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The Muppets

In the mid-50’s, the late Jim Henson introduced the world to the Muppets and for over 50 years, they’ve entertained generations of children and the young at heart. Although it debuted before my time, reruns of The Muppet Show dominated my childhood. I loved the catchy tunes, celebrity appearances and silly puppetry that show spotlighted. Memories from watching it have stuck with me over the past 25 years and I’m grateful for them. In a way, they’ve kept me forever young and even today, those episodes are just as entertaining as ever. For those not yet old enough to have memories of the Muppets, the newest movie, succinctly titled The Muppets, is a great and lively introduction, but for people like me, this is a wondrous treat. It brings back everything that was great about the Muppets and is guaranteed to leave all but the most hardened moviegoers with a smile.

The Muppets follows two brothers, Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (a puppet played by Peter Linz). Gary is in a relationship with Mary (Amy Adams) and they are on their way to Los Angeles for their 10 year anniversary. With Mary’s approval, Gary brings Walter along so they can tour the old Muppets studio. When they get there, they find out that the studio is about to be sold to Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), an oil tycoon who is going to tear it down and drill the ground it rests on. To save it, $10 million must be raised, so Walter, along with Gary and Mary, head off to reteam the old Muppet gang, beginning with the one and only Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire).

Thanks to movies like Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (the less said about both, the better), the public’s interest in the Muppets began to wane, and with good reason. They hadn’t done much in recent years and what they did do wasn’t particularly memorable. So what I’m about to say may surprise you: you miss them. You might not know it yet, but you do and this movie will prove it. But it doesn’t prove it simply by being a good movie. It does it with an emotional narrative wrapped around the revival of The Muppet Show that asks whether the Muppets are still relevant and if the public still cares about them. (They are and we do.) Watching The Muppets brings back a wave of nostalgia while simultaneously keeping you in the moment and it will set your imagination wild, a feat matched in recent years only by last year’s Toy Story 3.

As with most Muppet adventures, part of the fun of The Muppets is spotting all the cameos. Some are obvious, like Emily Blunt reprising her role from The Devil Wears Prada, and others will only be noticeable to a select few, like a certain rock star who plays the part of Animal in a Muppets cover band (humorously named The Moopets). But the real pleasure comes from the witty writing, which is filled with self-referential humor that acknowledges it’s a musical movie, and the song and dance numbers themselves. The songs are fun, catchy, occasionally sad and the choreography is excellent. By the time the film gets around to singing one of the Muppets’ most cherished and recognizable songs, tears of joy will be streaming down your face.

All in all, this is a delight and any faults are minor at most. Due to the fact that many of the original puppeteers did not participate in this movie, some of the voices sound a bit off and the love story between Mary and Gary is dispensable. The real heart comes in the form of Gary’s relationship with his brother Walter and Walter’s love for the Muppets, which ultimately leads to him finding himself. The tacked on relationship seems forceful and there only for the purpose of having a pretty leading lady, though to be fair, Amy Adams is radiant in the role; the most lovable she has been since winning everybody over in 2007’s Enchanted.

In a way, The Muppets almost feels like a send off for our old friends. It does what any final installment would and brings the story full circle, taking the characters back to their roots and having them relive their magic one last time. Though I’m sure not intended, if this is the last time we see those rascally puppets on the big screen, they can be proud they went out with style. But if we’re lucky, this will be only the first in a string of many more fantastical adventures.

The Muppets receives 4.5/5


A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

People get way too excited for Christmas way too fast. November barely begins before radio stations start pumping out Christmas music, stores start stocking for the impending rush and nearly every television commercial transitions to holiday themes. If you ask me, looking forward to Christmas over a month and a half ahead of time is a bit silly, but people like it and there’s a demand for it, at least in most cases. I can’t imagine the Christian based and family oriented communities were clamoring for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, a movie that takes the sacred holiday (and the iconography associated with it) and uses it in the most offensive way possible. Don’t grab granny for this one kids.

Years have gone by since Harold (John Cho) and Kumar’s (Kal Penn) last adventure and the two have drifted apart. Kumar is still the same slacker-stoner he’s always been while Harold has moved on, married and nabbed a high paying job on Wall Street. He wants nothing more than to live a normal life, but when Kumar shows up at Harold’s house on Christmas Eve, they find themselves victims of yet another crazy adventure.

That’s about all you really need to know about the “plot” because the “plot” is inconsequential. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is about gags and the film goes about getting them any way it can, even if that means disregarding entire portions of the story. We find out early on that Kumar’s ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his child, for instance, but it only serves as a late film character redemption, an unnecessary narrative arc in a movie where the characters turn into clay and whip out their penises for no other reason than to allow the audience to see one in 3D. There’s also a side story involving two characters who are trapped in a closet at a mob boss’s house, but it depressingly goes nowhere and serves as filler in between the comic absurdities of the main story, which, come to think of it, fares about the same.

The situations the two find themselves in are so ridiculous and strung together by such a loose narrative thread that one could write a thesis paper with a hypothesis arguing that the entire movie was really a drug trip journeying through Kumar’s narcotics-laced brain, especially since he spends the entire opening moments getting high. There is nothing holding this thing together from scene to scene, but there are moments of genuine hilarity, which, at least for the purpose of this franchise, trumps poor storytelling. Sure, the drug jokes are old and you can only watch the characters blow CGI smoke towards your face so many times before it starts to wear thin, but if nothing else, you’ll laugh at its political incorrectness and willingness to dope a young child up with marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. A sequel set 10 years in the future where that young child has become a crack whore selling her body on the street for drugs might not be too amusing, but it sure is now.

The star of the show once again, however, is Neil Patrick Harris. His cameo was an added treat in the original movie and single-handedly saved the second from the brink of disaster. Well, he’s back here and he’s better than ever. The movie slyly works his homosexuality into the story, dealing with it in its own crude way and Neil Patrick Harris simply plays along. He may only be in the film for about ten minutes, but it’s ten of the funniest minutes you’ll see all year.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas shows signs of farcical intelligence early on, mocking the use of 3D while utilizing its unwelcome effect. In that sense, it takes a new approach to the format and makes it work, but that approach is not constant. Aside from a few clever moments, the 3D is simply there (but just barely), once again rearing its ugly, unnecessary and worthless head. Still, there is some holiday joy to be found in it, perverted and juvenile though it may be. One thing’s for sure. After watching this, you’ll never be able to look at A Christmas Story the same way again.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas receives 2.5/5



Is “tween” a genre yet? If not, it should be. With crap like Twilight and the recent I Am Number Four flooding screens, it seems like a necessity. Those who venture to the theater to see these things need to be prepared for what they’re getting: an angsty, pity me film about alienation and a longing for love. Beastly is the latest of those to pander to the teenage demographic who sees every one of their measly little problems as an impassable hurdle. Still, the subject matter itself is not the problem. It’s the way it is carried out and Beastly is about as overbearing as it can possibly get.

Essentially, the film is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in modern times. Alex Pettyfer plays Kyle, a smug, self involved pretty boy who values his looks over everything else. He’s the type of person who strokes his own ego while those around him enable him to do so. He bashes people who look different than him, including Kendra, played by Mary-Kate Olsen, whom he calls a “witch.” Well, as it turns out, she actually is a witch and she puts a spell on him. He suddenly becomes physically hideous and has one year to find someone to fall in love with him or he will be stuck like that forever. Enter Lindy, played by Vanessa Hudgens, who, by one of the most contrived scenarios you can possibly imagine, ends up living with Kyle and accepting him for who he is. Unfortunately, time is winding down and you can’t force love.

Although all films want you to feel a certain way about their characters, Beastly depends on it. Without proper care, the precise emotion you’re supposed to feel towards someone can be lost and that happens here. From the opening shots, where Kyle pretentiously watches himself work out in the mirror, to his subsequent speech where he boasts about his good looks to the student body, you know you’re not supposed to like him. The problem is he may not be a nice person, but his actions border on caricature. Instead of hating him, you just end up laughing at him for being such a pompous ass.

When he finally transforms into the hideous beast, you may find yourself laughing even harder. The make-up job is shoddy at best and includes visual touches like the word “suck” over the character’s left eye, which, in a rare moment of unintentional perception, is indicative of Pettyfer's acting skills. Pettyfer is, quite simply, dull. He has no charisma and no idea how to create a character. All he has going for him is his good looks, which is to say little at all. With this and I Am Number Four, Pettyfer is already responsible for two of the worst movies of the year. If he keeps this pace up, he’ll end up overtaking my entire “worst of” list.

In one of the most unfunny, unromantic, gag inducing films I’ve seen in a long while (that includes explanatory music with lyrics detailing exactly what has been going on up to that point), there is one shining light: Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Kyle’s blind tutor. Among the scoffs and jeers, he manages to deliver a few legitimately funny lines, which proves once and for all that no matter what movie he is in or what character he is playing, Neil Patrick Harris is awesome.

Of course, finding the positives in Beastly is like digging through mounds of manure to find a twenty dollar bill. The few moments of pleasantries don’t make up for the surrounding crap you have to sift through to find it.

Beastly receives 0.5/5