Thursday, February 16, 2012


Note: 'The Muppets' was released late in 2011 in the United States and will see a DVD/Blu-Ray release there next month.
After much anticipation it has finally made it's way to European cinemas over the last couple of weeks. 

When I heard there was a new Muppet movie coming out, I was very excited. Since it was going to be written by Jason Segel, who claims to be a huge Muppet nerd, I expected something that was at least pretty good. Most people I know had grown up with the Muppets in some form or another. I started of with watching "Muppet Christmas Carol", then "Muppets Tonight" hosted by Clifford, and from there on the other movies (although, I've not seen all of them yet, including "Muppets Take Manhattan" which was a source for one of this movie's plot points) and episodes of "The Muppet Show". Despite a few T.V. outings, including the decidedly average "Muppets Wizard of Oz", it seemed like they were out of the public eye for a while and that younger generations would be missing out on these wonderful characters, were it not for this new movie.

In "The Muppets" we follow Mary, her fiancee Gary and his rather unusual brother; Walter, who for reasons that will become immediately apparent is the world's biggest Muppet fan. Gary is planning to take Mary to L.A. for their ten year anniversary, but since the Muppet Theater is located there he's also taking Walter. During a tour of the now run-down theater, Walter slinks off into Kermit's old office, disappointed and sad at the state of things. While he's there he finds out that Statler and Waldorf are showing the theater to Tex Richman, a wealthy oil magnate, who has plans to buy and then tear down the place because there's oil underneath. Though, if the Muppets can raise ten million dollars, they could buy back the theater. Walter is shocked and together with Gary and Mary they visit Kermit to try and convince him to do something about it and raise the money. All together they set off to get the old gang back together to put on one last show.

I was surprised at how much "The Muppets" was about the original musical variety show instead of a new, stand-alone adventure. The movie and it's promotional campaign seem so much about reviving the Muppets' popularity, I would have expected it to be less hinged on past occurrences and more on reintroducing the characters and establishing them to a new audience. While watching it, there were so many references to specific details from the shows and there was only a short amount of time spent to explain what kind of characters these Muppets actually are. Not that I'm complaining, it felt like a Muppet movie made for the fans, by the fans. It felt like a celebration, a big Muppet party full of great songs and all your best friends. A nostalgic callback to the opening sequence of  "The Muppet Show" and the inclusion of more obscure characters such as Uncle Deadly and Bobo the Bear, Hobo Joe -  all these details written into the script could have only come from a real Muppet devotee and could only be there to please the old fans. Even Walter is all the die-hard fans wrapped up into one enthusiastic and loveable new Muppet.

But despite the back references and hardcore Muppet-nerd moments, Walter provides a terrific window into the magic of Muppet fandom for newcomers. He is your way in to this wonderful world, explaining why they're so great and beloved. Besides that, I think a lot of the Muppets are just instantly likeable, especially to kids. Like Fozzie, for instance, he's silly and tells bad jokes even children can chuckle at, not necessarily because they're funny, but because of how bad and cheesy they are and Swedish Chef too, even grown-ups don't know what he's on about, so his strange behavior and silly face can make anyone laugh.

I loved how much all the characters were still the same. I've read some complaints about Kermit not being his happy-go-lucky self, but I feel that he never really was such a peppy personality anyway, he was caring, tried to run a chaotic show and was always kind, warm and idealistic. Considering he originated as an avatar for Jim Henson and his personal, hopeful philosophy, I'm not surprised with how things are these days that Kermit is a bit sad and nostalgic. It's so nice to be able to see Jim's spirit live on and that Kermit has not changed into something else (in no small part thanks to the sensitive and caring performance of Jim's successor and one-time protege, Steve Whitmore, who has played Kermit for around twenty years). All the scenes where we get to see them all again were fun: Miss Piggy as the editor of plus-size Vogue (that's such an idealistic Muppet thing as well, like there would ever actually be a plus-size edition of Vogue..); Gonzo with his own business and Animal in anger management training. I liked that his storyline made Animal into more of a person instead of just this rampaging, although of course hilarious, beast and then there was a funny but kind of sad scene with Fozzie now performing with these horrible imposters "the Moopets" in a dingy Reno club.

What I'm really glad about is how well the new songs and characters worked alongside the old-school Muppets. I'm not surprised that "Man or Muppet" received an Academy Award nomination for best original song. The Moopets were fun, although I felt they were underused. I would have liked to have seen more of them and hopefully will when the DVD comes out. 80's Robot was cool - who doesn't like a retro robot? I liked Jason Segel and Amy Adams in it as well, the storyline with Gary and Mary offset with Walter's Muppet adventure works really well. It's funny that in the scene where Mary is sad/annoyed that Walter has to come along on their anniversary trip I'd much more agree with her if Walter was a human being instead of a Muppet, but because he's the way he is I felt more sorry for him. (It makes me wonder whether Walter being a puppet has put him at a disadvantage in this universe. Nobody seems to treat him differently. Is there an unspoken rule that his 'puppethood' is to go unmentioned, much like when The Muppets make appearances at real life events such as the Grammys and the BAFTAs?)

There weren't really any things that annoyed me while watching the movie, or anything that jarred me. I didn't  mind that suddenly the Muppet Theater is in L.A. instead of in England where it was actually filmed, I liked the new characters and loved Walter. The songs are catchy, fun and sweet. A lot of the celebrity cameos seemed unnecessary, but because they were so brief that isn't even really an issue. I liked that the man version of Walter was played by Jim "Sheldon" Parsons and Jack Black was pretty good, definitely less irritating then he has been every other time I've seen him lately. I liked Emily Blunt as Miss Piggy's receptionist, just arrogant and over-styled enough to fit the roll and Rashida Jones was good as the network executive. But the real stars were undoubtedly the Muppets. I really loved this movie. Thinking about it days after watching it, it still brings a smile to my face. I think it's nice that it's proved so popular with kids too. Every time I go into a toy store lately (yes, I go into toy stores a lot!), there's always a kid begging their mum or dad to buy them a Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Kermit, Animal or even Swedish Chef. I think it's not only a really fun, sweet and warm-hearted movie, it has really done the Muppets and their legacy justice and has done a great job of bringing these wonderful characters back into the spotlight.

Friday, February 10, 2012

RECIPE: Sage and onion bread rolls

I got this recipe from the Hairy Bikers' Best of British TV show. I love watching cooking programs and I think they are by far the best. Unlike some shows that go for a fancy "new cuisine" kinda thing, the Hairy Bikers actually cook, talk about and eat food that I'd actually want to eat instead of be weary of it's peculiar ingredients and names that I can't even pronounce. Call me unsophisticated, when it comes to food, nothing goes above a great comforting meal that fills your stomach and lightens your mood, and these delicious bread rolls are just the perfect accompaniment to such a plate of food.

My first ever attempt to even make bread, they turned out wonderful on my first try. I slightly altered the recipe, because I didn't really need eight rolls. Because they are so tasty though, I tried making it to the original recipe and somehow it didn't turn out right. So here's my adapted recipe for the Hairy Bikers' sage and onion bread rolls.

Here's what you need:

- 75 ml of whole milk (and a bit more for glazing)
- 75 ml of water
- 200 g of strong white flour (and a bit extra for kneading)
- half of a 7 g sachet of fast action dried yeast (the original calls for a whole sachet)
- 1/2 tsp caster suger
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 8 g of butter
- 1/2 tbsp sunflower oil (and some extra for greasing)
- 1/2 a large or one small onion, peeled and chopped
- about 4 tbsp full of dried sage (the original uses fresh sage leaves which I didn't have. If you want to use fresh, go for about 10 leaves)
- freshly ground black pepper

Here's what you do:

1. Heat the water and milk until lukewarm.

2. Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the yeast, sugar and salt.

3. Make a well in the middle and stir in the water and milk with a wooden spoon or your hands. Make it into a ball and knead it for about 10 minutes on a floured surface.

4. Once kneaded, place your ball of dough into an oiled bowl and cover with oiled clingfilm (loosely) and leave to rise for about 45 minutes to an hour.

5. In the meantime you can fry the onion with the butter and oil until soft. If you like, you can add some fresh garlic. Just before it's done, add the sage to your frying onions and mix it through. Add lots of black pepper and leave it to cool.

6.  When the dough has risen, flatten it with your hands and add the onions and sage on top. Then knead the dough until it's all nicely incorporated. This will get very messy, if it's too wet add a little bit of flour.

7. Divide the dough into four little balls and place them against each other on some baking paper on a baking tray. Again, cover loosely with oiled clingfilm and leave to rise for another 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C.

8. Brush the rolls with some milk and scatter some sage on top. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool a little before serving. They're delicious warm with some butter.