The Muppet Movie

There are some days when I hate the list. The recent Luis Bunuel marathon? Whenever an Eisenstein film drops through my door? The 9-hour holocaust documentary? Those are all such days, none involving good times. But some days I get to watch a film where most of the characters are made of felt and have a hand shoved inside them somewhat further than recommended by most professional actors.

My only muppet experience to date has involved crossovers with Sesame Street, festive viewings of the Muppet Christmas Carol and the recent deluge of trailers for the muppets films currently in the cinemas, watch out on Monday for a new regular feature in which it will take centre stage. Yet though my involvement has been limited, I still adore them for reasons I cannot really explain, and this film details approximately how the team was formed.
Beginning with the muppets watching their own movie, the in-jokes and meta-humour grows throughout, with at one point characters finding one another because they read it in the script. Cameos come thick and fast, with each barely given a line, with the likes of James Coburn, Elliot Gould, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Telly Savalas and even Orson Welles showing up to join in the fun. I could have done with more time spent on the supporting characters – the Swedish Chef, Rizzo, Sam the Eagle, Statler and Waldorf and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, and a lot less time spent on Fozzie and Miss Piggy as I’ve always found them to be a tad annoying, but I suppose that’s just a personal preference.
Choose film 8/10

Dog Day Afternoon

Based on a true story, Sidney Lumet’s tale of two inept criminals (Al Pacino and John Cazale reuniting after the Godfather 1 & 2) whose attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank descends into chaos once the police, the media and the general public get wind of their plans. Pacino gives arguably one of his best performances – without resorting to ‘shouty Al’ – as he struggles to handle a situation completely out of his control, that is only ever going to become more so, and it’s refreshing to see a heist film with a couple of average Joes doing the robbing, as unlike Ocean’s Eleven or Inside Man, these guys have no plan, no masks, hell they even use their real names. Lumet excels when restricted to small locations (see 12 Angry Men), and here is no different, with almost the entire film taking place in and around the bank, as Pacino’s Sonny becomes a hit with the crowds gathering around the crime scene. Heading straight into the plot – Lumet rarely bothers with much initial back story – the direction is tight and entirely to the point, as every scene helps to progress the story further, or reveals a character detail previously unknown. There are some nice comedic touches – a bank teller hostage receives a call from her husband, asking what time she thinks she will be finished there, and when Sonny asks Cazale’s borderline psychotic Sal what country he wants to flee to, Sal replies “Wyoming,” and look out for Lance Henrikssen as FBI agent Murphy in one of his first film roles.

Choose film 8/10

Annie Hall

Woody Allen famously has a tendency to write himself into most, if not all, of his scripts. It is usually difficult to distinguish where Allen ends and his characters begin, and this is none more so than with Alvy Singer, Allen’s neurotic obsessive from this, arguably his greatest and funniest film. It is this ability to use himself, or at least a variation of himself, as his protagonist that has allowed Allen to create such a well rounded, nuanced persona. One wonders if he hasn’t been living life as this character since birth, honing the pessimism, the paranoia and awkwardness, so now all he needs to do is put the ‘character’ into a slightly heightened situation, and a natural comedy will emerge.
Not that character is the only weaponry in Allen’s arsenal. The script is hysterical yet droll enough to quote in everyday life (“we can walk to the curb from here”), the performances perfect, particularly Diane Keaton as the eponymous Hall, both Singer’s ideal partner and greatest foe, and the film is peppered with fourth wall breaking with moments of originality, from a narration that admits it may be exaggerating to direct-to-camera conversations and asides.
Thee almost sketch-like format of the film, flitting backwards and forwards in Hall and Singer’s relationship, suits Allen well, as he is a filmmaker of varying styles and techniques, so he is able to showcase this without jarring the rest of the film, such as when he used split-screen to compare different family meals, or stopping random people in the street for relationship advice.
Oh, and the woman waiting with Singer at the end of the film, out of focus and silent in the distance for a matter of seconds? None other than Sigourney Weaver.
Choose film 8/10