Throughout its 12 seasons, American Idol has seen many changes. What began as a quest to find bubblegum pop's next big artist morphed into an artistry competition before the series transformed into the search for America's Most A-List Judge. (The reality show also went through a "packaged artist" phase that we'd love to forget about as quickly as Norman Gentle.)
But now, in Season 12, Idol has seen its biggest change of all, and we're not talking about its return to pre-Season 9 glory as an entertaining reality series. (Consider me a converted Barb here, Nicki Minaj!) Nope, last night, Idol debuted its new ranking system, borrowed from X Factor's format with the intent of borrowing from NCIS ratings. Whereas Idol fans have grown accostumed to learning the bottom three contestants each week — and only the bottom three contestants — the series now informs us of the rankings of all the singers, except for the top three vote getters.
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It would seem a minor change for those who have survived Simon Cowell's exit and Ellen DeGeneres' disastrous tenure on the show, but, moreso than the series' new SuperVote format, the ranking system now changes the entire Idol game. Before, fans of contestants would power vote for their favorite bottom three contestant — but still text or call for their favorite frontrunner, not knowing where they fell on the season's scale. Now, while we can respect that America got things mostly right this week (ahem, Lazaro Arbos at No. 4? What in the Zoanette?!), we also run the risk of watching America get it very, very wrong next week.
Because the assumption after this week is that Angie Miller, Candice Glover, and Kree Harrison are all safe. Why should America spread any of their 50 super votes to the frontrunners when they're all locked in at the top three? We've seen quality contestants leave before their time thanks to the dreaded safety assumption (see: Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, Michael Johns, Carly Smithson). Idol's new system now simply exacerbates the problem.
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Granted, it does make for great television. Discovering that Lazaro outranked the likes of Amber Holcomb (No. 5) and Burnell Taylor (No. 7) is enough to get frenzied Idol fans more riled up than Charlie Askew in a tank top. (Too soon?) And, best case scenario, we actually get an interesting results show while sympathy voters supporting the stuttering-plagued Lazaro will realize they run the risk of only helping the weak contestant wear out his welcome. Still, it wouldn't be surprising to see Burnell, Paul Jolley, and Devin Velez topping the rankings next week, while Angie, Candice, and Kree are left middling in the back of the pack thanks to voters who feel their vote for the frontrunner no longer matters.
Thursday night, Nigel Lythgoe, it seemed you got your wish — the girls sat at the top of the pack during a results show that managed to bring plenty of drama. But the ratings grab might come at the expense of one of Season 12's very talented ladies. And if Nicki almost walked out after Curtis Finch, Jr. — a semi-talented, but very maligned contestant — was eliminated, imagine what she'll do if wifey Kree were eliminated. There simply aren't enough waffles in the world to cure that injustice.
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[Image Credit: FOX]
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Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Christine has a doting boyfriend a good job and much promise until she refuses to extend the overdue home loan of Mrs. Ganush a strange one-eyed Gypsy woman who literally begs to keep her residence of 30 years. The ambitious Christine doesn’t budge and the woman unleashes the horrendous curse of the Lamia on the unsuspecting banker turning her life into hell on Earth. When she goes to a psychic to reverse the curse her entire existence is turned upside down becoming a living nightmare with no light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
WHO’S IN IT?
As Christine Alison Lohman gets to chew the scenery like there’s no tomorrow. Living an actor’s dream Lohman gets under the skin of this wickedly cursed girl and gives it her all in one harrowing sequence after another. Justin Long has the standard thankless role of her understanding but perplexed and confused boyfriend. Playing it straight he basically stands on the sidelines watching his girlfriend go slowly mad. As Christine’s boss David Paymer is all business while Dileep Rao as the all-knowing seer Christine turns to in her most dire time of need is quite effective in a handful of scenes. Stealing the show lock stock and barrel though is unquestionably the veteran TV character actress Lorna Raver who is aptly named Mrs. Ganush she is stark-raving mad. The character is blissfully over-the-top (and then some) and Raver under mounds of scary-as-hell makeup hits it out of the park.
Returning to his celebrated roots in horror Spider-Man director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) is clearly in his comfort zone as he delivers one of the best examples of the genre seen in many years. Although some CGI trickery and puppetry is employed to full effect Raimi manages to get his best jolts with expert use of camera angles creeping shadows blowing wind strong visual flourishes amped up sound effects and a brilliantly vivid musical score from Christopher Young. Raimi shows today’s purveyors of “torture porn” you don’t need graphic violence to scare the crap out of an audience — just talent. Hitchcock would have approved.
The PG-13 rating probably forced Raimi’s hand in turning on the juice and REALLY dragging us through hell in a couple of scenes so we’re hoping there’s an uncut DVD special edition coming along eventually.
There are many to choose from including a classic dinner scene with the boyfriend’s parents but for pure intensity the initial bank and parking garage encounter between Lohman and Raver has lots of teeth (so to speak) and is still sending chills down our spine. Also the creepy use of a "nosey" fly pays dividends through the entire film for the ultimate audience freakout.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Drag yourself to a multiplex. A fright flick that is this much fun deserves to be seen in a packed theater.