Reality competition results shows can be pretty tedious. The X Factor's results show more so than most--especially when we now know that any eliminated contestant can be brought back at Simon Cowell's whim. But two glorious things happened last night that made the stars in the reality TV firmament shine a bit brighter.
First, we witnessed the return of Pop Tart Britney, as she rocked a spangly, midriff-baring top that made us feel like we were back in the heady days of 2000. And second, Cowell was stumped. I mean, truly puzzled. That's because America voted...and judged his favorite boy-band wannabes, Emblem3, to be as middling as they really are.
Yeah, so that's the big game-changing twist that X Factor's been touting all week. For the first time in singing competition history, we didn't just learn who was safe and who was eliminated. We had the entire lineup ranked based on the number of votes they'd received from the American viewing public. And mostly, I think America got it right. Sure, I might not be a huge fan of gravel-voiced country crooner Tate Stevens, who placed first--I just keep getting visions of Scotty McCreery. Ah!!! The Blandness!--but he clearly deserves a few more weeks in the competition before going back to his day job of laying asphalt. And I certainly enjoy a good Bon Jovi cover as much as the next guy born in the '80s.
To Simon's shock, however, Emblem3 ended up ranked sixth. In an already boy-band saturated music marketplace, his "boys," as he so lovingly called them last week, just kind of fade into all that (literally) white noise. Case in point? The single most successful lad group ever to emerge from any X Factor franchise, One Direction, performed two songs during the results show ("Live While We're Young," and the Ed Sheeran-written "Little Things"), and popped up liberally during the commercials and one queasy skit involving New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees as the ousted sixth member of the band. Tween girls have only so much lung power, though. Fox, how can you expect them to scream and squeal that much over barely pubescent boys? Obviously, the vote for Emblem3 had been decided well before One Direction hijacked the results show last night, but it's easy to assume that people are just getting tired of guys who can't yet legally drink pop-n-locking their way across a stage.
Of course, Simon was stunned. But not deterred. You could practically see the man who gave us Il Divo mentally going back to the drawing board after Emblem3's poor showing. “I think it’s for me,” he said of the disappointing results for the chesthair-free group. “Now I’ve got information and have to change styles.” That's right, Simon. It's not your boys' talent deficiencies that are the issue, it's the packaging. Let's see what shiny bow you have them tied up in next week.
Speaking of packaging, the third iteration of The Artists Formerly Known as LYLAS, did quite well, considering their complete lack of creative focus. Now called Fifth Harmony, they placed one above Emblem3 at No. 5 in the rankings. A good name really is everything. And I'm not saying that Fifth Harmony is a particularly good one--it sounds like the name of a forgotten Lou Pearlman-produced group whose sales would have burned bright and brief at Virgin Megastores everywhere in 1999--but it's still infinitely better than their previous picks LYLAS and 1432. The Fifth Harmony girls are cute, but, really, when's the last time there's been a successful girl group? Destiny's Child? If you're willing to stretch the definition of successful, Eden's Crush? Their long-term prospects seem hazy to me.
Then we come to that sparkly-eyed pixie who, like Tinkerbell, gets saved if you clap for her: Diamond White. Seriously, every time I hear that name, I think she's stolen it from a dancer at Tampa's Mons Venus strip club. But even after Cowell brought her back on Wednesday, Diamond only placed fourth! And this is the girl whose elimination Simon said last week was as unfair as Jennifer Hudson's on the third season of American Idol. Well, if it doesn't work out, hopefully she can at least get a job as the new spokeswoman for the late Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds perfume.
Perhaps the least surprising thing of all was who actually got the boot. In a total diva-off, guyliner aficionado Jason Brock belted out Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" against CeCe Frey's take on Cher's "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me." Brock was really passionate in the song, but not in a good way. He was more like Meat Loaf singing "America the Beautiful" at a Mitt Romney rally. And so Brock got the boot. “I did it for the gays…and Japan,” he said, proving that he only appealed to two of three sectors of the Tastemaker Trifecta--the third being hipsters, who sadly have no interest in Brock and would never have watched X Factor, thus dooming his chances from the start.
That's about it, folks. Here are the full rankings for your reading pleasure.
1. Tate Stevens
2. Carly Rose Sonenclar
3. Vino Alan
4. Diamond White
5. Fifth Harmony
7. Jennel Garcia
8. Paige Thomas
9. Lyric 145
10. Beatrice Miller
11. Arin Ray
12. CeCe Frey
Happy with the outcome?
[Photo Credit: Fox]
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P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan follows J.M. Barrie's story almost to the letter. A girl on the brink of womanhood Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) loves telling her brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) stories of dastardly pirates as they sit in their nursery under the watchful eye of their St. Bernard Nana. Her 19th-century Londoner parents however believe the time has come for the young girl to grow up especially her father. Then a cheeky wild-haired boy named Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) flies through the nursery window one night with his trusted yet jealousy-prone fairy Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) telling Wendy he can take her to a place full of adventure where no one ever has to grow up. She readily accepts the offer and with a few happy thoughts some fairy dust and her two brothers in tow she flies off to Neverland. (Not the ranch…the real place.) Once there Wendy encounters mermaids Indians and the Lost Boys (who refer to her as "mother") and gets the whole pirate experience in Peter's ongoing feud with arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs). But Wendy soon becomes conflicted because on the one hand she likes hangin' with hottie Peter but on the other she misses her mother. She decides it's probably best to go back and grow up but in her hurry to leave she ends up in Hook's clutches. A rescue ensues. Swords clash ticking crocodiles are fed and fairies are saved as our clever fly boy zooms Wendy and company back to London on a giant pirate ship. But does he stay and grow up himself? Hell no he's a Toys 'R Us kid forever!
All the kid actors in Peter Pan are highly watchable and appealing with angelic faces peaches-and-cream complexions and pouty cherry lips. This is the first time Peter is being played by a real-life boy a fact much hyped by the filmmakers and 12-year-old Sumpter (Frailty) does his best to live up to the expectations. (He's soon to be swoon-worthy material for sure.) He's got a mischievous gleam in his eye and a great sly smile but he really lights up when he's looking into Wendy's adorable face. Hurd-Wood the first-time actress who plays the spirited girl earned her role after a long and involved casting process it's well deserved; she fits the typical English-girl profile perfectly and gets the hang of her craft quickly infusing the character with a natural cheerful energy. It's also refreshing to see the young actors play up Wendy and Peter's feelings of first love which prior films always hinted at but never fully realized. Isaacs in a dual role as the firm-but-loving Mr. Darling and the frightening comical lonely charming needy reprehensible Captain Hook draws on his experience at playing exquisitely awful baddies (The Patriot Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and really sinks his claws into Hook. In a stand out supporting role French actress Sagnier (Swimming Pool) is really fantastic as the vivacious non-speaking Tinkerbell portraying the fairy's conflicted emotions with a silent-film over-the-top technique.
Director/writer P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) and his team try to distinguish their film from the other Peter Pans of the world by using all the technical and special effects wizardry at their disposal. Hogan says his Peter Pan is the way its author Barrie intended to be when he wrote it as a play over a 100 years ago--full of fantasy and wonder. In a way he's right and production designer Roger Ford and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar take his vision and run with it giving audiences a very lush Neverland with waterfalls fluffy pink clouds crystal-blue waters and a gorgeous fairy world. But despite the bells and whistles there really isn't anything original and different in this Pan. Even its look at the dark side of Neverland has been done in Steven Spielberg's 1991 semi-sequel Hook which showed the dangers of Neverland. In this version lives really are at stake and the pirates are not cute and fun. Even the mermaids are mysterious and malevolent with scary faces and murderous intentions a far cry from the beautiful if somewhat mean-spirited creatures of the 1953 classic Disney animated adaptation another inescapable influence on the audience. When the crocodile draws near for example tick-tocking away the croc's signature tune from the Disney film comes immediately to mind. People may love those Disney films for those cutesy catchy songs but Peter Pan really is a good story. Heck it's a great story. But it's just been done.
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.