Latest Blog Posts

<p>Andrew Lincoln as Rick in &quot;The Walking Dead.&quot;&nbsp;</p>

Andrew Lincoln as Rick in "The Walking Dead." 

Credit: AMC

Season finale review: 'The Walking Dead' - 'Welcome to the Tombs'

The Governor's forces converge on the prison, while Andrea and Milton get a room

A review of "The Walking Dead" season finale coming up just as soon as I know how the safety works...

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<p>Caroline is good at working the pole on &quot;The Amazing Race&quot;</p>

Caroline is good at working the pole on "The Amazing Race"

Credit: CBS

Recap: 'The Amazing Race' - 'Be Safe and Don't Hit a Cow'

Welcome to Africa... Goats and donkeys.
Darnit, "The Amazing Race." Why can't you keep momentum going? 
 
Last week's episode sucked, but you came back with a new episode immediately.
 
This week's episode was really solid, so naturally "The Amazing Race" is taking next Sunday off in favor of one of the 75 country music award shows I'm basically convinced are elaborate charades to help Taylor Swift feel better about her various breakups. 
 
To that, I can only say, "Boo."
 
But regarding tonight's episode? An agreeable, "Yay." Sunday's episode featured some amusing and photogenic nature, some interesting and difficult tasks, some previously unexplored travel miscues, minimal cultural myopia and racism and a reasonably exciting conclusion. When folks say that I judge "The Amazing Race" by too high a standard, I say, "Not true." And this can be a good illustration for a solid, engaging episode of "The Amazing Race."
 
More after the break. Then I'll take a week off. Except for all of the other things I do.
 
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<p>Kit Harington as Jon Snow in &quot;Game of Thrones.&quot;</p>

Kit Harington as Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones."

Credit: HBO

Season premiere review: 'Game of Thrones' - 'Valar Dohaeris'

It's back to Westeros... and beyond the Wall... and across the Shivering Sea for season 3

"Game of Thrones" is back. I offered a general review of the start of the season on Thursday, and I have specific thoughts on the season premiere, "Valar Dohaeris," coming up just as soon as I drink with the harlots...

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'Game of Thrones' star Isaac Hempstead-Wright discusses hanging with and from Hodor

'Game of Thrones' star Isaac Hempstead-Wright discusses hanging with and from Hodor

Bran finds a new form of transportation this season
Try not to pay too much attention to it, but Isaac Hemsptead-Wright is growing. 
 
Perhaps more than his "Game of Thrones" siblings Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams, Hempstead-Wright has become markedly larger than the wee Bran we watched gambol along the rooftops of Winterfell in the series premiere. Bran does very little gamboling these days, what with his Lannister-induced paralysis, so that means we can't be distracted by his growth when he's standing alongside other characters, but it also means that he's spent a lot of time strapped to the back of Kristian Nairn's Hodor, which'll cause extra problems if/when they're the same height. 
 
Unavoidably, I brought up the issue with Hempstead-Wright on the recent "Game of Thrones" premiere red carpet in Hollywood. Fortunately, the young actor explains that he goes from Westeros Baby Bjorn to being carted via cart for most of the show's upcoming third season. On Hodor's behalf, we all say, "Whew."
 
Check out the full interview above with Hempstead-Wright teasing the new season. Check out the full interview above. And you should also check out my red carpet interviews with George R.R. MartinRose LeslieNikolaj Coster-WaldauOona ChaplinNatalia Tena and John Bradley.
 
Plus, I have a longer -- text only, sorry -- interview with Natalie Dormer
 
"Game of Thrones" returns to HBO on Sunday, March 31.

 

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<p>Natalie Dormer and Jack Gleeson of &quot;Game of Thrones&quot;</p>

Natalie Dormer and Jack Gleeson of "Game of Thrones"

Credit: HBO

Interview: 'Game of Thrones' co-star Natalie Dormer discusses her Margaery Tyrell

How is this new aspiring queen different from Anne Boleyn?
Over the past couple weeks, I've been posting my interviews from the "Game of Thrones" red carpet premiere in Hollywood. At the event, I got a couple minutes with many of the show's stars, but the actor I was most disappointed to miss may have been Natalie Dormer. 
 
The British actress, who I first noticed in "Casanova" and playing Anne Boleyn on the first two seasons of "The Tudors," is giving what I think is one of the most interesting performances in the deep "Game of Thrones" ensemble. 
 
Dormer's Margaery Tyrell is surprising partially because she has almost nothing in common with the child-bride introduced in the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels. As Dormer plays her, Margaery has an interesting and pragmatic understanding of the game that gives the HBO drama its title. She knows what she has to do to secure her position in Westeros and she's prepared to do it, whether it meant accommodating Renly's secretive sexual orientation or Joffrey's not-so-secretive ickiness. And as the new season begins, Margaery is showcasing a different, even more complicated, side with the help of her feisty grandmother the Queen of Thorns, played by Dame Diana Rigg. 
 
Having missed her on the red carpet, I got on the phone last week for a longer conversation with deeply invested and fiercely thoughtful actress. 
 
The full Q&A is after the break. It contains information, but I wouldn't think to call any of it "spoilers." 
 
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<p>Justin Timberlake</p>

Justin Timberlake

Credit: AP

Music Power Rankings: Justin Timberlake beats Ariana Grande for the top spot

'The Voice' makes the list, so do the Rolling Stones

1. Justin Timberlake: “The 20/20 Experience” has the highest sales week of a male solo artist in nearly 5 years. JT’s not only bringing sexyback, he’s bringing salesback.

2. Ariana Grande:
“The Way” with Mac Miller soars to No. 1 on the iTunes chart. That’s some kind of “Victorious” feat for the Nickelodeon star

3. MTV Awards: 
To commemorate the 30th anniversary, the awards show is moving to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.  It’s time to break out “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” for the promos.

4. “The Voice”:
Blake and Adam return with new friends Shakira and Usher as the talent show’s rating tower over “American Idol,” which scored its lowest rating ever on Thursday.  There’s a new sheriff in town.

5. Rolling Stones:
They are set to headline Glastonbury Festival. What? they didn’t want to wait until their 75th anniversary?

6. J Dash: His song “WOP” brings new life to his career after Miley Cyrus posts a video of her twerking her way through the tune in a unicorn outfit. Girl, you better Twerk!!

7. Marilyn Manson: The shock rocker is the new poster boy for fashion brand Saint Laurent because when we think high fashion we think the pasty-faced Manson....

8. Public Image Ltd: The Johnny Lydon -led band gets cleared to play in China, and yet China bans Kraftwerk from playing. Is Xi Jinping a closet Sex Pistols fan?

9. Michelle Shocked: Her craziness continues as she shows up to protest the cancellation of her gigs with duct tape over her mouth and a ski mask. Will someone please get her some help?

10. Rick Ross: Just because the word “rape” isn’t used, doesn’t mean it’s not unwanted sex. Shameful....




 

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<p>Jenna Louise-Coleman as Clara, the new &quot;Doctor Who&quot;&nbsp;companion.</p>

Jenna Louise-Coleman as Clara, the new "Doctor Who" companion.

Credit: BBC

Review: 'Doctor Who' - 'The Bells of Saint John'

The Doctor meets the 21st version of Clara as Jenna-Louise Coleman joins the cast full-time

"Doctor Who" is back, and I have some thoughts on tonight's episode, and the current state of the franchise, coming up just as soon as I invent the quadricycle...

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The Essential Phil Ramone: 10 Recordings that defined the legendary producer's career

The Essential Phil Ramone: 10 Recordings that defined the legendary producer's career

From Bob Dylan to Paul Simon to Billy Joel

Phil Ramone worked with such a vast array of artists over 50 years that it’s impossible to narrow down his essential work to only 10 recordings, but we’ve given it a shot. While we left out his work with Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Lesley Gore and his Broadway productions, as well as so many projects, they are all worth exploring. Ramone, who died today at age 79, won 14 Grammys and was nominated 33 times.


 

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<p>Phil Ramone with Billy Joel in 2008.</p>

Phil Ramone with Billy Joel in 2008.

Credit: AP Photo

Phil Ramone: An appreciation from 'The Stranger' to being in the studio for 'Duets'

Plus, exclusive comments from Phil Ramone's colleagues

Phil Ramone, who died today at 79, had me at “The Stranger.”  I was already a burgeoning young music freak when the landmark Billy Joel album came out in 1977,  but I hadn’t really paid attention to producers and the role they played.

 “The Stranger” changed all of that.

I wanted to devour everything about that album. It’s the first album I remember really dissecting every track over and over and trying to figure out how the instruments fit together and marveling at the arrangements. I know every word, even album tracks like  the spiky “Get It Right The First Time” and the soulful “Everybody Has A Dream.”  I have Ramone’s brilliant production to credit for kicking off a lifelong love of how records came together.

Ramone, a Julliard-trained engineer turned producer, make every instrument pop, whether it was Joel’s piano on the intro to “Only The Good Die Young” or Richie Cannata’s saxophone on “Movin’ Out” or, of course, the entire epic majesty of “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.” The projection was clean and vibrant. I knew that even when I was playing it on my cheap turntable. For someone raised on top 40 gloss, “The Stranger” had a grittiness and attitude that other songs I’d listened to didn’t.

For Ramone’s obit, go here.

Flash forward almost 30 years. It’s the morning after the 2006 Grammy Awards. I’m at Capitol Studios in Hollywood watching Tony Bennett record “Rag To Riches” with Elton John for “Duets,” Bennett’s hugely successful album featuring him performing with John, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Tim McGraw and several others. Phil Ramone is the producer.

As talent editor and then West Coast Bureau Chief for Billboard, I’d met Ramone several times already and interviewed him, but this was my first time being in the studio watching him work. In all my times in the studio, I had never and have never seen anyone so calm and in control.  Bennett cuts everything live, which means if anyone goofs, it’s back to square one (of course, they picked people to be on the album who could really sing and who didn’t need to have their vocals comped). Elton showed up wearing a beautiful tailored suit instead of his usual track suit because he knew Bennett would be dressed to the nines, which he was, and he wanted to show Bennett the respect he felt he deserved.  “For Mr. Bennett, you wear a suit,” I remember him telling me.

Ramone set the professional, yet relaxed, tone. Including rehearsals, John, Bennett, and Bennett’s trio did no more than six takes before it was a wrap. (I remember the publicist told me not to be late because the session would go fast... she wasn’t kidding).

At the end, Bennett made a suggestion that he wanted to try.  I was in the control room with Ramone and it was clear from his reaction to the previous takes that Ramone knew they had it down, and that they didn’t need to do it again, but out of deference to Bennett and with a graciousness that I’ve rarely seen in the studio, he told Bennett that he thought they had nailed it, but, of course, they could try it again the way Bennett wanted to. Want to know how Ramone brought out the best in everyone? That’s how... he made the artists and musicians feel valued, special, and respected. There was no way that Ramone was going to use the take with Bennett’s suggestion. He knew that, I knew that. Hell, probably Bennett even knew that, but Ramone was delighted to give it a try because he knew that’s how he’d continue to get the best from Bennett for the rest of the session.

On his Facebook page, producer Tony Visconti brought up what a great raconteur Phil Ramone was and I found that to be my experience too. When I interviewed him, I knew to set aside at least double the amount of time that we had planned because he had such amazing stories and he was so generous sharing them.  He rambled and would go off on tangents, but I was always so happy to go down any road with him because I knew I was getting gold, whether he was talking about serving as music producer the night Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy to hoping to find the next big rock act.

Read excerpts from my 2003 interview with Ramone for Billboard.

Ramone was incredibly active right up until his death. For several months over the last year, he’d been in Los Angeles, staying with producer Gregg Field and singer Monica Mancini, while he produced new projects from Matthew Morrison,  Dionne Warwick and Latin singer Alejandro Fernandez. Longtime friends, Ramone produced Mancini’s 2010 album, “I’ve Loved These Days.”

I reached out to several colleagues of Ramone’s this morning to get their reactions. These aren’t artists who worked with Ramone, other than Monica Mancini. Instead they are people who worked in the trenches beside him or admired him because they shared the same craft.

”Phil was a better friend than producer and he was the best music producer I have ever know. Phil would stay in the "Phil Ramone Suite" in our home whenever he was in L.A.. The best memory? So many, but that would be the two of us at the end of the day having a ritual nightcap before heading to bed. And then doing it all again the next day.”  — Gregg Field, Grammy-winning producer and co-producer of Matthew Morrison’s upcoming album with Ramone

“Phil Ramone was a friend, mentor, brother, father and partner.  He was the personification of everything good that we do in music and in life.  He selflessly shared his vast experience and knowledge with anyone that asked, or for that matter, didn't ask but needed to be set straight.  He was a child prodigy, classically trained musician that spent his entire life serving the music and the people that made it. I'm having a difficult time imaging a world without him, on the other end of the phone, or the other side of the studio glass.  We are all better off that he was in the world, leaving an incredible legacy of timeless music, and incredibly worse off that he is gone.  Our hearts are broken, that's for sure. —Grammy Award-winning engineer and producer Ed Cherney

“We were on the New York NARAS board together.  He was so humble. So Interested in what I was doing that when he called me at home (we both live in Connecticut) I thought someone was pranking me. ‘It's me, Phil...’ While ‘The Stranger’ changed my life, I have often looked back and referenced many of Phil’s records. Most notably, when I first started working with Art Garfunkel, I went back and listened to ‘Breakaway.’ Along with records he produced for Paul Simon, Phoebe Snow, Rod Stewart, and many others, Phil has always been a source of inspiration. He is one of those producers I always admired ‘on and off the court.’ May he rest in peace.—Grammy-award winning producer Billy Mann

“Phil was our resident houseguest for three months, I used to make him breakfast every morning: he’d have English Breakfast tea, fruit and and English muffin. It was just a moment that we all just relished. Every morning, we’d  talk about the night before and then it started all over again, it was like ‘Dad’s coming down for breakfast!’ There are no words about what it’s like to work with him as a producer, it didn’t get better than that. Just a smile would come over his face. The reason he was there in the first place was he produced a number of the original songs I was doing, including Billy Joel and Paul Simon. He had the sensibility and passion from the day the original songs were created. He would get so many phone calls at our house. That man would be working ‘til his dying day. People were calling him on a daily basis to work with him.” —Singer Monica Mancini


Here is Billy Joel’s statement about  Ramone upon learning of his passing: 

"I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band. He was the guy that no one ever ever saw onstage. He was with me as long as any of the musicians I ever played with - longer than most. So much of my music was shaped by him and brought to fruition by him.I have lost a dear friend - and my greatest mentor. The music world lost a giant today."






 

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<p>&quot;The Host&quot;</p>

"The Host"

Credit: Open Road Films

Tell us what you thought of 'The Host'

Andrew Niccol's latest hit like a brick with critics but give us your take

I have not seen Andrew Niccol's "The Host" yet, so I have no opinion to offer. It's languishing at a woeful 12% at Rotten Tomatoes so it's rather clear it's a dud. HitFix's Drew McWeeny crucified it in his review, noting that it is "one of the worst things [he's] seen in a while…a genre film that fails at every genre it attempts, and it fails at even the meager ideas it attempts to engage." Ouch.

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<p>Jim&nbsp;Carrey in the video for &quot;Cold Dead Hand&quot;</p>

Jim Carrey in the video for "Cold Dead Hand"

Credit: Funny or Die

Jim Carrey fires back at Fox News over anti-NRA 'Cold Dead Hand' dust-up

'A media colostomy bag that has begun to burst at the seams...'

Not gonna bog down into a political debate on the gun thing here. The liberal-minded will bang its head against a brick wall and the conservative-minded will decry the gall of another sect knowing what's best and it'll just be grossly, pathetically predictable.

That said, Jim Carrey's recent "Cold Dead Hand" video at Funny or Die taking the piss out of the National Rifle Association and its late leader actor Charlton Heston was, well, hilarious. Carrey has been outspoken about magazine limits and an assault rifles ban ever since the debate caught fire again in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

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<p>Julia's &quot;Survivor&quot; torch is snuffed</p>

Julia's "Survivor" torch is snuffed

Credit: CBS

Interview: Julia Landauer talks 'Survivor: Caramoan' and vanilla ice cream

Race car driver and Stanford undergrad discusses her 'Survivor' run
Nobody's ever been cast on "Survivor" to be "vanilla." But sometimes it happens. Not everybody can be a Phillip or a Brandon or a Shamar and in a season that happens to have a Phillip, a Brandon and a Shamar all battling simultaneously for screentime, it's hard for anybody to keep up.
 
It's even hard to keep up if you happen to have the daredevil spirit of a race car driver and the intellect of a Stanford undergrad.
 
Julia Landauer is both of those things, not that you'd know either fact from her time on "Survivor: Caramoan." In fact, all you'd probably know about Julia is that she didn't get along with Shamar, she didn't get along with Phillip and Cochran didn't think too highly of her.
 
"I'm tempted to say that she has a vanilla personality, but that would be doing a great disservice to the flavor of vanilla," Cochran cracked during Wednesday's "Survivor," just moments before Julia was voted out of the game, just missing out on the Merge.
 
In this week's "Survivor" exit interview, Julia certainly comes across as sharper and funnier than she appeared to be on the show, attributing what was perceived as "vanilla" to varying parts strategy, youth, an unfortunate game situation and a lack of outrageousness compared with other contestants. It seems like a plausible combination of factors.
 
Check out the full conversation after the break...
 
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