Previously, on The X Factor: Steve Jones disappeared without a trace. A giant, neon "X" fell from the sky and exploded onto the streets on Manhattan, killing thousands. Britney Spears' troubled, possibly drug-addicted old duet parter Don Philip was painfully exploited for the sake of good TV. L.A. Reid danced in his chair. Talent was discovered, maybe.
Now, it's time for day two of the audition round, and for some reason we're back in San Francisco — that Godless town populated by drag queens and Joey Gladstone. (Seriously, did anyone count the number of drag queens they showed between tonight and last? San Francisco's homophobe travel rate is about to go way, way down.) We essentially learned two things tonight: First, that you can't be pretty, talented, and from San Francisco all at the same time. Second, that this show is doing everything it can to make Britney Spears uncomfortable. Last night we suffered through Philip, and tonight her "biggest fan" was made to look like a psychopath in front of the entire X-Universe. I mean, he acted like one, but that's probably why they shouldn't have let him onstage. God, I'm getting too old for this.
Thankfully, we started with some good: 16-year-old Johnny Maxwell and his MILF had a cute little pep-talk in their Honda Accord or Toyota Land Cruiser or whatever. "There's hecka people here, Mom," Johnny mused. Johnny was right: Auditioners were packed outside the "Cow Palace" like, well, cows going to the slaughter. Lucky for Johnny, he was a special cow — even though his energy seemed to initially scare Britney, who is quickly becoming the queen of facial expressions, his original song "All These People" was a hit.
According to Johnny, "All These People" is about "doing it big, and not letting, like, what anybody says that's negative or anything get in the way of your dream." Kind of a basic message, but the crowd still treated him like Bill Clinton at the DNC. It's hard not to compare him to last season's Astro or Chris Rene, because he's sort of a mix of both, just not as good. Still, everyone stood up and freaked out, and L.A. Reid even sang along. One of my favorite recurring motifs on this show is how L.A. acts like he disapproves whenever someone says they're doing an original song, then he sings along and chair dances like me when I'm at a bar and a song comes on that I like but I'm too lazy to get up and dance. He fools me every time! "It's all feeling sooo good right now," L.A. cooed. "You have swag," Demi Lovato agreed. AAAnnnnd he's through!
Next: Unattractive and/or untalented people take the stage!
The next cow to be slaughtered was 22-year-old dancer Alexa Berman, who, like most of America's Millennials, felt like she has something special — something unnamed — that made her deserve all the fame and all the riches. (Boobs?) "That's what the X Factor is," she explained. "There's not a word for it for a reason." Okay! She also said that she was going to marry rich if she didn't get past the judges, and at that point we officially knew she wouldn't get through. Still, she was super hot — we were treated to a fun montage of pimply boys oogling her Fergalicious curves. To get a taste of Alexa's affect on men, please see below:
"You're Jersey Shore meets the Kardashians," Simon Cowell said with wonder. (Aside: In some circles, like Simon's, this is meant as a compliment.) Unfortunately, Simon's words were more than just your standard Cowell-esque pervy praise — they were also a premonition. Because once Alexa started singing "Too Close" by Alex Clare, it became clear that, much like the cast of Jersey Shore and the Kardashians, she was all looks and no talent. "It was like one tone the whole time as you were singing, and it was just really boring," said Britney. Simon tried to get her through, but everyone else said no. Still, he did get the chance to check out her junk in the trunk as she dejectedly marched offstage. I love silver linings :)
We were then treated to an epic montage of attractive but utterly untalented people offending the judges with their terrible-ness. How dare they be attractive but not have the voice to back it up!?!? Dylan Osborn was cute, but terrible. Ezekial McCarter had a six-pack, but no pipes. "We need someone hot who can sing," bemoaned our judges. Generically hot girl group? Nope. Ripped dudes wearing practically no clothes? Sorry. Hot twins? Maybe next time. "You can't destroy that song, sweetie," Britney said to our final hot, talent-less contender. What is wrong with you, San Francisco? Is it the water?
Then, finally, we found our hope: Jason Brock, a 34-year-old tech support guy slash gothic Elton John who was just so excited to be there. Brock was a total queen and seemed really sweet, so naturally I was really nervous that X Factor would use this to exploit him. "You are really excited right now," Demi said when he first took the stage. (Understatement of the night.) He was kind of nervously obnoxious when he rambled on about dreams and concerts and glitter explosions, but his rendition of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" was flawless. L.A. went so far as to leave his chair/dance studio for a standing ovation, then said, "Every songwriter wants a guy like you to sing their song." You guys — this was adorable. My sad, icy heart almost melted for this lovely guy. I hope to see him during the live shows.
NEXT: An extreme high, and an even lower low
Ugh, Patrick Ford. Can we just skip talking about Patrick Ford? No, we can't. "I can't believe I'm meeting Britney Spears," said 20-year-old cashier Patrick, to his fellow auditioners. "It's like meeting God. I think she might be my sister. Do I look like her at all?" He was being serious, you guys. His demeanor was wildly unsettling, he needed some serious dental work, and his mom clearly dressed him for the audition. Awful. Awful! Mentally, this guy was so not all-there. He came out with a bouquet of flowers for Britney, and she looked only slightly less uncomfortable than she did during Philip's performance last night:
But this performance was like, 3,840,834 times worse. There was squawking, there were awkward white boy at his first middle school dance dance moves, and the whole thing was set to Britney's own "Circus." Unlike last night, with Philip, Britney's fellow judges didn't ask her to respond. "I won't even bother you," L.A. said. "It's like you had an argument with Britney Spears, got drunk, and decided to scream the song at her," Simon added. Simon's words were admittedly funny, but not when they were directed at someone who is clearly mentally unstable. "That's all you've got for me, Britney?" Patrick said, with horror. "Just a no?" You guys, she didn't even acknowledge him. Then the producers added this suspenseful thriller-flick music while Patrick just stood there, frozen, and it looked like he was going to start shooting. I know this is supposed to be fun, but it's not cool to exploit mentally unstable people on national television. Just — no.
But, again, we ended on a high note: 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar was adorable, and her parents were sweet and supportive, and, most importantly, normal. There is nothing I love more than well-adjusted people on reality television. Maybe that's sad, but it's rare. Carly sang "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone, and it was spectacular. Within the first 20 seconds, you knew this girl was a front-runner. She has it, guys — that factor of X that has no name. It was the best audition we've seen so far. It was an audition that is literally impossible to snark on. All of the judges, and even her backstage competition, were standing up and cheering. I know the judges said they might have found their winner in Providence, and I'm thinking Carly could be it. My only hope is that they don't pluck her and primp her and turn her into some Disney-fied overly-sexualized teen dream, because right now Carly is a delightful, refreshingly normal looking 13-year-old. And I think that's what we really need. Plus, her parents are ADORABLE! They're totally September's Raismans.
NEXT WEEK: We meet someone who isn't here to make friends.
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: FOX]
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2009’s Sherlock Holmes found unexpected synergy in the pairing of Robert Downey Jr.’s impish charm and Guy Ritchie’s macho kinetic visual style reinventing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective for a modern blockbuster audience. The follow-up Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows employs the same winning formula while adhering judiciously to the Law of Sequels and its more-more-more dictates: more action bigger set pieces higher stakes and a darker more convoluted plot. But more as so many past sequels have taught us is rarely better.
Game of Shadows marks the emergence of Doyle’s most famous villain James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Glimpsed only in darkness in the first film Moriarty takes center stage in the sequel as Holmes’s foremost criminal foil a genius-level university professor whose extracurricular interests range from horticulture to homicide. Holmes has deduced him to be at the center of a wave of terrorist bombings as well as the seemingly unrelated deaths of various titans of industry but can’t quite discern just what the professor’s endgame might be. Composed and calculating to a menacing degree Harris makes for a promising counterweight to Downey’s manic verbosity. But as in the first film Game of Shadows’ best moments are found in the comic interplay between Holmes and his reluctant sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) who is plucked from his honeymoon to accompany the detective on a trans-continental trip in search of clues to Moriarty’s machinations.
And it’s very much a boys-only trip. The female leads from the first film Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly are tossed aside – literally in the case of the latter – in Game of Shadows while the cast’s highest-profile new addition Swedish star Noomi Rapace (best known as the original non-emaciated Lisbeth Salander) is a curious non-factor in the role of a Gypsy (or Roma if you prefer) fortune-teller. The film maintains only the slimmest pretense of a romantic subplot between her and Downey. Rapace looking perhaps a bit lost in her first English-speaking role can’t hope to eclipse the Holmes-Watson traveling road show.
Ritchie’s technique with its signature blend of rapid cutting and slow-mo and super-high frame-rates – perfect for admiring the odd apple tossed in the air or a piece of bark shot off a tree – is once again evident in the film’s awe-inspiring (and occasionally coherence-defying) set pieces the most memorable of which is set in a munitions factory with Watson wielding a gatling gun like an early T-600 prototype. But some of the novelty of the stylistic juxtaposition has faded since the first film. Ritchie tries to compensate by ramping up the firepower to limited effect. Absent amid the hail of mortar blasts and automatic weapons fire is any real sense of intrigue or suspense which proves to be Game of Shadows’ most vexing mystery.
Casino Royale starts at the beginning as James Bond (Craig) takes his first baby steps as a Double O agent. His first assignment is to track down a terrorist cell in Madagascar but he’s a bit of a loose cannon and things quickly go awry. Bond’s superior M (Judi Dench) is soon regretting giving the arrogant Bond the promotion. Nonetheless Agent 007 takes it upon himself to follow a lead to the Bahamas and discovers that all nefarious dealings point to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) a nasty fellow who has money ties to terrorist organizations. Le Chiffre is planning to raise money in a high-stakes poker game at the Le Casino Royale in Montenegro—and Bond gets in to beat him at his own game. Along with a hefty bankroll M also sends the beguiling accountant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to keep Bond in check. They are skeptical of each other at first but as the danger escalates it becomes apparent there is a growing attraction—and affection—between them. Natch. Can these two crazy kids make it work immersed in the cutthroat world of international intrigue? Well this is Bond after all—and we know how he ends up. Craig absolutely gets it. Whatever doubts people may have had when Craig was first announced as the new Bond are washed away in the first few minutes of the film. Sure if Casino Royale was anything like the last few Bond movies then maybe the understated Craig wouldn’t have fit in as well. But this is a different Bond. The British actor plays him not as the icon we’ve come to know but as a flawed man warts and all who flies by the seat of his pants isn’t necessarily refined and yes can even fall in love. Craig also raises the acting bar. His brief scenes with the impeccable Dench for example simmer and pop unlike anything we’ve seen before in a Bond film. Danish film star Mikkelsen (Pusher) is quite effective as the main baddie with a particularly gruesome physical malady while the always good Jeffrey Wright (Syriana) shows up as CIA Agent Felix Leiter. The one weak link unfortunately is Green (The Dreamers). She certainly looks the part of a “Bond girl ” but her Vesper is supposed to be whip-smart able to engage in witty banter with 007 and the French actress can’t quite pull it off. Craig needs more of a challenge. Too bad Judi Dench isn’t 30 years younger; she would have been perfect. Casino Royale the first book in the Ian Fleming series is basic Bond 101. Director Martin Campbell--who helmed Goldeneye Pierce Brosnan’s first and probably best foray into the franchise--strips it of all the far-fetched gadgets (save for a few new-fangled PDAs) and over-the-top action sequences leaving just good clean action devoid of any invisible cars armored Russian tanks and the such. Oh wait Bond does use a bulldozer at one point but that comes briefly in the middle of a rather extensive and hair-raising foot chase. It just proves action can be just as riveting without having to completely suspend your disbelief. Casino Royale is also rare in that it shows how Bond became THE James Bond the one we’ve seen in countless movies over the years in the stylish tuxes drinking the martinis driving the Aston-Martins and bedding all the beautiful women. Casino Royale breathes new life into the franchise and one can only hope they can keep up the good work without once again lapsing into the ridiculous.