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Obama awards Oprah with the Presidential Medal of Freedom


Obama awards Oprah with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Oprah Winfrey joins former President Bill Clinton and 14 other honorees this year as recipients of the nation's highest civilian honor.

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<p>Lennie James and Mark Strong are Detroit cops in &quot;Low Winter Sun.&quot;</p>

Lennie James and Mark Strong are Detroit cops in "Low Winter Sun."

Credit: AMC

Review: AMC's 'Low Winter Sun' a dark cop drama, but is it a deep one?

Great performances from Mark Strong and Lennie James, but what's it all about?

The wave of quality cable dramas of the last decade has turned into a flood. Everyone's looking for their own "Sopranos," their own "Shield," their own "Mad Men." When you start factoring in streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu (which are both making their own programming and importing terrific shows from overseas), it's inarguable that there are more good dramas than at any point in the history of the medium.

But what's also become obvious of late is just how hard it is to make these shows work. Too many shows have been made under the mistaken belief that all you need to achieve greatness is to follow a familiar recipe. Take imposing character actors as leading men, add anti-heroes in a world full of moral ambiguity, a cinematic look, some colorful dialogue, and preferably some graphic violence, and your would-be "The Wire" will be baked in 35-40 minutes, right?

These shows have the appearance and texture of the greats of past and present, but there's something empty and unsatisfying about them. They tend to lack the ingredients you can't just buy at the store: a distinctive voice and a spark of mad genius. Sometimes, they succeed anyway (Showtime has already renewed "Ray Donovan" for a second season), and sometimes they fail (Starz just canceled "Magic City"), but their separation from the genuine article becomes unmistakable in time. They're the I Can't Believe It's Not Better dramas, and AMC may have another on its hands with "Low Winter Sun."

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's &quot;Her.&quot;</p>

Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's "Her."

Credit: Warner Bros.

Spike Jonze's 'Her' will close the 2013 New York Film Festival

Plum awards slot for Warner Bros. unconventional awards season entry

The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today that Spike Jonze's "Her" will close the 51st New York Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 13. "Her" is Jonze's first film since 2009's "Where the Wild Things Are" and his first original screenplay.  

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Kathy Griffin will play herself on Kirstie Alley's TV Land series


Kathy Griffin will play herself on Kirstie Alley's TV Land series
The "Kirstie" star will try to keep Griffin from becoming her neighbor.


Watch Honey Boo Boo dubbed in foreign languages
Here is the TLC show in Italian, Russian and Hungarian.


Charlie Rose binge-watched "Breaking Bad" to prepare for his cameo

Rose says he watched five seasons over two weekends. PLUS: ESPN's "Around the Horn" pays homage to "Breaking Bad."


"Game of Thrones" vet Tobias Menzies lands dual role on Starz's "Outlander"

Menzies, famous for playing "Game of Thrones'" Edmure Tully, will play a character and his ancestor.


"Parks and Rec" releases a horror trailer
"Attack of the Knope"!


Check out Jimmy Fallon with his daughter
The "Late Night" star was photographed with Winnie Rose out on the street.


"Orange is the New Black" promotes "Crazy Eyes"

Uzo Aduba will become a series regular next season.


"Teen Mom" Farrah Abraham's new reality show rejected
"Finding Farrah" will not be made after every network passed.


GSN renews "American Bible Challenge"
The Jeff Foxworthy game show will return for Season 3.

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<p>Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal in &quot;CBGB&quot;</p>

Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal in "CBGB"

Watch: 'CBGB' movie trailer is star-packed and terribly tame

A lot of talk

Your rock 'n' roll movie might be in trouble if there's too much talking and not enough rocking. That may be the plight of "CBGB," the new film centered on the famed New York city punk club.

Alan Rickman is obviously a big selling point of a film like this, lending credibility and personality to a history that all but burns with personality (and VD). With Hilly Kristal's estate needing to sign off on his visage and all, of course it'd be a "must" to have Rickman's role at the center of this wiry, drug-addled universe. But, here, dish him a line like "Why not live your dreams?". Here's a cockroach crack and a necessary few seconds allotted to CBGB's bathroom. And on top of that, a bunch of actors like Malin Akerman, Rupert Grint, Ashley Greene, Johnny Galecki, Ryan Hurst, Justin Bartha and Bradley Whitford dressed as members of groups like Talking Heads, Blondie, The Ramones, Dead Boys, The Police, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith Group, but without a clue as to how they'll play these awesome punk icons.

I'm not seeing a lot of teeth here. Or the acid-tongues, the sharp sounds or the bleary eyes. I see Halloween (no, not the band) costumes and bits of comedy script. Musical "Rock of Ages" had twice the amount of music in its hairspray-dominated trailers, and we all know how "Rock of Ages" turned out.

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<p>The Avett Brothers</p>

The Avett Brothers

Credit: Republic Records

Avett Brothers reveal new album: Listen to first new song 'Another Is Waiting'

Band reunites with Rick Rubin for follow-up to 'The Carpenter'

The Avett Brothers released a fresh studio album just last year, but when you're on the same groove as Rick Rubin, maybe you get the itch to release at a rapid pace. Which is in part why the group is set to release new album "Magpie and the Dandelion," due on Oct. 15 via Republic.

"While we were working on [2012's] 'The Carpenter,' we were so inspired that we wrote another record as well. During those sessions, we just felt it," the Avetts said in a release. "Working with Rick Rubin again, we tapped into something very special. It's like everybody was in the same zone."

The set is preceded by "Another Is Waiting," which -- astoundingly -- clocks in at just over two minutes long. I can't help but think of this as a mid-tempo, upbeat, new-era Green Day rocker with 100% more banjo. The guitars and banjo split channels and let the electric and drums ultimately taking the lead, with Seth and Scott's harmonies pushed way, way forward. If anything, it's a breeze to listen to.

Listen to "Another Is Waiting" via NPR here.

"If you think about a Magpie, it's a bird from the crow family. You can see them everywhere, and they've got this strange grace. And, we all know what a dandelion is. It reminds you of being a kid and watching a flower come apart on a summer day. There's a youthful wonder in that," the band continued in their note. "Those kinds of feelings live and breathe inside this album."

"The Carpenter" was The Avett Brothers' biggest selling and highest charting album yet, making it to No. 4 on the Billboard 200. "Magpie" will be the folk-rockers' third set with Rick Rubin.

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'Under the Dome' piracy rises in cities affected by CBS blackout


"Under the Dome" piracy rises in cities affected by CBS blackout

Illegal downloading reportedly went up on Monday in Dallas, New York and Los Angeles, the cities affected by Time Warner's blackout of CBS stations.


Is Daft Punk's "Colbert' cancelation an elaborate hoax?

Last night, Stephen Colbert denied that he was lying about Daft Punk's cancelation, yet the band's replacement, Robin Thicke, is said to have taped his appearance last week.


NBC News' Chuck Todd calls NBC's Hillary Clinton miniseries "a total nightmare"

“There’s this giant firewall," he said on "Morning Joe," "we have nothing to do with it, we know that we'd love probably to be as critical, or whatever it is going to be, if it comes out. But there’s nothing we can do about it."


Watch "Sons of Anarchy's" Season 6 trailer
With Tara and Clay in prison.


"Workaholics" star becomes a "Modern Family" male nanny

Adam DeVine will recur as the new "manny."


Fox developing "World War III"

The event series is set to air next spring and summer.


Amanda Seyfried practices Krav Maga on Jimmy Fallon
Watch as Fallon gets hurt pretending to attack Seyfried.


Pedro Zamora's "Real World: San Francisco" boyfriend dies

Sean Sasser, who was also HIV-positive, was 44.

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<p>Rebecca Hall in &quot;Une Promesse.&quot;</p>

Rebecca Hall in "Une Promesse."

Credit: Venice Film Festival

Venice adds 'Une Promesse' to lineup, as Carrie Fisher completes Competition jury

Rebecca Hall and Alan Rickman star in the out-of-competition entry

Shortly after the Venice Film Festival announced its heavyweight lineup last month, fest director Alberto Barbera teased us with the promise of later additions to the programme: "There are at least a couple of films we're still working on, American films," he said, stirring much excitement and speculation over various high-profile titles. Today, at least some of those latecomers were announced, and even if they're not the breathlessly awaited A-list titles some pundits were improbably hoping for, they add further shading to an already eclectic selection.

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Robert Townson from Varese Sarabande counts down his top 5 scores

Robert Townson from Varese Sarabande counts down his top 5 scores

Planet of the Apes? Vertigo? Spartacus?

POZNAN, POLAND—If you have film scores in your music collection, chances are very good that they are on the Varese Sarabande label.

To celebrate its 35th anniversary this year, Varese Sarabande, which takes its first name from French composer Edgard Varese and its last from a Spanish dance, took its show on the road, holding concerts in Los Angeles, Macau, China; Tenerife, Canary Islands, and here in Poznan at the Transatlantyk Festival. A final concert will be held Oct. 19 in Los Angeles.

Robert Townson, VP and producer for the Studio City, Calif.-based label, has just overseen the release of his 1,200th project for Varese Sarabande. At more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone, the company’s best seller is the soundtrack to “Ghost,” which included Maurice Jarre’s score and Alex North’s “Unchained Melody,” made famous by the Righteous Bros.

Townson is an incredible film score historian. When we asked him to list his five all-time favorite scores, we knew his selections would be interesting, but we didn’t know we’d also find out some fascinating movie trivia at the same time.

And yes, his five selections have all been issued on Varese Sarabande, but that’s what happens when you love film scores as much as he does. “I would never limit the scores to my label,” he says, “But as it turns out, it’s been a self-fulfilling prophecy. So in every case, it’s a situation where if I love a score so much, of course I’m going to do my own release of it.”

Townson’s top five scores in descending order:


5. “Planet Of The Apes” (Jerry Goldsmith): “In a lot of ways, number five the hardest spot to fill because, of course, it has to be Jerry, but the breadth of his work is unparalleled. Bottom line, no one did the amount of great work that Jerry did because he treated every film as though it were ‘Chinatown,’ whether he was working on ‘The Swarm’ or ‘Patton.’ He wrote the scores for the films that the directors wished they had made. And always brought his A Game and to a degree that is unmatched, Jerry just never had a bad day. The consistency of excellence is all his own. ‘Planet of the Apes’ was just creating an all-new language, taking us to a world that we have never seen before, through his music, convincing us that they were on a distant planet and all of these unusual sounds: French horns being played without mouthpieces and stainless steel mixing boards and the whole tapestry was genuinely and completely a world he created.  He was working with Franklin J. Schaffner on that picture. Schaffner was a great example of a director who trusted his composer and let him do his thing. And that’s why we have the masterpiece that is that score and the film has gone on to become part of history.”

4. “Sunset Boulevard” (Franz Waxman):  “‘Sunset Blvd.’ is an example of a mastery, a psychological role that the music plays in that film— so much range and energy in the writing.  You have the glamour and the madness and the way Wasman wove it all together. Fifty years after Waxman won the Academy Award there had never been an album for ‘Sunset Blvd.’ Never, ever, ever. There was a concert suite that ran seven minutes, that was all that ever came from “Sunset Blvd.” So 50 years later, in 2000, I went to Scotland with  [composer] Joel McNeely and we recorded the complete score with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.  I found when I went through the manuscripts the 10-minute prologue for the scene that never exists in the film called ‘Conversing Corpses,’ and the movie originally opened with a scene where WIlliam Holden’s character wakes up in the morgue and  the other corpses tell the story of how they met their end. So no one had ever heard that before and it’s my favorite piece of the score. It’s where he introduces all of his melodies and in that setting it’s just macabre and masterful and brilliant in so many ways.”

3. “Vertigo” (Bernard Herrmann):
“I just see it as the summit of his work. It’s passionate, it’s psychological. It’s so responsible for shaping the impact of that film. That’s the film that literally among Hitchcock’s script notes—he wrote it himself— ‘We will leave this scene for Mr. Herrmann.’ They had worked together since ‘The Trouble With Harry’ in 1955 and had developed this shorthand, this relationship, where Hitchcock was confident enough in the voice that Herrmann was bringing to the film that he passed the reins to the composer. The best scores have always resulted in directors trusting the composer. The best advice or input to give to a composer is just have at it.

2. “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Elmer Bernstein): “It’s just such an emotional score. Elmer Bernstein, one of the great composers of all time. So grateful that I got to spend the time I did with Elmer. We did 30 some albums together. I recorded ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ with him conducting himself with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He spent so much time before writing a single note just thinking about the score. He took the benefit of time to really let the film soak into him. The master composer that he is then came out with this melody that is just the most expressive reach into the heart. It’s what happens in the hands of a master composer who knows things that we can’t even conceive, but there’s just the soul of a great artist being expressed with notes on paper.”

1. “Spartacus” (Alex North): “I started doing what I do when I was young enough to get to spend the last few years of Alex North’s life working with him. We would hang out in his studio and talk about music. This is a guy who every genre he stepped foot in, he revolutionized. When I started talking to Alex about doing new recordings of his scores, the first one I brought up  was ‘Spartacus.’ It had been my favorite score since growing up: the depth of writing, the mastery of every note, the range and all the different styles he put into it and still it all tried together in a unified work. ‘Spartacus Love Theme’ is just one of the greatest melodies to ever come from film and the degree to which he broke ground just in the orchestral writing, his language and what he was doing musically in that score just set the stage for so much of what came after. Just at its heart, the emotion behind it where he had all this genius but that it kind of disappears within the fabric of the story that he’s telling musically. When I found out that Universal was doing a restoration of the film in 1990, we were going to try to align with that, but then we realized the window that we had in order to get the recording done in time wasn’t going to happen.  I promised Alex when we moved Spartacus out of the lineup, that one day I would restore and release his score. Twenty years later when I’m approaching my 1000th album, which was also the year that celebrated Alex’s 100th birthday and Spartacus’s 50th anniversary, [we did.] He didn’t live to see it, but what happened in the 20 intervening years is I got to produce ‘Spartacus’ at a level  where it was the most elaborate production of any film score in history.”  (Varese Sarabande’s 2010 release included 6 CDs, 1 DVD and an 168-page booklet,  including two CDs devoted to “Spartacus Love Theme,”  with variations by Carlos Santana, Bill Evans, and Ramsey Lewis, and Alexandre Desplat, as well as a new Lee Holdridge arrangement featuring flautist Sara Andon.)
 

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<p>John&nbsp;Goodman, Matt&nbsp;Damon, George&nbsp;Clooney, Bob&nbsp;Balaban and Bill Murray in &quot;The&nbsp;Monuments Men&quot;</p>

John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray in "The Monuments Men"

Credit: Sony Pictures

'Monuments Men' trailer finds George Clooney and Matt Damon on the hunt for stolen art

Well...that sure looks like a player

How is George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" going to shape up this season? Frankly, this "movie" movie is starting to looking like another "Argo," potentially, a middle-ground choice that entertains with a slice of history but has a populist edge to it that will draw in audiences, not just the industry.

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<p>Kate Hudson, Larry David and Jon Hamm in &quot;Clear History.&quot;</p>

Kate Hudson, Larry David and Jon Hamm in "Clear History."

Credit: HBO

Review: Larry David in HBO's 'Clear History'

Jon Hamm, Kate Hudson and friends come along for what's really an all-star edition of 'Curb'

When each season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" ends, executives at HBO, and fans of the show, wait in earnest for Larry David to decide when or if he wants to make another one. My belief is that the gig is too much fun for David to entirely walk away from, but for 2013 he passed on doing more "Curb" in favor of writing and starring in "Clear History," an HBO film that debuts Saturday night at 9.

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<p>Richmond Arquette in &quot;This is Martin Bonner.&quot;</p>

Richmond Arquette in "This is Martin Bonner."

Credit: Monterey Media

Chad Hartigan's 'This is Martin Bonner' hits New York and Los Angeles next week

Check out the trailer for the subtly moving festival hit

Many of you will remember the days when Chad Hartigan was our reliably astute and highly discriminating box office analyst back at the old In Contention site -- we miss him still. But that was then and this is now, and Chad's been making waves on the festival circuit this year with his thoughtful, penetrating second feature "This is Martin Bonner."  "'Decency' isn't much of a buzzword in the current, irony-fuelled indie realm," I wrote in my Edinburgh Film Festival review of the two-hander character study, "but 'Martin Bonner' possesses a pure, palpable strain of it from first cleanly composed frame to last."

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