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
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
There is a certain level of enjoyment you are guaranteed when signing on for a movie that boasts a cast of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. And that's the precise level of enjoyment you'll get from The Monuments Men — that bare minimum smirk factor inherent the idea that your favorite stars are getting to play together. In FDR-era army helmets, no less. But what we also get from the film is an aura of smug self-confidence from project captain Clooney, who seems all too ready to take for granted that we're perfectly satisfied peering into his backyard clubhouse.
So assured is the director/co-writer that we're happy to be in on the game that there doesn't seem to be any effort taken to refine the product for the benefit of a viewing audience. An introductory speech from art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) sets up the premise straight away: the Nazis are stealing and destroying all of Europe's paintings and sculptures, and by gum we need to stop them! The concept doesn't complicate from there, save for a batting back and forth of the throughline question about whether the preservation of these pieces is "really worth it." Stokes rallies his own Ocean's Seven on a fine arts rescue mission, instigating an old fashioned go-get-'em-boys montage where we learn everything we need to know about the band mates in question: Damon has a wife, Goodman has gumption, Murray doesn't smile, Bob Balaban is uppity, and Jean Dujardin is French.
The closest thing to a character in The Monuments Men comes in the form of Hugh Bonneville, a recovering alcoholic whose motivation to take on the dangerous mission is planted in a festering desire to absolve himself of a lifetime of f**king up. When we're away from Bonneville, the weight disspears, as does most of the joy. Without identifiable characters, even master funnymen like Goodman, Murray, and Balaban don't have much to offer... especially since the movie's jokes feel like first draft placeholders born on a tired night.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
But wait a minute, is this even supposed to be a comedy? After all, it's about World War II. And no matter what Alexandre Desplat's impossibly merry score would have you believe (coupled with The Lego Movie, this opening weekend might be responsible for more musical jubilance than any other since the days of "Make 'Em Laugh!"), warfare, genocide, and desecration of international culture all make for some pretty heavy material. But The Monuments Men's drama is just as fatigued as its humor, clumsily piecing together a collection of mini missions wherein the stakes, somehow, never seem to jump. We're dragged through military bases, battered towns, and salt mines by Clooney and the gang — occasionally jumping over to France to watch Damon work his least effective magic in years on an uptight Cate Blanchett, who holds the key to the scruffy American's mission but doesn't quite trust him... until, for no apparent reason, she suddenly does. We never feel like any of these people matter, not even to each other, so we never really feel like their adventures do.
The Monuments Men doesn't have much of a challenge ahead of it. Its heroes are movie stars, its bad guys are Nazis, and its message is one that nobody's going to refute: art is important — a maxim it pounds home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, through countless scenes of men staring in awe at the works of Michelangelo and Rembrandt. And in this easy endeavor, Clooney decides to coast. How could it possibly go wrong? Just grab hold of the fellas, toss 'em in the trenches, and let the laughs and danger write themselves. "This is what they came to see," Monuments Men insists. "Just us guys havin' a ball." But we never feel in on the game, and it isn't one that looks like that much fun anyhow.
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.
It must be awfully frustrating for Robert Pattinson and everyone involved in movies with him to be hamstrung by studios that want to take advantage of his Twilight fan base. There's no other explanation for this fangless adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's classic novel about a mercenary young lad who beds society ladies for political leverage. Oh and because he can.
As Georges Duroy the titular bel ami Pattinson skulks sulks and glowers his way through Paris in the 19th century. The dirt poor former solider runs into a comrade from the war who is now a powerful newspaper editor; Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister) who takes pity on the filthy drunk tosses him a few gold pieces and invites him to dinner. Madeleine Forestier is the brain behind the operation and she advises Duroy to cozy up to the other society ladies as they're the ones with the real power. Duroy gets a gig writing a column for the newspaper which Madeleine actually writes for him and his career as a professional grifter begins.
The plot of Bel Ami revolves around the political environment of France just before its invasion of Morocco as much as it does Duroy's love affairs. It's a major motivating factor for many of the characters one that has been watered down or edited out to the point where it's almost an afterthought. This takes away a lot of the urgency and the sort of backstabbing deliciousness that one would expect from a piece like this. The stakes aren't that high until near the end when they come to a sudden head. Before that the story was meandering between Duroy's dalliances with a married woman and how he's scamming the newspaper.
Christina Ricci plays Duroy's lover Clotilde one of Madeleine's friends and although she's married there's no weight to the affair other than to show the supposedly sexy sex that has been both part of the movie's hype and it would seem its main marketing problem. Marketing problems are relevant here because they generally mean more and more edits are made until what was once a coherent movie becomes a confusing mishmash through little fault of those directly involved.
Their scenes are moderately steamy for an R-rated movie. They're obviously not appropriate for his so-called fan base but it's obvious that even before the Twilight franchise was nearing its run that Pattinson wanted to take a stab at actual acting. Although Duroy is a sh*t it seems unlikely that the final cut of the film is all that true to the book or even the vision of those involved.
That's a shame since Bel Ami looks lovely even if it comes off as occasionally goofy. Ricci is beautiful but her character is banal. The men are all fairly interchangeable cigar-smoking society types or ink-stained writers. The most memorable thing about Uma Thurman's performance is how elegantly she smokes her cigarettes and how she treats Duroy's lovemaking as if it were less interesting than a fly landing on her arm. As one of the society women that Duroy beds as part of his scheming Kristin Scott Thomas goes from a typically no-nonsense married lady to a mewling quim. Pattinson can't seem to find the right balance between rage and sweetness; it's actually impossible to tell who he's in love with when or why until he bursts out with statements like "I was the one getting f*cked!" Or was the audience?
Park Pictures is a production company that primarily creates commercials but has recently entered the narrative feature world with their upcoming film Robot & Frank. Apparently they’re just letting anyone make movies these days. Anyway, the film stars Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Strong and Liev Schreiber, as the voice of the Robot. Not a bad cast for a first film, my first had a goldfish and my oversexed neighbor who didn’t understand the concept of thin walls.
The film follows Langella as an aging father with only one friend, the librarian played by Sarandon. Then his kids (Tyler and Marsden) buy him a caretaking robot (oh yeah, this takes place in the near future) and the two become odd friends. Whether the movie will be a sentimental little indie or a flat-out comedy chock full of old-man-futzing-with-technology jokes, only time will tell.
The Insomniac's Guide: The Best TV Past 11
Welcome to Hollywood.com’s Insomniac’s Guide to television, where we bring you our guide to strange, dark underbelly of television that is after-11 programming. So if you’re a night owl, or just want to set your TiVo, check out our recommendations for the week. But there’s no guarantee that these shows will look as good by the light of day.
Note: TV is recorded by the night, rather than date that it airs. For instance, if a show is on at 2 AM Tuesday morning, it will be listed as a Monday night show. All times EST.
Monday Night 7/5
Buffy The Vampire Slayer- 3 AM on Logo
Buffy’s 7th season is mostly a disaster, but the final episode of the show does its best to serve as a fitting capstone to the highly influential series. If you haven’t seen the series before, this isn’t the place to start, but if the semi-annual Twilight barrage is getting on your nerves, you could do worse than going back to the “classics.”
Tuesday Night 7/6
Rocko's Modern Life- 2:30-5:30 AM on Nicktoons
Rocko’s Modern Life is up there with Ren And Stimpy as a show where it’s hard to understand how it got on the air. It’s sly, funny, and unfailingly absurd, in a way that makes it perfect for late night viewing. Not to mention, it has more “how the hell did the FCC not notice this?” moments than any cartoon since South Park.
Wednesday Night 7/7
Donnie Darko- 11:35 PM on Encore
I don’t know if I would be brave enough to watch this movie by myself late at night. To be fair, I am kind of a wuss, but Frank the rabbit always really gets to me. Lately Donnie Darko has become almost synonymous with midnight movie, so you probably should watch it at night. Especially since a tired mind is more receptive to the slow-building scares, and less likely to notice the fact that the film makes very little sense.
Thursday Night 7/8
In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale- 2:30 AM on Syfy
When watching bad movies, it’s best to pick a film that won’t just be run-of-the-mill incompetent or dull, but exceptionally awful. One certain way of making sure that your film will be up to your standards of failure, just check the credits for Uwe Boll’s name. Boll’s films are famously and consistently hilarious, so if you’re a Mystery Science Theater fan or bad film connoisseur, Boll’s the best thing since Ed Wood.
Friday Night 7/9
Abraham Lincoln- 12 AM on Turner Classic Movies
It was the 4th of July this weekend, but just because the holiday is over doesn’t mean you can’t still get your history on. Not that this film is all that historically accurate: it focuses heavily on Lincoln’s relationship with Ann Rutledge, which seems a bit like making a film about Gandhi and devoting most of it to his high school sweetheart. But the film is basically a historical relic in itself, since it was made by film pioneer D.W. Griffith.
Saturday Night 7/10
American Psycho- 11:30 PM on IFC
Christian Bale is one scary dude. He hasn’t played a normal, non-creepy guy since Newsies, and he was like 12 in that. Sure, he technically plays a superhero in Batman, but his real-life persona seems a lot closer to Patrick Bateman than Bruce Wayne (judging by his dislike of “fucking distracting” lighting people on his sets). Bateman makes that crazy work like, well, crazy in American Psycho, and as a result the film is utterly fascinating, as well as gory and fun.
Sunday Night 7/11
Galaxy Quest- 2:30 TBS
Galaxy Quest goes where no film has gone before, into the realms of mocking Star Trek, science fiction, and nerd culture in general. Actually, that’s a place that several films have gone before, but none have done it with the sympathy and skill of Galaxy Quest. It’s clearly a labor of love from people who enjoy being nerds, not just mocking them. Plus, it has Sam Rockwell and Tony Shalhoub in two of the funniest roles of their career, and Alan Rickman at his droll best.
Extra: If Galaxy Quest has got you in the mood for Star Trek, the BBC is showing The Next Generation episode “I, Borg” Friday night at 11.