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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Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
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Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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Hello everyone and welcome to Survivor: Caramoan – Fans Vs. Favorites 2: This Time It's Personal. Did I sound like former talk show host Jeff Probst when I said that? I shouted it from the top of a very skinny mountain next to the sea as helicopters swooped by. I know that's what you pictured, right? Right.
Alright, so it's Fans Vs. "Favorites" again, and I put that in quotes because, seriously, I don't remember half of these people. I mean their faces and names look familiar, but it's sort of like someone who you dated twice 10 years ago: the circumstances are hazy, but you know you have some history together. Even the show knew it didn't have a bunch of real stunners because they had to remind us who each one of them was before the show started. It's not like they had "Boston Rob," "Colby Donaldson," "Sue Hawk," and "Cirie Fields." I can picture every one of them, remember how they played and would be super stoked to see all of them again (except for "Boston Rob," enough with that guy already). Maybe with a few more famous names, the episode wouldn't have been the series' lowest-rated of all time. Only 9 million people tuned in, which is down more than 20%. Sad.
There was a lot of breaking with tradition last night. There was no scramble from the boat and trek to camp. There was hardly any talk of shelter building and fire creation. There was even more than one challenge. Part of what we love about Survivor is the ritual of the whole thing, how it's like the same machine every year filled with different parts. This year it was a new machine and parts of it were better than others.
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I loved that they had the two tribes, introduced all the "Favorites" (twice! so we remember) and then had them get to a reward challenge right away. Each team would send a man and a woman to go get a life preserver, and then they had to run back and touch a pole while holding it. The two teams would be wrestling. Oh, and it was in the water. This was hard and physical, so thank God they're doing it right when they got off the boat, because it would really suck once they'd been starving for 10 days.
The "Favorites" totally dominated, and the whole thing was boring until Malcolm, my dream angel with his flat stomach and long hair and aw-shucks demeanor (who looks just as good this season as he did last season), and Reynold, who revolutionized Wrap and is also a comely young gentleman (though he is no Malcolm), went at it and ripped each other's pants off. There was a lot of netherworld blurring during their battle, as Malcolm's trunks were completely around his knees and both tribes really got to see, well, all that he's made off. Oh, if only I had been there for that challenge. If only.
So the "Favorites" won and they got a flint and some beans. I was going to say that winning reward challenges isn't worth a hill of beans in this world but, well, I would be wrong.
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Both tribes went back to camp and it was pretty boring. Some guy with a giant beard that makes me feel creepy crawleys all over my body made a shelter and mean Marine made fire. There are two sexy guys on the Fans, but none hotter than Firefighter Eddie — who wears red shorts, has rippling muscles, and should never open his mouth. Like ever. Ever never ever. He's cocky attitude is ruining the illusion. Reynold is pretty hot too, and they made a "cool kids" foursome (I have a movie called Cool Kids Foursome that I probably shouldn't talk about on a family website) with two of the blandly attractive young ladies, so now they think they are in charge of the game. Oh please. Every time this happens the cool kids get sent home for underestimating the nerds. This isn't high school, mostly because there is $1 million involved.
Back at Camp "Favorite," Francesca kept talking about how she didn't want to get voted out first again and, well, you knew that was going to happen. Sorry lady, you're a goner. Philip, who is a certifiable crazy person — as Ice Cream Scooper Eric accurately pointed out — was going around creating an alliance that consisted of everyone in the camp, then giving them nicknames that made my scrotum die of embarrassment. It just shriveled up and fell off and it was awful. Thanks, Philip.
RELATED: 'Survivor' Recap: And the Winner Is...
They went off to the big challenge, where they had to climb up the world's most elaborate Gymboree play station and throw a bunch of crates over the edge. Then someone had to collect the sand bags from the smashed crates and throw them into six targets. It was basically a big game of Corn Hole. Challenge, challenge, challenge; boring, boring, boring. The Fans came back from behind to win. It would appear that my darling Malcolm is not as good at Corn Holing as I would really like him to be. Reynold, on the other hand, he's the corn holer to watch. My affection may be shifting!
Back at camp, Francesca decided to settle an old score and round up votes for Philip. It seemed like that was a lock, but then Andrea told Philip that Francesca was after him, and he got everyone to vote for Francesca. Then Ice Cream Scooper Eric and The Lesser Hantz convinced Francesca to vote for Andrea because no one trusts her. She thought she has six votes and would be safe. She was wrong, and went home first for the second time. Man, that has got to sting.
The first time is a fluke, but the second time? That's practically a pattern. Oh, poor Francesca. That is like the saddest thing to ever happen. She played way too hard though. You could say it's a rookie mistake, and considering she's spent an entire six days over two seasons on the island, she is still a rookie. It would have been nice to see her play though, there was a lot of fire in her.
The return and quick dismissal of Francesca reminds me of one of the best ideas I've ever had, it's called Survivor: First Out where they take all the people who were voted out first and give them a second chance in the game. The people who were eliminated are usually over-players like Francesca — total loons who no one wants to spend even more than three days with, or the somehow old and infirm. Wouldn't it be good to give them all redemption? Wouldn't a season of hustlers and crazies make for the best season ever? And you only need 16 over 26 seasons, so 10 of the people can sit out (mostly the infirm). What do you say Mark Burnett? I think it's a million dollar idea. You're welcome.
Michael Moore has always been a polarizing figure, but he is increasingly being targeted by critics for the messages of his movies via a cottage industry of filmmakers striking out with videos of their own, The Wall Street Journal reports.
"There's been almost a dozen films that have been made against me," Moore recently told the Journal. "There's actually more films made attacking me than films I've made."
Among the films that have taken shots at Moore are Michael Moore Hates America, Fahrenhype 9/11, Celsius 41.11, Michael & Me and Me & Michael.
But, in the growing anti-Moore library, there is nothing quite like Shooting Michael Moore, made by Kevin Leffler, a 52-year-old certified public accountant who also teaches at a college in Flint, Michigan.
That film has similarities to the others, but a big exception is that Leffler grew up in Davison, Mich., with Moore, attended the same high school, the same Catholic church, and both of their fathers worked at General Motors.
"I am doing exactly what Mike would do, except I am doing it to him," Leffler told the paper. "And I'm doing it as a guy who knows him."
Leffler's movie had a limited run in Detroit and Miami late last year. He's spent more than $200,000 of his own money on it.
In the film, Leffler revisits some stars of Roger & Me who say Moore exploited them to paint Flint in an unfair hue.
Leffler's quest also gets personal, digging into Moore's tax statements and past stock holdings of his charitable foundation. He finds what he believes to be indications that a foundation Moore started once owned shares of companies he takes aim at, such as Halliburton and Tenet Healthcare. Public documents, reviewed by the Journal, show the foundation, the Center for Alternative Media & Culture, which listed Moore as president, held shares in Halliburton in 2000 and in Tenet in 2002, along with many other stocks.
In an email, Moore told the WSJ: "I have never owned a share of stock in my life."
He also noted, "I've made a lot of enemies in all the right places and there aren't enough hours in the day to respond to either the well-financed corporate hacks or the lowly stalkers who seek to libel me or make a buck off the fact that I'm a well-known person."
Since 2004, Leffler has poured time and funds into his movie, to the point where he says "my credit cards are melting."
Moore expressed outrage at the movie's title and isn't interested in talking with its maker, the Journal reports. "Anyone who suggests violence doesn't get the olive branch," Moore said.
Leffler also says he goes way back with Jeff Gibbs, who works with Moore and whom Leffler accuses of applying pressure to Carmike Cinemas to retreat on showing Shooting Michael Moore, even after Leffler offered to change the title to Exposing Michael Moore.
A marketing official for Carmike says the company had scheduled to show the movie, but pulled it. He declined to give a reason.
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