By Will Ashton | wa054010@ohiou.edu| @thewillofash
Noah
| Directed by Darren Aronofsky | Rated PG-13
RATING: 3.5/5

noah-posterBetween Son of God, God’s Not Dead, the upcoming Exodus and now Noah, it’s kind of fascinating just how much Christianity has been pushing itself into mainstream cinema of late.

Now, I’m going to keep my own religious views out of this review as much as humanly possible, but I will say that the uprising of Christian films is a somewhat noble but also rather heavy-handed effort by the right wing. I mean, I’m fine with having Christian movies, but so many of them feel phony, filled to the bone with over sentimentality and forced emotional efforts at the audience’s heartstrings.

That said, though, Noah, the latest religious film to come in the theaters, is thankfully not that.

Do I really need to go into a plot synopsis? I feel like everyone, Christian, Catholic or not, knows the story of Noah’s Ark by now. If, by some chance, you don’t know the story, it’s about a guy who must build a giant ark as God plans to flood the world and wipe out humanity as it knows it.

Even in his bigger budget endeavors, Darren Aronofsky has never been one to trend lightly in his films. All of his features feature dark elements in them, even The Wrestler, his most grounded film to date, and while promotional materials for Noah looked like it may not be the case, it is no different. Particularly when the film makes its way into its second and third acts, the film is not afraid to look at the darkness that delved in the Old Testament, and I not only respect Aronofsky for getting away with as much as he does in a PG-13 film, but I think it makes for a better film.

The tale of Noah’s Ark is such an oddly compelling chapter in the Bible mainly because of all the stakes that encompass it. It is about, literally, the death of 99.9% of the world. As a result, there is a ton of dramatic potential to not only study what these characters go through emotionally, but also why God would want to do such a thing and how evil the world has gotten. Thankfully, Aronofsky isn’t afraid to explore these aspects and, thus, when searching at the dark underbelly of this timeless tale, it is able to bring new light into this story.

Which is to say that, when Noah does something well, it does it really well. There are segments of this film that are just brilliantly done, including one in particular about the creation of the world. It not only features some of the most unique artistic choices that I have seen in a big budget blockbuster in some time, but it makes for a compelling example of how Bible films don’t have to be so watered down and safe.

I mean, besides The Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ (I assume, I actually haven’t seen it yet…yeah, yeah, I know), most Christian movies play it as safe as possible. And it’s not hard to see why, as Christians are the most sensitive audiences there are in America. But it is interesting, and deeply refreshing, when a film like Noah comes around to bring some adult integrity and imagination in an adaption.

And I think that is the key word here: adaptation. Not retelling, adaptation. I fear that the primary audiences, at least some of them, are going to reject this movie based solely on the fact that it is not a direct adaptation of the Bible. Which is a shame, because there is a lot that Aronofsky is saying about not just religion, but human nature with this movie. It is often a fascinating and compelling look at how these figures of Sunday School class can become such adult and dark characters.

That said, however, Noah is not a flawless film. Perhaps it was because Darren often had to go out of his comfort zone, but there are some sequences, most of which are towards the beginning, that just don’t quite work. It’s not so much the acting or anything wrong in particular, but they encompass a sense of hokiness and odd plotting that don’t gain the emotional crunch they want or desire.

Additionally, there are plot points in the third act of the film that, without giving anything away, don’t really feel fully flushed out. In particular, the story behind Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) introduces some interesting plot points, but never quite picks up speed. Even worse, it leads to one of the sillier side plots of the film before its climax.

With that said, though, a big component in the success of this film are the performances of the cast. Aronofsky has always been a good director of actors and, while I had my doubts about Russell Crowe being cast as the title character, I must admit that he did a commendable job. Much like Tom Cruise and George Clooney, Crowe has always struck me as one of those actors that, no matter how good they are, I never quite forget it’s them. They all have given good to fine performances in the past, but I don’t forget who’s playing them.

But, in Noah, Crowe, although he hasn’t had the greatest track record of late, brings a lot of subtle emotional depth to the character. Noah is a complex character, and through his restrained performance, he gives a strong, compelling performance, and probably his best in some time.

Also good here is Noah’s wife Naameh, played by Jennifer Connelly. Which, if you are paying attention, is indeed A Beautiful Mind reunion. Although the make up team fails at aging her in any way, shape or form for some reason, she also provides an emotionally charged performance as the title character’s better half. Also given a lot to do here is Ray Winstone as the villain Tubal-cain. Many actors would take his character and push it too far, but Winstone is able to make his performance a fire breathing one, but one that makes a great deal of sense too. He is compelling grounded in such a hyper real situation.

There are undeniably some haunting beautiful moments in Noah, and, as one of my favorite directors working today, I’m so glad that Aronofsky finally was able to make his passion project. I don’t think it’s a full out success as his last two movies were, but it’s a grand, sweeping effort that actually has the balls to push the envelope in a way that so few religious movies do. It may not win the core audience over, but it sure as hell impresses me, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the wild, dark vision Aronofsky had of this classic tale.

By Meryl Gottlieb| mg986611@ohiou.edu| @buzzlightmeryl
As You Like It by William Shakespeare, directed by Shelley Delaney
8 p.m. March 26-29, April 2-5
The Forum Theater, Radio and Television Building

Orlando, played by Mbali Guliwe, proclaims his love for Rosalind as he hangs his prose all over the forest (Kaitlin Owens | Staff Photographer)

Orlando, played by Mbali Guliwe, proclaims his love for Rosalind as he hangs his prose all over the forest (Kaitlin Owens | Staff Photographer)

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”

The Division of Theater rounds out its 2013-14 season with its production of As You Like It by William Shakespeare.

The play follows Rosalind (played by Kat Bramley), a duke’s daughter, who flees her uncle’s court after he usurps her father. With her cousin Celia (Chelsea Cannon) and the court jester Touchstone (Emilio Tirri) at her side, Rosalind finds safety — and love — in the Forest of Arden.

Every time I discuss Shakespeare, I fear people are apprehensive about joining the conversation and seeing his work performed on stage. Yes, his work has become so elevated in our society that many may be wary of approaching it, but as the director Shelley Delaney said, “As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s most accessible comedies.”

The play is easy to follow if you know these main points: Rosalind’s father Duke Senior was usurped by his younger brother Duke Frederick and forced to flee into the Forest of Arden. Celia is Duke Frederick’s daughter and is best friends with Rosalind. Rosalind is forced to flee into the forest and takes Celia and the court jester Touchstone with her. For protection, Rosalind disguises herself as a man in the forest. Her love, Orlando (played by Mbali Guliwe), was also forced to flee into the forest, so she takes the opportunity to test his love.

Take this cheat sheet and go forth. Give this play a try.

You may not be able to understand every line of every moment — there were plenty of times when I struggled — however things flow so smoothly and swiftly that the larger picture is painted quickly enough so that you know what is happening in each scene. Don’t fret if you miss or don’t understand something. I don’t feel anyone can truly understand every aspect of a Shakespeare play on only his or her first listen. Shakespeare is so renowned because of how richly deep his texts are, meaning continual analysis and reading of his work is required to fully appreciate it. Listen intently; this play is worth your attention.

I absolutely love the idea of “testing your love” to see if he or she truly loves you. Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to see if the one you’re madly in love with feels the same? Shakespeare is known for being able to tap into the human condition like no other. Here, he hits the nail on the head. You can have your tragic Romeo and Juliet love story, I’d much rather be a part of Orlando and Rosalind’s tale, for I feel their love is much more believable than the famed star-crossed lovers’. Rosalind tests Orlando, so that at the end of the play, you want these two to get together because you know their love is real. Romeo and Juliet just say they’re madly in love, but the skeptic in me finds it hard to believe you can simply see someone from across the room and fall in love. Love is about connection and understanding, not just looks. I believe Rosalind and Orlando have that, which is why I root for them.

Rosalind, in her male disguise of Ganymede, finds Orlando's declarations of his love for her (Kaitlin Owens | Staff Photographer)

Rosalind (Bramley), in her male disguise of Ganymede, finds Orlando’s declarations of his love for her (Kaitlin Owens | Staff Photographer)

The entire cast does a splendid job. Two stand outs amongst the entire ensemble are Bramley and Tirri. Kat Bramley as Rosalind carries the show and is simply spectacular as the protagonist. She speaks clearly, has an impeccable range of emotions and is a star of the production. Emilio Tirri shines like the sun as the source of comedy in the play. Tirri himself said Touchstone is “the clown” and, boy, does Tirri have fun with him. The physicality he brought to this character slays me. His side glances, prancing and sass make him a likely audience favorite. I also have to commend Chelsea Cannon for stealing the scene several times. Watch Cannon as she sits off to the side and gives her sassy reactions to the main action; they’re priceless. Maddie Davis is also a great source of comedy as she plays proud shepherdess Phebe, who is often too flirty for her own good.

As I’ve come to think custom of the Division of Theater productions, the set is absolutely stunning. Combining metal and wood, the set is what C. David Russell, the play’s set designer, said is a liminal space, or a place in transition. A tree’s roots hang from the center of the ceiling while the floor is made of wood planks and expanded steel mesh in order to give the audience the framework of the world so that they can fill in the middle for themselves. Tirri called the set “an adult’s playground,” and it’s easy to see why. The actors run around the ramps, hang on and off the rails and jump from level to level throughout the show. It is so beautiful to see how well incorporated the set is into the play. It’s hard to imagine how it could be staged any other way.

This production is also big on music. Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father, has his own band consisting of guitars, shakers and a hand drum. It’s an interesting concept added to the production that really helps continue the rapid pace of the play.

The play was sharply executed from all angles and proved to be a great note for the division to end its season on this year.

By Meryl Gottlieb| mg986611@ohiou.edu| @buzzlightmeryl
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox
Rating: 2.5/ 5

new directions

Glee’s 100th episode was actually one of the better episodes of the worst season; however, even that mediocrity couldn’t be maintained for two consecutive weeks. I guess that’s just too much to ask.

Tonight’s episode, “New Directions,” featured the prolonged graduation we’ve been waiting for since the end of the last season, the end of the glee club and the roll call of who we will be seeing in New York. Spoiler: It’s just about everyone — except Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz).

Holly (Gwyneth Paltrow) and April’s (Kristin Chenoweth) plan to save the glee club is simply by just forcing music into other school clubs. In the show’s possibly dumbest idea ever, Holly dresses up as Temple Grandin and tries to persuade the Animal Rights Activists club to incorporate music by singing Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” while then dressed in ‘70s club gear. Let’s break this down: Temple Grandin, Animal Rights Activists and “Party All the Time.” Someone had to have been smoking some of the good stuff when they pitched this idea. I’m sure the cast had fun during the scene, but did no one think about how utterly ridiculous it was? The Temple Grandin gag was just offensive and random — thankfully, the show addressed how rude it was when Holly was reprimanded for it — and the performance just ruined the song. Listen to that song and tell me you don’t find yourself singing the chorus over and over. It’s infectious, and I understand why it took Murphy to the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985. It was an incredibly random choice song-wise. I was under the impression this episode was a continuation of the 100th celebration and would include the final fan-chosen performances.

The plan obviously fails, and the glee club’s death is final. Hallelujah!

In an attempt to get Rachel (Lea Michele) and Santana (Naya Rivera) to stop feuding, Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) sing “I Am Changing,” again not a song from the show’s past so I don’t know why they did it.

The two only become friends again once Santana quits being her understudy. Yes, it is as superficial as it sounds. Brittany (Heather Morris) for some reason made Santana figure out that being on Broadway isn’t her dream; sure. As requited by Glee rules, Rachel and Santana then sing a duet together to really prove they’re friends again. They sing “Be Okay,” and it was my favorite performance of the night. The song was incredibly catchy and cute, and the original version by Oh Honey is just as entertaining. I guess Glee still has one good function of introducing the world to songs we may otherwise never know. However, they traditionally stick to the Top 10 list, so this one last good thing doesn’t happen too often.

chumsIf you needed any more reasons to hate Tina — though there are plenty already — there’s a real doozy from tonight’s episode. Everyone was celebrating Blaine’s (Darren Criss) acceptance to NYADA — did anyone doubt that? — and Sam (Chord Overstreet) accidentally hit Tina in the face with one of the trophies, prompting her to daydream. I’ll accept the nonsense that was Blaine’s carbon monoxide leak-induced vision of living puppets, but I REFUSE to accept Tina’s envisioning of everyone in New York and parodying Friends. They called it “Chums” and remade the iconic water fountain title sequence. NOPE. HOW DARE YOU. You’re a terrible show; you don’t get to try to be like a phenomenal one. It wasn’t even a halfway decent parody. Tina would never be Rachel; she’s more of a Gunther. This solidified my hatred for this show. I have no words.

However, I did like the gag when Tina was trying to get into Mitzvah University — because she would waste the cost of college just so she could be in New York — by saying her name was “Tina Cohen” That obviously didn’t work, so everyone convinces her to move to New York just cause. Move and then figure out what you want to do. Sure, because New York definitely isn’t one of the most expensive places to live in, amiright? Tina says she would be a loser if she did that, so she, Blaine, Sam and Artie (Kevin McHale) all sing an acoustic version of “Loser Like Me.” I like the show’s original pop version better, but it was nice to see the show actually fulfilled its promise here and continued with the fans’ choice of songs to be re-covered.

Puck (Mark Salling) and Quinn (Dianna Agron) — who are officially going out, with their unfortunate couple name being “Quick” — sing, “Just Give Me a Reason.” Yes, please give me a reason as to why they made time to do this song and decided to cut Will’s (Matthew Morrison) duet with April to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

dsbJust when you think they’re done, they pull you back into the auditorium. The glee club made an actually really sweet video for Will’s future child to tell him or her how amazing his or her dad is. You could see the cast’s true personalities shining through this video, hence the only reason it was good. Then, in the most important of all Glee rules, they end by singing “Don’t Stop Believin’,” again. This time Will joins the kids, and everyone sings way too low for their register. Please, stop covering this song. The first time was the best, and it should have been the only time you did it.

Graduation finally arrives and apparently the graduating class only consists of the glee kids and about ten other students.

Here’s a round up of everyone’s plans:

  • Holly and April are going to go on a cruise for gay men together
  • Puck and Quinn are going to try a long-distance relationship
  • Santana and Brittany are going to Lesbos island in Greece, then Hawaii and then Brittany will come back to New York with Santana
  • Tina was accepted to Brown University, so say good riddance. We finally got rid of her.
  • Sue (Jane Lynch) got Will an interview at Carmel High School to coach Vocal Adrenaline since that’s the only thing he’s good at
  • And no one cares about the newbie glee kids. Bye.

Before Will finally leaves the now empty choir room, voiceovers of the original glee club members play as he looks out to where the chairs once sat. Finn has the last voiceover, in which he talks about how everyone agreed they wanted to win their first Sectionals for Mr. Schue. The episode closes as we hear the glee kids laugh track, with Rachel’s laugh overpowering the rest.

Glee club is finally over and we can move on from McKinley. I’m not sure I’ll enjoy New York as much now that Artie and Sam will also have to tag along. There was no doubt in my mind about Blaine’s future, but I’m surprised the show feels the need to keep Artie and Sam. I say axe them. What storylines are they possibly going to have?

Glee has been rather atrocious this year. I would like to continue hate-watching this show, but that can only happen if I can physically fathom sitting and watching it, which has because quite the battle this season. I know it can’t really be much better, but let’s hope it can only go up from here and that the permanent move to New York will give Ryan Murphy enough newness to be interested in making the show good once again.

Does your girl party all the time? What do you want for the future of Glee? Let me know @buzzlightmeryl

By Meryl Gottlieb| mg986611@ohiou.edu| @buzzlightmeryl

AHS4

We’ve seen a murder house, an asylum and a modern coven be the center of the FX psychological thriller American Horror Story. Now, get ready to be frightened by a carnival.

Ryan Murphy took to Twitter to reveal the name and logo of the latest installment, American Horror Story: Freak Show.

Anyone who follows AHS rumors and news shouldn’t be too shocked by this news. Rumors of the fourth season taking place in a circus/ carnival have flooded fans minds for months, however Murphy firmly denied these rumors. But one week ago, AHS writer Douglas Petrie even confirmed those ideas at the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast. Alas, it is officially law.

My biggest issue is how much Murphy tried to deny the rumors. Fans nailed it and essentially got it instantly, but Murphy stamped his feet and said “no.” Sorry, Murphy you’re not as clever as you thought you were. I would fully bet his original idea had “Circus” or “Carnival” as the subtitle and he only made it Freak Show so that fans wouldn’t be totally correct.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the fourth season will be set in 1950 Jupiter, Fla. with Jessica Lange playing a German ex-pat who is managing one of the last freak shows in the U.S. Her carnies include Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Angela Bassett, and Frances Conroy. EW reported Denis O’Hare and Emma Roberts are also in talks to return. The season will track the group as they do anything to save their show.

This will be Lange’s last appearance on AHS, so here’s hoping it lets her go out with a boom — a bang simply wouldn’t be big enough for her. I’m overjoyed Bates and Bassett will return; they were sensational additions to the season three cast. Shoutout to Paulson and Peters for being series favorites and always being incorporated.

How scared are you for the next season? What do you think will happen? Let me know @buzzlightmeryl

By Meryl Gottlieb| mg986611@ohiou.edu| @buzzlightmeryl
The hour-long series finale of How I Met Your Mother airs Monday, March 31 at 8 p.m.
Rating: 5/5

The End of the Aisle

Tonight’s episode was the last before the finale of How I Met Your Mother. I’ll save the long speech about my love for this show and how weird Monday nights will be without it, for next week. For now, let’s rejoice over another splendid episode.

The episode is called “The End of the Aisle,” a fitting title because it details the story that brings us to the end of Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) long, and I mean long, wedding weekend. This wasn’t a feat I thought they would conquer until the finale, so I’m incredibly excited but still irrevocably sad for next week.

It’s Sunday at 5:28 p.m., 32 minutes before the wedding.

The episode begins where the season seven and eight premieres left off: with Ted (Josh Radnor) trying to soothe Robin, who is convinced she can’t go through with the wedding, and with Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) holding Barney back from trying to flee through the window in hope of getting his cornflower blue tie.

Robin doesn’t feel right that she never found the locket and that she wants to be with a guy who could magically find it for her. Ted, who just so happens to have the locket in his pocket, gives the necklace to Barney to give to Robin. But, Robin knows Ted is the one who found it, despite his adorable story about Barney and some baby birds. “You always go big for me,” she said. “The most loving things Barney has done for me (the proposal and the rehearsal dinner) are all based on lies. … Legendary means not real. … His initials are B.S.!”

“Maybe I should be marrying you,” Robin tells Ted. “I should be with you. … Shouldn’t I be with the guy who gets me the locket and steals me the blue French horn?”

Anyone who saw the promo for this week’s episode knew something was going to happen on the Ted-Robin front. Though Ted may have literally and figuratively let go of Robin, they never showed her truly saying she was done with that possibility. Luckily, Ted truly is done and doesn’t play along with these last minute nerves.

“I don’t love you like that anymore,” he tells her. “You don’t love me. You love Barney. If you think I would be part of something that would screw that all up, then you don’t know me at all.”

The fact that he says, “you don’t love me” and not “you don’t love me anymore” was the final affirmation that Ted will never be with Robin. He knows she doesn’t truly love him like that, and he’s finally and truly done loving her like that. I’m glad this non-relationship can finally be put to rest. I never had a problem pairing up Ted and Robin before because Radnor and Smulders have incredible chemistry, but after seeing Radnor and Milioti, there’s no doubt in my mind, that is what I want for Ted’s future. I want someone he connects with on every level; someone who is just as nerdy and adorkable as he is; and someone who truly loves him.

There was also another Mosby monologue about how love is nonsensical by its very nature and that humans do love best. All I want in life is for someone to compile all of these wondrous speeches so that I may listen to them as one would listen to any self-help audiobook. I would never buy one of those, but I could sit and listen to Ted pepping me up for life and love any day, any time.

tumblr_n2yxwxfwRe1qfmzxdo6_r2_250Meanwhile, Marshall and Lily try to help Barney figure out his wedding vows, which of course he hasn’t finished. It’s only 30 minutes until the wedding; no big. “Vow”-za, Marshall was strong with the puns tonight; he showed us “vow” it was done. Segel’s pun delivery is so corny but it is the best. I love that giggle and will miss it dearly. Surprisingly, Barney actually attacks the two for breaking all of the vows they made at their wedding — not the sweet ones they made by the tree in their pre-mini-wedding.

Yet, the couple’s love is unphased as Marshall leads Lily into the empty church so that they can share updated vows. My heart instantly melted. They vowed to keep updating them as they go because one set of vows can’t cover a lifetime of love. This moment is probably one of the final memories I will have of the amazing couple, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect. Everything they said was accurate to a real relationship and made me believe, all over again, so wholeheartedly in their love. I have always longed for Ted’s love story because it is about finding someone you connect with so deeply and love instantly. Tonight’s episode showed me why I need Marshall and Lily’s love as well, this isn’t to say I haven’t always wanted it but that I now realize how equally important it is. These two have been together for a large portion of their lives already and been through a ton of ups and downs, yet their love has persisted. As Marshall says, he vows to fall more in love with Lily every day. Their love has grown as they’ve grown. To steal from Veronica Mars, their love is epic — an epic I truly believe in and wholeheartedly root for (I just have some qualms about the whole LoVe thing, OK?!). Their love is something I will never doubt, and that’s something we all long for and hope to find one day. You go, Marshmallow and Lilypad.

Though Ted’s speeches did the trick for me, Robin still wants to run, and she runs right into the Mother (Cristin Milioti). This is how Robin met the Mother. Robin tells the Mother of her qualms — because everyone just instantly tells her their deepest secrets upon their first encounter — and the Mother only responds with “wow,” much to Robin’s disappointment. Because she doesn’t really know her, the Mother only offers her the advice to take three deep breaths before she decides anything.

After three breaths, Robin opens her eyes to see Barney standing there. He forgoes the stack of vows he had prepped and instead makes only one: to always be honest with her. He then tells her the truth about the locket. Before he goes, Robin calls him back for a kiss.

It’s Sunday at 5:59 p.m., 1 minute until the wedding.

Barney is itching to go back to Manhattan to get his cornflower blue tie, but Marshall literally slaps it out of him, fulfilling the final slap of the seven-year slap bet. After the previous slap episode, I knew the last slap would be either on the altar or sometime during the celebration. It was a great moment but honestly a rather weak slap. Here’s to another lovable HIMYM gag that has bid its final adieu. Farewell, slap bet; you are an excellent way of settling debates. We’ll miss you and the slap bet countdown.

ringbearThere’s a ring BEAR and he’s adorable!! I refuse to ever go to a wedding unless there’s a ring bear; bearers can just never live up to the cuteness.

We also got one last “Nobody asked you Patrice” as Robin scolded Patrice (Ellen D. Williams) — who I am assuming is her bridesmaid because Robin doesn’t have any other people she talks to — after she complimented her wedding dress.

As the beloved narrator Bob Saget put it, it was a “twisting and turning road to the end of the aisle.” It wasn’t perfect getting there and it wasn’t perfect after. But “it was legendary.”

We all know the finale has to end with “And that’s how I met your mother,” so I’m glad “legendary” could make its impact here.

My heart rests easily now that I know Barney and Robin are married. For some reason, I never felt comfortable fully committing to the idea for fear of it shattering before the very end. It was never something I felt was endgame or surefire, but I am thrilled they tied the knot. Going with the overall comedic idea of the show, it would have been too difficult to end the show with those two not ending up together. This is also my reason for why the Mother just simply cannot die in the finale.

I’m trying to save all of my HIMYM thoughts and feelings until next week when I need to simply binge them all out at one time. All I can say is that this episode was a great precursor to the end. Ted and Robin are finally wrapped up; Robin and Barney are married; and Marshall and Lily are as adorable as ever. I can only expect my mind to be blown next week and that my heart will melt as my eyes gush waterfalls over the finale.

Tell me where I can find a ring bear @buzzlightmeryl

By Will Ashton | wa054010@ohiou.edu| @thewillofash
Muppets Most Wanted
| Directed by James Bobin | Rated PG
RATING: 3.5/5

Muppets-Most-Wanted-PosterWhenever I review anything, I try to be as objective as possible. But, like any living, breathing person, there are some things that even I am guilty of falling victim to—and one of those is the Muppets.

Even today, I find myself fighting to be critical of anything that comes out of the Henson’s creation. While not everything is great, by any means, (don’t even bring up The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz around me unless you’re wanting to spark fighting words), there is something so endlessly charming and irresistible about these puppets. Even today, I have a hard time being objective to Muppets From Space.

Fan or no fan, though, one must admit that the Muppets hit a high point in their career with 2011’s The Muppets. Constantly funny, but also filled with a great deal of earnestness and heart, Disney was able to put together not just one of the funniest movies of the year, but also one of the best Muppets movies of all time.

Needless to say, when word came out that there would be a sequel released in the near future, expectations obviously were heightened.

To its credit, Muppets Most Wanted seems well aware of the pressure to live up to the previous film. And while this one does fall short in being equal to the last film, this new Muppets adventure is still able to be an enjoyable tirade of pratfalls, comedy and misunderstandings.

This sequel picks up immediately where the last film left off—literally. After concluding on the wrap of the previous film, Kermit and the gang break into song to rejoice that it is time to prepare for a sequel. Sure enough, they make one about Constantine—criminal mastermind and the world’s most evil frog that just so happens to have a passing resemblance to the Muppets’ leader.

When the two bump into one other and create a game of mistaken identity, the Muppets gang find themselves led by Constantine as they go on their latest world tour. While Kermit finds himself locked up in a Russian prison, Constantine and his second-in-command Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), control the Muppets to do their bidding as the two attempt to steal their way towards the crown jewel in London.

The biggest chip that this film has on its shoulder is that it lacks the emotional tug that the previous film held. What made that movie so good was not just the comedy, but the earnestness and sincerity that screenwriters Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller brought to the revived property. Instead of this openness for pathos, this film decides to make it all about the comedy.

Which is fine enough. It certainly makes the pacing better, and keeps everything light. But it also means that the connections the audience have to these characters is not as prevalent—unless they already brought it with them before they enter the theater.

Despite being the star, executive producer, and co-screenwriter of the past film, Segel decided not to return for this installment—not even for a cameo. While his presence on the screen in the last film was a strength and a crutch for its quality, his lack of activity behind the camera is certainly noticeable this time around.

While Stoller returns for screenwriting duties, director James Bobin now joins him with the pen. While they certainly produce a funny script, they don’t make one that is anywhere near as sincere or genuine as the last one. This one certainly feels like a job instead of a passion project.

That’s not to say that these people aren’t having fun this time—I’m sure they were. But the love isn’t as present as it was the first track around. Instead, this seems more like a decision by the marketing time at the Mouse House.

But, as always, the Muppets are well aware of themselves, including their weaknesses, and this time is no different. Whether it is bluntly saying in the song “the sequel’s never quite as good,” or commenting on a criticism of the original film, the gang makes good use of their limitations. That doesn’t so much excuse the movie as much as it makes it slightly more enjoyable, and frustrating, knowing that they are fully aware of what they are, and don’t strive to be much more than it.

That said, while this may not be a great Muppets movie, it’s still a good one. Despite not being as arresting as the last movie, it strikes more in line with the spirit of the original Muppets movies than the last film ever really was. The Muppets, or, at least the original Muppets, are much more central to the plot this time around, and the plot never takes itself too serious, which provides a great number of gags and cameos.

There are more than a handful of good, genuine belly laughs here, and Stoller and Bobin make good use not just of the puppets and their surroundings, but their new set of humans as well. Gervais brings enough lighthearted sneer to make good use of his time. Also, Ty Burrell, as Jean Pierre Napoleon, gets the most mileage of his time in front of the camera.

Tina Fey, as Nadya, brings her usual quips and charms as well, even if she feels the need to ham it up a little too much at times.

Also quite impressive in this installment is the puppet work. The Jim Henson Company has come a long way from when Bert did the Pigeon Dance in 1973 on Sesame Street (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up on YouTube).  The use of practical puppet work and CG is rather seamless, and continues to show why these guys and gals are so talented in bring these pieces of cloth and string to life.

While no where near as winning as its previous 2011 film, Muppets Most Wanted is still able to put together some strong gags and puns together from its gang of misfit characters. It may not go down as one of the most memorable pieces of cinema that I will see this year, but for the two hours that I was in the theater, I had a good, breezy time. Sometimes, that’s all you really need.

Having the Swedish Chef on the screen doesn’t hurt either.

By Meryl Gottlieb| mg986611@ohiou.edu| @buzzlightmeryl
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox
Rating: 3.5/ 5

100_still_(16)

Glee celebrated its 100th birthday by retreating to its old ways, which were both good and bad. Next to “The Quarterback,” “100” is the best episode of the season so far. Well, it was the best of the worst. From twerking to puppets, this season has been atrocious; to the point where I’m not sure I can take any more episodes, let alone another whole season.

However, “100” worked because it didn’t lie about what it set out to do. The glee club is about to be disbanded forever, so everyone is back to celebrate the past five years, which means singing their favorite songs. Fans chose these favorite songs in a contest the show held months before the episode. Fans picked their top 10, and Ryan Murphy wrote around them — a process, I feel, isn’t too different from their normal writing process, except that they just look at the Top 10 of the week. It also didn’t hurt to see original glee club members back in the choir room. For some reason, I’m much more prone to accept random shenanigans if the original group is there.

And I’d like to take a moment to thank Harry Shum Jr. for knowing that he was brought back for this episode for no reason other than to dance in the background while other people take center stage.

April Rhodes (Kristin Chenoweth) — yep, she’s back — kicks off the night with “Raise Your Glass.” I could have done without the literal raising their glasses to glee club throughout the number, but overall it was a nice throwback to when I would accept them all just dancing in the choir room. Also, I love KChen as April; it’s may be ridiculous at times, but it’s usually always hilarious.

ToxicunholytrinityBrittany (Heather Morris) doesn’t enjoy dancing anymore because she thinks she’s now only good at algorithms. This joke still isn’t funny!! I do not accept Brittany going to MIT and being a mathematical prodigy. Cut it out and find something else for her to do. Santana (Naya Rivera) tries to renew her old spirit but reuniting the Unholy Trinity. I may have been the most excited about this reunion, but the show still found a way to kill it for me. The trio sang “Toxic,” one of my favorite Britney Spears songs and one of my favorite Glee covers, and slowed it down and added a salsa-esque style to it. I didn’t mind the changes, but I did mind the video they put to it. They have the girls in their Cherrio outfits and then in lingerie while they dance in glass cages. Who do you think your demographic is?! This was much more off-putting than appealing, and I think it ruined the whole scene.

But, the show did bring back my favorite Brittany segment in “Fondue For Two.” This week’s guests are Rachel (Lea Michele) and Mercedes (Amber Riley), who are feuding once again about who is the biggest star. I hate how they only feud when it’s right for a storyline; otherwise, they seem as if they are decent friends. Cut it out. As usual, Brittany asks the tough, hilarious questions about Rachel being irresponsible for leaving New York for a week when she’s a full-time student and waitress and also starring in a Broadway revival — possibly my favorite line of the night — and asking Mercedes why she hid her dancing talents  — a nod to Riley’s stint on Dancing with the Stars — and simply “parked and barked.” “Fondue For Two” never fails. That’s some hot dish!

They decide to have a diva off — an Idina off? that’s what I heard — and sing “Defying Gravity” once again. Rachel, Mercedes and Kurt (Chris Colfer) all sing it, and I loved it. At times it’s a bit choppy with three people to include, but it works. They all have impressive voices, and this song is meant for performers with impressive voices. On that note, I cannot believe none of them hit the last note. Mercedes ended the song on downplaying that note while everyone knows you are meant to belt that sucker out. It’s an episode meant to just let the fans relive their favorite moments, yet the show is still manages to ruin what should have been a cakewalk for them.

After she finds Brittany playing human chess with the chess club (UGH), Santana tries to reinvigorate her dancing spirit again by doing “Valerie.” I love this song, and I love the style of dancing it calls for. Finally, we had a solid performance all around.

Brittany then tells Santana she wants to get back together. While Dani (Demi Lovato) may be cool, she can’t recreate what the two had. She kisses Santana before telling her that she’ll be waiting for her answer.

Quinn (Diana Agron) is back, and she brought her boyfriend Biff McIntosh (Chace Crawford), much to Puck’s (Mark Salling) chagrin. Biff’s about as preppy and snobbish as one could be, and being with him has forced Quinn to dress like a 1950s housewife. Quinn also has yet to tell him about her past: about Beth, her tattoo and the time she died her hair pink.

cryingPuck is furious she’s hiding who she truly is from this guy for fear of judgment. He sings “Keeping Holding On” to her, as the original glee club members perform the old dance. I don’t think I have ever seen someone fake cry as badly as Agron does in this scene. It’s grotesque.

When Quinn finally tells Biff the truth, he rejects her, prompting Puck to throw him in a dumpster. The two then talk about Finn and “soulmates.” Puck finally tells Quinn that she’s the one for him and all she has to do is ask him to stay. Cut to the most cliché scene as Puck, in his Navy uniform and all, is walking down the hall when you see Quinn chasing after him. She jumps into his arms, kisses him and says, “Stay.”

I would have accepted this storyline three seasons ago. I have never forgiven the show for dropping the Puck-Quinn storyline after season one. That would have been the most logical place for these two characters to go, but the writers completely dropped it. After all this time, I don’t care as much and don’t see how these two are such soulmates anymore.

Rachel and Mercedes bond over how they take the bullying and let it motivate them to be the stars they are. I’m more than disappointed in their storyline. Was this really the best the writers could do?

April had been brought to McKinley because, if you remember, she had purchased the auditorium and been funding the glee club since. Well Sue (Jane Lynch) informs us she’s out of money and Will (Matthew Morrison) has spent all of her $2 million on extravagant sets and costumes, like when he recreated a jungle in the auditorium so they could sing “Roar” just for him. Sometimes Sue’s meta jokes really work. Will scorns April for giving him hope for the glee club surviving. Can he really be the one to put all the blame on April? He did spend $2 million on unnecessary sets and costumes.

For one last gesture of kindness, April brings in Holly Holiday (Gwyneth Paltrow) — the two communicate through the Facebook group of all the past glee guests. Holiday doesn’t want to reflect on the past, so instead she sings “Happy” because Glee can’t survive unless it covers the Top 10 songs. This performance still made me reminiscent about the old Glee days so I accept it. The song is also just too catchy to dislike.

The New Directions move Finn and Lillian Adler’s plagues to the auditorium permanently. Here the camera focuses in on Rachel crying, a shot that disgusted me. Let the grief be stated explicitly; don’t do these attempts to be subtle and to make it look like they caught Michele crying on set.

Will says he has no pep talk; he just wants to thank them. They all scatter as we see April and Holly sitting up in the rafters. Just before the episode ends, the two proclaim they’re going to save the glee club.

Here’s hoping their attempt fails, and this marks the show’s move to New York.

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