Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Muppets are Back and It’s About Time!

Jason Segel, Amy Adams and friends.
Some people feel that the “golden age” of the Muppets was over when creator Jim Henson passed away in 1990. Others were willing to give up on the furry friends after the atrocious made-for-TV movie, The Muppets Wizard of Oz, in 2005. And then their next big gig, Muppets TV in 2006 was short-lived. For the most part, the gang pretty much stayed dormant the last few years popping up on You Tube with parodies of rock songs. But in the last few weeks, the cuddly crew have come back with a vengeance showing up on everything from Dancing with the Stars to Saturday Night Live

The Disney Company is putting everything they have in the simply named movie, The Muppets, in hopes of a grand revival. Some are still skeptical. This is director James Bobin’s first feature film and the script was co-written by Jason Segel, known for more raunchy fare. Even Frank Oz, the voice Miss Piggy and Ozzie Bear, is rumored to want nothing to do with the latest venture and refused to voice the characters in the new film. To all the haters out were wrong.

Instead of trying to make the Muppets “more relevant,” Disney focused on the characters and a good story, albeit a simple one. It’s sweet. It’s funny. The music is catchy. The characters are they way you remember them and there’s nothing in it that you’ll have to cover your kids’ eyes for.

In addition to writing the script, Jason Segel plays Gary who is the twin brother of Walter, a Muppet. Gary has been dating Mary (Amy Adams, another perfect choice) for 10 years and the two have decided to visit Los Angeles for a romantic adventure. Since L.A. is the home of Muppet Studios, Gary convinces Mary to take Walter along. When they get to the studios, it is apparent that it is run down, but Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) has bought the property to turn it into a Muppet museum. This sounds like good news, but Walter finds out the Tex actually wants to tear down the building and drill for oil instead. Gary, Mary and Walter find Kermit and fill him in on the details and plan to raise the money to buy the land back. And how is this gang of misfits able to do that? By putting on a show of course.

It is not only a great film, it is also a great introduction to the franchise to those who have not grown up with the characters. Kids will love the crazy antics and parents will appreciate the “Airplane/Police Squad” humor. It’s nostalgic and yet fresh. It’s a simple story of friendship and love maybe told in a more compelling way than many family films. It also features a big bunch of cameos from stars like Jack Black, Mickey Rooney, Zach Galifianakis and more, so what is not to love?

The icing on the cake is that The Muppets is preceded by a brand new Toy Story short.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Once Upon a Time is Terribly Addicting

One of this fall’s TV season standouts is ABC’s Once Upon a Time. After only two episodes, the show was rewarded with a full season order and with good reason too.
Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the brains behind the fabled series were also behind another little show, Lost, also on ABC. In a live telecast presented on Facebook last month, the two compared the two series stating that Lost was about redemption and Once is about hope.

Ginnifer Goodwin is Snow White
"For us, that’s what a fairytale is. It’s that ability to think your life will get better,” says Kitsis. “It’s why you buy a lottery ticket—because if you win you get to tell your boss that you’re quitting and you get to move to Paris or wherever and be who you always wanted to be. And that’s Cinderella, right? One day she’s sweeping up and the next she’s going to the ball. Adam and I just wanted to write about something hopeful that for one hour a week allows one to put everything aside and have that feeling that your dreams just may come true."

Lana Parrilla is the Evil Queen
Like Lost, Once spends about half of each episode with flashbacks. In this case, the flashbacks are of fairy tale characters in their settings that we are familiar with except that all of them know each other. For instance, Snow White and Cinderella are friends. The premise of the show is this: At the wedding of Snow White to Prince Charming (Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas), the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) surprises the couple with a curse that will ruin all of the character’s happy endings. This is done by sending all of them to live in the modern world, in a small town called Storybrooke with no memory of their former selves. Here, the queen serves as the town’s mayor. The link between the two worlds is Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), who is apparently Snow White’s daughter. She escaped the curse right after she was born. As a teenager, Emma became pregnant and gave her son, Henry (Jared Gilmore), up for adoption. Ten years later, Henry has found Emma in the “real” world and brought her to Storybrooke to help break the curse.

Robert Carlyle is Rumplestiltskin
The show is hard to describe, but terribly addicting. Even though there is an ongoing story, each episode is its own story as well. Each show leaves you satisfied and yet wanting more. The cast does an incredible job playing their characters. Robert Carlyle is an incredibly creepy, Rumplestiltskin, Parrilla is perfectly evil as the queen, and Goodwin couldn’t be any more innocent than Snow White herself.

Josh Dallas is Prince Charming
For those sensitive to themes of magic and witchcraft, it is worth nothing that every time a character chooses magic, they seem to get in trouble. In the recent episode, “The Price of Gold,” Rumplestiltskin says that every contract made with magic comes with a price – a price that is greater than they were expecting. (Side note: Read the fine print!)

Jared Gilmore and Jennifer Morrison
as Henry and Emma Swan
Once Upon a Time is a show that the whole family can enjoy and can lead to some interesting discussions. It is sort of this generation’s Wonderful World of Disney. There is no gray area – the “good guys” are good and the “bad guys” are bad. The stories are simple and yet complex. There is no “agenda” to the show – just good story telling.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Too Soon for Christmas Music?

Last week Tenth Avenue North released a new video featuring the band playing their version of "Deck the Halls." It’s an elaborate video, reminiscent of a 1960's Christmas special that was shot in just one take! Because of this news, it seems like the perfect time to announce some of the new albums available this year. For those who love their Christmas music, you’ll be happy to know that these albums are ready and waiting for you to pick them up:

Wow Christmas 2011
For WOW Christmas 2011 is the third installment in the WOW Christmas series. It’s perfect for those who like a LOT of variety. The two CD set includes 32 songs including the Tenth Avenue North’s “Deck the Halls.” It also features other favorites including Casting Crowns (“Joy to the World”), Steven Curtis Chapman, (“O Little Town of Bethlehem”), Chris Tomlin (“Emmanuel”), Mandisa (“Angels We Have Heard On High”), Newboys (“Jingle Bell Rock”), Amy Grant (“I Need a Silent Night”) and many more.

Toby Mac: Christmas in Diverse City
Christmas in DiverseCity is Toby Mac’s first Christmas album (Yes - Toby Mac!) It showcases Mr. Mac and his band and special pairings with Owl City (“The First Noel”), Jamie Grace (“Mary’s Boy Child”), Father of the Fatherless (“This Christmas”), and Gabe Real & Liquid (“Carol of the Kings”). The album includes last year’s single track hit “Christmas This Year” with Leigh Nash and seven track devoted to the band’s individual efforts.

Hawk Nelson: Christmas
Hawk Nelson promises a rousing Christmas collection from the Canadian punk-pop favorite. Hopefully it will be more exciting than the title. Hawk Nelson Christmas features the group's unique takes on “Silent Night,” “The Holly and The Ivy," "The Wassail Song," “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” “Joy to the World,” “I Saw Three Ships,” and “Silent Night.”

David Crowder Band: Oh For Joy
You've never heard these Christmas classics sung like this! Known for their creativity and originality, the David Crowder Band reinvents old favorites in their fresh interpretations of "Joy to the World"; "Go Tell It on the Mountain"; "Angels We Have Heard on High"; "O Holy Night"; "Christmas Sarajevo"; "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"; "The First Noel"; and "Silent Night." The album is said to feature all of DCB’s signature stylings with a little more - mixing elements of pop, rock, acoustic, and bluegrass.

Matthew West: Come On Christmas
Singer/songwriter Matthew West, joined by friends Amy Grant, Vince Gill, and Mandisa, shares his own heart on this Christmas album of original pieces and traditional favorites. Includes "One Last Christmas," "Give This Christmas Away," "Christmas Makes Me Cry," and the title track; plus "Silent Night," "Away in a Manger," "Jingle Bells," and more.

Kathy Troccoli: Christmas Songs
Celebrating 29 years of music, Kathy releases a more quiet, heartfelt holiday album of both classic and contemporary favorites including "Welcome to Our World," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Christmas Waltz," "Breath of Heaven," "O Holy Night," "Christmas Time Is Here," "Home for the Holidays," "My Favorite Things," "Grown-up Christmas Wish List," and more.

FHF: One Silent Night
Best-selling pop group FFH will also usher in the holiday with their first Christmas album. One Silent Night, is a mix of original songs and Christmas classics that reportedly has been four years in the making. Songs include “Winter Wonderland,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and “Jingle Bell Rock” among others.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tower Heist is a Robin Hood in New York Comedy

The less you know about the new crime comedy, Tower Heist, the better you’ll enjoy it. Like so many other movie trailers, the Heist trailer gives too much of the plot away. I got a chance to see this movie “blind” and really enjoyed it. Even though the trailer is posted with this review, if you plan to see the movie, you may want to skip the preview.
Headed by an all-star cast, Tower Heist is a modern day Robin Hood story that takes place in New York during the Thanksgiving weekend. Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) and his coworkers at an exclusive apartment building find that they have lost their pensions in the Ponzi scheme of a Wall Street businessman who lives in the tower. In a fit of anger, Josh loses his job and the jobs of his friends, Charlie (Casey Affleck) and Dev'reaux (Michael Peña). To make matters worse, it was Josh’s fault that all the employees have no pension to retire on. The only way for him to make things right, is to break into his old workplace and find where the thief hid their money.

This rag tag group of merry men includes Charlie, who’s wife is eight months pregnant, Dev’reaux, who has only been on the job for a couple of days, Mr. Fitzhugh (a weary-looking Matthew Broderick), a former high-paid wall street worker now an apartment squatter and Slide (Eddie Murphy), the only real criminal of the bunch. Those who have grown tired of Murphy’s family-friendly roles, will be glad to see the “old” Eddie back again. But then again, THAT Eddie comes with a potty mouth. A brunette Téa Leoni (almost didn’t recognize her), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Alan Alda and Judd Hirsch come along for the ride. In fact, even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is virtually a character.

Heist is rated PG-13, but director Brett Ratner took full advantage of every swear word and crude expression he could get away with It’s a real shame as it doesn’t add a thing to the movie’s humor. In fact, this isn’t the funniest movie of the year but has a very satisfying story line with heart. In short, Josh is motivated by and risks everything for his friends. Heist is sort of a “fish out of water” and “stick it to the man” story with just a sprinkling of a holiday theme.
Other than the crude language, I didn’t find Heist to be an attack of a my conservative values, but it was annoying. That alone may keep you from letting your teenager see the film. If you are sensitive to rude language, then you might want to wait for an “edited for television” version. It’s silly, but in a clever way - similar in tone to the fairly unknown and under-appreciated The North Avenue Irregulars of 1979. It too is about regular working class folk having to work undercover to catch the bad guys.