Now here is a reboot to cheer for. The Muppets heralds the return of Jim Henson’s beloved furry creations resurrected from pop-culture irrelevance and lovingly restored to their former greatness in a vibrant comedy-musical.
Jason Segel in addition to co-writing and starring in the film served as executive producer and the project's resident evangelist. His choice of collaborators is inspired. Directing is James Bobin best known as the co-creator along with Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords a show whose good-natured and yet slyly irreverent tone often recalled that of old Muppet Show episodes. (I’ve never quite recovered from its premature departure.) McKenzie served as music supervisor contributing several original songs to the soundtrack. Segel’s co-star Amy Adams is the rare breed of actress who can transition from playing a pugilistic potty-mouthed waitress (in The Fighter) to the role of an angelic schoolteacher with ease. And few actors portray cartoonish villainy with more verve than Oscar winner Chris Cooper.
The film opens with a montage introducing the character of Walter a Muppet raised in Smalltown USA who figures himself the first and only of his kind until he happens upon an old Muppet Show rerun after which he is inexorably transfixed. Together with his “brother ” Gary (Segel) and Gary’s fiancé Mary (Adams) he travels out to Los Angeles to meet his idols only to find their studio vacated and on the verge of being demolished by Tex Richman (Cooper) a sinister tycoon who covets the oil reserves beneath it.
The only way to save the studio naturally is a kick-ass variety show reuniting the Muppets long estranged after the demise of their television series. Kermit the Frog is now holed up in a sprawling Bel Air mansion which he once dreamed of sharing with his former flame Miss Piggy who has gone on to become Vogue’s “plus-size” editor in Paris. Consummate entertainer Fozzy Bear is slumming it in Reno with a tribute band dubbed the Moopets; Gonzo is consumed by his work as CEO of the plumbing company Gonzo’s Royal Flush; and Animal is seeking treatment at the Fresh Pathways anger management clinic.
Segel and company’s affection for the original Muppets property is clear so much so that some viewers may dismiss the film as a tedious exercise in nostalgia. Pay them no heed. Kermit and the crew are as fresh and funny as they were three decades ago and their anarchic brand of humor with young and old alike. The film suffers from an over-emphasis on its human characters (Gonzo’s miniscule screen time is particularly baffling) and McKenzie’s songwriting while more than adequate yields no memorable standouts in the vein of “Rainbow Connection” or “Mah Na Mah Na ” but these are minor quibbles. Only cynical curmudgeons like Statler and Waldorf would waste time finding fault with an experience this joyous.
Like Love Actually and any number of other ensemble romantic comedies in which we watch a starry cast navigate their way through the treacherous world of romantic relationships He's Just Not That Into You -- based on the Sex and the City catch-phrase and very loosely on the resulting self-help book of the same name -- focuses on a select group of twenty- and thirtysomethings who find love is just not easy to find and hang on to in the Internet age. Here’s the scorecard: Neil (Ben Affleck) loves his seven year live-in girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Aniston) just not enough to marry her; while Beth (Jennifer Connelly) forced marriage on Ben (Bradley Cooper) before he was ready and now he’s seriously flirting with seductress. Anna (Scarlett Johansson) who’s kinda bored with her occasional sex partner Conor (Entourage’s Kevin Connolly) who would love to get her to take him seriously. Then there’s sweet likeable and lovelorn Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) who hasn’t had the best of luck with men and takes advice from restaurant manager Alex (Justin Long) who constantly gives his perspective of the harsh realities of dating. Finally there’s good-natured Mary (Drew Barrymore) a newspaper ad sales exec who uses any number of new technologies to meet a man -- usually via her computer. The well-chosen cast is strong and likeable making the experience of seeing this overlong (at 129 minutes) romantic trifle enjoyable and fun. It’s great to see Connelly trying something lighter these days and as a wife whose marriage is slipping away she manages to be alternately funny and touching. Aniston scores in the teary scene department as a perpetual bridesmaid involved with a marriage-shy guy nicely underplayed by Affleck. Cooper is wryly funny in his wandering hubby role and Long’s romantic advice is dished out with sardonic style and wit. But it’s Goodwin who carries much of the load here and she’s endearing in her own way. Ken Kwapis knows his way around chick flicks having directed Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants among others and he shows he’s up to the challenge presented by the multi-character storyline – though at times it seems like he’s playing traffic cop just keeping the various parts merging into a whole that makes dramatic sense. None of it is earth-shatteringly original but as a date movie there’s more than enough to satisfy the girls -- and the guys.
BFF’s Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) Carmen (America Ferrara) Bridget (Blake Lively) and Lena (Alexis Bledel) have completed their first year of college--but they seem to be drifting apart even more so than ever. Carmen wants to spend the whole summer with her friends to catch up but the other three all have separate plans: Tibby is staying at NYU for summer school; Bridget is going on an archeological dig which inadvertently spurs her to go visit her estranged grandmother (yeah got to take a leap there); and Lena is taking an art class. Feeling abandoned Carmen takes an internship at a theater festival and ends up meeting a handsome actor and getting a lead role in the main stage production. The Sisterhood eventually realizes the error of their ways and how important their friendship is--with or without the pants--and we as the audience can all give a sigh of relief that it all works out. When the first Sisterhood was released back in 2005 Tamblyn and Bledel were the most recognizable faces both starring in TV shows (Tamblyn in Joan of Arcadia and Bledel in Gilmore Girls). Now with the sequel it’s Ferrara and Lively who are the more successful ones with Ferrara’s Ugly Betty and Lively’s megahit Gossip Girl. Funny how things work out. The girls still have a nice rapport with Ferrara once again stands out as the feisty Carmen who gets suckered into auditioning for Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale and then totally nails it. Tamblyn too does a nice job as the eccentric Tibby dealing with some first love issues. Still it seems the fresh quality these four had in the original seems a tad forced this time around. Supporting turns by Shohreh Aghdashloo as Bridget’s archeological advisor Blythe Danner as her grandmother are noteworthy. The original Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants rode on the high of the bestselling book by Ann Brashares--and it was indeed a sweet touching film about the bond between four girls on the cusp of womanhood. It also made the majority of the female audiences cry which is always a good thing. Changing hands from TV director Ken Kwapis to Something New’s Sanaa Hamri however Sisterhood 2 unfortunately lacks some of the endearing qualities of the original. Rather than feeling like we are revisiting old friends and seeing how they’ve changed the second installment is a little stale as if the old pair of jeans they keep passing around to each other has worn out its welcome. Thankfully there’s a solution to that particular dilemma in this sequel if you know what I mean. Let’s just say a third Traveling Pants is unlikely.
As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night he’s ordered to teach at “A” School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how and his tough tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for Jake! Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling and the sooner he accepts it the better. And even still Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors these guys are each other’s antitheses! And in a weird way they strike a nice chemistry because of it one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast. Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak The Fugitive cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood if you have a Fugitive under your belt you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
While driving on a moonlit canyon road Los Angelenos Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her teenage brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) are attacked by some kind of giant wolf. They escape with their lives but are somehow altered by the accident. Boy are they ever. The career-driven Ellie and scrawny Jimmy suddenly find themselves with super strength and dexterity an undeniable sexual allure to those around them and heighten senses. They can smell human blood--everywhere. Uh oh. Think it's time to get out the sterling silver and melt them down into bullets. Of course Ellie and Jimmy can't deny the changes happening to them and soon find out that their werewolf encounter wasn't necessarily all that random. Still they aren't too keen on feeling the effects as their bodies painfully morph into flesh-ripping werewolves. They decide they have to solve the mystery and break the curse before it completely consumes them. Oh c'mon what's a little curse among friends?
Just like the Scream series Cursed is at least bolstered by a young hip cast even if most of them are wasted. Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) has the most fun as the geeky teenager who sort of likes his newfound powers. With his hair all mussed up and sexy Jimmy goes from a nobody in high school and to a hot-ticket item. Apparently if you didn't know this the whole burgeoning werewolf-sexual-attraction thing revolves around changing your hairstyle. While Ellie lets hers down Ricci is unfortunately a bit stiff as the supposedly tempting soon-to-be she-wolf. It's as if the actress knows how weak the script is. Joshua Jackson (so charismatic as Pacey from TV's Dawson's Creek) too seems to be going through the motions as Ellie's mysterious new boyfriend with a deep secret (clue: his hair is perfect). Judy Greer (13 Going on 30) however nearly steals the show chewing up the scenery--literally and figuratively--as a snide public relations agent with a mean jealous streak.
Movies about werewolves on a whole are pretty damn cool. It's all about how the person gets "infected" and slowly transforms from human to werewolf. Of course there's the original classic The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. and then the contemporary ones including An American Werewolf in London and The Howling (we don't count the tepid Wolf). Even Underworld's look at the ongoing feud between werewolves and vampires is at the very least an original idea. So one would think an updated werewolf story would be right up the alley of horror master Wes Craven and his Scream partner Kevin Williamson. It's not. Cursed's main problem is the jejune and derivative script. Wannabe hipster Williamson who also created the terminally chic Dawson's Creek tries to infuse the film with his usual twisty aren't-I-great-at-writing-cool-teen-speak? style. But this time around it only falls flat. Craven makes up for it a little with well-placed scare tactics and slick special effects but Cursed can't quite measure up to its werewolf predecessors.
Dodgeball is the classic big guy vs. little guy
can-do tale featuring your least favorite P.E. activity. Peter La Fleur
(Vince Vaughn) is the irresponsible manager of Average Joe Gymnasium a
low-end workout center that is losing business to Globo Gym America Corp.
run by former fatty food fetishist White Goodman (Ben Stiller). Peter
discovers that he has 30 days to come up with $50 000 of payments or else he
will lose his gym to Goodman. With the help of the bank's lawyer Kate Veatch
(Christine Taylor) and a ragtag team of gym regulars Peter plans on
winning the Las Vegas International Dodgeball Open and its first place
prize money. Yes folks all of your favorite sports clichés are here: the
salty experienced coach (Rip Torn) with his inspirational
non-sequiturs the nerd with a girl to impress a love triangle between the two
rivals and of course pirates. What? You were expecting a high concept and clever plot twists perhaps? C'mon.
If you want character development go see the folks at Merchant-Ivory. This
is irreverent comedy folks. And truth be told it's nothing we haven't seen
before. Vince Vaughn hones his too-cool-for-school good-guy persona against
Ben Stiller's lycra-covered over-the-top overachiever with a '70s porn
moustache. Stiller's performance is colored with shades of the dim-witted
Zoolander and the granny-thrashing nurse from Happy Gilmore but it
works. The two actors play off of each other and their co-stars quite well.
(Stiller's codpiece alone deserves its own screen credit.) But like a good drummer carries a band the movie's costars are what keeps the audience's attention. And as always Rip Torn does crazy
like no one else as dodgeball manager Patches O'Houlihan. He
chews the scenery spouting nuggets of wisdom such as "If you can dodge a
wrench you can dodge a ball" before heaving a tool at one poor kid. As for the team of Average Joes Stephen Root Justin Long and Joel Moore keep the gags rolling as do the actors who make cameo appearances. This laugher has more guest stars than a
two-hour Love Boat special. With a list that includes David
Hasselhoff Chuck Norris Jason Bateman Hank Azaria I was almost expecting
Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise to show up in a red Ferrari. The
highlights? Well Gary Cole shines in his bow to the great Vin Scully but
nothing could beat Lance Armstrong who laid down the best guilt trip I've
seen since I moved to the dorms.
This is Rawson Marshall Thurber's first time out playing with the big boys.
Quite a burden for a Tinseltown newbie but Thurber pulls it off agreeably.
All of your favorite sports movies will be mocked and you will enjoy it.
Thurber uses everything he can to get a laugh. Whether he's clowning Tony
Robbins parodying '50s instructional videos or using pizza in a perverse
and unholy manner Thurber keeps his audiences attention with enough
breakneck shtick to make Mel Brooks proud. But most importantly he never
forgets the fundamental rule to slapstick comedy: hitting people with stuff
is very very funny especially if it's in the nether regions or some area
of the human body that could potentially hurt or bleed a whole lot.