A gifted, vivacious Broadway soprano, the red-haired Jeanette MacDonald entered films in 1929 under the auspices of Ernst Lubitsch at Paramount and showed a flair for sophisticated comedy in a number...
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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Returned to film after four-year absence in "Three Daring Daughters"
Journeyed to Europe to give concerts in Paris and London to dispel rumor that she had been killed by the irate wife of a prince with whom MacDonald was supposedly having an affair and that her "twin sister" had taken over her screen career
First film opposite Nelson Eddy, "Naughty Marietta"
Made last film at Paramount, "Love Me Tonight", opposite Chevalier
Had arterial transplant performed
Last film appearance, opposite Claude Jarman Jr. and Lassie, in "The Sun Comes Up"
Last of 4 films opposite Chevalier, Lubitsch's "The Merry Widow"
Made opera debut in Montreal in "Romeo and Juliet" opposite Ezio Pinza
Starred in "Smilin' Through" opposite her husband, Gene Raymond
Made first stage appearance (unexpectedly) at age 3; recited "Old Mother Hubbard"
Signed contract with Paramount after Ernst Lubitsch saw the screen test
Made unsuccessful Paramount screen test
Set a concert attendance record at the Hollywood Bowl
Signed contract with MGM
Reportedly seen by Paramount film star Richard Dix, who asked the studio to give her a screen test
Made film debut opposite Maurice Chevalier in Lubitsch's "The Love Parade"
Appeared in a number of Broadway musicals during the 1920s, including "The Magic Ring", "Yes, Yes, Yvette", "Tip Toes", "Boom Boom", "Bubbling Over", "Sunny Days", and "Angela"
Broadway debut as chorus girl in "The Night Boat"
Final film under MGM contract, "Cairo"
Appeared mostly in concert tours, opera and on radio during 1940s; also kept busy with war benefits and charity performances
Last of 8 films opposite Eddy, "I Married an Angel"
Appeared in most successful MGM film sans Eddy, "San Francisco"; that same year MacDonald made motion pictures exhibitors' poll of top ten boxoffice stars, placing 8th
Set sail for Europe in December to give more extended concert tour
Collapsed while watching husband Gene Raymond performing in a play; rushed to hospital with appendicitis; later developed hepatitis
A gifted, vivacious Broadway soprano, the red-haired Jeanette MacDonald entered films in 1929 under the auspices of Ernst Lubitsch at Paramount and showed a flair for sophisticated comedy in a number of his spicy Continental musicals, especially opposite Maurice Chevalier. In such films as "The Love Parade" (1929), "Oh, For a Man" (1930) and "One Hour With You" (1932), MacDonald was typically cast as girlish but aristocratic types who display a surprising aptitude for risque banter when the occasion demands. Her best film from this early period was Rouben Mamoulian's superb "Love Me Tonight" (1932), opposite Chevalier.
Moving to MGM in 1934, MacDonald reached a personal zenith in the title role of Lubitsch's saucy "The Merry Widow" (1934), but soon began playing more genteel if similarly princessy roles, in accordance with the stricter enforcement of Hollywood's self-imposed Production Code. She enjoyed considerable popular and critical acclaim with the delightful "Naughty Marietta" (1935), the first in a series of romantic operettas co-starring the handsome baritone Nelson Eddy. Mostly directed by W.S. Van Dyke, these films turned the couple into Hollywood's most popular singing team ever. Their best films together include the romantic valentine "Maytime" (1937) and the robust "Rose Marie" (1936), which featured the famous "Indian Love Call" so often parodied in later years. Later films, however, suffered from being overly schmaltzy or overproduced, and the team's popularity declined abruptly in the early 40s.
MacDonald also played in a number of enjoyable films sans Eddy while at MGM, including the lilting musical melodrama "The Firefly" (1937) with Allan Jones, and the memorable recreation of the Barbary Coast days of "San Francisco" (1936) just before the legendary 1906 earthquake. Famous for her powerful "high C", MacDonald turned to a successful concert hall career during the WWII years as her screen stardom waned but made occasional screen appearances through the late 40s. She married actor Gene Raymond in 1937 and the two later acted together onscreen in the third version of "Smilin' Through" in 1941. MacDonald's sister was character actress Marie Blake, who played the switchboard operator in the famous "Dr. Kildare" series of the 30s and 40s and later resurfaced under the name of Blossom Rock as the grandmother on the TV sitcom, "The Addams Family" (1964-66).
at one time were engaged; MacDonald broke it off because of his womanizing
Anna M MacDonald
born in 1899; died in 1978; married to Warren Rock with whom she toured in vaudeville; perhaps best remembered as Sally the switchboard operator in the long-running "Dr. Kildare" series of films and (billed as Blossom Rock) as Grandmama in "The Addams Family" on television
Married from June 16, 1937 until her death in 1965
born c. 1896; died on October 2, 1970
Washington Irving High School
Julia Richman High School
A number of sources gives MacDonald's year of birth as 1901 or 1902; MGM press releases and even MacDonald's tombstone give the year 1907.
Billed as 'the girl with the red-gold hair and sea-green eyes' on Broadway, and sometimes known for her strong will as the 'Iron Butterfly' in Hollywood circles
"Whether MacDonald starred with Maurice Chevalier or Nelson Eddy, she generally played a rich, spoiled, and sophisticated woman who eventually came to her senses and fell in love with the poor but charmingly sincere hero. It was a formula that worked because MacDonald, with her soprano voice and high-toned style, played female aristocrats convincingly." --Scott Siegel and Barbara Siegel ("The Encyclopedia of Hollywood", 1990)