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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For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Screen Gems
We can divide the incoming audience of Kimberly Peirce's Carrie remake into three categories. First, dutiful fans of the original — just about any modern day cinephile, or regular human being who was at least a teenager in the mid-1970s. A collective who might be expecting, based on a passage of four decades and an insightful director like Peirce, something altogether different than Brian De Palma's horror classic. As much as we might have loved the old version, we're not heading to theaters to see it reproduced with Chloë Grace Moretz standing in for Sissy Spacek.
Second, we have the group who never got around to De Palma's Carrie, or at least who do not remember it with any particular fondness, but who hold Stephen King's novel in high regard. A group who might expect the epistolary form of the narrative to translate to screen in some inventive way, telling Carrie White's story the way that King did back in his early days.
Finally, the youngest of the lot: those who never saw, never read, maybe even never heard of Carrie, but who are flocking to theaters out of love for the young Moretz and in hopes of a good scare. These are likely to be the participants most satisfied — although it is the goal to approach every new feature film as a work independent from all predecessors and source material, anyone who has seen the '76 Carrie will have a hard time eviscerating the connotations from his or her head while watching the new venture.
Just shy of a shot-for-shot remake, Peirce's Carrie doesn't come through on many of the progressive tones or innovations than might arise from connotations with the film's director. When the film does deviate, those in the know will wonder why — why the transformation of the Billy Nolan character (played here by Alex Russell, previously by Jon Travolta) from lowly dufus into a criminal mastermind? Why the changes in Carrie's understanding of her classmates' ultimate misdeed (we won't say more, just in case you're in Category 3), or in her scenes at home to follow? To those who can't seem to get De Palma off the mind, it'll be difficult to justify these very few changes... especially in light of the overwhelming presence of his shadow cast by the new movie's decision to operate in such conjunction with everything we saw in the '76 version (even including the comic relief "gettin' ready for prom" scene).
But even those without a Carrie on their shoulders will feel that this film lacks the gravity it intends. The glossy feel of this Hollywood high school robs Carrie White of her desperation, her classmates of their cruelty, and the climax of its authentic severity. The only place where Carrie does knock its powerful material out of the park is with Julianne Moore, whose Margaret White is so impressively chilling, so embedded in darkness and fear that she's genuinely difficult to watch. But in the otherwise "campy" world of this Carrie, Margaret and the third act darkness just feels dreadfully unpleasant, and to no identifiable end.
What is Carrie saying and doing with all this horror? Unhooking itself from the clasps of dramatic weight, genre fun, and cinematic tribute, the film floats freely without much of an identity. Although the material is enough to get you through the movie, and the performances decent enough to at least see where a new life might have been breathed into a more inventive script, you won't leave Carrie without much in the way of answers. Just one big question: "Why did they bother?"
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Be sure to taper off your comic book consumption around May 4, or you'll risk having a dangerous overload of superhero excitement. As if seeing the leads from multiple summer blockbusters in one film isn't exciting enough, the final trailer for The Dark Knight Rises will run before The Avengers.
A Warner Bros. executive confirmed the third trailer's release date with Deadline, and said the epic DC/Marvel rivalry isn't a concern. “We see this placement as a good strategic decision," said the executive. "We always want our trailers to be seen with films that people want to see — and a lot of people will be going to The Avengers!” While the two franchises are likely to battle for box office records this summer, this actually isn't the first time they've been paired together. The trailer for The Dark Knight ran before Iron Man in 2008.
We've already seen a teaser and a full-length trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, and though there was plenty of revealing footage, there are still major questions surrounding the film (aside from "What the heck is Bane saying?"). Hopefully, the final trailer will shed some more light on the two female leads, Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard. While we've seen photos of Hathaway in her Catwoman getup, we've yet to see the costume in action. Plus, we don't even know who Cotillard is. Supposedly she plays Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate, but fans of the comic books insist that's just a cover for her real role, Talia al Ghul, daughter of Liam Neeson's character Ra's al Ghul. We doubt Christopher Nolan would actually put such a big reveal in the trailer, but a few hints to keep us going until July 20 would be much appreciated.
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