A new Broadway musical based on the songs of late rap icon Tupac Shakur has drawn mixed reviews following its official opening on Thursday (19Jun14). Acclaimed director Kenny Leon, who won a Tony Award earlier this month (Jun14) for his revival of A Raisin In the Sun, put together Holler If Ya Hear Me, a non-biographical show featuring a love story set to the hip-hop star's tracks.
The production, which was staged with the blessing of the California Love hitmaker's mother and estate executor Afeni Shakur, launched at New York's Palace Theatre on Thursday, but the musical has split critics.
The New York Daily News' Joe Dziemianowicz praises lead actor Saul Williams' portrayal of John, a self-taught artist who attempts to stay out of trouble after being released from prison, branding his performance "magnetic".
However, Dziemianowicz laments the "predictability" of the show's storyline, despite a "vibrant, raw and rousing" production - sentiments echoed by critics for both Variety and The New York Times.
The Times' Charles Isherwood insists the "beats are sweet, and the words often have an electric charge", but claims the "ambitious" show feels "heavy-handed", while The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney was less than impressed, dismissing the show as "misconceived" and "destined to fall on deaf ears".
Warning: The following contains spoilers for the movie Riddick.
It says something that one of Hollywood.com's top viewed articles, to this day, is a 2006 post titled "Vin Diesel Slams Gay Rumors." Seven years and an ostensible leap forward in our nation's attitude toward sexual identity and there remain those who are bewildered, outraged, and mortified over the idea of Diesel, the poster boy for all things manly, being gay. We can't blame the actor for this flowing river of backwards thinking, but we can take issue with some of his creative endeavors. Made famous by action-heavy, brutally macho movies like xXx and the Fast and Furious franchise, Diesel seems to have made a habit of aligning himself with the sort of project that glorifies the heteronormative idea of man: someone who fights, frowns, and beds as many nameless women as he can. And although there is nothing impressively progressive about the actor's past choices, their offense might pale in comparison to his latest gig: the new installment of the Richard Riddick trilogy, Riddick. A movie that is so frought with gender-political issues that we're beginning to wonder if the people populating the "Vin Diesel Slams Gay Rumors" comment section actually had a hand in writing the script.
What's curious about Riddick is that it actually approaches the ideas of gender roles and sexual orientation head on. With a lot of time to chat during their motionless stakeout of a wasteland planet in hopes of apprehending the titular criminal, a pair of bounty hunter teams gets into some heated trifles. The head of Team A, Jordi Mollà's Santana, is a sociopathic bandit defined by his plaguing pride issues and a sexual predatory streak, the target of his assaults being the film's sole female character, a strong-willed agent played by Katee Sackhoff (who also, it must be noted, denounces any sexual interest in men at the start of the movie). Santana is obsessed with seizing control from Team B captain Boss Johns (Matt Nable), an intellectual stoic who matches every one of Santana's threats with a passive-aggressive alternative, opting for patience and collection over his opponent's venemous bravado. Fairly quickly, the dynamic between the two men becomes little more than a pissing contest between the contrasting alpha males, each losing battles along the way as the other's methods prove conditionally more effective in the maintenance of his camp.
Early on in the movie, you're inclined to sympathize with Boss Johns, championing his intelligence over the all brawn and balls approach of the deplorable Santana character (who, it's made clear from the start, you're supposed to hate). But while Nable's temperate captain is presented initially as the Spock to Mollà's Kirk, he descends pretty quickly into his own corrupt drive to capture Riddick, the man he believes to be responsible for his son's death. But this particular conflict of allegiance is resolved when another one spawns: by this point in the movie, you're meant to have allied your sympathies with Riddick himself, who might be the closest thing this film has to a Bones, were not for his own predatory inclinations. And that's where the real issues with Riddick's attitudes on gender come in: when the hero becomes just as big a sexual criminal as the villain, but is applauded for it.
We do not struggle with our affection for Riddick in the early chapters of the movie. We catch up with him surviving alone, abandoned on a near-apocalyptic planet. He gets by on his stealth and agility. He longs humbly for his distant homeland of Furya. He befriends a wild dog. The film might as well open on him carrying a baby out of a burning building, draped in a Beatles t-shirt and a red, white, and blue cape. And not only is he heroic, but exacted as a character symbolizing an array of liberal values: He rejects another character's compulsion to pray to God in a time of duress, favoring tactile logic over faith. He swipes spaceship batteries from the bounty hunter crew, leaving his mark with the none-too-subtle graffiti tag "FAIR TRADE." Hell, he conducts an ad-hoc abortion on a pregnant alien reptile. By displaying both these values and those way across the spectrum, brazen machismo, the movie is really setting us up with an all-purpose good guy.
But what's troubling is that this established affection is meant to carry over during Riddick's less favorable antics. Once captured by the troops, Riddick engages in provocative dialogue with Sackhoff's character — who is so unfortunately named Dahl (pronounced "doll") — that is no less repugnant than the sort of vile lines tossed her way via the Santana we are all understood to be the film's biggest douchebag. But when Riddick does it — objectifying her, prompting her for sex, remarking quite shamelessly on her breasts — the audience is asked to cheer. (And actually mine did.) But that's not even the worst part: the impassioned viewer isn't the only one who gets on board with Riddick's behavior. Dahl does too.
By the end of the film, Sackhoff's heroine — the intelligent, dutiful, strong, and proud woman who identifies her sexual orientation fairly bluntly early in the film ("I don't f**k guys" isn't too ambiguous) not only stands alone in sympathizing with the criminal Riddick, but risks her life to save him in the final moments of the planet's decay, succumbing to his previous advances by professing her desire to sleep with him as the two retreat to the safety of the ascending spaceship. And thus, her story is resolved. Boss Johns comes to terms with Riddick's innocence in regard to his son's death (coming to accept that Johns Jr. was a junkie and a criminal). Riddick finally flees the impending Armageddon that has proven his feature-long mortal enemy. And Dahl shirks her avowed disinterest in the male form, submitting to the calls of heteronormativity, and closing her story on a request to sleep with the guy whose only other converastion with her had been comprised of lewd, perverse come-ons.
So how can a movie villify a character like Santana and champion one like Riddick? The difference between the two men is microscopic, but Santana is reviled in-universe as feeble and depraved, whereas Riddick is adored (or at least admired) for his gallant displays of masculinity. Santana comes up short in challenging Johns for top banana status, but Riddick earns celebratory laughs over his casual insistence that Nable's increasingly agitated character "ride b***h" on their shared hover-bike during a quest to retrieve a spaceship battery buried in the wilderness. The only thing that keeps us from feeling about Riddick the way we do about Santana, in fact, is the fact that we're not obligated to. As this film is a Vin Diesel vehicle, and as Diesel is a moreover charismatic actor, we know that we can "get away" with laughing off his oh-so-charming aggressions, his that's-just-Riddick-bein'-Riddick come-ons. We feel as though we're allowed to like him and all his bravado, despite the fact that we know better. Riddick is the "Blurred Lines" of movie characters.
And therein is our problem: Characters and ideas we root for, our value system notwithstanding, just because we don't feel the threat of scorn and judgment present. When we feel safe and comfortable among things we know we should detest it should not be an invitation to get behind them. It should be all the more reason to challenge our own attitudes. Yes, we can clap for Riddick, derive satisfaction in his snappy "flirtations" and hoot and holler when he finally gets (in the most material sense of the word) the girl. It'd be fun, it'd be easy. And there'd be nobody there to wag a finger. But that's the same kind of attitude that allows some folks to rest comfortably among the masses who are disgusted by the idea of an action movie star being gay. If you do see Riddick, don't let it convince you to excuse the criminal behaviors imparted by its title character or the "victorious transformation" of an established lesbian into the hero's heterosexual bounty. Feel what you know you should, take as much issue as your gut tells you to, and embrace that... no matter how many other people are cheering beside you.
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It’s that Time of the Season. That time in which executive producer Nigel Lythgoe decides contestants should songs not only from his 1960s youth, but his homeland across the pond as well. But inside the theater at CBS Television City, the crowd at American Idol’s Wednesday night taping was pumped to see the contestants invade the theater on British Invasion night. (Even Lythgoe had one girl holler for him before the cameras started rolling.) But what you may have missed at home is that Steven Tyler aided the thunderous applause for Ryan Seacrest during the show’s opening by pumping his arms, encouraging the crowd to continue cheering. In fact, he appeared to on a mission to have Wednesday night’s crowd be the loudest of the season. And it worked for most of the show.
The performances kicked off with Hollie Cavanagh’s rendition of “River Deep, Mountain High.” From my seat, it was clear that J. Lo dug the performance — the judge began cheering before the song even started and danced with Steven throughout the performance. Even though Randy Jackson showed a little more restraint, he still looked floored when Hollie belted out her biggest. Added bonus for Hollie: A standing ovation from both Randy and Steven.
Hollie continued to win over the studio audience with her second performance of “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis. She had nearly everyone mesmerized from the first note. Her only issue during the performance was her troublesome ball gown. Before the performance, a stagehand did a last-minute adjustment of the dress (no wardrobe malfunctions here), and Ryan even helped Hollie with the gown’s train during a commercial break.
Minus the costume problems, Hollie was still thrilled to be praised by the judges this late in the competition. "I was glad I got positive feedback on both songs. It would be horrible to come out of the night with negative feedback,” she explained backstage. “I mean, now it’s Top 5, so you have to bring it every week, and I'm just glad they're seeing that I'm learning and progressing."
And in case you haven’t already gotten the message, Phillip Phillips once again showed he wants to be known as an artist, not just a pop star. His first song, “The Letter” by The Box Tops, had Jennifer and Randy whispering at the beginning of the performance while most of the audience seemed to struggle to connect to the song. His second solo performance, The Zombies’ “Time of The Season” resulted in a similar reaction in the theater. At least, when it came to anyone but the judges and teenage girls in the audience, who made sure to scream for the contestant per usual.
However, the girls’ excitement may have been short-lived as Ryan announced that Phillip not only had a girlfriend, but she was at the show. (Ladies, are you wishing that your other favorite guy, Colton, could come back to the show?) Phillip seemed to have little concern about losing votes due to Ryan’s admission. “It was funny. It doesn't matter,” he explained in the press tent. “If it does, then [the voters] weren't really liking the music. I'm trying to get the music out there. I'm not trying to be some boy that tries to look good or anything. I want the music to speak first.”
Back on stage, Skylar Laine had no trouble getting the audience grooving to her first performance of “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Randy was even nodding his head along with the music. But it was her second performance of “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” that made everyone in the room realize why she is a true contender in this competition. The audience, at least, rose to give her a standing ovation.
It was Jessica Sanchez’s rendition of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” that jumpstarted a major disagreement between Randy and the audience. From the start, Jessica received huge cheers from the audience (and had Steven moving in his chair). But, when Randy criticized the performance, he received a major backlash in the form of boos and one woman loudly screaming her disapproval.
But Jessica redeemed herself in Randy’s eyes with her performance of Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.” In addition to a standing ovation from the audience and universal praise from the judges, Randy may said just the thing she was waiting to hear ever since her near elimination: That she was back at the top of the leaderboard.
And in typical Idol fashion, the show saved the best for last. Joshua Ledet sang “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “To Love Somebody,” and managed to have the audience (and judges) in the palm of his hand during both performances. The whole room (including Steven) was moving to the beat during his first performance and audience members were even singing along with The Bee Gees’ hit at the end of the night.
With many stellar performances, the night’s strangest moments came during the group performances. While the girls appeared to be enjoying themselves and the company during their number, it was simply the musical arrangement of “Higher and Higher” that left that the studio audience and judges wanting a little more. Joshua and Phillip made it clear there was no bromance between them when they awkwardly belted out “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” With little connection between the performers, it was difficult for the audience to join in on the fun of this classic duet.
Will Hollie survive another elimination night Thursday? We’ll have to watch and see — and be sure to return to Hollywood.com Friday to find out everything that went down behind-the-scenes!
[Image Credit: FOX] More: American Idol Recap: Playing Favorites Idol Winner Kris Allen on His New Album, Colton Dixon’s Defeat, and Phillip Phillips Dear Idol Judges: Joshua Doesn’t Need 12 Standing Ovations