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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 Hangover Part II”
a review by Darby O’Gill

Bangkok can keep them! I know, I’m just as shocked as you. It’s been almost two years since a little movie called The Hangover beat the odds and became one of the highest grossing comedies of all time. But, lightning doesn’t always strike twice, and as much as I loved the first one… man, did I love that first movie! Sadly, the same can’t be said for this one. Spoiler alert! If you saw the first movie, guess what? You’ve also already seen The Hangover Part II! Why, you ask? Because it’s the exact same movie! Every plot point, every joke, and every setup… Only this time they’re in Bangkok and have a monkey instead of a baby. I didn’t really have high hopes when I heard they were making a sequel. I mean the first one was just so good that I almost didn’t want them to mess with it. And to be honest, the characters are so much fun that I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to see them again. The good news: we get to see them again! The bad news: it’s a complete rip-off of the first movie! How does that happen?! I mean, sure, when something is a big hit like that, of course people are instantly going to copy it. For example, just this year on Smallville they had an episode that was blatant rip-off of The Hangover. And it was terrible! But the one person who should never ever make an unoriginal copy of that movie is Todd Phillips! How does that even happen?! I almost couldn’t believe my eyes! For the first half hour, I thought it was a joke. I wanted to stand up at the screening and say, “Good one, Todd. Now play the real movie.” Only this was the real movie! Let’s see if you can spot the all comparisons in the breakdown.

In The Hangover Part II, Stu (Ed Helms) is preparing for his wedding. That’s right another wedding! Stu tells Phil (Bradley Copper) and Doug (Justin Bartha) that he doesn’t want a bachelor party in hopes of avoiding the same mistakes that almost ruined Doug’s wedding. Phil quickly calls bullshit, and demands a proper sendoff. So when they get to Thailand… oh, wait. I forgot about Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Of course, Stu has no desire to invite the man that roofied him to his wedding, but Tracy (Sasha Barresse), Doug and Phil somehow convince him, and the Wolfpack is back! A new addition to the group is Stu’s brother-in-law to be, Teddy (Mason Lee), a medical student and teenage musical prodigy. Then guess what? They wake-up and can’t remember what happened? Yes! Lose a member of the group? Yes! Find a baby? No, a chain-smoking monkey! Do they find a tiger that belongs to a former heavyweight champion? No, but how about a monk that belongs to a monastery?! I mean, come on! I really hope they didn’t actually pay someone to write this! Oh wait, they paid three people to write this. That had to be the easiest paycheck ever! I know that I’m making light of it, but it is kind of heartbreaking. I mean, the first movie was just so amazing, and really managed to change the way Hollywood studios looked at scripts. I don’t think the sequel had to be better than the original, I just think it had to be different. They could have at least tried. That’s not to say it’s not funny. Well, parts of it anyway. Some of the jokes are great, and yes the “don’t you remember last time” stuff is amusing to a degree, but do we really need a Chris Farley Show version of the first movie? I can’t even say it’s worth checking out, which is not something I thought I’d be saying a year ago.

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“Due Date”
a review by Darby O’Gill

Okay, let’s just get the obvious out of the way here first. Due Date is a blatant rip-off of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. There, I’ve said it. I don’t think it’s that much of a secret. I mean anyone who has seen Planes, Trains, and Automobiles could tell you that, just from seeing the trailer. And I must admit, the first time I saw Due Date, that fact weighed deeply in my enjoyment of the movie. Yes, it’s true that there are plenty of movies out there, that are just like every other movie you’ve ever seen. And yes, it is also true that every idea out there has been done like a million times before, and because of that I found myself enjoying Due Date a whole lot more the second time around. I also found myself quoting the movie every now and again, which to me are the signs of a good movie.

In Due Date, Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is traveling home to Los Angeles, where his pregnant wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) is about to give birth to the couple’s first child. Like all fathers-to-be, Peter is rather high strung… Actually, it seems like he’s always high strung. But, that gets taken to a whole new level, when thespian Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) enters the picture. Due to a slight misunderstanding, both Peter and Ethan are removed from the fight to LA, and are placed on a “No Fly” list by the TSA. To top the whole thing off, Peter’s wallet is still on the plane, and he quickly finds himself stranded with no cash. The end. No! This is a road trip movie! Of course Ethan rents a car, and the annoying, over confident, human tornado of disaster that is Ethan Tremblay offers Peter a lift to Los Angeles.

Here’s the thing, Galifianakis is funny, but his character is way too close to the character he played in Todd Phillips‘ other big hit The Hangover. To be brutally honest, this could have been The Hangover 1.5: Alan’s Big Adventure. It’s not enough to ruin the movie, but it does enter you mind from time to time. Robert Downey Jr. on the other hand, plays a great asshole. It’s a nice throw back to his Weird Science days. The pairing of these two actors is great. I just wish the story and characters could have been a little bit more original. In Todd Phillips’ defense, The Hangover is a hard movie to follow, and Due Date might not be as great, but there’s a lot to be enjoyed here. Phillips gets an amazing performance out of Juliette Lewis as a drug dealer, much like he did with Heather Graham in The Hangover. Like I said earlier, I’ve seen this movie twice now, and I definitely enjoyed it more the second time around. There are a lot of fun moments, some really good laughs, and overall Due Date is a decent night at the movies.

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“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”
a review by Darby O’Gill

It’s also kind of a good movie. Based on Ned Striking’s young-adult novel of the same name, It’s Kind of a Funny Story follows the journey of 16-year-old Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) as he finds the adolescent pressures of high school life becoming too much to bare. But, when thoughts of suicide suddenly become more than just thoughts, Craig seeks help at a hospital on an early Sunday morning. One of the really nice things about this movie is its sense of realism… at times. One of which is Craig’s teenage sense of reason. He knows that he needs to be admitted in order to be helped, and doesn’t want to just be turned away. But, he also thinks he’ll just be given something, and back at school by Monday. Of course by the time Craig realizes that being committed to a psych ward is a little bit more complicated than that, it’s too little too late. And with the youth hall being renovated, the reality of having to stay in the adult psychiatric ward, also quickly become a reality for young Craig. Sure, the movie is just one step above an After School Special, but I don’t think this was meant to be an art house masterpiece. I think it was meant to speak to young people, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. With teen suicides unfortunately on the upswing, I think this movie is actually in the perfect position to possibly help some kids. The story doesn’t deal with bullying or gay issues, but this truthful look at teenage anxiety, could very well reach some of those at risk kids. There are some really funny moments in the film, as well as heartfelt ones, but over all it’s a little too sugar coated to leave its mark on cinema history. Not to mention some nicely animated cityscape illustrations, that would make Wesley Willis proud. The cast gives an outstanding performance, including Zack Galifianakis, who also gives a great performance as Bobby, a fellow patient. He’s his normal funny self, but there is a more tender, and deep side to this character that manages to emerge a little more so than his normal awkwardly goofy funny man character. For lack of a better comparison It’s Kind of a Funny Story is an After School Special version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Mostly because it’s told from the patient’s perspective, but also because it shows that it’s the relationships and interaction of the patients that is what ultimately helps them the most in the end.

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“Dinner for Schmucks”
a review by Darby O’Gill

I’ve got to say that this is a good movie… Oh, wait. What I meant to say is that Dinner for Schmucks would be a good movie if it was still 1993, but sadly its 2010, and this movie is just plain stupid now. I think director Jay Roach’s sense of humor is stuck in the 90’s, and it’s a shame because I was a fan of his back in the day. Of course that was back during the actual 90’s. I don’t want you to think I’m being a snob. I still enjoy sophomoric comedies, but that doesn’t mean I like them to be mindless.

In Dinner for Schmucks, Tim (Paul Rudd) is finally getting that big promotion. The only downside is his boss likes to hold these special dinners where his employees have to find the biggest idiots they can and bring them to dinner. Of course the idiots are told it’s a dinner for winners, and that they are there to showcase their unique talents. At first Tim is reluctant to participate, but when he literally runs into the prefect idiot on the street, he quickly finds out that getting to the dinner is going to be a challenge in itself. Barry (Steve Carell) is an IRS employee that moonlights as a taxidermist, and uses his talents on dead field mice to create dioramas that are re-creations of famous works of art. He is also recently separated from his wife, who was cheating on him with one of his fellow IRS workers. Therman (Zack Galifianakis), an equally eccentric character, has the ability to control the minds of others. You don’t have to be a psychic to know that Therman will also be attending the “Dinner for Extraordinary People.”

Here’s the thing. Not only is Dinner for Schmucks a one trick pony, but it also continues the unfortunate trend that is bad Steve Carell movies, which is mind boggling in itself, because I like Steve Carell. But, for some reason his movies never seem to work for me. There are of course the exceptions like Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin, but sadly there seems to be more Evan Almighty’s out there than the former. Even Paul Rudd can’t save this one. Both Rudd and Carell give strong performances, but at the end of the day it just comes down to a bad script. This movie is so one dimensional that I would gladly wear 3D glasses while watching it, if I thought it would help. It’s also painfully predicable. I wasn’t expecting this movie to be on the same level as Inception, but come on! At least try and hold my interest for an hour and a half. Unfortunately, the only people that are going to enjoy this dinner are the schmucks themselves.

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