Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite.
Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits.
And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.
But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either.
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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 a while there, we could set our watches to Christopher Guest's directorial schedule. Every three-and-a-half years, the mockumentarian would release another gem: Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration. All dry and satirical, all celebratory of their shared performers' mile-deep pools of talent, all unique. But the pattern halted after the latter, Oscar-mocking picture, leaving us without a cinematic Guest gem since 2006. But if he's just been spending all that time developing his new HBO comedy Family Tree, then we can probably forgive him. Especially since he's roping in the comedy world's new prince, Chris O'Dowd.
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The below trailer for the film lands Irish O'Dowd among Guest's usual clan of American, British, and American-feigning-British heroes, including Michael McKean, Jim Piddock, Ed Begley, Jr., Don Lake, Bob Balaban, and (the powerhouse) Fred Willard. Will the rest of the troupe show up for the program? Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey? We can hope... but for now, we're just pleased with what we're already seeing:
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[Photo Credit: Ray Burmiston/HBO]
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After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
To those of you who’ve been holding out for a Blu-ray version of Footloose, have we got news for you. Namely, that there’s a Blu-Ray version of Footloose coming out on September 27th. The special release will include brand new special features, including interviews with Kevin Bacon and Sarah Jessica Parker, Kevin Bacon’s original screen test, and two commentary tracks. The Blu-ray and DVD re-release is set to overlap with the release date of the remake on October 14. This way, when people see the trailer for the new film and are confused about why there’s an exploding bus, they can watch the warm and fuzzy original version. Let’s hear it for the cross-promotional opportunities!
Footloose is the story of a small midwestern town that bans dancing, and the young man (Bacon) who starts a revolution by dramatically dancing through an empty warehouse.
The special edition Footloose Blu-ray and DVD will be availible for purchase on September 27th. The new film Footloose, starring Kenny Wormald, is due out October 14th. In the meantime, here’s Bret from Flight of the Conchords doing his best Kevin Bacon impression below.
Here's the full list of specs for the release:
The FOOTLOOSE Blu-ray is presented in 1080p high definition with English 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 2.0 Dolby Surround, Spanish Mono and Portuguese Mono with English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles. The Deluxe Edition DVD is presented in widescreen with English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX, French 2.0 Dolby Surround and Spanish Mono with English, French and Spanish subtitles. Both discs include the following:
NEW Special Features:
- Let’s Dance! Kevin Bacon on Footloose
- From Bomont to the Big Apple: An Interview with Sarah Jessica Parker
- Remembering Willard
- Kevin Bacon’s Screen Test
- Kevin Bacon Costume Montage
Additional Special Features:
- Commentary by Kevin Bacon
- Commentary by producer Craig Zadan and writer Dean Pitchford
In addition to the above, the Blu-ray also includes:
- Footloose: A Modern Musical – Part 1
- Footloose: A Modern Musical – Part 2
- Footloose: Songs That Tell A Story
- Theatrical Trailer
Consideration follows the making of a small independent film Home for Purim the debut feature from director Jay Berman (Guest) about a Jewish family's turbulent reunion set in the 1940s. When Internet-generated rumors begin circulating that three of the film's stars--faded luminary Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara) journeyman actor and former hot dog pitchman Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) and ingénue Callie Webb (Parker Posey)--may be considered for golden statuettes award fever infects the entire production. Unit publicist Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins) talent agent Morley Orfkin (Eugene Levy) and producer Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Coolidge) are all primed to milk this thing for as long as they can. Even Hollywood Now TV anchors Chuck Porter (Fred Willard) and Cindy Martin (Jane Lynch) pick up the buzz. As the hopeful Purim team careens toward the end of production and the upcoming award season tenuous relationships and brittle dreams play out in unexpected ways. The gang from Waiting for Guffman Best in Show and A Mighty Wind are all back and raring to go. Each actor once again comes up with their own unique character quirks and personalities--some of course more outrageous than others. Stand-outs in that department include Higgins as the uptight militaristic publicist Corey; Willard as the bombastic TV host with a “faux” Mohawk with the plastic Lynch smiling sweetly--and completely insincerely—by his side; and Coolidge as yet another dumb hat-wearing push-up bra-strapping blonde who delivers some of the funnier lines in the movie. But the real surprise is O'Hara as Marilyn the veteran actress who has all but given up on the dream of making it big—until she gets caught up in all the excitement and starts to believe again. It's actually more than a little heartbreaking to watch as O'Hara provides an emotional core amidst the sea of cut-ups. For Your Consideration might be director/writer Guest’s most introspective production to date. Done more as a straightforward film than a mockumentary this time Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy obviously felt it was time to make fun of the one thing they know a whole lot about. No dog shows small-town community theater or folk singing in this one. Yet in turning their satirical eye on themselves Guest Levy and the whole improvisational cast have created something that may hit a little too close to home and in doing so loses some of that hysterical exaggeration we’ve come to expect from their movies. Don't get me wrong its still hilarious much of the time but it's not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as say watching a panicked woman desperately trying to find her dog's favorite toy or an upbeat folk singer talk about her past as a porn star. While its subtle approach may disappoint some fans For Your Consideration is still a worthy—and somewhat refreshing—change of pace for the Guest crew.