S10E8: I’ll admit, mine and Ryan Seacrest’s buildups to the first Hollywood week episode were a little over the top, but don’t even try and tell me you weren’t the least bit stoked. The first Hollywood episode always goes quickly; it’s the sudden death round. In case you’re an Idol newbie, the sudden death round entails 10 contestants taking the stage together, each singing a few bars of a song of their choice a capella, receiving no feedback and then either getting a thumbs up or a thumbs down. By the end of the episode half of the contestants are let go and this process was made difficult by the fact that this year the kinder, gentler Idol sent double the usual number of contestants to Hollywood. That’s funny, because I’m pretty sure they still only have 12 final spots. Why would they make their job so much more difficult?
That’s all folks; they continue or get cut loose. Unfortunately for us viewers that means the judges’ antics were kept in check this round, which left a few of our contestants to pick up the slack.
“This is where…the men from the boys and the women from the girls.” –JLo
Apparently Jennifer was so excited she forgot part of that sentence, but it’s definitely an exciting time. First up was Brett Lowenstien with the crazy red hair and the newfound self-esteem. Luckily for those of us who were fans from the start, Brett kept it going with a soulful rendition of “Let It Be.” Of course he got to continue and his surprisingly robust voice continued to wow the judges (and me).
Also making it through were a few of my other favorites; fifteen year old Thia Megia with a voice well beyond her years and Casey Abrams (who you may remember as Seth Rogen/Fraggle Rock guy) with voice that skirts a line between jazz and rock. These two and young Rachel Zavia from New York made it through with flying colors, though personally, I was underwhelmed by Zevia’s second audition. She simply didn’t have the strength and presence of the others, but we’ll see if that changes as Hollywood Week continues.
“Maybe people will look at me like I’m looking at these mountains.” –Victoria Huggins
I feel a little bad for this girl, because I feel like she was sort of set up. She’s an alright singer, but her chipmunk voice is frankly a little unpleasant to listen to; not to mention when she’s not singing she’s like a human girl version of SpongeBob Squarepants and I just can’t take it. Couple those winning factors with the girl’s fierce narcissism and her pageant style showboating onstage and we all knew she was going home. Even if she’s got the pipes, there is no way America would have gotten behind her.
“I don’t think there was much hope. You had to have a spectacular voice.” –Stormi Henley
Well, former Miss Teen USA Stormi Henley may not have a spectacular singing voice, but at least she’s got a good enough head on her shoulders to know when to call it a day and move on. She was one of four people who we’ve seen before in the audition round, but she was the only face who didn’t make. She was right though, her voice just wasn’t strong enough.
Those who were strong enough were Paris Tassin (who has a disabled daughter), James Durbin (whose tragic past was explained last night in San Francisco) and Lauren Alaina (who is doing Idol for her ill cousin). All three sang fairly well, though I’m not sure about Paris. She sang “My Heart Will Go On” (yes, really) and to be honest, it wasn’t the best we’ve heard. Meanwhile James hit his crazy high notes again, and while it’s impressive, it’s not exactly pleasant to listen to. The only person I’m getting behind here is Lauren, whose strong bluesy voice reminds me of early Kelly Clarkson, who if you remember correctly was the first ever Idol. This isn’t a prediction, but I’m just saying, it could happen.
“This is where it could all change or it could all stay the same.” – Chris Medina
The saintly Chris Medina came back to improve on his last performance, which was sweet but this one blew it out of the water. We didn’t really get a chance to see the pipes he was rocking, but this time around he proved that he needs to be here.
While some folks were choking under the pressure, three more favorites were hitting it out of the park. Fifteen year old Jacee Badeaux with the voice of an angel kept the magic going, Robbie Rosen from Long Island, New York made Steven break his vow of silence with an involuntary “Yaow!”, and Brit-turned-Texan Hollie Cavanaugh redeemed her so-so performance from the Austin auditions. Needless to say, these three will be returning next week.
“Isn’t it the saddest thing in the world?” –Casey Abrams
On the not-so-lucky side of things, we saw a slew of familiar faces get the boot. Steve Beguhn, the giant accountant with the voice I questioned during auditions didn’t improve on his original shot and was sent home. Also sent packing were Jaqueline Dupree whose voice was alright, but brought her uncle and Randy’s former football coach to tip the scales; Sarah Sellars whose voice was alright, but whose lips were of particular interest to Steven; and Heidi Kazaam who only made it because she was a hot belly dancer with a tiny, adequate voice.
“Are you just washed out emotionally because you’ve been here for 10 years?” –Nick Fink (to Ryan Seacrest)
Oh young love. Idol sure has a way of forcing into an awkward box. They paired exes Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oaks with the unrealistically cheery couple Nick Fink and Jaqueline Dunford when choosing where the contestants would bunk up in the hotel. Can you say cruel?
Both Rob and Chelsee are great singers so they made it through, which means Idol will just continue to put them in situations that make Rob uncomfortable, though Chelsee seems unaware of how awful this proximity is for her ex. This was all in good awkward fun, but the real fireworks flew when Nick and Jaqueline auditioned together in matching outfits and only one of them made it through. Nick’s small range and so-so voice were sent home while Jaqeuline made it through. Instead of, oh I don’t know, supporting his girl’s success, Nick went off the handle continuing to beg the judges and singing as he walked down the aisle before insulting Ryan with that quote about his emotional capacity. Dude, you suck. Truly. How about you stop whining and support your fucking girlfriend. Ass.
“How could this girl from the Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop, fall in love with a country singer?” –JLo
Of course this means that audience favorite Scott McCreery of the crazy deep country voice made it through despite recycling the same tune for audition number two. Also making it through on their old charms were Jackie Wilson (remember, she had the really old boyfriend?) and the babely Jerome Bell.
The Jersey Shore star-bra girl was back, this time dressed appropriately and tooting her own horn. Despite her personality flaws her range can’t really be denied. Jennifer questioned her personality, as did the rest of us, but she still made it through while the sweet kid from the Bronx, Travis Orlando, was sent home with his sweet, but smaller voice.
Lastly, before we move on and prep for next week, Idol gave us a little list of other names who made it through to the end (so your favorite may still make it!). Clint Gamboa, Julie Zorilla, Stefano Langone, and Emily Anne Reed from San Francisco will all be back as will Naima Adedapo and Mary DeWolf Swenson from Milwaukee, crazy Ashley Sullivan from New Jersey and the adorable Gutierrez brothers from the Los Angeles auditions.
Now that these folks have made it, things are only going to get crazier, more emotional, and more heartbreaking as we continue towards finally crowning the top 12.
Based on the best-selling book of the same name Fast Food Nation has three intertwined stories revolving around the fast food industry. Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) is a corporate marketing guy assigned to put a positive spin on the bad news that fecal traces has been found in the meat. He goes to the meat factory to investigate and doesn’t like what he sees but no one offers him a viable solution. Then there’s Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) Mexican immigrants who cross the border illegally. The only job they can get is in the meat factory. She bears with demeaning sexual advances while he faces the unhealthy and dangerous conditions to try for the American Dream. Finally we meet Amber (Ashley Johnson) who works in a local franchise. She’s just a high school girl trying to pay for her car insurance. This isn’t her future but it dominates her present. The corporate story is a comedy about ineffective management and media spin. The immigrants’ story is a hard drama about a bad life. Amber’s story straddles both lines--a slacker teen comedy but also introspective about what the job is doing to her soul. It may be no secret these days but it’s still fascinating. There is plenty of juicy dialogue for actors to sink their teeth into (pun intended). Kinnear plays the corporate suit as lovably as possible. He’s the put-upon business cog similar to his characters in The Matador and Little Miss Sunshine but funnier because it’s the system that’s futile not his own dreams. Valderrama has a smaller part just supporting his wife going through a horrible life with noble determination. Moreno is as heartbreaking as she was in her Oscar-nominated performance in Maria Full of Grace. You sense so much potential in her and she’s stuck in the factory demeaned by sexual harassment and unable to save her sister from succumbing to it. She adds new colors of despair to the immigrant experience. Johnson is careful not to make her character too wise beyond her years. She really is just a normal kid. High school sucks so do counter jobs. It’s not about being unique just relatable. Cameos stand out too. Ethan Hawke plays the coolest uncle ever. He comes to town for two scenes spouts off his cool-uncle advice and then leaves. Even though he’s a self-confessed loser he’s convincing. And he buys her beer. Bruce Willis gives a speech on the meat industry with his David Addison smirk while chomping into a burger. We’re sold. Director Richard Linklater does a good job keeping the comedy and drama balanced. He cuts back and forth between stories at sensible intervals. Towards the end Greg Kinnear disappears for a long time but Ashley Johnson’s story beefs up to compensate. Showing the inner workings of the meat factory is pretty powerful. Cow guts falling out and bodies mangled by machinery are not fun things to watch but they are important to remember. It’s all up there on the screen but not gratuitous—and doesn’t have to ruin meat forever. Just think how all foods have processes that we don’t see and still taste good. There are plenty of scenes in which the characters are talking a real Linklater specialty (Before Sunset Before Sunrise for example). Whether they’re talking about meat or minimum wage jobs or life ambitions the conversations have a catchy flow. The satire of corporate America and slacker lifestyles juxtaposed against the drama of immigrant life makes Fast Food Nation both ridiculously funny and appropriately uncomfortable.
Elderly Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) who once served under the great Alexander (Colin Farrell) narrates the life story of the man the myth the legend--the son of the ambitious King Philip (Val Kilmer) who surpassed his father at every level and charged into the farthest reaches of the world. From early childhood in Macedonia we see where Alexander gets his drive--mostly from his vengeful snake-lovin' mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) who urges her son to take charge as well from his tutor Aristotle (Christopher Plummer). Even in the taming of his unbreakable horse Bucephalas at 10 years old Alexander's destiny is evident. The heart of the film lies in Persia which Alexander conquers in one of the most studied military battles of all time. Alexander spends a great deal of time there--taking in the culture claiming its riches and marrying a Bactrian princess Roxane (Rosario Dawson)--much to the chagrin of his Macedonian generals who are stuck in this foreign land with their king. Despite this success Alexander grows restless and turns his attention to the rest of the world including the unexplored regions of India. With his army stretched thin and his Macedonian troops longing for home Alexander presses them one campaign too far. Succumbing to a mysterious illness at age 33 Alexander dies never quite finding what he so desperately searched for.
Although some may scoff at casting the Irish actor in the lead Farrell does an admirable job playing the tortured hero blond wig and all. He exudes plenty of wide-eyed fury and intensity as Alexander the warrior balanced by the controlled calculation of a hyper-effective military commander although he isn't nearly as effective as the idealistic pre-world-conqueror Alexander as he is spiraling down into the haunted angst-ridden Alexander at the end of his obsessive crusade. Casting Jolie as Olympias is a stroke of genius. Sure Jolie can play a smart and beautiful woman in her sleep but her beauty is surpassed only by the power she imbues as Alexander's bitter yet loving mother; she's as hypnotic as the snakes she carries around. Kilmer relishes his role as Alexander's father Philip in all of his grotesque wine-soaked glory. Powerful driven and battle-scarred Kilmer's Philip knows precisely what he wants and matches Jolie's quiet intensity with the raw aggressive masculinity of a warrior king who is far more comfortable in his armor than a toga. In the supporting roles Hopkins is great as always this time in the thankless role of the narrator while Dawson plays Roxane with a ferocity that is as mesmerizing as it is terrifying. Standout Jared Leto also turns in a concentrated performance as Hephaestion Alexander's long-time companion boyhood friend and the person who loves Alexander the best. (And we do mean love.)
Alexander is Oliver Stone at his best. An Alexander nut for most of his life the director gives us a film that--even in its loooong three-hour form--continuously holds your attention especially its intense and bloody battle scenes. I mean honestly once you've fought against an elephant in armor the plain old sword-and-shield skirmishes pale in comparison. Alexander also possesses a great breadth of visuals: Alexandria's peace Pella's tension Babylon's opulence and India's richness. Yet as wonderful as the landscapes are it's personal interactions and internal politics that drive the story--and of course Stone's penchant for conspiracy theories as he more than insinuates Alexander was poisoned by his enemies rather than dying of an "unknown" illness. But a problem still remains: Alexander's life was so huge and he did so much that it's almost impossible to encapsulate it effectively into one film. Stone instead has to focus on what he thinks is the most important namely Alexander's renowned conquests while allowing the pressure cooker in which the young conqueror grew up--the triangle of mother father and son--come through in the decisions he makes later in life. For those few of us who have studied Alexander Stone has made this film especially for us. If you haven't spent any time reading Arrian and the other histories this excellent film might just inspire you to do so.