Every week, Indiewire chief film critic Eric Kohn singles out a movie
available for free streaming from our parent company SnagFilms’ library
and tells you why you should watch it now.
There are many songs in “Muppets Most Wanted,” the sequel to 2011’s wildly successful resurrection effort “The Muppets Movie,” but only one of them hits a truly honest note: its opening number, “They’ve Ordered a Sequel,” playfully mocks the very idea of rehashing a successful formula for the sake of profit above all no matter how many fans desire it. The lyrics are enjoyably self-deprecating (“the studio wants more/while they wait for Tom Hanks to do ‘Toy Story 4′”), but the rest of “Muppets Most Wanted” is less ironic satire than merely an illustration of the redundant process laid out in its introduction.
If you want a charming musical fantasy that has no distracting commercial motives driving its every scene, look no further than Cory McAbee’s “The American Astronaut.” The writer-director-singer-star’s 2001 feature-length debut is a wondrous space western, shot in luxurious black-and-white, that uses an innovative combination of campy B-movie tropes and the bouncy rockabilly tunes composed by McAbee’s band, The Billy Nayer Show. The story is naturally silly, but still maintains a thrilling sense of old school adventure — while the Muppets go on a world tour in their latest outing, “The American Astronaut” spans the solar system. After interplanetary trader Samuel Curtis (McAbee) successfully delivers a missing cat to the interstellar saloon where it belongs, he’s drawn into a wonderfully bizarre plot involving a cloning device, sex-starved Jupiter residents, and a whole lot of bouncy rhythms. It all makes a weird sort of sense, if you just go with McAbee’s energetic flow.
While McAbee’s loopy plot comes secondary to the sheer stylistic weirdness of his shadowy world, “The American Astronaut” presents a wondrous success of moods — from the hilariously bouncy “Hey Boy,” sung by a pair of crusty hooligans hired to harass our hero in the bathroom of a saloon, to the hypnotic “Party,” delivered by the film’s deadpan narrator as he’s whipped into a frenzy, crawls through the sand, and announces to nobody in particular that it’s his birthday. It’s a movie alive with experiences, and capably sets the stage for McAbee’s followup, the episodic space romp “Stingray Sam.” But “The American Astronaut” is especially liberating because it boldly goes where no space musical has gone before: a place of sheer, unadulterated creativity.
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