Another day, another singing show shakeup. We apparently can’t get through a single month without word of some X Factor/The Voice/American Idol judge going on a rant, quitting, or talking about maybe possibly quitting. This month’s requisite tale comes from The X Factor, where two-year vet and judge L.A. Reid has decided to hang up his quips and go back to his day job (running Epic Records).
Naturally, this story begets another well-worn procedure: contemplating, guessing, and proposing possible replacements for Reid. But The X Factor isn’t losing its famous face, or even its most outspoken judge. The loss of a bona fide industry expert – and one who’s working with current artists like Fiona Apple, Karmin, and Future (and not just UK X Factor flukes like One Direction and Leona Lewis like Cowell’s Syco Music) – is a big one. X Factor would be wise to seek a bit of an upgrade when finding Reid’s replacement: someone who’s got their hands in the music industry as it lives and breathes today, someone who’s cool enough to not feel out of place, knowledgeable enough to balance out Britney Spears’ dazed “amazings,” and someone who is interesting in their own right.
That list kind of narrows the field, but we’ve got a few ideas.
Williams is not only one half of one the most well-known producing teams in music – The Neptunes – he’s also pretty easy on the eyes. Unlike Reid, he’s well-versed in performing for large crowds, thanks to his work with N.E.R.D., and he’s also behind the scenes on new and upcoming albums like Usher’s Looking 4 Myself, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, and Miley Cyrus’ upcoming album. He’d be a hard get, but he might actually be good for these contestants.
Lukasz Gottwald may not be an industry “artist” so much as a music industry hit-factory, but he could also bring some much needed credit to the panel. The songwriter and producer is responsible for some of the biggest hits by Ke$ha and Katy Perry, including “Part of Me,” “Tik Tok,” and “We R Who We R” to name a tiny sample of his work. He’s young enough that his presence wouldn’t feel too much like Grandpa Music Industry coming into school the kids, and he clearly knows what sells, so he might even be able to help The X Factor find a commercially successful artist.
Dre’s simply got the time. He just finished producing records for rising star Kendrick Lamar and headlining the Coachella music festival. He may be living the quiet life (or as quiet as it can be in this industry), but that might be why he could actually work. There’s a slight snag in that his expertise lies in the hip hop genre, but then again, this show is also a form of entertainment, and I find it hard to believe anyone wouldn’t be entertained by seeing Dre go head-to-head with two pop stars and a British V-neck enthusiast.
Jay-Z (Yes, it’s a pipe dream. I know. Let me have this moment, please.)
This would never happen. Ever. And if it did, I think most of us would worry about Jay-Z’s health (mental and physical). But if he ever decided to stop sitting courtside with Queen Beyonce at Brooklyn Nets games, stop being friends with the President, and cease being the King of the Music industry, wouldn’t it be just about the best way to take the X Factor to new heights? It would. Of course, Cowell would probably take issue with not being the most famous male on the panel, but he can worry about that when his series starts pulling in higher ratings.
If all else fails, do a complete 180 and go with the eccentric old producer and artist. He’s had enough success to know what he’s talking about – even if his mark on the current industry is practically nonexistent. He’s strange enough that it won’t feel like a stodgy old music exec wielding his ostentatious sense of greater knowledge and if that’s not enough, he’s actually like a second father to Liv Tyler (he signed her birth certificate and acted as her father before she found out Steven Tyler was her actual dad), so it would almost be like keeping up with Idol. Okay, it would be like me trying to keep up with Michael Phelps in a pool, but it would be entertaining.
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[Photo Credit: Brian Dowling/FOX; WENN (2); INF (2); Amy Harris/Rex USA]
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Timothy Dowling didn't have much success as an actor, so he took up screenwriting and is now navigating a lucrative career path. He penned a pair of recent hits (Role Models and, *sigh*, Just Go With It) and has since moved into blockbuster territory with McG's forthcoming This Means War, a film that allowed him to write comedy as well as big action sequences. Now he's returning to his roots with a remake of Warner Bros. 1974 flick Uptown Saturday Night.
Variety reports that the scribe has been set to make a pass at the first draft that Robb and Mark Cullen (Cop Out) delivered. The original, directed by and starring Sidney Poitier, also featured Bill Cosby as two estranged friends who have their wallets stolen at a nightclub. The next morning, they learn that one contained a winning lottery ticket and together they set out to find it.
Will Smith and Denzel Washington have been said to be circling the starring roles in the remake; together they are a box-office force to be reckoned with. I'm a fan of Dowling's Role Models, a film that succeeded mainly on the strength of its script. His involvement should ensure a lot of punchy dialogue between the two actors, who could very well carry Uptown Saturday Night to a meaty opening weekend with their star power alone.