Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Time to Meet the Muppets....

Chelsea and I both love the Muppets. We both grew up with the Muppets, like so many other people of our generation. We watched Fraggle Rock, the Muppet Show, Jim Henson's Storyteller, and of course Sesame Street as kids. My favorite Christmas special is "A Muppet Family Christmas" which may be the only time all of those characters were featured in one special. If you ever visit our apartment, we have a display case full of Muppet figurines in the middle of our living room. That's our centerpiece. The Muppets, in our case, bring the room together.

So, we were both pretty excited to go see the new film "The Muppets" over the weekend. I mean, it's been a long time. Jim Henson passed away in 1990, and while the Muppets have survived, they haven't been quite the same.  Don't get me wrong- I loved "A Muppet Christmas Carol", and I liked "Muppet Treasure Island" and I didn't hate "Muppets from Space" but none of those movies felt like the Muppets to me. And the awful TV specials that Disney has produced since they acquired the property....well. This blog entry is meant to be positive, so we won't dwell on those (but FYI- they all suck. Especially the one where the Muppets do duets with various Disney Channel stars).

We built a whole day around going to see the movie. We went downtown, we did some Christmas shopping, we ate at the Purple Pig (easily the most Muppet-y restaurant name in Chicago).  And how was it?

Great. It was great.

You can read reviews of it pretty much everywhere, and while the praise has been nearly universal, there are some negative Nancys and Neds who mostly seem upset that it wasn't exactly the Muppet Movie they wanted. I loved it. I had a few quibbles, but they were minor. Here is a list of some random things I loved. If you haven't seen it, there may be some spoilers in here and you may want to look away.

1.  Uncle Deadly!

Uncle Deadly is on exactly two episodes of the original Muppet Show, but I always thought he was one of the coolest looking Muppets. And he has a big scene in the film!

2.  The songs! I thought the music was catchy, fun, and at times emotionally powerful. My favorite songs were "Man or Muppet" and "Pictures in My Head".

3. Dumb jokes- The Muppets have always, always been about dumb jokes, and this film had plenty of great ones. The Muppets are easily my biggest comedic influence, and I was happy to see them returning to the style of humor that made them great in the first place.

4. 80's Robot- speaking of dumb jokes, Kermit's robot servant 80's robot was a big one. He killed me every time he came on the screen.

5. Amy Adams. If I was put in charge of Hollywood, I would cast Amy Adams in all of the movies.

6. Jason Segel- I read that when they did the script reading of the film with the Muppets for the first time, Jason Segel cried when Kermit read something that he had written, because Kermit was his hero. It was so great to see someone interacting with the Muppets who really, genuinely loves them the way their fans do.

7. The Meta parts. The whole movie is about the fact that the world has forgotten the Muppets. There's even a point during the song "Pictures in My Head' where Kermit laments that maybe something broke somewhere along the way and maybe that something can't be fixed. I kept thinking about the aforementioned awful post-Henson TV specials when he sang that line and found myself genuinely wondering if the Muppets could really, truly succeed without the performers who created them. It made me happy (mostly- more on that) to realize that they could.

8. The Muppet Show as part of the movie. Gods I miss the Muppet show. It felt good to see it in some small way again.

9. The theme of growing up. Gary and Walter- Jason Segel and his puppet brother- both have to grow up in the movie and deal with their adult lives. As someone turning 30 in a few months, this really hit home for me.

So I loved it. I felt like a kid again, but I was most happy to see the characters I loved as a child being treated by people who loved and respected them again.

My one caveat, the one thing that made me kind of sad- While watching the credits, I couldn't help but notice how many groups of people worked on the puppets- the Muppet Workshop designed the puppets, the Jim Henson Workshop designed the costumes on the puppets (apparently?), and something called Puppet Heap did something as well? One of the things that always made the Muppets special was the...smallness of their production. Once upon a time the Muppets were Jim Henson, and the Jim Henson Workshop and you could feel through the small, family type atmosphere that spawned the Muppets permeating each aspect of the Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, etc. Now, the Muppets are a Disney brand- just one part of a corporate megalith, and that small community feeling that you got from the old shows will probably never exist again.

But that's just one quibble. I'm happy. I'm really happy that the Muppets are back, and that they (mostly) feel the way they're supposed to.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Favorite Scenes From Every Single Pixar Movie

I'm a sucker for Pixar. Here in chronological order of release are my favorite Single Scenes from every single Pixar movie:

1.  Toy Story- Clearly I Will Go Sailing No More:

Buzz Lightyear spends most of "Toy Story" thinking that he is a real space ranger and not a toy. This is the scene where he realizes the truth- he is an action figure, and he cannot fly. It's emotionally devastating.  The way the action of the scene is synced up to the music is perfect.

2.  A Bug's Life- Flik Stands Up

"A Bug's Life" is easily the most underrated Pixar movie. Flik may actually be my favorite character from any Pixar film.  And this is his best scene.  Beaten, bloodied, embarassed, Flik stands up to a bully, and inspires his people who have mostly shunned and rejected him to this point. When Flik Stands up after being beaten, I get chills.

3.  Toy Story 2- Jessie's Story

It seems impossible, but "Toy Story 2" is actually better than the first "Toy Story". Nearly every Pixar movie has a scene that makes grown men bawl like toddlers. This is one of them. Learn Jessie the cowgirl's story.

4.  Monster's Inc.- Boo's Door

Pixar tends to wear their influences on their sleeves. Miyazake, Disney, Henson- you can see them all in every single Pixar movie. "Monster's Inc." borrows alot from Jim Henson in particular. Frank Oz (Fozzie Bear, Yoda) even plays a small part in the film.  The last scene of the movie is my favorite when Sully, thinking he will never see Boo again, walks through her door, and hears her say "Kitty".

5.  Finding Nemo-Turtles

I like this scene for a bunch of reasons. For one, Crush the turtle reminds me of my father-in-law. For another, I love seeing Marlin realizing how to be parent and stop living in fear.  Finally, I love the lobsters with thick New England accents in the montage at the end of the clip.

6.  The Incredibles- Dash Runs as Fast as He Can

After being forced to hide his extraordinary abilities for his whole life, Dash Parr is finally given the opportunity to run "As fast as he can". The sequence is action packed, and fun. The look of realization on Dash's face as he realizes he's running on the water is my favorite part of the scene.

7.  Cars- Our Town

If you've ever loved a small town then this scene will hit you pretty hard. "Cars" is kind of a silly movie, but this scene, set to James Taylor's "Our Town" is really powerful.

8. Ratatouille- Anton Ego's Speech

"Ratatouille" is my favorite Pixar movie. I love food, and I consider myself an artist, and Anton Ego's speech basically sums up alot of what I think about art in general.  Such a great, moving speech.

9.  Wall-E- The First 45 Minutes of the Movie

I'm still kind of blown away by the fact that "Wall-E" got made. I can just imagine the pitch- "Okay, Disney Producers and Executives, it's a film about a robot in a post-apocalyptic future who falls in love with another robot. The film has a strong message of anti-commercialism. Oh, and the first 45 minutes has no dialogue."

10.  Up- I Was Hiding Under Your Porch Because I Love You

Oh, Doug.

11.  Toy Story 3- Andy Plays With His Toys

Remember how I said "Toy Story 2" was better than "Toy Story"? Well "Toy Story 3" is even better than that. This is the last scene in the film.  Andy is off to college, and gives his toys to another child so they can keep doing what toys are supposed to do, but he plays with them one last time.

12. Cars 2- Ummm...I haven't seen Cars 2. I'll add something here once I see it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Impossible Things: 31 Days Without Sugar

I've never been big on sweets.

Oh, I've been known to indulge in the occasional peanut butter cup, and my appetite for ice cream is legendary in some circles, but I've always preferred a salty bag of potato chips to a big piece of cake when it comes time to indulge my appetite. And I'll choose fruit over candy pretty much any time.

With that said, I took the month of October as an opportunity to conduct a little experiment on myself- from the first through the thirty first, I stopped eating sugar.

This meant- no sugar in my coffee, no sugary desserts, no syrup on my pancakes, no cookies, no cake, no ice cream, no soda (gasp!) and no candy.

Why did I do this? Because it was a challenge. I wanted to see if I could do it. And what's more it's a good-for-me challenge. Sugar is terrible for you, and we put it in everything.

How did I do? Well, I wasn't 100 percent perfect. I had a few sips of coffee with sugar in it (by accident- I didn't realize Dunkin' Donuts pumpkin flavored coffee is basically pumpkin flavored sugar water), I ate a couple of cookies that Chelsea baked (she looked at me with big doe eyes and said please! And she's my wife. There are rules against not eating things your wife bakes). I had some almond butter that had molasses in it (molasses is made out of sugar FYI) but by and large I had no soda, no cake, no ice cream, and in the month of October (which ends with Hallowe'en), no candy. When I wanted something sweet, I had fruit (which has natural sugars in it, I know. Shush.)

And you know what? It didn't suck. Mostly. For probably the first three days I went through sugar withdrawal. I had headaches and felt kind of ill, but after that it was mostly smooth sailing. I really would've killed a man for a Coca Cola. But after that? Cravings went away. Headaches subsided, and weirdly enough? Other food tasted better. By the end of week two, I was barely thinking about sweet things.

At the end of the month, at a friend's house, I ate a bon-bon thingy and found it tasted pretty bad. I mean, everyone else seemed to enjoy them but after a sugar free month it was just too much. And while I have re-introduced some sugar into my diet since, it hasn't been alot.

So I did it. And like I said, it didn't suck. It didn't suck at all.

Monday, November 7, 2011

We Need More John Denvers

John Denver was never cool. He wasn't dark. He wasn't mysterious. No one would call him sexy. He was kind of corny. He wore huge glasses. He recorded multiple albums with the Muppets. He was pretty much a huge nerd.

And as a celebration of all things nerdy, Frakking Shiny is here today to celebrate John Denver.

You know what John Denver WAS? Genuine. 100 percent genuine. When he sang about the mountains, you really knew in your heart that John Denver in his heart was really blown away by the majesty of those mountains. When John Denver sang about Christmas you knew that he really loved Christmas.  There was no irony to his music. There was no bitterness. There was just a genuine, honest love of whatever it was John Denver happened to be singing about at a given time.

When I hear a John Denver song I feel hopeful.  John Denver's songs make me feel that America is a great place, that Christmas is a wonderful time, and that true love is the very best thing in the world.