Joel’s 100 Films in 2015: The Great Muppet Caper

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8. The Great Muppet Caper watched 1/18/15

Hey, a movie!

While Fozzie and Kermit may not look like twins at first glance, give it a second look and you’ll notice the resemblance. That’s sort of the situation with this film and The Muppet Movie.

There two ways to make a muppet movie. You can tell a story about the muppets doing muppety things as themselves (The Muppet Movie, Muppets Take Manhattan, The Muppets, A Very Merry Muppet Christmas, The Muppet Show, Muppets Tonightand, arguably Muppet Babies) or, you recast them in a story and play it as if it’s not weird that half the cast is made up of anthropomorphic animals and awfully-fuzzy oddly-colored people (Muppet Treasure Island, Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppets Most Wanted and here in The Great Muppet Caper).

Both of these strategies have their advantages and their disadvantages. They also tend to have different fans amongst the Muppet faithful. Me? I like them all. I understand intellectually that there are good Muppet movies and bad ones. But I never end a Muppet movie (or the made for TV variety) without a big smile on my face.

That’s not true for everything from the Star Wars franchise. Or Disney movies. Or the Bond series. Or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Only Pixar and the Muppets are still batting .1000 with me on cinematic smiles. And that counts for a lot.

It’s not the triumph that The Muppet Movie was (comedically or cinematically) but it’s got it’s moments, that’ll make you feel all Muppetty inside.

4 stars.

Joel’s 100 Films in 2015: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

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7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service watched on 1/11/15

As I’m working my way through the Bond films again, it’s finally time to see something for the first time. I understand that for many people it’s their least favorite Bond, but the opening scene has better choreographed and performed fights than all of the Connery Bond films so far combined.

There are a million daring choices made here in the first EON Bond production without Sean Connery. It seems pretty clear that the company decided that if the main attraction was going to change, why not try lots of new things?

Some work, some definitely don’t.

Lazenby’s outfits are ridiculous. But only half as ridiculous as the fact they ended a Bond film like they end this one. To call it “gutsy” or even “ballsy” doesn’t do it justice. It’s like Nihilistic Bond.

The most frustrating thing about this is we can’t really know whether it was the movie or the actor that brought this outing down. Would Connery have made this film better? Or if given a more even film, would Lazenby have thrived as Bond?

The world may never know…no, wait, the world is not enough. That other line is for tootsie roll pops.

Joel’s 100 Films in 2015: Miller’s Crossing

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6. Miller’s Crossing watched on 1/10/15

I love the Coen brothers films. From my first viewing of Raising Arizonabad a kid too young to get most of the humor (but who loved the goofy look on Nic Cage’s face through it all), I knew I was onto something special.

When I first started college, I also discovered Netflix through the mail and immediately caught up on their entire catalog (including the little seen Blood Simple that started it all) but my favorite was their take on the gangster movie, Miller’s Crossing

Gabriel Byrne as Tom is maybe the coolest man ever put on film. He’s stoic, charming, brutish and brooding. All while taking his lumps from seemingly all players in the power struggle depicted in the film. I know lots of people would argue with me and say that The Usual Suspects is Byrne’s best movie, but this one slays Bryan Singer’s criminal boogeyman story every time for me.

In fact, this film is so well paced, scripted, acted and shot, that the only two films I’m willing to agree are better gangster movies are The Godfather and The Godfather Part II but even the Corleone’s can’t take Tom’s place in my heart. I was pretty sure of this before the most recent viewing but after finally sharing the film with Kelly, I’m willing to say confidently that this is my favorite movie.

5 stars.

Joel’s 100 Films in 2015: You Only Live Twice

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5. You Only Live Twice watched on 1/05/15

Ah, so.

It’s maybe the most racist Bond movie (and that’s saying something) as it’s got Connery in Asian disguise for a significant portion of the main story, but it’s also got Blofeld in his first real appearance (Donald Pleasance, setting the table for eventual lampooning by Mike Myers as Dr. Evil). It’s also got an ultra-light helicopter fight. Oh and a volcano lair, with a full set of functional volcano guns to protect it.

Knowing all of that, it’s even easy to overlook the complete phone-it-in nature of Connery’s performance here. He was fed up with being Bond (and apparently mobbed constantly during the filming in Japan, which couldn’t have helped his attitude), and it completely taints what would have been his final turn as James Bond (if not for the mega-payday that brought his return in Diamonds are Forever, and the legal loopholes that allowed him to remake Thunderball in Never Say Never Again). The setting is appropriately exotic (and the film is as beautiful as any of the Connery Bond films), but overall it doesn’t meet the heights of Goldfinger or From Russia with Love. There is an en masse army vs. army battle to end the film (as in Thunderball) that goes on too long, but at least this time it’s not underwater so everyone is moving at regular speed.

3 Stars.

Joel’s 100 Films in 2015: Guardians of the Galaxy

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4. Guardians of the Galaxy watched on 1/3/15

It’s not the best Marvel film so far, that’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s not the biggest Marvel film so far, that’s still The Avengers. But it’s the most fun I had in a movie theater this (technically last) year and I’m so glad to have it available to watch again and again with my family now.

The boys (J, almost 7, R 5 & a half) heartily approve of what is their second Marvel Cinematic Universe film so far (after The Avengers, some of the solo movies get a little dark for them still) and agree that Groot is the coolest new addition to the Marvel universe. None of us can wait for the next cosmic story.

There’s lots to like here, and many reasons the film is noteworthy. The big points to me:

1. Marvel is truly capable of elevating niche characters and plot lines to mainstream interest and acceptance.

2. There is no need to recast roles in the MCU, we can and should continue to push the universe wider introducing new heroes as old ones fall (or become too expensive in the case of Mr. Stark).

3. Star Wars is in excellent hands. Disney has allowed Marvel to do what they do best, but given them an unlimited canvas and bag of resources to pull from, while giving them grander ambitions and goals than they even had for themselves. There is no reason we shouldn’t expect the same for Lucasfilm and the Star Wars series in particular.

But most of all, it introduced me to Chris Pratt. He’s my favorite thing about the movie, and while I can imagine a few other people in the role (Lee Pace, who plays Ronan was rumored for it, Zachary Levi, maybe even John Krasinski, who was originally favored for Captain America, how different a world THAT would be!) I can’t imagine anyone of them now replacing him ala Don Cheadle as War Machine or Ruffalo as The Hulk. Pratt made Star Lord his own, and endeared him to a million little boys and girls all over the world. Everyone knew the potential of Groot and Rocket to sell merchandise, but Star Lord (and Pratt behind his mask) are responsible for capturing imaginations and that is a real franchise starter.

5 stars.

Joel’s 100 Films in 2015: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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3. The Grand Budapest Hotel watched on 1/03/15

In the fall of 2001, I signed up for Netflix for the first time. This was the ancient days where you got online, chose movies you wanted to watch at some nebulous time in the future and then awaited the exciting envelopes full of cinematic majesty from your friendly neighborhood mailman.

During this time, I rewatched the Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Coen Brothers and Mel Brooks catalogs that I’d already discovered on VHS. I watched some “forbidden fruit” movies I’d been unable or not allowed to watch before (like Caligula and The Last Temptation of Christ) I also, discovered some new names, like Wes Anderson.

I’d actually seen Rushmore in high school on video, but I was much too young and it all went over my head (other than the “O.R.” scrubs joke). But when I popped in that rented DVD of Bottle Rocket Anderson suddenly clicked for me. Since then, I’ve seen them all, and loved each of them in their own way. My personal favorite is The Life Aquatic.

But perhaps the most Wes Anderson of all the Wes Anderson films so far, is the one I watched to start this year. All his techniques are on display here. Bizarre characters in ever-increasingly bizarre situations. Beautiful static camera angles and long shots that accentuate the uncomfortable nature of so many of the conversations. Title cards and even silhouetted flashbacks. He’s off his own chain here, and just when you think it’s all too much, it falls together in just the right way and makes you fall in love with the Grand old hotel, just like the characters within the film.

Wes Anderson is many things, and sometimes he puts too much of many of those things into his films. But one thing he’s not, and therefore one thing his movies never are, is stale or unoriginal.

4 and a half stars.

Joel’s 100 Films in 2015: The Shawshank Redemption

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2. The Shawshank Redemption watched 1/01/2015

A film’s relentless cable airings can wear your love for a movie down. Break the soul of a movie, even a beloved movie, right open and expose it’s flaws and weaknesses. A great comedy can suddenly seem trite and clumsy. A great drama can feel maudlin when over-imbibed. It happens even to the best of films.

I thought, when I showed Shawshank to Kelly for her first time and what was likely my 20th, that I’d be immune to its charms. But time and overexposure have done nothing to destroy the beautiful inner-workings of the story of Andy Dufresne.

Morgan Freeman has had an amazing career with maybe a dozen roles that many different people would claim among their favorite movies of all time. But Red may be his greatest character and thus Shawshank his greatest role. In a film full of great performances he still stands out.

5 stars.

Joel’s 100 Films in 2015: Anchorman 2

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1. Anchorman 2 – watched 1/01/2015

What a movie to start the year and this project off with.

I liked Will Ferrell on SNL, but MY SNL was really before his time, so that didn’t mark him specifically for me. It was the double-flying-karate-kick combo of Elf (2003) and Anchorman (2004) that set my impression of Will Ferrell. Ron Burgundy seems like someone we all know from the past, even though Will created him just a decade ago. The first film was laugh-out-loud funny but by the time it was over, I was fine being done with Burgundy and his story. I never watched the “lost movie” made up of alternate takes and jokes from the first film that many fans love, and I didn’t want or expect to like this movie.

It is, frankly, funnier than it has any right to be. Will appears, at least for me, unable to wear out his comedic welcome. Continuing to cover different eras of time in their jokes, the team behind the film makes an adequate argument to let the party continue with the inevitable Anchorman 3.

It’s not ground-breaking, but if you can’t get a chuckle or two out of this one, something’s broken inside.

3 stars.

On Writing, and a Year without It

More than a year ago, I posted my last entry to this blog. I’d posted less frequently before that for a year or so, but before that I’d gone through a pretty prolific phase of writing and publishing here or on one of the other places this blog has called home over the years.

The reasons my posts had become less frequent (and then after Thanksgiving, non-existent) are numerous but the active ingredients, so to speak, number only two. The birth of my twin daughters, and the birth of my new podcast.

In November of last year my permanent Christmas card lineup was finalized with the addition of Eutaw and Nola, our beautiful twin daughters. Honeybun and I have been overwhelmed and overloaded ever since the day they came into our lives and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

While I’ve been podcasting since 2012, it was last May that we launched Pod on Pod, a podcast review show, and it’s been my main side project ever since. Josh and I are really proud of what we’ve built there, this past November we reviewed two shows every week used nothing but listener submitted shows all month.

We’re creating some great audio every week, even if I do say so myself, and I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve done and are doing.

So, with rambunctious infant twins and a fledgling podcast to maintain, not to mention my marriage, full time job or two elementary age sons, I imagine you can forgive my lack of writing. If not, come babysit sometime and I’ll be sure and crank out a few choice posts just for you.

But I do have things to say quite frequently. Facebook is fine for lots of it, Twitter ideal for other things, but long form writing is often how I’ve worked out my own ideas, and I’ve always loved having a snapshot of my thoughts online as a record. For me, for my kids someday, for anyone interested in the ongoing experiment that is Joel.

So, I’m back. Or I’m gonna try to be. The current plan is to watch and review 100 movies this year. I’ve seen 6 already and you’ll start seeing those reviews later today.

I’ll also occasionally try to write about something else. I’m interested in lots of different topics, and I know many of them don’t cross over for anyone who follows me, so feel free to just let these pass you by if you realize it’s not for you. But I hope some of you read even the stuff that seems like it’s not meant for you. Because I’ve often found those are the posts that have affected me and moved me intellectually, spiritually, emotionally or just humorously the most.

All that last stuff goes for the movies you don’t think you’d like too!

The Mother of Daughters

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Today is a day that people like to pronounce their thankfulness and name its source.

I find that I’ve got countless things to be thankful for. Friends who keep me honest and always make me laugh. A job that pays me fairly and consistently, and allows me to use my talents and pursue my interests. A family that supports me unconditionally and loves me immensely. A healthy body and a sound mind.

But this year I’ve added to my bounty. First in April when I married my Honeybun. Then last week when she gave me two beautiful daughters. A few weeks early and unbelievably small, but healthy and strong and the most unexpected of blessings.

I didn’t want any more kids. And I never imagined that I wanted any girls at all but now that they’re here, I can’t imagine a world without them. I’m so thankful for my new daughters and the completeness they bring to our family of 6.

But this little post really isn’t about the girls. It’s about their mother. The titular “Mother of Daughters”. That’s a play on HBO’s Game of Thrones and the “mother of dragons” one because we both love the show, but more because I like one of her other nicknames, and it fits my Honeybun just as well, “my moon and stars”.

Kelly is an amazing woman, my best friend, my confidant, companion and my Moon and Stars. She’s my rockstar and if anyone had any doubt about her awesomeness, the ease with which she handled the pregnancy and delivery should put it to rest.

As I’ve already said, I’ve got so much to be thankful for, but Kelly tops the list. Thank you, Honeybun, for loving me, for leading me and for letting me be the father to our wonderful little family.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.