Another day, another singing show shakeup. We apparently can’t get through a single month without word of some X Factor/The Voice/American Idol judge going on a rant, quitting, or talking about maybe possibly quitting. This month’s requisite tale comes from The X Factor, where two-year vet and judge L.A. Reid has decided to hang up his quips and go back to his day job (running Epic Records).
Naturally, this story begets another well-worn procedure: contemplating, guessing, and proposing possible replacements for Reid. But The X Factor isn’t losing its famous face, or even its most outspoken judge. The loss of a bona fide industry expert – and one who’s working with current artists like Fiona Apple, Karmin, and Future (and not just UK X Factor flukes like One Direction and Leona Lewis like Cowell’s Syco Music) – is a big one. X Factor would be wise to seek a bit of an upgrade when finding Reid’s replacement: someone who’s got their hands in the music industry as it lives and breathes today, someone who’s cool enough to not feel out of place, knowledgeable enough to balance out Britney Spears’ dazed “amazings,” and someone who is interesting in their own right.
That list kind of narrows the field, but we’ve got a few ideas.
Williams is not only one half of one the most well-known producing teams in music – The Neptunes – he’s also pretty easy on the eyes. Unlike Reid, he’s well-versed in performing for large crowds, thanks to his work with N.E.R.D., and he’s also behind the scenes on new and upcoming albums like Usher’s Looking 4 Myself, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, and Miley Cyrus’ upcoming album. He’d be a hard get, but he might actually be good for these contestants.
Lukasz Gottwald may not be an industry “artist” so much as a music industry hit-factory, but he could also bring some much needed credit to the panel. The songwriter and producer is responsible for some of the biggest hits by Ke$ha and Katy Perry, including “Part of Me,” “Tik Tok,” and “We R Who We R” to name a tiny sample of his work. He’s young enough that his presence wouldn’t feel too much like Grandpa Music Industry coming into school the kids, and he clearly knows what sells, so he might even be able to help The X Factor find a commercially successful artist.
Dre’s simply got the time. He just finished producing records for rising star Kendrick Lamar and headlining the Coachella music festival. He may be living the quiet life (or as quiet as it can be in this industry), but that might be why he could actually work. There’s a slight snag in that his expertise lies in the hip hop genre, but then again, this show is also a form of entertainment, and I find it hard to believe anyone wouldn’t be entertained by seeing Dre go head-to-head with two pop stars and a British V-neck enthusiast.
Jay-Z (Yes, it’s a pipe dream. I know. Let me have this moment, please.)
This would never happen. Ever. And if it did, I think most of us would worry about Jay-Z’s health (mental and physical). But if he ever decided to stop sitting courtside with Queen Beyonce at Brooklyn Nets games, stop being friends with the President, and cease being the King of the Music industry, wouldn’t it be just about the best way to take the X Factor to new heights? It would. Of course, Cowell would probably take issue with not being the most famous male on the panel, but he can worry about that when his series starts pulling in higher ratings.
If all else fails, do a complete 180 and go with the eccentric old producer and artist. He’s had enough success to know what he’s talking about – even if his mark on the current industry is practically nonexistent. He’s strange enough that it won’t feel like a stodgy old music exec wielding his ostentatious sense of greater knowledge and if that’s not enough, he’s actually like a second father to Liv Tyler (he signed her birth certificate and acted as her father before she found out Steven Tyler was her actual dad), so it would almost be like keeping up with Idol. Okay, it would be like me trying to keep up with Michael Phelps in a pool, but it would be entertaining.
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[Photo Credit: Brian Dowling/FOX; WENN (2); INF (2); Amy Harris/Rex USA]
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A comedy featuring Steve Martin Jack Black and Owen Wilson creates certain expectations not the least of which is well laughter. But David Frankel’s (Marley & Me The Devil Wears Prada) anodyne feather-light film The Big Year in which the three actors star is less concerned with eliciting big laughs than offering earnest insights on the meaning of success and the value of friendship.
Delving into the subculture of hard-core birders (don’t call them bird-watchers) the film follows three men semi-retired industrialist Stu (Martin) schlubby corporate drone Brad (Black) and suburban contractor Kenny (Wilson) as they vie in a year-long competition known as the Big Year. The goal of the competition is simple: to spot as many different bird species in North America as possible. As current Big Year record-holder Kenny is something of a rock star in the birding world. His cocky carefree manner masks a stark determination to defend his hard-won celebrity – and his fragile ego – against the likes of upstarts Stu and Brad both of whom are Big Year rookies. None of the three leads stray far from type but they do offer slight tweaks to their usual screen personas: Wilson is sly and Machiavellian; Black tones down the buffoonery limiting himself to two (by my rough count) pratfalls; Martin’s sardonicism is tempered with humility.
There’s no prize for winning a Big Year; the sole reward is the adulation of fellow members of the birding community. Competition is surprisingly fierce. The three men frantically criss-cross the continent darting from one remote location to another in search of the next rare find. At first wary of each other Stu and Brad eventually unite over a mutual desire to defeat Kenny whose crafty gamesmanship has frustrated them both. Their strategic pact gradually evolves into a genuine friendship leading both men to discover that there are more important things in life than winning an amateur birding competition.
Shot on location in British Columbia the Canadian Yukon Upstate New York Joshua Tree and the Florida Everglades The Big Year is a visually striking film showcasing one breathtaking panorama after another. At times director Frankel appears more interested in the scenery than his characters who despite the script's copious exposition aren't particularly well-developed. The story at times seem aimless and unfocused and its relaxed pace may prove vexing for some. Indeed it did for me at first. But once I adjusted to its easygoing rhythm the film’s modest charms began to reveal themselves.
Timothy Dowling didn't have much success as an actor, so he took up screenwriting and is now navigating a lucrative career path. He penned a pair of recent hits (Role Models and, *sigh*, Just Go With It) and has since moved into blockbuster territory with McG's forthcoming This Means War, a film that allowed him to write comedy as well as big action sequences. Now he's returning to his roots with a remake of Warner Bros. 1974 flick Uptown Saturday Night.
Variety reports that the scribe has been set to make a pass at the first draft that Robb and Mark Cullen (Cop Out) delivered. The original, directed by and starring Sidney Poitier, also featured Bill Cosby as two estranged friends who have their wallets stolen at a nightclub. The next morning, they learn that one contained a winning lottery ticket and together they set out to find it.
Will Smith and Denzel Washington have been said to be circling the starring roles in the remake; together they are a box-office force to be reckoned with. I'm a fan of Dowling's Role Models, a film that succeeded mainly on the strength of its script. His involvement should ensure a lot of punchy dialogue between the two actors, who could very well carry Uptown Saturday Night to a meaty opening weekend with their star power alone.
There are two ways to watch a film like Just Go With It. The first is to look at the characters and situations as if they existed in the real world. Through this lens as with most Hollywood productions the story is far-fetched and trite the characters too stereotypical to stomach. However even if you leave practicality at home and well just go with it it’s hard to find anything to enjoy in Adam Sandler’s new movie about a playboy plastic surgeon that convinces his assistant to pose as his ex-wife in an attempt to woo a new lady friend.
Danny Maccabee is afraid of having his heart broken like it was when he was in medical school so he uses his would-be wedding ring from a disastrous engagement as a chick magnet because you know all single ladies love married men. However when he finally meets and beds the girl of his dreams the tactic backfires as she thinks she’s just wrecked a home. Enter Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) Danny’s ordinary (well ordinary when compared to bombshell Brooklyn Decker) office mule who is lured into an ever-expanding web of lies so that he can win his Ms. Right.
The film’s weakest link is its script from writers Timothy Dowling (Role Models) and Allan Loeb (The Switch). Their simple story relies heavily on Sandler’s tried-and-true formula of physical gags and broad family humor offering the audience nothing they haven’t seen before and virtually no organic comedy. While the premise and principle players are very predictable the supporting cast injects some life into the picture most notably young starlet-in-training Bailee Madison whose cutesiness is the only thing I didn’t get sick of throughout the film. Honorable mentions also go to Nick Swardson as Sandler’s crazy cousin and Nicole Kidman who ought to try her hand at comedy more often.
Unfortunately their charm doesn’t compensate for the film’s uneven pacing. I was incredibly bored throughout the second act which is hampered by scenes that play longer than they should but biggest conundrum is Sandler himself: the main draw in Just Go With It as well as its most unlikable element. His character’s arc not to mention his performance is about as artificial as the breasts he gives his clients. Not only is Maccabee a self-centered liar; his deceptions go unpunished as he coasts through the film’s climax into happily-ever-after territory. Some will accept even embrace the Hollywood ending but the conclusion is a loss for Aniston’s character who is otherwise pleasant to watch. A dignified single mother she’s at first reluctant to help Danny due to the immoral nature of his plan but falls for him because he eventually develops a relationship with the kids. I guess she didn’t see him throw them in the mud earlier in the movie.
Generally speaking the greatest strength a contemporary romantic comedy has is its funny factor but director Dennis Dugan unexpectedly creates a comfortable quixotic vibe in Just Go With It which is surprising considering his past endeavors with Sandler (among them I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Grown Ups). It doesn’t make up for the lack of natural laughs but will sate the target audiences’ appetite for a harmless and forgettable Valentine’s Day snack.
Ape descendant Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) gets yanked from the Earth by best friend and alien Ford Prefect (Mos Def) seconds before a Vogon constructor fleet destroys it to make way for a hyperspace expressway. Next thing he knows Arthur is aboard the Vogon ship reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry) and wondering where he might get some tea. But he and Ford are not in the clear: the Vogons (some of whom look like the nightmarish drawings of Ralph Steadman come to life in S&M leather) want to throw them into the vacuum of space right after they read some of the third worst poetry in the known universe. Luckily the spaceship Heart of Gold picks up the stranded hitchhikers in the nick of time. Stolen by the dim but groovy President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) the ship has an Improbability Drive that causes certain mischief turning the stowaways into loveseats and later two missiles into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale. Also onboard is doe-eyed Earth girl Tricia "Trillian" McMillan (Zooey Deschanel) who previously ditched Arthur at a costume party on Earth to satisfy her wanderlust with Zaphod. The crew then embarks on a quest to find the Ultimate Question to Life the Universe and Everything after supercomputer Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren) found the answer: 42. On the run and without a home Arthur discovers that life's true meaning comes from the answers found within.
The slapstick antics and sharp dialogue evoke enough laughs to make one forget that the characters are rather one-note. Rockwell's Zaphod is a riot at first but the cheeky smile and devilish winks soon wear thin. Deschanel has little to work with playing Trillian though it's fun watching her wield a point-of-view gun on Zaphod. Mos Def mumbles some lines but does manage to act like someone from another planet. Freeman does an amiable job playing the fish-out-of-water Earthman but neglects to express the grief and bewilderment of someone who just lost his planet. Even John Malkovich as Humma Kavular--the spiritual leader of a cult awaiting the arrival of the Big Handkerchief--fails to make much of an impression in his brief appearance. Only Alan Rickman as the perpetually glum robot Marvin and Bill Nighy as the stammering planet designer Slartibartfast remain funny without becoming routine--though unfortunately Nighy only appears in the third act. A half-cocked romance between Arthur and Trillian is thrown in for good measure with the couple merely going through the motions.
Directed with considerable flair by first-timer Garth Jennings whose frantic visual style blends well with Adams' ironic wit the film looks as good as can be. CGI is used to display Adams' universe in ways never seen before: The massive concrete slabs of the Vogon fleet surrounding Earth the Heart of Gold tricked out in 1960's Formica kitsch the stark bureaucratic world of Vogosphere and the eye-popping factory floor on Magrathea are all vividly brought to life. Although the graphics of the Guide look more like Internet pop-up ads than stellar entries from the best-selling book in the galaxy the exposition from the Guide is clever and amusing though one should brush up on the material prior to viewing. Even with all the stunning visuals however the plot is still thin. Jennings and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run) have trimmed the story--and witty banter--to its barest essentials leaving out some of the funnier bits to quicken the pace. Memorable exchanges--like the opening battle of wits between Arthur and Mr. Prosser--are reduced to a few meaningless lines while the always hinted-at love affair between Arthur and Trillian gets the full Hollywood treatment. In the past Adams who died of a heart attack in 2001 has allowed the Guide to change and progress with each incarnation so new additions--like the point-of-view gun and the cult of the Big Handkerchief--are welcomed. But the patchwork of wacky vignettes and neutered banter particularly between Arthur and Ford leave one yearning for something more meaningful.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.