Disney has proven itself more than capable of milking its properties for every bit of profit that they can. Since acquiring first Marvel and then LucasFilms, there has been a steady stream of buzz over a variety of spinoff projects centered on the various characters that were acquired… from Iron Man to Boba Fett.
Oddly, the Mouse has not done the same with one of its other properties, the Muppets. Sure, there have been some synergistic TV appearances by Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy and the gang, and the feature film The Muppets did enough at the box office to spawn this spring's Muppets Most Wanted. But, as with Star Wars and Marvel comics, the Muppets have their own universe that could be mined for additional projects. These secondary felt performers have enough juice to take a turn at center stage.
The Great Gonzo
Some Muppets observers would argue that 1999's Muppets from Space was Gonzo's vehicle, since he was, after all, the Muppet from space. Be that as it may, if the Incredible Hulk can keep being revamped and re-launched, then so can Gonzo. The weird looking blue guy even has his own established posse with Rizzo the Rat and Camilla the Chicken ready to join in. Take Gonzo and his pals, drop them in some well-known destination like Paris or Las Vegas, and set them loose to wreak havoc. It practically writes itself.
Like all great drummers from Keith Moon on, Animal has always been on the restless side. Does anyone really think that the crazy guy manning the skins for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem doesn't have a side project or two? We saw him hanging with Jack Black at an anger management retreat in The Muppets, so just borrow a page from the Judd Apatow/Jason Segel playbook and assign Jonah Hill or Michael Cera to get Animal to the big show at the Greek or wherever. Russell Brand will seem innocent -- and less hairy -- by comparison.
The fuzzy lipped Swede has always been a fan favorite and has even done commercial work on his own, like taking over cooking duties at the ESPN commissary in one of the network's "This is SportsCenter" promos. When a network tried to build a sitcom around superstar chef Emeril Lagasse, it was an epic fail, mostly because he wasn't funny and couldn't act. Swedish Chef doesn't have those same limitations. Install him in a sitcom where he's the new chef at a five-star restaurant in Manhattan, give him a strong ensemble, and voila! Or, you know, whatever the equivalent expression is in Swedish.
Rowan Atkinson spent years starring in Mr. Bean projects without talking, so the precedent is already established for Beaker's brand of comedy. Get the inept lab assistant separated from his boss, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and have him be mistaken for a spy or international art thief or an astronaut. Even with just his "meep-meep," he can still save the day and get the girl.
Rowlf the Dog
How many people know that Rowlf was actually Jim Henson's first nationally known Muppet, appearing on The Jimmy Dean Show starting in 1963? Everyone just assumes that it was Kermit, who was still relegated to local TV at the time. In the grand tradition of Ray and Walk the Line, Rowlf really needs a biopic. From his early television success in the 1960s through his transition to ensemble player in the '70s and '80s to largely being forgotten now, his story could be the stuff of little gold statues.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
Singer Lily Allen's 59-year-old dad allegedly took MDMA, a pure form of ecstasy, for an upcoming U.K. TV series investigating the effect of Class A drugs.
However, concerned health campaigners have slammed Allen for the stunt, and fear the footage may appear to glorify drug use.
Julia Manning, chief executive of British think tank 2020 Health, says, "The first two words that come to mind are reckless and pointless. We are fully aware of the effects of Class A drugs on the body.
"This will achieve nothing. If anything it will 'celebritise' the taking of illegal substances. This is purely anecdotal. It's not part of any proper study. It's publicity-seeking TV at its worst."
A spokesperson for the Transform Drug Policy Foundation adds, "There are lots of important issues around drug use in popular culture. I'm not convinced this is necessarily a good way to explore them.
"From previous attempts, footage of people taking drugs is usually quite dull and probably unenlightening."
This film is based on Elegy for Iris literary critic John Bayley's biography of his late wife the brilliant writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch. Iris is unconventional in the sense that it does not adhere to a structured plot or story line but instead focuses on their relationship by flashing back and forth between the present and 40 years ago when the two first met. In the sequences taking place in the past Kate Winslet plays a young confident Murdoch in her formative years a woman revered by men and openly bisexual. Hugh Bonneville plays the young and apprehensive Bayley hopelessly pursuing her. The present however reveals a drastic role reversal for the couple: We see Murdoch in her 70s as played by Judi Dench and witness her descent into Alzheimer's disease and the toll it takes on her husband played by Jim Broadbent. The once-subservient husband has been thrust into a caretaker position and painfully tries to cope with his beloved wife's illness and loss of sanity.
Dench deservedly received a best actress Oscar nomination for the fabulous job she does as the older Murdoch. She is convincing as a brilliant thinker and even more believable as her condition worsens--check out the heartbreaking scene when Bayley locks himself in the study to get away from her irrational behavior and she scratches the windowpane on the glass door like a cat while looking at her husband with utter helplessness. Dench conveys her character's vulnerability in a single glance. As an older Bayley Broadbent is as impressive as Dench especially as he struggles to be assertive yet avoid being too harsh. Bonneville as a young Bayley could almost be Broadbent's clone. At first glance he looks like the same actor made to look older through some sort of makeup or special effects wizardry. Bonneville skillfully hatches the young Bayley's traits and tics later perfected by Broadbent. Winslet also Oscar-nominated for Iris (in the supporting actress category) well plays Murdoch's early audacity and boldness.
Director Richard Eyre does a beautiful and seamless job flowing from the past to the present throughout the film. Although the film barely delves into Murdoch's work the importance of her writing is established with scenes from a BBC interview or a luncheon given in her honor. Eyre also does an exceptional job conveying Bayley's hopeless predicament: he fusses over Murdoch like an overprotective parent intermittently lashing out at her only to apologize sobbing afterward for having done so. It's sweet and pitiful especially since Bayley believes that the Iris he fell in love with is still in there somewhere. But while the film is visually exquisite and convincing the subject matter is not necessarily entertaining. We know Murdoch will eventually succumb to her illness but it's even more dreadful to have to watch every agonizing step. By the time Murdoch was reduced to playing in the dirt and watching Teletubbies I found myself wondering When is she going to die already?