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.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
It’s official. We’re all old. Today, June 11, is the 10th anniversary of American Idol, which means the series is basically the age of a precocious, articulate child. (Are you ready for the pre-teen years, Nigel Lythgoe?) In honor of the series that has surprised, delighted, entertained, and enraged us for the past 10 years, we’ve compiled the show’s best, worst, and WTF moments. But listing the series’ best performances would be too easy. Instead, we've decided to look back at the non-musical moments — after all, we can't forget the outrageous fights, falls, and outfits meriting a slack-jawed double-take. These are the non-competition-based moments you probably forgot (and many that you’re still trying to).
Thanks for 10 entertaining, perplexing years (and Season 9), Idol!
Best of the Best
Kelly Clarkson’s Finale Breakdown with Nikki McKibbin and Tamyra Gray: This adorable break of emotion follows what is still the best finale moment of the series (no winner’s single can beat “A Moment Like This”), but the best part was when Clarkson couldn’t manage the final line due to an overwhelming wave of emotion. And when Nikki and Tamyra joined her in a group hug and helped their girl out (Nikki perhaps a bit too much), it truly felt like an expression of family, instead of cutthroat competition.
Ruben Studdard Earns a Nickname: “The Velvet Teddy Bear”
Juanita Barber Gets Testy With Simon: She was wrong. So totally wrong. But man, did it feel good to see some dish it back to King of Mean, Simon Cowell.
Season 5’s Ayla Brown Gets Famous Again When Scott Brown Tells the World She’s “Available”: Hey, thank God her Idol fame came back into the spotlight, or she’d have to settle for just being Brown’s “available” daughter. No one wants to be famous for being pimped out by your politician father.
Sanjaya’s Ponk Hawk: There are no words for this glorious incident. Only video.
Anthony Fedorov’s Transformation: He showed up looking like Revenge of the Nerds: R&B Adventure, but by the end of his Season 4 run, he looked more like a back-up Nick Carter. How this prepared him for his future role as Jesus Christ: Superstar, remains a mystery.
Chris Sligh’s Inspiration for Auditioning Was “To Make David Hasselhoff Cry”: This guy, he’s got jokes. And that one was a classic.
Queen Couldn’t Stand Ace Young’s “We Will Rock You” Either: In rehearsals, Brian May tells Young, "I will not do that to my song," when the contestant asks if he could spice up its beats. There’s nothing quite like the vindication of knowing a legendary rock band agrees with you.
Phil Stacey’s Helluva Day: In the same day, Phil Stacey wowed the judging panel in his audition, walked away with a golden ticket, and became a father.
Kelly Pickler’s Wealth of Ditzy One-Liners: The Season 7 contestant never failed to make us laugh, even if she wasn’t sure why. From the mind-boggling “What’s a ballsy?” to the classic “I had salmon,” Miss Pickler regularly had us in stiches.
Idol Gives Back Gives Us a Good Laugh: Idol Gives Back gave us back a little hope after a dreadful Season 9 in the form of some giggles. Russell Brand and Jonah Hill attempted to make us laugh with their cross-promotional Get Him to the Greek mumbo jumbo, but it was Wanda Sykes grilling Simon that really did the trick. Plus, let us take hilarious note of Tim Urban’s ditzy moment at the 1:20 mark.
Kara and Paula Give Bikini Girl a Piece of Their Minds: The bobble-headed Bikini Girl of Season 8 has become infamous. Not only did she attempt to set women-kind back about a 100 years with her sexist stunt of an audition, but she just wasn’t that great. Leave it to the ladies, Kara and Paula, to show her what real singing sounds like… even if it did descend into the madness of a giggly screechfest.
Screechfest Part Deux: Katy Perry vs. Kara: We all knew it was almost time for Kara to take a hike, and Katy Perry was the perfect sassy lady to help her in the right direction (and throw a coke in her face).
Scotty McCreery Apologizes For Bullying Jacee Badeaux: During the Season 10 auditions, the poor 15-year-old was left without a group mere hours before group performances and no one would have the youngster. The little guy spent most of the night crying until he finally found a group, but the real tender moment came when future winner Scotty McCreery took to the stage to deliver a sincere apology for adding to the kid’s terror.
Heejun Han “Talks a Lot of Craps” About Richie The Cowboy: Best. Group Week Fight. Ever. Oh, Heejun, you need a sitcom. It was hilarious watching Richie push Heejun’s every button and hearing Heejun’s annoyed responses about “hating all cowboys… even the Dallas cowboys,” but his “apology” took the cake:
Next: And now, for the Worst moments…Worst Moments – So Bad, They’re Good
Ryan Starr’s Mind-Boggling Wardrobe: Note to future Idol contestants: Try not to look like you’re hoping to be America’s Next Singing Gladiator when you’re on that very public stage.
Clay Aiken. Singing a Grease Song. In a red leather jacket: Song choice aside, let us analyze this ridiculous get-up. Dear Clay, this was about as tough as a teddy bear in a gladiator costume. Sorry, Clay, but Tim Gunn would not approve.
William Hung Followed Up His Idol Audition With “Success”: And by that, we mean some very “discerning” consumers paid money for his “album.”
Elton John Called Voting “Racist” When Jennifer Hudson and LaToya London Were Eliminated: There’s just one small issue with Sir John’s argument. That same season, Fantasia Barrino took home the Idol title.
Jonathan Rey Throws Water at Simon: This angry auditioner didn’t like what Cowell had to say (either that or he was just as curious about what was in that mysterious Coke cup) and he upended Simon’s Coca-Cola Chalice all over the cranky judge.
The Brittenum Twins Break the Law Before Showtime: After making it through Hollywood week, these singing twins threw it all away when they were busted for identity theft and were removed from the show. Idol says: Crime Doesn’t Pay.
Season 6’s Jared Cotter Dedicates “Let’s Get It On” To His Parents: Yes, you should always thank your parents. But maybe, just maybe, check the words of the song you’re about to sing before you dedicate a sex anthem to mommy and daddy. It’s just a thought.
Danny Noriega Nabs Himself a Catchphrase: Too bad “I guess they weren’t likin' it” wasn’t what America was looking for in an Idol.
Simon Tells Ryan to “Come Out Already”: These two were constantly in hot water for their homophobic banter, but this cantankerous reply from Simon Cowell took the cake. It’s one of those things we wish we could forget, but unfortunately, it’s on YouTube.
Kristy Lee Cook Gets a Little Bold With Simon: There’s defending yourself, and then there’s sticking your foot in your mouth. Guess which one describes Kristy…
Ryan Tries to Hive-Five Scott MacIntyre: Hey Seacrest, let’s try to not grab a blind guy’s hand and force him to high five you. That’s not awkward at all.
Everything Siobhan Magnus Ever Wore: She may have had a set of pipes for days, but Siobhan consistently looked like she walked into a closet covered in glue and wore whatever managed to attach itself to her sticky figure.
Kara Picks a Fight With a Guy Who's Clearly Screwing With Her: Part of the deal for an American Idol judge is putting up with the obviously fabricated characters the producers throw at them, but usually, the judges seem to be in on the game. Kara didn't quite get that concept, especially when the handsome and terribly annoying Andrew Fenlon waltzed into the audition room.
Casey James’ Creepy Audition: Yes, Kara, you had to endure Bikini Girl, but please don’t turn what should be an innocent audition into your wild, uncomfortable fantasy. We don’t want to join you in that apparently dark place.
Jennifer Lopez Cries for Chris Medina: When the judges had to eliminate Season 10 hopeful Chris Medina, despite his incredible tear-jerker of a love story, we understood Jennifer's pain. Her drama taking up the majority of the camera time, however...
Jermaine Jones is Chastized and DQ’ed on National Television: It’s understandable that the Idol producers would like to make sure they explained Jones’ sudden departure, especially after the media broke the story before his last episode could air, but this “interview” was just cruel and unusual. It’s one thing to have your past indiscretions aired all over the media, but it’s completely another to have your past indiscretions explained to you like you’re a child in front of 14 million people.
The Birth of Randy’s “Yo” Pin: Season 11 saw Randy’s favorite accessory come out to compete against Steven Tyler’s scarf collection and Jennifer Lopez’ hair. There’s just one snag with his little plan: “Yo” is not a catchphrase, my friend.
What’s you favorite – or least favorite – non-musical Idol moment?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
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