Muppets Most Wanted

Yay! After some rather dismal movie trips (“a bad day at the movies is still better than a good day at work” – K.S.), I got to take my wife and granddaughter to Muppets Most Wanted.

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted (2014) – Rated PG

Flush with their revival’s success, Kermit the Frog and his friends are approached by Dominic Badguy to go on a world tour. Unknown to them, this is all part of the sinister plan of Constantine, the world’s most evil frog, to become the greatest thief of all time. After making sure that Kermit is jailed as himself, Constantine impersonates him to use the Muppets’ tour as cover for his scheme. While Sam the Eagle and Inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon investigate, the Muppets find their boss seems strangely changed even as Kermit desperately attempts to escape to stop the impostor.

One Line Review: More fun than good but isn’t fun what you are looking for?

Huge credit needs to be given to Jason Segel for reviving this franchise. The Muppets was not perfect but was highly humorous, full of heart, and was the first to feature a human character that mattered. It was the best Muppet movie since the original, The Muppet Movie. After The Muppet Movie, subsequent Muppet outings were increasingly dependent on gimmickry and had less heart.

Obviously a successful relaunch begets a sequel and thus Muppets Most Wanted was born. I hesitate to call Muppets Most Wanted a good movie but it is certainly an enjoyable one, particularly if you have a little one with you.

James Bobin, who directed The Muppets, returns as director as well as co-writing Muppets Most Wanted with Nicholas Stoller (who was also a writer on The Muppets). They clearly have a love for The Muppets. There are nods to earlier Muppet films and several nods to the original television series.

Comedians Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey are the main non-Muppet actors and they handle the comedy well, delivering good lines and pratfalls without taking too much from the Muppets themselves. There are a slew of hilarious cameos with my favorite being Danny Trejo. Look for Tony Bennett, Sean Combs, Ray Liotta, Salma Hayek, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, and a host of others.

Besides focusing on Kermit and Miss Piggy, the script finds ample time to highlight Sam the Eagle, Animal, The Great Gonzo and Walter. Fozzie seemed a little shortchanged.

Muppets Most Wanted is not as good as The Lego Movie but it is a lot of fun. If you go, don’t forget to submit your ticket stubs for Disney Movie Rewards points.

Best part: The Seventh Seal joke

Worst part: The preview scene where Danny Trejo says “wokka-wokka” wasn’t in the movie (unless I missed it when I took the four-year-old to the bathroom).

 

The Iceman Melteth

The Iceman is currently available on instant Netflix

The Iceman

The Iceman (2013) – Rated R

This thriller based on a true story follows Richard Kuklinski, who killed more than 100 people for the mob — and his own pleasure — between 1964 and 1986. Despite his prolific violence, Kuklinski was a devoted husband and father of two daughters.

One Line Review: True life biography skims details and distorts facts – meh.

I wanted to like The Iceman and there is much to like about it. The filmmakers obviously enjoyed using period outfits, hairstyles, and, to a lesser extent, set design. The cast and acting are pretty good.

David Schwimmer does a good job as perpetual screw-up Josh Rosenthal. Michael Shannon is fine as the titular Iceman, Richard Kuklinski, though the role is hardly an acting stretch. Winona Ryder captures the mousy nature of his wife. Chris Evans is unrecognizable as Mr. Freezy, another killer. Ray Liotta, Robert Davi, and James Franco all pop up to varying degrees but each has already played their role many times before.

The problem with The Iceman is that it tries to fit in too many scenarios so they are all thinly sketched out. It’s hard to have any kind of sympathy for any of the characters. Admittedly the movie is trying to cover over a score of years during which Kuklinski supposedly killed over a hundred men. In addition to the many underwritten scenes, director Ariel Vromen throws in many single shots of victims a la a montage, although not strung together.

The ‘hitting the highlights’ approach would work better if Vromen and the screenwriters hadn’t taken so many liberties with the actual story. I understand changing the wife’s name (avoiding being sued by the wife or heirs) and changing Mr. Softee’s name to Mr. Freezy (avoiding lawsuit from ice cream brand) but so many particulars are changed. Obviously with this being the story of Kuklinski, he is given credit for just about all of the murders that take place. The most egregious liberty is that a socipath like Kuklinski loved and treasured his family when in reality, he beat his wife whenever he lost his temper.

The writers even wrap up the movie with an insinuation that a particular person was murdered in prison – certainly a possibility but why after being incarcerated for over 18 years?

Hilarious Mistake: Pause the scene where Kuklinski and Mr. Freezy look at a headline of The Iceman killer. The person killed in the newspaper article is a character that hasn’t died yet (though admittedly is not long for this world).

Killing Them Softly

I go to the movies a lot – usually on some form of FREE ticket since I’m a cheapskate. This past weekend I took my wife to see Killing Them Softly.

Killing Them Softly (2012) – Rated R

“Jackie Cogan is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse. “

“America is not a country, it’s a business “

First, let me say that the trailer to Killing Them Softly is great. It highlights some nice lines of dialogue, gives you a glimpse of some good ideas, and shows a couple action scenes. The only thing bad about the trailer is it presents a deceptive idea of Killing Them Softly.

I’d like to talk about the acting first. Brad Pitt does his normal star turn with a nice delivery, not bad but no range required as the enforcer. I do feel the need to mention that he is only nominally the star here as he doesn’t show up until the second act.

James Gandolfini has a rather morose supporting role as another enforcer. If it were someone else I would say the acting was good but this is just recycling the self-pitying portions of Tony Soprano. Richard Jenkins turns in a nice supporting performance as always.

Ben Mendelsohn (Russell) and Scoot McNairy (Frankie) play two of the robbers as lowlifes and they are very convincing. Ray Liotta turns in a sad sack performance but could have been better. Sam Shepard obviously had his scenes hit the cutting room floor as we only see him for about thirty seconds.

The writing and direction, both by Andrew Dominik, are simply awful. The script is unbelievably misogynistic and there is a particular dialogue exchange that is very difficult to sit through.

Speaking of dialogue exchanges, that is pretty much all you get with Killing Them Softly. The movie is just an endless set of one-on-one dialogue exchanges. Some of them work, most of them do not. The film has a meager running time of an hour and thirty-seven minutes yet it feels over two hours. Much of the dialogue tries desperately to be raunchy and clever a la Tarantino but falls flat when it isn’t being actively offensive.

There are a few minor action sequences. There is an exceptionally brutal (and unnecessary) beating that serves a point but all I could think was that Dominik was trying to outdo the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. My delicate flower of a wife had to cover her ears during this sequence. There is a murder that seems to go on forever because Dominik thinks it is stylish. What starts quite well almost reaches the point of parody by the end. I did like that gunfire actually sounded realistic in the film.

The theme of the film is the economy. The script by itself would have been very heavy-handed in this regard but still not bad. Unfortunately when Dominik the director adapted Dominik the writer’s script, he chose to feature an endless series of voice-overs and news reports featuring George W. Bush and Barack Obama discussing the economy. Some of them even drown out the dialogue.

Avoid this movie.

Cop Land – Robert De Niro week

This week I’d like to celebrate one of our great American actors – Robert De Niro. Netflix has a slew of instant movies featuring De Niro including Cop Land.

Cop Land

WATCH: Cop Land (1997) – Rated R for adult content, brief nudity, graphic language and violence.

“When a local patrolman is implicated in a controversial shooting in a small New Jersey town, put-upon sheriff Freddy Heflin teams up with Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) to investigate a connection between the mob and the NYPD officers who live in the town. Sylvester Stallone delivers an effective dramatic performance in this arresting crime thriller as Freddy. Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta also star.”

“Being right is not a bullet-proof vest Freddy!”

Sylvester Stallone was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Rocky. His role as a down-on-his-luck boxer who gets a shot at the big time was heartwarming. After decades of action stardom, his role here is as a poor schlub, Freddy Heflin, who couldn’t achieve his dream of being a big city cop because of an injury suffered during a heroic rescue.Freddy is now a small cop-town sheriff.

Stallone does a stellar job underplaying his role here. It looks like he put on quite a bit of belly weight for the role. Depression and disappointment have beaten him down but he’s still a good if a bit obtuse man. Next to Rocky, this is probably his best role.

Stallone gets stellar support from a good cast even though it is clearly his show. Ray Liotta plays twitchy very well here. Robert De Niro is authoritative but doesn’t have much to do here as an Internal Affairs investigator. The always wonderful Harvey Keitel is the calm boss trying to keep everything from unraveling. Robert Patrick has a big cheesy mustache and hot temper so you won’t remember that he was the T-1000 terminator.

This is not a great film – there are way too many coincidences. A character whose motto seems to be – “If in doubt, rub them out” would be unlikely to hold the position that he does in this movie. Freddy finally realizes that he can’t trust the cops he has consistently palled around with and then trusts other people because the script tells him to. The painfully obvious voice-over postscript seems like beating a dead horse.

On the other hand there is much to appreciate in the script. There is a tender yet revealing moment between Freddy and Liz (Annabella Sciorra) and then a second one later in the film. Freddy makes a wonderfully human confession about his heroic deed. The climax of the film handles Freddy’s injury quite well.

People Watch: Look for Edie Falco and a serious Janeane Garofalo here in small roles.