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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In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Former Seinfeld star Michael Richards left comedy fans stunned during a Friday night performance at Los Angeles' Laugh Factory when he blasted a pair of African-American hecklers with a racist rant.
The funnyman, who played quirky Cosmo Kramer on the beloved sitcom, lost his cool during a stand-up routine at the comedy club when two black audience members challenged him--and his comments were caught on camera.
News Web site TMZ.com, which obtained the footage, reports the comedy show turned ugly when Richards realized his hecklers were black.
He screamed at one of the men, "Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f**king fork up your ass."
And then, when the playful heckling continued, Richards objected further, ranting, "You can talk... you're brave now, motherf**ker. Throw his ass out. He's a n**ger! He's a n**ger...! Look, there's a n**ger!" One of the hecklers then turned on Richards, shouting, "That's un-f**king called for, ain't necessary."
Responding to the crowd's shock, Richards responded, "They're going to arrest me for calling a black man a n**ger."
Many audience members then left the venue. One African-American audience member, Darryl Pitts, feels Richards should be reprimanded for his racist comments.
He tells CNN, "I feel like something has to be done about. He threw those words around very cavalierly, he mentioned hanging upside down from a tree... It's very upsetting."
As WENN went to press, a protest was being planned outside the Laugh Factory.
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He shoots, he doesn't "Score!" Oscar winner Russell Crowe is allegedly an aficionado of Scores strip club in Manhattan, reportedly dropping five grand on three strippers at Christmas-time, PageSix.com reports. The report also reveals that the hunky actor failed to convince the strippers to remove their G-strings or accompany him back to his hotel room.
Nicole Kidman's bank account isn't the only thing that's growing bigger these days. For the upcoming flick The Hours the star of Moulin Rouge had to endure two hours in the make-up chair (which Sky News says she "hated") to add some needed mass to her proboscis to approximate that of author Virginia Woolf. Ah, the sacrifices Nicole's willing to make for her art--first kissing Ewan McGregor and now this.
Disturbed director David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) has been tapped to head the panel of judges at the next Cannes Film Festival. And here we thought the only American entertainer the French liked was Jerry Lewis.
Third time's the charm? Former Seinfeld cast member Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine) is trying her hand at a prime time sitcom, following in the failed footsteps of Michael Richards (Kramer) and Jason Alexander (George), whose projects both failed to last a full season. Watching Ellie debuts Feb. 26 on NBC, and will likely be cancelled by mid-April.
Comedian Chris Rock and wife Malaak Compton-Rock are expecting their first child, People magazine reports. The couple has been married for five years.
The Laramie Project officially opened the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night. The Laramie Project deals with the murder of a gay man in Laramie, Wyo., whose only crime was being openly gay. Shocked viewers were heard to say, "That doesn't look like a bobsled." The Winter Olympics start in Park City, Utah about a month after Sundance ends.
Another day, another awards announcement. The Producers Guild of America has released their nominations for the best of TV and film. Shrek becomes the first animated film to be considered for the PGA's Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures. Shrek is also the first ogre and the first fully green creature to be considered for such an honor.
On Wednesday, Michael Jackson came in first and third in the television ratings for 18-49 year olds. Jacko's appearance on the American Music Awards propelled ABC to a victory in the most coveted demographic, while his repeated special on CBS finished third. No word on whether Jacko pulled in the highly coveted llama demographic.
Showtime and MTV have confirmed that they are working on a cable network targeted at gays and lesbians. This news crushes Jerry Falwell's plans to do the same.
Leaving No Doubt about her future matrimonial plans, a spokesman for Gwen Stefani said the 32-year-old Ska-rocker is getting hitched to Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, 34, Reuters reports. Rossdale admitted that Stefani was pressuring him to make a commitment last November.
Ray Charles has Australia on his mind? The 71-year-old legendary musician is headed down under in February for a series of concerts in Oz, Reuters announces.
In an ironic twist that only the U.S. court system could come up with, Rapper DMX has worked out an astounding plea agreement with Bergen County, N.J., prosecutors. DMX, who was charged with 13 counts of animal cruelty, two counts of maintaining a nuisance and one count each of disorderly conduct and possession of drug paraphernalia in 2001--and charged with possession of a deadly weapon and child endangerment in 1999--will make public service announcements for kids telling them of the dangers of guns and asking them to be kinder to animals. Otherwise, they might become successful recording artists who cross over to making movies...
Martin Luther King's life (and 73rd birthday) will be celebrated in a Smithsonian exhibit starting on King's birthday this Sunday at Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, The Associated Press reports. The traveling exhibit, which features works of more than 100 artists who carry on King's work through their art, will visit six cities over the next two years.
Doubling their displeasure, twin teen stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have dropped out of So Little Time, their highly successful sitcom on ABC Family Channel. ABC cites the twins' demands for a $400,000 raise in their allowance as the sticking point. Mary-Kate and Ashley are currently looking to get onboard a movie ride, but can only do so if they're this tall.
The Highlands Grand opened with a gala fest Wednesday night. Attendees--including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jerri Manthey (Survivor) and former NBA hoopster John Salley--were treated to designer grub by Wolfgang Puck, choreographed dance numbers by Alex Magno (Madonna's Drowned World Tour) and places to sit.