Friday, March 21, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted (PG, 107 Minutes)

3 Stars

The biggest question I have been asked since seeing the new Muppet film, “Muppets Most Wanted,” is how it compares to the first one.  Which in itself is an interesting question since this is the 8th feature film the Muppets have done.  Of course the last one, “The Muppets,” was considered a huge success.  It was very entertaining and had some very funny moments.
So is this one just as good?  Yes and no.

This new film picks up right from the end of the last film.  In fact it starts from the closing shot of the last film as the actors, dancers and extras clear the set.  The Muppets gather together and realize they can take their new show out on the road.  Instantly it seems a man appears named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais).  His last name is pronounced bad – ghee, its French.  He is hoping the Muppets will hire him as their manager who will work alongside Kermit to make sure the tour is a success.  
Unknown to the group Dominic is working with the world’s most dangerous frog, Constantine, who has escaped from Gulag 388 in Siberia.  He looks familiar except for one mole above his lip.  After he escapes he corners Kermit and slaps a mole on him so they look exactly alike.  Kermit is then arrested and put into the Gulag.  Constantine schedules the tour dates for the groups into theaters next to museums and banks that he and Constantine are breaking into.  Soon Interpol is on the case and they find the connection.  

There are many cameos and celebrity guests in this film that add to the fun.  Tina Fey is funny as the warden of the Gulag.  Plus somewhat hidden in the mix of prisoners is Ray Liotta who does musicals numbers in the Gulag.  The audition scenes are very comical.  They even have Usher playing an usher, kind of corny but done well.  Miss Piggy even has a fairy godmother who sings with her by the name of Celine Dion.

There are many other cameos that are funny, but this film does not quite measure up to “The Muppets.”  Yes it does have some very funny moments, but the magic of the last film does not make an appearance in this one.  I did not feel as drawn in to this story as I did when Jason Segel and Amy Adams were fighting for the Muppets to keep their theater.  It may be the bad guy is not quite as mean, but it is not quite the same.

This does not mean that this film is not a good value for your family entertainment dollar though.  My kids fully enjoyed the film and we all laughed a lot, some more than others.  Another bright spot is the Pixar short at the beginning of the film.  It is a Monster U story called “Party Central.”  It is very funny.  This is a good film for the family, but do you expect anything else from the Muppets?

"Muppets Most Wanted": 3 points for parents

Violence – A man breaks out of prison and attacks guards.  He uses explosives to get out.  Some slap stick humor.  A character gets thrown back and forth by another.  Explosives are used to break into buildings. 
 Language – No use of profanity.  Some lying and deception by bad guys.
Nudity – Some men are seen in their underwear, long underwear.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Need for Speed

Need for Speed - PG-13 (130 mins)

1.5 Stars

So it seems that as long as you have fast cars and some unbelievable stunts you can make a film.  It doesn’t matter if you have a good story as long as you have the flashy stuff.  At least that’s what it was like watching “Need for Speed.”  

Tobey Marshall is running his dad’s garage after he buried his father.  The shop is in financial trouble but that doesn’t stop him from putting together a car that races the streets of Mt. Kisko, NY.  He of course is the best thing in town and his friends have no problem telling him such.  He does have an advantage with a plane in the air watching for cops and traffic that would stop the racing.

The town folk are not the only ones taking notice though.  Dino Brewster a home town boy who has moved on to racing in the pros asks Tobey to finish building a famous car for a big payoff.  Plus a racing fanatic with an internet show named Monarch, wants to bring him to his invitation only private race, something similar to the Gumball Rally but a serious race.  No really a serious race.
Instead Dino challenges Tobey to his own private race enticing him with all of the money from the sale of the car Tobey built.  Tobey’s friend Pete gets into the race as well but doesn’t make it out.  Tobey goes to prison for street racing and Grand Theft Auto while Dino has quickly found, or paid for an alibi.

Despite the bad story line there are some stunts during the races that are not likely to happen unless all drivers involved know what is going on.  There are jumps and some really impossible timing in driving across the country.   Plus the law enforcement in the story really does not seem to want to catch this guy who is breaking the law.  Nobody seems to see him as he travels from New York to San Francisco.  Except one trooper who falls prey to a car prank we have seen many times in film. 

All of this though, I have been told, is just like the video game “Need for Speed” which the film is based on.  Unfortunately I did not have a controller to change the way the movie went.  If I did, it would have turned out differently I think.

‘Need for Speed’: 3 points for parents

•Driving – Film is based on a racing video game.  Reckless street racing that endangers other vehicles on the road.  A man dies in a violent fiery race crash.  Non racing cars crash and catch fire.  Disregard for law enforcement while racing.  Some officers crash due to racers moves. 

•Language – Some profanity is used.  Male genitalia are mentioned as a measure of toughness.  Cars are said to compensate for other parts of life. 

•Nudity – A man strips while at work.  He kisses a woman and his backside is shown twice.  He walks out to a car from work. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Mr. Peabody & Sherman – PG (92 Mins)

3 Stars

Having been a big fan of the original Peabody and Sherman that was a part of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, I was very skeptical of the film version.  The cartoon show was great in small doses of course the segments were part of a bigger show so that was the nature of it.  I was afraid a full length feature would be too much and the story would get lost.

Fortunately, the filmmakers seemed to take my fears into account.  They used the time travel in this film to make what seemed like short episodes but then tied them together with a back story.  All of the bad puns were there, as well as the comedy of the old version.  At the same time there is a little history lesson as you learn about historical generalities.  They do take a trip and visit the Trojan horse but I doubt the soldiers inside were as ridiculous as the ones in the film.

If you don’t know the back story Mr. Peabody is a dog.  He is one of the smartest beings that have ever lived on the earth.  So smart he has excelled in politics, science, athletics and more.  His most advanced invention is the WABAC machine.  He invented it after adopting a son.  If a human can adopt a dog why can’t a dog adopt a human?

Peabody and his son Sherman take trips back in time to learn about history and start Sherman off right on his education.  Sherman’s knowledge soon lands him in trouble on his first day of school as he threatens the academic ability of another student, Penny.  Penny bullies Sherman and they end up fighting and Penny gets bit.  Just more proof that Sherman, like Penny says, is a dog.  Mr. Peabody invites Penny’s parents over to smooth things out before the social worker comes over to investigate whether or not Mr. Peabody should be allowed to keep Sherman. 

This homage to the original is done in the right way so it is entertaining for the whole family with fun and jokes for everyone.  

‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’: 3 points for parents  

  • Violence - Cartoon violence with pratfalls and slapstick.  One character is placed in a guillotine.  Many chase scenes with the possibility of danger at the end.  Soldiers are fighting in streets of a city.  A man has a taser used on him twice.  A crude drawing of a person being disemboweled is shown.  Two characters are bitten.
  • Language/Humor - No foul language is used.  There are many puns used as well as some bodily function humor, including animal references.  There is one line that could be said to be suggestive but children will not get it.  
  •  Alcohol:  One scene of adults preparing and drinking a beverage.