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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At the center of the Frat Pack, there has always been Ben Stiller. Even as Will Ferrell continues to endure the greatest fandom, as Owen Wilson earns celebrated Woody Allen roles, as Vince Vaughn continues to reach things the others can't, Ben Stiller will always kind of feel like their leader. And as said leader, Stiller reserves the privilege of welcoming new members to the gang: now introducing Jonah Hill, who is in talks to reteam with increasingly frequent collaborator Stiller for the comedy film Aloha.
The Hollywood Reporter announces that a deal is being made to have Stiller and Hill star in the 20th Century Fox, to be directed by Shawn Levy. The movie is, as one would assume, set in Hawaii, and is based on an idea that came to fruition on the set of the upcoming Stiller-Hill (Hiller? Still? What's their celebrity portmanteau?) film, The Watch. Incidentally, The Watch also features the first onscreen collaboration between Stiller and Richard Ayoade, who previously worked together on Submarine (Ayoade directed, Stiller produced).
Stiller and Hill have starred together in Night at the Museum 2, Megamind, and are set to reunite for Zoolander 2.
[Photo Credit: David Edwards/Daily Celeb]
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There was a time when July 4th meant something. Something big, gallant, unstoppable. Something that you could really believe in. Something called Will Smith. A decade and change ago, Will Smith earned the nickname “Mr. July,” for his blockbuster near-Independence Day releases like Men in Black, Wild Wild West, and that other one. The week of the 4th was Smith’s stomping ground — the films he chose fit right into the American holiday. They were huge, loud, exciting, funny. They all celebrated an “Us vs. Them” mentality with clear good guys and even clearer bad guys. It was a simpler time then, and we all loved it.
But now, Will Smith has all but forsaken his Mr. July title. This week sees the release of no Smith films. The actor’s recent Men in Black threequel seemed like a shoe-in for the spot, but was probably pushed to June to avoid competition from the optimistic Amazing Spider-Man. Superheroes hold claim to the blockbusters now — Smith’s go at a superhero flick (Hancock) didn’t earn him many accolades. Most of the actor’s recent movies are smaller and more intimate. Even the big zombie apocalypse film (I Am Legend) was dark and moody. Hardly summer fun.
So can Smith ever claim the title of Mr. July again? Or is he taking a turn for the Jim Carrey — moving onto softer films that’ll earn him fewer bucks and far more awards. You know, winter movies. Maybe that’s the future of Will Smith: Mr. December. Maybe the Will Smith of smelling rare cabbies later and welcoming aliens to Urf are over and done with. So then, we’ll have a softer, more serene Smith. A Smith that might get to play Obama after all.
But then, only one question remains: who will be the new Mr. July? Is it even possible for someone in this day and age of movie mass production to have a Mr. July? Could it be a Marvel mainstay — Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jr. or Captain America’s Chris Evans? Could the week of July 4th itself be heading in a darker, softer direction? Could alien invasions and calamitous explosions as we know it be a thing of the past… or worse… shoved to September?
Not in my country.
[Photo Credit: David Edwards/Daily Celeb]
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The filmmakers donned traditional robes to pick up their fine arts degrees in recognition of their "contribution of distinction to the art of the moving image" at the AFI commencement ceremony in Los Angeles.
Brooks was first to be honoured, and he took to the podium to offer up some frank advice to the Class of 2012.
He told the graduates, "A word of advice is to writers, if you really don't feel it, if you're really not moved emotionally... don't write it... Don't say to yourself, 'This is funny. They'll like it.' That's bulls**t - it will never work. If you don't laugh, nobody will laugh."
Lynch paid a special tribute to Brooks when receiving his diploma, calling him "crazy" for recruiting him to direct the 1980 drama The Elephant Man when he was still a Hollywood newcomer.
He said, "If AFI put me on the map, which they certainly did, Mel Brooks put me on top of a beautiful mountain.
"He called me a madman, and he called me Jimmy Stewart from Mars, but he's the crazy one - he picked me having made only one feature film to go over to London, England to direct a Victorian drama starring Anne Bancroft, Sir John Gielgud, Dame Wendy Hiller, Anthony Hopkins, and John Hurt to name a few. It was my great good fortune that Mel had this kind of insanity."
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
To be fair it isn't the film's premise which leaves that bad taste in your mouth--the vintage-y yarn is actually kind of fun. Fresh-faced Barbara Novak (Renee Zellweger) hits 1962 New York by storm preaching a pre-feminist mantra with her hot bestseller Down With Love. The book tells women they don't need love and marriage to be complete. They can eat all the chocolate they want have fabulous careers and yes even have meaningless sex--just like a man. So there! Barbara's book's popularity undoubtedly causes quite a panic with the male persuasion especially with ace journalist and "ladies' man/man's man/man about town" Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) who abruptly finds himself lady-less. He makes it his prime directive to expose Ms. Novak as a fraud by sweeping her right off her feet until she professes her undying love so he goes undercover as an astronaut named Zip Martin who believes in long courtships and gentlemanly behavior. Running interference is Catcher's editor the lovesick Peter McMannus (David Hyde Pierce) and Barbara's editor the tough-yet-vulnerable Vikki Hiller (Sarah Paulson) who of course also seem destined for one another. Will Catcher's elaborate ruse work and prove Barbara is really not a "down with love" girl? Or will Barbara find out who Catch really is and turn the tables on him catching him in his own sticky web? Ah the course to true love is never smooth.
Where are Doris Day and Rock Hudson when you need them? Zellweger and McGregor don't even come close to the vivacious and easy-going chemistry between Day and Hudson in their '60s films Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back. Instead the performances by the two leads seem forced particularly by Zellweger. Honestly is it me or is the actress turning into a life-sized blonde-headed kewpie doll complete with puckered lips squinty eyes and high breathy voice? With Chicago and now Down With Love it's a little hard remembering that sweet unassuming "You-had-me-at-hello" girl in Jerry Maguire. McGregor fairs a bit better. Even as silly as the actor allows himself to get in this movie there are times when genuine emotions cross his face. When he tells the vapid Barbara he loves her you believe it. It's as if in that moment McGregor forgets he is in this really dumb movie and decides to do a little acting. In the supporting roles Paulson who wears the most appalling hats is too hard and bitter as Vikki. If the actress is trying to be like Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday she is way off the mark. Hyde Pierce is the only bright spot in the movie. His quippy nervous McMannus certainly measures up to the role immortalized by Tony Randall in the Day/Hudson films (who also makes a hysterical cameo as the owner of the book publishing company).
Down With Love wants to be this fun retro movie. Director Peyton Reed (Bring It On) sets the film up like a musical with lots of big staged sets elaborate costumes while the action is all done tongue in cheek. One wonders why didn't he just make it a musical. He had two of Hollywood's hottest new musical stars right there (actually if you stay until the end of the credits you do get one little number). No matter really because in the end Down just comes off as a wannabe without anything new to add. I say down with trying to remake stylized films from a whole different era. It's admirable to want to hark back to old times when sex on screen was a subtly racy phone call but seriously it just doesn't translate to modern times--and more importantly there really isn't a reason to repeat the past. If you want to experience nostalgia rent Pillow Talk. Movies like Down and last year's Far From Heaven an ode to the 1950s Douglas Sirk films just doesn't seem to fit in with today's more savvy moviegoing tastes.