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Jamie Bell (left) and James McAvoy (right) star in Filth.

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Jamie Bell (left) and James McAvoy (right) star in Filth.

Muppets Most Wanted: The Unnecessarily Extended Edition

FOLLOWING Jason Segel's lovingly crafted reboot of The Muppets in 2011, this sequel sees the puppet pals back on track, doing what they have always done, making groan-inducing jokes in the context of a madcap adventure.

With lots of star cameos.

It doesn't deny its sequel status. It starts precisely where the last one ended, with Kermit the Frog and the reunited gang contemplating a world tour. Kermit, ever the voice of amphibian reason, doesn't want to proceed too quickly.

Unfortunately, most of the other Muppets have lent their ears/antennae/whatever to a sleazy theatrical agent, tellingly named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who assures the gang his red-flag last name is pronounced Bad-gee. "It's French."

Dominic is in fact the "No. 2" to criminal mastermind Constantine, a Russian frog who looks exactly like Kermit, save for a tell-tale facial mole. Constantine contrives to break out of a Russian gulag, change places with Kermit and engage in a cross-European crime spree while Kermit cools his froggy heels in Siberia.

The framed Kermit eventually becomes the focus of attention of Nadya (Tina Fey), a musical theatre-loving warden with an iron fist and a song in her heart.

Ty Burrell shows up as French Interpol agent Jean-Pierre Napoleon, investigating the Muppet-linked crime spree with his American counterpart Sam Eagle, a pairing that doesn't yield the yuks as well as it should.

But cameos? It's got loads of those, including Salma Hayek, Christoph Waltz, Josh Groban, Saoirse Ronan, Tom Hiddleston and the inevitable Lady Gaga. Perhaps the best cameo goes to, of all people, Céline Dion, who pairs with Miss Piggy on one of those lush Oscar-bait movie love songs to surreal effect.

All in all, this makes for a silly good time that should have parents and kids laughing consistently throughout, even if they're not always laughing at the same things. HHH

 

The Railway Man

IN war movies, soldiers are often pigeonholed according to nationality. The British soldier could be defined by his discipline and "stiff upper lip." The Japanese soldier, conversely, could be feared for his rigidly held sense of honour and sacrifice.

An adaptation of a true story, director Jonathan Teplitzky's The Railway Man takes a wrecking ball to those comforting, illusory stereotypes in the story of Second World War veteran Eric Lomax.

Played in his middle age by Colin Firth, Lomax is a solitary man who whiles away his time indulging his fascination with railway travel -- trains, timetables and maps all committed to memory.

Other memories are submerged but not quite buried. Thus, Lomax is the picture of the affable, civilized English gentleman when he meets recently divorced nurse Patti (Nicole Kidman)... on a train, naturally.

The two fall in love and get married. But in the intimacy of that relationship, Eric's issues reveal themselves in increasingly strange behaviour, including hallucinations of the traumas he suffered as a young man (played by Jeremy Irvine) while a prisoner of the Japanese. Ironically, Lomax spent that time as a slave labourer helping construct the Burma-Siam Railway.

A scheme by the prisoners to construct a radio costs Lomax in particular, suffering tortuous interrogations at the hands of Japanese interpreter Nagase (Tanroe Ishida).

In the face of his increasingly erratic behaviour, Patti convinces her husband to revisit the scene of his trauma. He does just that, but with vengeful purpose, after learning Nagase (played as an older man by Hiroyuki Sanada) is still alive and offering tours of the prison facility, now a museum.

The film works largely on the strength of Firth's performance. In a way, this film could be considered a companion piece to the film that won him an Oscar in 2010.

Eric Lomax is the opposite side of the coin bearing the likeness of King George VI in The King's Speech. In that film, Firth portrayed a vulnerable man obliged to construct a figure of strength. In this film, he delicately strips the stoic veneer from a veteran to reveal the fragile but compassionate soul beneath. HHH

 

Filth

THIS adaptation of an Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) novel belongs in a rare genre of character-centred movies that might be described as "circling the drain."

Collectively, they're about guys on a self-destructive ride, incorporating bad behaviour, sexual malfeasance and epic substance abuse. (See also Federico Fellini's great short film Toby Dammit, Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant and Robert Ellis Miller's Reuben, Reuben.)

Here, the antagonistic protagonist is Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), a Scottish detective-sergeant seeking a promotion to inspector, not by proving his abilities, but by sabotaging all other contenders in his department, a strategy he refers to as "the games."

"The games are always, repeat, always, being played but nobody plays the games like me," he asserts.

Robertson does make some headway in solving the murder of a Japanese student by a gang of thugs. But this film pretty much revamps the term "police procedural," as the bipolar cop takes every investigative opportunity to indulge his own ever-increasing appetite for self-gratification, hurting both his foes and his innocent friend Bladesy (Eddie Marsan), whose own wife Bunty (Shirley Henderson) is the object of a campaign of obscene phone calls.

The character is thoroughly hateful, so it's something of a major achievement that McAvoy compels us to stick with him. But that he does, gleefully embracing Bruce's seedy nature while extending him a little sympathy. (On the DVD extras, McAvoy cops to drinking a half a bottle of whiskey every night during filming to help get into character.)

As in Trainspotting, this film by Jon S. Baird incorporates a few startling hallucinogenic scenes (often featuring Jim Broadbent as Robertson's therapist) that offer insights into our antihero's tortured psyche. If the film doesn't quite match its predecessor's inventive madness, it does deliver a bracing, perversely entertaining look into the mind of a self-made monster. HHH 1/2

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2014 C14

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