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<p>Kelsey Grammer of &quot;Boss&quot;</p>
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Kelsey Grammer of "Boss"

Credit: Starz

TV Review: Starz' 'Boss'

Kelsey Grammer is the hook, but the new Starz drama may have more to offer
Episodes of the new Starz drama "Boss" open with Robert Plant's version of the traditional gospel standard "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down."
 
In all of its incarnations (I'm partial to the Uncle Tupelo cover), "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" is a pretty simple song and the core lyrics boil down to basically what you see in the title. 
 
I'm suspecting that it's no coincidence that whenever I hear "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down," my mind immediately goes to Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole," which has a similar message about the allure and power of Beelzebub and the saving capacity of [Christian] faith.
 
The magnetic power of our baser instincts and the way those baser instincts run through the broader institutions of the American City were central to David Simon's exquisitely woven "Wire" tapestry and they're not far removed from what Farhad Safinia is tackling in "Boss."
 
In "The Wire," The Devil was in the institutions, the forces the prevented even the best of individual instincts and aspirations from breaking through the complacency of the system. While Simon had pockets of hope -- sometimes wide swathes of hope -- he was ultimately profoundly pessimistic. Good cops. Good teachers. Good union organizers. Good politicians. Good journalists. They all fought to keep The Devil way down in the hole, but Old Scratch kept getting out a wreaking havoc. "The Wire" was about the way an American city functions, but doesn't work.
 
Having seen two episodes of "Boss," I can't instantly tell you Safinia's world-view. I know he's nowhere near as overtly political as Simon and, in turn, I also suspect he's nowhere near as pessimistic as Simon. The series may be about the fall of a Great Man, but I don't know if Safinia wants us to view Kelsey Grammer's Tom Kane, longtime mayor of Chicago, as the symbolic "Satan" referred to in the opening song. It's entirely plausible that the political system in Chicago, long entrenched and long variably corrupt, is meant as Satan. But through two episodes, I don't know if Safinia is wanting viewers to root for Kane and/or the system to collapse, or if he's showing a landscape in which the evil that men do is capable of leading to a collective good for the community.
 
I sense that the opening songs are meant to tie "Boss" and "The Wire" together in some sort of collective meditation on the evil inherent in the urban space. Although I don't feel like "Boss" is anywhere near that "Wire" level of discourse -- literally nothing else in the history of the small screen is -- I admire its willingness to dive into the sort of terrain that TV ought to be well-suited to explore, but so rarely does. I can't even say that "Boss" is on the same level as Shawn Ryan's "The Chicago Code," which used the police as a pivot for delving into all aspects of the Windy City, but "Boss" is what's on TV right now and if it lives up to even some of its ample potential, it could become a series of some substance. That's a rare thing and one worthy of investing in.
 
More after the break...
 
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<p>&quot;Once Upon a Time&quot;</p>
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"Once Upon a Time"

Credit: ABC

Are we too grown up for grown-up fairy tales like 'Once Upon A Time' and 'Grimm'?

It's rich territory to mine, but it's rarely done right

I have to admit that when Is saw that the latest mini-trend for this fall's television season was modern takes on fairy tales, I rolled my eyes (check out Alan Sepinwall's review here). Of course, it's a move that makes perfect sense from a writing (and studio) perspective. Audiences gravitate toward the familiar (just look at the number of retreads at your local movie theater), and this is some a whole mess of familiar sitting fat and happy in the public domain. Storylines are populated with easy-to-grasp heroes and villains, stakes are life-and-death and usually we get a happy ending (or at least we did once Disney had their way with the Brothers Grimm). What could be better?

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<p>Alexandre Desplat won the Golden&nbsp;Globe in 2006 for his work on &quot;The Painted Veil.&quot;</p>
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Alexandre Desplat won the Golden Globe in 2006 for his work on "The Painted Veil."


Credit: AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

Alexandre Desplat tapped for 'Extremely Loud'

The prolific composer could be in contention for a number of scores this year

Film music composers are so often the most expendable element of a given project, it seems. They come, they go, and typically, someone is brought on very late in the game when we thought another composer was on the case.

That seems to be what's up with Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which has until now been noted as another collaboration with composer Nico Muhly ("The Reader") for Daldry. As it turns out, Alexandre Desplat - perhaps the most prolific composer in the game -- has been quietly working on the project. And his intrepid publicist just sent out a release reminding the media of this.

And it's most certainly noteworthy. Earlier in the year Desplat put out quality work in Chris Weitz's "A Better Life," a score I really think deserves some attention. Meanwhile, I've been expecting him to get a much-deserved nomination for his work in George Clooney's "The Ides of March," one of the best scores of the year.

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<p>Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan in &quot;Shame&quot;</p>

Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan in "Shame"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Searchlight on taking the 'Shame' out of NC-17

Studio plans to use adult rating as 'badge of honor' in Oscar campaign

"Oscar prospects, before anyone asks: probably nil. And yay for that."

So I commented immediately after posting my review of Steve McQueen's "Shame" following its unveiling at the Venice Film Festival, hoping to pre-emptively defuse a natural line of questioning on this site, without suggesting the film in any way fell short. Regular readers will know that I can be a bit snippy when quizzed about the future awards outlook for festival films, partly because I'm loath to think like a pundit at a world-cinema carnival, and partly because there are often too many unknowns for such speculation to be at all meaningful: critical approval only counts for so much with films with no distributor and no proven real-world audience.

For every festival sensation whose Oscar potential is immediately apparent (think Mo'Nique, whose recent Best Supporting Actress win seemed sewn up at Sundance a year before she even netted the nomination), there's another that has to feel its way into the season. Certainly, nobody screamed "Best Picture!" when "The Hurt Locker" premiered at Venice a full 18 months before its Oscar-night triumph.

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"The Rachel Zoe Project"

 "The Rachel Zoe Project"

Credit: Bravo

Do big life events work for reality TV - or send shows into a death spiral?

'The Rachel Zoe Project' and 'Gene Simmons Family Jewels' take the leap

The traditional wisdom is that, in the world of sitcoms, major life events can signal a show is about to jump the shark. How many of us have groaned as formerly great shows muddle around in the tired territory of onesies and wedding dresses, with characters suddenly falling flat and humorless before us? 

It would be easy to assume the same might happen with reality TV shows. After all, these shows are probably no less scripted than any other programming. But so far, I have high hopes for two shows on which main players have chosen to tackle big changes on-screen; "The Rachel Zoe Project" and "Gene Simmons Family Jewels" don't seem to be jettisoning their strong points to make room for plot points, or at least not so far.

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<p>Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin)&nbsp;and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas)&nbsp;in &quot;Once Upon a Time.&quot;</p>

Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) in "Once Upon a Time."

Credit: ABC

Review: Fairy tales come to life in ABC's 'Once Upon a Time'

Snow White, Prince Charming and friends are trapped in modern-day America

ABC's "Once Upon a Time" (Sunday at 8 p.m.) is one of two new shows this season in which fairy tale characters start appearing in modern-day America, with NBC's fairy tale crime procedural "Grimm" debuting next Friday. Every TV season brings with it at least one set of weird dopplegangers like this - this one actually has several ("Mad Men"-era dramas, and sitcoms about the death of masculinity) - but the abundance of fairy tale stories seems less surprising than most.

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<p>Joe Henry</p>

Joe Henry

Interview: Joe Henry discusses his open-door policy, 'Reverie'

Songwriter and producer reveals how he's landed with Hugh Laurie, Solomon Burke and more

 

Joe Henry’s latest solo set had an open-door policy. Literally. The songwriter and producer kept windows and doors open during the recording process, letting what he called “the racket” lead his backing musicians like T Bone Burnett drummer Jay Bellerose and labelmate Tom Waits’ main axe man Marc Ribot.
 
“It was a deliberate decision to allow those sounds to be heard as music. Songs don’t happen in a vacuum,” Henry told me in an interview this week. “When you’re writing a song, there’s life coming all around you. [Musicians] try to disappear into some hermetically sealed chamber. I resist that. I believe all kinds of racket to be musical. We called it the weather in the room.”
 
Of course, allowing “the field” into the room may not be a new, novel idea, but it certainly gives a raw sheen and texture to “Reverie,” released via Anti- last week. These groaning blues and abstractly folk capsules are the composite of Henry’s 12th solo release. His writing has meandered admirably around varying genres over the last two decades, almost as much as his production credits have.
 
Recently, he left his mark on Hugh Laurie’s New Orleans blues album and Irish songwriter (and Immaculate Noise favorite) Lisa Hannigan’s sophomore set “Passenger.” He’s produced for artists like the late, great, Solomon Burke, Americana mark-makers like The Jayhawks and Son Volt, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann and “my hero since I was 19,” Loudon Wainwright III; he’s worked, too, with his sister-in-law Madonna and composed for major television shows.
 
His daughter thinks he’s pretty cool too.
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Oscar Talk: Ep. 66 -- Gotham Awards, NYFCC's FIRST! move, 'Tintin,' London fest and more

Oscar Talk: Ep. 66 -- Gotham Awards, NYFCC's FIRST! move, 'Tintin,' London fest and more

Also: Animated feature contenders, foreign film discussion and special guest Guy Lodge

Welcome to Oscar Talk.

In case you're new to the site and/or the podcast, Oscar Talk is a weekly kudocast, your one-stop awards chat shop between yours truly and Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood. The podcast is weekly, every Friday throughout the season, charting the ups and downs of contenders along the way. Plenty of things change en route to Oscar's stage and we're here to address it all as it unfolds.

Today Anne and I are joined by In Contention's own Guy Lodge who is knee-deep in the London Film Festival these days, catching up on a number of titles he missed along the festival circuit. And, of course, he caught a certain highly anticipated film that's opening in the UK next week. Let's see what's on the docket today…

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<p>Here's hoping &quot;Assassin's Creed&quot;&nbsp;doesn't go the way of &quot;Prince of Persia.&quot;</p>

Here's hoping "Assassin's Creed" doesn't go the way of "Prince of Persia."

Credit: Ubisoft

Oscarweb Round-up: Altair and Ezio find a home at Sony

Also: Emily Watson talks a little 'War Horse' and River Phoenix's disowns his final film

I make this the lead story here only because it's Friday and I'm a huge fan of the gaming series. Not awards related in the slightest, but I really hope they don't screw it up. It looks like Sony has acquired the film rights to Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed." Ubisoft has been really careful about who these rights went to and I hope that means they are being delicate with the story, because I happen to think the story of "Assassin's Creed" -- even if portions amount to little more than boiled down ancient alien theory -- has a lot of potential. Of course, we'll likely get some kind of bottled up distillation that loses what's great about the narrative, but a guy can hope, right? [Variety]

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<p>Anna Torv on &quot;Fringe.&quot;</p>

Anna Torv on "Fringe."

Credit: NBC

The Peter Bishop principle: Checking in on 'Fringe' season 4

Has the new status quo been worth the trouble to introduce and explain it?

We're at the start of that awkward post-premiere, pre-sweeps period of the TV season where networks start sprinkling in repeats(*), which means there's no new "Fringe" tonight. But that gives me an excuse to offer some overall thoughts on the first four episodes and how I'm feeling about the season to date, coming up just as soon as I get all my ideas from watching "The Matrix" fight scenes...

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<p>&quot;The Descendants&quot;&nbsp;landed key Gotham Awards nominations including nods for Best Feature, Best Ensemble and Breakthrough Actor (Shailene Woodley).</p>

"The Descendants" landed key Gotham Awards nominations including nods for Best Feature, Best Ensemble and Breakthrough Actor (Shailene Woodley).

Credit: Fox Searchlight

2011 Gotham Awards nominations give 'The Descendants' a strong award season kickoff

Who are the frontrunners to take home the season's first kudos?

The 21st Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced this morning and the results must have made the folks at Fox Searchlight very, very happy.  The mini-major landed eight nominations including key best feature nominations for "The Descendants" and "The Tree of Life."  Focus also has to be thrilled with "Beginners" strong showing in the feature and ensemble categories.  "Take Shelter" shows some life by also landing feature and ensemble kudos.  

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"The Vampire Diaries"

 "The Vampire Diaries"

Credit: CW

Recap: 'The Vampire Diaries' - 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'

Matt, Elena and Caroline are feeling lonely, but twists are in store

This week Elena and the gang are finally seniors, but no one's truly excited about it. Instead of worrying about which college to go to and AP exams (though they're probably worrying about that, too), they're dealing with vampires and werewolves and hybrids, oh my. And given the current state of affairs, the theme seems to be loneliness. Elena's lost Stefan, Caroline feels like she's losing Taylor, Bonnie's on her way to losing Jeremy and Matt's already lost everyone. It definitely puts a whole new spin on senioritis. 

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