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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Fashion mogul Dame Vivienne Westwood took to the streets with protesters in the U.K. on Friday (16Aug13) to demonstrate against fracking. The designer marched past a proposed drilling site in West Sussex, England along with around 1,000 other activists as part of ongoing protests against the controversial gas-extraction method.
Westwood waved a placard as she marched, and later explained her involvement in the protest to the Press Association, saying, "I'm anti-fracking and I'm here to protest. There has been no debate. They are trying to rush this thing through, for what? It's not going to go away. We don't know whether it will do good or bad. I'm sure it's bad and the only people who are going to benefit from it is this energy company who are associated with the Government... It won't supply energy security whatsoever. It will actually store up trouble for the future, financially as well as environmentally."
Chrissie Hynde and Ray Davies' activist daughter, Natalie Hynde, was arrested during a protest at the same site last month (Jul13).
Fracking has also caused outrage in the U.S. - Yoko Ono set up a campaign against the practice last year (12) and won support from stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore and Lady Gaga.
When 20 grade-schoolers and six teachers died in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting four months ago, public reaction came swiftly: We needed to do something. It seemed impossible then that those high emotions would fade by the time winter turned to spring, but here we are.
Now, as Congress prepares to vote on a version of the administration’s gun control proposals this week, even that watered-down-from-its-original-form measure — requiring expanded background checks — faces a blocked vote from some Republicans. So the White House is mounting a campaign for renewed public support, smartly putting first lady Michelle Obama front and center.
In an emotional speech Wednesday at a Chicago conference on youth violence, the First Lady compared herself to the honor student from her hometown who was shot and killed a week after she performed as a majorette in the inaugural parade. Breaking up as she recalled the story of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, Obama called for Congress to take action as she drew parallels between her life and that of the Chicago girl.
"Hadiya Pendleton was me and I was her," she said. "But I got to grow up and go to Princeton and Harvard Law School and have a career and a family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine." That life resulted from simply having a safe neighborhood to grow up in, she added. "That was the difference between growing up and becoming a lawyer, a mother and first lady of the United States and being shot dead at the age of 15."
The speech marked a rare foray into major policy for Obama — and, it seems, an effective one in terms of garnering Internet attention. The question is whether it will be enough to counter the pro-gun lobby in time for real action.
Watch some of her speech here:
Hollywood.com correspondent Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the author of Sexy Feminism and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, due out in May. Visit her online at JenniferKArmstrong.com.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jmkarmstrong
More:Why It's Healthy to Obsess Over the First Couple Is It Sexist to Worship Michelle Obama's Look? Someone Doesn't Like Michelle Obama, Inconceivable!
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The tabs are all aslobber over Prince Harry having a new girlfriend, Cressida Bonas. And even with the admission from “a source” that it’s nothing serious yet, she could certainly learn a thing or two from how Kate Middleton has long handled her very public relationship with Harry’s princely brother:
1. Wear pretty clothes. Oh, you thought the Duchess just liked fashion? Well, maybe she does — who knows? Do we really know these people at all, despite the gobs of ink spilled about them? We don’t. But we do know a heck of a lot about what Kate wears, and that distracts us, because we like pretty, shiny things. (See how obsessed we are with Kate’s maternity wardrobe, and for good reason?) Give the crowds a fantastic outfit, a photo op, and they’re happy. Given that Bonas is gorgeous, this should be easy.
2. Make sure your extensive wardrobe is the most controversial thing about you. Vivienne Westwood, for instance, recently criticized Middleton for not recycling her ensembles enough. Hey, it’s better than pics of you sans wardrobe taking up column inches, as both Kate and Harry can attest.
RELATED: Why There Needs to Be a Prince Harry Movie — But Not Now
3. Know you kinda can’t win. Novelist Hilary Mantel gave a controversial speech a few weeks ago calling Middleton “a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung” and “a shop-window mannequin with no personality of her own.” Though many columnists and even public officials rushed to Middleton’s defense against Mantel, the novelist was actually expressing sympathy for the women who join the royal fold, saying they don’t get much autonomy. Proof that people are going to be haggling over your every quality — and lack thereof — as soon as you take up with a prince, no matter what you do or don’t do.
4. Get a great hat. When great clothes aren’t enough, a crazy hat will always do.
5. Prepare your family for instant stardom. Just ask Pippa.
Hollywood.comcorrespondent Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the author of two forthcoming books, Sexy Feminism (due out in March) and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (due out in May). For more information visit JenniferKArmstrong.com.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jmkarmstrong
[PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images; Wenn]
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We've pored over the headlines and highlights of the last 12 months and come up with a quiz that'll test the old grey matter.
So, put down the eggnog and turn down the TV...
1. She played a Salt-y spy, he voiced Metroman. Name the celebrity couple.
a. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt
b. Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise
c. Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith
2. ... and can you name their three biological children?
a. Pax, Maddox and Shiloh
b. Shiloh, Vivienne and Knox
c. Isabella, Conner and Suri
3. Name Scarlett Johansson's super villainess character in Iron Man 2.
a. Black Widow
c. The Bride
4. Hollywood icon Tony Curtis died in September after suffering a cardiac arrest. Name his daughter.
a. Jennifer Jason Leigh
b. Jamie Lee Curtis
c. Carrie Fisher
5. Which fugitive actor spent the latter part of the year seeking asylum in Canada after confessing he feared for his life if he returned to the U.S.?
a. Dennis Quaid
b. Chevy Chase
c. Randy Quaid
6. Which Harry Potter star appeared in a Halloween episode of The Simpsons as a mysterious character called Edmund?
a. Daniel Radcliffe
b. Rupert Grint
c. Alan Rickman
7. Name Mel Gibson's Russian ex.
a. Anna Kournikova
b. Olga Chernikova
c. Oksana Grigorieva
8. This Hollywood actor returned to Wall Street and battled throat cancer. Name him.
a. Michael Douglas
b. Charlie Sheen
c. Josh Brolin
9. What do Toy Story 3, Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender all have in common?
a. They were all remakes
b. They all starred Tom Hanks
c. They were all 3D films
10. Which Bond star landed himself a role in the Hollywood remake of smash-hit Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?
a. Sean Connery
b. Daniel Craig
c. Roger Moore
11. Which movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2010?
a. The Hurt Locker
c. Up in the Air
12. His 'Crazy Heart' won him gold at the Oscars in 2010 and his 'True Grit' looks put him in contention in 2011. Name the movie veteran.
a. Brad Pitt
b. Jeff Bridges
c. Robert Duvall
13. Which Walt Disney movie became the highest grossing animated film of all time in 2010?
a. Toy Story 3
14. Which actress was jailed in July after violating probation stemming from a 2007 DUI arrest?
a. Paris Hilton
b. Lindsay Lohan
c. Nicole Richie
15. Which Pirates of the Caribbean star married his model girlfriend Miranda Kerr in July?
a. Johnny Depp
b. Geoffrey Rush
c. Orlando Bloom
16. Which Oscar winning actress surprised the world by announcing she had adopted a baby boy, just weeks after winning her first Oscar - and then leaving her cheating husband?
a. Sandra Bullock
b. Halle Berry
c. Kate Winslet
17. Hollywood legend Dennis Hopper lost his battle with prostate cancer at age 74. Name his character in cult biker movie Easy Rider.
18. Who hosted the 2010 Oscars?
a. Billy Crystal and Steve Martin
b. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin
c. Alec Baldwin and Billy Crystal
19. Which royal couple is Madonna currently making a movie about?
a. Prince Charles and Princess Diana
b. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
c. Edward VII and Wallis Simpson
20. Seth Rogen and Ryan Reynolds both became green superheroes in 2010. Name their characters in the upcoming movies.
a. The Green Goblin and Green Lantern
b. Green Hornet and Green Lantern
c. The Riddler and Green Hornet
21. And while we're going green, which actor was named the new Hulk?
a. Mark Ruffalo
b. Brad Pitt
c. George Clooney
22. Who co-starred with Bruce Willis in the film Red?
a. Kate Winslet and Morgan Freeman
b. Helen Mirren and George Clooney
c. Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman
23. Liam Neeson portrayed John 'Hannibal' Smith in the film version of which 80's TV show?
a. The A-Team
b. Dukes of Hazzard
c. The Six Million Dollar Man
24. Which Twilight Saga star was crowned Homecoming Queen for the 2nd straight year at her school?
a. Kristen Stewart
b. Dakota Fanning
c. Ashley Green
25. Name Leonardo DiCaprio's mindbending 2010 film
a. The Last Airbender
26. Which movie star dumped a Canadian model for a French hunk?
a. Halle Berry
b. Sandra Bullock
c. Kate Winslet
27. He campaigned for Sudan, played 'The American' and fell for an Italian TV personality. Name the international movie star.
a. Matt Damon
b. Brad Pitt
c. George Clooney
28. Name John Travolta's baby son.
29. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz teamed up for which 2010 summer blockbuster?
a. Knight and Day
b. Day and Knight
c. Mission: Impossible 4
30. She teamed up with Gerard Butler in The Bounty Hunter. Name the actress.
a. Drew Barrymore
b. Katherine Heigl
c. Jennifer Aniston