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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
I’m addicted to many things: Coffee, shiny objects, teacup piglets (how can you say no to this face??), caramel, Sour Patch Kids, Diet Coke, and cinnamon candles, just to name a few. But the cherry on top of my almost dysfunctional sundae is of course television. In this week’s edition of Leanne’s Spoiler List, I chatted with a former Once Upon a Time princess, Jessy Schram, to see if the glass slippers still fit and gossiped with Revenge’s Christa B. Allen to get all the “twisted” details on what’s coming up for the Graysons. Not to mention Jane Levy told me all about Tessa’s upcoming romance on Suburgatory and the new drug of choice in Chatswin. Plus, I got an early glimpse at what’s coming up next on The Walking Dead, and Ben and Kate, to get your heart a flutter for all the upcoming awesomeness that will eventually come to a TV screen near you. Ready, set, spoil away!
1. Once Upon a Time: If The Shoe Fits…
At the beginning of last season, ABC’s beloved fairytale drama reintroduced the world to the Princess Cinderella—aka Ella for short—and her Storybrooke counterpart Ashley Boyd. Since the show’s return, many fans have been hoping to see Ella, her hubby Prince Thomas, and their sweet baby girl Alexandra return to their TV screens now that the curse has been lifted. (They were Snow and Charming’s best friends after all…) To help get some magical answers, I spoke with the princess herself Jessy Schram to see if a return to Storybrooke is in her near future. The ABC actress exclaimed, “There is most certainly a possibility!”
“The second season is going so strong on it’s own right now and there are so many characters…but if a storyline came up I know that they wouldn’t mind sharing me and giving me back the glass slippers.” Squee! Just imagining another girls night complete with Ella, Snow, Ruby, Belle and Emma makes my heart all warm and fuzzy. Schram playfully teases, “There’s always a possibility, nothing is unknown in the land of Once Upon a Time.” Now if we could just somehow get the huntsman to come back in the same episode, then I’m pretty sure I would hyperventilate with happiness for at least a week. P.S. Exciting news for Once Upon a Time fans! I am leaving for Vancouver early next week to visit the set of Storybrooke and interview the cast! Send me all of your bewitching questions in the comments below, or feel free to pass along your enchanted tweets to @LeanneAguilera
2. Ben and Kate: Low Heat Lovin’In next week’s episode of the hilarious freshman comedy "Operation Crockpot" is officially underway! What the heck is that, you ask? Well Kate (Dakota Johnson) is still beyond interested in her ridiculously hunky next-door-neighbor—played by FOX comedy veteran Geoff Stults—but she wants to take things slow and let the romance simmer at a steady pace. No need to rush into anything when you’ve been on a small 57-month hiatus from sex, right? But of course Ben (Nat Faxon) is ready to stir things up and cause a mess in Kate’s kitchen of love. (Side-Note: Can anyone tell that my tummy is rumbling right now?)In between his quest to find a fun and spirited new job in time for Maddie’s (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) career day, Ben looks to the desperate housewives of his neighborhood to get all the gossip on Kate’s potential new beau. But my absolute favorite part of next Tuesday’s episode was learning that sweet little Maddie has got quite the way with words. You won’t believe her creative yet terrifying technique she uses to stop being teased on the playground. Warning: Don’t mess with Maddie or you may have severe nightmares.3. Revenge: A Hamptons HoneymoonNow that the Graysons have re-tied the knot—complete with a name-inspiring wedding dress and a super romantic police search of their home—it’s time to freak out wonder what’s next for the Hampton’s royalty. And there is no one better to help answer this question then their own on-screen daughter Christa B. Allen. In a recent phone interview I chatted with Allen about this season’s crazy over-the-top plans for Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) and Conrad (Henry Czerny) as a couple. Allen explains, “One of my favorite aspects is just how twisted you see Victoria get, and then Conrad in response to her. These are two people who have the sickest motives at heart. The way they use each other to get what they want, and then pit everybody else towards each other as well is just sick. and you can’t decide whether it’s coming from a place of love or sheer vindictiveness. You really can’t tell." The actress adds, “I still don’t know!“One thing we do know is that Conrad is once again in hot waters for the alleged murder of Gordon Murphy—crazy white-haired man. (Damn Emily you’ve still got it…) But Allen warns that you should never underestimate the lengths that Victoria and Conrad are willing to go to maintain their perfect facades. “The fact is that they are both two very strong individuals with very different agendas. In most cases the only one stopping them from getting what they want is each other, but they can only do it together. Apart, they’re nothing.” Looks like those new wedding bands are definitely not coming off any time soon. 4. Suburgatory: Getting High on LoveRemember back a few weeks ago when I told you that Tessa would be getting a football-playing fella? Well I just chatted with our favorite out-of-place suburbanite Jane Levy about her new beau and I’m just bursting to share the details. (Pssst! In case you couldn’t already tell, I love this show.) So what’s coming up for Ryan (Parker Young) and Tessa? Levy gushed, “They start dating! And like pretty soon too.” Last week fans saw an adorably sweet moment between the too and Levy says audiences can get excited for a “really really fun” upcoming episode. In a pretty uncharacteristic move, Tessa tries to fit in more with the Chatswin kids—the football girlfriends to be exact—even though their priorities in life could not be more opposite. Levy explains, “She tries really hard in this episode to fit in and make Ryan happy and just be nice and accepting and not judgmental or preachy, but she just sort of can’t help herself.”Tessa’s new friends are more like high school versions of Stepford wives and Levy laughs that it doesn’t take long for Tessa to crack. “There is a really funny moment where she’s up in the middle of the night with all these football girlfriends making banners and everyone is hungry and tired.” So what is their secret to staying so perfectly perky you ask? “They get through the night by sniffing their sparkly pens.” Levy reveals with a laguth. (My brain is so torn right now. Drugs are of course bad but I’m drawn to anything with glitter.) Luckily, it seems that Tessa is going to have stronger willpower. “She just can’t take it anymore” Levy says, “And Tessa turns into a little Norma Rae.” Anything involving a Sally Fields reference is amazing in my book!5. The Walking Dead: Do Not Eat While WatchingThis show seriously scares the beejeebers out of me (I’d like to thank Jimmy Neutron for embedding that term into my vocabularly) And I can only imagine that out of all the apocalyptic worlds, being a survivor on Walking Dead must be by far the worst. You lose limbs and family members, have to subsist on old canned food, and sometimes have to hang out with Carl. But you know what must really suck for TV-philes like us? Not being able to curl up in front of the tube for our favorite stories. This week’s all-new episode shows us what the citizens of Woodbury do to replace our modern entertainment — and to say it's brutal and disturbing is an understatement. Word to the wise: Do NOT eat anything while watching this episode unless you really want to see it come back up again later. (Sorry for the visual. But seriously, gross!)Now on to what really matters: Rick (Andrew Lincoln). After his wife Lori’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) unbelievable death in last week’s tear-jerking episode, many fans are still in shock—and so is Rick. The widower is absolutely inconsolable and channels his loss and anger into a full-fledged rampage. His weapon of choice this week? An ax. And believe me when I say, I have never been more excited to see so much blood flying through the air. If this is his way to cope with the grief, then I say go for it and take no prisoners! As for Rick and Lori’s baby? He/she (you’ll have to watch to find out the sex) is perfectly fine, just very very hungry.Would you like to see Cinderella return to Once Upon a Time? Excited for the upcoming hilarity on Suburgatory and Ben and Kate? Intrigued to see how Conrad and Victoria are going to overcome their latest hurdle on Revenge? Tell me everything in the comments below! Follow Leanne on Twitter @LeanneAguilera[Photo Credit: AMC, ABC, FOX]MORE: Leanne’s Spoiler List: Love is Brewing on ‘Glee,' Lucy Hale Scares Up 'PLL' Secrets Leanne's Spoiler List: Zachary Quinto Makes His 'Asylum' Debut, 'Glee' Goes Black Swan Leanne’s Spoiler List: Thrills and Kills on ‘Pretty Little Liars’, ‘Glee’ Adds a New Twist From Our Partners: ’Twilight’ Stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson Hop on Private Jet in Matching Outfits (PHOTOS) (Celebuzz)
Kim Kardashian: ‘I’ve Lost 10 lbs’ (Celebuzz)
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
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.