Advertisements

Tag Archive: The Muppets


Review by C.J. Bunce

The beginning of a new film references the scope of the success of the Muppets: In 1978 the Muppets were seen weekly by more than 235 million people in more than 102 countries, and Time Magazine called them “the most popular entertainment on Earth.”  Created by Jim Henson in 1955 and starring in Sesame Street, in feature films, and in animated films, the Muppets endure to this day.  Regularly returning on television and in movies, they continue to entertain and educate young and old alike.  Frank Oz, the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and Sam the Eagle, Aughra and Chamberlain in The Dark Crystal, and the performer and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and director of countless other films), has produced and directed a new film with four other original Muppet performers to recount the development–and fun–of working in their timeless fantasy world.

Feeling like an informal dinner party among old friends, but even more like the first hour of a 12-part series, Muppet Guys Talking–Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, is a wonderful, cheery glimpse at life working with Jim Henson, who Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz says “wanted to make a better world.”  Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, the film will be available for fans everywhere for the first time next week at MuppetGuysTalking.comFrank Oz brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Floyd, and Gobo Fraggle; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh; and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.  Along with providing insight into Muppet mastermind Jim Henson, the “Muppet Guys” provide some advice on creating characters that will be worthwhile to creators in many media, as well as offering a great peek into the job of performing with puppetry.  The most difficult part?  Yep, holding your arms over your head inside the Muppets for a very long time.

From John Denver and the Muppets Rocky Mountain Holiday.  You don’t see the dozen human performers underneath the ground working the Muppets and speaking their lines.

Oz and Goelz recount major difficulties in the craft, like building a hole in the ground around a bonfire with a propane tank near their heads, so they could stand and perform their characters sitting around a real campfire above, as filmed for the famous John Denver Rocky Mountain Holiday TV special and album.  They also discuss Henson performing the risky opening scene of The Muppet Movie, stuffed inside a tube submerged in a backlot, underwater stage swamp with a small TV monitor and his arms above his head to perform Kermit singing and playing banjo on “The Rainbow Connection.”  The discussions among these friends are fun to watch, and the viewers will feel like they are a part of the room.  And viewers can’t help but listen for the performers slipping in and out of various voices–like the sound of Grover and Cookie Monster from Oz a few times when he gets animated or is laughing.  The most valuable bits center around what seems to be a shared tool among the performers–Oz developed a thorough backstory for each of his characters that never makes it beyond his own mind, to assist with his performance (like method acting).

Other highlights include Dave Goelz recounting how he got into the business when he was a young aspiring puppeteer working an office job at Hewlett-Packard, Bill Barretta discussing his inspiration for the King Prawn character Pepe, Fran Brill discussing her fix for performing while not being as tall as the others, and Jerry Nelson coming up with the voice of Snuffleupagus and discussing the late performer Richie Hunt (who performed characters including Scooter, Beaker, Statler, Janice and Sweetums).  Sadly documentary contributor Jerry Nelson passed away before the premiere of the documentary at South by Southwest, and the show is dedicated to him.

Continue reading

Advertisements

One of the best subjects I have discussed with a celebrity was asking Peter Mayhew–the actor known for playing Chewbacca from Star Wars–to talk about working with the Muppets when he guest-starred on The Muppet Show with Mark Hamill as Luke and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO in January 1980.  Mayhew beamed as the memories flooded back and he described two incredible worlds he was immersed in–interacting with these great furry characters from television just as if they were real people, and looking down below them to see an entire separate world of creators sprawled across each other with their hands working in every direction like a giant work of magic.  Frank Oz, the actor and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, and the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and many more, has created a new documentary with five of the original Muppet performers to recount the creation of their timeless fantasy world.

Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, will be available for fans everywhere for the first time in March.  Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz, who also was co-director of The Dark Crystal and director of movies from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to HouseSitter, brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Gobo Fraggle, and the original Saturday Night Live character Scred; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf/Robert Marley, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh (and recurring Law and Order actress); and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.

Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, the late Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the late Richard Hunt, with Gonzo, Floyd, Kermit, Fozzie, and Scooter.

The performers of so many beloved characters discuss their individual approaches to creating memorable characters and the impact Jim Henson had on their lives and work.  This is all a great tie-in to the 35th anniversary return of The Dark Crystal to theaters next month (check out our preview here and the Fathom Events website here for more information on that event).  For a taste of some of the fun to be had in Muppet Guys Talking, check out the website for the show, MuppetGuysTalking.com, and these quick previews:

Continue reading

Arnold Terminator Genisys

Well it’s been one long year, with plenty to do and see, plenty of good and not-so-good to read and watch, and as with last year we’re certain we reviewed more content this year than ever before.  This year was a big year for borgs in TV and film, so we had some difficult decisions to make.  All year long we sifted through all that Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre TV, films, comics, and other books we thought were worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual Best of the Best list.

Today we reveal the entire list–the best genre content of 2015–with our top categories Best Sci-Fi Fix, Best Fantasy Fix, Best Superhero FixBest Animated Fix,  and Best Borg selected regardless of medium.  A dozen properties garnered multiple mentions.

We hope you agree with many of these great creations of the entertainment industries, and wish everyone a great 2016!

Killjoys

Best Sci-Fi Fix – Killjoys (Syfy).  Surprised?  Killjoys pulled together great worldbuilding, characters and actors in a year of a dozen new sci-fi shows to provide us the closest thing to the next Firefly we’ve seen in a long time.

Galavant

Best Fantasy Fix – Galavant (ABC); Runner-up The Librarians (TNT).  It aired early in 2015 but nothing surpassed Galavant’s medieval high adventure and all-out Princess Bride-style fun.

the-cw-arrow-flash-crossover

Best Superhero Fix – The Flash (CW).  Of all the Marvel movies and TV series from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Agent Carter and from Arrow to Supergirl, nothing had us coming back for more each week like the superhero world in The Flash.

Rebels season 2

Best Animated Fix – Star Wars Rebels (DisneyXD).  Compare it to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and see if you think this animated Star Wars galaxy had an even better story and characterization, along with the return of its own group of original trilogy actors, compelling visuals and rousing music.

Terminator Genisys image

Best Borg – Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from Terminator Genisys (Paramount).  Schwarzenegger created yet another borg that could stand up against his prior successful characters from the series.  A cool, moving character in a big year for borgs on screen!

Ava from Ex Machina - borg

Best Borg Movie –  Ex Machina (DNA Films).  Incredible storytelling and a small cast of talented actors provided a classic science fiction story and Oscar-worthy film about our favorite subject.

Humans series

Best Borg TV SeriesHumans (AMC).  On television the most in-depth look at life as a borg and among borgs has never been portrayed more dramatically than on this year’s surprise sci-fi hit series from AMC.

Star-Wars-Force-Awakens-Rey-Finn-BB8-running

Best Kickass Genre Movie Heroine – Rey (Daisy Ridley), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney); Honorable Mentions: Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), Terminator Genisys (Paramount); Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Mad Max: Fury Road (Village Roadshow)

Liv Moore

Best Kickass Genre TV Heroine – Liv Moore (Rose McIver), iZombie (CW); Honorable Mentions: Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), Killjoys (Syfy); Helena (Tatiana Maslany), Orphan Black (BBC)

Want to know who we picked for best villain and best comic books of the year?  Take a look after the cut…

Continue reading

Big Bird in The Muppet Movie

If you can’t get enough of Sesame Street and The Muppets like this big kid who grew up with these shows and characters, then a 2014 documentary now available on Amazon is just for you.  I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is a feature-length documentary about the original, and only, Muppets puppeteer who has performed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch in the 45-year history of Sesame Street.

I Am Big Bird is a love letter of sorts, set to a bittersweet soundtrack.  Filmmakers created an emotional look at a performing artist, his wife, and his relationship with Jim Henson and the cast and performers of Sesame Street from the beginning to the present incarnation of the show.  Spinney comes through as every bit the kindhearted soul of his feathery yellow alter ego.  Highlights of the film include the impact of Big Bird on the world, from teaching little kids from 1969 onward, to being credited in part with the demise of a candidate’s presidential bid.  And nothing is more nostalgic than catching up with original Muppeteer Frank Oz and the original human cast of Sesame Street as they recount working with Caroll, including Bob McGrath (Bob), Sonia Manzano (Maria), Emilio Delgado (Luis), and Roscoe Orman (Gordon).

I am Big Bird poster

Expect to hold back (or not) some tears during the documentary.  Plenty of down moments provide benchmarks in the life and times of Big Bird: the Sesame Street episode featuring Big Bird about the death of Mr. Hooper, an incredibly poised Caroll performing Big Bird singing “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green” at the funeral of Jim Henson, and the segment discussing Caroll’s space travel preparation with NASA when he was asked to be among the Challenger space shuttle crew, only to be rejected when they realized the Big Bird suit was too big (and then teacher Christa McAuliffe took his place), a group of ROTC students nearly destroy his Big Bird costume, and even the replacement by Elmo as most popular character on the show serves as a downbeat event.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Is it because the Muppets don’t age?  Because the writers know their characters so well?  You wouldn’t think the Muppets have been off the air for 17 years after watching last night’s premiere of their new sitcom, The Muppets, on ABC.  Sure, the format is fresh and new, but the core of the show–the rich characterizations of not only the main cast of Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie, but subordinate cast members like Electric Mayhem band members, too–is every bit the same as it was when the acting troupe first appeared nearly 40 years ago in 1976 on The Muppet Show.

The Muppets are back, and as laugh-out-loud funny as ever.

Credit great, punchy dialogue and situational humor appropriate for kids of all ages to the writing staff, who don’t let down fans of the original show or any of its brilliant movie incarnations.  The only travesty of The Muppets?  That the show is in a 30-minute time slot and only airs once each week.  Sigh.

This time the Muppets are seen as they are, behind the scenes in the “real world” of actors and production studio antics in Hollywood.  Kermit is still in charge of the show, but this time the show-in-a-show is not a variety show but in the late night format, with Miss Piggy as host.  Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band sit in where you’d see The Roots on The Tonight Show, with Fozzy in Steve Higgins’ role.  The first guest star is Elizabeth Banks, who gets taken for a ride by assistant showrunner Scooter, with a comical appearance by Dancing With the Stars’ host Tom Bergeron and musical guest Imagine Dragons (we featured their Muppet tie-in video years ago here at borg.com).  The success of the humans in the show is judged as in the past–the ability to seamlessly interact with the Muppet cast, and both Banks and Bergeron have no problem blending right in.

Fozzy and Becky & family

The show is peppered with one-liners and innuendo, exactly in the style as the original 1970s series.  But in truth, the laughs are probably funnier–the kind of humor you might find in a Tina Fey show or The Office.  You know you have good comedy when guitarist Janice makes a comically timed Imagine Dragons joke and Zoot gets cut off in the middle of an A.A. meeting reference.  As humor goes, The Muppets is the real deal.

Continue reading

Rowlf and Scooter

It’s been 34 years since The Muppet Show wrapped its now classic five season run back in 1976-1981, with its last episode guest starring Singing in the Rain actor Gene Kelly.  It seemed like everyone who was anyone was a guest on the show, from Vincent Price to Don Knotts, from George Burns, John Cleese and Steve Martin to Elton John, Julie Andrews, Debbie Harry, James Coburn, Roger Moore, Sylvester Stallone, Lynda Carter, Christopher Reeve, and even the cast of Star Wars.  The show won four Primetime Emmy Awards and a Grammy.

ABC just announced the full Muppets ensemble will return to Primetime Tuesday nights this Fall.  This time the show won’t be a variety show as the original with guest stars, but will follow a bit of the format from The Office TV series, a “contemporary, documentary style” and probably copy any other show they can spoof for a laugh.  It will have humans interspersed with the cast, as seen in the first trailer released in the past few hours by ABC.  The preview couldn’t be much better.

Fozzie and girlfriend

And the never aging Muppets look just like they did when we first met them: Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rowlf, The Electric Mayhem, Scooter, Sweetums, Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, Statler and Waldorf.  Without the requirements of a two-hour movie as we saw with the recent fun movies The Muppets and The Muppets Most Wanted, the series is going to delve into the private, personal lives of the Muppets.  We can’t wait!

Check out the preview:

Continue reading

UK Blu-Ray art for Looper

If you happened to miss last year’s theatrical release of the sci-fi crime thriller Looper, you might give it a shot now on DVD or Blu-Ray.  Although it has some bits and pieces that don’t quite come together and leaves you wondering whether what you think happens at the end is the same as what the director intended, so many great scenes, acting, and sci-fi concepts will have us go back to watch this one again.

In part, it’s what I was expecting from another Joseph Gordon-Levitt sci-fi film–Inception.  Inception was over-hyped and more commercially successful, but ultimately didn’t deliver the promised surprises and complexity, but that’s where Looper’s story does it better, with its back-and-forth, twisty time travel tale.

Young Joe meets old Joe in Looper

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

With all the holiday movies hitting the theaters this season, there’s one that is sure to satisfy kids of all ages.  The Muppets premiered last week and that makes this the seventh film in the Muppet franchise, based on characters first created in the 1950s by the late Jim Henson.  Henson would no doubt be happy with the latest effort, a light-hearted and cheery, nostalgic mix of sillyness and a hard but subtle look at entertainment and society today.  It’s cute film, not as good as the original Muppet Movie oreven the novel adaptations A Muppet Christmas Carol or Muppet Treasure Island, but it’s worth seeing to find out what the Muppet crew has been up to and catch the cameos from a motley group of comedic actors.

You probably can’t find a sweeter couple than Gary and Mary played by Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother) and Academy Award winning actress Amy Adams in the lead human roles of the movie.   Segel also serves as co-writer of the film.  You can tell Segel put a lot of love into this film, it is the ultimate film of shiny happy people niceness (think Brendan Fraser’s family in Blast from the Past).  Gary is brother to Walter, played by a new Muppet creation and addition to the Muppet universe.  Walter has been a fan of the Muppets his entire life, and his brother invites him along on his and Mary’s anniversary vacation to Los Angeles.  There they find the Muppet studio has become abandoned.  Walter overhears evil businessman Tex Richman, played by Academy Award winning actor Chris Cooper, plotting to destroy the studio to drill for oil.  Because of fine print in the “rich and famous” contract Kermit the Frog signed at the end of the original Muppet Movie, the contract is expiring in a few days and the Muppets will lose all the Muppet properties, including even their names, if they don’t raise $10 million to buy-out the contract.

Part of the movie becomes a play on The Blues Brothers, where the trio of Gary, Mary and Walter “put the band back together” to save an orphanage, a throwback to the plot of the original Muppet Movie.  You wish this part of the movie was longer and that they had spent more time fleshing out what the characters have been doing for the past several years since Muppets in Space, but the movie rushes through this bit.  They even joke about the quick montage, with a funny bit about Rowlf the dog.  The self references in the film actually become the funniest moments, and these bits of not taking itself too seriously nicely cut the overflow of frothy sappiness and nostalgia.

A key storyline is the triangle between Gary and Mary and Walter–Gary isn’t spending enough time with Mary–he can’t let go of his brother’s reliance on him as his brother becomes a full-fledged part of the Muppet family–and Mary has become a third wheel.  Finding out whether Gary is a Muppet or a man, and whether his brother Walter is a Muppet or a man, is the point of the whole film and the center of a good musical number.  Look for even more musical numbers here than any past Muppet film.

Each Muppet gets his own share of screen-time, too.  From a great throwback scene of giant Muppet Sweetums chasing after the Muppet entourage, to Fozzie having joined a Reno cover band of the Muppets called The Moopets, to successful Ms. Piggy leading up a magazine in Paris, to Gonzo the Great, now a plumbing company magnate who sounds and looks a bit like Al Pacino, to the best E Hollywood True Story type Where are they Now, that of Animal the drummer, who has been part of an anger management self-help group with sponsor Jack Black, who plays himself.  Jack Black’s unabashed throwing himself into this movie is one of its highlights, and he plays every scene for all its worth.

After literally playing sweetheart roles in Enchanted, Julie and Julia, Doubt, and now The Muppets, it will be nearly impossible to see Amy Adams as Lois Lane in the next Superman movie.  But acting is what actors do, so it will be fun to see her play tough and determined for once.  Segel couldn’t be better for his role as supportive brother and caring boyfriend, and if anything makes this movie work it is the believability and sincerity Segel radiates, like Will Farrell in Elf.

Although it will be lost to the kids in the audience, the adult themes of a world gone cynical, to predominantly reality TV shows and shock entertainment and a world in need of something to change it for the better is a powerful theme.  Chris Cooper’s villain being simply the embodiment of corporate greed as espoused via the current Occupy Wall Street movement makes the themes here particularly timely.  Although it’s way over the top, Cooper’s portrayal of the villain is as evil and sinister as past Disney hives of scum and villainy.

If there is one place the show is lacking it is big name cameos, considering that the original Muppet Movie had the icons of film, like Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Orson Welles, and James Coburn, and then new comic names like Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Elliott Gould, Carol Kane and Madeline Kahn.  The latter category is covered with a handful of contemporary standup comics, yet the extra layer of big names is non-existent, except for two actors from classic Hollywood film.  When it used to be an indication of whether or not you were a big name or not based on whether you hosted the Muppet Show, you’d think you could get any number of volunteers for this kind of movie.  Consider the Muppet Show featured everyone from Julie Andrews, George Burns, Vincent Price, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Sylvester Stallone, Roy Rogers, Christopher Reeve, the cast of Star Wars, to Roger Moore–The Muppet Show was the ultimate bridging of all genres.  It begs the question:  Why not make a new Muppet Show work today?  They tried and had a short-lived series back in 1996-1998 with Muppets Tonight.  The difference today is that Disney now owns most of the Muppet properties, and with their various networks and influence and the marketing revenues from the characters that could come with this kind of show, this one is a no-brainer.

The cameos they did find are funny additions to the story.  Don’t go to this one looking for more than chuckles, although I heard kids and adults laughing out loud throughout the show in my theater.  This one was a nice break from the typical “family” film.

%d bloggers like this: