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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Lone Survivor isn't a film for the faint of heart. It's a film that beats you down and only lets you up for a few precious moments before the credits roll, but that emotional throttling is what helps make the film such a powerful experience.
Peter Berg's Lone Survivor tells the story of Operation Red Wings, primarily focusing on a group of four Navy SEALs who are sent to the mountains of Afganistan to capture or kill a member of the Taliban. The plan goes wrong, and the team has to fight for their lives to escape the enemy-infested area. The film does a marvelous job of ratcheting up the tension before collapsing into its main action sequence, one that is as thrilling as it is unsettling. The long sequence brings forth memories of the infamous D-Day opening of Saving Private Ryan, except this film's fire-fight stretches out the violence like a medieval torture device. The langourous scene is, at times, hard to sit through. Each moment slips by in coiled tension. It's undoubtedly uncomfortable, and the film makes a point to never make the violence fun or enticing. The action isn't consequence-free, and every bullet fired carries weight, making the scenes brutal and unrelenting because of it. The film takes on the aura of a horror movie that wants you to feel every second that ticks by, and director Berg makes sure that a pressing hopelessness starts to weigh on the viewer just as it does on the soldiers.
Mark Wahlberg is plenty capable as Marcus Lutrell, a member of the SEAL unit that is sent on the mission. The supporting cast plays its parts admirably by believably infusing a diverse set of personalities and values into the soldiers, while still keeping them in tune with the same military culture that governs much of their thoughts and actions. There's a great scene where a difficult decision has to be made, and the viewer gets to see the different directions to which some of the character's moral compasses are tuned. Sometimes the right thing can mean different things to different people when the risk of death is on the table. The real standout in the cast is Ben Foster, whose SO2 Matthew Alexson swirls with barely contained fury. He is darkly intense and has electric screen presence that really starts to manifest when the bullets star flying and things become dire.
Universal via Everett Collection
For all the good will that the film builds up in its first and second act, the final third of the film hits some snags as history demands that the story take itself to a different location, sacrificing some of the tension that it has built up. In the last 30 minutes of the film, there are some odd tonal choices that don't gel with the tension brimming in the first half. A comedic scene involving a language barrier stands out in particular.
The movie makes a point to steer clear of any political judgment, and it doesn't try to lay blame for the botched mission on any one head. And while the film never outwardly states and opinion on the conflicts that America found itself embroiled in during this time period, the searing brutality depicted in the movie highlight that no one should be subjected to the pain that these men were faced with. Made abundantly clear is the soldiers' willingness to drop everything and serve their country the best way they know how. Lone Survivor tries to honor the soldier, but not glorify war.
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Lone Survivor is at its best when it makes you feel the worst. It gives soldiers their due reverence by showcasing the true terror of the battlefield, and while the film does start to sag a bit in its third act, it's still more than worth the experience in order understand the consequences of war, and its toll on the people in the trenches.
Courtney Leigh Ames was one of six people charged with snatching more than $3 million (GBP1.9 million) worth of goods from properties belonging to stars including Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom in 2008 and 2009.
In December (12), she pleaded no contest to one count of accepting stolen property from the socialite in exchange for prosecutors dropping three other charges, including felony residential burglary, and on Friday (01Feb13) she was formally ordered to stay out of trouble until 2016 and complete 60 days of community service.
Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler told Ames, "You caught a break and you know it. This is your chance to straighten out your life."
Hilton declined to seek restitution, reports the Associated Press.
The case has captured the attention of the media, and director Sofia Coppola has even turned the thieving scandal into a new film. The Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson and Leslie Mann, is due out later this year (13).
Courtney Leigh Ames was one of six people charged with snatching more than $3 million (GBP1.9 million) worth of goods from properties belonging to stars including Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom between 2008 and 2009.
And on Friday (14Dec12) she pleaded no contest to one count of accepting stolen property from the socialite in exchange for prosecutors dropping three other charges, including felony residential burglary.
Ames, who is due to be formally sentenced on 1 February (13), is expected to be ordered to stay out of trouble until 2016 and complete 60 days of community service.
Hilton declined to seek damages, reports the Associated Press.
The case has captured the attention of the media, with director Sofia Coppola even turning the thieving scandal into a new film. The Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson and Leslie Mann, is due out next year (13).
A string of celebrity homes were targeted by thieves - who became known as the Hollywood Burglar Bunch - in 2009 and five people, three of whom are teenagers, are facing trial in California on felony burglary charges.
Now it has been revealed that all four stars testified in secret back in June (10) as part of the ongoing court proceedings.
The grand jury session testimonies, which were unsealed and obtained by the Associated Press, heard how Lohan felt so "violated" and "uncomfortable" after a break-in at her Los Angeles home that she was compelled to move house.
Speaking just weeks before she was sentenced to jail for probation violation, Lohan told the court, "That night I went back to the house, I just felt, to be honest, so violated and uncomfortable that I literally packed as much stuff as I could, because it wasn't about the things that were taken, it was just the fact that someone came into the only private space that I have in my life at this point."
Bilson admitted the burglary left her so scared she couldn't sleep in her bedroom for four weeks: "It took me a while to feel comfortable staying there. I wouldn't sleep in my bedroom for about a month.
"And I was convinced that I needed to sell my house and get out of there, because I was very scared. But I'm still there."
Other stars to take the stand include Audrina Patridge and Megan Fox's husband Brian Austin Green.
Their testimonies led to the indictment of the five suspects, Nicholas Frank Prugo, Rachel Lee, Roy Lopez Jr., Courtney Leigh Ames and Diana Tamayo. All five pleaded not guilty and are due back in court on 20 September (10).
Nineteen-year-olds Nicholas Prugo, Diana Tamayo and Courtney Leigh Ames, and 27-year-old Roy Lopez Jr were all charged with felony burglary and entered not guilty pleas last month (Dec09).
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has now charged Ames with receiving stolen property, reports TMZ.com.
According to prosecutors, Ames wore a necklace allegedly belonging to Lindsay Lohan to court in November (09). A detective confiscated the jewellery in the courtroom.
Ames was also charged with a second count of receiving stolen property over a leather jacket belonging to Paris Hilton, which she did not wear to court.
Ames' alleged crime partner Prugo also faces seven counts of first-degree burglary for break-ins at celebrity homes including those of Lohan, Bloom, Bilson and Hilton.
A Los Angeles judge also ruled last month (Dec09) that 18-year-old gang suspect Alexis Neiers will stand trial for looting Bloom's property, after Prugo identified her on a security video entering the star's Hollywood Hills home.
Nineteen-year-olds Nicholas Prugo, Diana Tamayo and Courtney Leigh Ames, and 27-year-old Roy Lopez Jr. entered pleas on Wednesday (02Dec09) through their attorneys in a Los Angeles court.
All four face felony burglary counts.
In addition, Prugo faces seven counts of first-degree burglary for break-ins at celebrity homes including those of Lohan, Bloom, Bilson and Paris Hilton.
A Los Angeles judge also ruled this month (Dec09) 18-year-old gang suspect Alexis Neiers will stand trial for looting Bloom's property, after Prugo identified her on a security video entering the star's Hollywood Hills home.
Informant Prugo's request that his case be separated from the others has so far been denied.
Nick Prugo is one of five people - three of them teenagers - accused of breaking into celebrity homes and stealing designer clothing, jewellery and cash.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney charged the five gang members with various crimes on Wednesday (28Oct09) - the teens, Diana Tamayo, Courtney Ames and Alexis Neirs have been charged with felony first degree residential burglary of stars ranging from Lohan, Ashley Tisdale, Paris Hilton and Orlando Bloom.
The fifth member, Roy Lopez, Jr., has been charged with felony first degree residential burglary of Paris Hilton, according to TMZ.com.
The gang, featuring teenagers Diana Tamayo and Courtney Ames, was arrested within the last two weeks, and all members are currently free on bail.
But that could all change if police chiefs get their way.
Lohan's home was allegedly robbed by members of the gang this summer (09), while the accused thieves hit Patridge's estate in February (09).
Some of the youngsters have also been linked to similar crimes at homes belonging to Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom and Rachel Bilson.
TMZ.com reports police have officially handed the case over to the Los Angeles County District Attorney. Charges are expected to be filed later on Wednesday (27Oct09).
A sixth gang member, Rachel Lee, is not expected to be charged today as there's currently insufficient evidence linking her to any crime.
Los Angeles police have so far taken six people into custody on burglary charges following break-ins at Lohan's house in August (09) and Patridge's property in February (09).
But the producer dad of 18-year-old Alexis Neiers, who was arrested last Thursday (22Oct09), is adamant his daughter had no idea what she was getting into when she allegedly joined fellow teens Courtney Ames and Diana Tamayo on the raids.
Mikel Neiers, director of photography for hit TV shows Friends and Spin City, tells People.com, "She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, associating with the wrong people. She got sucked into this. We're standing by her."
And the defiant parent is confident the allegations against Alexis will be dropped when the case goes before a judge.
He adds, "I'm sure (the case against her is) going to be thrown out of court."
Alexis' attorney Jeffery Rubenstein states, "I expect my client will be fully vindicated when all the facts of the case come out. At this time, no formal charges have been filed against her. When the time is right, she will tell her side of the story."
Roy Lopez, a bouncer at a bar in Calabasas, California, Rachel Lee, 19, and Nicholas Prugo, 18, have also been held by cops over the burglaries.