Two months in, and there was a nervous air of anticipation gripping BlogalongaMuppet HQ. I thought I remembered all of the Muppet movies from when I was younger, but I have to admit that, having watched it, I really didn’t recall much of The Muppet Movie. For some reason, I remembered the “watching-the-movie-within-the-movie” opening, I vaguely remembered Big Bird’s cameo and Animal bursting out of the top of a building left some sort of impression. But very little else in The Muppet Movie seemed to imprint on me, so it came as something of a surprise when I found it just a bit “meh”. And I was not alone; the general reaction to the first in the Muppet series from my fellow BlogalongaMuppeters was also to be similarly underwhelmed. What had I done? Like Moses leading the Israelites into the wilderness only to discover I’d left the satnav back at Pharaoh’s palace, I was suddenly concerned that this was all a mistake. Were we facing six months of tedium and torture?
Thankfully, of course, my concerns were unfounded, and the reason that we’re all looking forward to The Muppets next year is that the Muppets have made great movies before, and The Great Muppet Caper is a great Muppet movie. Somehow The Muppet Movie managed to get all of the pieces in place, but didn’t manage to quite get them to fit together, but Caper pulls it off much more successfully. So what did The Great Muppet Caper manage to do so much more successfully than its predecessor?
There were seven wonders of the ancient world, but apart from the Pyramids of Giza they were not wondrous enough to stand the test of time. There are probably more than seven wonders of the modern world, if you were to try to count them up, but one of the most significant is undoubtedly the fact that I’ve managed to keep churning out this blog to the same middling quality for almost a year now. Yes, on the 27th April I will have been writing this blog for a year, so I thought I needed to do something to mark the occasion, and that seeing a whole day’s worth of films would be as good as any option.
It’s a regular occurrence for me to spend the day in the cinema, and seeing four or five films in the course of a day is not an uncommon occurrence for me. Indeed, I’ve managed to squeeze in seven a couple of times, and I’ve also achieved some other feats of endurance, including seeing over 100 films in a year at the cinema twice, and a period last year when I racked up 21 in 11 days during the Cambridge Film Festival. Over the next month, I’ll be blogging about all of these feats, and also why – and how – you should give them a go, if you haven’t already.
The Review: There is always the question with any human tragedy of “how soon is too soon?” to reflect on that tragedy through artistic media. It helps, of course, if the works produced are of a high quality and manage not to feel exploitative, a feat Paul Greengrass managed so expertly with United 93, his 9/11 drama. While there hasn’t been much focus on the actual events of what we have come to call 7/7, the London bombings still resonate to this day in our culture, and so there’s plenty to explore and to look for understanding in. London River uses a backdrop of the events of July 2005 to explore a range of issues surrounding the cultural and social impact of this tragedy.
Brenda Blethyn is Elizabeth, a Falklands war widow who has raised a daughter in Guernsey but has now seen her move away to study in London. Her peaceful life of working the land and trips to her husband’s grave is slowly shaken by the realisation that her daughter may have been closer to the events than she would have hoped. As she ventures into unfamiliar territory, her story is mirrored by that of Sotigui Kouyaté’s Ousmane, who’s looking for his son. But where the stories have similarities, they also have differences, not least that Ousmane hasn’t seen his son since he was a child, so doesn’t even know who he’s looking for by sight.
London River is dominated by the performances of Blethyn and Kouyaté. Blethyn perfectly embodies the middle England that remains isolated from the multicultural hearts of our major cities, stumbling through the streets as her understanding of her daughter crumbles. Her performance is understated and doesn’t have some of the extremes of mannerisms she’s shown occasionally, and is all the better for it. She’s still in sharp contrast to Kouyaté, at times wordless and embodying a restrained dignity as he attempts not only to find his son but to steer Blethyn along her course.
For a movie with a short running time and just two major characters, there’s still plenty to take from this experience. Ousmane’s Muslim background not only allows us to examine the attitudes of the characters toward their disparate backgrounds, but also through their eyes see the prejudices that the tragedy has served to perpetuate. Four Lions has already taken a much more comedic slant on cultural and religious issues around terrorism, and thankfully London River avoids too much comparison by covering sufficiently different ground in the same areas. There are brief elements of happiness but overall there’s a sense of gloom and ultimately the tragedy of the events of 7/7 is brought to the fore, and at the end there’s a tinge of optimism, but that’s all we’re left to cling to. A fitting examination of a recent tragedy, but one that still leaves future scope for further examination.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s not hugely cinematic, but director Rachid Bouchareb does make effective use of several long shots of passageways or roads to highlight the isolation of the characters.
The Score: 7/10