I always look forward to Vanity Fair's annual Hollywood Issue, an unofficial but essential ritual of the Oscar season -- mostly because I'm a sucker for pretty pictures of movie stars, but partly because they're an interesting, not wholly reliable, time capsule of where the magazine editors think the industry is at, and where it's going. This year's newly unveiled cover is adorned by four of the brightest young actresses of the moment -- three of them already Oscar-nominated, while the fourth surely will be soon -- and it's a typically beautiful effort, but my eyebrows rose slightly at the headline: "Introducing the fresh young stars of 2012." Is Vanity Fair really introducing us to 2010 Best Actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence? Or Mia Wasikowska, whom I believe was featured on the Hollywood cover two years ago? Give us some credit, VF. [Vanity Fair]
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A very quick review of last night's "Southland" coming up just as soon as I get to punch you in the face...
PARK CITY - It wasn't he best of times nor the worst of times at this year's 2012 Sundance Film Festival, but it clearly wasn't the most memorable. Every festival is likely to have an off year now or then, but it was the lack of buzz among many of the narrative films and even documentaries that was so disconcerting. There were a slew of fine or mediocre films, but few that were truly godawful (a good thing) or generated hype-worthy passion (a not so good thing). There was even a lack of controversy or pseudo celebrity around this year's edition that made the whole endeavor seem, well, forgettable.
A review of tonight's "Justified" coming up just as soon as I move into the greater Lexington area of Kiss My Ass...
Look, anytime you have an episode in which the most dramatic event involved a rock-salt laced Slushie potentially blinding one of your leads, you know you’re in for a special hour on your hands. And so it was with “Michael,” just the latest in “Glee”’s attempts to not even bother trying to make sense on a basic level. There’s little to really review. The show’s review-proof, and consciously so. There’s absolutely no way to logically analyze what just beamed into our brains for an hour.
Let’s take the central conceit of Michael Jackson being at the heart of a new war between New Directions and The Warblers. One could, and probably should, argue for Jackson’s place in the pop pantheon. But I’ve not said that one is currently a teenager, which makes the obsession with him this week slightly odd. On Twitter tonight, it was clear that there was a schism between people my age, who remember “Billie Jean” when it first aired on MTV, and people a lot younger than me, who are surprised to learn that MTV used to play videos. Had this hour been an exploration of how Jackson paved the way for artists currently on the charts, then maybe the students could have gone through Jackson’s extensive back catalog in order to discover songs that were personal to them. But no. When Will writes, “WWMJD?” on his White Board of Doom, everyone already knows.
It’s a silly thing to quibble over, I know. “Glee” did a Michael Jackson episode because, well, “Glee” wanted to do a Michael Jackson episode. But “Glee” also thinks just throwing that idea up on its own version of Will’s White Board of Doom is good enough as an episode of television. Sometimes, the songs managed to coincide with something actually happening with a character’s arc*. Other times, characters just recreated Jackson’s original videos with remarkable fidelity. And yet other times, they sang “Black and White” and made me wonder if the entire episode was somehow about racism without me knowing about it.
* I have to asterisk this, because I managed to use the word “arc” when applied to characters on “Glee.” I promise this won’t happen again.
Look at the way Blaine kicked things off, before getting a rock-salted Slushie to the cornea. (I have to keep typing that out, because I’m semi-convinced it couldn’t have possibly happened.) He is psyched about Michael week, and knows the perfect song to start the week. That song? “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” THAT is how much effort goes into the writing of a typical episode. It’s whatever is easiest at that moment to achieve, and if getting into a song is organic, then awesome. If it comes screaming out of left field like an auto-tuned banshee, then so it goes.
All of this depresses me to no end, because every once in a while the show connects music to emotion in ways that justify the program’s existence. Rachel agreeing to marry Finn is beyond thunderdome levels of dumb, but there’s something really powerful about the way he set up “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” He tells her, “I always feel like you hear me better when I’m not talking.” Well, that’s pretty much musical theatre in a nutshell, no? Singing what you can’t say? It’s a throwaway line, one that I’m far from sure the writers of the show ever take to heart. But watching Finn/Rachel sing, or Sam/Mercedes in a sweet, pared down version of “Human Nature,” is to watch the show at its best. It’s really small, really intimate, and uses pop songs in order to sell emotions, not records.
It’s a lot better than the college drama interspersed throughout the hour. “Glee” theoretically shows a lot of people who will never leave Lima. That’s not a bad thing, to be sure. But there’s always a sense lurking on the edges that while everything inside the practice room is hunky dory, the world can be a benignly cruel place. (Except when you’re restaging “Bad” in an abandoned parking lot. Then life gets REAL, and REAL FAST.) But no: both Rachel and Kurt get into the finalist rounds of NYADA. Not surprising, but not exactly dramatic. Quinn, though? Here’s what I wrote a few months ago: “Quinn should be going to jail. Instead? She’s probably going to Yale. Kill me in the face.” Or, in light of tonight’s episode, throw a rock-salted Slushie in my face. So of course she gets into Yale, because why not? It’s not like we’ve heard a lick about this plot since it was ludicrously introduced.
Everything in her speech to New Directions about overcoming obstacles rang false. Not because the details in them were inherently impossible, although that had something to do with it. No, it rang false because it detailed events we hadn’t actually seen for ourselves. Getting Quinn from “planting evidence in order to have an adult woman framed for child abuse” to “into an Ivy League school” should have taken more than eleven minutes of screen time. I’m guessing. I’m not a professional television writer. But I’m willing to wager my assessment here is correct. It’s a symptomatic problem for the show: rather than painstakingly lay out a character’s trajectory, they just skip to what they perceive are the cool, important, or emotional moments. But without the groundwork, none of the moments themselves register as they should.
After all this, New Directions won’t even perform Michael Jackson at Regionals. Santana manages to record Sebastian detailing his evil plot, in which he’s the Gus Fring to Santana’s Walter White. (“I’m the one with underboob!” she bellows, or should have.) So it’s no MJ for anyone, apparently, when it comes to the upcoming competition. That makes sense, in that the show hates to repeat musical numbers. It’s harder to sell iTunes singles if you keep reusing the same ones, after all. I understand the show not wanting to pull a “That Thing You Do!” and drive a specific tune into our brain until we cry uncle. And that’s fine, so long as each episode contributes to their understanding of what makes them work as a group. I just don’t know what they learned this week, aside from what can be concealed inside Santana’s bra.
If “Glee” worked in ways related to Finn’s earlier description, a lot of these complaints would go away. I really don’t watch a musical for its book. A smart book helps, but strong songs with strong emotional content go a long way towards covering that up. Only about 15% of tonight’s musical content actually connected, which made the remaining 85% frustrating rather than transporting. (Blaine had to be sitting there in bed thinking, “They know my name isn’t Ben, right?”) Given that The King of Pop was one of the all-time best in transporting people through his music, that’s a disappointing percentage. Then again, it’s been a disappointing season. So who should be surprised that this was the outcome?
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Were you a Michael Jackson fan going into this episode? Did you leave as one? What are the odds that Rachel leaves for NYC still engaged? What would you put in a Slushie in order to wound your mortal enemies? Sound off below!
A quick review of tonight's "New Girl" coming up just as soon as I use sculpting chutney...
After watching the Screen Actors' Guild Awards on Sunday night, something struck me about the quartet of film performances that SAG had awarded -- something unusual, yet pleasing, that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It had nothing to do with their collective quality, though I think that's higher than it is most years. And it had nothing to do with demographics, even if the sight of two non-white actresses winning in one evening is a notable and encouraging first. No, it had something to do with the actual characters played by these four actors, and as I thought back on their three largely disparate films, it hit me.
There's not a true-life character in the lot.
That may not seem an especially remarkable stat, but it is when you look at recent awards history, in which biopic performances have racked up more wins in Oscar's acting races than at any other point in Academy history. Indeed, should SAG's four choices all triumph on the big night next month -- and there's little reason to think they won't -- it'll be the first time since 1997 that all four acting Oscars have gone to actors playing fictitious characters.
Ever wanted to see Larry the Cable Guy close to naked? Viewers will get that chance (whether they want it or not) when the comedian hangs out with the Naked Cowboy in Times Square for his History show, "Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy" (Wed. Feb 1 at 9 p.m. ET). Other highlights from the show include Larry's visit to an alligator farm and a stop in Lead Hill, Arkansas to see a construction crew's 20-year-long gig building a medieval castle using only medieval construction methods... while dressed in medieval clothing.
Watch below as Larry the Cable Guy suits up (or, really, down) in tighty whities and then, in the second video, hustles for money in New York City.
(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy's 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)
Early on in the season it was decided that a full slate of five nominees in the Best Animated Feature Film category would be allowed, as there were at least 16 qualifying titles. However, that didn't necessary mean there WOULD be five, as the scoring system within the branch might still have yielded less that were deemed worthy.
In the end, five managed to surface, and a number of surprises bubbled up along with it. One formidable hybrid contender that was doing well on the precursor circuit failed to overcome inherent bias against it, while two fringe contenders from the indie world (and the same studio, no less) found their way in over other laureled studio efforts.
The nominees are…
Jim Jarmusch is getting closer and closer to that inevitable solo project, but in the meantime, he's linked up again with lute player/producer/composer Jozef Van Wissem for a collaborative, experimental album "Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity."
The set, due out on Feb. 28 through Important Records, features the famed director on guitar and is preceded by a new track "The Sun of the Natural World Is Fire." Check it out below (via SSG).
It's all texture and clock-like repetitions, with static and dissonance dominating the lute's structures. From a visual standpoint, I'd say its more interstitial than narrative, but a gorgeous, melodramatic piece nonetheless.
The duo will be promoting the set with two shows at the Issue Project Room (110 Livingston in Brooklyn) on Feb. 3.
Jarmusch has previously worked with Wissem on other projects, and lent other talents to music acts like Bad Rabbit and the Wu-Tang Clan. His last film was 2009's "The Limits of Control."
Will any of his musically inclined actors from previous films -- like RZA, Jack White or Tom Waits -- show up?
After a strong showing for "The Help" at Sunday night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, the film is set to receive another boon on its way to Oscar night. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced that it will honor writer/director Tate Taylor with the 2012 Paul Selvin Award, which recognizes "written work that embodies the spirit of constitutional rights and civil liberties,” according to the press release.
“Tate Taylor’s adapted screenplay for 'The Help' artfully distills the empowering essence and core emotional truths of Kathryn Stockett’s novel, translating it into a film that forcefully illustrates how ordinary people can impact positive social change,” said WGAw president Christopher Keyser. “Tate’s honor is well deserved and his script does Paul Selvin’s legacy proud by conveying the continuing power of the written word.”
Win a poster for 'The Artist' signed by SAG winner Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo and Michel Hazanavicius
It's been a song and a dance so far for "The Artist" as the underdog silent film has magically made its way toward destiny and a likely* best picture win at this year's Academy Awards. And now, thanks to The Weinstein Company, you can win the movie's poster signed by SAG and Golden Globe Award winning actor Jean Dujardin, his leading lady Bérénice Bejo and DGA Award winner Michel Hazanavicius.