Latest Blog Posts

<p>Men not able to conceal the depth of their vision.</p>

Men not able to conceal the depth of their vision.

On Roger Ebert and Terrence Malick

The critic's final review was of 'To the Wonder' and it's somehow fitting

It is somehow fitting that the last word Roger Ebert would ever have on the movies concerned filmmaker Terrence Malick, whose sixth feature, "To the Wonder," opens in theaters this weekend. Ebert has always been in awe of Malick, his reviews of the director's films consistently revealing a tone of appreciation. And it all came to an apex last year when Ebert chalked up Malick's "The Tree of Life" on his list of the 10 greatest films of all time for the decennial Sight & Sound poll of critics and filmmakers.

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"Ready for Love"

 "Ready for Love"

Credit: NBC

I saw 'Ready for Love' and all I got was this lousy headache

The new NBC dating show throws spaghetti at the wall and makes a mess

In this era of crazy mash-ups, I'm sure someone at NBC thought "Ready for Love" was an awesome idea. Or maybe just an idea. NBC has been boasting only slightly better ratings than my microwave lately, so I think the network will try anything at least once. Or, in the case of "Ready for Love," everything at the same time (not that it worked; the ratings showed it pretty much shed all of its "The Voice" lead-in). It's like that Taco Town skit on "Saturday Night Live":  It's a taco wrapped in a corn husk and a Parisian crepe and a deep dish pizza and then a deep-fried blueberry pancake! Yeah, "Ready for Love" is kind of like that. And just as hard to swallow. 

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Watch: Demi Lovato's new video for 'Heart Attack'

Watch: Demi Lovato's new video for 'Heart Attack'

Things take a very dark turn, literally...

In the new video for  “Heart Attack,” Demi Lovato’s current single, there are two Lovatos duking it out. There’s the mankiller Lovato, a full-on rocker Lovato with her kohl-lined eyes, wind-machine blown hair, and the vulnerable Lovato, with minimal make-up, face freshly scrubbed with her hair pulled back,trading verses.

They’re meant to provide a contrast between the Lovato who can love ‘em and leave ‘em when she doesn’t really care about the dude vs. the Lovato who thinks she’ll have the titular “heart attack” if she really has to show what the feels.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Melissa Leo in &quot;Olympus Has Fallen.&quot;</p>

Melissa Leo in "Olympus Has Fallen."

Credit: FilmDistrict

Melissa Leo goes to Hollywood

The Oscar-winner's getting cast in the big guns, but how about a good role?

In a typically astute essay written for the March edition of GQ, Mark Harris muses on the qualities that make and sustain a movie star in the current Hollywood climate, and hit upon the contrasting fates of Channing Tatum and Taylor Kitsch last year to prove his point. Both actors began 2012 on the brink of stardom, with multiple mainstream releases ahead of them poised to do the job. But only Tatum made good on the promise, with a series of well-chosen leads in overperforming mid-size projects, while Kitsch's vehicles ("Battleship," "John Carter," "Savages") were all high-profile clunkers that did little to advance his big-screen identity.

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<p>A scene from &quot;I'm So Excited!.&quot;</p>

A scene from "I'm So Excited!."

Credit: Sony Classics

Almodóvar's 'I'm So Excited!' to open Los Angeles Film Festival in June

The Spanish's veteran's new comedy is already out in Europe

You have to go back to 2002's "Talk to Her" to find a Pedro Almodóvar film that didn't show up at the Cannes Film Festival -- not that that's a bad precedent, of course -- but his new comedy "I'm So Excited!" is taking the same path.

Instead, the film's big festival appointment looks to be a less pressured one. It's just been announced that "I'm So Excited!" will open the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 13, a little over two weeks ahead of its US release, and it seems like a suitably fun pick for curtain-raising duties.

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<p>Bruno Mars</p>

Bruno Mars

Credit: AP Photo

Bruno Mars takes 'When I Was Your Man' to the top of the Billboard Hot 100

Find out what he is only the second artist to achieve

Bruno Mars finds himself in elite company as he lands his fifth No. 1 tune on the Billboard Hot 100 with “When I Was Your Man.”

He ties with fellow solo male artists  Diddy, Ludacris, Prince and Lionel Richie for taking a quintet of tunes to the top. The only solo males act who have gone to No. 1 more are Elvis Presley, Phil Collins, George Michael, Usher, Paul McCartney Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson, who tops them all with 13 trips to the top, according to Billboard.

Additionally, his tune, which features only his vocals and  a piano, marks only the second time an artist has hit No. 1 with such a spare track: Adele’s “Someone Like You” was the first in 2011.

“When I Was Your Man” knocks “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz out of the top spot down to No. 2. It looks unlikely that the hit will return once again following six non-consecutive weeks at the top as it falls in streaming, sales, and airplay.

Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason,” featuring fun.’s Nate Ruess continues its march to No. 1, as it climbs 5-3. Similarly, Rihanna’s “ Stay,” featuring Mikky Ekko moves up two spaces, 6-4.

Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie,” featuring Jay-Z falls two spots to No. 5, as Timberlake’s album, “The 20/20 Experience,” spends its third week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Former chart topper “Harlem Shake,” from Baauer drops 4-6, while Macklemore & Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” follow-up, “Can’t Hold Us,” featuring Ray Dalton, leaps eight spots to enter the top 10 at No. 7.

Country duo Florida Georgia Line sees its hit “Cruise” re-enter the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 8 following the pair’s win as top vocal duo at Sunday night’s ACM Awards and the release of a remix with Nelly (the song also vaults back to the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart).

The top 10 rounds out with two tracks each taking one step backward: Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” slips 8-9 and Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” slides 9-10.

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<p>Chris Messina and Mindy Kaling in &quot;The Mindy Project.&quot;</p>

Chris Messina and Mindy Kaling in "The Mindy Project."

Credit: FOX

Morning TV Round-Up: 'New Girl' & 'The Mindy Project'

Bachelor and bachelorette parties for Shivrang and Cece, while Mindy and friends hit the road

It's morning round-up time, with quick thoughts on last night's "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project" coming up just as soon as I put a nickel, a big toe or a golf pencil in there for reference...

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Love this: Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich answer 'Ask a Grown Man' questions

Love this: Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich answer 'Ask a Grown Man' questions

Radiohead and Atoms For Peace members tackle what happens when girls like boys

Rookie Magazine -- Tavi Gevinson's online features site for teenage girls -- has a fabulous feature called "Ask a Grown Man," and the featured "grown men" this week? Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich of Atoms For Peace and Radiohead.

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<p>And this is from a part of the film that seems fairly restrained, all things considered. </p>

And this is from a part of the film that seems fairly restrained, all things considered.

Credit: Sony Pictures

Did 'Evil Dead' just break the R rating?

And if it did, is that a good thing?

My first reaction when I saw "Evil Dead" at SXSW was surprise that the MPAA had allowed the film to go out with an R-rating. I have no problem with extreme gore in a film, particularly if I'm going to see a movie called "Evil Dead," and I enjoyed the fact that Fede Alvarez goes berserk with the blood in the last third of the movie. I admire a filmmaker who goes for a lot of practical effects work and who is willing to ladle on the gruesome.

Having said that, I don't understand the rating. Not at all.

And more than that, I'm not alone in thinking that the ratings board made the wrong call on this one. It's not even just about "Evil Dead," either. There was a time when each film was rated in a vacuum, and just because one film got an R, it didn't mean anything regarding any other film. That all changed a few years ago when the CARA, the actual ratings board, decided to allow filmmakers to argue precedent in an appeals process. Now you can take clips from other films into the room, show those clips, and you can push for a sort of ratings parity.

I've had three conversations this week with filmmakers who saw "Evil Dead" this weekend, and all of them had the same question for me. These are all filmmakers who have been working on genre films, and all of them have been struggling with imagery that they were afraid might skirt the NC-17. They've second-guessed themselves on the set, they've been struggling in the editing room, and they've been worried about it. And now that they've seen "Evil Dead," they all have the same question: why are they worried at all?

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<p>Busy Philipps and Dan Byrd in &quot;Cougar Town.&quot;</p>

Busy Philipps and Dan Byrd in "Cougar Town."

Credit: TBS

Season finale review: 'Cougar Town' - 'Don't Fade On Me'/'Have Love Will Travel'

The gang heads to Hollywood on a mission to cheer up Jules' dad

A review of tonight's "Cougar Town" season finale coming up just as soon as I tell you the name of the graphic novel in which I fight a robot for your affection...

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In defense of Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's 'Accidental Racist'
Credit: Invision/AP

In defense of Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's 'Accidental Racist'

What Paisley told me about the song

Do intentions matter? As controversy swirls around Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s “Accidental Racist,” a song on Paisley’s new album, “Wheelhouse,” out today, the criticism is coming fast and furious.

To be sure, from a musical standpoint, the song is reductive and somewhat naive...and that’s just Paisley’s part. Don’t get me started on LL Cool J’s rap, which I will delve into more later. But if you can get past the awkwardness and clunkiness, the song raises some interesting issues that we like to pretend don’t exist, but still do.

I spent some time with Paisley recently for a cover story for the current issue of Country Weekly magazine.  We talked at considerable length about “Accidental Racist.” He said he didn’t write the song to be “provocative,” but that he also didn’t want to pull any punches. He’d been accused of being racist once when he’d worn a music act's t-shirt with a Confederate flag on it, and that had served as a wake-up call for him.

In our conversation, it was clear he had spent a great deal of time thinking about race relations in the south and studying the Civil War. This wasn’t a song he wrote casually or without great care. He wanted the song to make people think and to continue a dialogue that he felt had been reopened by movies like “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained.”

As a fellow southerner (Paisley is from West Virginia, but now lives in Nashville and I was born and raised in North Carolina), there are parts of his lyrics that resonate with me. When I lived in Chicago and New York, I often met people who assumed I was prejudiced simply because I had a southern accent or who made other presumptions about me because I was from south of the Mason-Dixon.  While I find some of Paisley’s lyrics overly simplistic, I can relate to some of what he brings up. I am so proud to be Southern, but the slavery issue will never be something that I can ignore as part of the South’s tragic past (even though neither one of my parents were Southern). It’s one of the most glaring examples of being on the wrong side of history that anyone can imagine. Paisley isn’t trying to excuse it or rationalize it away in any way, shape or form in “Accidental Racist.” He's trying to understand why it haunts us so much 150 years later and how we can move on.

On the other hand, LL Cool J’s rap just feels dunderheaded and it sinks the song. There are a few good points: when he brings up feeling a distrust of someone in a white cowboy hat, I can understand that, but the part I can’t wrap my head around is LL Cool J’s equating any of the prejudices that blacks may have against whites as in any way even remotely comparable to slavery. When I first heard,  “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget my iron chains,” my jaw may have literally dropped to the floor. Almost as bad is “If you don’t judge my doo-rag, I won’t judge your red flag” and “The past is the past, do you, feel me?” I understand the intention is to move ahead and try to focus on common ground rather than focus past differences, but his part just doesn’t work.


Paisley wrote his words and LL Cool J wrote his own, but since it’s Paisley’s record, the buck ultimately has to stop with him and I find myself wishing he’d challenged LL Cool J a little bit more to think about what he was saying there. By no means is Paisley’s part perfect, but I wonder if there would be such an outcry if the song only featured Paisley’s honest, earnest questioning about how to reconcile his heritage.

In the broader arc of Paisley’s career,  there’s a point that not a lot of the pundits who are piling on him right now have brought up. If you’ve followed Paisley over the past dozen years, you know his heart is pure, when it comes to these kinds of questions.  To be sure, he’s not clinging to his shotgun, declaring that “A Country Boy Can Survive” like Hank Williams Jr. He’s a  post-modern southerner, proud of where he’s from, but very well aware of its unforgivably flawed past.

He’s shown us so many different sides. There’s the comedic Paisley who pokes fun of the internet on “Online” or rednecks with “Camouflage.” There’s the guitar wiz Paisley, who is awe inspiring with his combination of dexterity, speed, and clarity. Then there’s the Paisley that interests me the most: the Paisley that wants to make us, and all country fans, think and stretch our minds a little bit. Sometimes it’s done subtly and other times, more obviously.

On 2009’s  “American Saturday Night,” verse after verse details what we consider a typical evening out in the United States without ever thinking about how much of our culture came from other places. It’s a reminder that we are a melting pot and that we, as a nation, drew the best from the immigrants who came here and made them our own. Find me one other country song that makes that point, as subtle as it may be.

Paisley wrote 2009’s  “Welcome To the Future,” another song that explicitly mentions race, after Obama’s election. The song, one of his best, mentions a black friend who had a cross burned on his yard after asking out the (presumably white) homecoming queen, as well as references Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and how progress comes and we should all embrace it.  Paisley played the songs at Obama’s Inaugural Ball in January.

Even on his most recent No. 1, “Wheelhouse’s” “Southern Comfort Zone,” he talks about the wonders of travel and how it opens up one’s world. This is not your typical country artist who is content to sit on the front porch.

He’d probably blanch at my use of this word, but in my mind, Paisley is one of the few artists who consistently gets mainstream country radio play, who has a progressive streak.

For his part, Paisley took to Twitter last night and today to respond to the criticism: “...I hope the album rocks you,soothes you,raises questions,answers,evokes feelings, all the way through until  [closing track] 'Officially Alive'” and added, I imagine about the controversy, “'Cause I wouldn't change a thing. This is a record meant to be FAR from easy listening. But fun. Like life. Have a ball, ya'll. love- brad.” Today, he added “This is what I love about albums. Especially country albums. So many different topics can be explored.So So many conversations can start here..”

That’s my hope too. It’s fine, and quite frankly, very understandable not to like the song simply because, as one website claimed, it’s horrible. But to dismiss it out of hand seems to squander an opportunity to continue the conversation that is very real and that needs to be ongoing.

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<p>&quot;Paramore&quot;</p>

"Paramore"

Credit: Fueled By Ramen

Album Review: Paramore, 'Paramore'

Self-titled set has the band right where you want them

Especially when it comes to music made by women, rock bands are frequently described in terms of their infancy or when they're all-grown-up. Rarely is there an album that so perfectly encapsulates the in-between, the space where Paramore now occupies with the release of their self-titled set out this week.

Prior to recording, two of the band's founding members were gone; the group took on deft hired gun Justin Meldal-Johnsen in the studio to round out the rhythm section; and with that, the band embraced the "alt"-ness of alt-rock and let no genre border hinder them.
 
The result, for one, furthermore firms up Hayley Williams as one of modern pop music's more daring vocalists, unafraid of the big notes, brilliant with the small, and yet still excited to introduce sarcasm and fun into her own emotional narratives. And for anyone who's seen Paramore live, she's a damn superstar, with seemingly no need for filters or autotune on her raw abilities.
 
Instrumentally, the band experiments with girl-group backing vocals, travel guitars, glockespiels, hell, even a triangle in one breath, and then lunge into shoegaze like "Future" or '90s ska and new-wave for "Now" or the fearless power-pop of "Daydreaming." Treacly but endlessly catchy "Hate to See Your Heart Break" that, given different backing, would have Carrie Underwood clawing for the rights.
 
But this is all interlaced with the band's space-bound rock and peepholes of pop-punk, their bread and butter, yielding "Part II (Flame)," coy new single "Still Into You" and rock 'n' roller "Ankle Biters."
 
"Some of us have to grow up sometimes / And so if I have to I'm gonna leave you behind..." Williams sings in kiss-off and break-out "Grow Up. "I don't want your pity / So don't feel sad for me / I got a love I would die for and a song to sing / Maybe we're both just living out our dream." She alludes to, again, moving on and re-establishing professional and romantic ideals in "Daydreaming" and oozes self-awareness of her own maturation (and lack thereof) in a trio of ukelele-led Interludes.
 
But even in these moments of epic, arena-filling, teeth rattling rockers, Paramore gets a little ahead of itself. "Ain't It Fun" certainly sounds fun, hopping from an '80s adult-rock groove to Pink anthem to honest-to-God gospel. But why gospel? The band does it because it can. This doesn't seem to further any other goal then find a new way to sing the chorus, an impulsive way to prove to listeners they're capable of copping a style that's outside their wheelhouse. Same goes for the interludes, the whopping 8-minute "Future," the endless chorus vamps, the 17-song tracklist, a couple overly eager synth-lines, the 62 minutes of playtime. Length and idiosyncratic hiccups don't make "Paramore" a better album, but they seem like they have something to prove. Not a deal-breaker -- and certainly not to their fans -- but some annoyance nonetheless.
 
However, they're still growing up. Paramore is fully becoming the band they're intended to be. This substantial album is the best stepping stone so far to get them there.

 

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