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<p>Jason Aldean's Night Train</p>

Jason Aldean's Night Train

Album Review: Jason Aldean's 'Night Train' stays on track

Country superstar hits all the right marks on new set

Other than Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean is the biggest star country music has produced in the last few years. Unlike Swift and Lady A, he has not crossed over into pop, so the first time many folks heard his name may have been when he got caught a few weeks ago canoodling with someone he shouldn’t have been canoodling with.

If the broader name recognition (regardless of how ignominiously it came about) causes potential new fans to check out his music, then “Night Train” is a good place to come in on. Out today, “Night Train,” which is almost certain to top the charts next week, continues the story started on 2010’s “My Kinda Party,” one of the top-selling albums that year for all genres and a Grammy nominee for best country album.

The 15-track “Night Train,” Aldean’s fifth album, doesn’t necessarily advance Aldean’s artistry beyond “Party,” but that’s because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The songs here are uniformly punchy, catchy, well-played and well-sung in Aldean’s slightly nasally, sturdy vocals. Country radio still sells albums and Aldean easily has five singles here, including first single, the invitingly breezy “Take A Little Ride,” which already topped Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.

Aldean embraces the usual country tropes about life in a small town —its virtues and its claustrophobia— and cars In “Night Train.” The title track serves up that one of the few escapes from daily life includes going to listen to the train roll through town with his lover. They get to the look-out spot in their truck, of course. On “Talk,” the time for chat is over: “I don’t want to waste that moon and the heat on the hood of this Ford.”

Most of the songs here are mid-tempo, and the album could definitely use a little more variety in that regard, but mid-tempo is Aldean’s sweet spot, especially when it comes to loves lost and found. On both “When She Says Baby” and “Staring At The Sun,” he extols the virtues of coming home from a long, hard day to the woman he can’t forget. Sure single, “I Don’t Do Lonely Well,” conjures up the pain that heartache brings in those moments when he has have nothing else to distract him from the hurt that still coats him. 

Aldean hit it big on the last album with “Dirt Road Anthem,” which featured him rapping. He’s comfortable enough to return to that trick, speaking much of the lyrics on “The Only Way I Know.” He’s joined by his buddies Luke Bryan and Eric Church on the anthem to going “full throttle” 24/7.

Aldean wrote none of the songs on “Night Train,” but at this juncture in his career, he is going to get the absolute pick of the litter when it comes to Music City songwriters pitching him their Grade A material. He also knows what works for him and what his male fans want (songs to raise hell by) and what his female fans want (songs to romance by) and he sings each style with equal conviction.  There’s nothing here that sounds inauthentic.

While undeniably country, Aldean grew up on rock, and screeching guitar solos rise out of almost every song. They’re a bit cliche and overdone at times, but the songs will undoubtedly benefit from the rock treatment when he cranks them up on the road, especially on “Wheels Rollin’,” a meaty tour anthem that combines Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” with Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive.”

That’s not to say everything here works. “Black Tears” is a song about an exotic dancer and her sob story that goes nowhere. “1994” is a very silly, though very catchy, song about longing to turn the clock back and contains a major shout out to Joe Diffie, who scored a number of hits in the mid-‘90s.  The “Hey Joe, c’mon and  teach us how to Diffie,” line will either make you laugh or drive you crazy, as will the “Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie” chant. The novelty song sounds something much more akin to a tune Big & Rich would do, but Aldean’s earned the right to be goof if he wants to. And Joe Diffie owes him a big old thank you.

“Night Track” seldom slips off the tracks. It’s a sure-wheeled, confident album from a superstar with a very firm grasp of what works for him. It may not be adventurous, but it’s more than enough to keep his millions of fans eager to hop aboard.

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<p>John Hawkes in &quot;The Sessions&quot;</p>

John Hawkes in "The Sessions"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Interview: John Hawkes on Mark O'Brien, 'The Sessions' and maintaining an even keel

One of Sundance's favorite sons comes into full leading man bloom

NEW YORK -- The first time actor John Hawkes heard about Mark O'Brien, the polio-afflicted author, journalist and poet he portrays in the new film "The Sessions," it was due to the Oscars. Documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu had just won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short for 1996's "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien." Hawkes read a quote from her in the newspaper basically noting that the dress loaned to her for the evening cost more than the budget for her film, and he enjoyed a chuckle over that.

Hawkes knows a little something about low-budget filmmaking, too. After working consistently for years as a character actor on screen and TV, he's become something of an indie darling. "The Sessions" in fact marked his third-straight trip to the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year (at which point the film was titled "The Surrogate"). And 16 years after the Oscars managed to put O'Brien on his radar, he looks entirely likely to pop up on Oscars' radar for his performance of the man.

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<p>Alyson Hannigan in &quot;How I&nbsp;Met Your Mother.&quot;&nbsp;</p>

Alyson Hannigan in "How I Met Your Mother." 

Credit: CBS

Review: 'How I Met Your Mother' - 'Who Wants To Be A Godparent?'

Marshall and Lily make the others play a game show

A review of last night's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I send you to the British Columbia Military School For Boys...

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<p>Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at a Golden Globes party earlier this year.</p>

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at a Golden Globes party earlier this year.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Roundup: Globes trump the Oscars with Fey and Poehler

Also: Questioning the facts of 'Argo,' and celebrating Melissa Leo

You have to hand it to the Golden Globes. Barely had the chatter died down about the Academy's surprising choice of Oscar host than the HFPA chimed in with their own... and grabbed bigger headlines than Seth Macfarlane ever did. While the "Ted" man's appointment was welcomed in some quarters, others expressed concern that most viewers out in the real world don't know who he is -- a weak spot the Globes have cunningly zeroed in on by snapping up star comedy duo Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to continue the work done by Ricky Gervais in the last two years. With Fey a name many have suggested for the Oscar gig (she's presented at the big show twice), this likely ratings coup must really smart for AMPAS. I know which show I'm looking forward to more now. You? [HitFix]

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<p>Denzel Washington may look like he's holding it together in the new Robert Zemeckis film 'Flight,' but he's hiding some serious pain behind those shades.</p>

Denzel Washington may look like he's holding it together in the new Robert Zemeckis film 'Flight,' but he's hiding some serious pain behind those shades.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Review: 'Flight' takes Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington on an unexpected trip

An unsparing look at a life spent in free-fall marks new territory for director and star

Robert Zemeckis has never made anything like "Flight," and Denzel Washington has rarely played a character this damaged.  I frequently feel like studio movies arrive somewhat predigested because of how many times we've seen variations on the same basic formulas, and when you do run into something that takes its own path, that tells its own story in a way you're not expecting, it can be positively shocking.  Working from a strong piece of material by John Gatins, Zemeckis seems to be trying something that is, for him, both new and a clear representation of the things that make him most interesting as a filmmaker.

I remember seeing Spike Lee talk about the making of "Mo' Better Blues," and one of the things that he said made the film difficult to shoot was a firm rule from Denzel Washington that he did not want to do any elaborate love scenes or any sort of onscreen nudity with a female co-star because of his own offscreen marriage.  As good as he is, there's often a sense that he's holding back something, that he is careful about his image.  It's the sort of thing that I think often affects Will Smith's choices as a movie star as well, and it can be hard to let go of after you've lived with it for a long time.  I couldn't help but think about that when we first see Denzel in this film, in bed with Nadine Velazquez, finishing a beer for breakfast and doing a rail to wake himself up as she walks around the room totally nude.  At one point, he gives a sideways glance right up her backside as he talks on the phone, and there is a world weary quality to the beat that is both funny and immediately crushing.  This is the sort of performance where there's no personal vanity involved, and there's no thought of Denzel as Denzel.

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<p>Chloe Grace Moretz steps into the shoes of Carrie White in what looks like a very timely remake of Stephen King's 'Carrie'</p>

Chloe Grace Moretz steps into the shoes of Carrie White in what looks like a very timely remake of Stephen King's 'Carrie'

Credit: Screen Gems

First 'Carrie' trailer suggests new remake may tap into the zeitgeist perfectly

Chloe Moretz is front and center in this first glimpse at the new version

I have certainly spent my fair share of time and column inches writing about the remake culture that we're suffering through right now, and by and large, I'm not a fan.  I think there is an anemic degree of imagination on display from the studios these days, and even the excuse that these things fund the chances that they take starts to look a little thin when the remakes outnumber the originals ten to one.

But I'm willing to admit that there are remakes that make sense, and when there's a piece of material that speaks to the times we live in or that offers an opportunity that a filmmaker feels strongly about, then I'm more than happy to watch what they come up with.  And in the case of "Carrie," I would argue that the time is absolutely right to revisit what remains one of the most potent of Stephen King's novels.

After all, it's not like bullying has stopped.  If anything, today's technological culture has created a whole new way for kids to be tormented and teased.  It's been hard reading the stories about Amanda Todd and looking at the video she left behind when she committed suicide recently and seeing how there are still people who were part of her world who continue to pile on the abuse even now that she's dead.  It's just one more disturbing story in a long line of them, and while some people seem to think this is new, I think it's just a new version of something that's been around as long as there have been weak and strong kids, as long as people have felt different, as long as there has been the need for some people to victimize others to make themselves feel better.

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<p>Monday's &quot;The Voice&quot;</p>

Monday's "The Voice"

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'The Voice' Monday - The Battles Continue

It takes a while, but Monday's episode features some standouts
After one week of Battle Rounds, “The Voice” now has slightly over a quarter of the forty contestants that will participate in the next phase in the competition. So we have about three weeks left of people scream-singing at each other or working together to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. So far, the judges haven’t exactly grasped the concept of this season’s twist, with both CeeLo Green and Adam Levine leaving themselves wide open to having one of their strongest team members swiped by a competing coach via The Steal. Let’s see if the superstars get any smarter about their pairings as the Battle Rounds continue. And let’s see who will be the first contestant indignant about his or her partner.
 
It’s another 2-hour installment tonight, so we should see quite a few pairings before the night is through. Let’s see what Green, Levine, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton have up their sleeves tonight. Spoiler alert: I’m guessing the final battle of the night will be the most dramatic. I just…have…a hunch. As always, I’ll be jotting down my thoughts in real time.
 
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"Dancing with the Stars"

 "Dancing with the Stars"

Credit: ABC

Recap: 'Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars' starts handing out high scores

With Paula Abdul on the judges' panel, some stars nab nearly perfect scores

Paula's in the house! I'm hoping Paula will actually give some concrete advice beyond, "You're so great!" or "You make my heart smile!" After all, this is her wheelhouse -- dancing, not singing, is where her true talent lies. But, let's face it, she's still Paula, so I'm expecting lots of love and those hands-splayed slow claps and blown kisses. 

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<p>Saskia Rosendahl in &quot;Lore.&quot;</p>

Saskia Rosendahl in "Lore."

Credit: Music Box Films

London: Foreign Oscar contenders 'Lore' and 'Children of Sarajevo' impress

Two further standouts in what's turning out to be a deep Oscar field

This weekend's viewing at the London Film Festival brought me to a pleasingly round, if short-lived, statistic: I've now seen 20 of the 71 films entered for consideration in this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race. That's a pretty small proportion still, yet even this sample pool feels thick with artistic virtue and contender potential alike. From this single score of films, I feel, it'd be quite easy to draw up five-nominee slate for the ages, with several worthy alternatives left over as change – and Australia's entry, the lyrical-yet-bloodied “Lore” (A-) deserves to be near the top of the heap.

Whether for arthouse or Academy targeting purposes, “Lore” seems destined to be handed the 'Holocaust film' label – a tag that, however impartially descriptive, has lately called to mind a subgenre marked by earnest moral reinscription and grayscale suffering. Neither is a convention to which this crisp, cruel, often recklessly beautiful survival story, set against the dying breaths of Nazism, feels duty-bound. It's as much a tale of an individual's selfish spurts of guilt and rapture as one of any larger communal redemption or destruction, and as such feels very much of a piece with director Cate Shortland's woozily desirous 2004 debut “Somersault” – to which “Lore” is a too-long-awaited follow-up.

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<p>Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will team up again to co-host the 2013 Golden Globes.</p>

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will team up again to co-host the 2013 Golden Globes.

Credit: NBC

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to co-host 2013 Golden Globes

Friends and former 'SNL' co-stars will reunite

Year after year, Tina Fey and/or Amy Poehler will pop up at the Emmys, the Golden Globes, or the Oscars and be so bright and funny and quick that they've outshone the actual host of the night. So the 2013 Golden Globes will cut out the middle man and just use Fey and Poehler as the co-hosts on January 13.

Fey and Poehler are longtime friends and frequent collaborators who have worked together at Second City, on "Saturday Night Live," and in the 2008 film "Baby Mama." Both also currently star in comedies on NBC (which will air the Globes), Fey in the final season of "30 Rock," and Poehler on "Parks and Recreation."

The promotion from presenter to host doesn't always go as smoothly as we might hope (witness Ricky Gervais on these same Globes), but the Fey/Poehler team has me genuinely excited to watch the ridiculous Golden Globes for the first time in forever.

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<p>No one takes greater delight in playing visually upsetting than Javier Bardem, which could be a very good thing indeed in 'Skyfall,' the latest James Bond film.</p>

No one takes greater delight in playing visually upsetting than Javier Bardem, which could be a very good thing indeed in 'Skyfall,' the latest James Bond film.

Credit: Sony Pictures

Javier Bardem torments James Bond in a new 'Skyfall' clip

Silva looks like an interesting challenge for the super spy

I'm going to have to stop watching clips and trailers at this point, I think.

Then again, this latest clip is so much fun that I'm not sure I'm going to be able to stop myself.

I know very little about Silva, the mysterious bad guy that Javier Bardem is playing in the film, but one of the keys to making a Bond film work is pitting him against someone who is a worthy adversary.  So far, the early reviews that I've glanced at seem to really like Bardem's work, and this new clip is one of the best glimpses we've had so far of Silva and Bond together.

What I like about this is the way it feels like Silva is engaged in the game here.  It feels like he's enjoying the cat-and-mouse with Bond, and the move he pulls to get away is pretty great.  It's also pretty clear that this is another film where Javier Bardem is visually disturbing, adding to the menace.  Nobody makes wigs more upsetting than Bardem, and his "blonde policeman" thing he's got going on here is really freaky.

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<p>Kelly Clarkson's &quot;Greatest HIts - Chapter One&quot;</p>

Kelly Clarkson's "Greatest HIts - Chapter One"

Credit: RCA

UPDATE: Kelly Clarkson releases track listing, cover for 'Greatest Hits-Chapter 1'

Did your favorite song make the list?

Kelly Clarkson’s “Greatest Hits—Chapter 1” doesn’t hit streets for another month, but today we get the track listing and cover art. The artwork, which is a little cheesy, ties in with the “Chapter 1” theme and looks like a book cover.

The story goes back to the beginning, including “A Moment Like This,” Clarkson’s first single after winning the first edition of “American Idol” in 2002, and extends through Clarkson’s fifth studio album, 2011’s “Stronger.” In addition to popular tunes, such as “Miss Independent,” “Because of You,” “Breakaway” and “Since U Been Gone,” the set also includes new track “Catch My Breath.”

"Greatest Hits – Chapter One" Track listing

1 Since U Been Gone
2 My Life Would Suck Without You
3 Miss Independent     
4 Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)
5 Behind These Hazel Eyes
6 Because Of You
7 Never Again
8 Already Gone
9 Mr. Know It All
10 Breakaway  
11 Don’t You Wanna Stay (with Jason Aldean)
12 Walk Away
13 Catch My Breath
14 People Like Us
15 Don’t Rush (featuring Vince Gill)
16 A Moment Like This
17 I’ll Be Home For Christmas
 

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