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

The Sting

When small time conman Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) accidentally steals $11,000 from racket running mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), he finds himself on the run after his partner is killed. Skipping town, Hooker teams up with long con artist Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to exact revenge. This reteaming of the stars and director (George Roy Hill) of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of the original, though a lot of attention has been paid to recreate a 1930s feel, from an old-fashioned opening logo, character introductions and hand-drawn chapter cards to everything being tinged with a sepia hue. 

I used to be a big fan of Hustle, so the route the plot takes was no surprise to me, with only one moment really catching me out. This let down the film in my expectations, and though the acting is solid, all involved have done better, most notably Shaw in Jaws and the Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Still, it’s a lot better than most other heist movies, it’s just a shame that watching them all ruined this one for me.

Choose film 7/10

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

Tootsie

Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is an actor in New York who, though talented and passionate about his work, finds himself unable to land a role due to age and physical limitations (I can be taller!) and a bad reputation for thinking too much about a character and arguing with the director. When he learns of an upcoming part on hospital soap opera Southwest General he makes sure he gets the gig, regardless of the fact that the character is female. This simple premise, man pretends to be a woman to get a job, would these days be most likely given to the likes of Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler, played entirely for gross-out laughs and hopefully tanking at the box office, but fortunately in 1982 Hoffman plays the part(s) relatively straight, giving arguably a career best turn in a body of work hardly lacking in expertise.
Hoffman is disturbingly convincing as Dorsey’s alter ego Dorothy Michaels, and the scenes where he transforms his appearance are at times uncomfortable to watch. George Gaynes and Bill Murray do their best to steal the show, respectively as a lecherous autocue-reading lead actor and Dorsey’s sardonic flatmate Jeff (You slut!) but it is Hoffman’s film, and nothing can detract from his central performance.
Choose film 7/10