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Think “The Muppets” are selling out? Think again.

Think “The Muppets” are selling out?  Think again. (photo)

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The Muppets sure are busy these days. Their new movie — their first in twelve years — opens in theaters on Thanksgiving and Jim Henson’s famous creations have been popping up everywhere to promote it. They’ve made a billion parody trailers, a cover album of their old hits, and cranked out tons on TV cameos including, most strangely, an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw. In the wake of this marketing, I’ve started to see articles online and hear rumblings from friends and other critics that this behavior represents conduct unbecoming of The Muppets. That somehow the Muppets should be better than pimping their movie on pro wrestling.

That’s ridiculous. It is impossible for The Muppets to sell out. Why? Because the Muppets have been appearing in advertisements a lot longer than they’ve been appearing in movies.

From the earliest days of his company, Jim Henson boosted the income he made working in television by producing commercials. Although the word “commercial” doesn’t appear once in the Muppets’ Wikipedia page, their work in television ads throughout the 1950s and 60s were important both to the growth of Henson’s company and the growth of his characters.

Before he was the Muppets’ resident piano player, for example, Rowlf the Dog was a pitchman for Purina dog food. He was specifically created for the company’s ads starting in 1962.

Rowlf wasn’t the only Muppet to get his start in commercials and transition into a featured character on television. See if you recognize this iconic Muppet in one of his first appearances, hawking potato chips before he developed a taste for sweets.

Many of Henson’s vintage commercials are shameless, and it definitely feels a little strange to watch a beloved childhood icon extolling the virtues of Esskay thick-cut bacon. But Henson’s ads were also very mature for their time, both in form and content, and they sported a cutting edge sense of humor. For example, watch this inspired ad for La Choy canned chow mein, featuring the adorably clumsy La Choy Dragon. The background gag with the store clerk and the fire extinguisher looks like something that would feel right at home in a 2011 commercial — and this spot is almost 50 years old.

While we often think of vintage marketing as quaint and dated, Henson’s commercials remain fresh and sometimes shockingly subversive. Check out this one for Ideal Toys’ Muppet puppets for kids. Listen particularly to the incredibly dark lyrics of the song the puppets sing. If this commercial aired today, it — and maybe the entire Muppet brand — would be banned instantly.

Bear these ads in mind the next time you kvetch that the Muppets have gotten away from their core values. In fact, every time Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang cleverly shill for Alamo Rent-a-Car or MasterCard they’re just getting a little bit closer to their roots.

Do you think The Muppets have sold out? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter. And for more on Jim Henson’s commercial work, check out the fabulous Jim Henson’s Fantastic World exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image through January 16.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

Charlotte Gainsboug shares our new favorite Lars von Trier story

Charlotte Gainsboug shares our new favorite Lars von Trier story (photo)

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Before he recently decided never to speak in public again, director Lars von Trier had a habit of saying crazy and controversial things. You know all about the dustup at Cannes this year that led to his vow of silence, and all the many other stories over the years about his outrageousness. It seems that when you put a microphone in front of the guy, he just can’t help himself.

What we don’t know all about is what sort of guy von Trier is away from the microphones. That’s the guy I’m curious about. Is he equally wild and unpredictable on the set, or is he more quiet and thoughtful? What’s he like when he’s directing a movie? I put the question to two of the stars of his new movie “Melancholia,” which opens today in theaters and is currently available on demand. The response from Charlotte Gainsbourg, who had previously worked with LvT on “Antichrist,” is basically my new favorite Lars von Trier story.

“I loved working with him on ‘Antichrist,’ Gainsbourg told me. “It was incredible because it was the first time. For [‘Melancholia’] I remember going up to see him in Denmark, and I had my script filled with notes and questions. I opened my script, and he saw it was black with ink and he said ‘Oh, I think I’ll go and have a nap.’ He just went and slept the whole afternoon.”

Wait, he actually left and took a nap?

“

Yeah,” Gainsbourg continued. “He said ‘Feel free to sleep on my hammock if you want,’ and I did. We had dinner and it was fine. But I knew that I couldn’t ask any questions.”

See, I always heard directing was this super intense pursuit where you work 20 hours a day and you don’t see your family for weeks on end. You can direct and take naps during meetings? Apparently, I’m in the wrong field.

You can watch the video of Gainsbourg’s story below. And remember, actors: don’t ask Lars von Trier questions.

video player loading . . .

What’s your favorite crazy Lars von Trier story? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s what I like about the “Safe” trailer

Here’s what I like about the “Safe” trailer (photo)

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I know what you’re thinking: “Another Jason Statham movie? Ugh, they’re all the same.” Yes they’re all the same: they’re all incredible awesome. Now be quiet and enjoy the awesomeness of the “Safe” trailer:

Here’s what I like about the “Safe” trailer:

1. It stars Jason Statham. This should probably be reasons one thru five, but I’ll continue on, pointlessly, explaining the other cool things about this trailer.

2. Statham apparently plays Luke Wright, “the Big Apple’s hardest cop, once upon a time” and he also seems to be Russian as well. So why does he still sound British most of the time? Because he’s an action star, and action stars (and Michael Caine for some reason) always have accents that don’t belong to their characters (see: Schwarzenegger, Van Damme). At the end of the trailer, Statham tries actually speaking Russian, and it’s the most charmingly wonky Russian accent on film since Sean Connery in “The Hunt For Red October.”

3. The title card at the end of the trailer appears over a safe. So it’s not just a movie about keeping a little girl with important knowledge safe from the Chinese and Russian mobs: it’s a movie about safe cracking too! I’m just bummed they didn’t find a spot for the image of a baseball player sliding into home while the umpire yells “SAFE!”

4. “Safe” opens just a few months after David Gordon Green’s “The Sitter,” another film about adventures in babysitting. That means one more movie and we’ve got a trend piece, baby! I can’t wait to make these two a double feature, too.

5. We’re getting dangerously close to a meme devoted solely to Jason Statham jumping out of windows in movies. In his last big action flick, “Killer Elite,” he jumped out of a window while still tied to a chair. In “Safe,” Statham appears to jump out of a window using a bad guy as a portable landing cushion.

In closing: Statham. Statham Statham Statham. Jason Statham.

(Statham.)

“Safe” will open March 12, 2012. What’s your favorite Jason Statham movie? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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