When Pitch Perfect came out, Skylar Astin became everyone’s newest celebrity crush. He can sing, he can dance, he can act, and, c’mon, he looks like he’d be a great boyfriend. Prior to Pitch Perfect, Astin was in the original cast of the Broadway musical Spring Awakening as Georg. (If you haven’t listened to the Spring Awakening soundtrack, we definitely recommend it; Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff, and John Gallagher Jr. were in the musical as well before they made the transition to Hollywood.)
Since we adore Astin, we’ve been patiently — and by patiently we mean watching Pitch Perfect over and over again — for his newest role as Brody on TBS’s sitcom, Ground Floor. However, we were disappointed to see a lack of singing on Astin’s part. Except for ten seconds of “Your Song” by Elton John in the pilot, Astin’s musical abilities aren’t even showcased. Ground Floor is just a bunch of not-so-funny jokes thrown on top of a tired Romeo and Juliet premise.
But you know what might make the show better? Turn it into a musical. Glee has found a niche in the musical comedy/drama genre of television, but who says the series has a monopoly on it. We can’t speak for all TV viewers, but it’s high time we get another musical comedy show and Ground Floor — well, at least Astin — might be the best option.
Or just give us half an hour of Skylar Astin singing every week. We’d be happy with that.
Superhero origin stories have been all the rage at the multiplex this summer with Marvel Comics alone accounting for two such films Thor and X-Men: First Class both of which happily surpassed critics’ expectations. Its latest Captain America: The First Avenger – so named as to provide us a helpful link to the Avengers movie coming next year – arguably faces the trickiest task of all three seeing as how Americans have not been in the most patriotic of moods in recent years. Could a flag-waving superhero really find purchase with a moviegoing audience that increasingly looks askance at such notions?
Surprisingly yes. That Captain America succeeds – and resoundingly so – is partly due to the producers’ decision to set the film during World War II a time where patriotism is a much easier sell. (And no viewer is too jaded to not enjoy seeing Nazis eviscerated en masse.) But proper credit must be given to director Joe Johnston who has crafted a breathlessly entertaining popcorn movie that unambiguously embraces its hero’s old-fashioned sensibilities and invites us to embrace them as well.
Chris Evans (The Losers Fantastic Four) plays Steve Rogers an earnest oft-bullied ectomorph whose lone wish is to ship off to Europe and fight on the front lines. But a plethora of physical ailments have combined to render him hopelessly unfit to serve however stiff his resolve. (To pull off the withered look of “Skinny Steve ” the filmmakers pulled off a nifty trick grafting Evans’ head onto the body of another actor Leander Neely.)
Rogers’ chance arrives in the guise of a government scientist the German émigré Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci as avuncular as a German-accented man can hope to be) who witnesses the young man’s idealistic ardor and recruits him to take part in secret military experiment. After proving his mettle in training Rogers is delivered a dose of Super Serum a PED that instantly makes him bigger stronger and faster than just about any other human alive.
Which is a good thing because on the other side of the Atlantic a renegade Nazi scientist Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving doing a tremendous Christoph Waltz impression) has happened upon his own supernatural power source and he’s used it to quietly amass a private army dubbed HYDRA that is bent on supplanting Hitler’s world-domination scheme with its own. Soon all that stands between defeat at the hands HYDRA and its arsenal of advanced weaponry is the juiced-up visage of the newly-christened Captain America.
Portraying a stalwart straight-arrow bereft of angst or ambiguity isn’t the easiest of tasks for any actor but Evans does a commendable job of bringing depth and humanity to a character that all too easily could have come across as bland and one-dimensional. Johnston seems to recognize this potentiality as he looks primarily to his supporting cast to supply the personality: Tucci and Weaving stand out as do Tommy Lee Jones and Toby Jones playing an irascible army commander and a timid HYDRA toady respectively. The film’s romantic spark comes courtesy of the principal cast’s lone female representative the excellent Haley Atwell playing Rogers’ military liaison Agent Peggy Carter.
More than anything Captain America is a triumph of tone. A former ILM technician Johnston did visual effects for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Spielberg’s 1981 blockbuster was a conscious touchstone for his film’s throwback feel and aesthetic. (Another less deliberate influence would be a previous Johnston film The Rocketeer.) Captain America embodies the spirit of the old serials melded with a tongue-in-cheek comic sense and punctuated by action sequences that deploy the requisite CGI fireworks with a welcome measure of restraint. The film is decidedly of its era but never feels gratuitously nostalgic. And its production design is gorgeous: Red Skull’s lair in particular is a treasure trove of retro-futurist designs all of which seem directly lifted from 1940s World’s Fair exhibits.
This is disappointing. After we got over the whole Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell dynamic over on Idol, they're now thinking about bringing it back on X-Factor? Sure it will draw some nostalgic viewers, but it will also make me feel like I'm living back in 2002 when boy bands ruled the world and I thought that having every piece of my clothing be the same sparkly shade of baby pink was fashionable.
Also confirmed on the shortlist are George Michael, Nicole Sherzinger, and Mariah Carey. Now, Carey I get, but what's with the other two? Is Cowell trying to make the X in X-Factor stand for eX successful recording artists who can get their jollies off judging potential new singers? Because that's what it looks like. Not to mention the fact that Sherzinger and Michael aren't exactly renowned for their incredible vocal talents. Sherzinger is famous for being a scantily clad, glitter-covered burlesque dancer in a troupe of seven other whores. (Yeah, I kind of hate The Pussycat Dolls.)
While we were finding out who might show up on the final panel, we also found out who won't. Simon confirmed that neither Katy Perry (because she's way too famous for that) nor Elton John would be considered, adding "Well, he's so grumpy nowadays, I mean, it would be like, he'd just be moaning the whole time." Right. Because you definitely aren't known for your overly cantankerous style of commentary that would make an angry porcupine look like a better alternative for a conversation partner. I think Simon's just worried that Elton John would out-diva him, out-cranky him, and best of all, out-British him.
Woody Allen’s neurotic-speak works wonders coming from a New Yorker but coming from a Brit? Not so much. The British could very well be just as phobic as anyone else but they are also repressed and trying to force the neurosis out just doesn’t ring as true. Nevertheless Allen is bound and determined to film abroad these days and thus once again sets Cassandra's Dream in contemporary London where we meet two brothers struggling to better their lives financially. The more blue-collar Terry (Colin Farrell) has a gambling problem and is in debt up to his eyeballs while enterprising Ian (Ewan McGregor) dreams of leaving his family’s restaurant and moving to California with his newfound love Angela (Hayley Atwell) an ambitious actress. Their only hope is their wealthy uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) but the boys quickly find out you can’t get something for nothing. You see Uncle Howard is also in a bit of trouble and he asks his nephews to help him out of his jam--with sinister consequences. First of all Farrell and McGregor look about as related as a dog and cat. Secondly they don't seem at ease in the film partly because their characters are anxious but also partly because they don’t mesh as well with Woody Allen’s sensibilities. Farrell fares a bit better since his natural Irish tendencies towards emotional outbursts fit the character well. His Terry is the one with the conscience and murdering someone just doesn’t sit well with him. McGregor on the other hand plays Ian almost robotically saying the words with as little emotion as possible which doesn’t do Allen’s dialogue any justice. Wilkinson falls under the same category as McGregor but his character is the one most morally challenged so playing it cold sort of works. The women in Cassandra's Dream are fairly wasted including newcomer Atwell as the manipulative actress and Sally Hawkins as Terry’s sweet and concerned girlfriend. Even the boys’ mother played by veteran stage actress Clare Higgins (The Golden Compass) comes off screechy. The cast must have all been thrilled to be in a Woody Allen movie to be sure but it just seems like Allen didn’t get them. Cassandra's Dream suffers from some of the same hang-ups as Match Point. Even though many heralded that 2005 movie as Woody Allen’s return the film had the same problems namely the ill-fitting British cast. At least Match Point had an American Scarlett Johansson whom Allen could pour all his tried-and-true fixations into--the paranoia the obsessiveness and the ultimatums. But Cassandra's Dream really proves that as a filmmaker Allen has become a stick-in-the-mud. He really hasn’t changed his tune in 25 years exploring the same themes over and over again and it’s finally getting old. When his films turn dark it’s usually about how murder can corrupt the soul. Natch. Sometimes the murderers however bothered they are by their deeds get away with it; sometimes they don’t. But rarely does Allen veer from this path making Cassandra's Dream a now very stale rehash of Crimes and Misdemeanors without the benefit of having at the very least some good old-fashioned Allen-styled American-acted neurosis to back it up.