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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
If you're a Neutral Milk Hotel fan, prepare to do backflips. If not, prepare to have your socks rocked off. After 15 years, NMH is reuniting for a brand new tour.
In case you didn't realize, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the greatest album of all time. Jeff Mangum and his band Neutral Milk Hotel may not have the legendary fame of acts like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones. Nor is Over the Sea an album where all the stars aligned, like The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. But I'm telling you: it's the greatest. The. Greatest.
Adding to the allure of Mangum's 11-track poetic demonstration of alternative rock n' roll (which many believe is inspired by the life of Anne Frank) is the fact that Neutral Milk Hotel never followed it up. After Over the Sea arrived in 1998 the band went on tour and then… an extended hiatus. Since then, Mangum has been all but mum on the future of Neutral Milk Hotel, leaving fans to replay the wailing vocals, lines of horns and guitar, lo-fi recording of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea over and over and over again. Who knew MP3's could form grooves?
Now, in a true mysterious-rock-star move, Netural Milk Hotel is set to return for a tour of unspecified length — and there are already a few dates and locations locked for the reunion. Mangum, along with his broadly talented In the Aeroplane Over the Sea ensemble Jeremy Barnes, Scott Spillane, and Julian Koster, will hit the road this Fall with a portion of their tour proceeds going to the Children of the Blue Sky charity. Who is lucky enough to live in….
10-22 Athens, GA - 40 Watt Club10-23 Athens, GA - 40 Watt Club0-25 Asheville, NC - Thomas Wolfe Auditorium11-28 Taipei, Taiwan - Hostess Club Festival12-01 Tokyo, Japan - Hostess Club Festival
The Neutral Milk Hotel website promises more shows to follow, so start crossing those fingers. The update also includes this bit of contextless ruminating:
and of water course womb rume is a wandering the welkin woman whose fune caul is all umbilical cord code that comes equipped with read volve vît curtains that čun seel my văl én tich radio reason in remembrance of mademoiselle gabrielle and her wone tym pad lock of burd language as it borders on twin tolk the wolk king wall of woolpack pigeons pointing to the fly blind readers riddle and his rian boh
No, this isn't quite a In the Aeroplane Over the Sea follow-up. But as a defining album of rock music, the chance to see the original band reform to play it live may be more vital. Hearing "Oh Comely" recorded is necessary. Hearing Magnum preach the song in person feels essential.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
More: David Bowie Makes a List of 42 WordsIs Selena Gomez Using a Body Double?TV Throwback: Music Video Memories
From Our Partners:Beyonce Flaunts Bikini Bod for H&M (Celebuzz)33 Child Stars: Where Are They Now? (Celebuzz)
You can't go home again. It's a maxim whose institution in our culture has spanned from Thomas Wolfe's eponymous novel to that first season episode of Battlestar Galactica, but is it a tried and true phrase to live by or a tired cliché rung up by the real estate industry? In the realm of television, many a star has attempted to revitalize past glory on the old stomping grounds, return to the network that launched his or her career in the first place. James Gandolfini, for instance, is returning to HBO (the old home of his historical series The Sopranos) with a new drama pilot titled Criminal Justice.
The Hollywood Reporter reveals that Gandolfini will headline the project, an adaptation of a BBC series that aired in 2008. The story follows the trial of a Pakistani-American murder suspect (Rizwan Ahmed) from inception to conclusion, with Gandolfini playing his second-rate defense attorney Jack Stone. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) will direct and co-write the pilot with The Wire writer Richard Price.
Although it's not unheard of for a star to find success with a second series on the network responsible for his or her renown, there are definitely motivations to branch out to other venues. Generally speaking, television actors looking for work following a hit series opt to showcase their versatility, rather than promote the idea that they can't do anything we haven't seen from them so far. Famously, the stars of Seinfeld have endured difficulty illustrating what they can do beyond the confines of what NBC's hit sitcom displayed. Both Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus sought post-Seinfeld work on NBC, to little success: Richards' detective series The Michael Richards Show only ran for eight episodes in the year 2000, while Louis-Dreyfus' sitcom Watching Ellie only made it to 16 before ratings-provoked cancellation. It should be noted that Louis-Dreyfus has found much greater success on other networks; her CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine lasted five seasons, in addition to earning the actress an Emmy — a victory that her new HBO comedy Veep might well match.
Coming off of another NBC powerhouse, Friends, actor Matthew Perry has sought work on the network twice since putting Chandler Bing to rest. In 2006, he starred in the Aaron Sorkin drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which earned critical acclaim but only ran for one season. His new sitcom Go On premiered on the network this season, and has been a contributing factor in NBC's number one ratings status.
A greater certainty in star-network reunions existed in the past — at least on CBS. Responsible for hits like The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and The Bob Newhart Show, CBS granted these series' featured actors Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Denver, and Bob Newhart followup shows The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Gilligan's Island, and Newhart — each of which were monumental success stories.
But with today's "less forgiving" television audiences, always looking for reasons to reject an actor's efforts to explore the new, the adherence to a network is riskier. The pattern suggested above is that when you see a star return to his or her network, you want to see that star doing the thing that instituted the fame. On The Michael Richards Show and Studio 60, the actors in question were too far gone from their Seinfeld and Friends characters. But Go On and the sitcoms of CBS yore reproduced the things we loved about Perry, Moore, Denver, and Newhart. The same can be said for Tony Danza, whose success on ABC's Taxi was transmitted to the network's later sitcom Who's the Boss?. If we're tuning into the same place to watch the same people, we want to see the same thing.
So how will Gandolfini fare on Criminal Justice? Is a jailhouse lawyer close enough to a mafioso to keep audiences engaged in the actor, or will people miss Tony Soprano an opt away from the new series? If viewers are willing to accept Gandolfini as anything other than Tony in the first place, the actor might have a hit on his hands. More than any pattern of which we might take note is the issue of quality. If Criminal Justice is well-written and accessible, then it could well be a hit. With the creative team of Zaillian and Price, and an actor like Gandolfini, quality is indeed promised. Now if only they could find a less generic title...
[Photo Credit: HBO]
Today in Nostalgic Reunions: 'The West Wing,' Backstreet Boys Are Back, Alright!
Netflix Picks Up Ricky Gervais Comedy, Further Confuses Us About What a "Netflix Show" Is
How The 'Childrens Hospital' Emmy Boosts The 'Incestuous' Short-Form Comedy World
From Our Partners:
’Teen Mom’: Catelynn Lowell and Tyler Baltierra are Filming Spin-Off — EXCLUSIVE
Giuliana, Bill Rancic Debut First Photos of Son Edward Duke — PHOTOS
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
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.