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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I have been head over heels for this season of How I Met Your Mother, defending the stuck-in-the-wedding-weekend conceit against detractors and championing the overall refreshed feel of the humor and performances. But "Bass Player Wanted," the episode that would bring us the long anticipated union of the Mother and Ted's best pal Marshall, is far and away the worst half-hour Season 9 has given us.
Marshall meets the future Mrs. Mosby — whose name might well be hinted at by the title of the series finale — while he's struggling to walk five miles from his broken down bus to the wedding venue. (Now, this is hardly a relevant issue, but the show makes out a five-mile walk to be some sort of cross-country trek. Yes, Marshall is carrying his son and a few bags, but five miles really isn't that dreadful a hike for a healthy man of his physical prowess.) Driving away from Farhampton, The Mother recognizes Marshall from the pictures Lily showed her back on the Long Island Railroad and offers to give him and baby Marvin a ride.
Here, she reveals her present conflict: her lead singer, played demonically by Andrew Rannells, is some kind of sadistic sociopath who gets off on ruining people's friendships. As T.M. divulges Rannells' penchant for interrelationship sabotage, we see him starting fights between Lily and Robin (revealing that Robin is secretly taking Marshall's side in the judgeship/Italy debate) and Ted and Barney (telling Barney of Ted's plans to move to Chicago after the wedding).
But we never quite understand what the deal is with this nutjob. Why is Rannells' character such a psychotic dick? And how does he know enough info about Robin/Lily/Ted/Barney to infuse himself so effectively into their trust? And is T.M. the only one who knows of his evil follies, or are the other band members also aware of the monster that Rannells is? As T.M. continues to refer to Rannells as "the Devil," we learn that he also has optioned to replace her as bass player, after usurping her position as lead singer. It's all a bunch of wackadoo nonsense that unwinds into a convoluted conclusion to win Ted the good graces of his future wife. How? By an act of idiotic violence.
See, after Ted and Barney make up (I'll come back to that, since it is my favorite part of the episode), we see Ted punch Rannells' character right in the face. Is it because he broke his $600 bottle of Scotch, or because he instigated a spat between the two friends? A little of both, maybe. Either way, 35-year-old men shouldn't be punching people. That's not really admirable, and certainly not in character for Ted. Is this bizarre one-off moment of moronic machismo really supposed to be the thing that wins him the heart of The Mother? And do we really want Ted to end up with someone who can sign off on something like that?
T.M. hears that someone has punched out Rannells, which, along with encouragement from Marshall, gives her the guts to stand up to him once and for all and kick him out of the band. Bravo, golf claps, whatever. This is fair, permissable punishment for this weird non-character. A telling off and a deflating of ego is far more effective than a sock in the jaw.
But back to Ted and Barney. The sensitive Barney takes it personally that Ted hadn't told him about his Chicago move, insisting that Ted sees him as just "some guy he used to know in New York." The words land, and hard — Barney has always felt as though Ted didn't care nearly as much for him as he does for Ted, and probably with good reason. But Ted pulls off a half-cocked plan (stealing a $600 bottle of Scotch) and admitting, tacitly, that he is only leaving because he needs to start over with a Robin-free life.
This Barney understands. The two make up. It all works. Unfortunately, it's surrounded by a lot of stuff that's significantly less clever.
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Relatively speaking, things seemed pretty okay at the end of last week's Arrow: Moira was out of her funk, Laurel was beginning a working relationship with The Arrow, Tommy was being useful, and The Huntress was nowhere to be found. But, alas — producer Andrew Kreisberg and Mr. Diggle himself, David Ramsey, recently told Hollywood.com that the peace will come crashing down sooner rather than later.
First, there's the drama in tonight's episode, which will largely center around a spat between Diggle and Oliver — who, once again, have a different opinion on how Starling City should be saved. "There will be more [confrontation between them], which I think is great," Ramsey says. "It serves our hero well. It serves the show well, just in terms of how [Diggle and Oliver] see this city being saved. Diggle has his own philosophy of how the city can be helped, and so does Oliver. Diggle sees things that Oliver just can't, at the end of the day. Because it's a burden that's been placed on him — Like Hamlet. The burden of fulfilling his father's dying wish lies heavy on this man who is suffering from post-traumatic syndrome in a serious way. Diggle sees that. It's not that Oliver is not intelligent and can't, he's just not emotionally in a place where he can."
But the two men are going to have to work it out, because the a new villain from the comic books — Seth Gabel's Vertigo — will soon appear with a nasty street drug that wreaks havoc on one beloved member of the Queen family. "[Vertigo is] like Cillian Murphy's scarecrow [from Christopher Nolan's Batman series] — he's got a wicked look in his eye, and he's a little bit demented," Kreisberg says. "He has a provocative allure, and that's what Seth does so well. Our Vertigo is different from the comic book Count Vertigo — in the comic book he was literally a Count, [which is] a little bit fantastical for the world of Arrow we've created. He's going to be playing a dealer who is peddling a new narcotic called Vertigo that Thea runs afoul of. It's going to make Arrow taking down the Count extremely personal."
Which doesn't mean that you should count out the Dark Archer, who was recently revealed to be Tommy's dad, Malcom Merlyn. "John Barrowman [who plays Malcolm] is really our big bad of the season, but as far as long-term villains, we're excited about what the Count could be for the Arrow-verse," Kreisberg says. But does this mean that Barrowman, who currently only recurs on the show, could be upgraded to regular status? "Anything is possible!" Kreisberg teases.
To add to the headache, Oliver — not Arrow, though the two are very much entwined — will deal with personal drama from two very important ladies in his life (well, three, if we're counting Thea's drug issues). The confrontation between Oliver and his mother is coming a lot sooner than you may think," Kreisberg says, referring to the fact that Moira is somehow in cahoots with Malcom, and knows a lot more than she's telling.
In semi-related news, The Huntress will also rear her not-so-ugly head — just as things start to go well in Oliver's romantic life. "The Huntress is going to make a return appearance in a story that we broke down in the writer's room as what happens when your crazy ex girlfriend shows up when you're finally dating someone nice and new," Kreisberg says, referring to True Blood's Janina Gavankar, who will soon recur as a love interest for Oliver. "Oliver is going to try and date her, and then finds out that she is now a police officer, and she's assigned to the task force to bring the Arrow down," he says. "He's dating her by day, and she's hunting him at night."
Do things ever go well for Oliver? Not at the moment, but Kreisberg promises that there is a silver lining for the hood: "Throughout all of this [drama], there's Oliver and Laurel. They're star-crossed lovers. Their friendship, their chemistry, their love, their affection, their anger — it's always present in a scene that they're in together, so that will always be in the background."
Watch Arrow Wednesdays at 8PM on The CW.
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[PHOTO CREDIT: Cate Cameron/The CW]
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Top Story: "Capturing the Friedmans'" Victims Send Letter to Academy
Two men whom Jesse Friedman pleaded guilty to sexually abusing as boys have written an open letter to Academy Awards voters speaking out against the Oscar-nominated documentary, Capturing the Friedmans, The Associated Press reports. The film, which won the documentary grand prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and was named best nonfiction film by the New York Film Critics Circle, looks into the life of the Friedman family whose world is transformed when the father, Arnold, and his youngest son, Jesse, are arrested and charged with molesting dozens of children during computer classes in their Long Island home. "If this film does win an Oscar, it will be won at the expense of silencing the plaintive voices of abused children once again, just as our own voices were silenced 16 years ago by the threats and intimidation of our tormentors, Arnold and Jesse Friedman," the victims, now in their 20s, wrote. But director Andrew Jarecki defended the film, saying it was a balanced piece. "The film doesn't exclude that perspective in the slightest," he said Tuesday. "I didn't set out to make an advocacy film for the Friedmans, and I didn't make one." But 34-year-old Jesse Friedman, who was 19 when he pleaded guilty to the sex abuse charges in 1988, is seeking a new trial to overturn his conviction based on information revealed in the documentary.
First Lady Wants To Catch Passion
First lady Laura Bush, who was in Bentonville, Ark., visiting a high school, said Tuesday she would like to see The Passion of the Christ, which opens Feb. 25, Reuters reports. "I think it sounds very interesting and I'd like to see it," the first lady said after being asked by reporters if she planned to see the film. Directed by Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ depicts the last 12 hours in Christ's life. Jewish leaders have condemned the film, calling it anti-Semitic propaganda that threatens Judeo-Christian harmony, while evangelists say it is the most effective tool for spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ in more than 2,000 years.
Lohan Wants Truce With Duff
Forget about the Kelly Osbourne-Christina Aguilera feud--that's so yesterday--the newest Hollywood warfare is between Freaky Friday's Lindsay Lohan and Cheaper by the Dozen star Hilary Duff, as reports would have it. But according to Lohan, reports that Duff asked her to leave the premiere of Cheaper by the Dozen after a spat have been greatly exaggerated. "I mean, she's doing great. I'm a fan of hers. My sister loves her," the 17-year-old Lohan told Diane Sawyer Tuesday on ABC's Good Morning America. "I just wanted to let her know I have no problems and neither should she. We were friends." Lohan described the fight with Duff, 16, as "a high school thing."
Conan O'Brien "Apologizes" to Quebecers
Late Night host Conan O'Brien issued a tongue-in-cheek apology Tuesday over a segment on his show in which Triumph the Insult Comic Dog insulted the population of the French-Canadian province of Quebec. "People of Quebec, I'm sorry," O'Brien said, as a translator recited in French, with English subtitles, "People of Quebec, I'm an albino jackass." O'Brien continued, "We meant no harm with our comedy piece the other night … I was a stranger in a strange land and I was very insensitive," he continued, with the subtitle: "The other night, I wet the bed like a little girl ... I have a small penis." The controversial jokes were made while O'Brien's taped a series of shows in and around Toronto to help boost that city's profile in the wake of last year's SARS outbreak.
Guns N' Roses Could Block Greatest Hits Release
Sources tell Billboard.com that Guns N' Roses' did not give consent for Geffen Records to release a new greatest hits compilation on March 23 and may pursue legal action to block its release. The album, which consists of 14 hit singles including "Welcome to the Jungle," "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Patience," "Paradise City" and a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" from the Interview With the Vampire soundtrack. Guns N' Roses, whose only original member left is Axl Rose, returns to the live stage May 30 at the Rock in Rio-Lisbon festival in Lisbon, Portugal--the group's first live appearance since a disastrous 2002 comeback tour, which was canceled with 13 dates remaining because of an unspecified illness.
Marilyn Manson Settles Civil Suit
Marilyn Manson has learned that gyrating his crotch on someone else's head is not a good idea. Security guard Joshua Keasler, who sued Manson in U.S. District Court in Detroit for sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress, claimed the shock rocker wrapped his legs around his neck and gyrated against him while wearing only a leather thong and pantyhose during a July 2001 performance in Detroit. The AP reports the suit was dismissed after Manson and Keasler reached a settlement, but both sides agreed not to release terms of the settlement. Manson pleaded no contest in 2002 to disorderly conduct and assault and battery in the same incident. At the time, Manson, whose real name is Brian Warner, was ordered to pay $4,000 in fines and costs.
Don't Shake Your Polaroid Pics, Company Warns
Contrary to Andre 3000's instructions to "shake it like a Polaroid picture," the instant camera maker does not want consumers to jiggle their snapshots. In the "answers" section on the Polaroid Web site, the company says that shaking photos, which once helped them to dry, is not necessary since the current version of Polaroid film dries behind a clear plastic window, Reuters reports. The image "never touches air, so shaking or waving has no effect," the company explains on its Web site. "In fact, shaking or waving can actually damage the image. Rapid movement during development can cause portions of the film to separate prematurely, or can cause 'blobs' in the picture." Outkast's hit single "Hey Ya," which includes the "shake it" line as a reference to the motion that users do to help along the self-developing film.
Top Story: Is Jackson Leaving the Country?
Michael Jackson, whose confiscated passport had been returned to him so he could fulfill contractual obligations to promote his new CD Number Ones overseas, has been ordered by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon to provide "documented confirmation" that his upcoming promotional trip to Britain is still happening, The Associated Press reports. London's Sun newspaper reported Sunday that Jackson, who is facing child molestation charges, had cancelled the planned Christmas tour, and if that's the case, the singer must once again surrender his passport to authorities, according to the District Attorney's office. But Jackson's spokesman, Stuart Backerman, told the AP Monday that he believed the trip was still on. Jackson was originally scheduled to travel to Britain on Dec. 20 and stay until Jan. 6. "I'm not aware of any cancellation," Backerman said. "He still is planning to go as far as I know."
Ozzy Released From Intensive Care
After fracturing his collarbone, eight ribs and a neck vertebra in an all-terrain vehicle accident Dec. 8, Ozzy Osbourne was finally moved out of intensive care Tuesday, AP reports. In a written statement, the Osbourne family said Ozzy had been moved from Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, west of London, to a private clinic. "The Osbourne family are very happy that Ozzy has been allowed out of the intensive care unit for Christmas and would like to thank everyone for their kind support, well wishes and prayers," the statement said.
Horn Gets To Go Home
After spending two months at the University of California, Los Angeles, hospital recovering from a tiger attack, animal trainer and entertainer Roy Horn has returned to his home in Las Vegas, Reuters reports. Horn, 59, part of the duo Siegfried and Roy, was nearly killed Oct. 3 when a male white tiger grabbed him by the neck and dragged him offstage at the Mirage resort in Las Vegas. Horn is able to write notes, his spokesman told Reuters, but no other details of the extent of his recovery were available.
Rings Tops African American Film Critics List
The African American Film Critics Association has picked The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as the top movie for 2003, AP reports, followed by Lost in Translation and In America. Director F. Gary Gray, who helmed the hit film The Italian Job, will receive a special achievement award. The African American Film Critics Association, which consists of print, broadcast and online movie reviewers, aims to draw attention to works that appeal to black audiences, star black actors or are made by black filmmakers, AP reports.
Palm Springs Fetes Johansson
Golden Globe-nominated actress Scarlett Johansson, who received nods for her work in Lost in Translation and Girl With a Pearl Earring, will be honored at the 15th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, along with Oscar-winning writer Sidney Sheldon and Cold Mountain production designer Dante Ferretti, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The awards gala will be held Jan. 11.
Judge Grants Magazine Excerpt of Eminem Song
Manhattan federal Judge Gerald Lynch will allow the hip-hop magazine The Source to publish CDs containing limited excerpts of a previously unreleased track by rapper Eminem that includes lyrics such as "black girls are dumb," AP reports, but the magazine can only print 20 seconds of material from the recording, rather than the entire song. The Source said it uncovered the recording while investigating the forces corrupting hip-hop, including racism, and had planned extensive coverage of it in their February issue, AP reports. Eminem has called the recording "foolishness," something he made as a teen "out of anger, stupidity and frustration" after breaking up with a black girlfriend."
White Stripes Singer Charged With Assault
Jack White, frontman to the Grammy-nominated band The White Stripes, was charged with aggravated assault Monday stemming from an unprovoked attack on another singer, Jason Stollsteimer, at a Detroit, Mich., club Dec. 13, Reuters reports. Witnesses say White approached Stollsteimer, 25, who sings for a local Detroit band the Von Bondies, spat on him and punched him in the face, continuing to hit Stollesteimer as he fell to the floor. White, 28, could face up to a year in prison if convicted.
Role Call: Lion Roars to the Big Screen
With the huge success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series, another classic fantasy epic, C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is coming to the big screen, AP reports. New Zealander Andrew Adamson, best known for the Oscar-winning animated feature Shrek, will direct the film and shoot it entirely on location in New Zealand. The movie is expected to be the first of five films based on Lewis' seven Chronicles of Narnia books. Lion, the second and most popular of the novels, centers on the tale of four British children who, to escape the blitz during World War II, are packed off to the rambling country mansion of an old professor. There they discover a wardrobe that is a gateway to the magical land of Narnia, with its fauns, centaurs, dwarves and giants, as well as a witch and a lion named Aslan.