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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A character drama with a twisted sense of humor Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat (Bradley Cooper) a recently released psychiatric hospital patient who moves back in with his parents and begins a quest to reclaim his broken marriage. Despite the warnings from doctors Pat's mom Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and dad Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) take him in hoping familiar settings and a little Eagles football may be the perfect cure. It isn't — Pat continuously loses his s**t over his ex-wife Nikki frantically stressing over her high school English class' reading syllabus (he toss Hemmingway's A Farewell to Arms straight through a glass window) and breaking down every time he hears their wedding song. There's no hope for him and Nikki — catching her with another man and beating him to a pulp led to his institutionalizing — but Pat's focused mind doesn't let him deviate.
After being invited to a friend's house for dinner Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who sees a friendship in the bipolar patient. After the death of her husband Tiffany went off the deep end engaging anyone and everyone for sex. She's sees a companion in Pat and although he's reluctant the off-kilter pair can't fight the magnetic power of their psychological issues.
Most of their conversations end in screaming or blunt admissions — but they're relatable.
Mental illness and human connection may sound like an equation for eye-roll-worthy saccharine but director David O. Russell mines Cooper and Lawrence's comedic strengths to turn Silver Linings Playbook into one of the funniest movies of the year.
Nothing is off limits for Russell; one reoccurring joke is that Pat can't stop bringing up the fact that Tiffany's husband is dead. As Tiffany puts it to Pat, "You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things."
To make Pat aware of how his bipolar existence affects the people around him and to make us the audience feel for this heart-wrenching experience Russell shoots and paces Silver Linings Playbook for awkward comedy.
He also returns to the always-reliable family dynamic. The Fighter is to Boston as Silver Linings Playbook is to Philadelphia De Niro perfecting the Eagles-loving everyman with a collection of betting buddies who may be just as delusional as Pat.
The legendary actor proved he had comedy chops in Meet the Parents but here he blends it with gravitas that earned him a legacy in the first place. Rush Hour actor Chris Tucker also pops up as Pat's good friend from the institution. More restrained than ever Tucker helps add warmth to the picture. Pat has a support system everywhere he turns. In essence the film emanates with positive vibes.
Even with a great ensemble Silver Linings Playbook is Cooper and Lawrence's show. To the bitter end Pat and Tiffany never get sappy with one another always at each other's throats over the feelings they harbor and the pasts they can't shake away.
Cooper loses himself in the chaotic mind of Pat without ever slipping into a caricature of the mentally ill. He can stir up laughs with his desperate search for Pat's missing wedding video and then shock us in the blink of an eye when things turn violent.
Impressively Lawrence's Tiffany is never written down. She never succumbs to being a comforting presence always provoking Pat to push himself.
She's a strong woman but a strong woman juggling her own set of issues. Lawrence conveys all of that without missing a beat. That dynamic should be make Silver Linings Playbook the talk of the town come Oscar time.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Set in a seaside English town in the '80s this small heartfelt tale centers on the relationship between Edward a 10-year-old boy whose parents run a retirement home and Clarence an aging magician and recent widower who is one of the new residents. Lonely and curious Edward has a habit of befriending the old folks only to search for their ghosts after they die. When Clarence comes in both learn new life lessons as the older one comes to terms with his past while the younger boy finds reason for optimism as he faces the future.
WHO’S IN IT?
Michael Caine is wonderful in a startling character role in which the 76-year-old movie icon allows himself to look older drawn and beaten in parts of the film. Although the career of the two-time Oscar winner has been full of memorable performances ranging from Alfie in 1966 to The Dark Knight last year it’s this kind of realistic and moving portrayal that has marked the best of his work. and he’s never been better than in this memorable portrait of a forgotten magician who still manages to discover a couple of new tricks late in life. Matching him every step of the way is the engaging Bill Milner (Son of Rambow) who manages to go toe-to-toe with a screen legend without coming off as a too precocious of a child actor. He’s haunting and extremely natural in a pivotal three-dimensional role that never seems forced. Helping matters immensely is a great ensemble of splendid British stars who play the other residents including the great Rosemary Harris Leslie Phillips Sylvia Syms and Peter Vaughan.
Director John Crowley (Boy A Intermission) wisely lets his actors off the leash to create a chemistry that makes the modest story work its own kind of movie magic. Reminiscent in certain ways of the kind of British kitchen-sink dramas popular in the '60s Crowley resists any opportunity to let directorial flash overwhelm this poignant character-driven tale thereby letting it thrive on its own terms.
With such a superlative cast of British-acting royalty in the supporting roles you almost wish there were a few more scenes showcasing these characters in the film’s trim 91-minute running time.
Clarence rallies his talents to put on a magic show for the home’s residents. Caine pulls this off seamlessly and the sequence is pure delight.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
This quaint film won’t lose anything on TV screens and may be hard to find in wide release so take the opportunity to see it any way you can.
Top Story: Cage, Presley Officially End Marriage
Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley have made their divorce final, ending lengthy legal proceedings which outlasted the actual marriage itself, Reuters reports. Cage filed for divorce in November 2002 from Presley, after being married for only three months. According to an Extra report, citing court papers filed on Monday, the two "amicably resolved" their brief marriage, with neither receiving any kind of spousal support and each maintaining all assets acquired prior to their marriage. It was a third marriage for Presley, who was married to Michael Jackson for less than two years and who previously had two children with musician Danny Keogh. Cage was also previously married to actress Patricia Arquette.
Madonna Sidelines L.A. Concert
An ailing Material Girl had to cancel her second Los Angeles concert due to the stomach flu, Reuters reports. A statement posted on her Web site said Madonna was ordered to rest by her doctor but would be "back at 100 percent" by Wednesday. Madonna, 45, kicked off her Re-Invention tour in L.A. Monday night.
West Wing's Janney Gets Engaged
Emmy-winning actress Allison Janney, known as the sharp C.J. Cregg on NBC's The West Wing, is engaged to marry actor Richard Jenik, The Associated Press reports. The couple live in Los Angeles and have dated for two years, a spokesman for Janney said Wednesday. A wedding date has not be set as yet.
Charges Against Simmons Cleared
An assault charge against exercise guru Richard Simmons, who was accused of slapping a man at an airport, has been dropped, AP reports. Simmons, the outlandish 55-year-old known for his exercise videos, was accused of slapping a 6-foot-2, 250-pound traveler, who recognized Simmons in March at an Phoenix, Ariz., airport as they were waiting for a flight to Los Angeles and made an off-hand comment about Simmons' exercise videos, police said.
Marvel, Lions Gate Make Direct-to-DVD Pact
Marvel Enterprises Inc., which controls a library of more than 4,700 comic book characters, has chosen Lions Gate Entertainment to make at least eight direct-to-DVD animated features. Marvel and Lions Gate are expected develop eight 66-minute animated features for release on DVD beginning next year, focusing first on comic book characters such as Captain America, the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man. Per the agreement, Lions Gate will provide Marvel with licensing fees for character rights and fund all of the development, production, distribution and marketing for each title. According to Reuters, some Wall Street analysts predict this new line of animated home videos could sell as many as 1 million DVD units each.
MTV Names More Presenters for Movie Awards
More presenters have been announced for the 2004 MTV Movie Awards, which will be broadcast on the network June 10. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Vin Diesel, Paris Hilton, Ice Cube, Ashton Kutcher, Matthew Perry, Queen Latifah and Marlon Wayans and Shawn Wayans have been added to the list of previously announced presenters Snoop Dogg, Dave Chappelle, Kirsten Dunst, Eve, Jimmy Fallon, Kate Hudson and Scarlett Johansson. Lindsay Lohan, the 17-year-old star of Mean Girls is set to host the show, with musical performances by D12, the Beastie Boys and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
CBS Ends TV Season on Top
CBS will finish the TV season--which officially ends today--as the nation's most popular network, the AP reports. According to Nielsen Media Research, CBS has averaged 13.1 million viewers this season--up 4 percent over last year. Fox's American Idol, however, was the favorite show of the season, averaging 25.8 million viewer, winning by a slim margin over CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which averaged 25.6 million viewers. And while NBC was down 5 percent among total viewers, the network proclaimed a season victory in the only demographic it worries about: the 18-to-49-year-old viewer. Fox was the nation's third-place network, second among 18-to-49-year-old viewers, while ABC followed in fourth place.
Just for Laughs Festival Announces Lineup
Wayne Brady, Caroline Rhea, Tim Allen, Tom Arnold and Jackie Mason are among the comics scheduled to perform at Montreal's 22nd Just for Laughs Festival, which runs July 15-25. Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green and Mila Kunis, the voices behind the animated show Family Guy, will do a live script reading of the show, which has become one of the biggest-selling TV DVDs. The festival will also host the world premiere of Evil Dead 1 & 2: The Musical, a comedy based on the director Sam Raimi's campy horror classics. New on this summer's roster is Late Nite Down Under, a spotlight on the funniest acts from Australia and New Zealand, including performances by Colin Hay of '80s pop band Men at Work, and the North American premiere of James Campbell's stand-up comedy for kids ages 5 and older.
Role Call: Harrison Ford Takes To Outer Space with Goodspeed
Harrison Ford is set to star in Godspeed, an outer space-set thriller being put together by James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainmen