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Ron Howard explores the creative world of Jim Henson, his Muppets and life's connections

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Ron Howard explores the creative world of Jim Henson, his Muppets and life's connections

When Oscar-winning director Ron Howard got word that Disney+ and the late Jim Henson’s children were interested in collaborating on a definitive portrait of the beloved Muppet creator, he immediately welcomed the opportunity. “I had nothing but respect for him,” he says during a recent Zoom interview from his office. “I met him ever so briefly once backstage at a talk show, and my friend George Lucas was a close friend and huge admirer and characterized him as a bona fide genius. Of course, my own relation with Jim Henson’s creations also evolved through my kids and ‘Sesame Street.’

“After spending time with the family and looking through the archival footage, the narrative question emerged,” Howard says. “How in the world did he create such a lasting legacy of work with such a burst of creativity in only a few decades? The dimensions of his output were a complete surprise to me. He was completely in touch with the cultural zeitgeist, and he kept shifting with it — not cynically but very organically with the kind of creative curiosity that I both admired and related to.”

The result of several years of work by Howard and his team at Imagine Documentaries is “Jim Henson Idea Man,” a lively and revealing look at the life and career of Henson, which recently premiered on Disney+. The 90-minute film charts his career from his early days as a young puppeteer at a local D.C. TV station to the creation of the “Sesame Street” puppets and “The Muppet Show,” through the growth of the Jim Henson Co. and the Creature Shop and later works such as “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.”

How did you end up directing this film?

We were brainstorming a little bit about our next project with [producers] Sara Bernstein and Justin Wilkes at Imagine Documentaries. We were told that Disney+ was very interested in doing something about Jim Henson, and the family has had reservations over the years, but they’ve liked the documentaries I had done on Pavarotti and the Beatles. So we met with the Hensons, and then about two years ago, we began diving into the material.

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There was so much archival footage to go through. Not just great stuff about the Muppets or “Sesame Street” and old interviews with Jim, but also his personal family footage was creative. He just didn’t cover a birthday party the way the rest of us dads do. He knew he would make a great story out of it, and he would use stop-motion or different creative techniques. He was excited by avant-garde and experimental filmmaking. He was creatively ambitious and that is reflected in his work in “Sesame Street.”

Your documentary features terrific footage of his early work, as well as revealing interviews with his children, in addition to such stars as Frank Oz, Rita Moreno and Jennifer Connelly. You even dug up a fascinating, unaired interview Henson did with Orson Welles.

Because the family was on board and sanctioned me getting involved as a director, they were incredibly supportive. They are all very creative people, and they grew up in this environment. They were very forthcoming in their interviews about the price of Jim’s creative energy. They’re so proud of and feel privileged to have had him as a dad, but they’re also grown-up people who could now say that some aspects of life were challenging and [talk about] the stress that the work put on their parents’ marriage. So we were allowed to really get behind the scenes and understand that there are no free lunches, and you pay a price for everything. I thought it was important to understand his emotions, his insecurities about himself, the childhood events that shaped him and the urgency with which he worked, and to find him in a lot of ways beyond just the brilliant genius level of creativity.

Jim Henson, center, holds Kermit the Frog while surrounded by many other of his creations and Muppeteers in “Jim Henson Idea Man.”

(Disney+)

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What came as the biggest surprise for you as you learned more about his life and work?

I didn’t know that he didn’t really plan to be a puppeteer. He was such a child of television and was fascinated by innovations. That led to his use of remote-control puppets, early robotics and then digital effects. He wasn’t a guy who got one good idea and rode it to great success: He kept adapting, exploring and was pushing the boundaries of the medium. It was also quite amazing that he kept failing to sell “The Muppet Show,” because you just assume all he had to do was walk through the door with a couple of puppets and people would just fall over themselves to buy the show. It’s just a reminder that those big, commercial breakthroughs often come from very unexpected places. They happen by adapting formulas in really innovative ways and not just by following the old patterns.

In the film, Brian Henson talks about his father’s philosophy and how he believed in the value of doing good and the interconnectedness of all living things on Earth. Can you elaborate on that?

Jim was really on a quest to understand that connection, and it always seems to come back to something that I really related to, which was this: You can’t know for sure about much of anything except that goodness has value. Even though you can’t know exactly what our cosmic journey is, you can assume that creating positivity and goodness must be a valuable part of that experience.

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What do you hope audiences will take away about the life and career of Jim Henson?

I hope they will understand this sort of lasting legacy. I would love it if this makes them go back and review all those “Muppet Show” episodes. That’s time well spent because they’re hilarious. As with any sort of documentary or scripted piece that deals with a life’s journey, I hope it offers some inspiration and some insight. In Jim’s case, it’s really much more a celebration of how to lead a creative life and how to solve problems with openness and an excitement for what’s possible. I hope people take that inspiration from Jim’s life along with just really being blown away by the range and level of his achievements.

Movie Reviews

Film Review: 'Thelma' is the Sweetest Mix of Action, Comedy, and Senior Citizens You'll Ever See – Awards Radar

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Film Review: 'Thelma' is the Sweetest Mix of Action, Comedy, and Senior Citizens You'll Ever See – Awards Radar
Magnolia Pictures

An unlikely action hero can be a lot of fun. There might not be a more unlikely one in 2024 than June Squibb, but that’s just what she is in Thelma, a tale of a grandmother taking back what’s hers. An action-comedy hybrid that gives a senior citizen her very own revenge tale? Yep, it’s as good as it sounds, too. The film is a low level blast.

Thelma shows not just that a bit of cleverness can go a long way, but also that we should never put performers into a box due to their age. You wouldn’t expect a star vehicle for Squibb in her 90s to begin with, but a mix of action and comedy that explicitly references the Mission: Impossible franchise? It sounds like a dream, but once you see it, you’ll know that this movie is just a dream come true.

Magnolia Pictures

Thelma Post (Squibb) lives a fairly simple life ever since she lost her husband. Her grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger) comes by a lot to help her with the computer, hang out, and just be a good egg. She doesn’t hear too well anymore and occasionally gets confused, but for a 93 year old, she’s doing just fine. One day, after Daniel heads home, she gets a call from someone pretending to be him, scamming her into thinking he’s been in an accident. Suspicious initially but too worried about him to really consider things, she sends off some money, scaring her daughter Gail (Parker Posey) and her husband Alan (Clark Gregg) in the process. When they all figure out that she’s been taken for a ride, they start to think if she needs to be put into a home. Embarrassed, Thelma has other plans.

While Alan and Gail are hounding Daniel about his life choices, Thelma takes the opportunity to begin an investigation. Stealing a ride from her friend Ben (Richard Roundtree), he eventually joins her on this mission. As they navigate the clues and begin to bond again, they actually manage to sniff out a lead or two. I won’t say what ends up happening, but it’s deeply satisfying, to say the least, and even touching.

Magnolia Pictures

June Squibb gets the role of a lifetime at 93 and runs with it. Getting to play age appropriate, she’s funny, sad, and always captivating. The late Richard Roundtree is just as good, with the two of them having impeccable chemistry. She’s relishing this opportunity, while he is having so much fun. It’s a pleasure to watch them in action, even if she’s in it more than he is. Clark Gregg, Fred Hechinger, and Parker Posey are less memorable, though Hechinger does get some nice moments with Squibb. Supporting players include Nicole Byer, Aidan Fiske, Malcolm McDowell, Ruben Rabasa, and more, but Squibb is the star.

Writer/director Josh Margolin puts such a lovely little spin on the genre here, clearly wanting to honor his grandmother, but also just wanting to tell a good story. It’s a revenge tale on par with any of late, but the action and comedy are all done in such a way befitting characters closer to the century mark than any other potential action heroes. Things run a bit long and there isn’t a ton of style on display, but Margolin has the goods with Thelma when it comes to fun. Entertainment value? That’s through the roof here.

Thelma is a delight. The premise certainly sounds appealing, with the execution landing in a big way. This is a genuine crowd-pleaser of the first order. As far as summer counter-programming goes, this is the kind of flick that deserves to be a hit. Don’t miss this one!

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SCORE: ★★★

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Reggaeton star Don Omar reveals cancer diagnosis via Instagram post

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Reggaeton star Don Omar reveals cancer diagnosis via Instagram post

Reggaeton star Don Omar, 46, announced Monday that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

“Today yes, but tomorrow I won’t have cancer,” the “Dile” singer wrote in Spanish in an Instagram post published Monday that featured an image of him wearing a medical wristband from Orlando Health. “The well wishes have been well received. We’ll see you soon.”

The specifics of his diagnosis have not been disclosed.

Born William Omar Landrón Rivera in Puerto Rico, Don Omar often describes himself as “El Rey” of reggaeton in his music. The two-time Latin Grammy winner first gained popularity in 2003 with “The Last Don,” his debut album that featured such tracks as “Dale Don Dale” and “Pobre Diabla.” His sophomore follow-up, 2006’s “King of Kings,” reached No. 7 on the Billboard 200. Don Omar has also appeared in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, portraying street racer Rico Santos.

Several artists and celebrities expressed their well wishes on social media following the announcement, including Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Olga Tañon and fellow collaborators Daddy Yankee, Ozuna and Farruko.

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“My sweet child, you are a warrior of a million battles and you will with this one too of course,” wrote Tañon.

“Onward William the first mental and attitude battle you have won, my respects,” Daddy Yankee wrote in a comment. The two performers were involved in a years-long feud before burying the hatchet in December 2023. “Now to win the physical! You are in my prayers, and above everything, more than ever before I wish you HEALTH AND LIFE!”

The announcement comes ahead of the second leg of his Back to Reggaeton U.S. tour, which is scheduled to kick off in Oakland on Aug. 7. It’s unclear whether the tour will continue.

The Times has reached out to Don Omar’s publicity team for comment.

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Fancy Dance (2024) – Movie Review

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Fancy Dance (2024) – Movie Review

Fancy Dance, 2024.

Directed by Erica Tremblay.
Starring Lily Gladstone, Isabel Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Shea Whigham, Audrey Wasilewski, Crystle Lightning, Tamara Podemski, Patrice Fisher, Ryan RedCorn, Lillian Faye Thomas, Casey Camp-Horinek, Tyler Tipton, Dennis Newman, Trey Munden, Arianne Martin, Blayne Allen, Michael Rowe, Hauli Gray, Blake Blair, Kylie Dirtseller, and Cory Hart.

SYNOPSIS:

Following her sister’s disappearance, a Native American hustler kidnaps her niece from the child’s white grandparents and sets out for the state powwow in hopes of keeping what is left of their family intact.

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Infuriatingly, displacement is common among minorities, especially natives. Co-writer/director Erica Tremblay’s Fancy Dance tells such a tale, highlighting the distinction between the effort, or lack thereof, child protective services, local authorities, and even FBI agents funnel into cases under certain circumstances. If it involves white relatives, authorities will feel more pressed to investigate and likely be more prominent in the outcome.

This is also a complicated story, so that’s not to absolve Lily Gladstone’s Seneca-Cayuga nation clan member Jax, who does sneak her 13-year-old niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) away from the white grandparents Frank and Nancy (Shea Whigham and Audrey Wasilewski) she has been forced under the guardianship of following yet another disappearance from her troubled mother (longer than usual and still missing) and the powers that be believing a slight criminal record has made the aunt unfit to take over those responsibilities. Considering Jax has normalized stealing and theft to Roki and does have a history of selling drugs, there is a small amount of concern, but nothing that should kickstart uprooting someone away from their people, home, and culture.

The inquisitive, good-natured Roki is also excited for the annual powwow not just for the traditional symbolic dancing but also because she believes that, regardless of where her mom is now, she will be there, and they will be reunited during a ceremonial dance. What exactly the relationship is like between daughter and mother feels underexplored and isn’t exactly spoken about, but it’s also apparent that there is a darker truth, with Jax urging her local reservation cup brother JJ (Ryan Begay) to convince authorities with the more pull that the situation this serious this time, or to break some ground in the case himself.

Working together with screenwriter Miciana Alise, Erica Tremblay also portrays the white grandparents, particularly Nancy, as more misguided than outright villainous, which goes a long way in further grounding the narrative. They don’t understand how important the powwow is to Roki (who has already been practicing her moves and has a cute jacket picked out as part of her outfit), claiming they must get her settled into this suburban home hours away from the reservation. Frank also seems to incorrectly assume that it would be wise to keep Roki away from that “mess,” referring to nearby drug dealers, prostitution, and the alarming amount of missing person cases that could be related to some shady surrounding white men. Meanwhile, Nancy cluelessly believes ballet lessons will replace something deeply entrenched in Roki’s identity and sense of self.

This is important to note since, when Jax essentially kidnaps Roki to figure things out (she is along for the ride since they will be going to the powwow), it’s even easier to be on her side and to feel that instant frustration when all types of authorities instantly jump to assist the white grandfather. And even if Jax is not necessarily the most positive influence in some areas, there are also tender moments among the thieving and squatting in rich people’s homes, such as managing Roki through her first period. In many respects, Jax feels like a friend to Roki, who hasn’t yet embraced the fact that it’s time to be a second mom.

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The chemistry between Lily Gladstone and Isabel Deroy-Olson is airtight and sweetly expresses a mimicry bond but convincingly conveys their trust-breaking, as the latter becomes wiser to the former not telling the full truth about her missing mother. Their wonderful performances continuously overcome the shakier, more overblown story beats (such as something involving a firearm). Furthermore, Lily Gladstone is tremendous, maneuvering between steely toughness, desperation, and vulnerability. Between avoiding authorities on this road trip, piecing together clues about her sister’s disappearance, and pestering her brother JJ to investigate some of those revelations, it brings out a nuanced, emotionally layered performance.

Even if Fancy Dance falls into some melodramatic trappings elsewhere, the resolution of the mystery aspect is realistically bleak. It makes the case for not just an unfortunate element of reservation life but also what continues to happen because it’s seemingly unimportant to local authorities. It’s not all gloom, though, as the final moving scene is earned, fits the characters’ journey, and celebrates the culture.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

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