Latest Blog Posts

<p>Monica Potter and Peter Krause in &quot;Parenthood.&quot;</p>

Monica Potter and Peter Krause in "Parenthood."

Credit: NBC

Season premiere review: 'Parenthood' - 'Family Portrait'

Ray Romano takes a Braverman photo in a sweet, simple return

"Parenthood" is back after an absurdly long absence (the season 3 finale aired at the end of February), and I have a review of the season premiere coming up just as soon as I choke on an awkward segue...

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"So You Think You Can Dance"

"So You Think You Can Dance"

Credit: Fox

'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: The final 4 dance and Nigel shocks everyone

The dancers bring the wow - but one judge shares a tough opinion

Wow. After the last few moments of the show, I feel I need to rethink everything I saw in this episode.  I'm simply not sure how I feel about what happened, as I felt that what was said was the honest truth -- but absolutely calculated to change what happens as well. But let's not skip ahead just yet. There's a lot of show to talk about first, complete with compelling performances and arresting solos. And truthfully, those are happier to think about anyway.

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<p>This is &quot;The Voice&quot;</p>

This is "The Voice"

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'The Voice' Tuesday Premiere - Blind Auditions, Part 2

How many performers would we see in the second hour of Season 3?
“The Voice” premiered to solid ratings, albeit ratings well off its previous two season openers. Cause for concern for NBC? Probably not, although the real ratings excitement will come tomorrow when the third episode of this opening week episode gauntlet goes head to head with the premiere of “The X Factor” over on FOX. But we’re not here to speculate about Thursday morning Nielsen ratings. We’re here to recap the second blind auditions. Given the ratio of episode time versus contestant selected last night (one per fifteen minutes of air time) and the total number of contestants that will ultimately be placed on one of four teams (sixty-four), we’re going to be going blind well into 2013.
 
OK, it won’t be that bad. But we are looking at a 5-6 week process, unless things speed up. And given the dearth of programming in NBC’s lineup that gets even half as many viewers as “The Voice,” look for a leisurely pace as we approach the Battle Rounds at the approximate speed of continental drift. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it gives ample time for each contestant to make an impression. Be warned: if the backstory for a certain participant is boring, I might just make one up. It shouldn’t be too hard to tell fact from fiction.
 
Let’s start the running diary for tonight’s episode. This one, like tomorrow night’s installment, will run only a single hour. Will “The Voice” try to pack in the auditions or stick to last night’s leisurely pace? Will any other formerly rejected contestants re-emerge to try and make it big again? Will producers send out a parade of former Mouseketeers in an effort to confuse Christina Aguilera? Only one way to find out. All times below are EST.
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<p>Dave Matthews Band's &quot;Away From the World&quot;</p>

Dave Matthews Band's "Away From the World"

Album Review: Dave Matthews Band, 'Away From the World'

Hit and miss for a band just past two decades old

Dave Matthews Band’s latest “Away from the World” shouldn’t be judged alone by its single “Mercy,” a rock lite Good-Feeling Word Salad that clings hard to the teeth. It means well, a sentiment that could describe just a couple of songs off of this Steve Lillywhite-produced set, but bombs compared to one of its “Worldly” companions like “Gaucho,” another and more refined expression of the disappointment and dealings with the “World’s” inequity. 

It’s all about taming those flourishes, and it’s Lillywhite whose gift is to parse the excessive elements of an instrumentally gifted band. After more than 20 years, they ought to be capable of doing it themselves, yet they end up with tracks like “Snow Outside” which sounds like 30 tracks when five or six could do. Be forewarned, too, that despite its epic buildup and release, “Drunken Soldier” ambles on eternally like a… well, you know.
 
However, there’s at least a pair of tracks that (thankfully) strip down to skivvies: ukulele-led “Sweet” is an appropriate title for a tender exercise in happy accidents while “Belly Full” is only one guitar and one vocal.
 
Carter Beauford has always been and remains the metronomic glue for the band, despite the gentle caw of its namesake’s voice or the stable of backing players. He’s especially poignant on creeper “The Riff,” Matthews’ bedroom-eyed break with reality.  “[I] take another drink / so I can lose control,” Matthews growls from the “Rooftop,” the sort of uninhibited “sweet spot” that attracted listeners to begin with. “I want / you to / tell me that you want me.” You can tell he means it, ‘cause of all of the blaring instruments.
 
"Away From the World" is out today (Sept. 11).

 

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<p>Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur in &quot;Beyond the Hills.&quot;</p>

Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur in "Beyond the Hills."

Credit: Sundance Selects

Romania enters Cannes winner 'Beyond the Hills' in the Oscar race

Will voters make it up to Cristian Mungiu after that significant 2007 snub?

For casual Oscar-watchers, the Cannes Film Festival may seem prime hunting ground for Best Foreign Language Film candidates, but it hasn't turned up much so far -- only two submissions have emerged from this year's programme. The first of these was obvious: Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner "Amour," eventually selected as Austria's entry. 

The second is similarly predictable: eyebrows would have been raised if Romania hadn't submitted "Beyond the Hills." Cristian Mungiu's long-awaited follow-up to his 2007 Cannes champion, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" earned a raft of glowing reviews -- if not quite the unanimous veneration that greeted his previous film -- upon its premiere back in May, and was the only film in Competition to take more than one jury award: Best Screenplay for Mungiu and Best Actress for young novices Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. (As with the recent kerfuffle in Venice, the latter prize was something of a compromise: "Amour" lead Emmanuelle Riva was reportedly the jury's first choice.) 

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"Nashville"

"Nashville"

Credit: ABC

The good, the bad and the meh of fall 2012's new TV dramas

Quick takes on 'Nashville,' 'Vegas,' '666 Park Avenue' and more

I couldn't just weigh in on the new fall TV half-hours, of course. For the record, these aren't reviews -- those would be more in-depth and, honestly, would require more than the first episode to truly assess each show. Still, the new fall dramas are a much sturdier, more promising lot than the sitcoms, so there's reason to be hopeful. And really, even if some of the stronger shows dive bomb, the all-star casts (Connie Britton! Michael Chiklis! Andre Braugher) will be compelling enough for me to at least set my DVR each week.

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<p>Pink</p>

Pink

Credit: AP Photo

Listen: Pink's new track, 'Try,' provides inspiration

She strongly sells weak song

Pink’s new album,”The Truth About Love,”  doesn’t come out until next Tuesday, but between now and then a lyric video for a new track will debut every day on Vevo.

Today’s track, “Try” is a mid-tempo sparkler, whose melody is a bit reminiscent of “You And Your Hand.” Lyrically, the song is all getting up again after being kicked down hard. From the opening lines, “Ever wonder about what he’s doing/How it all turned to lies,” it’s clear that her man has gone astray. But, as she advises us, “Just because it burns/doesn’t mean you’re gonna die.”

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Ben Affleck both directs and heads the large ensemble cast of the riveting 'Argo'</p>

Ben Affleck both directs and heads the large ensemble cast of the riveting 'Argo'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Review: Ben Affleck's 'Argo' tells a transfixing true-life story

A great ensemble cast tears into an excellent script

I think the thing I like most about Ben Affleck these days is that he didn't wait for someone else to rescue his career.  He took control and he rescued himself.

"Argo" is the latest film from Affleck as a director, and I think it's a huge leap forward for him.  I liked "Gone Baby Gone" more than I liked "The Town," which I thought was well-made but not a particularly great script.  This time out, Affleck is working with a wonderful piece of material, telling a captivating true story, and he's put together an ensemble that any actor would be thrilled to be part of, all in service of a film that absolutely feels like it could make awards-giving groups happy while also serving as a cracking piece of entertainment.  Those two things don't always go hand in hand, and Affleck deserves credit for taking what could easily have been a dry historical moment and turning it into as tense a thriller as you'll see in a theater all year.

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<p>Grizzly Bear's &quot;Shields&quot;</p>

Grizzly Bear's "Shields"

Credit: Warp

Album Review: Grizzly Bear, 'Shields'

Listen to the set in its entirety, a week ahead of time

Considering the production quality and sophisticated arrangements that went into previous Grizzly Bear efforts, expectations are raised with each record. The quartet’s latest “Shields,” in turn, doesn’t fail to deliver another batch of gorgeously built tunes, despite having no dramatic evolution in sound. 

Urgent single “Yet Again” is the essence of what makes up the pop side of Grizzly Bear, as its glimmering harmonies are met with occasionally harsh guitar sounds, and the sung syllables cut to the tense narrative and not to the beat. “Adelma,” too, is restless and refreshingly vibrant, contrasted against calm cuts like “gun-shy,” a slow-morphing idea that grew out of a Wah pedal (or, at least, the crybaby sound) as it grooves chilly-eyed through cute dashes of a clap track.
 
“What’s Wrong” sounds most like a track from the pen of Daniel Rossen, the closest relative to his Department of Eagles side project from a couple years ago, as the singers’ ghostly long vowels trip over the sound of soft mallets on toms. Its story is around the evergreen and ever-unknown “you,” an example of Grizzly Bear lyrics propelled by atmosphere more than a particular story. They’re proving themselves more instrumentally capable than ever before in expressing those luscious ambiguities, like in the dark forest corners of “Sleeping Ute.”
 
LISTEN TO GRIZZLY BEAR'S "SHIELDS" IN ITS ENTIRETY HERE.
 
Complicated, two-parter “Sun in Your Eyes” is Grizzly Bear’s outstanding achievement on this set, and they gave its 7+ minutes room to stretch out as the closer. Structurally, it spans over two “movements” with what seems like a false ending in the middle and a piano chord progression that will make your fingertips itch for middle-C. “So bright /so long … the sun is in your eyes / I’m never coming back … it overflows,” Rossen and Ed Droste pant over the abundant arrangements, nodding back at Van Dyk Parks as they speed away on high-velocity synths and a boatload of rhythmic instruments.
 
In a group where every voice can sing harmony, and every instrument can hold down rhythm, Grizzly Bear has every option at their disposal to “over-do” their ethereal sound. But they don’t. They kept “Shields” fit at 10 tracks, drove the BPM down the middle, and kept their words few. Like a lot of their records, it’s defensively lush with a  few new melodies to keep the tracks apart in the memory.

"Shields" is out on Sept. 18.

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<p>The Avett Brothers, &quot;The Carpenter&quot;</p>

The Avett Brothers, "The Carpenter"

Credit: American

Album Review: The Avett Brothers build well-crafted songs on 'The Carpenter'

Death and all his friends loom large on new Rick Rubin-produced set

“If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die,” sing the Avett Brothers in the banjo ballad, “The Once And Future Carpenter.” The track opens “The Carpenter,” the new album from Scott Avett, Seth Avett and bassist Bob Crawford, out today.

Coming from less talented hands, the words may sound like an empty platitude, but over the course of their career, the Avett Bros, who are joined on the album  (and in concert) by cellist Joe Kwon and drummer Jacob Edwards, have shown a knack for spinning simple truths out of complicated concepts.

On 2009’s “I And Love And You,” the album that brought the Avetts into the mainstream, producer Rick Rubin provided some needed spit and polish on the band’s material and streamlined the sound found on their earlier indie releases.

On “The Carpenter,”  the Brothers Avett, take the lessons they learned from Rubin, who produces again here, and retain what they liked and discard the rest. The result is an album that has a shine but is never overly glossy. Guests like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith are there to add a certain texture, not for bragging rights.

Like contemporaries Mumford & Sons,  the Avett Bros. have found a new way to make acoustic instruments rock and roll with passion and intensity, while keeping the instruments’ authenticity. They also aren’t afraid to get noisy, loudly building their songs with a confidence that brims through on “Pretty Girl From Michigan,”  and the irrepressibly jangly “Geraldine,” as well as the shape-shifting, psychedelic “Paul Newman Vs. The Demons.” Melodically, they are deeply rooted in folk and country, but access rock,  grunge and pop with ease. They owe as much to Kurt Cobain as to Levon Helm.

Despite the often light melodies and glorious harmonies, there’s a certain gravitas to much of “The Carpenter,” as the band explores death and all his friends in its many different guises.  “Through My Prayers” is a tender tearjerker that anyone who has lost someone with words left unspoken will understand all too well.

If it’s not physical death, there’s also the death that comes from heartache, as poignantly expressed in the stark “Winter In My Heart.”  As the months tear off the calendar, the protagonist stays in a perpetual winter, unable to move on from a romantic loss.  The music on “I Never Knew You” may be bright and sparkly, but the lyrics detail a disenchanted, heartbroken lover, who  goes out “Friday night and talk(s) to anyone I can.” As he looks back on his past relationship, he realizes that his former paramour was a stranger even though he believed he was deeply in love.

It’s not all darkness on “The Carpenter.” On “A Father’s First Spring,” Scott Avett sweetly  details the first blushes of fatherhood and how painful it is leave his newborn daughter. On “Paul Newman Vs. The Demons,” the group salutes the legendary actor for the exemplary way he lived his life: “Oh to be like him and walk a path/To lend a hand, do something worth a damn.”  As much as the song is a paean to Newman, it’s also an exhortation to find a way to give up one’s demons. It’s the biggest stretch on the album, and its adventurous rambling doesn’t always work.

“The Carpenter” isn’t as bright as “I And Love And You,” but it has a depth of feeling that surpasses its predecessor and an understanding of life’s vicissitudes that anyone who has experienced them will appreciate for its honesty and, ultimately, hope.

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<p>Garret Hedlund (left), Kristen Stewart and Walter Salles (right) at a New York screening of &quot;On the Road&quot; last night</p>

Garret Hedlund (left), Kristen Stewart and Walter Salles (right) at a New York screening of "On the Road" last night

Credit: AP Photo/Stapix, Dave Allocca

On Kristen Stewart and stripping away the tabloid persona

The 'On the Road' star is finding her way

Not to be crass, but it struck me yesterday that a screening of "Anna Karenina" followed by moderating a Q&A with Kristen Stewart (along with Walter Salles and Garrett Hedlund for "On the Road") was an interesting juxtaposition. Young lady errs and gets maligned by society. Hmm. But stripping the tabloid away from a persona is always a good thing, and spending a few hours with Stewart, first on stage then later in the evening at an after-party, really endeared me to her, I must say.

People put their best face on in this game so you're always going to be charmed, seduced, wooed by the "please like me" thing of it all. But Stewart (who was nevertheless exposed to the film industry from a very early age) is a very normal girl in the throes of very abnormal circumstances. And her "best face" is difficult to manage. She squirms on stage in between the smoothly collected Hedlund and the cerebral Salles. She feels like she doesn't belong, but she desperately wants to. Indeed, she thinks she deserves to.

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<p>Missy Elliott</p>

Missy Elliott

Listen: Missy Elliott's at bat in this 'Ninth Inning' snippet

She's coming back to finish what she started

Don’t count Missy Elliott out. She may have been absent lately, but it’s the top of the ninth and she’s coming back. In this 85-second snippet from “Ninth Inning,” the female rapper declares, over an ominous horn droning that gives way to a bright, classical-sounding  piano melody, “Now i’m in the ninth inning/thought I fell off/I ain’t finished.”

[More after the jump...]

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