Latest Blog Posts

<p>Linda Cardellini in &quot;Return.&quot;</p>

Linda Cardellini in "Return."

Credit: Focus Features

Looking back on Linda Cardellini in 'Return'

Check out her award-caliber performance on iTunes and Video On Demand

We spend so much time in the blogosphere looking forward to things that we don't always notice, or at least sufficiently discuss, worthwhile work that is ready for viewing right away. For so many films, all conversation about them ceases the second they become available to audiences -- which is least kind, of course, to small specialty items that need sustained chatter to prod the viewers they deserve. 

This is a roundabout way of expressing my regret that Liza Johnson's independent drama "Return" -- which I saw and greatly liked in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes last year, and had been looking forward to spotlighting closer to its release -- actually hit US screens last month, and amid the flurry of Oscar-related coverage, I somehow didn't notice.

Hey, better late than never. The film, a modest, intelligent entry in the growing American genre of post-Iraq war-at-home studies, may have largely vanished from theaters, but Focus Features has made it available on iTunes and On Demand, and you owe it to yourself to dig it out. More pointedly, you owe it to Linda Cardellini, who has quietly delivered the performance of her -- or many an undersung TV actor's -- career here.

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<p>Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet is one of the things Toshi and Allen loved most about 'Spaceballs,' but the film didn't sit as well with Dad this time around.</p>

Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet is one of the things Toshi and Allen loved most about 'Spaceballs,' but the film didn't sit as well with Dad this time around.

Credit: 20th Century Fox Home Video

Film Nerd 2.0: What happens when I realize I hate a movie that the boys love?

A screening of a silly comedy lands wrong for dad, but the boys both love it

This is a first.

When I was picking movies for this year's Film Nerd 2.0 with my sons, we went through books full of DVDs and shelves full of Blu-rays, discussing things that interested them, explaining things they asked about.  I thought the final list we chose was a nice mix of styles and filmmakers, and it seemed like a nice trip through several eras of Hollywood.

After our last film together was "To Kill A Mockingbird," it seemed appropriate to go in the other direction and pick something that was light and fun and that we could enjoy together before I left for a film festival trip.  Those long professional moments away from home are hard on the kids, and they're hard on me as well.  At six and four (Allen just had a birthday), they like being silly.  They are silly all the time.  They are constantly struggling to make each other laugh, and I find myself watching them in the playroom, them unaware that I'm paying attention, and being amazed at what dedicated clowns they are.

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"Ringer"

 "Ringer" 

Credit: CW

Is 'Ringer' improving with age?

After a dismal start, is the Sarah Michelle Gellar show finding its footing?
To say "Ringer" got off to a shaky start may be the understatement of the year. After a cornball pilot that was loaded down with a "Parent Trap" premise, a horribly cliched criminal subplot and some of the worst green screen scenes short of a student film, the show seemed stuck in ripping off film noir plotlines and even costumes. Still, I noticed glimmers of hope. As Bridget-as-Siobhan struggled to keep her identity hidden from Siobhan's closest friends, characters such as best friend Gemma and her deadbeat husband Henry (with whom Siobhan was having an affair) emerged to take focus off the dreary police procedural subplot and we discovered Siobhan's perfect life was anything but. 
 
So, eighteen episodes in, how are we doing?
 
Well, "Ringer" has most certainly delivered on twists and turns. Keeping track of who is evil this week and who is lying about what may actually require a flow chart and flash cards as the twin sisters Bridget and Siobhan (both played by Gellar) navigate dangerous, labyrinthine plots that may or may not get one or both of them killed. Is Siobhan's husband Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd) in love with Siobhan (actually Bridget) or is he willing to kill her to protect the Ponzi scheme he's running (this week, it seems to be love -- if he survives being shot by an unknown gunman)? Is someone really trying to kill Bridget because she's Bridget or because she's pretending to be Siobhan? Is Bridget's long-suffering NA sponsor Malcolm (Mike Colter) just a sucker for punishment or… well, we actually know the answer to that one (yes). 
 
Plot twists are thrown at us with the speed of dodge balls in the hands of fourth grade bullies. Even plotlines that initially seem straightforward, such as when Andrew's teen daughter Juliet (Zoey Deutch) accuses a teacher of raping her, are tangled into knots. See, it was actually a plot Juliet, the teacher and a classmate orchestrated to squeeze $10 million dollars out of Andrew. And the plot was actually the idea of Andrew's ex-wife. And she was sleeping with the teacher, not that Juliet knew anything about it. And she hired someone to beat up the classmate and… remember, this was a minor subplot. The rest of the show? Even more convoluted.
 
On the one hand, kudos to "Ringer" for trying hard to keep us guessing. The problem is, in creating endless twists and reversals, what's been lost is key to holding our attention -- character development. While Bridget is clearly the mushy soft center holding our interest (and Malcolm her loyal supporter) and Nestor Carbonell is another sympathetic but mostly wasted character as the stock detective, everyone else seems to flip flop from likable to possible psycho killer week after week.
 
As sweet-natured Bridget worked her charms on Andrew, it seemed the beleaguered husband was finally getting a second shot at love (albeit with someone who isn't really his wife). But when he finally confesses his instigating a Ponzi scheme at work to Siobhan/Bridget, Bridget suspects he's trying to kill her or Malcolm. But then he saves her life, so he was just the victim of bad lighting earlier in the episode. If it's confusing for Bridget, it's possibly more so for viewers, who have to move characters into and out of the good guy and bad guy columns repeatedly not just in a season, but in a single episode. 
 
The other drawback of "Ringer"'s convoluted plotlines is that, in trying to tie up loose ends it's inevitable that logic occasionally gets tossed to the wind. Andrew has no clue that his wife isn't really his wife, but Siobhan's best friend quickly spots a missing tell-tale burn while Siobhan's driver sorts out he's escorting the other sister around town because she's not car sick. Yes, we can assume Andrew wanted to connect with Siobhan so badly he was willing to overlook some disparities, but given that Gellar's voice, stature and attitude are so different when playing the sisters, it's hard to believe anyone who knows about the identical twin angle doesn't figure it out. Most disappointing is Agent Machado (Carbonell)'s continued utter cluelessness. As talented as Carbonell is, it's difficult to watch him trudge through the usual determined detective tropes (and when he finally does get a plotline of his own, it's about him falling for one of his informants -- yawn). 
 
Ultimately, the level on which "Ringer" probably works best is one Gellar is familiar with -- straight forward soap. There's a little more violence and better clothing, but mostly this show is just a twisty, fast-moving take on outrageous soap opera plotlines. Does it always work? No, but sometimes it's fun and, if you allow yourself to get caught up in the action, there's always another nailbiter around the corner. But if you haven't been watching, be forewarned -- jumping in now won't be easy. 
 
Are you watching "Ringer"? 
 
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<p>This is either going to be the weirdest French kiss ever, or it's a scene from 'The Cabin In The Woods'</p>

This is either going to be the weirdest French kiss ever, or it's a scene from 'The Cabin In The Woods'

Credit: Lionsgate

Want to see an early screening of 'Cabin In The Woods' in Philadelphia?

We've got details on how you can register and who will be there as a special guest

So are you excited about "The Cabin In The Woods" yet?

I think Lionsgate is doing a good job with a difficult situation.  They picked the film up from MGM because they believe in it, and they've been very clear about that since they first started reaching out to press last year.  They have also been very clear from the start that they recognize just how hard it is to sell this movie without giving away so much of what makes it great.

Ultimately, a good film is more than just the sum of its secrets, and "The Cabin In The Woods" is a film that plays even better once you watch it a second time.  The film is loaded with tiny details that pay off in a whole different way the second time around.  I suspect that horror fans will see the film many times, just to dissect all the things that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have layered into it.

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<p>Bruce Springsteen at SXSW</p>

Bruce Springsteen at SXSW

Credit: AP Photo

Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen brings the 'Wrecking Ball' to Greensboro

How does the new material fit in with the classics?

Let me start off by saying I’ve never seen Bruce Springsteen give a bad show in the close to 40 times that I have seen him over a 30-year period. There are merely gradations from good to great to breathtaking to transcendent. I should also admit that I consider being inside an arena at a Springsteen show, surrounded by my Springsteen community, to be one of my happiest places on earth.

This would mean I’m hardly objective when it comes to reviewing a Springsteen show and I judge it on a different level than the casual fan. Even with that caveat, last night’s show at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum displayed a level of polish that was astonishing considering it was only the official second night of the “Wrecking Ball” tour (he played warm-up gigs at the Apollo Theater and SXSW). While never reaching transcendence (and, really, how realistic an expectation is that every time?), the show was far better than the second night should be, especially given the number of Springsteen newbies on stage.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Marilyn Manson</p>

Marilyn Manson

No, really: Johnny Depp and Marilyn Manson covering 'You're So Vain'

Carly Simon gets a dark redux, plus: Have you heart Manson's newest single?

Maybe Johnny Depp and Marliyn Mason are vain. And maybe it's you, my friend. The industrial/heavy-rocker and the actor/musician have combined together to record a very unlikely cover: Carly Simon's "You're So Vain."

The track will appear on Manson's forthcoming eighth studio set, "Born Villain," out on May 1, though it's not currently available for listening yet. While it may not be worn on his sleeve, Depp is actually a big Manson fan, their bromance going back to at least 2001 when Manson's "The Nobodies" was in Depp's "From Hell"; the award-winning actor actually took Manson to the 2006 premiere of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" as his date.

The announcement of this song proceeds the recent unveiling of "Born Villain's" first single, "No Reflection," which I actually like a lot. It's crunchy, accessible, and with a lot of that Manson signature character, an actually good reflection on production. Manson; longtime collaborator and former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna; and bassist/producer Twiggy Ramirez (aka Jeordie White) were behind the decks for this effort.

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<p>Aziz Ansari from &quot;Parks and Recreation&quot;&nbsp;has just released a new stand-up comedy special on his website. </p>

Aziz Ansari from "Parks and Recreation" has just released a new stand-up comedy special on his website.

Credit: NBC

Interview: 'Parks and Recreation' co-star Aziz Ansari self-releases a comedy special

With 'Dangerously Delicious,' he's following the Louis C.K. model

Back in December, when Louis C.K. self-released his stand-up special "Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater," I wondered which entertainer might be equipped to follow in his footsteps, cut out the middle man and take their product directly to the public.

Well, the next one to try is a familiar face around these parts: Aziz Ansari, aka Tom Haverford on "Parks and Recreation," who's self-releasing his new stand-up special "Dangerously Delicious" via his website, AzizAnsari.com, under much the same model C.K. used with "Live at the Beacon." He paid to have it produced, is charging $5 for it, etc.

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<p>Jeffrey Dean Morgan and friends in &quot;Magic City&quot;&nbsp;can celebrate a second season already.</p>

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and friends in "Magic City" can celebrate a second season already.

Credit: Starz

Starz renews 'Magic City' before it debuts

Period drama will be back for a second season regardless of how it performs

HBO the last few years has developed a pattern where it renews most of its series within two days of their premiere. Chris Albrecht, who used to run HBO, is trying to do his old home one better from his new position as CEO of Starz, renewing shows before they've even debuted.

Albrecht did it back in the fall with Kelsey Grammer in "Boss," and how he's done it with "Magic City," which won't even debut until April 6 but already has an order for a 10-episode second season.

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<p>David Walton and Amanda Peet in &quot;Bent.&quot;</p>

David Walton and Amanda Peet in "Bent."

Credit: NBC

Review: NBC's 'Bent' offers snappy banter and strong chemistry from Amanda Peet and David Walton

Romantic comedy deserves better than weird mid-season burn-off scheduling
"Bent," the charming new romantic comedy that debuts tomorrow night at 9 on NBC, gets its title from the credo of the main character's father, a struggling actor who responds to adversity by insisting "I am bent, not broken."
 
That credo applies just as well to several of the show's main characters. Our hero, surfer dude contractor Pete Riggins (David Walton), is a recovering gambling addict who has blown up most of the relationships in his life but is just charming enough to keep getting second, third and fifth chances. Our heroine — and Pete's potential love interest — is Alex (Amanda Peet), uptight corporate lawyer and single mom still putting back the pieces of her life after her ex-husband went to prison for white collar crime. Alex's daughter Charlie (Joey King) is really struggling with her father's incarceration, and finds herself more comfortable with Pete than with her mom's perfectly nice doctor boyfriend Ben (Matt Letscher).
 
They are damaged, but not beyond repair, just as most of the work Pete and his lazy crew do on Alex's kitchen remodel has to be redone a time or six.
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<p>Bernadette Peters and Megan Hilty in &quot;Smash.&quot;</p>

Bernadette Peters and Megan Hilty in "Smash."

Credit: NBC

'Smash' - 'The Workshop': Get me rewrite!

Bernadette Peters sings some 'Gypsy,' and investors get to see 'Marilyn: the Musical'

A review of tonight's "Smash" coming up just as soon as I have stupid gaydar...

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<p>Neil Patrick Harris and Becki Newton again show some skin on &quot;How I&nbsp;Met Your Mother.&quot;</p>

Neil Patrick Harris and Becki Newton again show some skin on "How I Met Your Mother."

Credit: CBS

'How I Met Your Mother' - 'The Broath': Quinn-tervention

Good character beats but not a lot of laughs this week

A quick review of tonight's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I've got a monk guy...

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<p>Alabama Shakes at SXSW</p>

Alabama Shakes at SXSW

Credit: AP Photo

SXSW Superlatives: Best in show, from Alabama Shakes to Youth Lagoon

Escort, Cloud Nothings, M. Ward, The Men, Nas, Slaughterhouse and... the best food truck

More that 2,000 artists performed at the South By Southwest music conference this year. Sadly, I only saw a few dozen, and in bits. (However, more and more I'm led to believe that the 20-minute set is the way to go.) 

Below, I assign random and unscientific superlatives to some of the bands I saw, including shout-outs to Youth Lagoon, U.S. Royalty, Matthew Dear and Escort.
 
Where are Bruce Springsteen, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent and Eminem, Fiona Apple, Mumford & Sons and the other biggest acts? Check out "The 20 Things You Missed at SXSW 2012."
 
Most improved: Sharon Van Etten. I enjoyed this songwriter’s set last week, but what a difference electric makes. Now her arrangements are fleshier, her live shows more transcendent, and her voice as a singer and songwriter is better heard. She’s a bigger deal now and she knows it, in all the right ways.
 
Band that seemingly played the most shows the most days: Garden & Villa. Even if you wanted to avoid them – I didn’t – you couldn’t have missed them.
 
Most buzzed-about live band: Cloud Nothings. Elemental, punk, sheer and aware.
 
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