Friday, July 31, 2009


I didn't think so at first, but I'm really starting to enjoy Twitter. Where else can I post a minute by minute bitchy recap to the American Idol finale? But, as with any other social networking site, there are bound to be some idiots around to bug the crap out of me with their stupidity.

Case in point, last night. I had just finished watching In This Our Life, a 1942 John Huston film in which Bette Davis plays a sociopathic southern woman who runs off with her sister's husband and ends up causing grief for everyone around her. It's a typically fantastic performance from Ms. Davis and I was so dumbstruck by her audacity and sheer ballsiness to portray a character so relentlessly evil, I tweeted about it:

Now, honestly, I trust that you are smart enough to realize what I mean by that, right? Well, apparently there was someone out there who really didn't get it and decided to reply back to me:

I have no idea who this person is or why on earth she is following me, but how can you be that dense? No, LALadyfinger, I'm so fucking retarded that I thought In This Our Life was a documentary and that Bette Davis really was a sociopath who treats Olivia de Havilland (among others) like shit.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Meet the New Divas

One of the most lingering memories from my childhood is listening to my copy of the Divas Live '98 CD over and over again in my room, just soaking up all that diva goodness. What is Divas Live '98, you ask? Well, it was a concert special on VH1 that brought together on one single stage--wait for it--Gloria Estefan, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and The Queen of Soul, Bitch, Aretha Franklin. You can't get any more amazing then that, can you? The greatest thing about it, besides the amazing music, was that the show was done live so there are these great impromptu bits of banter in between each song where the diva would talk to the audience. I listened to that CD so many times (is it any wonder I grew up to become the diva I am today?) that I can still recall great bits and pieces of these moments For instance, there's Gloria being humble and claiming that she's more of a "divette" than a full diva. Or Shania letting us know, in this really off-hand way, "If it wasn't for music class, I probably would have been a high school dropout." Or after the Aretha and Mariah duet when Mariah loudly exclaims in jubilant praise, "ALL HAIL the Queen of Soul!" to which Aretha replies, like she doesn't give a shit in the slightest, "Ms. Carey...Mariah." Oh, and did I mention the fabulous music? Mariah with gospel choir in tow for "Make It Happen." Gloria running through an amazing 5 minute megamix of all her hits. Shania making me fall in love with "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" for the first time. The aforementioned Mariah and Aretha duet. Celine with special guest Carole King ripping into "The Reason." All five going over-the-top with falsettos and theatricality in the finale of "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman." VH1 tried to imitate its success a couple of times afterwards, even getting TINA and Cher for Divas Live '99, but something was always sorely lacking in comparison with the '98 version and they finally gave up.

Until now, that is. About a week ago, VH1 announced that they were bringing back Divas Live this year for the first time since the odd 2005 incarnation. So, without further ado, here's your 2009 lineup:

Er, okay. Listen, I love me some Leona and Adele's got a great set of pipes on her (I'm not even going to start on the inclusion of Miley Cyrus as one of the Divas because I could probably go on for five lengthy paragraphs about the ridiculousness of that), but I don't think any of them (besides Kelly) have been around long enough to earn a spot in this lineup. I can understand that VH1 is trying to make it hip with names that the youngsters will recognize and (hopefully) tune in to watch, but I think they're completely missing the point of why the '98 lineup was so special. Seeing Mariah, Gloria, Shania, Celine & Aretha on stage together was a celebration of everything that was good with the 90's with some of the biggest voices who made it so great. It's simply to early to be proclaiming Leona and Adele to be equal with Shania and Mariah. Give them five or seven years and if they're still around, making hit after hit, then we can talk about including them. Besides, any show that gives Miley the chance to belt "It's the climbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb" at the top of her (limited) vocal range to prove that she can "sing" is bound to be a nightmare waiting to happen.

If you were running Divas Live '09 and had to assemble a bunch of divas for one night only, who would you choose?

I would stick with Kelly Clarkson since she's practically defined the 2000's. Add in Beyoncé because she is the epitome of a Diva (in a good way, obviously) and everything this show was meant to celebrate. Pink would be a good pick to give the music a little variety (something which the '09 lineup is clearly lacking). Bette Midler would be awesome as well, although I'm not sure her voice is still good enough to compete with these younger gals. Still, her attitude alone would make up for any vocal deficiencies.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blake Lively is the Whore of Babylon

Just look at the evidence below!

Okay, so I realize that she's filming an episode of Gossip Girl and it's really Serena who is a big fat whore, but isn't it fun to call her that? Working or not, I'm completely jealous that she's making out with the two hottest guys on the show (off-screen boyfriend Penn Badgley and Leighton Meester's man Sebastian Stan). NOT FAIR.

Yeah, I said it, Sebastien.

(Pictures via Just Jared)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jonas With a Chance

Thanks to Netflix on Demand, I decided to continue my never ending investigation of today's tween subculture by watching a couple of shows from the Disney Channel. I decided on the Brothers Jonas's latest attempt to dominate every single artistic medium out there simply titled Jonas and Demi Lovato's show Sonny With a Chance. Remembering the poor excuses for acting I witnessed in Camp Rock, I didn't have high hopes for either of them but both of them actually turned out better than I ever imagined.

I'll get Jonas out of the way first since it's obviously the weakest of the two. The show is about three brothers (Kevin, Joe and Nick) who--shockingly--are in a mega successful rock band but somehow find the time to go to a normal high school with students who have known them so long don't really care that they are famous and pretty much leave them alone. Joe's BFF Stella (the fabulous Chelsea Staub) is their wardrobe mistress and shoulder for the brothers to come cry on with their various (usually uninteresting and Disney show-specific) problems. If this sounds a bit formulaic and obvious, it is. Jonas is nothing more than Disney's most recent attempt to cash in on a hot commodity without regards to originality or more than six minutes of brainstorming. I know that this show is just another way for them to make money, but it's entirely obvious they don't want to be actors nor care about really learning the craft. They are musicians first and foremost so Jonas is, pretty much, a complete waste of time in that regards.

One of the biggest problems that Jonas faces is that many of the deliberate "jokes" that they write for the Jonases don't work and are simply frustratingly, jaw-droppingly bad. Take for example the moment when Nick comes rushing in to tell the guys that their favorite backup singer can't work on their new demo because she has a frog in her throat. No, literally, Nick explains, a frog in her throat; she has to get a "frogectomy." I mean, seriously? Who on earth writes rubbish like that and then expects any actor to try and make it work? The Jonases fair much better with jokes that play into the "it's a TV show" aspect of the show, such as when they repeatedly break the fourth wall and address the audience or when Kevin decides to spontaneously break into song and an extra walks across the screen to hand him a guitar while a spotlight comes on. For every two or three lame jokes that practically thud, there is one legitimate laugh that comes from its self-reflective nature.

Not surprisingly, the Jonases are the least interesting actors on the show. Kevin is definitely the most fun of the three with his dumb schtick (he has a comedic element that's actually reminiscent of Justin Timberlake at times). Joe occasionally gets some good lines and he's definitely better than he was in Camp Rock but it's hardly great. Nick, with his serious nature, is "The Kelly" in the show (named after the girl in my high school who every year had the lead role in the play but it was always as the dull straight person in a farce full of supporting nutjobs) but, with the right push, he could either develop that into a Buster Keaton-style stone face or a Victoria Beckham way of deadpanning everything (There was this great Beckham-esque exchange in the first episode where the girl Nick is crushing on tells him he has a great smile to which he replies, "Shh, it will ruin my image.").

Obligatory pause for a pretty picture of Nick.

The real star of the show, however, is Chelsea Staub as the perpetually crazed Stella. She has the sweetness around here that reminds me of La Tisdale on the few episodes of The Suite Life I've seen but she also really lays into the physical comedy bits she is given. When she bets her Jonas-obsessed friend Macey (a lovely Nicole Anderson) that she can go longer without texting than Macey can go without talking about the Jonases, she runs the gamut of usual withdrawal symptoms but she really goes for them and the moment when she finally gives in rings with genuine hilarity. When the Jonas Brothers finally grow out of this Disney crap and concentrate fully on their music, it will be Chelsea Staub that we will be watching and wondering what she will do next to impress us. C

I've heard Sonny With a Chance described as "30 Rock for the tweens" but I found it hard to believe that any show airing on the Disney Channel could be anywhere as good as the best show on TV currently. I was wrong. Don't misunderstand me, 30 Rock will always be leaps and bounds smarter and funnier than Sonny, but for a Disney show aimed at tweens, this show is impeccably well-constructed and acted.

The Liz Lemon of this show is Sonny Munroe (played by Demi Lovato), the fresh-faced newcomer from Wisconsin to the cast of So Random!, a teen sketch comedy show obviously based on my generation's revered All That. The pilot episode deals with Sonny's integration into the cast and ends up preaching some nonsense about getting along with people that I've been hearing since elementary school. Thankfully, that is as close as this show ever gets to moralizing. The rest of the episodes are jam-packed full of fun as Sonny, being the Liz Lemon, gets in trouble, makes said situation worse and then rallies the cast--which includes the Jenna Maroney to Demi's Liz, self-absorbed, delusional diva Tawni Hart (portrayed brilliantly by Tiffany Thorton), the usual duo of fools Nico and Grady (Brandon Smith and Doug Brochu) and the young oddball (Allisyn Ashley Arm, who's mugginess and child actor tics are irritating to say the least)--to solve the problem. The premise is oh-so-simple, but you can't even imagine how many laughs they wring from it.

The characters on Sonny With a Chance are nothing more than stereotypes we've seen countless times before, but part of what sets the show apart is how committed these actors are to them. Demi starts the show off kind of rough, relying on that huge smile of her through much of the first episode to project niceness. As the season progresses, however, she starts to let loose and get into the (anarchic) spirit of the show. With a lesser actress than Tiffany Thorton, Tawni would have ended up as big of a travesty as Meghan Martin's diva/mean girl in Camp Rock. Thorton knows exactly when to go all out for the big laugh and when to pull back so she doesn't become obnoxious or overdone. But no one deals more with stereotyping than Sterling Knight (whom you may remember as Zac Efron's son in 17 Again) as narcissistic tween heartthrob Chad Dylan Cooper, star of the hit tween drama Mackenzie Falls which shoots in the studio next to So Random!. Given all the douchey characteristics he is given, it would have been easy for Knight to cop out and try to sneak some sympathy every now and again to make him more likable. Thankfully, he doesn't and plays the jerkiness for every laugh possible.

Obligatory pause to admire Chad Dylan Cooper (you know he would demand it).

I'm also impressed that any single episode of Sonny With a Chance is more structured than any Disney Channel movie released in the past four years. Take for example the episode titled "Battle of the Networks' Stars." The episode starts with Demi sitting at a table in the cafeteria with what she thinks are her co-stars. It turns out that they are simply look alikes so she heads to another table and runs into the same problem. Finally the real castmates come in and they have no idea what is going on. It tuns out that Chad is directing the biopic of his life (appropriately titled Chad Dylan Cooper: The Chad Dylan Cooper Story) and is holding auditions for people to play the members of So Random!. The castmates protest and eventually Chad gives in--partly anyways. He still makes Sonny tryout for the part of herself but in the end chooses Selena Gomez (playing herself) to play Sonny in the movie. So, Selena decides to study up on Sonny, following her and mimicing her every move, and decides to call her out on her love for Chad. Sonny, of course, denies this and when Selena brings it up again with Chad, citing that she needs to know for "character motivation," he denies it as well. The episode comes to a head when Sonny comes on the set of the movie and starts giving Selena direction on how to play her. When she starts overstepping the boundaries and yells "Cut!" during a scene, Chad gets angry at her and they proceed to have a shouting match through their megaphones while standing not more than 10 feet apart. Selena then stomps off the set after they both turn on her and mentions something about doing Camp Hip Hop. Chad then offers the role back to Sonny and she ends up taking it. At the very end of the episode, the castmates are all gathered around the TV watching Selena in Camp Hip Hop and it turns out to be a thinly disguised version of Demi's Camp Rock, complete with Jonas Brothers look-alikes and everything! The layers of comedy that Sonny consistently builds on never less than impresses me. The way that the show is able to laugh at itself and not take itself so seriously is one of the reasons why I think this show will appeal to people beyond its target demographic. The show may not be completely perfect (I could live without the dumb sidekicks even if I understand their purpose) but when it's right (that being anytime Demi, Tiffany or Sterling appear in a scene) it's damn close to being one of the funniest shows on TV, Disney Channel or not. A-

Friday, July 24, 2009

And You Thought Judy's Pain Pill Addiction Was the Worst Thing to Happen to Her

In case you're eyes are still functioning after shoving pencils into them, here is Judy's version to wash that nastiness away.

The Post Where I Give the People What They Want

It's been a bit quiet around here lately and I'm a bit concerned. Where have all my little chatterboxes gone? But rest assured that this isn't some cheap ploy to warrant sympathy comments or to chastise you for not loving me enough. I decided long ago to simply write for myself and not focus on the now just to get hits and/or comments. This is obvious since the last couple of posts have focused on a three year old wannabe Oscar contender, a Pier Paolo Pasolini film that even Pasolini fans haven't heard of and the most important title cards of 1960's cinema. Not exactly high on everyone's priority list in the same week that the latest Harry Potter film came out, huh?

But don't fret, loyal readers. Dame James knows just the thing to get this place buzzing again: pictures of Zac Efron (roaming the town with cast members of his latest film) and everyone's favorite piece of jailbait, Nick Jonas (playing baseball and in a promo with his brothers--conveniently edited out by moi--for the upcoming Teen Choice Awards). Just think of me as Spike Lee and this as the Inside Man to my previous Bamboozled--the fun work after the "important" stuff.

Side note: Is it just me or does Zac look really short in comparison to that other dude? I know it may just be a visual trick, but I wonder if I would be the Nicole Kidman in our relationship.

(Photos via Just Jared)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rants on The History Boys

It's movies like Nicholas Hytner's The History Boys that make me grateful I live in one of the laziest countries in the world in the world, education-wise. I don't know what I would have done if I actually had to work hard and study in high school like these boys did, preparing for the rigorous exams to get in prestigious British schools Oxford and Cambridge. You want to know how I got into my college? I filled out a one page, double sided application and wrote a one page, double spaced essay that I completely BS'ed about why I wanted to go to the school.

The real central conflict of The History Boys isn't whether or not these exams are overkill but what exactly is the proper education the students should be receiving and whether or not these exams are the true mark of their intelligence. Should it be the cut and dry, rote memorization of historical dates, people and places taught by Mrs. Lintott (Frances de la Tour)? How about the more "general studies" approach done by the beloved Hector (Richard Griffiths) which involves memorizing poetry and reading literature while, in the lighter moments, singing "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," performing the climax to Brief Encounter or conducting a skit set in a brothel en français. Or, should it be the odd synthesis of the two introduced by the school's newest teacher, Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore), that teaches the students to learn about a wide variety of topics but only really get the gist of them, then combine that with the history lessons while never forgetting to approach any question that comes their way from an alternate viewpoint so that they will stand out from the pack? I think it's pretty clear what writer Alan Bennett thinks the right answer is, but, as with most films, there is more to be gained in the journey than in the inevitable conclusion.

The History Boys was a major hit on both the London stage and Broadway and it's readily apparent that this film has its roots in the theatre. In fact, it's often one of the film's biggest problems. A good portion of the scenes (most of the classroom ones, for instance) feel like they just set up a camera on stage and let the actors go for the millionth time (everyone in the film was from the original stage cast). The History Boys and director Hytner fall victim to the same problems Ron Howard ran across with Frost/Nixon. They have a highly regarded play and excellent actors who have done their business 100 times before, so they think they don't have to do anything to inject any life into it. Well, no matter what Hollywood and the Academy tells them, they're completely wrong. The director's job is to have a point of view and to get that across in the most interesting way possible, not sit back and yell "Cut!"

It seems to me that if they had gotten someone else besides Hytner (who directed the original stage version) and Bennett to work on this film, there might have been something new to glean from in those various aspects. Another edit of the script, for instance, would have been nice since both the discussion of the Holocaust and Lintott's rant about the lack of female voices over the course of history didn't work. They're both nicely written and performed well by the actors, but they served little to no purpose to the overall story other than as random excursion in academia to prove how "smart" Bennett is.

The theatricality of the piece also affects a couple of the performances (Clive Merrison's over-affected Headmaster, for one), but the largest (and I swear I didn't mean for that to be a pun) culprit is Richard Griffiths's larger-than-life portrayal of the beloved Hector. While good for the most part, he's so loud and overbearing and perfectly annunciates every single word that comes out of his mouth, it becomes immediately clear that he's still playing to the back row. This is film, Mr. Griffiths, there's no need for that phoney, excessively stylized demeanor. It makes you wonder if the powers that be were just too afraid to tell him to tone it down for the camera since he's "obviously" brilliant because he won all of those theatre awards for this performance.

If it sounds like I'm a complete hater, I really don't mean to be because there are plenty of things to celebrate in this film adaptation. Aside from Griffith's irritating performance complete with a side of ham, the acting from the rest of the cast is top-notch. While it can't be denied that some of these History Boys have been reduced to mere background characters to fill up the stage (er, set), the ones that are given any time to actually do anything achieve small wonders. Samuel Barnett, a dead ringer for Lucas Grabeel, has some wonderful moments in a traditional teenage homosexual role we've seen in countless films before (and probably since). After a dud performance that was completely shameless in Mamma Mia!, Dominic Cooper managed to impress me as Dakin, the ringleader of sorts of the group and possibly the only interesting character to emerge from the Boys.

But, if I was forced to pick a best in show, that would have to be Stephen Campbell Moore as the newcomer teacher Irwin. As he did so ingeniously in the criminally underrated Bright Young Things, Moore is able to effectively stand back and let others take their respective turns in the spotlight while somehow managing to remain engaging and thoughtful in the process. He's a completely unselfish actor and that's so rare to find- not just today but in any time period. There's this scene between him and Cooper towards the end of the film that's so excellently played between the two of them, I was hooked on every little moment. For various reasons, Cooper's character wants to have sexual intercourse with Irwin, who, remembering the touchy-feely antics of Hector's that got him in trouble, tries his damndest to rebuff the offer. In the hands of different actors it probably would have fallen apart, the scene plays out like a taut game of cat-and-mouse which sees Dakin as the headstrong predator and Irwin as the recoiled prey, never ceasing back away and nearly double over in his internal hatred of himself.

The above scene is one of the many the critics of the film cite when they mention the almost overpowering homosexuality in the play, to the point that it becomes the main focus of the film and doesn't cohere with the rest of it. I think the above scene works because Dakin has slowly been internalizing everything Irwin has been spewing in his lectures, even beginning to write like him as one of the History Boys points out to him, and the only way he can thank him for helping him these past months is to offer his body. You have to remember that he's still only 17 or 18 and still apt to make stupid decisions regarding sex (hell, there are people decades older who still make dumb choices). My big problem with the homosexuality in the film is in the ridiculously stupid finale where the Boys sit in the auditorium, reciting the occupations they will have in the future and we learn that Barnett's character (the only one who truly took Hector's lessons to heart, as we are told by Lintott) has become a teacher. He goes on to say this truly bizarre line that go something along the lines of, "I am attracted to some of the boys and it is hard to resist sometimes, but I never give in." The first time I heard, I didn't think much of it, but the more I sat and thought about what he was actually saying, I couldn't believe the stupidity radiating from that line. Am I actually supposed to applaud this guy for not touching his students like Hector did? Here, let me give you a big fat fucking medal for your valor. Give me a break. But this is what The History Boys does frequently throughout: on first glance, everything seems to flow well and an interesting argument unfolds in front of you, but on subsequent viewings and with time to actually think about it, much of it could be easily improved on. The central conflict about modern education and most of the acting is still extremely well-done, but that can only take you so far I'm afraid. C+

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Intimacy is the Word

At first I wasn't sure I was going to talk about the recently released posters for Jane Campion's Bright Star and An Education starring the unknown yet strangely ubiquitous Carey Mulligan. I've come to realize (just like you, hopefully) that Glenn is the master of all things movie poster related, often trusting his opinion about a particular poster more than my own. But when he gave a general thumbs down to both of them, I really just wanted to offer my two cents.

I'm actually a fan of both of them. In fact, I find both posters to be absolutely stunning. They are both simple in concept, but the pay off is in the execution. The Bright Star poster feels so sensual and passionate that it feels like anybody glancing at it is intruding on an extremely personal moment. Plus, the colors seem to catch the eye for whatever reason. I wasn't too excited about this film a week ago, but with this poster, I'm curious to see what it is all about.

An Education's poster isn't as sensual as Bright Star's, but it does feel just as intimate and intrusive. The Photoshopping is a bit blatant (Peter Sarsgaard, who is approaching 40 if he's not there already, looks younger than Zac Efron) but they just look so Goddamned beautiful, don't they? Being a fanboy of all things New Wave and Mad Men, I especially love the 60's inspired costumes. They're so extremely classy and beautiful at the same time. Combined with the lovely trailer released around a week ago, I, just like Bright Star, now have a rising interest in this movie.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pig Fucker

Pier Paolo Pasolini's Porcile is certainly a strange film to start exploring the filmography of one of the most polarizing and controversial filmmakers of all time. I always intended to see Saló first but never had access to a copy. However, once I saw that my beloved Jean-Pierre Léaud had done a film with Pasolini and it was available on DVD, I knew I had to see it immediately. The film itself is...interesting, to say the very least. I'm actually not quite sure what to make of it. Porcile revolves around two unconnected stories: one involves a medieval soldier (I think) wandering around a barren unnamed land eating people while the other is about the bored, disillusioned child (played by JPL) of a rich German industrialist who spends his free time in the local pigsty. To say that nothing happens in this film would be an understatement--the soldier wanders around for a good portion of the time while JPL just kind of stands around talking with his female friend/love interest about disconnected socialistic ideas mixed with thoughts about their relationship--but I still found it all weirdly engaging. If you know me, that's a high compliment indeed since 98% of the time I need some kind of narrative in order to get me interested in a film. Obviously, Pasolini knows what the hell he's doing since even though (1) I had no idea what was going on most of the time, (2) the camerawork and editing were drastically barebones, (3) my beloved JPL was dubbed by this stupid-sounding Italian guy, (4) the cannibal story was vaguely dull and (5) the DVD transfer was a complete joke with momentary pauses between reel changes and the fact that TWO OF THE REELS WERE IN THE WRONG ORDER, and I still never had the urge to turn the movie off like I have with other vaguely similar art house titles like L'Avventura or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What most struck me about Porcile was how its controversial subjects of cannibalism and bestiality aren't exactly as taboo as they once were. Sure, they're not accepted by 99% of all civilized countries, but we've heard about them so much in the past 40 years that we've become jaded and they don't really shock us in the way that they probably did in 1969. I don't believe any of this affects the film since Pasolini isn't going simply for the shock value; we never see Jean-Pierre with the pigs, only vaguely disguised references throughout the movie, and the medieval soldier only eats his victims in long shots. If Pasolini can inject this much interest into such a thin whisp of a plot, and manage not get caught up in his "taboo" subjects, I can only imagine what his (apparently) greater and more well-known work is capable of doing. B-

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Sex

I was already planning on seeing G.I. Joe: Something About a Cobra for the newly married Mr. Tatum and the hope that lots of interesting, engaging acting shirtlessness ensues, but I'm glad to see that Channing is still working the promotional circuit trying to entice people like me into the theatre. Bravo to him for thinking of his fans first! And as long as he continues taking off his shirt, I think we all win (unless you're one of the odd ducks who happens to dislike him, then I guess it's just more for you to ignore or shake your head in disgust at).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Random Top 10: "The Beatles," Golden Girls Memories & Gay Born Again Christians (aka Life in a Small Town)

Last Friday, I decided to go home for the weekend to see my parents. One of the things they wanted to do was see a Beatles tribute band that was playing in a local small town's annual outdoor concert series.

(Being the Golden Girls obsessive that I am, my mind immediately jumped to the episode where Dorothy gives up her date to Blanche to see a Beatles tribute band and ends up sleeping with "Paul." Ridiculous, I know, but that's how my mind works. And how can you go wrong with a line like "What do you say about a set that started with 'I've Just Gotta Be Me' and ended with 'Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting'?" Genius.)

But I digress. I'm not the biggest Beatles fan and don't exactly believe that they are the greatest thing to ever happen to music like so many others. Don't get me wrong, they have some fan-fucking-tastic songs but I find it idiotic that so many people believe that every song they ever recorded is the BEST SONG EVER. I remember during Beatles Week #2 on Season 7 of Idol Simon Cowell commented that even the Beatles had bad songs in their catalog, some diehard fan responded on a blog (or maybe Entertainment Weekly, I'm not sure) that the Beatles didn't have bad songs, just bad Idol singers butchering them. That is just ridiculous. Of course they have some stinkers; what musician doesn't? Even ABBA, my favorite band ever and one of the most critically ignored artists in music history because they made "silly" pop music, has some songs I usually skip whenever they come on my iTunes. I simply find it annoying when someone tries to claim that the Beatles are the exception.

Anyways, I decided to go since I had nothing else better to do and, like I said, I do enjoy a few of their songs. The main thing that I took away from the night, however, had nothing to do with the music, oddly. During intermission, there was this young guy who was sort of emceeing and working the crowd before the 50/50 raffle. He seemed like a generally jovial guy, but I found it odd that out of nowhere he decided to announce that he was still excited about getting engaged to his girlfriend a couple of weeks ago. My first reaction was, "Well, I hope you're still excited about getting married a couple weeks later." My second reaction was, "Wait, that 'mo?" I thought that this shock was all he had in store for us, but, oh no, he had to go and do it again. He then proceeded to give a shoutout to his church, the Born Again Christians, who promptly responded with a cheer that was possibly louder than the band had been at any point. I, of course, rolled my eyes and muttered "Jesus Christ" under my breath. Only in a small town could you possibly get away with doing that and get an enormous response like that. Egad.

But I digress yet again. Let's get back to the music. Overall, I found the band to be enjoyable and they did sound eerily similar to the original band, but I was annoyed that they didn't play more of my favorites. I know, I'm that vain that I think that the whole concert should have revolved around my tastes and preferences, but I can't exactly help that? I'm sure everyone would have reacted that way. So, since they didn't play many of the Beatles songs I like, I thought I'd list my top 10 for you all. Generous, I know.

10. Yesterday A touch overrated, but you have to admire the fact that they squeeze so much out of a song that's barely two minutes long.
9. Revolution A protest song from the Vietnam Era that still packs a wallop.
8. Something That guitar bit is still magnificent.
7. Strawberry Fields Forever One of the only LSD-inspired songs I like and you have to give it props for inspiring the only sequence in Across the Universe that wasn't a complete disaster.
6. Eleanor Rigby The imagery in this song sounds like something straight out of a Bergman film and, yet, it's still one of their most beloved pop songs. Genius.
5. Can't Buy Me Love My favorite song from the movie A Hard Day's Night. So fun and carefree although I don't care for the message (someone can definitely buy my love)
4. Penny Lane Completely adorable. I'm still miffed that Davie Archuleta didn't choose it during either Beatles Week (I know I should let that go, but I just can't).
3. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Their overrated early stuff like 'She Loves You' and 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' are beloved for their simplicity, but I find them too simple (as Sophia quips in the episode of the Golden Girls I mentioned earlier, "'Yeah, yeah, yeah'? You call that music?"). There's no denying that 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' is a simple song with it's "La la la la la life goes on" chorus, but I think the simplicity makes it that much better.
2. Let It Be A social message song about peace, love and understanding that doesn't feel preachy or obnoxious.
1. Hey Jude The intro is beautifully done and the breakdown half way through, leading to the the infamous "Na na na na na na na" chant, is freaking epic.

And, as a bonus, here are some of my favorite Beatles covers that are at least as good as the originals, if not better.

The Carpenters 'Ticket to Ride'
By slowing down the tempo of the original, we get to focus on every single crystal-clear note emerging from Karen Carpenter's mouth. I call that a win, don't you?

Bette Midler 'In My Life'
For the Boys may be a complete mess, but the moment when The Divine Miss M starts singing, immediately after telling the soldiers to "shut the fuck up" in a way that only Bette could get away with, is beautiful in it's own subdued way (not exactly a word one associates with the loud and brassy Ms. Midler, hm?)

Jude Law 'Hey Jude'
I can't find a clip of this version with Jude Law from Saturday Night Live in 2004 (you know, the infamous episode where Ashlee Simpson got caught lip-syncing and performed a hoe-down instead) but, trust me, it's a goodie. Jude Law maniacally ripping into "Ju-ju-ju-ju-Judy!" and Tina Fey, Amy Poehler & Maya Rudolph doing the "Na na na" chant in a big circle around him.

Carly Smithson or Kris Allen 'Come Together'
They are both amazing covers but for completely different reasons.

David Cook 'Eleanor Rigby'
His version is the one that made me realize the brilliance of the original. Bravo.

Fiona Apple 'Across the Universe'

I could listen to this over and over again for hours. It's completely soothing and indescribably absorbing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sebastian Stan = Paul Newman?

In case you haven't noticed, I've been a bit obsessed with Sebastian Stan lately. I've been trying to spread the love out in case you're getting sick and tired of me talking about him (and his amazing girlfriend Leighton Meester), but I keep finding more and more pictures and info about him that I simply must share that it's hard not to get excited and post it all right in a row. Anyways, I found these pics of Sebastian from a GQ spread earlier this year that had me intrigued. Sebastian, of course, looks gorgeous in the photos, but if you click on the first one and read the intro for the photo spread, you'll see that Paul Newman was an inspiration for the look and such. That's all fine and dandy (you can't do much better than emulating Paul Newman as a style icon) but I found it odd that the writer refers to Sebastian as a "dead ringer" for Newman. Really? At first, I had no clue where they were coming from. How could this odd looking, Romanian-born fellow be a "dead ringer" for the classically handsome, all-American Paul Newman? I then thought about their acting styles and abilities and came to the conclusion that they are actually quite similar in that regard. Newman was never exactly what you call a "comedian." Even in films as light and "carefree" as The Sting or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he was still much better with the drama than anything else. And the same thing goes for Stan: the more episodes of Kings I see, the less I believe that he could ever headline a light, fluffy romantic comedy successfully. It's not exactly an insult, just an observation about the types of roles that suit them. Hell, even Meryl Streep can't do it all. Then I looked at these photos repeatedly and I slowly realized they must be on to something because I'm starting to buy this Newman lookalike thing. Granted, I don't think they're long lost twins born in different times or anything, but I can see where they are coming from. How about you? Do you see any similarities between the two or do you think they are worlds apart?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"That movie was two and a half hours?! What happened in it to make it that long?

That quote was courtesy of my friend Megan after leaving Public Enemies about an hour ago. I agree whole-heartedly. For a movie with such a long runtime and with so much going on, it sure felt like nothing happened. Other first impressions: Depp was pretty dull, although I suppose that's because the screenwriters and Michael Mann weren't really concerned with Dillinger as a person. Christian Bale didn't use his Batman voice (thank God!) but it still wasn't exactly what I call high caliber acting. Where is the guy who gave us American Psycho (hell, at this point I'd settle for The Prestige)? Marion Cotillard was pretty and the scene where she taunts the FBI agent who smacked her around after she led them off Dillinger's trail was excellent but it's not the movie called for her to do much more than that. And why oh why would you waste Channing Tatum in a 30 second performance and not even bother to show his face or his chest? C

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Couple of Screwballs

Yesterday morning, I chanced upon a "Behind the Scenes" portfolio of Vanity Fair's latest themed photoshoot "re-enacting classic Depression-era films." Being a huge fan of their all-star photoshoots since their 2006 homage to film noir and their later homage to Hitchcock, I glanced through the portfolio and I must admit that I was somewhat concerned. It's not that the film they're recreating are wrong--for my money, they picked some of the most appropriate and interesting ones (although I would have swapped out 42nd Street for The Gold Diggers of 1933)--it's the models they choose that worries me. An obnoxiously over-tanned Mila Kunis portraying Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton, the movie that defined the "Joan Crawford" look? Rose Byrne, whom I'm only really familiar with as the tightly wound and relentlessly focused lawyer on Damages, doing Ellie Andrews aka Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night (I'm fine with James Marsden as the Clark Gable character although he's not exactly the first guy I think of when I think of rough macho men)? A fat guy doing Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath? Come on, seriously?

The picture that caught my eye and, consequently, won't get out of my head is the above one with Amanda Seyfried and my beloved Channing Tatum recreating the 1936 screwball classic My Man Godfrey. I can totally see Amanda as the dizzy heiress played by Carole Lombard in the original, but Channing Tatum as William Powell? Not so sure. Don't get me wrong, I love the man, I think this outtake is perfectly adorable and I'm pretty sure he'll pull it out in the end (he was a model before his acting stardom) but he's not exactly light and funny in the way Powell always was. When I think of Tatum, the first adjectives that come to mind (related to his on-screen persona, anyways) are "intense" and "driven." I know I shouldn't get this analytical about a dumb photo shoot and worry about the perfect casting for a re-enactment still, but stuff like this bothers me. They had James Marsden all ready for this shoot, why didn't they trade him Channing? His on-screen charisma is obviously more closely related to Powell than Channing. I suppose it all came down to something like age or which model looks better with the other one, but still. Let's choose a little more wisely next time, okay?


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Zac Efron & Les Auteurs

In the biggest hair-related news since Mary Pickford cut off her curly locks (and consequently ruined her career) in 1929, Zac Efron has finally chopped off the gross, mangy hair he's been growing out since at least the 17 Again press tour. If you have no idea why this is such a big deal, first of all, why are you reading my blog (just kidding, I know I have a couple non-Efron fans in the house)? Secondly, his hair was getting gross. To put it in terms a non-Zac fan might understand, it looked like Robert Pattinson's on a normal, non-shower day or Jake Gyllenhaal's when he was filming Prince of Persia. Yeah, you obviously get the picture now. I'm claiming this as a victory for Zac fans all around the globe: we finally got our sexy man back (and, yes, he's totally winking at me in that picture on the right...jealous?).

Believe it or not, Zac's hair was not the original topic for this post. Surprise, I know. Actually what I wanted to talk about was Zac's never ending auteur-lust. Now, granted, he's not Nicole Kidman or Catherine Deneuve yet and has a long way to go before he even begins to rival them, but if you've ever read an interview with him, particularly between the success of HSM3 and 17 Again, all he kept talking about was how he wanted to mature on-screen and work with a bunch of top-tier directors who have no idea who he is. Since, unlike most young stars in his place, he's actually interested in working his way up like that (although his decision to work with Burr Steers again--albeit in a drama this time--is a little disheartening), I thought it would be fun to imagine what some of the world's top auteurs would do with Zac once they cast him in one of their films.

Lars von Trier: As the final chapter to von Trier's "I Hate America" trilogy, Zac will play a young fellow who is castrated by a Ku Klux Klan-like group of money-hungry and corrupted capitalists (because that's what all Americans are like in Lars World) in an ultra-bloody and divisive scene that goes on for approximately 15 minutes. As a result of the movie and von Trier, Zac will be psychologically scarred and probably do High School Musical 5 or 6 just to get his sanity back and remember what working with a non-abusive director is like.

Gus Van Sant:
A twinky hustler on the streets of Portland. Do you even have to ask? You know good ole Gus has a movie for Zac all set in his head.

Pedro Almodóvar:
Zac will be gay with Gael Garcia Bernal or banging Penélope Cruz. Either way, we win.

Spike Lee:
Zac plays a young racist who has multiple confrontations with an older African-American couple (Angela Bassett and Denzel Washington). Don't expect any easy, Crash-style dramatics and conclusions--this is Spike Lee after all. I'm predicting two race riots, four people dying and at least two shots where the camera is in the middle of the action and rotates in a circle.

Jean-Luc Godard:
Granted, I haven't seen a Godard film from the last 40 years. But if I'm guesstimating from what I've heard about his later film and the direction Week End (the most recent film of his I've seen) seemed to be taking, I'm going to guess that this film ends up with Zac standing in front of a white backdrop, dressed in Nazi garb while reciting Marx's The Communist Manifesto for 80 minutes or so. Zac will go on a press tour for the film constantly hailing Godard as a genius and what an honor it was to work with him while Godard's next film will probably contain a random divergence from the plot where the characters recreate a scene from High School Musical 2 and make fun of how idiotic Zac Efron is.

David Lynch:
A dark, atmospheric film involving Laura Dern's face, rabbits and a shitload of gratuitous breast shots. Zac will either be the Kyle MacLachlan role or end up dead within the first 10 minutes--it really could go either way.

Todd Haynes:
Zac will play Julianne Moore's son who causes her unparalleled distress and misery. Expect a lot of quiet suffering and wordless emotional breakdowns from Ms. Moore.

Quentin Tarantino:
In a foul-mouthed homage to 30's gangster films, Zac plays a Dead End Kid-like character who meets an African-American gangster, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who runs the black part of town. He takes a liking to Zac and has him come work for him. Eventually, Zac makes it all the way to becoming Samuel L. Jackson's right-hand man, but not before falling in love with his daugher played by (remember Tarantino's penchant for random casting) Keshia Knight Pulliam. Jackson, of course, is not pleased when he finds out about this. All while this internal drama is happening, the FBI is closing in on Jackson's mob and is planning a huge takedown. When the FBI's attack goes down, expect something as gloriously over the top as the finale to Kill Bill Volume 1.

Woody Allen:
Zac plays a neurotic writer who wears glasses and has interactions with countless witty, hilarious women played by fabulous, beautiful actresses who will end up overshadowing him in the end.

What auteurs would you like to see Zac Efron work with? What will they do with him?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience

Steven Soderbergh's latest attempt to revolutionize independent filmmaking, The Girlfriend Experience, is a pretty interesting film. It's not breaking any new ground or anything, but it's a generally well made film about a high-class call girl, her gym trainer boyfriend and their relationship in the uncertain early days of the current recession. The real gem in this piece, however, is the performance from much-publicized porn star Sasha Grey.

On a technical front, Grey isn't a terribly gifted actress. Often her delivery and demeanor suggests one of those vapid girls on The Hills and she doesn't exactly have the type of voice you'd want to listen to for hours on end. In all honesty, I really don't see her having much of a legitimate acting career after this. Despite all this, however, I thought her performance in The Girlfriend Experience was an interesting feat, in much the same way that I've always liked Raquel Welch in Myra Breckenridge: on their own they are not very good but in the context of the film, the performance works. Actually, the film and Grey have a legitimate symbiotic relationship; the one without the other truly doesn't work.

The reason I think Grey is so successful in The Girlfriend Experience is because her character, Chelsea, is supposed to be a cipher. She's so good at her job because she is naturally a blank slate for all of her clients to project whatever they want her to be when they are with her. Chelsea may be nodding her head at the appropriate times and pretending to be interested in their worries (mostly about the financial meltdown), but she probably doesn't really care in the least. But these clients don't care because she can fake it well enough and they're too caught up in their own problems to even notice.

Grey's Chelsea is so good at this that when confronted with her own emotions in "real" relationships with her boyfriend and, in snippets throughout the film, a reporter writing a piece about her and her work, she has no way of communicating to them. When her boyfriend confronts her after she tells him she's going away for the weekend with another guy, she sits there and gives very vague and short answers to his (necessary and completely called for) inquisition, almost as if she expects him to know what she's talking about without explaining anything. There's also a really great moment when the interviewer is asking her a question she really doesn't want to answer and Grey's Chelsea just sits there, squirming, obviously hoping that by constantly looking away he'll take the hint and move on:

There are many other small moments like this one that are immeasurable to the potency of Grey's performance. I wish I could be optimistic and say that this is the beginning of a great career, but I really can't (although stranger things certainly have happened). Oh well, at least we'll always have this performance to treasure for years to come.