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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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
It was bound to happen eventually. Vampire craze, zombie craze, something of a werewolf fixation...now: Frankenstein craze. The latest Frankensteinian development is I, Frankenstein: a story of Mary Shelly's monster surviving for centuries and living to see an age-old warfare between two immortal societies. If you're not really on board with that, there is some good news: Aaron Eckhart will play the role of Frankenstein's monster ("Adam").
Yeah, it's hard to picture Aaron Eckhart as grotesque. A lot of us even found it hard to accept him as minorly shlubby in Meet Bill...although it might be inaccurate to assume that a group described as 'a lot of us' actually saw Meet Bill.
But Eckhart as an adept performer. He did pull off half-monstrous in The Dark Knight with a hefty sum of excellence. So why not go the whole nine yards this time?
Now,you might be thinking, that the presence of other types of superhuman monsters running societies could go against the point of the original novel. But as the film's director and writer Stuart Beattie (who contributed to the scripts of each of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) has said, "Mary Shelly's story is about the creation of the first human being. This is the story about that being becoming human." It seems like the man intends to stay loyal to the spirit of Shelly's character. Even if this new world is not one we ever expected Frankenstein's monster to wind up in, that doesn't mean it is a direct contrast to anything we have derived from Shelly's literature.
Top Story: Courteney Cox and David Arquette Expecting
Friends star Courteney Cox, who has spoken openly about having difficulty conceiving, is expecting her first child with actor husband David Arquette, Reuters reports. Cox's publicist said Tuesday the 39-year-old actress is expecting a baby but gave no other details. Cox's pregnancy conveniently coincides with the 10th and final season of Friends, as her character Monica and onscreen husband Chandler (played by Matthew Perry) are having difficulty conceiving and are looking into adoption. Cox told Barbara Walters in an interview for ABC's 20/20 in October that she has had "many miscarriages" but that she and Arquette were still trying with in vitro fertilization. At the time, Cox and Arquette, who were married in 1999, said they'd consider adopting a child, but she added, "I do want his genes, and I would try probably a surrogate before that ... but then, absolutely, adoption."
Hatfield's Death Caused by Cocaine
According to the official autopsy report, Righteous Brothers singer Bobby Hatfield's death last November was caused by cocaine and not just heart failure. Hatfield, 63, died Nov. 5 just hours before a Righteous Brothers concert. According to the AP, chief medical examiner for Kalamazoo County Dr. Richard Tooker told the Kalamazoo Gazette Tuesday that Hatfield's death was triggered by acute cocaine intoxication. "This is a shock to me," his partner Bill Medley told The Orange County Register from his home in Newport Beach, Calif. "I never saw him (use cocaine). I knew absolutely nothing about it. If I had known, I would have said something to him."
Croc Hunter Still in Running for Australian of the Year
Steve Irwin, the host of the TV wildlife program Crocodile Hunter, remains in the running for Australian of the Year despite a rash of criticism over his feeding of a 13-foot crocodile while holding his one-month-old son. According to The Associated Press, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said Tuesday he wouldn't retract Irwin's nomination for the top national award, adding: "He has been one of the best ambassadors for Queensland in the modern era. He is known internationally." The Australian of the Year award is decided by the Australia Day Council, a non-governmental citizens group that promotes celebrations for the country's national day Jan. 26.
No Babies for Jessica Simpson--but Maybe a Dog
Singer-turned-reality star Jessica Simpson, who is married to singer Nick Lachey, is in no hurry to become a mother. Simpson, 23, told People magazine in its Jan. 12 issue that she is not even sure she would want her pregnancy chronicled on her hit MTV reality show Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica. "Brandy did that, but I see our show just being the `Newlyweds,'" she tells the magazine. "I don't think I am going to get pregnant. I am trying not to. But we might get a dog."
Shriver and NBC To Discuss Dateline
NBC News president Neal Shapiro is denying a New York Daily News report that the network asked California first lady Maria Shriver to resign over concerns about maintaining a reporter's objectivity while involved in the administration of her husband, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But according to the AP, Shapiro is expected to meet with Shriver next week in California about an extended leave from her Dateline NBC job. Shriver, who took a leave last August to work on Schwarzenegger's campaign, has since made two appearances as an anchor on the newsmagazine program, but has reported no stories.
Jackson Special Fails To Crack Top 10
CBS and ABC dominated the Top 10 in primetime viewership numbers compiled by Nielsen Media Research for the week of Dec. 29-Jan. 4. Conspicuously absent from the list, however, is CBS' Michael Jackson special, Number Ones, which came in 26th for the week with only 10.5 million viewers. The Top 10 shows were: AFC/NFC Showcase, ABC (25.1 million viewers); NFL Playoff: Dallas at Carolina, ABC (24.7 million viewers); Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. LSU, ABC (23.9 million viewers); AFC Wildcard Postgame Show, CBS (19.1 million viewers); Rose Bowl Postgame Show, ABC (17.9 million viewers); Sugar Bowl Pregame Show, ABC (17.4 million viewers); CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS (16.2 million viewers); 60 Minutes, CBS (15.8 million viewers); Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS (15.1 million viewers); CSI: Miami, CBS (15.1 million viewers).
Duvall Says Money Was Issue With Godfather III
In an interview to air Wednesday on CBS' 60 Minutes II, actor Robert Duvall says money was the reason he didn't appear in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, Part III. "If they paid (Al) Pacino twice what they paid me, that's fine, but not three or four times, which is what they did," Duvall, 73, tells 60 Minutes II correspondent Charlie Rose. Duvall, who starred in 1974's The Godfather, Part II, was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Tom Hagen in 1972's The Godfather.
Celine Dion Gets Hollywood Star
Celine Dion received a star Tuesday on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the Kodak Theater. The 35-year-old French-Canadian singer broke down in tears before nearly 1,000 fans as she thanked her late father for being her "No. 1 fan" during a ceremony. Her father, Adhemar Dion, died late last year at the age of 80 after a lengthy illness. "How often do natural blondes from Quebec make it big in Hollywood?" Tonight Show host Jay Leno joked in introducing Dion, who thanked the comedian for inviting her to perform on his show 13 years ago, giving her a big break on American TV.