We’ve been watching Stephen Colbert for years now — for eight years on The Daily Show and the past nine on The Report. We’ve seen him mold the jingoistic dork who bears his name into an icon of modern satire, skewering current events and lampooning punditry five nights a week for just shy of a decade. We’ve seen Colbert degrade the English language, vie for immortality in the form of a Hungarian bridge, forward the movement against wrist violence, run for president, wrestle Jon Stewart at the 2012 Emmys, and inspire a delightful grouchiness in childhood author Maurice Sendak. We’ve seen lots of Stephen Colbert. But we really have no idea what he’s like.
But this man that we’ve yet to meet, save for rare candid interviews or pre-shtick recordings we might be lucky enough to have found on the web, seems to be the one we'll be spending the rest of our days with. Naturally, Colbert’s new residence on The Late Show, announced on Thursday via The New York Times, won’t foster this degree of caricature. As such, it’s natural for fans of the Colbert Report, even (or perhaps especially) the most diehard of the bunch, to approach the news of the comedian’s ascension to network TV with apprehension. We don’t know what he can do without the good graces of his O’Reilly-inspired alter ego. We’re not sure what a genuine Stephen Colbert interview will carry — when he’s not belittling, accosting, or deliberately misunderstanding his guests, can he still be funny?
We'll have to wait until 2015 for a proper answer to this first question, although we're comfortable with a resounding "probably." But in mourning the impending loss of The Colbert Report's main character, we have to take a look at his fellow late night players, and the game itself. In earnest, Colbert is the only one of the lot who has been working from the soils of true fiction, but the industry entails some degree of trimming and hedging. The cameras add 10 pounds of performative composure and well-rehearsed shtick, and the good ones keep their elements as vivid as Colbert has his Bill O'Reilly sendup.
So the second question is: which of these greats will show Colbert how to handle the balance of his Comedy Central icon and the South Carolinian who pronounces his last name with an audible "T"?
Gone by the wayside since Johnny Carson's retirement is the viewing audience's adherence to the "familial" in its crowning of a replacement late night king. With a long line from which to choose, we want characters. Maybe Jay Leno held good ratings thanks to his ability to play accessible and nonthreatening, but in the days of Internet criticism, professional and public alike, that translates to amorphous. There's no Jay Leno identity beyond the high-voiced bobblehead you'll find in too many stand-up comedy routines. Leno and his ilk have fallen to the new. We want the opportunity to dig through a collection of oddballs each night, satisfying whatever cravings the preceding hours have inspired.
We have that opportunity in David Letterman's crotchety cynic (who has always been, as a cultural fixture, far ahead of his time). In Jimmy Fallon's wide-eyed cherub. In Jon Stewart's put-upon nebbish. These are the characters these men have built, accessing something between relatability — face it, angrier people like Letterman and happier people like Fallon — and the special, distanced elation you get from watching a skilled actor work his comedic magic.
With so many balancing acts of varying aptitude — Chelsea Handler plays on sauciness, Jimmy Kimmel on boyish impetulance, Craig Ferguson on the residual mania of his dark past — Colbert has no shortage of professors to guide him through his early semesters in the CBS gig. But the best teacher of the lot to help Colbert tailor his character to the network form might very well be Conan O'Brien, who has managed from Late Night on to manufacture a most meticulous exaggeration of his gawky, psuedo-psychotic personality to maintain through bits, interviews, man-on-the-street routines, and even appearances in other media. It's really a shame he didn't get tenure.
It's natural to bemoan the loss of a character as important as Colbert's, or to fear that his greatness might not carry over to a new style of performance. But we have to remember that even in taking the stage as himself, performance is the most essential part of his new job. He might not bluster about as the right-wing blowhard we've come to love, but he sure as hell won't let his penchant for character craft and self-parody go untapped. He'll need it now more than ever.
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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.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
Diaz and Timberlake fight back against paparazzi attack
Actress Cameron Diaz and pop star boyfriend Justin Timberlake got into an altercation with the paparazzi late Saturday night when they grabbed a photographer's camera after being photographed outside the Chateau Marmont hotel late Saturday night. According to the Associated Press, representatives for the stars said in a statement that the couple "was ambushed by two men, who jumped out of a concealed hiding place on a dark, deserted street late at night." The reps added that any actions taken against the photographers were strictly for self-defense. Shortly after the dispute with the paparazzi, Diaz turned the camera over to police in hopes it will help investigators identify the men. Officer Sarah Faden of the Los Angeles police department said that shortly after the incident one of the photographers called to complain about the couple, accusing them of battery and grand theft. Faden also added that no arrests or charges have been given yet to anyone involved in the incident.
Singer Liza Minnelli sued by former bodyguard
Former bodyguard and chauffeur to Liza Minnelli is accusing the singer of sexual harassment and assault and battery, Reuters reports. According to the court papers revealed on Wednesday, M'hammed Soumayah is seeking over $100 million in damages and $89,000 in back wages. In a six-page complaint filed with Manhattan Supreme Court, Soumayah admits to having sex with Minnelli after many advances brought on by the Oscar Award winner. Soumayah says that he has evidence of the relationship between him and Minnelli, but does not list the type of evidence in his complaint. In the complaint however, Soumayah said that throughout his employment, Minnelli "hit and assaulted" him "repeatedly", but fearing the loss of his $238,000 salary, Soumayah tolerated the "violent outbursts." In addition to Soumayah, Minnelli's estranged husband, David Gest, is also suing the singer for $10 million for beating him during drunken rages. Minnelli has counter-sued Soumayah for breach of contract and has also counter-sued Gest for cheating her out of $2 million. Minnelli's spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
Comedian Bill Maher sued by ex-girlfriend
Comedian and talk show host of HBO's Real Time, Bill Maher, is being sued by his former girlfriend, Nancy Johnson for $9 million in compensatory damages. Stating that Maher convinced her to quit her job as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, Johnson said that Maher promised to marry her and buy her a house in Beverly Hills. Johnson said she ended their 17-month relationship after Maher became abusive and made "insulting, humiliating and degrading racial comments" towards her. Maher's spokesperson was contacted, but had no comment on the breach of contract suit filed by his former girlfriend.
ABC stations cancel Saving Private Ryan airing
According to the Associated Press, a few ABC affiliates have announced that they will not be airing Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day, stating that the film's violence and language could break the rules created and enforced by the Federal Communications Commission. Those stations not granted permission by the FCC include
Cox Communications television stations in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., and three Midwest stations owned by Citadel Communications. "Under strict interpretation of the rules, we can't run that programming before 10 p.m.," said Ray Cole, president of Citadel Communications. Any type of profane speech which can be defined as language that is "so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance," or that tend "to provoke violent resentment" can only be aired from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to the FCC. ABC has told its affiliates it would cover any fines, but Cole said the network could not protect its affiliates against other FCC sanctions.
Conservative groups protest against Kinsey film
Many conservative groups across the country are taking a stand against the release of Kinsey, releasing in limited theaters this Friday before it goes nationwide in upcoming weeks, the AP reports. Kinsey follows the life of Alfred Kinsey, played by Liam Neeson, as he explores his own adulterous behavior and sexual fantasies. Conservative groups are fighting back against the film, saying that Alfred Kinsey is somewhat responsible for the sexual revolution that has left so many people with life-threatening diseases. Robert Peters, president of the conservative group Morality in Media, saw an advanced screening and states, "Kinsey wasn't wrong about everything. No question there was an unhealthy shame about sex that prevented people from getting help," said Peters, "A film could have been produced that would have shown that side of Kinsey but also shown the hell that he released."
Kenny Chesney wins top country music honors
Tuesday night's telecast of the Country Music Awards sent country singer and producer Kenny Chesney home with CMA's top honor of Entertainer of the Year. Reuters reports the 38th annual award show, held at the Grand Ole' Opry in Tennessee, awarded the singer with that top honor in addition to Album of the Year and another award for producing his own album, When the Sun Goes Down. Keith Urban took home male vocalist of the year, Martina McBride for female vocalist of the year, Rascal Flatts for vocal group of the year, Brooks & Dunn for vocal duo of the year, and musician of the year went to guitarist Dan Huff. Brad Paisley, Alison Krauss, Tim Nichols, Craig Wiseman, and Gretchen Wilson were also awarded for their musical talents. Veteran singer and songwriter Kris Kristofferson and former CMA chairman, Jim Foglesong, were both inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Carson gives $5.3 million to the University of Nebraska
Former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson donated $5,300,000 million to the University of Nebraska foundation. According to the Associated Press, the 79-year-old Carson is an alumnus of the school and has maintained a strong relationship with the University throughout his career. The money will go to support the Performing Arts' Department and their latest plans to renovate their 100-year old Temple building by creating a new black box theater and film soundstage.
Fox plans to create reality series for wireless phones
Twentieth Century Fox has announced that they are teaming up with the nation's biggest cell phone company, Vodafone PLC, to create one-minute dramas that can be viewed from cell phones, the AP reports. Based on the hit show, 24, these "mobisodes" will be introduced in 2005, and will be available in Europe and the United States, through their joint carrier, Verizon Wireless. The cellular version of the hit television drama, 24 will be based on characters from the actual show, 24 "mobisodes" in all.