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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This is one of the best Pretty Little Liars episodes. I feel like I say that a lot, but I’m super serious — all of the wonky subplots hanging from last week’s episode sang together in harmony to make beautiful, creepy, sad music. We’re spoiled. And when I say “sad,” I mean that I may or may not have actually cried real tears from severe heartbreak during this episode. Marlene King, PLL superbot, returned for this massive episode, and the result is something both manically evil and terribly soul-crushing. If you watched any of the promo material that ABC Family floated around the universe the past week, then you know the big moment that sat at this episode’s climax: Spencer. Toby. The truth.
But, let’s start from the beginning. Aria is really sick (Lucy Hale makes a great sick teenager), and I immediately started to question my previous big claim that Aria is pregnant. I realized that the biggest hole in my pervious proclamation was that fact that Aria has not seen Ezra, let alone Ezra’s naked bod, in roughly 19 months; therefore, she already would have given birth by this date. Aria is drinking a lot of Meredith’s magical herbal tea, but Hanna brings over the real get-well goods: trash tabloids, a giant jug of ginger ale, and three seasons of Saved by the Bell on DVD. Boom. That’s a best friend. Aria is still very anti-Mom’s house, which is clearly a wave of ill stupidity, but everyone is feeling the love for Meredith and trying to understand how to deal with Ali’s scary diary pages. Aria also mentions that her brother is staying with Mom for the weekend, but I was under the impression that Aria’s brother is dead/missing/abducted by the American Horror Story: Asylum aliens. Can we at least get a concrete conversation about Mike’s life?
Toby is hanging out in the A Lair, which is always accompanied by ABC Family-friendly hard rock. I feel like giving ABC Family a lot of plugs in this recap, but I’m not sure why. Mona is hanging around, as she is wont to do, being an expert computer hacker in her ability to shut off “someone’s” security system. Did Caleb teach her his glorious hacker ways? Lord, I hope not. I really hate adding this sidenote, but Mona’s eye make-up has looked fantastic lately. Like, distractingly good. Mona says that the big night is a go: “I’m not the one calling the shots. Fear cuts deeper than a sword. They need to understand that she’s in charge.” MOTHER A IS A WOMAN. She is now known as Mother A.
On to the next: Toby’s haircut looks bad, which I couldn’t see under the standard cheap black hoodie. Toby looks like a Buffy vampire with slightly less protruding face prosthetics; have I made that reference before? Emily is reading Lord of the Flies, which clearly means that this season is going to end with all of the Liars eating each other. If that is actually how Season 3 culminates, Hanna will clearly be the last Liar standing/eating. This scene ends with Emily saying something to Toby, but her mouth is so boring and Toby’s hair is so bad that I literally have no idea what she said. Oops. Sorry?
Caleb is back! Hooray! Caleb is such a babe, and is getting into some Dorian Gray-esque relationship with Toby — the scarier Toby becomes, the more attractive Caleb becomes. Looks like Hanna made the right weird boyfriend choice. Hanna asks Caleb for outfit advice as she heads to an interview with “the hottest designer in Philly” later that afternoon, to which Caleb responds, “I’ve had this hoodie since I was 12!” First off, the hottest designer in Philly probably doesn’t have a ton of competition. Secondly, Caleb is so straight for his I-only-have-one-outfit screams. The scene ends with Caleb and Hanna having sex, but ABC Family can’t show that. Before the sex, Caleb makes a cryptic phone call. Spooky.
This episode was clearly written by someone that loves euphemisms and idioms, as there are so many zippy sayings. Toby arrives in Spencer’s bedroom wearing only a towel, and he wants Spencer to come over to “check out the new tub” later. More sex! Toby and Spencer have their anniversary that evening (all day?), but Spencer has to go to some snooze-fest dinner for Pops. AND THEN MARISKA HARGITAY WALKS BACK IN. Mariska has such great pearls. It also looks like everyone has forgiven Mariska for defending Garrett, which was rather fast in real human time but totally appropriate in PLL time. Turns out, Spencer and Mariska are stringing Toby along so Spencer can surprise him with a big anniversary dinner at his apartment. Spencer is the best. Toby has too many dark secrets. Also, key line from Mariska: “Toby… you forgot your shirt.” Accurate life assessment.
Confession (that was reference in my first paragraph): I started crying a little at the end of this scene. Spencer is the sweetest girlfriend, and Toby is going to completely crush her heart when his A-game is revealed. This show has become so upsetting and is possibly hurting my mental wellbeing. I mean, this show is aimed at 16-year-old girls and I can feel the pain in my Spencoby (is that even the correct mash-up? WHO CARES!) heart taking over my entire body. Elsewhere in awful Rosewood, Meredith is creeping around Aria’s home, looking for the diary pages, DRUGGING ARIA WITH HER AWFUL TEA AND BEING AN EVIL BITCH OF DEATH. Meredith is legitimately crazy. PLL let that character yo-yo tip over to the dark side rather quickly.
Hanna asks Emily if they can get into some “girl talk… not girl-on-girl talk, just girl talk.” Hanna has the best lines. Hanna’s hair looks really chic during this entire episode. Hanna is getting ready to go on her big fashion interview, and she needs Emily to follow Caleb after school; Caleb is going to meet up with the mysterious person on the phone, and Hanna wants to make sure he doesn’t do something stupid. Like shoot Mona in the eyeball. Emily comes to the shocking revelation that she is not in the CIA, and Hanna admits that tailing people is actually really easy.
Meredith is so so so so so so so evil. Spencer was so so so so so so so smart last week, and now we’re dealing with a lot of awful evil humans ruining the lives of people that are supposed to be smart. This episode is turning into a semi-campy horror story, as Meredith steals Aria’s phone and lies to Aria’s mom. Help. Mona is sort of dressing like Spencer. Hanna gets trapped in a store full of mannequins, where A texts her the threat of being “left faceless.” A lured Hanna to this fake interview for absolutely no reason, and then made a no-face remark to coincide with the mannequins? I don’t buy it. Regardless, mannequins are always bad. My brother wanted a mannequin for his dorm room, but I’m positive he would have nightmares if I bought him a mannequin. During the “kill Hanna by pushing over mannequins” attack, A drops an A key, which just means that our villain is getting kind of sloppy. Or A wants to get caught? A is confusing!
Emily does go out Caleb stalking, and she’s actually pretty good! Definitely a possible career option for when Emily finally decides that she cannot survive on a swimming scholarship forever. However, Emily doesn’t see whom Caleb is meeting because she gets the text alert from Spencer that Hanna was attacked in Philly. We (the royal audience) get the goods, however: Caleb is meeting… Paige! Twisty! Is Caleb a lesbian? No, these two are coming together to fight for the safety of their girlfriends. Sweet, I guess. Whatever. Paige, get out.
Hanna applied to this Philly fashion position months ago, and the office has been operating out of a new location for a long time; while I understand that A used Hanna to scare her, it’s a shame that Hanna didn’t, you know, do a little Googling to learn about her potential employer before heading to Philadelphia. Just saying. Hanna has also learned A’s end game: “to cut my face off.” Probably not entirely, but it’s definitely a possibility we should keep on the table. Hanna also gives great anniversary advice to Spencer: “Have on five-inch heels and nothing else when he walks in the door… What? I heard guys like that.” I hope no one is tired of Hanna being my favorite.
Now we get to the weirdest stretch of the episode: Aria, still under the influence of Meredith’s evil tea potion, has a crazed fever dream featuring… Ali. Ali is going through Aria’s room, showing off her great legs and (dead) bitchy ‘tude. Dream Ali is really intelligent, as she drops big hints regarding Toby and the evil tea. Ali also asks Ari the big question: “You know why I picked you, right?” I sure don’t, Alison! Was it Aria’s bright pink hair extensions? Please come back from the grave and tell us more! The doll that Ali moved in the dream has also been moved in real life, which is the most predictable thing this episode has to offer. Ali dream sequences remind me of Lost; I wish someone would splice them together for me so I could watch the clips on loop forever and study the facts. I’d need a VHS, for maximum horror creep potential. Obviously. Also, Aria is locked in her room.
Hanna’s hair is still looking phenomenal, and her oversized star sweater is really on point. Emily is wearing boring clothes, especially next to Hanna’s super snazzy relaxed outfit. The ladies spot Meredith having a freak out at the local pharmacy, which would prove that Meredith is either addicted to prescription drugs (plausible) or that our Liars are about to find out the truth about this Aria-Meredith relationship (ding ding ding). Meredith isn’t allowed to refill her prescription yet, so she grabs as many antihistamines as her crazy little ballerina fingers can cling to and runs off to Arizona to star in her own Breaking Bad spin-off. Aria is still locked in her room; Emily and Hanna need to get a move on already.
Awful things happen with Toby, where he brings ugly flowers and enters Spencer’s home through the back door. That is clearly the trademark of a serial killer, is it not? Toby also spots the lost A key, and Spencer tells some lie about the key belonging to Melissa. All of the PLL siblings are hanging out in ABC Family purgatory, along with the show about that girl that could turn into a cat. I’m glad no one watched that girl-cat show.
Meredith has made her full transformation into Horrifying Tea Nanny from Hell, hovering over Aria’s bed and slashing her in the face with a piece of mirror. This has become some sort of weird B-movie haunted house Misery-meets-Single White Female genre flick, and I’m totally into it. Hanna and Emily finally show up, only to act like idiots. They don’t turn on any lights, they don’t call 911 on their cells, and they head down to the basement with Meredith to “look for Aria.” You’ve got to be kidding me, girls. Never ever go into a basement with a creepy blonde ex-ballerina that just bought 893 antihistamine tables from Walgreens. Emily, Hanna, and Aria are all locked in the basement. Someone call R. Kelly.
What is Byron guilty of? We’re about to find out! Byron returns home to Meredith, crossing and uncrossing her legs like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Actually, Meredith does not do that because this show is not on Cinemax. Byron comes down to the basement… to save his daughter! (Emily and Hanna wield golf clubs, just in case.) We head back to the shifty flashback that was first introduced with the diary pages: Byron rejected Ali’s final money blackmail, claiming that he was ready to come clean and be an honest man to his family. We also get a shot of Melissa (!!!) on her cell, blathering on about calling 911 to get someone’s attention. Can one of our suspects just bury Ali alive already? I’m getting tired of this flashback game. Aria and her father have an open conversation: Meredith is in the hospital/jail/Hell, Byron is ready to come clean to the police about his final interaction with Alison on the fateful night, and Aria throws the diary pages into the fire. All’s well that ends well in the Montgomery house… right?
AND NOW. THE MOMENT YOU’VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR. Well, it was definitely the moment I’ve been waiting for — I need to see the emotional spiraling that leads Spencer to stop conditioning her beautiful locks. Toby sneaks around Spencer’s house, looking for the A key while clearly thinking Spencer is at the big dinner gala with her parents; Toby has on his black hoodie, and Spencer is waiting for the key. “Looking for this?” Toby spins around. Toby asks Spencer how long she knew. Spencer shows that she put the pieces together when she found Toby’s fake ID from the mental institution that housed Mona. Toby flees when Mariska comes home from dinner, seeing her daughter shaking. Spencer collapses into tears. I’m crying while typing this. No one crushes Spencer’s heart.
The episode ends with Spencer outside of Toby’s apartment, screaming against the locked door before crumpling into an emotional heap. “Just tell me that there’s more to the story. That there’s something I don’t know. Please tell me.” Troian is so fantastic this week (as always), as this Spencer-Toby development needed a strong actress to pull of the emotional scenes without making everything terribly funny. So, that’s a success, as this all felt so unbearably sad – Pretty Little Liars is maybe, for the first time, developing a big emotional up in front of us (putting Spencer and Toby together) before slowly making its way to the awful emotional down. While Spencer sobs at the door, Mona sits inside, sipping the red wine Spencer had prepared for the anniversary dinner. This is the Black Hoodie clue of the week, playing a bit with convention — what is Mona up to? Still, end all be all, I couldn’t care less about Mona and her manipulative motives at the moment. I can only worry about Spence. Poor Spencer. Smart, sensible Spencer. She deserves better. Pray for Spencer.
[Image Credit: Ron Tom/ABC Family]
More: ’Pretty Little Liars’: Keegan Allen and Troian Bellisario on Spencer and Toby’s Big Reveal ’Pretty Little Liars’ Recap: Who Did Start the Fire? We Find Out! ’Pretty Little Liars’ Recap: New World Order
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.