S1E16: The theme this week on The X Factor was all about giving thanks in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. So each act had to decide who they wanted to dedicate their performance to as a way to show just how grateful they are to have those particular people in their life. This was nice because it gave viewers the opportunity to really connect with each contestant and see them for who they really are, which could end up being quite beneficial to them during this week’s elimination process. And since two acts will be going home this week, they could use all the extra help they can get. So who were the best performances of the night? Did Astro redeem himself after last week’s debacle? Find out below!
First up was Rachel Crow who decided to dedicate tonight’s song to her family, thanking them for adopting her and bringing so much love into her life. Her performance was exactly how we all expected it to be – fantastic. She sang the song I Believe by Yolanda Adams, which was a perfect way to demonstrate just how strong her vocals really are. But not only that, she’s really grown as a performer, who can definitely make the crowd (and television viewers) fall in love with her during every performance. L.A. loved it and Paula called her an angel on earth. So, as usual, she rocked it!
The second performer was Marcus Canty and he dedicated the night’s performance to his number one fan – his mother, who has always worked hard to make sure he got a better life than the one she had. So tonight he fittingly sang A Song For Mama by Boyz II Men, which turned out to be an extremely moving performance since she actually right there in the audience. His voice was a little pitchy at times, but it was nice to see him sing without all the backup dancers and other theatrics that usually comes with his performances. It was a really touching performance and, not surprising, all of the judges concurred.
Up next was Melanie Amaro who dedicated her performance to God for all that he’s done for her and for never letting her down. She sang R. Kelly’s The World’s Greatest and there’s only one word to describe it – beautiful. The aesthetics provided by the stage coupled with her amazing voice was enough to make even non-believers want to check out a church if it meant getting to see her perform. All of it was just stunning and there wasn’t a dry seat in the house, even from the judges’ panel (well, except for Simon of course).
Then came Chris Rene who performed tonight in honor of his rehab counselor, Tim, who helped him get clean and sober. He sang a rap rendition of Let It Be, by The Beatles and it was alright, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the performance. Maybe it’s me and I just can’t handle such a classic being turned into a rap song, but this was one of my least favorite performances of the night. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s an inspiration after everything he’s gone through, but we’re getting down to the top picks at this point and I’m just not sure how much longer he’ll be in the competition.
Lakoda Rayne came next and since they’re a group and it’s harder to choose one specific person, they each got to be thankful for someone. Two of the girls were thankful for their dads, another was thankful for her boyfriend, and the other was thankful for her grandmother. They decided to sing Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me and it was a pretty decent performance. They’re doing much better at harmonizing with each other and actually did a great job of working the crowd throughout the entire performance. Plus they seemed to actually be having a really great time up there, which is important too – definitely their best performance so far. But will the final group be able to survive another week? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Up next was Leroy Bell and he dedicated the night’s performance to his mother because she always encouraged him to follow his dream of being a singer and truly believed in him. He chose to sing In The Arms of An Angel by Sara McLachlan and he did a really great job. Recently Leroy's received a lot of negative criticism from the judges, but tonight he proved he is in it to win it. The vocals were strong, the words were powerful, and he really delivered a solid performance. And while L.A. thought it was heartfelt, but not his very best, the rest of the judges disagreed and felt that they emotionally connected with him during the song.
Astro was next and his reel went into a big explanation as to why he acted like a stuck up teenager (because he is one) on the show. So as an apology, he dedicated his performance to his fans and sang Jay-Z’s Show Me What You Got. His attitude was certainly a lot better this week and afterward he even apologized for last week’s antics and promised his fans that he’d never let them down again. That’s definitely commendable, but I’m still having a hard time fully forgiving him for his childish antics. I know he is a child and so he should be given a break, but I don’t like the kind of person he becomes when he doesn’t get his way. I’ll be curious to find out what will happen if he makes it into the bottom slot yet again this week. Will he be able to maintain his positive attitude? Because then I’ll be impressed.
Drew decided to dedicate her performance to her best friend, Shelby, since she’s always supported her and encouraged her to be herself. Her song choice was Skyscraper by Demi Lovato and as always, she really made it her own, putting a completely different spin on the song and it sounded great. Of course, L.A. seems to have a problem with each of her performances since they apparently all tend to sound the same, which is funny since I could say the same thing about Astro (when does he not rap during a song?) But Simon came to Drew’s defense and snapped at L.A. for giving her ridiculous and unhelpful criticism, which I thought was appropriate. There’s no denying her natural talent and I’m fully confident she’s going to go all the way in this competition.
Josh Krajcik was the last performer of the night and he dedicated his performance to his daughter since she's the best thing in his life and has always inspired him to keep on singing. His rendition of Rolling Stone’s Wild Horses was both powerful and moving. Not only did he rock the same, scratchy vocals that we know and love, but he also gave a beautiful performance on the piano as well. He’s the real deal and all the judges know it (even Simon had nothing but positive things to say). There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be in this competition til the very end.
Find out which two acts will be sent home Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on Fox!
If the railway thriller Unstoppable looks familiar it’s only because its director Tony Scott and star Denzel Washington partnered just over a year ago on another railway thriller The Taking of Pelham 123. In Unstoppable the train is granted a bigger slice of the narrative pie than it received in Pelham serving not only as the film’s principal setting but also its primary villain. Stocked with a payload of dangerous chemicals Train 777 (that’s one more evil than 666!) hurtles unmanned towards a calamitous rendezvous with the helpless residents of Stanton Pennsylvania. Surely an upgrade over a hammy John Travolta no?
On whom can we depend to put a stop to this massive killing machine this “missile the size of the Chrysler Building ” in the ominous words of Rosario Dawson’s station dispatcher? Not the entry-level clods (Ethan Suplee and T.J. Miller) whose ineptitude originally set the train on its fateful path. (In a chilling testament to the potential dangers posed by the obesity epidemic a chunky Suplee runs to catch up with the coasting train in the hopes of triggering its emergency brake before it leaves the station only to collapse in a wheezing heap unsuccessful.) Certainly not their supervisor (Kevin Dunn) a middle-management goon more concerned with impressing his corporate superiors than ensuring proper rail safety. And most definitely not the parent company’s feckless golf-playing (the nerve!) CEO whose disaster-containment strategy is dictated purely by stock price.
No sooner or later the burden of heroism must fall on the capable shoulders of our man Denzel. As Frank Barnes a resolutely competent locomotive engineer on a routine training assignment with a reluctant apprentice (Chris Pine unshaven) he emerges as the only force capable of preventing the Train of Doom from reaching its grisly destination. Of course in any train-related emergency such as the one depicted in Unstoppable a litany of things must go wrong before the task of averting disaster becomes the sole responsibility of the engineer of another train. And screenwriter Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard) trooper that he is takes care to cycle through every single one of them lest we question the believability of such a scenario. Because believability is so important in films like this.
Denzel’s most formidable foe in Unstoppable it turns out is his own director. As an alleged “old-school” filmmaker Tony Scott largely eschews the usage of CGI but he embraces almost every other fashionable action-movie gimmick occasionally to nauseating effect. When the camera isn’t jostling about or zooming in and out jarringly it’s wheeling at breakneck speed across a dolly track; countless circling shots of key dialogue exchanges give the impression that we’re eavesdropping on these conversations from a helicopter. No static shots are allowed and cuts are quick and relentless giving us nary a moment to catch our breath or recover our equilibrium.
These are the tactics of an insecure director one with startlingly little faith in his material or his performers. As Unstoppable nears it climax we’re invested in the action not because of the incessant play-by-play of the TV reporters who’ve converged on the scene — a ploy mandated by Scott’s frantic style which by this point has left the story teetering on incoherence — but because of our almost accidental bond with the film’s protagonists who despite the director’s best efforts have managed to make just enough of an imprint on our consciousness that we’d prefer they not perish in a fiery train wreck.
December 18, 2003 12:55pm EST
Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) a novice professor from UCLA lands a job in the art history department at Wellesley College in the fall of 1953 and she's thrilled at the prospect of educating some of the brightest young women in the country. But her lofty image of Wellesley quickly fizzles when she discovers that despite its academic reputation the school fosters an environment where success is measured by the size of a girl's engagement ring. Besides learning about fresco techniques and physics the women take classes in the art of serving tea to their husband's bosses something that doesn't sit well with the forward-thinking Katherine who openly encourages her students to strive for goals other than marriage. Katherine inspires a group of students specifically Joan (Julia Stiles) and Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) but newlywed Betty (Kirsten Dunst) feels Katherine looks down on her for choosing a husband over a career. Betty goes on the offensive and uses her column in the school paper to drive a wedge between the professor and the stuffy faculty. But while Betty puts on a happily married face her hostility towards Katherine is actually misplaced anger stemming from her miserable marriage to a cheating charlatan.
Katherine is Mona Lisa Smile's most complex and intriguing character and Roberts is a fitting choice for the part. Like an old soul the actress has a depth that's perfect for a character like Katherine who's enlightened and ahead of her time. But Katherine never emotionally connects with any of her students which isn't surprising since they're so bitchy and self-absorbed. Perhaps more time should have been spent developing the young women's characters and building their relationships with Katherine sooner but as it is the underdeveloped friendships between the women will leave viewers feeling indifferent rather than inspired. The worst of the bunch is Dunst's character Betty who is intent on making everyone around her feel unworthy. She has her reasons of course but they're revealed so late in the story that it's hard to suddenly empathize with her after having spent three-quarters of the film hating her guts. Stiles' character Joan is perhaps the most congenial but like Betty she never develops a strong bond with her teacher. The most "liberal" of the girls is Giselle played by Gyllenhaal but the character suffers the same burden as the rest: She's unlikable. Giselle's penchant for sleeping with professors and married men is so odious that not even her 11th hour broken-home story can salvage her character.
While Mona Lisa's smile in Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting has often been described as subtle director Mike Newell's star-studded drama is anything but that; Mona Lisa Smile is so heavy-handed that unlike the painting for which it was named there is nothing left for moviegoers to ponder or debate. The film plays like a montage of '50s ideological iconography: A school nurse gets fired for dispensing birth control; a teacher refers to Lucille Ball as a "communist"; Betty's prayers are answered when she gets what every woman dreams of--a washer and dryer. But the film's critical insight into '50s culture isn't as shocking as it thinks it is and the way it highlights feminist issues is as uninspired as trivial as a fine-art reproduction. Newell also spends too much time basking in the aura of the '50s era focusing on countless parties dances and weddings sequences that while visually ambitious are superfluous. The film may be historically accurate but its characters story and message will leave moviegoers feeling empty. A climactic scene for example in which Katherine's students ride their bikes alongside her car as a show of support comes across as a tool to evoke sentiment that just doesn't exist.
David Ames (Tom Cruise) lives a charmed life the ultimate golden boy. He's got looks charisma and money--lots of money. David has inherited a multimillion-dollar publishing business from his late father and he could care less about it. He has women buzzing around him like flies including one actress Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) who has more than a crush on him. One fateful night David meets the girl of his dreams Sofia (Penelope Cruz) and has an amazing all-nighter with her where she tells him profound things like "Every minute that passes is an opportunity to turn things around." David finally understands what it means to fall in love and to commit but then abruptly his luck runs out. In the morning David flushed with exhilaration as he leaves Sofia's apartment makes a near-fatal mistake: he gets into a car with Julie who has been following him to smooth things out with her. In one tragic moment his whole life radically changes. He desperately tries to piece things together to get Sofia back but the more he tries the stranger the circumstances become around him especially when he's accused of murder. Soon he's not sure whether what's happening to him is a dream or reality.
Cruise is a great actor when given the right material. His performances in movies such as Born on the Fourth of July and Magnolia show that Cruise has the acting chops to dig in and make it work. Unfortunately Vanilla Sky wasn't the right vehicle for him. Cruise is actually somewhat compelling as the superficial rich guy who falls in love and then deals with his tragic deformity but his performance falls apart halfway through the film as the character spirals into his own private abyss. His co-star Cruz who played the same character in the 1997 Spanish film on which Sky is based Abre Los Ojos is truly a beauty on screen but the chemistry between the two was pretty tame. Somehow Sofia's transition into the English-speaking world lacks passion. In fact the only time Sofia is truly passionate is when she yells at David in Spanish. Diaz does a serviceable job playing the stalker Julie but doesn't really have much screen time. Even the usually good Jason Lee as David's best friend seems wasted. Only Kurt Russell's supporting turn as David's prison therapist hangs together and rings true.
It's painfully obvious writer/director Cameron Crowe did not make this movie from his heart like his other films. Instead he adapted the material from Abre Los Ojos a film about the world of casual sex and young adults taking responsibility for their actions and turned it into this convoluted mess. Sky starts with some promise as Cruise's shallow playboy deals with the increasingly wacky Julie and then falls in love with the beautiful Sofia. The long night David and Sofia spend together is filled with sexual energy (more from their banter though than any real sparks between the actors) and the characters seem alive--just the stuff Crowe thrives on. Even the pain David first goes through after the accident is moving. The wonderful thing about Crowe is he can really write unbelievable dialogue. Sofia has one of the best lines to describe Julie as she watches her pine after David: "She's the saddest girl I've ever seen holding a martini glass." Yet it is clear that if Crowe doesn't feel it in his bones the movie falls flat. Once Sky moves off into the surreal halfway through Crowe loses his touch and you're left scratching your head saying "Huh?"