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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Kristen Stewart obsessed with herself? Maybe just a little. Stewart stopped by to visit Conan O'Brien last night, and when he asked her what it was like filming sex scenes for The Twilight Saga, she had quite a bit to say on the subject. In fact, she confessed that she likes to look at herself making 'schmexy faces.' Yes, she did go that far. And she didn't stop there...
Here's what you missed last night on late night TV:
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
Fallon shared a clip of Kellan Lutz arm wrestling Kristen Stewart in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2.
Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!
Comedian Martin Short admitted to loving Honey Boo Boo. "The difference between her family and the Palins is teeth and that's it," he said. He also attempted to feel up his "ding dong," as he puts it, in front of Kimmel while talking about discovering a lump in the area as a kid. He explained how he tried to cure the cyst himself. "I went to the medicine cabinet, and I got a bottle of this thing called Dettol," he said. "Dettol, I would later find out they would use a cap for a gallon of water to clean hospital floors. I didn't know, so I just poured it on there. By day three there was a rash." That sounds painful, to say the least.
Late Show With David Letterman
Alec Baldwin talked about doing voice over work for his character, North, in Rise of the Guardians. "It's like radio acting," he described. "You're there in the booth with the microphone, and the director is saying to you, 'Alright Alec, you're Santa Claus... You're tired. You're fat. You've been eating cookies. Mrs. Claus doesn't understand why you work so hard. We would like you to put all of that inside the line itself.' That's voiceover acting in a nutshell."
The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
Helen Hunt stopped by Leno to promote her new movie, The Sessions. She admitted that she doesn't read reviews because she's fearful that they might be emotionally disturbing. She also said that she wasn't allowed to go into a party at Sundance. She also didn't try to get in because she knew the bouncer didn't know who she was. How could you NOT know who Helen Hunt is?!?
Conan O'Brien asked Kristen Stewart what it was like filming Twilight sex scenes when Stewart had to look "into the eyes of the camera." "It's nice to see your own reflection while you're making schmexy faces," she said. "It's absolutely absurd, actually. I want to shoot myself." Stewart also dissed her father claiming that he loves all the attention she has received since starring in the Twilight franchise. "He loves it," she said. "He's a total fame whore. You go anywhere, even if I'm not with him, he's like, 'Hey I'm John... Stewart... Father of Kristen. Have you ever seen Twilight? Yeah, that's my kid.' It's the most embarrassing thing in the world."
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Who would have thought there’d be so much secret buried treasures in this fine country of ours? Thank goodness we have treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) on the case. It’s been a few years since he and his crew discovered the Knights Templar treasure beneath the streets of New York but it looks like a new treasure hunt is afoot. It all starts when a missing page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth surfaces accusing Ben’s great-great-grandfather as a key conspirator in Abraham Lincoln’s death. In order to clear his family’s name Ben must rummage through the Queen’s desk at Buckingham Palace kidnap the President of the United States and get his hands on the fabled Book of Secrets with all of our nation’s deep dark ones--AND get his acrimoniously divorced parents (Jon Voight and Helen Mirren) in the same room together--just so he can find one of the world’s most elusive treasures: the ancient Native American “City of Gold.” Hunting along with him once again is his trusted--now broke--friend Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and estranged girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) who honestly were just waiting for another cool adventure to pop up so they could take a break from their ordinary lives. It’s always better in a Nic Cage actioner when he doesn’t ham it up. Ben Gates is a perfect alter ego for the actor--whip-smart a little nerdy but adorably inquisitive and relentless in his pursuit of ancient artifacts or to clear his family's name or whatever the case may be. I guess you could call him a modern-day Indiana Jones minus the fedora and whip. Voight too doesn’t have to overplay it as Ben’s dad Patrick and can feel proud to have his name attached to the movie (unlike say Bratz or Anaconda). As for the lovely Mirren you half-expect her to show up at Queen Elizabeth II when Ben is in Buckingham Palace but alas the Oscar winner just gets to sit back and have fun as Ben’s mom a professor of Native American culture (yes she comes in handy). Kruger’s Abigail is still blonde spunky and protecting historical documents. But it’s Bartha as electronics expert Riley who steals nearly every scene he is in with one snarky line after another. My personal favorite: “So let's recap: We've broken into Buckingham Palace and the Oval Office stolen a page from the President's super-secret book and actually kidnapped the President of the United States. What are we gonna do next short-sheet the Pope's bed?” Good thing director Jon Turteltaub stumbled upon this goldmine franchise or he might be stuck making sequels to Disney’s The Kid. Much like the Indiana Jones series what makes the National Treasure movies fun are their sense of adventure the code-breaking--and the American history slant. They speak not only to the treasure hunters who crave excitement but also to the History Channel buffs. It’s a combination that works. Of course Book of Secrets is just as wildly far-fetched as the original National Treasure but Turteltaub keeps things moving at a good clip so you don’t mind suspending disbelief. Actually you might want to jot down some notes--you know just in case there might be a sliver of truth. Then again that might be something the filmmakers don't want you to do. With the climactic ending at a famous American landmark (won't give it away) they keep it pretty vague exactly where Ben and the gang are looking for the treasure. I'm sure the peeps wouldn't appreciate amateur treasure seekers flocking to the landmark to look for the City of Gold. Oh and if Book of Secrets makes the piles of cash it should look for a third installment hinted at at the end of this one.
From Pepsi pitch girl to playing Helen Keller. Hallie Kate Eisenberg will next appear as the deaf and blind Keller in ABC's "The Wonderful World of Disney's The Miracle Worker" on Sunday.
It's the little tyke's first venture into a dramatic role, USA Today reports. Her mom said that Eisenberg was so into this particular role that she would wake up at night signing into her pillow. Uh-huh.
NEW NIGHTS FOR 'ED' AND 'TITANS': NBC is doing the shuffle. In an attempt to firm up a few weak spots in its primetime lineup, the network is moving its freshman show "Ed" to Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. while "Titans" is being relocated to Monday at 8 p.m. and "The World's Most Amazing Videos" will settle on Sundays at 7 p.m. All changes will take place beginning Dec. 6.
NO KNIGHT FOR CBS: Bobby Knight is still looking for a job. Indiana's former head basketball coach, who was fired in September, was in negotiations with CBS about a possible job as a college basketball commentator job, but The Associated Press reports that both sides failed to come to an agreement.
"It never got to that point. It wasn't going to work out," Knight's agent, Sandy Montag, said Thursday.
Knight would have sat in the booth with veteran play-by-play commentator Dick Enberg. Enberg's last partner, Al McGuire, left just before the NCAA Tournament last season due to an illness. After Knight was fired, he was contacted by CBS Sports President Sean McManus for a possible job, but an agreement never materialized.