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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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.
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Hello, it’s very nice to meet you! (Leanne awkwardly curtsies) I am here for two simple reasons: I love TV and I’m very impatient. I’m so impatient that I don’t want to have to wait to find out what’s “coming up next week… ” on my TV. I want to know now. Luckily, I’m great at gathering spoilers, but I’m not the best at keeping secrets. So the powers that be at Hollywood.com have gifted me with my very own weekly column to dish details on all your favorite shows! (Please try to contain your excitement, people are starting to stare... )
So here’s how it’s going to work: Every Wednesday, I’ll post a short but oh-so sweet list of all the spoilers you absolutely need to know. Every show will get their time to shine, but if you really want to hear scoop about a particular series, shout it out on Twitter (using the hashtag #LeannesList) or (if you’re too lazy to open another window on your desktop) just place your requests in the comments below.
Now that we’re slowly but surely becoming cyber soulmates, let’s get down to the goods. Seven shows have made my list this week and that is no coincidence. (It’s my favorite number.) I caught up with the stars of Glee, Sons of Anarchy, New Girl, and more to bring you exclusive scoop that you won’t get anywhere else. But before you read on, I really must clarify because there is always that one perpetually lost reader: There are spoilers ahead honey! If you don’t want to know, then I suggest you go back to looking at your friends’ awkward engagement photos on Facebook! For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy.
1. Glee: Oh, Ryan Murphy, you play with our hearts. The new season hasn’t even started yet and you’ve already ignited a new civil war: finchel v. brodchel. We’re all on the same team, people! To help clear the confusion, I fangirled chatted with the lovely Lea Michele about the endgame of Rachel’s love life. Not only did the Queen of Glee share some positive, yes I said positive, Finchel news with me, she also quoted her on and off-screen beau Cory Monteith in the process! In a word, adorable. Michele begins, “Well I definitely think that people love Finn and Rachel together and I also think that they’re really interesting sometimes apart.”
Now, before you start to hyperventilate Finchel fans, take a deep breath and read on. “But this is what Cory would say: Cory always says, ‘Finchel Forever.' That’s his answer to everything!” Michele says with a laugh, “So I’m just going to take that one.” You hear that guys? Finchel forever. Stay tuned for Thursday night’s Glee recap for more squee-worthy goodies from Michele and the rest of the cast.
2. New Girl: Max Greenfield is amazing at three things: 1) Acting like a douche. B) Putting money into a jar. And finally, dishing details on the new season of New Girl. While Schmidt and Cece (Hannah Simone) are going “back to square one,” many new characters will be entering the apartment this year. Greenfield tells me, “We’re looking to their families this year and getting to know the [main] characters a little bit more in that way. Like where did these guys come from and not so much of where they are now.”
And of course I had to ask about my favorite character on the show: Fat Schmidt. Luckily, Greenfield shares my same admirations of his character's chubby past. “Playing Fat Schmidt is fun, like really fun. He comes back in the first episode for a quick little pop which is really funny, but I would love to do one where it’s a much larger scene.” That makes two of us Schmidty.
3. Shameless: When I caught up with the ridiculously gorgeous Emmy Rossum, she spilled that Season 3 will be filled with a bunch of “crazy” new jobs for Fiona. “I’ve had a couple nasty jobs already, sewage clean-up, clubbing and grocery working so it’s been fun.” Reader’s note: that “fun” was laced with heavy Rossum sarcasm.
Our favorite Disney starlet (no lie) also revealed that Jimmy (Justin Chatwin) and Fiona are now bunking together under the same Gallagher roof and living happily ever after. For now. Rossum warns, “Well, they are at the start of the season, we’ll see how far that continues.” Dun dun duuun. “The road is definitely rocky. They need to come clean, and then there’s Jimmy’s Dad and our younger brother and their relationship so it’s a little complicated.” More like a lotta complicated, but hey I’m not here to argue...
4. Sons of Anarchy: Death is coming for the fellas of FX — and it certainly won't be pretty. Producer Paris Barclay says that there will be "quite a few empty seats at the table" by season's end. Yikes! And unfortunately, star-slash-baddie Ron Perlman fears he might be one of them. "I've worried [about being killed off] pretty much for the last three seasons," Perlman says. "My deeds get more and more dastardly, and more and more heinous. I'm fodder, baby. A lot of people want to take me out, and not for coffee." [Insert your version of “oh snap!” here.]
Losing Clay would be a major bummer, but Barclay says this season's deaths will all be for the greater good. "We're starting to develop the story of Jax (Charlie Hunnam) really taking control of the club," he says. "There are going to have to be certain transitions to make that happen, and that's what you're going to see in Season 5." Looking forward to it!
5. Raising Hope: Do you hear that? (Just imagine a faint “ding-dong.”) Well, that’s sounds of wedding bells chiming from your TV. Nicely done! Shannon Woodward tells me that our favorite Raising Hope couple may be heading for matrimony this season. Woodward gushes, “There’s engagement stuff happening! That’s like a full bit of this season, so that is definitely becoming a fast-approaching option I think.”
Another exciting storyline coming up involves Jenny Slate from my favorite SNL bit of all-time. The SNL grad joins the quirky comedy for a super special two-part episode as an overly curious social worker. Woodward explains, “She’s worried that we’re abusing Maw-Maw (Cloris Leachman), so she takes her away from us and puts her in a home. And we try to break her out because she’s really unhappy there.” And hilarity is sure to ensue.
6. Touch: Child actors typically scare the crap out of me. They’re overly serious and I swear sometimes their eyes can pierce straight through my soul. Luckily Touch’s David Mazouz is adorable, sweet, and completely normal even though he’s now “best buds” with Jack Bower Kiefer Sutherland. This pint-sized protagonist was able to dish on what’s coming up for the drama-filled second season. Mazouz says, “It’s really suspenseful. I thinks it’s a lot more suspenseful than last year… and it’s kind of a chase to find Amelia (Saxon Sharbino).”
For those of you who have been living under a rock (or in Lima... ), Amelia is Lucy's (Maria Bello) gifted daughter who's currently MIA. Mazouz says he hopes to finally find his voice this season, “I think that Jake is going to have a lot more organic and new original ways of communication. I don’t know about talking yet. I hope so. I hope that comes out, but no sign of it.” Well I’ve heard him speak and I promise he sounds just like a normal 11-year-old boy but with roughly 30 extra years of maturity.
7. Hart of Dixie: The entire time I was interviewing Scott Porter, all I wanted to do was scream “Texas forever!” But instead, like a good little journalist, I nabbed specifics about the premiere of Hart of Dixie. Porter says this season will have a quicker pace than last year’s Southern drawl. “We are going to give people answers right in episode one. We’re going to pick up seven hours after the finale ends. George wakes up and very purposefully goes to Lavon’s house to thank Lavon for his help and then sees Zoe (Rachel Bilson).”
Uh-oh! When we last saw Zoe, she was fornicating with the town’s more shirtless bachelor. Porter spills, “Wade (Wilson Bethel) is still going to be around and Zoe’s poker face is not the greatest, so you’re going to really see those relationships change right off the bat.” I’ll have more details from our favorite Dillon Panther as the Hart of Dixie season premiere gets closer.
Are you happy with Lea Michele’s Finchel fodder? Nervous for the deaths that await this season on Sons of Anarchy? Tired of the love triangles on Hart of Dixie? Hoping to see Jimmy and Sabrina tie the knot? Tell me everything in the comments below, and see you back here next Wednesday for more spoilers!
Follow Leanne on Twitter @LeanneAguilera
—Additional reporting by Shaunna Murphy.
[Photo Credit: FOX, FX, The CW]
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The Help star will develop and produce the project with celebrated TV director Paris Barclay.
The film will showcase Jordan's struggle to overcome racial discrimination and chronicle her successes as a lawyer and elected member of Congress.
She also gained widespread recognition for her iconic governmental address to impeach U.S. President Richard Nixon during the Watergate hearings.
Barclay tells Variety, "In a world of movies about giants and Martians and toys come to life, if you can actually get involved with a movie about a human being who single-handedly changed American politics, you say, 'Yes.'
"We're hoping this becomes a movie that shows the world everything that Viola can do. People haven't seen everything that she's capable of, and this role is so powerful."
Jordan, who in 1962 became the first black female member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was awarded the Medal of Freedom by former American president Bill Clinton in 1994. She died in 1996 due to complications with pneumonia.