The Morning After: Mar. 24, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Amarcord


Federico Fellini is one of those directors who can make the bizarre seem sane. Amarcord fills itself with absurd situations and characters, yet maintains a level of down-to-earth realism that propels the viewer through the loosely-connected narrative fibers.

Fellini’s Oscar-winning film follows a year in the life of a small seaside town in Italy where a young man named Titta (Bruno Zanin) lives the ordinary life of a teenager. Opening at the start of spring, Fellini reminisces about the traditions and events of the 1930s that flavored his childhood, including a massive bonfire to welcome in the season and follows that up with a series of connected and unnconnected events in the small town that help to define who Fellini was and where he came from.

Fellini was known to take the Catholic Church to task for its repressive teachings and Amarcord doesn’t avoid those thorny comments, blending them into a seemingly ludicrous admonition by the priest while hearing confessions, insisting on knowing whether the teenage boys in town were masturbating, a sin in the eyes of God. The surrealism adds to the scenes authenticity as Titta reminisces about his romantic fantasies and the solace his self-pleasuring brought, but torn about revealing just how much he does so to the priest.

This is but one of many scenes in the film that ring truer than it should in spite of its outrageous contxt. Fellini was a master of wringing truth out of absurdity by focusing his lens on real people and seemingly grounded situations that are bolstered by outlandish embellishments. You could pick any scene in the film and find a way to analyze its deeper meanings within the confines of Fellini’s specific world view and that makes the film even more interesting as a result.

Muppets Most Wanted


There was something disingenuous about the original The Muppets. Attempting to capture the fondness many felt towards Jim Henson’s singular creation, comedian Jason Segal helped adapt the languishing franchise under direction from Disney and turned the film into a show-stopping, but manipulative rebirth of the great Muppets franchise.

Just under three years later, the same director is back, but with a fresher and more Muppets-like narrative that takes the focus away from the human actors and pinpoints it on the characters that are most important to the franchise’s success, the actual Muppets. Jason Segal, who starred in the first film alongside Amy Adams, co-wrote that film’s script, but was left out of the screenwriting process this time around and I can’t help but feel it was for the best. Muppets Most Wanted starts out weakly when it should be much stronger, but builds steam as the running time progresses, ending in a thoughtful, engaging finale.

It’s still not the Muppets I’m fond of remembering from the days of The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, but we’re moving in the right direction. Dumping the character of Walter might help the situation. His addition to the first film’s cast of characters was unnecessary and although he is the main reason the film’s plot moves foward, it seems like a disingenuous betrayal of the other Muppets characters who may not be the most intelligent, but are at least more capable than they are made out to be. Perhaps without the lynchpin of Kermit holding things together, it was important to have a sensible character moving things forwrad. It still felt forced.

Most of the songs in the film are instantly forgettable, with a few that stand out if only for their tongue-in-cheek superiority. This isn’t the most rewarding musical selection the franchise has put together.

Some might say that this film pales in comparison to its predecessor, but I might suggest this is better. This feels more like the Muppets we’ve come to love. They are no longer trying to be fresher, newer and more modern audience-friendly. The gentle ribbing, biting humor and general entertainment value are all improvements over the prior film. If anything, I hope they continue in this direction rather than that of the 2011 feature.

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