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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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann plans to open a production of La Boheme on Broadway on Dec. 8 and is also working on New York stage versions of Moulin Rouge and his 1992 film Strictly Ballroom, he told today's New York Post.
Speaking of the Puccini opera, Luhrmann remarked, "Opera was like the television of the time, created for everyone to experience, from the simple street sweeper to the King of Naples. So it seems a natural for it to play on Broadway. We're bring it back to its popular roots."
He said that he does not expect to hire traditional opera singers for the production. "The idea is to have younger singers so we have something to offer audiences who are perhaps a little frightened of opera," he said.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks several top stars, including Robert
Redford, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones
and Julia Roberts canceled trips to Paris to promote their films
resulting in "catastrophic" consequences for their films at the French
box office, the French daily Le Parisien reported today.
In fact, the newspaper observed, the only major star to
come to France since the attacks has been Woody Allen -- to promote
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
Le Parisien quoted a spokeswoman
for an unnamed U.S. studio in Paris as saying that "some films, like
America's Sweethearts and Moulin Rouge, haven't been as
successful as planned given the lack of [the stars'] media presence."
Miramax is close to signing a deal with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger to star in a movie version of the hit Broadway musical Chicago, according to FoxNews.com's Roger Friedman. At one time, when it appeared that Madonna, Goldie Hawn and Rosie O'Donnell would star in the film, several movie writers observed that it was difficult enough attracting audiences to a musical nowadays -- let alone to musicals starring middle-aged performers playing sexy twenty-somethings. Friedman suggested in his column that Zellweger remains a questionable choice because it's not known whether she can sing or dance. He said the final decision on that score will be made by choreographer Ann Reinking. "Without Reinking," Friedman commented, "there is no Chicago. So she must be satisfied with these choices."
Nearly a year after French censors ignited a firestorm of controversy by giving an X rating to the sex-and-violence-filled film Baise-Moi (Rape Me) -- effectively banning it from French movie houses -- French culture minister Catherine Tasca has given the film a newly formulated 18 certificate, roughly comparable to an R rating in the U.S. (The film opened without incident -- and without a rating -- in New York on July 6; a New York Post writer said that it showed "actors engaged in sex so graphic that it leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.") A year ago, the film's co-director, Virginie Despentes, who also wrote the book on which the movie is based, told the French daily Le Monde: "As an author, I can't accept any censorship except that which I impose myself."
Positioned as an alternative to the dinosaurs, America's Sweethearts, starring John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Billy Crystal, is receiving few love notes from critics. "There are only human monsters in America's Sweethearts," comments Edward Jay Epstein in the Wall Street Journal, "but they are mostly cuddly, too, although harder to merchandise as dolls." The problem, most reviewers say, is not the star-studded cast -- which also includes Alan Arkin, Seth Green, Christopher Walken and Hank Azaria -- but in the script. "Like a bottle of lukewarm champagne -- an expensive one, judging by the label," A.O. Scott observes in the New York Times, "America's Sweethearts opens with a promising burst of effervescence and quickly goes flat." Later, he remarks that Cusack and Roberts, in their romantic scenes, are forced to "fall back on familiar quirks and twitches in the absence of strong writing." Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star uses such words as "tryingly bland," "drab," and "slackly timid" to describe the movie. "America's Sweethearts would have been greatly helped by some rat-a-tat banter," writes Francesca Chapman in the Philadelphia Daily News, "but instead you get blather, and plenty of it." But Bob Longino of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is one of several critics who halfheartedly recommend it. "It's still a perfectly pleasant time at the movies," he observes. "America's Sweethearts isn't a flop," says Jay Carr in the Boston Globe. "It's just not as entertaining as one had hoped it would be, given its high-powered cast." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post also aligns himself with the ho-hummers: "As undemanding summer movies go, America's Sweethearts is surprisingly funny and sweet, despite some missed comic opportunities," he comments. And Kenneth Turan concludes in the Los Angeles Times that the film "is entertaining as far as it goes, but it just hasn't figured out how to go far enough."