hotel," $8.8 million, $24.4 million, four weeks; 7. "Sabotage," $5.3 million, opening; 8. "Need For Speed," $4.3 million, $37.7 million, three weeks; 9. "300: Rise of an Empire," $4.3 million, $101.1 million, four weeks; 10. "Non-Stop," $4 million, $85.1 million, five weeks;

Unreel, April 4:

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier," PG-13: Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson star in the sci-fi action sequel to "Captain America: First Avenger" (2011).

"Dom Hemingway," R: Jude Law stars in the crime comedy as Dom Hemingway, a safe-cracker back on the London streets after 12 years in prison.

"Island of Lemurs: Madagascar," G: Morgan Freeman narrates the documentary about Dr. Patricia C. Wright's efforts to save endangered lemurs on Madagascar.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and wdiy.org, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@ tnonline.com. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.