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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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“The Grinch” Steals Box Office, “Overlord” and “Spider” Left With Scraps

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The holiday Christmas movie season starts early as it usually does in November. Just one week after The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, along comes Dr. Suess’ The Grinch, the theatrical animated adaptation of the classic children’s novel, helmed by Illumination Studios of Despicable Me fame. The animated comedy raked in $66 million for its first weekend, well on its way to conquering its $75 million budget as the holidays roll on. Given Illumination’s track record with comedy among kids, expect the film to stick around for the next two months.

The rather high box office of Grinch stole the thunder of the other two films debuting this weekend. Overlord, a Nazi zombie action/horror romp, debuted at #3 with a domestic gross of $10.1 million, which is not exactly a strong opening for a film with a $38 million budget. But it could’ve been worse as The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, the action sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, premiered at #5 with a box office take of only $8 million on a $43 million budget. Don’t be surprised if you see these darker, violent films take a tumble coming into the holiday season that seeks more PG-13 genre films for the families to venture out to the theater for.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury and Queen biopic, is holding firm at #2 on its second weekend with a weekend gross of $30.8 million, bumping its domestic total up to $100 million. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, however, isn’t doing so well in its second weekend. The Disney fantasy adventure only made $9.5 million over the weekend, a 53% drop with a domestic total sitting at a meager $35 million. Not a very strong take for a Disney Christmas fantasy that cost $120 million.

It’s no surprise, however, that David Gordon Green’s Halloween took the biggest dip of the weekend at 64%. It’s surprising the horror film is even still here at #9 in the box office, the domestic total now sitting at a very pleasing $156 million. Also holding firm once again at #10 is The Hate U Give, having made $26 million for only being in 1,100 theaters.

View the full top 10 box office weekend results below.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($66,000,000)
Bohemian Rhapsody ($30,850,000)
Overlord ($10,100,000)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($9,565,000)
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story ($8,015,000)
A Star is Born ($8,010,000)
Nobody’s Fool ($6,540,000)
Venom ($4,850,000)
Halloween ($3,840,000)
The Hate U Give ($2,070,000)

Next weekend will feature magical beasts versus dysfunctional families versus women robbers. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second film in the new Harry Potter spin-off series, will debut in 4,000 theaters. Instant Family, a family comedy starring Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg, will hit 3,000 theaters. Also debuting in 3,000 theaters will be Widows, the all-star heist picture directed by Steve McQueen and starring Viola Davis.


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Review: “Overlord” is a Gritty, Gory Genre Mash

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Overlord is one of those delicious genre blenders that delivers World War II action and viciously gruesome body horror into a beautifully bloody cocktail of entertainment. In the same way that From Dusk Till Dawn convinced you into watching one type of film before switching gears, so too does this war film that soon mutates into an equally as frightening tale of science experiments gone wrong. And although the subgenre of Nazi zombies is a fairly small one, this is by far one of the most fun.

Starting loud and explosive, making great use of IMAX, we’re quickly thrown into the action with an interesting ensemble of soldiers tasked with taking down a Nazi control tower in French territory. Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is fearful of combat and reasonably so when everyone is shooting at you when making a rocky landing and losing more than half his comrades. His methods of choosing the least lethal options clashes greatly with the ruthless Captain Ford, played by a stellar Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell who has that same great level of grit in his performance. Meeting up with a handful of other soldiers, they secretly make their plans in a Nazi-occupied French village to assault the tower where the Nazis have established a base.

Though Boyce is prepared to take down the target, he’s not prepared for what he discovers underneath the base. The Nazis have a classic mad doctor hard at work on breeding the ultimate race of super soldiers. These monsters are not ready yet and Boyce, unfortunately, happens upon the stepping stones of mangled corpses, howling undead, and decapitated heads begging for death. Of course, this is all helmed by a nervous mad scientist, Dr. Schmidt (Erich Redman), and a sneeringly sinister overseeing Nazi Officer Wafner (Pilou Asbæk).

While the Nazi experiments are in desperate need of improvement, Overlord shoots straight for the guts with gusto when it comes to the action and terror. The US soldiers are portrayed as a lot of colorful characters, including the nasally joking Tibbet (John Magaro) that provides vital comic support. The Nazis are seen as unhinged evil, never wasting an opportunity to shoot a civilian in the streets or rape a woman when she is cornered. And the monsters all feel like brilliant works of terrifying body horror, where necks snap open and chunks of flesh fall off the face. Consider how when the French civilian of Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) gets in on the action; she quickly goes from fearful sister looking after her ailing aunt to a flamethrower-touting badass.

But what’s most remarkable about all this is how it never feels the need to blatantly wink with its theatrics, shying away from trying too hard to seem badass. This movie is badass and it knows enough not to amp up the humor when setting undead zombies aflame or watching someone’s body contort in unnatural ways. The tongue is buried firmly in cheek, chewing on its meaty set pieces of blood and explosions to stand firm without a knowing nod to the audience. Such earnest seems almost rare in films that want to replicate that grindhouse flavor of filmmaking.

Overlord more than earns its brutal showdown of fierce fights and abundance of firey blasts, putting in all the grunt work of a capable war and horror film. With the relatively fresh direction of Julius Avery, it’s a film that is smart enough to have faith in its grit of the disturbing elements from both genres that it never feels the need to spice it up too high with self-consciousness. And in its own weird way, it’s serious and subtle enough that we can buy into the fantasy of a Nazi zombie story told straight with character and cunning. After all, we’ve already had the over-the-top angle with Dead Snow. The time has finally come for this subgenre to be taken seriously. Or about as seriously as it can be taken.


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Big “Bohemian Rhapsody” Opening While “Nutcracker” Trails

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In weekend box office battle, it’s Queen who is king. Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddy Mercury and Queen biopic, came in at #1 making $50 million domestic. With a $52 million budget, this is a very successful opening for the film, despite the mixed critic reaction. Falling just behind it with less than half the take is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Disney’s latest fantasy adventure debuting early for the Christmas season. The film did poorly with critics and even poorer at the box office, bringing in only $20 million which is not a good debut at all for such an expensive epic. Also just behind is Tyler Perry’s new romantic comedy, Nobody’s Fool, taking in $14 million, strangely low for a Tyler Perry movie, especially when you consider that higher budget of $19 million.

Since Halloween is over, it’s natural to see that David Gordon Green’s Halloween would dip in the box office and it certainly fell the lowest this week with a 64% drop. Falling sharply from #1 to #5, the film made $11 million for the weekend but it’s not a huge concern given the film has already made $150 million on a budget of $10 million. Almost tying with the picture is A Star Is Born, the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga musical drama that has proven to be a box office darling, earning $11.1 million over the weekend with a $165 million domestic gross. And still sticking like goo to the box office is Venom, Sony’s solo villain picture starring Tom Hardy, making another $7.8 million for a domestic total nearly at $200 million.

Aside from A Star is Born being the smallest drop of the weekend, it also tied for the lowest drop with Smallfoot, Warner Bros animated comedy that is proving to have modest legs to stick around. The animated film with the voices of Channing Tatum and James Cordon made $3.8 million for a $77 million domestic gross. And The Hate U Give, the racial drama, is still hanging in there at #10 with a domestic total now sitting at $23 million, rather strong for a drama that slowly rose up over the course of October.

Bohemian Rhapsody ($50,000,000)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($20,000,000)
Nobody’s Fool ($14,000,000)
A Star is Born ($11,100,000)
Halloween ($11,015,000)
Venom ($7,850,000)
Smallfoot ($3,805,000)
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween ($3,700,000)
Hunter Killer ($3,525,000)
The Hate U Give ($3,400,000)

We hope you’re ready for Christmas because those movies are going to start early. Next weekend will see the 4,000 theater debut of The Grinch, the latest animated comedy from Illumination Studios based on the classic Dr. Seuss book. But it’ll have some adult competition with The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story opening in 3,000 theaters (the sequel to 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Overlord, a Nazi zombie action picture, opening in 2,500 theaters.


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