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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 Adjustment Bureau”
a review by Darby O’Gill

Fate is a tricky thing. Some would say that you’re in control of the outcome of your own life, and others would say it is all just part of the master plan. And, both might just be right; well that’s to say if there is any truth to the new Matt Damon film, The Adjustment Bureau. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau brings a Hitchcockian take to Dick’s usual “what if” theories. I’m a big fan of his work including: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly to name just a few. But what is really great about writer/director George Nolfi’s take on “The Adjustment Team,” is his non-Hollywood approach to the material. Most filmmakers would want the agents of the Adjustment Bureau to be these gun toting, bad-ass “do as we say or we’ll end you” type of characters, but Nolfi opted to go the exact opposite direction with his bureau. They do impose authority, but at the same time they also have this sense of the common man, even though they are clearly implied as not being human. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just leave it at that. But, it’s Nolfi’s realistic look at this sci-fi, if not supernatural world, that really makes this movie something you might not expect.

In The Adjustment Bureau, Matt Damon plays David Norris an up-and-coming politician on the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. But, when his first campaign for the Senate seat fails, the wind seems to be taken out of David’s sails and it could mean the end of his political career. That’s where fate needs to step in, or I should say the Adjustment Bureau? You see, David Norris has a much bigger role to play in the grand scheme of things, which is why the bureau has been watching him for quite some time so that his life can continue to go according to the master plan. In order to insure that David stays on track, the bureau sets up a chance meeting for him in a men’s room with a contemporary dancer named Elise, played by Emily Blunt. They hope that Elise’s free spirit will inspire David to give a speech that will set his political path back on track. Now, I’ve heard a lot of critics and people talking about this film, and it amazes me just how many people have no real idea of the reasoning behind the conflict in this movie. Most people think that David gets into trouble with the bureau because he manages to meet Elise again on a city bus. But, the real reason is that he makes it to his office 10 minutes earlier than he was supposed to, and sees the bureau when he shouldn’t have. The Elise thing is just a coincidence, one that later is revealed to be a much bigger problem, and yes ultimately becomes the new conflict. But this whole thing starts because of solar panels, not Elise.

I really liked The Adjustment Bureau! It was really well done. Now, I got to see a test screening for The Adjustment Bureau last year, and even though I really liked it, the ending kind of knocked the rating down a bit for me. But, I’m very glad to report that that ending is no longer in the film. (If you would like to know the alternate ending, I’ll be posting it in the comment section.) There are a few holes here and there when it comes to the inner working of the bureau, but they can easily be forgiven. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have amazing chemistry together and really carry the supernatural premise of this movie into a romantic thriller. As I mentioned before, the personality and attitude of the bureau agents was great, I think having it be just like any other job to them was a brilliant move. I like that even when they call in the heavy hitter Thompson, played by General Zod himself Terence Stamp, he’s still a normal Joe. Sure he’s a little bit more cold-hearted than the others, but at no point does he threaten or use violence to get the job done. He just doesn’t sugarcoat it for David. There need to be more movies like this! The more I think about this move the more I like. It might be a bit early, but I think it’s safe to say The Adjustment Bureau will be in the running for a few Banshees next year.

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“The Wolfman”
a review by Darby O’Gill

Well, it’s only February and I think we already have a front runner for next year’s Death Coach Award. The Wolfman is a remake of the 1941, Lon Chaey Jr. original classic The Wolf Man, only this version will never be able to stand the test of time. Universal Studios keeps trying to remake their classic monster films with all the new technology of modern filmmaking, but they never seem to be able to get it quite right. I think their biggest mistake is trying to mix this grand Jayne Austin type of setting, with a classic horror story. They think it highlights the romantic undertones of the monster movie’s original classic story, but all it really does is set-up the movie for failure. I understand that these films are based on classic literature, but they’re also the original horror films, and should be treated as such. Just once, I would love to see how one of these classic monster movies would look if they had used a Friday the 13th approach to the filmmaking. I wouldn’t want them to be hokey. I just would like to see a monster movie try and be scary for once. You don’t have to lose the romance or Victorian setting, just focus more on the monster. The original movies were scary for their time. And in this day and age, it does take more to scare us, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to make one of these classic tales scary. The studios should save their money, by not casting Oscar Award winning actors, or not overly focusing on the film’s cinematography, and just try to make a scary movie that will do its predecessor proud for once. I want to see someone like Rob Zombie remake one of these films. Hollywood can’t seem to wait to remake the modern classic horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, or the Friday the 13th franchisees, and those usually turnout to be really good remakes. But for some reason, when it comes to the true classics, it never seems to cross their minds to have someone like John Carpenter remake The Wolf Man. Why is that?

Okay, so I guess at this point you can tell I didn’t really enjoy The Wolfman. Actually, I hated it! This movie was so long winded, and pretentious, that it couldn’t even die right. I’m not kidding. There is a death scene in this movie that is so laughable, that if you do go to see this in the theatres, you’ll be truly surrounded by the audience’s laughter during the scene. The other thing that totally drove me crazy was waiting for the Wolfman to start playing basketball, or maybe even try to get a keg of beer. Look, I give the filmmakers credit for not making the Wolfman a giant wolf, and trying to keep the classic Lon Chaney Jr. man-wolf look, but the last time we, as film goers, saw this type of werewolf was when Michael J. Fox was in Teen Wolf. I realize that making this type of werewolf work in this day and age is hard, but that was their job on this film, making it work. And, if they couldn’t make it work, then they shouldn’t make the movie! At no point during this movie, should I be thinking about Michael J. Fox and his keg of beer, but I did. Quite a bit actually, and I’m sorry but that ruins the scariness of this movie right there. That’s not to say that they couldn’t have made it work. Rick Baker did an outstanding job on the make-up of the Wolfman, as always. But, they just didn’t utilize how scary they could make this movie. If the Wolfman had been jumping out of the shadows and mutilating people more, I might have found myself a little bit more immersed in this film. Instead, I just found myself waiting for a big choreographed prom dance at the end of the film. Do yourself a favor, and skip it. Rent Lon Chaney Jr.’s The Wolf Man. Or if you haven’t seen it, and that would be a huge crime, get An American Werewolf in London. Hell, I would even suggest watching one of my all-time favorites, Monster Squad before this one, because this version of the Wolfman definitely has no nards!

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