ABC Television Network
Nashville, the brainchild of Academy Award-winning writer Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), started off with a ton of promise. The pilot was heavily promoted and the audience that tuned in was treated to an inside look at the clashing generations within the country music industry... a real life storyline that has been repeating ever since the advent of rock-and-roll. Connie Britton seemed to take her Friday Night Lights character and make her a successful music icon along the lines of Reba McEntire, while Hayden Panettiere schemed convincingly as the up-and-coming singer who's part Taylor Swift, part ice princess.
Early on, the show focused on the yin and the yang of Britton and Panettiere's relationship, with the former's Rayna Jaymes stuck in a career rut and Panettiere's Juliette Barnes more interested in kicking the established Queen of Country while she's down than helping her get back up. Throw in Charles Esten's caught-in-the-middle guitarist and there was plenty of drama to go around. Certainly, there were some soap opera elements — the parentage of Rayna's older daughter and the political machinations of her husband and powerful father among them — but as long as Britton and Panettiere were at the center the show stayed fairly even keel.
Then came the back half of the first season and things started to go off track. After initially steering clear of cameos, despite shooting on-location in Nashville, suddenly every member of the Grand Ole Opry started popping up to squeeze in a line or two. Juliette's mother appeared and brought a little too much crazy, while Rayna's husband became the mayor and left her for Kimberly Williams-Paisley. Season 2 became even more scattered as the focus shifted to ancillary characters like Clare Bowen's Scarlett and Sam Palladio's Gunnar. Next thing you know, there are assassination plots and a murder-suicide, Juliette is ostracized for questioning the existence of God, and Rayna finds her Tim McGraw in Will Chase's Luke.
Enough! While it's fine that the show has some soap opera elements — so do Scandal and Grey's Anatomy — Nashville has gone so far off-course that some fans have already abandoned it. It's not completely a lost cause, though. With the second season winding down, there are still ways to fix it.
For starters, keep the cameos to a minimum. Just because Rascal Flatts or some NASCAR driver is available doesn't mean that you need to put them on the show. Once and a while is fine, but not every episode... and not when there really isn't any purpose to their being around. Next, lose the political intrigue. No offense to Eric Close, but we don't really care about Mayor Teddy.
Most importantly, put the focus back on Rayna and Juliette. Britton and Panettiere aren't just capable actresses, at their best they are both mesmerizing. Preventing them from engaging with each other — whether in conflict or in country congeniality — is like moving Scandal's Olivia Pope out of D.C.; the whole reason for the show would be lost. Keeping Juliette down too long is a mistake, just as it would be to tone down her ego or her conniving. We don't need her in a happy relationship with Jonathan Jackson's Avery... we need her using all of her assets to get back to the top.
Similarly, Britton needs a good, juicy storyline to sink her teeth into. Having a happy and contented Rayna is not in the best interest of the show. She should be scraping and clawing to maintain her career, not chit-chatting with other country music royalty about her fledgling record label.
The show is teetering on the brink of oblivion — or, worse, irrelevance — and needs to act fast to bring back into focus the stories that drew us in at first. Otherwise, it will be a tough sell to get viewers to come back for season three… if there even is one.
It's a sign of humane writing that, as the final leg of Breaking Bad boils down to arrests, gun fights, and plans of ultimate undoing, Vince Gilligan is still interested in sparking some new romances: Todd and Lydia. We open this week on the post-Heisenberg Era meth lab, finding a team of neo Nazis (who, say what you will about their ideologies, sure know how to land a pop culture reference) failing to satisfy a didactic Lydia Rodarte-Quayle with a 76% product that isn't even blue.
It's the blue that the kids in Bratislava really go nuts for.
After apologizing to Lydia for a subpar cook and promising to do better next time — honest he will! — Todd flashes her a look imbued with the sincere intensity that you can only garner from a Grade A stalker, caressing the lipstick stain on her tea mug once she's gone. We might add that some Diana Rossy-sounding romantic pop was playing over whatever sound system is hooked up in a meth lab all the while.
So what the hell is up with this paritcuarly jarring way to start the fourth-to-last episode of Breaking Bad? Is the show foreshadowing a frenzy in which Todd avenges Lydia against his gun-toting relatives, or Walt himself? Is Gilligan just trying to set up a new power couple? Since Walt and Skyler have dissolved to subhuman, Jesse and Andrea are split, and Hank and Marie are… well, we can pretty much predict nothing but gloom for them after this episode… Loddia might be the new subject for those fanatical shippers.
Or maybe we're just meant to be reminded that Todd is simply a weird dude. The glare of jealousy that he musters when Walt refers to Jesse as "family" signals some corrosive pain… even though the mention comes when Walt is ordering a hit on the kid! Todd, the dutiful student and teller of train stories, just wants everybody to love him. So, that's probably going to erupt into some serious crazy pretty soon.
Jesse's plan kicks into gear pretty flawlessly, tempting Walt to lead him to the site of the buried money by tricking him into thinking he has already found it — with a manipulated Huell (and man do I love when this show introduces its longstanding characters' surnames for the first time — is it Babineaux?) giving them a few hints about what Mr. White did with all the cash — and tracking his phone on his ride, not to mention getting a few handy confessions while on the line. The only thing Jesse and accomplices Hank and Gomez didn't count on was Walt's last minute decision to call for backup. Which, really, they kind of should have counted on that… it's what turned Jesse away from last week's ploy. But tensions are high and mistakes are bound to be made. On both sides.
Walt does wrangle the neo Nazis to do his bidding, but only before realizing the team with whom Jesse is saddled. What is most interesting to me about this season is how much humanity we are seeing in Walt. His brother-in-law has turned against him altogether, but Walt still wants to see no harm come to Hank. Even if it means a way out for himself… is this the cancer rewiring him with some empathy? His absence from the game turning him back into some semblance of a human being? Or did Walt always have limits — was his love for his family, the reason he got into this mess in the first place, always going to be prioritized above everything? It's difficult to say, since Walt has acted so selfishly that we might never have predicted to spare anyone, even his wife and children, from his menace. He regularly terrorized Skyler, manipulated Hank, f**ked with his son's head… but as far as their lives are concerned, he does indeed seem to still hold a great deal value there.
At the site of the buried money, Hank arrests Walt, who has attempted to call off the dogs. But they show up — quite promptly, I might add (say what you will about their ideologies, but they sure know how to hit a deadline) — raining blows upon the lot. Hank and Gomez fire back at the troupe while Walt, handcuffed in Hank's truck, tries desperately to institute a ceasefire. Jesse, in Gomey's car, seems intent on making a run for it, but we never see an end to anyone's hopes come to fruition: the episode cuts out mid blitzkrieg with no casualties amounted thus far.
But things are looking grim for Hank and Gomez. After all, just moments before the whole ordeal, Hank dialed Marie to offer up a classic '80s cop movie "We got him. I'll be home real soon. I love you" message, not to mention the fact that a boatload of gun-toting sociopaths coming up dry in taking down two caught-off-guard lawmen — one with a limp — would be pretty unacceptable stuff. Odd to end the episode without finality, but we think that next week will pick up post-mortem for the Albuquerque officers.
As for Walt and Jesse, things seem less certain. Does the latter get away? Is Walt now indebted to Todd's uncle and his men? Are they the folk for whom he picks up that monstrous machine gun in New Hampshire? Are tensions past the point of us ever seeing Skinny Pete again? Heaven forbid.
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Tonight the VMAs celebrate their 30th anniversary with sure-to-be buzzworthy performances from Lady Gaga, Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, and more. What will Gaga do to top her hanging-from-a-meathook performance of "Paparazzi" in 2009, her meat dress in 2010? Will Stephen Colbert appear with Daft Punk after they bailed on him earlier this month? We'll soon find out. There are always some VMAs shockers every year, and tonight will undoubtedly be no exception. To celebrate 30 years of the awards show, we've rounded up the 10 Most Controversial VMAs Moments ever, from Madonna kissing Britney Spears to Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift and more. Click on the photo below to access the gallery.
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The 10 Most Controversial VMAs Moments Ever
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This year's Sundance Film Festival was chock full of sexual, inappropriate, and sexually inappropriate films which garnered quite a bit of attention. One of the ones that slipped under the radar is Adore, which tells the story of two childhood friends who fall for each other's sons. Yep, I'd say that fits the sexually inappropriate criteria.
Adore (originally titled Two Mothers) looks like the kind of screwed up drama about screwed up people that audiences love. Throw in the sexual element and you've got yourself a winner — a creepy, creepy winner.
The film stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as the two mothers-turned-cougars and Ben Mendelsohn and Xavier Samuel as their sons. And while I am in no way advocating sleeping with your oldest friend's son, I do have to give Mendelsohn and Samuel credit for scoring such good-looking moms. Nice job, guys. Now go find someone your own age.
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Of course we're not going to get a Princess Diana movie that doesn't affix its lens on her relationship with the media. But man does the first teaser trailer for Diana, the forthcoming biopic led by actress Naomi Watts, really lay it on thick. With melodramatic shots of England's Rose ensconced in a sea of paparazzi snapshots, stepping into the backseat of a car in ominous slow motion, the video treads the line of emotional manipulation.
With this tragic connotation already at the forefront of our minds at any mention of Princess Di, it seems like overkill to deal so heavy-handedly with her untimely passing. But maybe the trailer is not an indication of the attitude Diana will take in handling its subject matter. A truly innovative, interesting film would delve into the princess' intriguing, romantic, highly complicated life. Hopefully, Diana does not lose focus in an attempt to recreate the emotional resonance of the unforgettable day she was taken from this Earth.
Diana hits theaters Sept. 20.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter | Follow hollywood.com on Twitter @hollywood_com
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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 a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.