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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S3E4: Framing a more extensive and complicated storyline about Dickie Bennett’s eventful escape from prison on this week’s episode of Justified is an interesting chronicle of the rise and fall of a secondary character whom we know as Devil. Now, Devil has been of little consequence thus far. He is a friend of Boyd’s and a member of his entourage. Devil’s only noteworthy act to date is challenging the authority of Ava—but she quickly got the upper hand in that situation. More than anything else, the dimwitted bigot has served as an extra gun for Boyd’s side. But this week, he gets his moment to shine—thought it is particularly fleeting.
“You ain’t the first to come along making promises.” – Devil
“Yes, but I’m the first who can actually deliver.” – Quarles
Devil is summoned by the mighty Mr. Quarles to consider a potential candidacy for his elite squad of criminality. Quarles suggests to Devil that he seeks out individuals unappreciated for their great value, and that Devil fits this bill. Clearly, it is all a manipulation tactic to get Devil to do whatever Quarles wants him to do. But Devil takes it to heart and follows suit. His plan: mutiny on Boyd’s operation.
Devil plants the seed in Johnny’s mind that Boyd is a leech on their success. The two of them should be running the show, with Boyd out of the picture. In last week’s episode, we saw a glimpse of resentment toward his cousin from Johnny, so we’d figure that Devil’s like thinking would amplify this. However, we are left with a twist: after Johnny is apparently signed on to help Devil overpower Boyd, the cousins pull the ol’ switcheroo on the demonically named thug, and Boyd takes his life menacingly. We are now rid of Devil…but be honest, would you even notice if we hadn’t seen this play out?
“It just gives me pause to see how far the mighty have fallen.” – Dickie
Dickie is the real center of attention this week, though. He and his corrupt warden devise a plan to sneak Dickie out of jail so that he might gather his family fortune and split the riches. The plan is simple, but gets distorted when Dewey Crowe involves himself. The lowly Mr. Crowe works his way into the plot of Dickie, the warden, and the prison physician. After the prisoners are exodized—and a false police report is filed—the team splits up. Dickie phones Limehouse to set up the exchange of the money.
But Limehouse’s tail is in hot pursuit. Thanks to a tipoff from young Loretta (good to see her again…even if she isn’t looking so happy), Raylan and Rachel pay a visit to Limehouse to investigate any connection to the escape of Dickie Bennett and, to a lesser extent, Dewey Crowe. Raylan recounts his only prior meeting with Limehouse: a flash from his childhood wherein Limehouse beat the hell out of his father while the latter was out seeking Raylan’s runaway mother shortly after beating her. Limehouse appears to have no memory of this. Raylan suspects that he has beaten up “so many white boys,” he can’t keep track of them all.
“Technically you rolled over me and then I backed into you, but you were brandishing a pistol both times.” – Raylan
The warden and the physician have Dickie and Dewey holed up as hostages until the eventual callback from Limehouse that would indicate the appropriate time to pickup the money from the allotted spot: the old shop, after dark. Raylan lays his wrath unto the warden in a good old-fashioned car-versus-gun showdown, but the doctor’s plans to retrieve that money are underway. A reluctant Dickie follows orders to retrieve the money despite Limehouse’s having not yet made the final call. But I suppose the man with the closest gun is the one to fear most.
Or so you’d think. The clever Dickie has arranged an ambush of the two thugs under the employ of the prison employees; the pair escorts Dickie into the shop, guns in hand, to find the hidden money. After a few minutes of toying with the boys, Dickie finalizes the plan: they are both shot dead by an unseen Limehouse, who has been in cahoots with Dickie all along. Unfortunately for Dickie, he does not receive the full package of his family’s money as per expected. Limehouse gives him a small fraction of the original cash, claiming that is all there is left. An ungrateful Dickie demands that Limehouse pay him back in entirety, and refuses to settle their arrangement until this takes place.The most interesting parts of the episode come in the form of the interactions within these various communities of the lowlifes who make them up. The dissention brewing in the Crowder ring is not something that was inspired entirely by Quarles. Devil has harbored unfulfilled resentment for some time—all he needed was a little validation. And Johnny, although just as resentful, is a bit smarter than his cohort. He knows how to achieve success, even if said path is the unpleasant one.
Raylan’s relationship with Rachel is always interesting, but we never see enough of it. The few bits we get in this episode are fun—especially when the differences in Raylan’s and Rachel’s race, background and upbringing are called into question with some friendly contention.
What did you think of this week’s episode? What is in store for Boyd’s rising empire? Where will Dickie’s delusion quest take him? What about Raylan’s personal relationship with Limehouse—will we get anything more from that? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter (@MichaelArbeiter).
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.