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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: When great TV shows disappoint

As regular readers know, I sometimes fall head-over-heels in love with promising new shows, and when they deliver a problematic or outright bad episode, it’s disillusioning. I tell myself it’s the nature of the beast — that it’s hard to make just one great half-hour or hour-long episode, let alone 10 or 12 or 26 in a row. The law of averages has to catch up eventually. But that doesn’t change the fact that a show that once seemed to have excellent judgment suddenly made what felt like out-of-character or flat-out stupid choices. A botch-job episode can make you wonder if you were right to like the show in the first place. At its most misjudged and tone-deaf, a bad episode of an otherwise terrific series can emphasize flaws you were previously inclined to overlook. It can even make you second-guess the things you praised in the past.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 30, 2011 1:15 AM
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RECAP: The man’s world of BOARDWALK EMPIRE

On one hand, yes, oh my God, oh the humanity, poor Angela Darmody (Aleksa Palladino), rest her soul; what a ghastly exit. Philadelphia gangster/butcher Manny Horvitz (William Forsythe) avenged a botched assassination attempt by Angela’s husband, Jimmy (Michael Pitt), by invading the Darmodys’ seaside house and putting Angela and her girlfriend down like livestock. It was obscenely dark, and I mean that as a compliment. Violence that’s supposed to mean something — to feel “real” and hurt the spectator — can’t be clean, abstract or comic bookish. It needs to have that ’70s movie nastiness, and this killing definitely had it. It reminded me of the murder spree that ended Boys Don’t Cry, with the bodies on the floor and the bloodstains on the wall. Horrifying.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 28, 2011 1:27 AM
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  • 1 Comment

VIDEO SLIDE SHOW: The Muppets' greatest hits

After Jim Henson’s death, the Muppet troupe spent a couple of decades wandering the pop culture wilderness, trying but mostly failing to get in touch with the magic that once fueled their popularity. They got a big step closer two winters ago, when “Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody,” their first hit viral video, debuted on YouTube. This week they’ve got their first big-screen hit in almost three decades, “The Muppets,” written by and co-starring comic actor and Henson obsessive Jason Segel. “It bumbles along episodically from one thing to the next — hey-ho! — and captures the spirit of Henson’s ‘Muppet Show’ admirably,” writes my colleague Andrew O’Hehir.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 27, 2011 3:54 AM
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Jason Segel's THE MUPPETS proves it's time for Kermit & Co. to pack it in

In his effort to revitalize the brand, Jason Segel exposes his fondness for the Muppets as boldly as he exposed his naked body in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. No hidden agendas here, The Muppets is packed with full-frontal nostalgia that suggests not just Segel’s desire to relive the magic of yesteryear but also his fervent belief that the Muppets’ charms can cast an equally powerful spell today. The Muppets, which Segel co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller, opens with an outright appreciation of The Muppet Show and the not so subtle implication that Segel spent his childhood feeling as if the Muppets were part of his family. If you’re a hardcore fan and realize how much the brand’s spirit has strayed from its roots since Jim Henson’s death in 1990, this is exactly the kind of opening you want to see, and it’s equally encouraging when, not much later, Segel’s Gary and his brother Walter (a Muppet performed by Peter Linz) break into song. The film’s rousing opening number, “Life’s a Happy Song,” captures some of the cherished Henson-era optimism and sweetness in its title alone, and the lyrics have a casually playful absurdity to them that feels just right. But the capper is a massive dance routine at the end of the song, when the citizens of Smalltown, USA, come flooding into the frame to form a leg-kicking, jazz-handsing chorus, creating a spectacle that would rank among the all-time greatest Muppet moments if not for one small problem. None of them are Muppets.
  • By Jason Bellamy
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  • November 26, 2011 7:15 PM
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  • 10 Comments

PICTURES OF LOSS: A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER NEVER CRIES, directed by James Ivory

This last one is going to be hard to explain. Bear with me. It all goes back to a book of short stories by Gordon Lish called What I Know So Far, and the question, “Why do I think so often about What I Know So Far?”
  • By Peter Tonguette
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  • November 25, 2011 10:19 AM
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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: SONS OF ANARCHY: What happens next, daddy?

When Charles Dickens was at the peak of his popularity, Americans used to wait on East Coast docks for the latest chapters of his serialized novels to arrive. TV dramas are our version of that. The best have that mix of shamelessness and sophistication that Dickens refined into art — or at the very least, artful melodrama — and the FX biker drama Sons of Anarchy is right up there in the pantheon. Its cliffhanger episode endings are among the most addictive I’ve seen, and last night offered a great example: a three-way standoff between the increasingly evil gang boss Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), his disaffected lieutenant Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and the vengeful Opie (Ryan Hurst), who discovered his dad’s reeking body and was informed that Clay secretly killed him. Everything about the standoff was utterly shameless: the race-to-the-finish-line lead-up; Opie’s tearful speech; Opie leveling his gun at Clay at the precise moment when Jax burst in and screamed at him to drop it; the shot of Clay’s body slamming against a wall; Jax’s horrified close-up. Cut to black, roll credits. Is he dead? Was he wearing a bulletproof vest?
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 24, 2011 11:43 AM
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PICTURES OF LOSS: MEN DON'T LEAVE, directed by Paul Brickman

It would seem that what I want are movies about the art of losing, as Elizabeth Bishop might say. But some of those same movies are also about the art of finding. Take Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, a film that made a deep impression on me when I first saw it at the precocious age of eight. While young Jamie Graham is separated from his mother and father in Shanghai during World War II, in the end the family is brought back together. The loss is temporary. The loss is remedied. When he sees his mother for the first time since he let go unthinkingly let go of her hand on the fateful day, he almost can’t believe it. He reaches for her face and hands, as if to verify the miracle that she is back. (For some reason, it always struck me that Jamie’s mother wore red nail polish when they were separated, but she doesn’t when they are reunited—after a war, everyone looks worse for the wear, not just Jamie.)
  • By Peter Tonguette
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  • November 24, 2011 11:07 AM
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  • 4 Comments

LISA ROSMAN: MY WEEK WITH MARILYN pleases while it lasts

These days, you can scarcely hit a Cineplex without tripping over at least one biopic, a phenomenon I chalk up to the same one that makes reality TV so proliferate: people tend to thrill over the idea that anything really happened, like, ever. But as thrilling as some human lives may be conceptually, rarely do any produce a satisfying narrative arc.
  • By Lisa Rosman
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  • November 23, 2011 3:58 AM
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  • 1 Comment

SIMON SAYS: Géla Babluani’s 13 is pure, bone-headed bliss

Géla Babluani’s 13, a remake of his own 13 Tzameti, is arty, self-serious macho bullshit, and it’s also a lot of fun. The director still takes his original premise too seriously, but it’s a problem that only really becomes apparent during 13’s last 20 minutes, so until then, you easily get lost watching Babluani cover the same ground again, only this time with a mesmeric ensemble cast.
  • By Simon Abrams
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  • November 23, 2011 3:44 AM
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PICTURES OF LOSS: RUNNING ON EMPTY, directed by Sidney Lumet

If I told you I was writing about movies that have meant something to me after my father died, you probably wouldn’t blink if I said that Hereafter and The Darjeeling Limited were among my choices. You might have even thought of them yourself. But Running on Empty? Don’t humor me—you wouldn’t have thought of it in a million years. After all, no one dies (on screen) in Running on Empty. The film does not take bereavement as its subject as the other two do. And yet every time I watch it now it reminds me of my father.
  • By Peter Tonguette
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  • November 23, 2011 3:06 AM
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  • 1 Comment

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