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“The Muppets”
a review by Darby O’Gill

There are a few things that I like to think of as the building blocks of my childhood; The Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, The Three Stooges, and The Little Rascals all played their part, but the one to play the biggest role had to be the Muppets! Allow me to better illustrate my life-long devotion to Jim Henson’s Muppets, if you will. My first soundtrack ever was The Muppet Movie, wait for it… on 8-track. Yes, I know I’m old. It was quickly followed by The Great Muppet Caper, also on 8-track. One of the fondest, and most vivid memories I have from my childhood, is the joy and excitement I would get at 7:30pm, once a week as the drum-roll and trumpets would sound over the rotating ITC Entertainment logo. That image and sound is forever etched into my brain. I remember my cousin taking me to see The Muppet Movie in the theater, just the two of us, because she had just gotten her driver’s license and she could. And when I got married, and my mother requested Kermit’s Rainbow Connection as our mother/son dance, I couldn’t have been more touched. As you can tell, the Muppets have played a huge role in my life, and to say the news of a new Muppet movie, back in the hands of Disney no less, made me nervous, would be a huge understatement.

In The Muppets, two brothers, Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), grow-up in a small town called Smalltown; only Gary is a real boy and Walter is, well a Muppet. There’s not really a lot of explanation for it, so I’m just going to move on. Walter naturally feels out of place in Smalltown, but that all changes after he sees his first episode of The Muppet Show! So, when Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) plan a romantic get away to Hollywood, it’s only natural that they invite Walter along to take a tour of the Muppet studios. But when they get there, the studio and theatre are in ruins. The Muppets are all but forgotten, as all that seems to remain is a sad little tour. It’s on the tour that Walter overhears an oil tycoon’s, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), plan to buy the land and drill for oil. Walter seeks out Kermit the Frog to help him bring the Muppets back together again, and hopefully save the studio in time!

I really wanted to love this movie. I went in with high hopes and wary expectations, but ended up coming out with the same mixed emotions. I really disliked the first half of the film. The thing that makes a good Muppet movie is that the story is being told around the Muppets and their interaction with the people in the real world. The first part of this movie deals with the people and not the Muppets. I understand that that’s just how the filmmakers chose to tell the story, but I just didn’t like it. I think it’s also why The Muppets Take Manhattan is my least favorite of the original movies. Also, the musical numbers are forced and way too over the top. One of the nicest things in the first two movies is the way the music just flows with the story, and sadly that doesn’t happen here. This brings us to the second half of the movie, where the Muppets regroup and hold a last-minute telethon to help save the studio. Now this is the movie I wanted to see! The eye to detail, and love and care that went into bringing The Muppet Show back to life is heart-warming. I fell in love with the second half of this movie! I know that Muppet co-creator Frank Oz walked away from this project, because he disagreed with the way some of the characters were being handled, and that the Muppets were never about money. I agree with him, but I’m also guessing that he was referring to the earlier rendition of the script, which was quickly panned by many of those that got to read it. In the final version of the film, I don’t really have a problem with it. The Muppets aren’t really raising money for themselves, as much as they’re doing it to help save their studio. Some people are also complaining that Kermit is depicted as a Hollywood mogul in the movie, but I think they forget that he was in fact the executive producer of The Muppet Show. He ran the show from his little table just off stage, and was in charge of all the guests. I think the movie nailed the spirit of the old show, and hopefully gets a whole new generation to watch them now on DVD. In closing, there were just two things I would have liked to have seen: 1) I would have loved it if they had found a Fraggle hole in the basement of the studio, and 2) If the marketing people would have gotten McDonald’s to release a new set of Muppet drinking glasses, that would have been AMAZING!

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“The Town”
a review by Darby O’Gill

It looks like Oscar season is officially upon us, and Ben Affleck is more than ready to prove that Gone Baby Gone wasn’t just a one time fluke. With The Town, he not only proves his point, but also manages to somehow make an even better movie at the same time, which is an impressive feat since he added actor to his already long list of duties on this film. I will admit that I’m not the biggest Ben Affleck fan. And, I have made my fair share of jokes about him writing, or lack there of on Good Will Hunting. But, I must say he’s proving himself to be one heck of a director. Gone Baby Gone was a nice simple story with some outstanding performances, but The Town is stepping it up in more ways than one. Once again set in the gritty real world of a Boston borough, bank robber Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), a second generation criminal, finds himself capturing a glimpse at an honest life; ironically thanks to the help of his last victim. In an uncharacteristic move, Doug’s team takes a young bank manager, played by Rebecca Hall, hostage, only to release her moments after their getaway. It’s not until later that they find out that she’s a local, living in their neighborhood, and might just possibly be able to identify them after the fact. The hot tempered and violent member of the group, brilliantly played by Jeremy Renner, would like to just simply kill her. But, Doug wants to see if she knows anything first, and puts himself in a position to befriend her. As you can guess this is where things get complicated. Unlike Gone Baby Gone, the story this time around is much more multi-layered. There are multiple relationships being explored here, as well as some fantastic action sequences, which is an impressive addition to Affleck’s directing résumé. The movie also has an outstanding performance from Blake Lively, as a drugged out ex-girlfriend of Doug’s. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Oscar nomination come her way for this role. I wasn’t familiar with her work on Gossip Girl, but when I found out that that was her in this movie, I was blown away. Some might say it’s a little heavy handed, but I think Affleck has a real knack for getting these gritty performances from his actors. To top the whole thing off, we also get one hell of a finale, as Doug and his crew attempt to pull off one last job, and steal from the cathedral of Boston itself, Fenway Park. I’ve got to tell ya, I grew up just outside of Boston, and have been to a many a game in that beloved park, and this was definitely a highlight for me. To see a heist movie sequence shot in the actual substructure of Fenway was amazing! I can only imagine that it was a dream come true for Affleck to shoot as well. I really can’t wait to see the behind the scenes footage of that shoot, on the DVD. I never thought I’d be saying this… But, Ben Affleck is proving to be one hell of a director.

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