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“The Happytime Murders” is Filthy Fluff Without Cleverness

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The humor, no, the entire appeal of The Happytime Murders is about how funny it is that puppets are inserted into a detective story. I’m sure it was probably a refreshing break for director Brian Henson to cut loose from the usual wholesome tone of the Muppet movies and go nuts with profanity, sex, and violence. But once all the blood and other bodily fluids have settled on the rotten cotton, what more does the farce have to offer? Not much, as it turns out. The film hopes you’ll be so grossed out by the sight of an octopus sexually stimulating a cow you won’t mind the gag repeated three times.

Melissa McCarthy stars in The Happytime Murders

Phil Philips is the private detective of the darkly comedic crime picture. He’s a puppet and exists in a world of other puppets that have been treated as second-class citizens. They’re paid little, openly spoken of as freaks, and become easy targets for dogs to rip them to shreds. They have puppet hospitals, puppet pornography, and even their own puppet cocaine, which looks more like the lethal version of Pixy Stix. Puppet police were almost a thing until one bad incident with Phil that got him kicked off the force and straight into the bottle.

Phil’s latest case involves a series of murders against the cast of the mostly-puppet 1980s sitcom The Happytime Gang. For the grizzly case, or about as grizzly as exploding fluff can seem, he teams up with his former partner Detective Connie Edwards, played by a snarky and foul-mouthed Melissa McCarthy. They rekindle their relationship while investigating the murders, mostly by means of slurring profanity back and forth, eventually laughing at their own brashness. Could romance bloom? Probably not. The film never seems that ambitious.

What follows is a series of missed opportunities for what could be done with a raunchy puppet show. A 1980s sitcom could have some interesting scenes and callbacks but very little comedy amounts from its contents, past the easy jokes of bunnies that poop Easter eggs and brother/sister puppets that birth hideous puppet kids. Phil is such a bore of a puppet, playing it far too serious and subtle as a classically alcoholic detective. Sure, every now and then he’ll do something outlandish, as when he spews silly string when achieving orgasm, but there’s not much to his character past his vulgarity.

Melissa McCarthy stars in The Happytime Murders

Come to think of it, there isn’t much to anybody in this film past being joke vehicles that stall with ideas. McCarthy’s character has a unique characteristic of having puppet organs in her body but this amounts to little more than an excuse for her body to process puppet drugs. Phil’s secretary Bubbles is played by Maya Rudolph as a PI’s assistant out of the 1940s but she doesn’t have much to do past being an odd airhead, easily distracted by bananas for some unexplained reason. And the sitcom characters targeted for the murders are all so simple we’re given no more than a scene or two between each of them before meeting a fluffy or explosive end. You won’t miss them though, considering the goofball-turned-druggie Goofer can only babble about penises and having sex for money. He’s mercifully reduced to one scene.

There’s very little reason to care about anyone in this story that none of the low-brow gags carry any cleverness, nor do the sentimental mystery moments amount to little more than cliche melodrama. Part of what made the Muppets so unique and iconic was that there was personality and character behind the socks. The characters of this adult puppet film want us to laugh at them as socks that say dirty words and that “sock” is a racist term. Is that all there is to this film with basic jokes about a puppet society? Unfortunately so, given that the movie doesn’t have enough smarts to push the R-rating further with more graphic puppet sex and violence. If you’re going to switch on the gross-out gag machine, don’t leave it at low energy.

Elizabeth Banks stars in The Happytime Murders
Courtesy of STXfilms

Much like 2016’s CGI raunch fest Sausage Party, The Happytime Murders relies on the subversion of its kid-friendly medium. This may be new territory for the Henson-directed puppet productions, but it’s not the first to try this concept. The whole adult puppet comedy aspect was better defined in the TV show Greg the Bunny and given a proper sense of biting and offensiveness in Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles. If the Henson Alternative studio wants to play in this backyard of sex and violence amid commentary and bodily functions, they’ve got to step up their game. You need more than puppets slinging the F word like candy and acting like sexual deviants to have a capable comedy. The Muppets were wickedly witty by comparison, considering Kermit the Frog never needed to ejaculate all over a room for a laugh.


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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.


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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.


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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.


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