Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy
Animation studio Pixar has produced more than its fair share of beloved movies but 2003’s Finding Nemo undoubtedly sits close to the top of their very impressive pile. So it was inevitable that we would return to the Pacific Ocean for another installment, and with Dory, the lovable blue tang with the five-second memory, being arguably their most popular character it made sense that she would play a starring role. The only surprise then is that it took 13 years for us to get there. But Pixar’s track record is not nearly as impressive when it comes to sequels. With the exception of Toy Story 2 and 3, none of the others have really hit the mark. Pixar is undoubtedly at their best when they are being original and thinking outside the box, but with a title that suggests much the same premise as the first film, can Finding Dory be more than just a simple retread?
“Hi, I’m Dory. I suffer from short term memory loss.” These are the first words we hear in Finding Dory and in an instant they simultaneously re-establish who this character is and entirely reinvent her for this new story. Continue reading
Director: Craig Johnson
Starring: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell
They say you should never judge a book by its cover. It is equally true that you should never judge a film by its cast. With Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig headlining, and Luke Wilson and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell in key supporting roles, one would assume The Skeleton Twins to be a flat out laugh riot. But Craig Johnson’s film has deeper, darker issues to explore.
The film opens with the concurrent unsuccessful suicide attempts of a twin brother and sister, Milo and Maggie. Milo is a gay, unemployed actor. Maggie is a married, discontented dental hygienist. His attempt fails; hers is interrupted by the news of his. Despite being thick as thieves as kids, they haven’t spoken each other in ten years. Rushing across the country to be by Milo’s side, Maggie insists that he move in with her and her husband Lance until he has recovered. Living under the same roof, these two troubled people reconnect, rediscovering the bond that they share, confronting old wounds and helping each other address their issues.
Obviously, The Skeleton Twins is not the light giggle-fest you might have expected. The movie is best described as a ‘dramedy.’ It explores some serious issues – depression, self-worth, the effects of suicide – in a serious way, but with the cast it possesses it can’t help but allow some humour to sneak in.
Covering some familiar thematic ground, Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman’s screenplay feels a bit paint-by-numbers indie. Over the last two decades of American independent film we have seen dysfunctional, estranged families and adults trying to deal with the scars inflicted by their parents explored ad nauseam. While The Skeleton Twins is an earnest film, it doesn’t offer us anything drastically different. While Johnson and Heyman succeed in creating strong, complex and largely believable characters, the narrative itself occasionally opts for the easy and conventional route.
The strength of the movie comes from the revelatory central performances from Hader and Wiig. Both are clearly heavily invested in the project and show impressive dramatic range which may surprise some given their improvisational comedy backgrounds. We’ve seen glimpses of what Wiig is capable of in dramatic moments in Bridesmaids and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but Hader’s film career has to this point been made up of supporting roles in broad comedies. He joked about himself in the James Franco roast, “Bill’s ok in the movies if you need a best friend’s best friend to ask an exposition question.” With one of Hader’s most beloved SNL characters being the ultra-camp Stefon, it is impressive to see that Hader’s Milo doesn’t fall back on lazy gay stereotyping but is a well-crafted and complex character.
Having worked together for so many years on SNL, there is a chemistry between the two which helps make them very believable as siblings. Milo and Maggie have a shared sense of humour and shorthand communication which is obviously natural to Hader and Wiig. While their performances in the film’s more dramatic moments which is what surprises, their comedic abilities are still pivotal. Their humour shines through in moments that break through the film’s bleakness but also serve to reinforce it. It emphasises the fact that these are two fun individuals who have been squashed by life.
The Skeleton Twins is moving, at times quite confronting, and at others very funny and reminds us of the special bond that siblings share.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Skeleton Twins? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Directors: James Bobin
Starring: The Muppets, Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell
Muppets Most Wanted, the follow up to the Muppets’ triumphant big screen return in the 2011 film The Muppets, opens with a very self-aware musical number titled, “We’re Doing a Sequel.” “We’re doing a sequel. That’s what we do in Hollywood, and everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.” As well as being the catchiest song in the film, it also, unfortunately, proves slightly prophetic.
The movie picks up where the last one left off. The Muppets return show has been a great success, the Muppet theatre has been saved and now they have to decide what they are going to do next. The forebodingly named Dominic Badguy suggests they make the most of their moment by going on a world tour. So with Dominic as their new manager, the Muppets head out on the road. But, surprisingly, Mr. Badguy isn’t all above board. He is actually the world’s second most wanted thief, and he is in cahoots with the world’s first most wanted thief, Constantine. Constantine is the world’s most dangerous frog and also just happens to be a dead ringer for Kermit. The old switcheroo is pulled and Kermit finds himself incarcerated in a Siberian Gulag while Constantine fronts the Muppets, with the tour around Europe serving as a front for he and Dominic to pull a series of high profile burglaries.
The Muppets was a brilliant film (it made my top ten of 2012). A vibrant, joyful movie, even in returning to these old, much loved characters it seemed to find a sense of freshness. At its heart was an incredible and overwhelming affection for these characters. In contrast, Muppets Most Wanted feels like a sequel, a more cynical exercise designed to exploit previous success.
Jason Segel, as both a co-writer and actor, was the driving force in getting the Muppets back on the big screen, but he was not involved in this sequel and his presence is missed both on and off screen. He and Amy Adams brought a sweetness and innocence to the human characters in the first film. They felt appropriately Muppety. Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell (who spends the whole movie doing a bad Inspector Clouseau impression) are all gifted comic performers, but none of them have that same quality and as such you don’t feel the same investment in the movie’s human characters.
There are still plenty of laughs. Muppets Most Wanted has the typical Muppets combination of high brow and quite simple humour. One minute there will be an allusion to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal in which we see a black and white scene of the Swedish Chef playing a game of chess with the grim reaper, the next you’ll be giggling at the fact none of the Muppets recognise Constantine has replaced Kermit, despite his thick Russian accent and his continually getting all their names wrong. There are also cameos a plenty. Lady Gaga, Danny Trejo, Puff Daddy, Salma Hayak, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hiddleston, James McAvoy, to name but a few. Some of them are so brief that you almost miss them. The pick of them though is Josh Grobin, who is merely a disembodied singing voice coming from an isolation cell at the Gulag
Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Concords is back as the songwriter. A few of the songs are quite good – notably the aforementioned “We’re Doing a Sequel,” Tina Fey’s big number introducing Kermit to prison “The Big House,” and the finale “Together Again” – but none quite reach the heights of his effort the first time around for which he won an Oscar.
While the Muppets themselves remain such loveable and fun characters that they are always worth seeing, the joyous vitality and exuberance of the previous film is just not there this time around and as a result Muppets Most Wanted falls a bit flat.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Muppets Most Wanted? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.