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 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.
Although politically charged Middle Eastern terrorist themes have generally been box office poison of late Traitor is worth a look as it ratchets up the suspense to levels that make it this year’s successor to The Bourne Ultimatum. Don Cheadle stars as U.S. Special Opps officer Samir Horn a renegade military operative who walks the fine line between good and evil to the point where even HE isn’t sure which side he is working for. FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) is hot on his tail in one of those enormously complicated undercover jobs. Horn conveniently stays two steps ahead of authorities who have reason to believe he may be working as a double agent with deep and dangerous connections to key terrorist organizations. A task force links him to various illegal operations in Yemen Nice and London and soon he becomes one of FBI’s Most Wanted--a man of contradictions and covert strategies that are perhaps not in the best interests of the United States. Muddying the waters is his secretive relationship with a veteran CIA contractor Carter (Jeff Daniels) who may have an unofficial agenda at odds with the agency. As Clayton tracks Horn around the world a high stakes game of cat and mouse leads to some surprising twists and turns. With Hotel Rwanda’s Don Cheadle in the lead and a ripped-from-the-headlines plotline you might be inclined to think Traitor is going to be one of those overly serious not-so-fun dramatic pieces. Think again. Cheadle comes off more like Matt Damon in the Bourne movies and nails this heavy action role focusing as much on the chase as on the complicated dialogue he has to deliver (including some very convincing Arabic). Key to the role is keeping the audience on edge and constantly questioning Horn’s motives as he does his high wire act on the gray line between black and white. Cheadle plays him as a man trying to do good but one who isn’t quite sure what that means anymore. Although the actor dominates the landscape Pearce as the agent in pursuit is also very effective in his dogged determination to come to the truth. Their relationship is reminiscent of the one between Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. Also impressive in his few scenes are Jeff Daniels as the morally ambiguous independent CIA contractor and Neal McDonough as Clayton’s partner. In what could have been stereotypical terrorist roles casting real Arabic actors paid off with nicely authentic performances from a group of fine international performers including Aly Khan (A Mighty Heart) and Said Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner). Writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff successfully makes the transition from full-time screenwriter (The Day After Tomorrow) to a talent with a clear set of skills behind the camera. For a directing novice Nachmanoff has done his homework and has created a pulse-pounding action thriller that doesn’t miss a beat but still remains a complex drama to its core. Expertly blending some fine cinematography and superb editing the director makes this Middle-Eastern epic work as pure entertainment first and political polemic second. Interestingly it wasn’t Nachmanoff who came up with the intriguing concept but comedian Steve Martin who wrote the initial treatment thinking it would be a nifty premise for a movie. He was absolutely right.
Fox's talent competition series American Idol and NBC's freshman police drama Boomtown won the highest honors at the 19th annual Television Critics Association Awards, which were presented Saturday at the Hollywood Renaissance hotel.
The TV critics mostly rewarded original, unscripted fare from the Big Four networks rather than HBO's slate, and no one network dominated the nominations. Comedy Central, NBC and PBS each walked away with two awards, while the rest of the honors were spread out among other networks.
The TCA bestowed Idol with its program of the year award, while the almost-axed series Boomtown, starring Neal McDonough, snagged prizes for best new program and best drama series.
Boomtown producers thanked critics for their letters of support to the show, which they said helped convince NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker renew the series for another season, Variety reports. The hour-long drama, which won a Peabody Award earlier this year, explores a crime from the perspective of four witnesses.
Jon Stewart, meanwhile, won the award for individual achievement in comedy as host of Comedy Central's satirical news program The Daily Show, which also won best comedy of the year.
PBS's long-running investigative series Frontline won an award for outstanding achievement in news and information while LeVar Burton's Reading Rainbow was named best children's program.
Despite HBO drama The Sopranos' year-long hiatus, Edie Falco won for outstanding achievement in the individual drama category for her role as Carmela Soprano.
The Sci Fi Channel's Steven Spielberg Presents Taken, a science-fiction adventure that weaves together over 50 years of alien abductions into the story of three families' experiences, won best miniseries.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer won the Heritage Award, which recognizes programs that have a lasting influence on pop culture and society. The honor was shared between the show's two networks, WB and UPN.
The Dick Van Dyke Show creator/producer Carl Reiner, meanwhile, was honored with the career achievement honor.
The ceremony was hosted by Wanda Sykes, star of the Fox sitcom Wanda at Large. The honors are voted on by the TCA's membership of journalists from Canada and the United States.
Now a grown-up Wendy (voiced by Kath Soucie) has two children of her own Jane (voiced by Harriet Owen) and Danny (voiced by Andrew McDonough) who are in desperate need of the fantastic and magical world of Peter Pan (voiced by Blayne Weaver). As the small family deals with the tragedy and terror of World War II London Wendy tries to spread hope and cheer to her children by recounting her own childhood adventures with everlasting boy Peter Pan the fairy Tinker Bell and the unsuccessful-but-still-dangerous pirate Captain Hook (voiced by Corey Burton). While toddler Danny is captivated pre-teen Jane refuses to believe in "faith trust and pixie dust" until one night when Captain Hook's great pirate ship flies through her bedroom window and kidnaps her--thinking she is Wendy--in an effort to trap Peter Pan. The story unfolds as Jane must learn to believe in this whimsical world if she ever wants to return from Never Land.
The voices match their characters well: 25-year-old animation newbie Blayne Weaver makes Peter Pan "all boy" as he coyly tells Jane of Tinker Bell's jealousy "all girls get like that around me." He also leads the clan of six "lost boys" (dressed as twin raccoons a bear a skunk a rabbit and a fox) with great diligence. The boys offer silly childlike comic relief like when they make pacts to "stick" together by way of spitting in their hands and slapping them together. The real treat though is animation veteran Jeff Bennett who voices the small role of Smee Hook's "left"-hand man. His lack of faith in Hook's plots against Pan have him mumbling funny one-liners and singing songs that predict Hook will "bumble and fumble" every time.
Jane's trip from her bedroom window to Never Land includes a fly-by right past the clock face of Big Ben. Co-directors Robin Budd and Donovan Cook set the stage with this great London symbol as they remind us that time is of the essence. The harsh realities of war threaten to make Jane hard-edged and uncaring and she must truly believe in the world of Never Land before her childhood innocence is lost forever. Shadows play into the time theme as well. From the beginning credits and throughout the film whenever Peter Pan and company fly their shadows leave impressions in the clouds that remind us Never Land is not so far away; rather it lingers just beyond the shadows in our own world. The humor in the film is kid-friendly clean and often subtle; the only scene even coming close to "potty humor" is when an octopus rips the pants off Captain Hook. When Hook's white boxers are revealed dotted with big red hearts the kids are sure to laugh aloud. (It's also a nice touch considering the film sports a Valentine's Day opening.)