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<p>B&eacute;r&eacute;nice Bejo in &quot;The Artist&quot;</p>

Bérénice Bejo in "The Artist"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

'The Artist' takes Audience Award at San Sebastian fest

'A Separation,' 'Albert Nobbs,' 'Where Do We Go Now?' among other prizewinners

Well, many of us expected Michel Hazanavicius's silent-cinema homage "The Artist" to take the Audience Award at Toronto last week. That didn't come to pass, but it has just taken the equivalent prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival -- a less high-profile honor, certainly, but one that further proves the film's crowd-pleasing chops.

What's perhaps most notable about the award is the number of high-profile films it beat to get it: also in the running, in a selection of 2011's finest the festival dubs the Zabaltegi Pearls section, were "Le Havre," "The Tree of Life," "Drive," "A Separation," "Pina," "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Shame" and others.

It's interesting, given the strength of the competition, that surprise Toronto champ "Where Do We Go Now?" placed second in the audience balloting by only a handful of votes; for a film that stirred very little buzz on its Cannes debut, the Lebanese Oscar hopeful sure is making its presence felt now.

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<p>Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) on &quot;Breaking Bad.&quot;</p>

Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) on "Breaking Bad."

Credit: AMC

'Breaking Bad' - 'Crawl Space': Better off Ted

Walt and Jesse's circumstances change dramatically once again

A review of tonight's "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I feel sorry for your tastebuds...

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Margot Robbie and Kelli Garner in "Pan Am."
Margot Robbie and Kelli Garner in "Pan Am."
Credit: ABC

'Pan Am' - 'Pilot': The spy who served me

What did everybody think of the new ABC period drama?

I already posted my review of ABC's "Pan Am." Now it's your turn. Whether you're a fan of "Mad Men," watched "The Playboy Club" or not, what did you think of the new drama from Jack Orman, Tommy Schlamme and company? Were you surprised by the minimal amount of Christina Ricci? Did you like all the flashbacks, or would you rather the show stay in the passenger cabin? And will you be watching again?

Have at it.

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<p>Tommy and Andy of &quot;The Amazing Race&quot;</p>
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Tommy and Andy of "The Amazing Race"

Credit: CBS

Recap: 'The Amazing Race' Season 19 Premiere - 'Kindness of Strangers'

Would Twitter be a positive or negative force for one team?
[Just as my "Survivor" recaps used to be in Monkeys as Critics but migrated over here, my "Amazing Race" recaps are going to be in my blog from now on.]
 
Welcome back to "The Amazing Race," which kicked off its 19th installment on Sunday (September 25) with an episode that's probably most accurately described as "Amazing Race"-esque.
 
That is to say that it combined a slew of the things that most annoy me about "The Amazing Race" all in one poorly designed leg and yet still found a way to deliver enough entertainment to keep me hooked until the very end, when it devolved into what, as always, frustrates me most.
 
So yes, Sunday's episode was 'Amazing Race"-esque.
 
Click through for my recap of Sunday's leg, which will end with a bit of a team-by-team breakdown, as is my premiere tradition...
 
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<p>Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams)&nbsp;ponders his next move on &quot;Boardwalk Empire.&quot;</p>

Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams) ponders his next move on "Boardwalk Empire."

Credit: HBO

'Boardwalk Empire' - '21': Dirty laundry

The Commodore and Jimmy come gunning for Nucky and Chalky

"Boardwalk Empire" is back for its second season. I posted my review of the first six episodes earlier this week, and I have specific thoughts on the premiere coming up just as soon as I grow up to be a fishmonger...

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<p>The stars of ABC's &quot;Pan Am&quot;</p>
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The stars of ABC's "Pan Am"

Credit: ABC

TV Review: ABC's 'Pan Am'

Flight attendants and spies flock together in one of the fall's best new shows
Regarding the late Ida Blankenship, Bert Cooper opined, "She was born in 1898 in a barn, She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut."
 
Bert's brief eulogy was one of the best lines from the fourth season of "Mad Men" -- or at least the best lines in which one character wasn't showing another character what the money was for -- and it was a valuable reminder that progress is context-dependent. It's a factor of where you started from and where you end up and the journey you took along the way.
 
I thought back on Bert's words when watching the pilot for ABC's "Pan Am."
 
Towards the end of the episode, Michael Mosley's Ted, previously depicted as a somewhat boorish chauvinist, looks over at the table of laughing Pan Am flight attendants and observes, "They're not like normal women. They're mutations. It's a compliment." He continues, "They don't know that they're a new breed of women. They just had the impulse to take flight."
 
It's a big statement and it's the thesis statement for "Pan Am" as a series. And in some ways, it's just as brazen as the snippet of Hugh Hefner voice-over that comes near the end of the "Playboy Club" pilot and goes, "Bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be."
 
Both lines of dialogue are potentially laughable, especially when viewed through jaded 21st Century eyes. 
 
And in the case of "The Playboy Club," that "potentially" becomes a "certainly." That pilot has a lot of people talking about progress, but it's mostly chatter, because why illustrate a contentious point when you can merely pay lip-service to it and give Eddie Cibrian additional time to preen?
 
I didn't laugh at the line from "Pan Am." Yeah, it sounded a bit hyperbolic and on-the-nose, but I didn't laugh. Over 44 minutes, "Pan Am" had laid sufficient groundwork that I was willing to entertain the possibility that Ted had a point, maybe not one that was fully proven, but also not one that was utterly fabricated.
 
That's not a small achievement for a show like "Pan Am," which is also one of the most handsomely produced network pilots in recent years, a pilot loaded with appealing characters and a opens a wide array of future narrative avenues across several genres. The combination of a formative surface charms and a whirring intellectual motor underneath are enough to make this my favorite new network show in a relatively dismal fall of fresh programming.
 
Full review of "Pan Am" after the break...
 
There's a lot happening in the "Pan Am" pilot, which was written by Jack Orman and directed by Tommy Schlamme. We're spanning continents, skipping around in time and also introducing a half-dozen regular characters. 
 
It's 1963 and Pan Am is launching a new Clipper jet flight across the Atlantic, a run the allows us to meet our crew. In the cockpit, we have Dean (Mike Vogel), much too young to have his captain's wings, but still cocky and romantically involved with the mysterious Bridget (Annabelle Wallis), and the previously mentioned Ted. They're flying the plane, but this show isn't really about them. Our heroines are the flight attendants. Christina Ricci's the biggest name in the cast and she's playing Maggie, who lives with beatniks, but is willing to put on a uniform in order to see the world. Then there's Colette (Karine Vanasse), sexually liberated, but with poor taste in men. And then there are sisters Kate (Kelli Garner) and Laura (Margot Robbie), both fleeing the same model of suburban domesticity, but doing it in very different ways.
 
Oh and did I mention that there's also espionage afoot? Yup, several of our main characters are tied up in some Cold War cloak-and-dagger action, which doesn't seem that absurd for attractive multi-lingual women with the ability to pass through borders with ease and access to the upper-tier clientele flying Pan Am at the time.
 
It's always interesting when you examine a pilot to look at how much effort is put into stressing the premise, how much is pushed into properly introducing the characters, how much goes into establishing a particular tone (or theme), how much is dedicated to laying out the world of the pilot and how much is just about telling a good stand-alone story. What's most impressive about "Pan Am" is how well Orman and Schlamme balance almost all of those things.
 
None of the characters in "Pan Am" are exactly over-developed, but Orman and Schlamme work to give them context, which is exactly what the "empowerment" message requires and which is exactly what sets "Pan Am" apart from "Playboy Club." For me, Garner was the standout in the "Pan Am" pilot, though in this case, she isn't the lone standout, as she was on ABC's "My Generation" last fall. Robbie, who I'm pretty sure I've never seen before, also pops instantly, both because she's gorgeous, but also because she works hard to suggest that the liabilities that her beauty causes. Ricci is a bit broadly comedic at times, but in a likable way, especially since I feel like she's only occasionally been allowed to play big screen characters with this little angst. Vogel's mostly asked to look young and square-jawed and he succeeds there, but there are tiny, well-planted, hints about the character that could be interesting.
 
The characters are the most important part of the pilot and the flight itself provides some structure and the spy storyline adds tension and stakes. And then Schlamme and the ace technical team create the world. I couldn't put a finger on exactly how much of "Pan Am" is virtual, but I have a strong sense that the answer is "nearly everything," that "Pan Am" may ultimately be as effects-heavy as "Terra Nova" in its own way. In that light, what's been accomplished here is extremely impressive. There's a shiny newness to every frame that mirrors the shiny newness of the Boeing 707 and whether what's being recreated is a terminal a Idlewild or a European destination, the whole pilot has a recreated hyperreality that actually had me mentioning "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" in my notes. And even the things that are actually real -- costumes, the occasional car, the inside of the plane -- are comparably spiffy. Schlamme's work blending the real and virtual aspects of the environment and navigating through the "Pan Am" version of 1963 is top-notch, but he never sacrifices performance for spectacle.
 
Returning quickly to the show and its treatment of its female characters... At the TCA press tour, there was a lot of confusion and even outrage about the idea that stewardesses could be considered empowering or empowered characters, as if somehow any job in the hospitality industry -- particularly one featuring girdles and regular weigh-ins -- is both inherently demeaning and regressive. But I'm OK with the idea of equating flight with opportunity. Going back to Ida Blankenship, it's about the distance between where you're expected to go (by society, by your family, by your station) and where you see yourself going. There's a glamour in travel and escape and built into that glamour is some measure of progress and empowerment. Whether you look at Zooey Deschanel's character in "Almost Famous" or Brie Larson's character on "United States of Tara" or the reality bimbettes of The CW's "Fly Girls," it's an image that still holds allure, albeit an imperfect allure. The four main characters on "Pan Am" aren't aspirational figures because they wear tight skirts serve beverages. They're aspirational, because they have aspirations themselves.
 
And no, as I said earlier, I don't know if "Pan Am" sold me completely on that bill of goods. The "Pan Am" pilot is so all-over-the-map that you don't come away utterly convinced on any one element, but you also don't come away convinced that any element is misguided.
 
But really, I'm over-dwelling on that aspect of "Pan Am" anyway. I don't think anybody's going to rush to watch the pilot because it does or doesn't have feminist values. It has strong female characters, but it also has strong male characters (well, less-so on the male characters, but they aren't bad). But, more than that, it has nifty special effects and spy stuff! And maybe that's the solution to the "Why would TV networks try to copy the 'Mad Men' period-drama formula when nobody [by network standards] watches 'Mad Men'?" conundrum: Offer a little bit of everything and hope that you can snag segments of five or six audiences and leave them just satisfied enough to stick around for a while. I think "Pan Am" does that with style.
 
"Pan Am" premieres at 10 p.m. on Sunday (September 25) night on ABC.
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<p>Roger Brown is having a very, very bad day.&nbsp; And so is his milk.</p>

Roger Brown is having a very, very bad day.  And so is his milk.

Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Norway sends dark crime comedy 'Headhunters' to Fantastic Fest

Plus a short film from the guys who wrote 'Feast'

If you should ever find yourself covered head to toe in human filth and driving a stolen tractor down a country road with an impaled dead dog hanging from the front, worried for your life, chances are you have made a wrong decision somewhere along the way.

Morten Tyldum's movie "Headhunters" is a member of a very particular sub-genre of film that I love, movies where someone makes a plan to screw someone else, and that plan goes very, very, very wrong.  Done right, there's something delicious about watching a character get put through the wringer when it's entirely because of their own ill intent.  In this film, we meet Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who tells us that he is 1.68 meters tall, and that he compensates for that height in a number of ways in his life. 

He is aggressively confident as he moves through the world, and he is married to a tall stunning Nordic blonde, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), the idea personified.  They live in a house he can't afford.  He can't make enough in his work as a corporate headhunter to give Diana the lifestyle he feels that she deserves, and so he also moonlights as an art thief.  We see how he gathers information in one job that allows him to feed jobs to Ove (Eivind Sander), his partner in crime.  Together, they steal paintings and sculptures and replace them with copies, and that's what keeps Roger afloat.

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<p>Mike Henry and Rich Appel</p>
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Mike Henry and Rich Appel

Watch: Mike Henry and Rich Appel talk 'The Cleveland Show'

A 'Die Hard' parody looms later this season
I've got one last Sunday Animation Domination interview, this one featuring Mike Henry and Rich Appel of "The Cleveland Show."
 
In addition to running "Cleveland," Henry, of course, voices lead character Cleveland Brown, while Appel's claim to fame (or one of his claims to fame) is having also worked on "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," "Family Guy" and "American Dad," putting his fingerprints on basically every animated success FOX has had. 
 
In this interview, a fairly lengthy one (though nothing compared to tomorrow's interview with the producers of "Terra Nova"), Henry and Appel talk about continuing to give "Cleveland Show" its own voice, plus this season's big "Die Hard" episode.
 
Check it out.
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<p>Lady&nbsp;Gaga performing at the I&nbsp;Heart Radio festival in Las Vegas on Saturday night.</p>

Lady Gaga performing at the I Heart Radio festival in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

Credit: AP Photo/Chris PIzzello

Watch: Lady Gaga dedicates an emotional 'Hair' to 14-year old bullying victim

Mother Monster sends off one of her own

I wouldn’t consider myself a Little Monster, but I think Lady Gaga just won me over for life with this performance and dedication. Last night in Las Vegas at Clear Channel’s I Heart Radio mega-concerts,  Lady Gaga gave a knock-out, emotional tribute to 14-year Jamey Rodemeyer, who committed suicide last week after being bullied for more than a year.

Rodemeyer was a huge Gaga fan. In this moving intro to “Hair,” a breathless Gaga, seated at a piano shaped like the motorcycle from the "Born This Way" cover, says, “I just want to take a minute because I don’t know if any of your know this, but we lost a little monster this week and I wanted to dedicate this song to him tonight because he was really young.” The screen then flashed Rodemeyer’s name, the date of his death, and apparently a tweet to Lady Gaga he sent that serves as a chilling last note: “Bye Mother Monster. Thank You For All You Have Done. Paws Up Forever.”

[More after the jump...]

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Social networking reminder

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Just a note to new readers (and old ones, in case you haven't jumped on board), you can follow me at Twitter at @kristapley and Guy can be found at @guylodge. We try to keep the masses entertained there. Operative word: try.

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<p>That look on Elijah Wood's face sort of says it all as Dominic Monaghan celebrates his victory at The Fantastic&nbsp;Debates 2011.</p>

That look on Elijah Wood's face sort of says it all as Dominic Monaghan celebrates his victory at The Fantastic Debates 2011.

Credit: HitFix/Drew McWeeny

Fantastic Debates with Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, NASA, and the death of Tim League?

Have you ever wanted to watch an astronomer beat a stupid person stupider?

What are the Fantastic Debates?

Last year, I attended the Debates but didn't write them up.  It was just a fun evening out at the end of a long string of movies I saw and reviewed.  In the year since then, though, every time I've told someone about the Debates and the fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Tim League, they've been captivated.  They are fascinated that this event exists.  They want to know more.

And so this year, I'm dedicated to bringing you the same sort of breathless blow-by-blow account of the Debates that I could have expected to read in the papers the morning after an Ali-Frazier match-up as a kid.

Because these are not just about entertainment.  Oh, no.  No, these are battles over the most important ideas in our current cultural conversation.  These are life and death struggles, fought verbally first and physically second.  There is no more significant event during the week of Fantastic Fest.

And this year, we were ringside for every single punch that was thrown.

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<p>Al Jean</p>
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Al Jean

Watch: Al Jean talks Season 23 of 'The Simpsons'

Nedna and 500th episode talk with the 'Simpsons' vet

 Sunday (September 25) marks the premiere of Season 23 of "The Simpsons."

 
Ponder that number for a bit.
 
During this season, "The Simpsons" will air its 500th episode.
 
Ponder that number as well.
 
One man who's been there for an astoundingly large percentage of that run is longtime writer-producer-showrunner Al Jean.
 
In our conversation, Jean teases some of this season's guests and storylines, reflects on the show's longevity, speculates on the show's future and ponders audience reaction to last finale's Nedna pairing.
 
Check it out...
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