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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Back in 2005, writer Nathan Rabin coined the phrase "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" to describe Kirsten Dunst's character in Elizabethtown, a type of recurring female character that "exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." Today, the archetype still remains, but has since sprouted new companions as the sensibilities of filmmakers adapt to the times.
If Sundance 2013 is any indication, specifically Breathe In, the new film from Like Crazy director Drake Doremus, that new variation is less all-knowing, more sharp and unknowingly seductive. Inspiring in the life-shattering way rather than the life-enhancing variety. In the film, happily married music teacher Keith (Guy Pearce) has his nostalgic feelings for the past cranked to 11 when foreign exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) arrives to live at his home. Feeling that his life took a wrong turn (he used to be in a rock band but now he teaches piano), Keith discovers new possibilities in Sophie's innocence and intellect. He's happy with his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) but with Sophie, Keith sees a return to his happiest moments.
"The Disaffected Sexually-Charged Ingenue"? "The Spaced Out Siren Prodigy"? We may need to work on the phrase, but the fact of the matter is that it's an emerging presence in indie film.
Breathe In resembles the Sundance 2012 premiere Nobody Walks, which starred Olivia Thirlby as a promising New York City experimental filmmaker who shacks up with family friends in L.A. in hopes of completing a new short. John Krasinski played the sound designer husband, who only needed on day with Thirlby's beautiful, creative self to throw in the towel on his marriage to Rosemarie DeWitt and hook up with the 20-something. You can find similar traits in 2012's The Oranges, Leighton Meister helping to push Hugh Laurie out of his multi-decade marriage to Catherine Keener. To all men in their 40s entertaining young, female house guests: beware. It never works out.
Breathe In is a spiffier film than Nobody Walks, sporting luscious photography and a broader scope than its lower-budget counterpart, but both suffer from the dramatic emaciation of their female leads. Jones is a stunning actress — see Doremus' Like Crazy for evidence — but she merely floats through Breathe In. We see as Sophie mesmerizes Keith with her expert piano skills, we see Keith equally entranced by the glow of her bikini-clad body sunbathing by the lake, but what we don't see is any real life connection the two would make that would challenge everything Keith has ever known, so much so that he sacrifices his family for a new beginning. We're just told that's the case — the script forcing us down a path, swelling music making up for Sophie and Keith's foundationless romance. Sophie isn't a fleshed out character, she's a cinematic pawn to explore the male fantasy.
This isn't to say that the scenario of Breathe In is impossible. Relationship dramas date back to the beginning of written work — what it takes is a closer analysis. Luckily Doremus has a fantastic ensemble on his hands — Pearce is always reliable and Ryan finds a way to wake the movie up with spats of humor — but this new shade of MPDG acts as an easy out for the movie. And if it continues to be a trend, more movies to come down the line.
[Photo Credit: Indian Paintbrush]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
Daniel Radcliffe Proves Himself a Star in Sundance's 'Kill Your Darlings'
Naomi Watts and Robin Wright Sleeping with Each Other's Sons Is as Creepy as It Sounds
Sundance Doc Makes Interesting Comparisons to Manti Te'o, Lance Armstrong Controversies
The Academy Awards may be all about the year's best movies, but the actual broadcast is one of television's showiest nights. The Oscars are more revue than straightforward awards show, featuring comedy bits, talking head tributes, and innovative musical numbers. There's even a category that plays directly to the theatrics of the night: Best Original Song. Normally, vocalists take the spotlight to perform a handful of film-inspired singles. But earlier this year, at the 84th Academy Awards, the tradition was cut from the agenda, an attempt to cut down the length of the show. Many thought the move was a sign; a holdover category from the glory days of movie musicals was finally on the outs.
Or not? In an official press release from the Academy of Arts & Sciences announced that this year's ceremony would include five Best Song nominations — no more, no less. Per the release:
"During the nominations process, all voting members of the Music Branch will receive a Reminder List of works submitted in the category and a DVD copy of the song clips. Members will be asked to watch the clips and then vote in the order of their preference for not more than five achievements in the category. The five achievements receiving the highest number of votes will become the nominations for final voting for the award."
Last year's meager selection of nominees clearly invigorated the Awards Rules Committee. 2011 offered 39 possible tunes for Oscar consideration. Thanks to the previous voting system, where the number of nominees was variable, only two songs were selected as potential winners: "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets and "Real in Rio" from Rio (Flight of the Conchords Bret Mackenzie took home the award for Muppets). The slashing of the performances was just another instance of the category being mishandled. The rule change should prove a step in the right direction.
2012 should follow in 2011's footsteps with a hefty selection of eligible songs: Brave's Scottish yarn "Song of Mor'du," a new Les Miserables performed by Hugh Jackman, Florence and the Machine's "Breath of Life" from Snow White and the Huntsman, Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars' "Safe & Sound" from The Hunger Games, Dolly Parton's tunes from Joyful Noise and plenty more to come as Oscar-friendly movies roll out over the next few months. Whether the Academy Awards will once again welcome the musicians back to the stage to belt their nominated songs is another question — but there's reason to be optimistic. Recently-hired producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are veterans of Broadway and musical TV and film (Chicago, Hairspray, and Smash). If there's anything they know, it's how to concoct a great musical number.
Is the Best Song category an essential staple of the Oscars and the broadcast show? Raise your jazz hand if you think they deserve a place alongside Hollywood's best of the best!
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Big Machine Records]
Oscars 2012: Ten Unforgettable Moments at the Academy Awards
Oscars 2012: What's Next for the Oscar Winners?
Hollywood.com Talks to Catching Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron
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.
Set in the wintry tones of 1950's England Asylum follows a confused woman Stella (Natasha Richardson) who has too much time on her hands. Her husband Max (Hugh Bonneville) an ambitious forensic psychiatrist has been hired to treat patients at a criminal psychiatric hospital and soon the married couple along with their 10-year-old son Charlie (Gus Lewis) are living on the hospital's grounds. Unstable as she is Stella soon falls for a pathological inmate named Edgar Stark (Marton Csokas) smitten with his mysterious volatility. Problem is Edgar murdered his wife. But Edgar and Stella begin a lusty affair anyway and Stella's family life dissolves into shambles. Jealous doctor Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen) accelerates the breakdown. Asylum is about trapped troubled people confined by their own limitations.
This eclectic ensemble of Britain's finest thespians (and one New Zealander) is Asylum's strongest suit as they play up their worst behaviors. Richardson excels as the detestable Stella letting her fawn-like yet manic eyes do the talking during extended facial close-up scenes. Richardson captures Stella's addiction to helplessness. McKellen (up next in X-Men 3) wields a strong quietness commanding attention with his unpredictable acerbic intentions. As the asylum's voice of authority McKellen makes us believe he belongs in the institution. But the heaviest lifting is left to Csokas (Kingdom of Heaven The Great Raid) who must be at once brooding and pacifying as a wife murderer. Csokas' combination of desirable and repulsive works with mixed results though they are satisfactory. His allure is functional.
The mushy form of Stella's descent makes Asylum feel like a long misdirected slog even though it's only 97 minutes long. There isn't much of a story unfolding; instead it's more of a zigzag-wandering around the stations of grief. Edgar's crazy Stella's in love with him and that's Asylum. The film also often shifts locations without engaging the audience to care. Certain scenes are indeed devastating true to Asylum's grief-stricken story. Director David MacKenzie (Young Adam) shows some chops with his visual narrative style. But the story runs into the ground repeatedly like a nihilistic jackhammer. The direction then seems more like an irritant.
Actor Kyle MacLachlan is engaged to his girlfriend of two years, fashion publicist Desiree Gruber, the Associated Press reports. The two will tie the knot April 20 in Miami, Gruber's hometown. The couple met at a chiropractor's office. MacLachlan, 42, currently stars in HBO's hit series Sex and the City as the husband of Kristin Davis's character Charlotte.
Singer Jill Scott won three awards at Tuesday night's Seventh Annual Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, including Entertainer of the Year, AP reports. Destiny's Child took home an award for best single for their hit "Survivor" while 3LW captured Album of the Year with 3LW. Singer Aaliyah, who was killed in a plane crash on Saturday, was nominated for rhythm and blues, soul or rap song of the year but lost to Yolanda Adams. The Lena Horne Award for outstanding career achievement went to Patti LaBelle.
Morris the Cat handler Bob Martwick died Sunday at the age of 75, according to AP. Martwick found the original Morris, famous for his star appearances in Starkist Seafood TV ads, at an animal shelter in Hinsdale, Illinois, in the '60s. Though the original Morris died in 1970, Martwick served as a handler for the second Morris. He also helped discover and worked with Spuds MacKenzie, the onetime bull terrier mascot for Anheuser-Busch.
Trouble looms for HBO's hit mob drama The Sopranos. Makers of the series are heading to a Chicago court on Wednesday to ask a judge to dismiss a claim that the series is offensive to Italian-Americans. According to the BCC, the move follows a suit brought on by the American Italian Defense Association (AIDA), claiming the show's depiction of Italian Americans in murders and extortion is "racist." The BBC also reports the network will argue that the claim infringes on their rights to free speech and that the judge will make his ruling based on an obscure Illinois state law that protects individual dignity.
In other Sopranos news, 70-year-old singer and actor Dominic Chianese, who plays Uncle Junior on the show, has canceled a Sept. 19 concert with real soprano Cynthia Lawrence. The concert was called off after civil rights groups complained that The Sopranos perpetuates all the wrong stereotypes about Italian Americans.
Former NBA forward Dennis Rodman is in trouble with the law again. Rodman allegedly sprayed patrons at a Newport Beach, Calif., Hooters restaurant with a fire extinguisher after someone said something to him he didn't like. Police told AP that Rodman got into a shoving match with the customer before leaving the restaurant. He then headed to his boat, which was docked near the restaurant, where police questioned him. Rodman has not been arrested but the case is under investigation. According to AP, the police have visited Rodman's oceanfront home more than 70 times for noise complaints.
PageSix.com has apparently obtained a copy of a Sex and the City script entitled "I Heart NY" set to air in February. The script reveals that Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie breaks up with her fiancé Aidan. In another story line, Cynthia Nixon's character Miranda fakes going into labor to stop Carrie from having sex with Mr. Big (Christopher Noth). The show is on hiatus until January, when HBO will air the season's final six episodes.
Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant will be starring in a Castle Rock/Warner Bros. romantic comedy due out in December 2002, Variety reports. Bullock will reportedly play a neurotic attorney with Grant as her wealthy boss. The film will be produced by Bullock's Fortis Films and directed by Marc Lawrence.
Michael Jackson will be presiding over the opening of Nasdaq trading on Thursday, Reuters reports. Media coverage is being restricted to giant video screens outside of the Nasdaq in New York. Jackson, who went on a private tour of the New York Stock Exchanges in January, is currently in New York for a concert honoring his 30 years as a solo performer.
David Bowie and Sean Combs have paired up for a remake of Bowie's song "This is Not America," ABC News reports. The project will be included in the soundtrack to the upcoming film Training Day starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. Combs described the song as a fusion of techno, hip-hop, funk and soul rock.
A syndicated TV series based on the online auction site eBay is set to launch in fall 2002, Variety reports. Columbia TriStar Television Distribution and LMNO Prods. will partner on the series, which would take a magazine-style look at the stories behind eBay users. The half-hour episodes would be a cross betweenAntiques Roadshow and Real People. No pilot has been shot yet.
British tabloids are ridiculing Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham's plans to create a new image for herself. Posh was pictured on the cover of British papers Tuesday sporting a ring in her lower lip, causing legions of avid Posh fans to do the same. By Wednesday, however, the ring was gone. According to Reuters, fans were furious after discovering that the piercing was a clip-on. "She is a real cow," one fan was quoted as saying after she spent $43 on a piercing. Posh apparently had no idea the ring would cause such a fuss.
Sara Evans leads the list of Country Music Assn. Awards nominees which were announced in Nashville Tuesday, according to People magazine. Other nominees include Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson and the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The 35th annual CMA ceremony will be hosted by Vince Gill at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House Nov.7. CBS will air the live broadcast of the event from 8-11 p.m. ET.