Safe House ***

It’s safe to say that any film starring the charismatic Denzel Washington is placed on the box office map long before it’s even had a chance of a good run and further scrutiny. Although both the Training Day star and Safe House director Daniel Espinosa – steering his first English-language project here – were against labelling the film ‘an action thriller’ in London recently, it is in effect such, so will naturally come under the inevitable Bourne benchmark scrutiny.

Ryan Reynolds stars opposite Washington in this as young CIA agent Matt Weston who is tasked with looking after fugitive and rogue ex-agent Tobin Frost (Washington) in a safe house in Cape Town. However, the safe house is attacked, and Weston finds himself on the run with his charge from a yet indistinguishable enemy bent on destroying Frost – and him.

On the whole, Safe House provides Reynolds with the opportunity to prove his worth and very much hold his own opposite such a distinguished action-role guru in Washington. It also places the Canadian actor in the edgier, grittier roles he is best in, away from the rom-com slush and Green Lantern debacle. This relentless, often exhausting but electrifying race for survival does mean Reynolds called on to do less acting and more reacting than the acclaimed Buried – both of which claim to be psychological offerings. That said Reynolds is incredibly watchable in this, fighting off his fair share of attacks like a seasoned action-man pro while not forgetting his character’s inner motivation and sensitivities. His physical pinnacle in this is the end scene opposite Joel Kinnaman as Keller that causes pause for breath.

Naturally, Washington does not fail to delight once more in yet another older, wiser anti-mentor role, but with a less clear agenda than normal. His character Frost’s dynamic with Weston is what galvanises the thrill ride across the South African city. But without Reynolds in tandem, Washington’s performance is somewhat complacent in nature, playing his same moves out all over again. Even though the actor defines Frost as a ‘sociopath’, both superior acting and empathetic when he needs to be, as soon as the cat’s out of the bag as to why he’s on the run, the reasons for the chase itself lessens in impact. It is purely enjoying watching the ease with which the Reynolds-Washington screen match works that makes Safe House more entertaining than it ought to be. But it’s no South African Bourne.

Its villains at the heart of power also seem too under developed and one dimensional to really be worthy opponents in the field when the chips fall. We have witnessed too many military-style ‘main control’ rooms in our time with the very latest hum of technology that we can be forgiven for becoming a little blasé about it all. As most of the fight from this side is centred within this environment – admittedly with a couple of decent hand-to-hand and rooftop-to-rooftop chase and combat scenes thrown in that smack of Bourne (well, there is a large contingent of the crew who worked on both films), by the time the real enemy is revealed we are vaguely fazed by the inevitable standoff. It all boils down once more to the talents of both Reynolds and Washington for the majority of the time – and surprisingly more so the former.

Safe House is an easy-on-the-brain – but not necessarily always on the eye with some of the whizzy editing – action flick, pure and simple, with two highly attractive cast members doing the very best out of the situation and managing to hold your attention throughout the flimsy scenario. The fact that Washington admitted to not liking the script one bit when he first came on board, and subsequently helped rewrite it over several months, is very telling as to the original draft. But what is even more intriguing is how dangerously convincing Washington – like Frost – is that he saw this as a manipulation exercise in itself, which is more exciting a premise to contemplate than we should be giving credit to ‘sociopath’ Frost in this. Less of the juggernaut that was Unstoppable, but still a highly digestible Washington affair, if white-knuckle ride scenes with a temporary lack of oxygen to the lungs are on the agenda, you could do far worse in the company of lesser actors.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2011: Rampart ***

It’s been three years since the dynamic working trio of writer-director Oren Moverman, Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster worked together on The Messenger, a powerful and truly thought-provoking drama about the effects of war on those adjusting to civvy street living. Harrelson and Foster’s ‘Angels of Death’ sadly went under the radar at the box office at the time, but their collective performance is one of the finest from both actors in their careers to date. This time, in Rampart, Harrelson is centre-stage, with Foster merely a supporting factor, and Moverman gives Harrelson the opportunity to reinvent the traditional view of the dirty cop in a unique and intriguing way.

Set in 1999 Los Angeles, a few years after the infamous riots, but where tensions still run high and the police are still held in disrepute, veteran police officer Dave Brown (Harrelson), the last of the renegade cops, works to take care of his unusual polygamist family. After his car is rammed, he is caught on camera assaulting the culprit, but refuses to enter early retirement and uses his law training to struggle for his own career survival.

The production is one we have seen many times before, with its jarring, hand-held, sometimes strongly contrasting cinematography to replicate a sense of lurking threat and underworld dealings and set-ups. It’s the ugly side of law enforcement with Officer Brown at the helm like an unhinged foot soldier longing for the days when you could be more physical with the perp – and anyone else who doesn’t comply for that matter. So far, Moverman follows a well-trodden genre plan, and with Harrelson as the Anti-Christ copper doing his very best to unsettle the status quo, it makes a solid impression.

But as we learn more about Brown, we witness more than the average corrupt film cop psyche, as new layer upon new layer of personality trait is added to Brown’s arsenal that makes him far from one-dimensional. As he surprises the authorities that are trying to remove him as a departmental embarrassment, he also keeps the viewer guessing as to his next move. At the start you unquestionably dislike him – and that never quite changes, but what grows with his sociopathic tendencies is our level awe at his tuned survival skills that are always questionable but genius in adaptability.

Moverman’s characters are definitely well presented and not the real issue: It is the actual plot that is too thin to sink your teeth into, and there is little reference to the true effect of the Rampart scandal of the late 90s – hence the title – and its gross misconduct that would have given Brown’s personal war a little fleshier framework to implode in. In that sense, Harrelson is carrying the show on Brown’s Teflon shoulders. This should glowingly highlight Harrelson’s impressive performance but some of the choppy direction and odd framing – as we see from Brown’s perspective – actually detracts from Harrelson’s compelling portrayal. In a sense, at times it’s LAPD Blues all over, and hence suffers from a touch of déjà vu as a whole.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Black Gold **

The prospect of another, more contemporary Lawrence of Arabia that focuses on relevant current affairs in the region today, and with big acting names involved is an attractive proposition, especially as Black Gold has been producer Tarak Ben Ammar’s long-time goal by bringing the finer points of Hans Ruesch’s rousing novel South Of The Heart to the big screen – all directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy at the Gates, Seven Years in Tibet). The reality though is a dull, dusty, overly long epic attempt that has jarring and frankly odd sporadic bouts of humour in a story that is primarily of a serious nature.

Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, the story centres on a young, bookish Arab prince, Auda (Tahar Rahim) who is taken with his older brother as collateral in a peace-keeping pact between the charismatic Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas) and his conservative father Sultan Amar (Mark Strong). When Western interest flags the possibility of oil in the heart of a ‘no man’s land’ area agreed by both tribes as part of the peace process, Prince Auda finds himself torn between allegiance to Sultan Amar and his modern, liberal father-in-law. To complicate matters further, Auda is married to his childhood sweetheart, Princess Leyla (Freida Pinto), and the daughter of Nesib who uses their alliance to his benefit.

Such films set in such environments require a certain breathing space to enter that world and realise the passions that drive the culture. Annaud is sensitive to this need to immerse the modern-day (Western) audience as such, and he builds a distinguishing picture between the old and new ways of both factions. There are also some wonderful, (if déjà vu) panoramic fighting vistas that capture the spirit of Arabia.

However, a downside of all this is the inevitable clichéd script, unnecessary obvious plot flags and nauseating worldly morals about West and East needing to learn much from each other. Rahim as Auda spends much of his time in his own thoughts for the first part of the film – or in a book, or biting his tongue, that it feels there is genuinely little connection established between us and him to warrant feeling the heart of his struggle and rallying behind this unusual leader. It is only with the assistance of ‘joker’ character, half brother Ali (Riz Ahmed) that we get any greater sense of how Auda ticks to truly care, and Ahmed turns out to be the most intriguing watch of the whole thing.

What is also off putting is the mixture of accents, with playful Banderas complete with Spanish tongue simply coming across as Banderas dressing up in Arabic dress for the thrill of playing a greedy oil baron. It’s unclear whether the humour that exudes from this character’s presence is intentional or not, or just a result of Banderas overly camping up his contribution, and hence detracting from the really interest points of corruption, greed and power of the region the film attempts to tackle. As for Strong, his stoic, leaderly acumen always produces a credible performance in whichever role he takes on, but we don’t get to see too much of it in this – and sadly far much more of doe-eyed, pouting Pinot who does little in the shape of any real acting, and is merely the glamour shot.

A contemporary Lawrence of Arabia, Black Gold it is not because it’s not beating with any passionate heart around the issues, merely pulsing with crude oil moments, misplaced humour and copycat desert fight scenes.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ****

Charm and experience go hand in hand, and director John Madden (The Debt) has coaxed this potent combination effortlessly out of a truly stellar British cast of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup. This film may have an older audience in mind, but its characters’ personal issues are universally felt on the whole.
In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, British retirees from different walks of life travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel, run by an over enthusiast young entrepreneur called Sonny (Dev Patel) who is having girlfriend and mother troubles as well. Less luxurious than its advertisements, the Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to charm in unexpected ways, resulting in the intrepid explorers having the opportunity to face their personal issues and fears.The heart of the story is one of personal growth and development, and it’s fairly obvious from the start how things will pan out. Coupled with the bustling, colourful and accommodating sights and sounds of India, it’s free advertising for the national tourist board angling for the grey pound. However, the obvious attributes aside, it’s never clear how the individuals will change – if at all, which keeps the adventure from stagnating.

As with any escapism scenario, there are the inevitable presentations of the best of the Indian lifestyle, minus any of the threats, but the magical performances and detail invested in local culture save this film from becoming patronisingly contrived Eat Pray Love.

Madden turns to his award-winning muse Dench in this, giving her one of the most delightful opening scenes in a film seen in a very long time that perfectly captures the patronage of latter-day existence, as well as encapsulates the feelings of being left behind in an often ludicrous technological world. Madden never allows any of his characters to wallow too long, and Ol Parker’s adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s novel is full of wonderful laugh-out-loud retorts that only a true British sense of sardonic humour could deliver. Simultaneously, these show the fight left in all, a long way off the grave.

Dench as recently widowed Evelyn is ever remarkable and the comparative member against which all the others’ growth is compared. But on the contrary, Evelyn harbours self doubts that makes Dench’s character warmer and gentler than her usual strong-headed types. But it is Smith as old-school and racist Muriel who gives the ultimate linchpin performance, and who poses the biggest viewing challenge. She brilliantly balances her character’s prejudicial nature with that of hidden wisdom, and offers the greatest and most intriguing character arc to follow.

Nighy is always a fizzy tonic to watch, and doesn’t have to try that hard to inject quirky coolness in any film. But as long-suffering Douglas married to social climber and neurotic Jean (Wilton) is perhaps cast in the shadow and the least convincing character of the bunch as the downtrodden spouse – even if it’s an interesting choice for him to play.

Patel simply has a ball, camping it up as ever loyal and inspirational forward-thinker Sonny, the youngster of the pack who realises that by catering for the older clientele in a somewhat big-hearted but misguided fashion that youth often adopts finds his residents’ life experience invaluable. It’s a subtle lesson in not being quick to write off the senior input on the whole, but still suffers from the odd moralistic moment at times.

Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a delightfully exotic experience shared with the best of British acting royalty abroad that is both frank and fanciful, and bursting with charming wit.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Ghost Rider : Spirit Of Vengeance in 3D ***

Admitting to enjoying a Nic Cage film always feels like a guilty pleasure when there is often plenty to be entertained by the man himself on screen, regardless of how incredulous the story his character resides in is. In fact after the lukewarm response to the first Ghost Rider film, there is nothing to lose with the second one – apparently in 3D, and this gun-ho attitude permeates Cage’s Johnny Blaze character too, with oodles of cheap thrills to be had.

In Spirit of Vengeance Blaze still struggles with his demonic side while hiding out in Eastern Europe. But he is soon called upon by a holy man called Moreau (Idris Elba) to stop the Devil – Roarke (Ciarán Hinds) – and save a young boy’s soul, as Beelzebub tries to take human form in the child.

The visual trickery and nothing else is what animates and drags this weak storyline to the bitter end. The 3D is present in sporadic amounts, but is ironically needed to divert attention away from the rather daft script. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s visual stunts do not disappoint though, especially when Ghost Rider and his gun-totting nemesis Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) start stirring up trouble. Fans will be pleased to hear the Ghost Rider skull effects are also far neater and more sinister in this film than before, complete with blistering leather biker jacket effects that are altogether grungier. However, it’s a long way off ‘scary’ as such.

The clincher of all the chaotic actions scenes is actually Ghost Rider ‘relieving’ himself with a devilish aplomb that has carefree, eccentric, (borderline) deranged Cage written all over it and deservedly gets a big laugh. Cage knows this story’s flaws but in admirable defiance he positions Blaze as the equally flawed and naturally likeable rogue anti-hero, evidently having a blast along the way in some scenes straight out of a latter-day Mad Max road movie. In fact, all else is pretty unremarkable as the film goes on, even with the added presence of a contacts-enhanced Elba and facially compromised Hinds as the Devil soon-to-be incarnate.

There is very little suspense to be had from Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer’s screenplay, and the lacklustre end confrontation scene sees Cage as Blaze trying his hardest to whip things into an evil-slaying frenzy – trying to cash in on his persecuted Edward Malus traits from The Wicker Man days, but without much success.

Still, with plenty of goggle-eyed Cage/Blaze warped effects on tap, and Cage gurning if he’s not trying to control his simmering insanity in the more meaningful moments with mother and child, what more does this silly series need? Better bike effects for starters from those in the sound department who need a lesson on the difference between four- and two cylinders, especially as Blaze/Ghost Rider is a biker at heart.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ***

There was understandably some surprise when Stephen Daldry’s latest film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s forthcoming Oscars, but given Daldry’s previous nomination success with the likes of The Reader and Billy Elliot, it’s not completely shocking either.

Indeed, the Academy likes an inspirational tale born out of hardship and woe – just look at 2009’s Award-winning The Blind Side. That said while some will argue that this film borders on exploitation by using 9/11 events and imagery to bolster any worthiness, it’s still ultimately deeply affecting as it tries to make sense of an emotive subject through a young boy’s eyes that’s so senseless in a unique and poignant manner.

Fans of Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel of the same name may beg to differ, but as a beautifully shot, standalone film, the acting is so impressive from newcomer Thomas Horn as 11-year-old Oskar, carrying a myriad emotions on very young and capable shoulders, regardless of obvious irritable character traits along the way.

Young Oskar shares a fun and adventurous side with his doting father Thomas (Tom Hanks) who gives him puzzles and adventure trails to solve. But on 9/11, Oskar’s idyllic and loving world comes crashing down, and he is left without his number one fan and living with his grieving mother (Sandra Bullock), who he feels remote from. After looking through his late father’s things one day, he discovers a key in an envelope labelled with the name ‘Black’. Believing this is one last quest set by his father Oskar goes on an adventure to track down the lock that fits the key, enlisting the help of his grandmother’s mysterious ‘Renter’, a mute old man (played by Oscar-nominated Max von Sydow).

Using actual, harrowing footage of the Twin Towers in the film is a bold and some might say insensitive move by Daldry, and it is debatable whether one shot involving Bullock looking out at the devastated Towers was necessary at all – never mind the ‘falling man’ imagery. Although any other horrific event like a fatal car accident could trigger the same level of grief and deeper questions in a child, Foer’s story is as a result of 9/11 events.

Perhaps, as Oskar is such an intellectually curious and sensitive child – possibly having Asperger syndrome, the trigger of a greater, more unifying event is rendered necessary still in the film version, and nothing about this adaptation is ever allowed to be a ‘comfortable’ viewing experience either – it’s a stark coming-of-age account. Both young and old in this actually have the same unifying fear to conquer and healing process to go through, which is precisely why it strikes a chord, pulling it out of the usual troubled youth salvation film.

Although the adult players in this perform solidly on the peripheral as expected, allowing a capable Horn to take centre-stage, sadly there are times when your sympathies for the boy character wane as he ventures down the quirky, oh-so-convenient ‘special kid’ route to suggest he is more extraordinary than any other child who experienced lost at the time. Nevertheless, it is a refreshing change – away from the PlayStation generation – to see imagination let rip in a satisfying little adventure that simultaneously highlights the life and soul of those who make up the Big Apple. Indeed even though his mother’s tidy explanations at the end seem a little incredulous, these still feel a necessary part of the family’s healing process after Oskar’s crueller outbursts. There are elements that do not quite translate, such as why Oskar’s grandmother does not reveal the true identity of ‘The Renter’ to start with that require a suggestive take on the viewer’s part, but could also be deemed another ‘sub-mystery’ to solve.

Although watching this film will prove shamelessly premeditated and excessive at times while tragic and heartfelt at others, its mixed bag of finely balanced emotions do not fail to move you on the whole – rather disappointing, tear-jerking ditch ending aside. Above all else, an intrepid Daldry has undoubtedly delivered an exciting prospect for tomorrow to watch in Horn, earnestly cutting his teeth in a highly controversial first project.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Woman In The Fifth ***

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski‘s first film since 2004’s acclaimed My Summer Of Love is set in Paris and combines art-house values with supernatural thriller tendencies that keep things emotive and disorientating. Based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy, The Woman In The Fifth also serves as a haunting insight into one man’s struggle to rediscover himself and escape the clutches of mental illness.

American writer and university professor Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) goes to Paris to reconcile with his estranged wife Nathalie (Delphine Chuillot) and resume some sort of relationship with their young daughter (Julie Papillon). But after being turned away and rob of his belongings on a bus going to the outer city limits, Ricks finds himself in a seedy, rundown French Arab quarter with a security night job to finance his bed and board as he struggles to write his second novel and see his daughter. Meanwhile, the author is invited to a party and meets a strange and beguiling woman called Margrit (Kristin Scott Thomas) who offers both sexual and artistic enlightenment but has a disturbing mystery surrounding her.

Pawlikowski employs all the ‘stranger about town’ filmic ploys to land his protagonist in a foreign place at rock bottom, far from the good-humoured charm of An American In Paris. Ricks seems like a victim of self-inflicted circumstances at first – even though he fairs better than most with a command of French, and the story cleverly moves between this and instigator as the story unfolds and Ricks digs in deeper.

In production terms, Pawlikowski perpetuates a disturbing atmosphere further by favouring little known scenery of the French capital to completely unsettle the status quo. In so doing, he concentrates on pockets of ‘undiscovered’ life, keeping his locations to a bare minimum and disorientated and often claustrophobic to allow the character reflection to fully develop. In so doing, it is never clear what is fact and what is fiction, helped by the re/appearance of Margrit, and the viewer feels constantly toyed with.

Hawke is suitable awkward, fussy and tragically lost as bookish Ricks on the one hand, but dangerously adventurous and too curious for his own good on the other – a pure dichotomy of a character which keeps the story fresh, unhinged and oddly real. Scott Thomas although exquisite as ever, offers nothing remarkably new here, merely playing the sexually confident older woman on an easy ego trip. Margrit is almost too much of an enigma, with no real enlightenment offered at the end. Merely suggesting that she is a possible figment of Rick’s imagination does little to satisfy the mystery, and results in a muddled and frustrating conclusion.

That said Pawlikowski’s skill at creating a sense of vulnerability and edginess to his characters, combined with some fine performances is what keeps the essence of his latest project an intriguing reflection of the many facets of the human psyche in times of hardship.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Woman In Black ***

Although having been involved in other film projects around Harry Potter, the transition from boy wizard notoriety to serious adult acting was always going to be a huge step for Daniel Radcliffe. Having Hammer Films behind him is reassurance enough, but the role of embattled young lawyer and father Arthur Kipps in director James Watkins’ authentic spooky horror The Woman In Black may feel an odd casting for the actor and worse, be too similar in supernatural substance to his Potter role to clearly define his acting rebirth.

Based on Susan Hill’s novel and adapted for the screen by Kick-Ass scribe Jane Goldman, the Edwardian-era story follows Kipps, a widower and father, who has a last chance to revive his legal career and pay off his mounting debts by being sent by his employer to a remote village to sort out the estate of Alice Drablow who owned Eel Marsh. His welcome in the town is less than frosty, and he discovers a vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorising the locals.

Any horror fan will find Watkins’ beautifully captured offering a satisfying watch, exempt from too many effects. It’s old-school horror in a way that it builds a sense of foreboding – and has one of the creepiest collections of scary-looking period dolls ever seen on screen. It’s a ‘behind you’ fest of in-your-face jump tactics that certainly do their required job, relying as much on sound to whip you into a chilling frenzy as the visuals.

The plot is fairly standard, with the usual superstitious goings-on, a Hammer trademark of odd village folk wary of all outsiders and guarding secrets, entities running around the haunted house, and visits to overgrown graveyards and tombs to put things right. Its most dramatic rescue scene in the boggy marsh shows Radcliffe coming to the rescue in Potter mode again, and is stunningly filmed in the same gloomy production design palette as the recent TV hit, Great Expectations. All in all, Radcliffe’s further discoveries prove a satisfying and engaging watch.

However, Radcliffe as a father in this isn’t quite credible, and as Radcliffe plays it safe, using much the same expressions as we’ve seen him use in his hunt for Voldermort, there is no distinguishing fact that will set this film apart – it even has a Hogwarts Express train sequence. Even though Potter fans will still delight in seeing their hero unravelling a ghostly mystery – minus Ron and Hermione, it does not feel as bold a move as Radcliffe could have made. Hence, in the light of the massive success of the Potter franchise, this film stays firmly in the shadows and is easily forgotten. It’s a shame as its production values and the compelling appearance of Ciarán Hinds as Daily, a local businessman who assists Kipps in solving the mystery, still do not elevate The Woman In Black up where it should be.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Muppets ****

Co-writer and star Jason Segel and director James Bobin courageously embraced the arduous task of recapturing the magic of The Muppets for a new generation, safe in the knowledge that the adult ‘kids’ out there who remember the show first time around would only need a few bars of Sam Pottle and Jim Henson’s iconic theme tune to secure a captive interest. However, this alone cannot guarantee a whole new movie’s success, and it’s because Segel and Bobin – of The Flight of the Conchords fame – have stuck to making this a puppet character-driven piece full of the coy innocence of the 70s’ franchise, and created another new Muppet character called Walter who gingerly and affectionally takes centre-stage that The Muppets (2011) still triggers the warm and fuzzy nostalgia from 30 years ago.

In the Segel-Bobin film, The Muppets’ biggest fan Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) convinces his human brother Gary (Jason Segel) to make a pilgrimage to the old Muppet studios while Gary and girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) holiday in LA. But while there, Walter overhears that the studio grounds and the theatre that housed The Muppet Show are being sold to a greedy oil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who has other fatalistic plans for the site. Geared into action, Walter and co unite to convince The Muppets, including Kermit The Frog, to strive to raise the funds to save the historic site by putting on another The Muppet Show/telethon.

Although unoriginal but highly relevant, the plot – good sense overcoming corporate evil – has wisely been kept simplistic to allow the main focus to be reintroducing The Muppets and their personalities that have merely been briefly showcased through other movies and TV specials in the past few decades, but never reunited in full force to show their appeal. Walter represents the ardent, ever-loyal fan here, like a human-puppet ambassador to guide new viewers to Muppet nirvana. In doing so the often-overpowering and self-depreciating Segel screen personality actually takes a back seat with chirpy Adams, content with playing the goofy human support in some awkward but hilarious song-and-dance moments, letting the true felt-made stars shine.

Even with ample ammunition to go on an entertainment offensive against the likes of reality TV shows and faddy TV diets the TV corporations now deliver, the writers never get preachy or cynical, and in turn lose the gracious charm and ever lovable, sweet nature of the original show – even with some of the latter having fallen on hard times, like Fozzie Bear performing in some back-of-beyond bar with his less talented Muppet tribute band, The Moopets.

That said the Muppet global roundup that takes up a good percentage of the run-time, which includes Kermit, Walter and co relocating Kermit’s lost love, Miss Piggy, in Paris, working as the fashion editor of Vogue with Emily Blunt as her assistant (a Devil Wears Prada nod), is both a necessary introduction and a counterproductive snag in that its significance triggers more thrill factor for established fans, but might leave the younger viewers the filmmakers hope to target a little restless. Indeed the only saving grace is the Muppets are so recognisable that both demographics are likely to rally behind the troupe to save the establishment, and the good-natured and earnest way they go about getting support wins over in a family-friendly way. And every Muppet Show needs its star guest that allows us to rekindle our fond affection for the zany Jack Black comedy, who as the ‘kidnapped star victim’ actually plays against type in trying to escape. There are also a host of other celebrity appearances to boost the campaign too, while Cooper has a ball in true one-dimensional baddie mode trying to bring the curtain down on the night.

We defy anyone over the age of 30 not to get emotional when the lights do go up and Kermit takes the stage – after the inevitable speedy, made-for-TV tidy-up. With all the firm favourites united and back where they belong, and old and new tunes to inanely grin along to, the Segel-Bobin resurrection is nothing short of inspiring, thought provoking and filled with authentic affection, making it a trip out to the cinema not to be missed.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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