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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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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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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: The frustrating sci-fi drama “Terra Nova” finally shows signs of life

Stephen Lang and the dinosaurs: Those are the only two reasons to watch Terra Nova. And that’s depressing when you consider that the Steven Spielberg-produced science fiction series is the most expensive show on TV right now, and that it’s still considered a long shot for renewal even though more worthy network shows — including NBC’s Community and ABC’s Pan Am — have effectively been canceled.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 23, 2011 12:16 AM
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VIDEO ESSAY: Never Before, Never Again: Henson and Oz; A Muppet conversation

EDITOR'S NOTE: To mark the opening of Jim Henson's Fantastic in July 2011, Matt Zoller Seitz and Ken Cancelosi created Never Before, Never Again: Henson and Oz, a video essay which describes the nature of that long and fruitful collaboration between Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Press Play is re-posting that essay in light of the release of Jason Segel's new directorial effort, The Muppets. Given the length of their 27-year collaboration and their creative influence on the culture, it makes the argument that they should be considered a comedy team on the level of Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy. In addition, we are publishing a discussion between the essay's creators. They discuss the curious fate of the Muppets since Jim Henson's untimely death and the challenges director Jason Segel faces in resurrecting them.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz and Ken Cancelosi
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  • November 22, 2011 5:43 PM
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  • 1 Comment

Why did so many Nazis get away with murder?

Simon Weisenthal’s greatest contribution to the world was his dogged pursuit of Nazi criminals who escaped punishment at the end of World War II. His second greatest contribution was his reminder that despite being described as “the Good War” or “a just war,” not enough good was ultimately done, and comparatively little justice was meted out. Some of the most prominent and heinous architects of mass murder simply got on with their lives, and some were the recipients of largesse — jobs, travel assistance, even money and government protection — that was denied to the people who endured their cruelty. And we tend to forget that for every high-ranking sadist or mass murderer who was imprisoned or executed after the war, thousands more who assisted them directly (through action) or indirectly (through silence) were never even called to account.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 15, 2011 7:52 PM
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The Chicago Way: Crime Story back on DVD for its 25th Anniversary

On September 18, 1986, director Michael Mann (Heat) made good on his promising career in TV and film with the debut of his new period cops-and-robbers saga, Crime Story. Not only did Crime Story’s feature-quality production design live up to that of its TV antecedent, Mann’s stylish Miami Vice; Crime Story also fulfilled its aim to present a morally complex world in which it was often difficult to tell those who broke the law from those who upheld it. Set in 1963, the show explores the multiple facets of a young hood’s rise to power in the Chicago Mob through the viewpoints of its three protagonists. Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) is the pompadoured criminal quickly ascending the ranks of the “Outfit.” Lieutenant Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) is the cop in charge of Chicago’s Major Crime Unit (or MCU) who bends the law in the service of justice. And David Abrams (Stephen Lang) is the idealistic young lawyer caught between the two men and their obsessive cat-and-mouse game. Today, a little over 25 years since its premiere, Crime Story: The Complete Series (Image Entertainment) comes out on DVD. At press time, review copies were not made available, so it’s impossible to ascertain if any improvements have been made over the questionable video quality of previous iterations. But this short-lived series, an influential precursor to the well-written serials littered throughout cable this decade (i.e., The Sopranos, Mad Men, Justified, and others), is worth owning despite any potential issues with its digital transfer.
  • By Tony Dayoub
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  • November 15, 2011 7:15 PM
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RECAP: "The Walking Dead" Season Two, episode 5, "Chupacabra."

"The Walking Dead" has craft and atmosphere; if only the characters weren't so insufferably earnest and dense. This recap contains spoilers for "The Walking Dead" Season Two, episode 5, "Chupacabra." Read at your own risk.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 14, 2011 4:29 AM
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RECAP: A bear, a baseball glove and Boardwalk Empire

“Powerful” episodes of cable dramas make a huge impression on viewers, and are often acclaimed as the best of their season. Sometimes the praise is deserved; other times it’s a reaction to the sight of characters we like being diagnosed with fatal illnesses, beaten, raped, killed, etc. Meanwhile, low-key but complex episodes often get short shrift from critics and viewers. I hope that doesn’t happen with tonight’s “Boardwalk Empire” episode, “Two Boats and a Lifeguard,” because in degree of difficulty, it’s impressive, in some ways extraordinary. As written by Terence Winter and directed by Tim Van Patten — a dynamic duo on a lot of great “Sopranos” episodes — “Two Boats and a Lifeguard” seems like just a “housekeeping” episode that’s mainly concerned with wrangling subplots and exploring characters. But as I’ll explain in a moment, the episode went way beyond that.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 14, 2011 3:53 AM
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SLIDE SHOW: John Williams' Greatest Hits

A couple of weeks ago, my young son asked me if I had “any more DVDs of John Williams movies.” It took me a second to register what he meant by this. He thought that the prolific Hollywood composer was actually the director of some of his favorite movies, a list that at this point consists entirely of the fantasy, science fiction and adventure films that thrilled me and his older sister as kids and kids-at-heart: “E.T.,” “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the “Jurassic Park” and “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” and the Indiana Jones pictures, and many others. I started to explain that Williams was not actually a filmmaker. But then the truth of his assumption hit me: In a sense, Williams is the unnamed co-author of a good many of the films he’s scored. His galloping, wondrous tone promises a particular type of entertainment, and is so recognizable that we can’t think of certain blockbusters without hearing their themes in our heads.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 12, 2011 12:18 AM
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24: Kiefer Sutherland's ticking clock classic turns 10

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kiefer Sutherland's ticking clock classic debuted 10 years ago this week. To mark this milestone, Press Play is re-publishing the video essay series "5 on 24" which was created by Matt Zoller Seitz and Aaron Aradillas for the Museum of Moving Image in 2010. According to their introduction, "5 on 24" examines various aspects of the show, including its real-time structure, its depiction of torture, and the psychology of its hero, counterterrorist agent Jack Bauer. The show tapped into the ticking-clock on-the-go mentality of post-millennial society. And its machine-gun pacing, real time structure, and long-form plotting took aesthetic risks that no other action show had dared.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz & Aaron Aradillas
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  • November 11, 2011 3:21 PM
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