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Kelly Clarkson sparkles on 'Wrapped In Red' holiday album
Credit: RCA

Kelly Clarkson sparkles on 'Wrapped In Red' holiday album

She looks to classic holiday albums of the past for delightful set

Steeped in tradition, Kelly Clarkson’s “Wrapped In Red,” pulls off the nearly impossible feat: it’s a new holiday album that will immediately fit in with the classics on your shelf.

Clarkson and producer Greg Kurstin have clearly studied legendary Christmas album of yore—most notably Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift For You” and Andy Williams’ “Merry Christmas”— to lovingly recreate Christmas standards, as well as craft new ones in the image of  those sets.

Of course, all the homage-paying wouldn’t matter if Clarkson didn’t have both the voice power to carry off the full-throated confidence on “Blue Christmas” or “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” as well as the sense of fun that her spritely, horn-laden “Run Run Rudolph,” her jazzy remake of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (with Ronnie Dunn) or some of the originals command.

Wrapped in Red” and “Underneath the Tree,” two of the  album’s five new songs, benefit from a Spector-ish production that recalls girl groups of the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Of the two,  “Underneath the Tree” takes the retro, bouncy  wall-of-sound to the max.  It’s a finger-popping, bell-ringing pleaser that could achieve that rare feat of becoming a new Christmas standard. That hasn’t happened since Mariah’ Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” in 1994.

Both the perky, sweet “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)”  and  “4 Carats,” a song that wants to be a bit like Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby,” fit in well with the lighthearted tone of the other originals, even if the two suffer a little in comparison.

The one misfire on the album belongs to Imogene Heap’s “Just For Now,” a piano ballad that is only tangentially tied to Christmas and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the set in that it sounds way too contemporary. Take out the few holiday references and it could be a single on non-seasonal track for Clarkson or Pink.

When it comes to the traditionals, Clarkson brings just the right reverential tone, whether it be on the  luscious, beautifully arranged “White Christmas,” or “The Sound of Music’s “”My Favorite Things.”

The album ends with a elegant rendition of “Silent Night,” featuring two of Clarkson’s idols: Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire. It’s gorgeously rendered, although McEntire’s voice is so distinctive it overwhelms Yearwood and Clarkson a little.

Christmas albums often feel like slap-dash affairs meant to sell albums between sets of new materials, but not this one. Clarkson has created a keeper for seasons to come.

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<p>Matthew McConaughey in &quot;Dallas Buyers&nbsp;Club&quot;</p>

Matthew McConaughey in "Dallas Buyers Club"

Credit: Focus Features

Matthew McConaughey on Ron Woodroof and fighting the power in 'Dallas Buyers Club'

The actor lost himself in researching the charismatic figure

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Matthew McConaughey doesn't exactly make for a sound bite sort of interview. Well, particularly not when you walk into the room and inquire as to whether he happened to know that his Longhorns had just taken it to the Sooners on the gridiron. Everything after that is a conversation, full of all the tangents and tributaries toward other conversations equally bereft of easy bites and bits to be plugged into the usual interview format. If you're from the south, too? The drawls kick in, feeding on one another. The parables take hold. Soon you find yourself wondering, "Wait, what were we talking about?"

On this particular afternoon, we're talking about "Dallas Buyers Club," the Jean-Marc Vallée indie production that provided McConaughey with more to chew on than perhaps any other role he's taken in his two-decade career. So there’s plenty to discuss, beginning with the obvious: the 45 pounds the actor dropped to play a man diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live.

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<p>Amy Poehler plays the wall-eyed and relentlessly cheerful Jenny in the new animated film 'Free Birds'</p>

Amy Poehler plays the wall-eyed and relentlessly cheerful Jenny in the new animated film 'Free Birds'

Credit: HitFix

Amy Poehler on Pixar, 'Parks,' and playing a turkey for 'Free Birds'

Playing optimism seems to agree with the charming comic star

It is probably safe to say that Amy Poehler is beloved these days, and I can't think of many people who deserve it more.

Looking back at her early appearances on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," I'm not sure I could have predicted this sort of career arc for her. She always seemed so feral and loony and it felt like she was either going to deliver a killer punchline or stab somebody. That was what made it so amazing to watch her work.

These days, though, she seems to have completely transformed herself, growing into someone both more eccentric and way more accessible. Her "Parks and Recreation" character Leslie Knope has become a fantastic character for her, and no doubt because of her, and it is nice to see someone whose comic persona is almost entirely driven by a sort of misguided optimism, an over-the-top dedication to helping others.

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Ellen DeGeneres

 Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres producing lesbian sitcom for NBC

It's been 16 years since she came out on ABC, so are we ready now?

It's been 16 years since Ellen DeGeneres came out on ABC, and though we've had a number of gay male characters in the sitcom realm, we haven't seen as many lesbian characters -- until, possibly, now.

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ABC apologizes after a kid says 'kill everyone in China' on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live'

ABC apologizes after a kid says "kill everyone in China" on "Jimmy Kimmel Live"
The clip that aired last week has sparked anger in the Chinese community. PLUS: Protesters in San Francisco compare Kimmel to Hitler.

See new footage from the "Veronica Mars" movie
Rob Thomas released a four-minute video that also includes interviews with the cast.

"Desperate Housewives Africa" to be filmed in Nigeria

The latest remake of the ABC soap will have "an African soul."

Lisa Kudrow: I got a nose job at age 16 -- and it changed my life
"That was life altering," Kudrow tells The Saturday Evening Post. "I went from, in my mind, hideous, to not hideous. I did it the summer before going to a new high school. So there were plenty of people who wouldn't know how hideous I looked before. That was a good, good, good change."

"The "Simpsons" will retire Edna Krabappel following the death of Marcia Wallace
"We intend to retire her irreplaceable character," says "Simpsons" boss Al Jean, who was "tremendously saddened" by Wallace's death.

David Arquette to play the "Happy Face Killer" on Lifetime
Arquette will star in the Lifetime movie based on '90s Canadian serial killer Hunter Jesperson.

Diane Keaton plans to remake BBC drama "Last Tango in Halifax"
The drama about two former childhood sweethearts who rekindle their romance via Facebook when they are widowed and in their 70s has been shown recently on PBS.

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<p>Dougherty's film has a genuine adoration for the culture and iconography of Halloween in every scene.</p>

Dougherty's film has a genuine adoration for the culture and iconography of Halloween in every scene.

Credit: Legendary Pictures

Legendary hosts special 'Trick'r'Treat' screening in Hollywood and online

Director Mike Dougherty discusses his film's unlikely rebirth

It seems particularly appropriate that a film as steeped in Halloween lore as Mike Dougherty's "Trick'r'Treat" is impossible to kill, once more rising from the dead to close out what sounds like it's been an amazing event here in Los Angeles, Beyond Fest, which evidently blew minds all last week with a trio of live performances by prog-rock horror icons Goblin among other things.

This evening, Beyond Fest will present a special screening of Dougherty's horror anthology, and it sounds to me like this is Legendary's way of launching whatever the next chapter in the life of "Trick'r'Treat" is going to be. One of the first real conversations I had with Thomas Tull was about this movie, an early production by the studio, and something they have been passionate about since day one. The film never quite managed an actual theatrical release, but it has still managed to build a fairly devoted audience, and deservedly so. It is a clever, nasty little bit of business, and it seems like they could easily build off of this first film to pull off what John Carpenter and Debra Hill once envisioned as the way to manage the "Halloween" franchise, unrelated films all connected only by the date on which they take place. Dougherty didn't really tackle the film like a typical horror filmmaker. It's got a very particular, very odd sensibility, and it stands out because it doesn't have the same voice as everything else in the genre.

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Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 208

Dan and Alan discuss 'The Returned,' 'Scandal,' 'The Good Wife' and more


Happy Monday, Boys & Girls! It's our second straight week of prompt-and-timely podcasting!
In this week's Firewall & Iceberg installment, we reviewed HBO's "Seduced and Abandoned" and Sundance's airing of the French drama "The Returned." We also checked in on buzzy dramas "Scandal" and, particularly, "The Good Wife."
Next week may be slow, so send mail! 
Here's today's breakdown: 
"Seduced and Abandoned" (00:00:45 - 00:12:35)
"The Returned" (00:12:35 - 00:28:30)
Listener Mail: Screeners with unfinished FX (00:29:05 - 00:38:15)
"Scandal" (00:38:40 - 00:54:50)
"The Good Wife" (00:54:50 - 01:21:20)

As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. [Or you can always follow our RSS Feed.] 

And as always, feel free to e-mail us questions for the podcast.



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Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, episode 208

Dan and Alan also discuss HBO's "Seduced and Abandoned"


Happy Monday, boys and girls! For two weeks in a row! It's an eclectic Firewall & Iceberg Podcast this week, as Dan and I discuss a documentary (with some fictional elements) on HBO, a French zombie miniseries (if that's the right way to describe it) on Sundance, and check in on the great season of "The Good Wife" and an uneven but mostly good start to "Scandal" season 3.

Next week's gonna be either the long-promised all-"Breaking Bad" podcast, or it's going to be an hour heavily dependent on reader questions. Either way, the email link is below. Use it. Please.

The rundown:

"Seduced and Abandoned" (00:00:45 - 00:12:35)
"The Returned" (00:12:35 - 00:28:30)
Listener Mail: Screeners with unfinished FX (00:29:05 - 00:38:15)
"Scandal" (00:38:40 - 00:54:50)
"The Good Wife" (00:54:50 - 01:21:20)
As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. Or you can always follow our RSS Feed, download the MP3 file or stream it on Dan's blog.
And as always, feel free to e-mail us questions for the podcast.
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Tom Hiddleston on Loki's popularity and what 'The Avengers' has done for his career

Tom Hiddleston on Loki's popularity and what 'The Avengers' has done for his career

Is he more popular than Hemsworth at this point?

LONDON — Can you remember the last time a villain in a movie franchise was significantly more popular than the hero? Truth be told, you have to go back to 1991 and "The Silence of the Lambs." Jodie Foster's FBI Agent Clarice Starling was our hero, but Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter was the break-out star (shoot, he was pretty much a cultural phenomenon). Flash forward 20 years and Chris Hemsworth has found himself in a similar situation playing a mighty Avenger in 2011's "Thor" and the global blockbuster "The Avengers." Thor has his fans, but it's his witty and devious brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, that crackles on screen. Now a third film featuring the duo is hitting theaters and you won't be surprised to learn that Hiddleston is stealing scene after scene in "Thor: The Dark World."

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NBC News to air a 'Why We (heart) Vampires' special on Friday, before "Grimm" and "Dracula"

NBC News to air a "Why We (heart) Vampires" special on Friday, before "Grimm" and "Dracula"
The NBC News special, hosted by MSNBC's Tamron Hall and consisting of a collection of vampire-related news clips, will preempt this week's "Dateline."

See the final 2 script pages of the "Breaking Bad" finale

Vince Gilligan's script declares: "He's back with his True Love."

"SVU" gets Clay Aiken, Taylor Hicks and Ashanti to play "Idol"-like judges
This will be the 2nd time Aiken has played a fake judge on NBC this year. Aiken played a judge on the penultimate "The Office" episode.

Watch PBS' "American Masters" documentary on Lou Reed
The 1998 75-minute documentary looks back at the life of the rock legend, who died yesterday at age 71. PLUS: "The Late Show" pays tribute to "our friend" Lou Reed with by posting a 1994 performance of "Sweet Jane."

Did "Homeland" twist save the season?
Last night we got some payoff from the twist, resulting in the season's best episode. PLUS: Twist has given "Homeland" a jolt of energy, it would've made no difference if viewers had known all along, and what happened to Saul's spy skills?

New Yorker posts an excerpt of BJ Novak's new book

"One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories" will be released in February.

George R.R. Martin thinks the "Game of Thrones" porn parody is rather tame
Martin thinks his books are smuttier than "Game of Bones."

"The Daily Show" is auctioning off its giant "Sexy Vagina" costume
The winner of the costume, which Kristen Schaal wore last week, must photograph themselves wearing the costume.

"The Following" adds "Oz's" Lee Tergesen
He'll play a normal family man who may have a dark secret.

HBO releases a 2nd "True Detective" trailer

Watch Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in action.

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<p>Justin Bieber at his Oct. 24 concert</p>

Justin Bieber at his Oct. 24 concert

Credit: AP Photo

Justin Bieber's in 'Recovery' on new track

He's got amends to make on latest #MusicMonday release

Justin Bieber has some apologizing to do and all he wants to do is make it right. On “Recovery,” his fourth track in his #MusicMonday series of weekly releases, he’s making amends even if it’s too late.

“First I’ll acknowledge all trust has been broken...learning life through trial and error/just trying to make it right,” he sings on the Usher-lite R&B track. Set against a hypnotic synthetic, finger-popping beat, Bieber is missing his girl from a distance since he pushed her far away and realizes too late the mistakes he’s made.

It’s a fairly flat song without a noticeable chorus or a lot of variations, but that seems to be design instead of a writing flaw.

While Bieber has not name-checked ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez in his tweets, he has made clear how much the song means to him. Shortly after its delivery early this morning, he tweeted, “It’s here. One of the most important songs to me I’ve ever written. #Recovery. Hope it helps you.”

What do you think?


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<p>Sean Bobbitt on the set of &quot;12 Years a Slave&quot;</p>

Sean Bobbitt on the set of "12 Years a Slave"

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt sought truth in contrivance on '12 Years a Slave'

The DP has been collaborating with Steve McQueen since the early art gallery days

Filmmaker Steve McQueen’s relationship with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt goes farther back than their 2008 collaboration on McQueen’s feature debut “Hunger.” For some six or seven years before transitioning to the cinema, the two worked together on a series of film and video installations designed for gallery-based presentation. These early works were silent, stark pieces, often with a focus on the body (frequently McQueen’s own body). That aesthetic has deepened through their work on the big screen.

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