I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
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Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
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Actor Laurence Fishburne is set to revisit his Always Outnumbered movie character in a U.S. TV series which he will produce and star in. The Matrix star first played Socrates Fortlow, an ex-convict who seeks redemption after serving a lengthy prison sentence, 15 years ago in a made-for-TV movie.
The film was based on novels by Walter Mosley and now Fishburne is teaming up with the author once again to develop a new version of the story in The Right Mistake, according to Deadline.com.
The series will air on U.S. TV network HBO.
Samuel L. Jackson attends as many fundraisers for Alzheimer's disease as he can because he's convinced he'll be diagnosed with dementia before he dies. The movie star fears he'll follow in the footsteps of so many relatives who have succumbed to the condition, which robs sufferers of their memories.
He says, "My grandfather had Alzheimer's, my maternal and paternal grandmothers had it, my mum died from it last year, her sister's got it. Because it's around me like that, I'm kind of waiting on that day where I walk in a room and don't know why I'm there.
"I'm going to do all I can to help people because of that."
And Jackson is also hoping to raise awareness about the disease by playing a 91-year-old man struggling to cope with Alzheimer's in a new film.
He tells Playboy, "The one old-guy story I want to do is a great book by Walter Mosley, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, about a 91-year-old guy with Alzheimer's who is told by a doctor that he can give him all his cognitive functions back, but he'll die in a week.
"He does it because he has some s**t he wants to get together."
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
What do you get when you combine the writing duo behind franchises like Saw and Piranha 3DD (Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan) with established thriller novelist Stephen Romano?
The answer is Black Light, a new paranormal thriller from the trio that splices a creepy ghost story with a pulpy detective story. At the center of the novel is Buck Carlsbad, a private eye with a shady backstory and the ability to communicate with the dead. Put him on bullet train and you've got the beginnings of the books intense, often cinematic story.
I got a chance to talk to the authors of the book about penning the novel, the freedom of writing prose, looking ahead to a big screen Black Light adaptation and everything else they've got in the works (yes, even Piranha 3DD):
So the three of you wrote Black Light together—how did the idea come about and how did you all team up together to make it happen?
Patrick Melton: Basically, Marcus and I had this idea and we ended up having dinner with this editor, John Schoenfelder. He liked the idea of taking Hollywood screenwriters and matching them up with novelist and doing a book. So he asked us if we had any ideas that fall within the parameters of Mulholland [Books]. Not horror necessarily, but paranormal thrillers.
Stephen Romano: Suspense thrillers.
PM: Sort of pulp, crime novel edge. That's how we came up with Black Light. Then Stephen was brought in and the collaboration began.
Is the process of writing a novel similar to developing a screenplay?
PM: It's similar. We're used to going back-and-forth, but thankfully Stephen has a screenwriting background. He did the first Master of Horror. So he knows what it's like getting dumb notes from dumb people and we worked perfectly within that realm.
The thing is, since the editor came to us, it was a bit of reverse engineering. We started batting around ideas, putting down pages—it was a very abbreviated period because they liked the idea of it coming out on Halloween, because we usually have a Saw film coming out.
SR: We started working on the book in November. That's when we started talking about it. We didn't do the deal until January, but we had already written half the book on spec. We finished the book in four or five months.
Where did the idea come from? The premise seems like a far cry from the Saw movies and some of your other work.
PM: This was actually the second idea we had after Feast. So we had Feast done, and at the time ghost stories were big—it was right at the beginning of the J-Horror period—but when we were done with Feast and got around to talking to our representatives, J-Horror was on the way out. That's when some of these gory, torture porn movies came en vogue, so we switched gears and started doing that. But this was the opportunity to get this out.
Marcus Dunstan: That's where Stephen comes in [laughs]!
PM: In terms of elements, we had the opportunity to work in creature horror, and this was supernatural, but wasn't confined to a screenplay's narrative limitations. 90 pages, 100 pages or what not. This could exist on a bigger palette. And it was nice to pull from the 9+ years of love for the ghost story and react to everything that had come prior. React to the J-Horror remakes, react to things that landed soft or landed well throughout our lives.
MD: …but trap it in a 400 mile per hour ride that's shaped like a gold coffin and multiply it times 9. Crank it up.
PM: And we're naturally drawn to the antihero, I think. So creating Buck as a very flawed individual, a hard ass, was very appealing to all of us. That goes back to our literature influences: Jim Thompson, Walter Mosley, like that. So naturally we said, 'let's do it first person, let's get into it, let's make him a bad, flawed motherf*cker.' And it worked.
When you first signed to do the book, it was announced that Black Light would be the first in a series. Is that still the plan?
SR: There are a lot of things in the book that could play into the other books, but we're just waiting to see how this one does. And we have a movie deal.
I was curious, because of your background, if a movie adaptation was always planned.
SR: You always hope for that.
PM: It was in the back of our minds to make it as cinematic as possible. It started as a screenplay, so it was always in its DNA. And as far as future books, this is the first in a series where we're defining the world as we want it. We had to create all the rules, which always as the feeling of an origin story. So it might seem like we set it up for a series, and it very well might be, but that's just us setting up the rules. But we just jump right into—he's been doing this for quite awhile—so we had to explain that.
How far along are you with bringing the book to the screen?
PM: We purposefully didn't show it to anyone within the industry until the book was done and printed and ready. So the first person we showed it to Mike DeLuca (The Social Network, Priest, The Sitter). And he said, "I love detective stories and I love trains and you put them both in one story!"
The ghost didn't come up.
PM: [Laughs] Of course not. So he's the man on board. It happened very recently, so we'll see what happens.
So what's the actual process of three guys writing a book. Do each of you have a specific role?
PM: We started with a treatment and then Stephen added to the treatment. Then we went into pages, everyone would respond—it was building from the beginning.
When Marcus and I started writing together, we didn't Feast together, but on set we had to do a page one rewrite of Highlander: The Source. We had to do it really quickly—so I did the first act and the third act and Marcus did the second act. But when you added my pages to his pages and it was a 145-page draft of Highlander 5. So…that doesn't always work. So we planned from the beginning and John kept us on track.
A good deal of Black Light takes place on a train—how many trains did you actually ride while writing?
SR: I've never been on a train in my life [laughs], and it was my idea to have it go 400 miles per hour too.
Is it refreshing to have the Saw films in your past and be tackling something totally different?
MD: Well, it's a step away from Saw's mechanism for terrifying and engaging. It's a different spectrum. Black Light could take place in that area between PG-13 and R if it wanted to, whereas Saw is built to be R. This is a man searching for his meaning. Perhaps his gift is a curse, perhaps he'll never know what happened to his parents, but he's willing to give little pieces of himself away for moments of information of his past in this world called the Black Light.
Is there something specific in the book you were glad to bring to live through a novel as opposed to on screen?
MD: I'll say, character development!
Ha! Are you saying your movies don't have character development?
PM: Here's the thing. When writing in the horror genre you're lucky if your movies going over 95 minutes. That really gives you one scene, one moment to define your character. Every once in awhile it's nice to write something with a little more meat on its bones.
What do you each have in the works for the future?
SR: I'm in rewrite right now on a novel for Simon & Schuster called Resurrection Express. It's a non-horror, but it's equally twisted and weird. I refer to it in the TV Guide summary way, as The Bourne Identity meets Mission: Impossible directed by Quentin Tarantino. It's a brutal, on-the-street chase thriller with exploding helicopters. It's going to be badass.
Patrick and Marcus, I know you have Piranha 3DD in the can, which looks like it'll hit in 2012…
PM: Yeah, you know it was never going to hit the original date anyway. It was very quick and there was a huge amount of effects work to do. Not enough time. Dimension is talking about January, but we've seen the move and it should be April. It's a total Spring Break movie. Just like the first one. It takes place a year later, down river. At a water park. It has the same sort of party vibe.
And then we have The Collection, which is the sequel to The Collector. We don't know when that's going to come out.
MD: It's in post right now and will be for a quite a awhile.
Are you writing anything at the moment?
MD: Uh, well…[Laughs]
PM: Yes, we came here from our current assignment.
MD: In Toronto. Top secret.
PM: And we're returning there tomorrow evening.
Is it horror?
PM: No. Well, kinda [laughs].
Black Light is available in stores and online now.