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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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Neil Diamond and his fiancee Katie McNeil finally said, "I do." Diamond shared the exciting news over Twitter that he and McNeil were married on Saturday. "Katie and I got married last night, we wish you all could've been there. It was magical! Love, Neil," he said.
Diamond, 71, and McNeil, 42, got engaged back in September. And, what's interesting about this relationship is the fact that McNeil is Diamond's manager. She also produced the documentary Neil Diamond: Hot August Nights NYC. But Diamond isn't the first person to ever marry someone in the management/PR/representation community. Reese Witherspoon married her agent, Jim Toth, in March 2011 — and Britney Spears is engaged to her former agent Jason Trawick.
This is Diamond's third marriage, but first for McNeil. Maybe now McNeil can produce a documentary about their Hollywood romance and get Spears and Witherspoon to do cameos. Now that would make for an interesting plot.
Giuliana & Bill Rancic Expecting First Child
Moore shoots back at GOP
Michael Moore got in his own two cents Wednesday, responding to Republicans' charge that the filmmaker be prosecuted for offering underwear and food to college students in exchange for their promise to vote, The Associated Press reports. "It's ironic that Republicans have no problem with allowing assault weapons out on our streets, yet they don't want to put clean underwear in the hands of our slacker youth," Moore said. "The Republicans seem more interested in locking me up for trying to encourage people to participate in our democracy than locking up bin Laden for his attacks on our democracy." AP reports the Michigan GOP on Tuesday asked four county prosecutors to file charges against Moore, citing an election law provision that prohibits a person from contracting with another for something of value in exchange for agreeing to vote. Moore is currently touring the country and imploring "slackers" who usually don't vote to head to the polls this year, saying they could make the difference in the presidential race, and offering gag prizes to incite them.
Rape charges against Anthony Anderson dismissed
On Wednesday, a judge in Memphis, Tenn., dismissed rape charges filed in July against Kangaroo Jack star Anthony Anderson and another man, Reuters reports. Judge Anthony Johnson threw out the case brought by a film extra on the set of Hustle & Flow at a preliminary hearing after calling the woman's testimony suspicious and bizarre. Charges against Witherspoon also were dropped. The woman had accused Anderson and Wayne Witherspoon, an assistant director on the Hustle, of raping her in a trailer on that film's set. "He is, of course, both relieved and delighted by the judge's decision to throw out what was so obviously a trumped-up case," Anderson's spokesman Allan Mayer said.
Actress MacDowell bids adieu to marriage
Actress Andie MacDowell and her husband, former high school classmate Rhett Hartzog, have divorced after nearly three years of marriage, People magazine reports. People quoted a source close to the couple as saying, "It's a painful and very private time." No other details about the split were available. MacDowell, 46, and Hartzog, 45, married in November 2001 with a 450-guest ceremony in Asheville, N.C. It was the actress' second marriage.
Seized Limbaugh records ruled valid
A Florida appeals court ruled on Wednesday that prosecutors acted legally when they seized Rush Limbaugh's medical records during a 2003 investigation into whether the conservative radio host misused prescription painkillers, Reuters reports. The outspoken conservative commentator had claimed his constitutional right to privacy had been violated because the search warrants were issued without giving him prior notice or a chance to challenge the seizure. Florida's 4th District Court of Appeals said the search warrant authorizing the seizure outweighed Limbaugh's right to keep his medical records private. Limbaugh, who has not been charged with a crime, admitted an addiction to prescription painkillers last year and took time off from his popular syndicated radio show for drug rehabilitation.
Judge extends restraining order against Mel Gibson stalker
During a brief hearing yesterday, Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz extended a temporary restraining order to three years against a homeless man who showed up at Mel Gibson's Malibu, Calif., estate demanding they pray together. Zack Sinclair, 34, has pleaded not guilty to six misdemeanor counts that include trespassing and disorderly conduct, district attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons told AP. He remained in jail Wednesday without bail pending an Oct. 12 hearing. The order bars him from coming within 100 yards of Gibson, his wife or their seven children, their home, Gibson's work, the children's school and the chapel.
PGA wants end to bogus producer credits
The Producers Guild of America is stepping up its bid to stop Hollywood studios from giving bogus credits to people as a bargaining chip. Speaking at a news press conference Wednesday, PGA President Kathleen Kennedy said the guild is asking studios to include language specifying the duties necessary to receive it into every would-be producer's contract. According to Kennedy, studios oftentimes give producer credits as a kind of low-cost compensation, which boosts an actor, agent or manager's show-business resume. If a credit is given unfairly, guild lawyers pledged to sue--not for money, but to force a studio to remove the credit.
Motley Crue guitarist gets hip replacement
Motley Crue guitarist Mick Mars is recovering from hip replacement surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his publicist Katie McNeil said Wednesday. Mars, whose real name is Bob Allen Deal, suffers from a degenerative, rheumatic disease called ankylosing spondylitis, which causes ligaments and tendons to attach to the bone. The affected area becomes inflamed and some of the bone may erode. McNeil told the AP doctors expect Mars, 53, to walk again soon with the help of a physical therapist and is looking forward to a possible Motley Crue comeback tour. "He would do it if the tour happens," she said.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.