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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English school teacher David Edwards can now retire from teaching.
Edwards, a physics teacher from Denstone, has become the second person to win the £1 million jackpot on Britain's Who Wants to be a Millionaire, BBC News reports. The first person to win the jackpot was garden designer Judith Keppel in November.
The big win had still not quite sunk in yet, Edwards said at a press conference.
"One afternoon, I had a couple of hours of smug contentment. I had some idea of what is going on," said Edwards, whose win aired Saturday.
The new millionaire and his wife, who have two children in college, plan to go on vacation
Host Chris Tarrant said Edwards "was so cool and had an amazing general knowledge."
Martin is no "Zorro"
Ricky Martin will not wear the mask of Zorro. Martin's reps have dismissed British tabloid reports claiming that the Latin singer would star as Zorro in a new West End musical.
" [He's] not planning on taking over the lead in the show and has had no discussions with its producers," a rep for his record company said, according to ABC News reports.
The singer has had some acting experience, first as an actor in soap General Hospital and in Les Miserables.
David Lee Roth and Van Halen reunite
Former Van Halen singer David Lee Roth recorded three songs last year at Van Halen's private studio, ABC News reports.
"About a year ago, myself and the great Van Halen band played together once or twice and it sounded amazing, phenomenal," Roth said on his Web site.
The recording was made in July, but he hasn't made music or kept in touch with the band since, Roth said.
"But I am holding forth. I'm in the shape of my life and I got the high note. I'm ready to go," Roth said.
Van Halen fans hoped to see a such a reunion after Roth joined the band to present an award at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. Roth also recorded two songs for a Van Halen's compilation album, but soon departed ways again with his former bandmates.
Producer Jack Haley dead
Jack Haley Jr., longtime Hollywood producer, actor, writer and the former husband of Liza Minnelli, died early Saturday of respiratory failure, The Associated Press reports. He was 67.
Haley, who had been in poor health, was admitted to the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, Calif., on Friday in a semi-comatose condition, said his assistant, Kelly Brandt. He died Saturday at the hospital.
During his 30-year career, Haley produced numerous films and television specials, including a number of the Academy Awards presentations. He also produced The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a 1990 documentary on the making of the classic movie. His father, actor Jack Haley, starred in The Wizard of Oz as the Tin Man.
The Oz connection did not end there. In 1974, Haley married Minnelli, the daughter of Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Haley and Minnelli divorced in 1979, but remained close friends.
" I fell in love with him the first time I met him, and I have loved him with all my heart ever since," Minnelli said in a statement released Saturday.
Conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli dead
Italian conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli, best known for his daring interpretations of the works of Verdi and Puccini, died late Friday after suffering a heart attack while conducting at a Berlin opera house, The Associated Press reports. He was 54.
Sinopoli was rushed to the city's German Heart Center clinic after collapsing during the third act of Giuseppe Verdi's four-act Aida. Doctors first tried to resuscitate Sinopoli at the Opera house and then at the hospital. The opera house sent home its shocked audience members.
Sinopoli founded the Bruno Maderna ensemble in 1975. He began his career as an avant-garde composer before turning to conducting.
Poland to sell unpublished Monroe pictures
The Polish state treasury will sell thousands of unpublished photographs of Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood legends, Reuters reports.
Celebrated photographer Milton Greene's collection, which also features Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra, was acquired in 1995 by Poland's foreign debt agency from an American businessman.
" The time is ripe to turn it into cash,'' said Piotr Grzeskiewicz, an administrator of the assets of the liquidated Foreign Debt Servicing Fund.
Greene worked for such magazines such as Life and Vogue. He died in 1985.
The collection contains about 300,000 negatives from the 1950s and is valued at least several million dollars. Grzeskiewicz said he hopes the collection arouses strong interest from Monroe collectors.
" We have to decide on the best way to sell the collection. We do not want to spoil the market by flooding it with the photos,'' he told Reuters.
Stax Museum breaks ground
Numerous R&B musicians gathered Friday at the site of Stax Records in Memphis, Tenn., to reminisce and celebrate the groundbreaking of the museum and music conservatory honoring the former label.
A crowd of 3,000 met on the empty lot where Stax's famed recording studio - dubbed "Soulsville, USA" - once stood, The Associated Press reported.
The planned $20 million Stax Museum of American Music and adjoining Stax Academy and Performing Arts Center will serve tourists and budding musicians, said Deanie Parker, president of Soulsville, the nonprofit group behind the project.
"All around the world, this is the stamp of approval of what we did back in the '60s," said Steve Cropper, one-time guitarist for organist Booker T. Jones and his Memphis Group (MG's). "It will educate the people, and especially the kids, about the music."
"Boys Don't Cry" mother deserves more compensation
The mother of murdered cross-dresser Teena Brandon - the inspiration behind Boys Don't Cry - deserves more compensation, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday. The Supreme Court determined that a lower court had blundered by awarding $17,361 in damages to JoAnn Brandon for official negligence in the death of her daughter. The Supreme Court remanded the case to a District Court to determine new damages. The damages were awarded against Richardson County, Neb., and its sheriff, Charles Laux.
In his review of the case, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hendry said Judge Orville Coady's decision not to award damages to Brandon's mother for the loss of her daughter's companionship "shocks the conscience."
"Nothing will bring Teena back, but I will sleep better knowing that we found some justice for her, and because of this case, fewer parents will find their children abused and exposed to danger by law enforcement officials," Brandon told the Omaha World-Herald.
Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of Teena Brandon in the 1999 film, Boys Don't Cry.
Actor Bill Bellamy to host Miami soul festival
Actor and comedian Bill Bellamy will host the inaugural Soul Beach Music Festival at the Orange Bowl in Miami, The Associated Press reports.
Among the performers are: Angie Stone, Eric Benet, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Musiq and the Isley Brothers.
The concert shows how much the city's racial climate has improved since the early 1990s, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas said. At the time, Miami was boycotted by black tourists after the Miami City Commission snubbed visiting anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela for his refusal to repudiate Cuban President Fidel Castro.
``We have overcome some very painful experiences in this community,'' Penelas said.
The festival runs from May 30 through June 3.
Rapper Suge Knight leaves jail
Rapper Suge Knight, the co-founder of rap music label Death Row Records has been paroled five days earlier than expected, at Mule Creek State Prison, The Associated Press reports.
Knight told Sacramento, Calif., television station KXTV before his parole that prison had been a good experience for him and hopes to persuade young people not to follow his path.
" I had everything. I still do," he told the station. "But I had everything I could possibly have and I had six of the best lawyers and I still got nine years."
Death Row Records remains successful despite Knight's incarceration. The late Tupac Shakur's newly released album has been at the top of Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart for three weeks.
"Wind" parody publication blocked
U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell on Friday blocked the publication of a novel that he said borrows too liberally from Gone With the Wind and infringes on the copyright of Margaret Mitchell's classic novel.
Alice Randall's novel The Wind Done Gone is essentially a retelling of Gone With the Wind from a different point of view using the same fictional characters and places, Pannell wrote.
Publisher Houghton Mifflin argued that the story, told from the point of view of Scarlett O'Hara's mulatto half-sister on the plantation Tara, was a political parody. Pannell disagreed, writing that Randall's "recitation of so much of the earlier work is overwhelming'' and constitutes an unauthorized sequel.
Attorneys for Mitchell's estate had sued to stop publication of Randall's book.
" It's a wonderful decision," said Martin Garbus, a lawyer representing the Mitchell trust. "It protects authors and publishers."
Writers, such as Pat Conroy, Harper Lee and Toni Morrison, who signed a petition in support of Randall's novel, were surprised.
" I can't believe the book will be suppressed,'' historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. said. "The Mitchell estate is doing a wonderful job of advertising for Houghton Mifflin."