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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Winter has come and the New Year will be rung in soon. That means something else is on its way: another new season of Justified. Its season premiere is on Jan. 7. What better way to tide yourself over until spring than to watch one of the best shows on television?
If you are going to be new to the show, I would suggest binge-watching on Amazon. Trust me. It's worth doing. The show has some of the best dialogue and acting that I have seen.
Where Justified really excels, beside its main core of characters, is the casting of the peripheral ones. People like Margo Martindale and Neal McDonough. Though they were the main villains, they brought such a level to their work that they were far from being cardboard cut outs like someone from, say Walker, Texas Ranger. They bring in people that you might not even associate with dramas, like Mike O'Malley and Patton Oswalt. I was stunned at the work that O'Malley put in as the sadistic hit man from his season.
The show, while already great, did something that I really liked last season: It allowed its secondary characters like Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) to spread their wings and tell their own stories and not just appear for two minutes and snark at Timothy Olyphant's Raylan Givens. Gutterson's dialogue with Colt Rhodes (Ron Eldard) in last season's finale was a thing of beauty.
I'm really interested in seeing where this season goes with Givens and his frenemy, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Givens has gone to a really dark place, walking away while the Detroit Mob rubbed out one of their own. Crowder is also in a very bad place, having seen his dream of buying a home and living a semi-respectable life with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) snatched away at the very last second. This season also marks the return of Dewey "You Mean I've Got Four Kidneys?!?!" Crowder (Damon Herriman), which should send all fans of the show into paroxysms of joy. The human cockroach, Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) -- he who has seen about five people shot around him without suffering a scratch -- will also be great to see. Burns can convey so much with just the mere arch of an eyebrow and he may be the only criminal who does not fear Givens (even after having his gun pointed right at his forehead).
On the law enforcement side,besides Gutterson and Brooks, I'm always giddy to hear what Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) has to say. I'm hoping there's also a good arc involving Mullen and his pending retirement.
I could write about 10,000 words about this show, but figure that this season might be over by the time I finish. Instead, I leave you with this: Get ready to return to Harlan, everyone.
Sigh. It feels like it was only yesterday when we last left Raylan Givens and co., with his nemesis Quarles lying on the ground with a bloody stump, and Raylan himself bleeding from the inside due to the several emotional wounds opened by various members of his family. But it wasn't, and tonight, Justified will make its triumphant Season 4 return — complete with snakes, flashbacks, and Twitter-happy comedians. Hollywood.com was able to attend Justified's premiere in Los Angeles last week, and we're here to fill you in on what you missed last season, and to mercilessly tease you with quotes from the stars on what's to come. Read on, hill people!
Where We Left Off: Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) was already having a pretty rough go of it — his pregnant on-again-off-again Winona (Natalie Zea) left him, and began trolling Orbitz for flights to Costa Rica. His arch-nemesis Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) was finally in jail for murdering his former associate, but he was released when Raylan's own father, Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), confessed to the crime — effectively choosing his buddy-in-crime over his son.
Things were (sort of?) looking up when Season 3's big bad Quarles (Neal McDonough) got his arm hacked off by Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), but the pale bastard used up his last words telling Raylan that Arlo only shot Trooper Tom because he mistook him for Raylan. And you thought Boyd had daddy issues?
Biggest Jaw-Dropper Last Season: Well, besides the aforementioned attempted filicide, the ruthless murder of Winona's other ex-husband, Gary, was a shocker.
Biggest Let-Down From Last Season: Last season was pretty stellar, but it would be nice to see Raylan's co-workers actually do something. This isn't Dexter, after all.
Most Improved Character: Arlo was always interesting, but his ruthless deception and moral decrepitude was fascinating to watch, and we can't wait to see how it will continue to weigh on Raylan this season.
Least Improved Character: Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel (Erica Tazel), though it's not really their fault that they never have anything to do.
5 Reasons You Should Keep Watching: First, there's the fact that comedian Patton Oswalt will recur as Constable Bob, a goof from Raylan's high school class who is assigned the difficult task of watching over Arlo's house, and who not-so-secretly has a man-crush on Raylan. Then there's the mysterious backwoods "Snake Church" that Boyd, Ava and co. become involved with over the first few episodes — a plot line that Goggins wasn't initially very happy about. "I'm not scared of many things, but snakes are one of the things that I’m most scared of in the world," Goggins says. "I read [the script] and I started sweating, like I couldn’t handle it. And at one point there’s a snake in a box that I had to pick up, and that freaked me out. There’s not really anything that scares me in the way that snakes do, so yes — Walton Goggins did not want to go in that church as much as Boyd Crowder did not want to go in that church." Color us intrigued!
Meanwhile, Raylan will interact with a group called the "Hill People", while also tackling a deep family mystery, which means — you guessed it — FLASHBACKS! And since Raylan/Olyphant are both sexy as f***, we were very excited to hear the following news about the Deputy Marshall's love live: "Well, [Winona] left Raylan so he’s available to f*** up his life in every which way," Olyphant says.
What We Ultimately Want To See: More Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) and Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies, who won an Emmy for the role), though producer Graham Yost has hinted that their returns may not happen this year. It's a shame, because these two redneck extraordinaires steal every episode in which they appear. We'd also love to see Ava take on a larger role in the crime world, as Harlan County would be a very interesting place with the competent, fiery blonde running the show.
What Would Make Us Turn Our Backs: That would be extremely difficult, as Justified has been consistently engaging throughout the last three seasons. However, we will say that we're pretty sick of the Raylan/Winona drama.
Justified premieres Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 10pm on FX. Reporting by Leanne Aguilera Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna [PHOTO CREDIT: FX] MORE: 'Justified' Gets Season 4: More Timothy Olyphant Shooting Junkies 'Justified' (Season 3) TV Stills 'Justified' Recap: Who Took the Money? From Our Partners: ’Texas Chainsaw’: Top 5 Leatherface Kills (Moviefone) Quentin Tarantino’s Most Bad-Ass Music Moments (Moviefone)
S3E1: The first episode of Justified’s third season picks up three months after the shootout at the Bennetts’. Raylan is recovering from a gunshot wound and has been assigned to desk duty by Art. He and Winona discuss their baby on the way—she apparently has opted to stay in the deputy marshal’s life, despite her considerations of leaving him due to his dangerous lifestyle. And Boyd has seized control of the local weed game. Unfortunately for Boyd, his entire product has rotted due to improper packaging, losing him and his men their prospective buyer. Doubly unfortunately for Boyd, he is thrown into jail after attacking Raylan in the middle of the marshals’ station over the issue of Raylan disallowing Boyd his revenge on Dickie Bennett, who shot Ava at the end of last season.
“Mags’ bank accounts have been seized, along with her property, but there’s still a sizeable amount of money missing.” – Raylan
“How sizeable?” – Boyd
“Well over ten dollars.” – Raylan
This week’s episode, “The Gunfighter,” introduces a new nemesis for Raylan: Fletcher Nix (played by Desmond Harrington—Joey Quinn to Dexter fans). Fletcher is introduced in the office of Emmitt Arnett, the businessman with the penchant for adding a “kick” to his coffee whom we have met twice before on in the series. Arnett is clearly in over his head in a business arrangement with a surprisingly dangerous figure (Neal McDonough) who seems to favor bolstering his reputation over earning some money.
Arnett hires Nix, an affiliate of Winn Duffy’s (who looks to be finding a more prominent role this season), to steal a set of watches to pay off McDonough’s character. Nix is your classic Western baddie: he’s a cold-blooded, slow-talking sociopath, and apparent fan of mind games. He has a habit of placing his firearm on a table between he and any man he intends on killing, and instructing an unlucky witness count to ten, giving the victim a chance to reach for the gun before he can. The trick: Nix pockets a blade with which he stabs his adversary’s hand just as he reaches for the gun. It’s pretty sick stuff. And to be honest, I didn’t think Joey Quinn had this kind of thespian bravado in him.
“The last time I saw him, I said our next conversation wasn’t going to be a conversation.” – Raylan
“Oh, this is a different conversation.” – Tim
Raylan investigates the ordeal with Tim (whose suggested post-shooting trauma seems to have been swept under the rug pretty promptly), despite Art’s orders to remain at his desk. But, this is Raylan. So anytime he’s told to do anything, we can expect the counter.
Yvette, Arnett’s employee and devious sexual partner, leads Raylan on the trail of Nix, in a plot we later find out is orchestrated by McDonough’s character. At first, the man admits that his real desire is Yvette herself, and that he is attempting to get Nix out of the way and Arnett killed so that he and she can reign supreme in this wonderful world of crime. But after he shoots her, we figure that she was kind of just a pawn as well. We do get a slight hint at McDonough’s man’s humanity, as he chats briefly with his young son on the phone about his trip to Kentucky.
“‘Jiffy Pop’ for a boy. ‘Palmolive’ is obviously a girl’s name.” - Raylan
So, like I said, McDonough kills Yvette. And Arnett. In front of Winn Duffy—apparently to assimilate himself into the underworld as a figure not to be messed with. In the meantime, Nix, on the trail of his trailer Rayland, has holed up in Raylan’s and Winona’s apartment, laying the whole “count to ten” ordeal on his new victim. The catch, though: this is Raylan (that seems to be a recurring theme). Raylan anticipates Nix’s trick and pulls the tablecloth abruptly, forcing Nix to stab his knife into the table at the last moment and leaving Raylan with the gun. He shoots, but does not seem to kill, Nix. I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot more of this character.
In an interesting turn of events, Ava has seized control of the drug trade in Boyd’s absence. Upon his command, Ava instructs Devil and Arlo Givens to burn the marijuana, which frustrates the two money-hungry criminals. Boyd understands that if the group sits on such a large amount of drugs (thanks to their newly uninterested buyer), they will surely run into legal troubles. Ava takes full control of the house, smashing Devil with a frying pan and insisting to Arlo that she is making the orders now.
And speaking of Boyd, the last shot of the episode shows him entering the county jail, sparking a shock in two fellow inmates and two of Justified’s most colorful characters: Dickie Bennett (I am quite glad that he’s still around) and Dewey Crowe.
What did you think of the first episode of Justified’s third season? Does Fletcher Nix have what it takes to command the villain role as well as Mags Bennet did last season? What about Ava’s immersing into the drug operation?
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.