S1E23: Guys, guys -- it's really happening! Finals week is finally here! And no, I'm not talking about those tests you take in college at the end of each semester (boo), I'm talking about The X Factor finals. After weeks and weeks of watching the contestants perform and observing the judges do absolutely nothing, it's time to find out which act is about to get $5 million richer. And I gotta be honest....I have no idea who that's going to be. These last three contestants have proven they possess the XYZ Factor time and time again -- and since the results are always given IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER, it's hard to know where these three have been ranking amongst each other throughout the course of the competition. (That sneaky Steve Jones). But before any winners can be crowned, the acts must perform for America one last time, in the hopes of winning their hearts -- and more importantly, their votes. all or nothing
So sit back, relax, and take comfort in knowing that the decision completely lies in your hands -- meaning none of the judges can muck up the results (that we know of). So let's get on with the show...
First to sing was Josh Krajcik, who sang a duet of Uninvited with the one and only Alanis Morissette. So wait, they're singing duets with pros now? When was this decided and is it really the best decision? I feel like she overpowered him the whole time and poor Josh seemed too focused on trying to stay on key rather than put any emotion into the performance. Not his best vocals by far. But of course, the judges loved it, so what do I (or is it what do they) know? And to be fair, he was probably trying to figure out what was going on with Nicole's hair, which would certainly be understandable. Either way, I wasn't overly impressed, but based on the previous talent he's exuded throughout the course of the show, I still think he's a fantastic singer and deserves to be in this competition.
Up next was "8 months sober" Chris Rene who sang (you guessed it) a duet of Complicated with Avril Lavigne. Chris at least seemed a little more at home with sharing the harmony with someone else, but I'm still not thrilled with the whole singing-with-a-pro thing since it draws focus away from the contestants. Personally, I'd be kinda upset that someone was trying to horn in on my limelight during finals week, but Chris seemed thrilled (especially after she told America they should vote for him). The judges once again gave no advice and just sang his praises, so apparently judging is no longer relevant at this point in the competition (although if I think about it, I guess it never was). But he looked good, he sounded decent, and he came out truly owning the performance. I know he's not the best singer out of the three, but with all his confidence and charisma, I feel like he could end up winning this thing.
Then came Melanie Amaro, who sang a duet of I Believe I Can Fly with R. Kelly and it was the best pairing of the bunch. Her voice is just so powerful and steady that it would take a lot more than another vocal to make it waiver. If this competition was based solely on vocals, this girl would be the obvious winner hands down. Time after time after time, she never fails to do an amazing job -- and look absolutely fabulous. But of course L.A. hates all other competitors that aren't his, so he didn't think it was her best work (however since he couldn't even recognize a Christina Aguilera song a few weeks back, I'm not taking much stock in what he has to say anymore). This girl is the real deal people! Simon said it best -- Melanie didn't look like she was in a talent competition, she looked like SHE was the pro.
Then kicking off the second round was Josh Krajcik, who sang (solo this time) At Last by Etta James, while playing guitar at the same time. Not necessarily the song I would've chosen him to sing, but he did a good job with it overall. Those scary faces of his have to go though because they're a little stressful to look at. But other than that, it was a pleasure to watch, as always -- and the judges agreed. L.A. and Paula called his performance purely authentic, Simon said it was both bold and impressive, and Nicole commented that it was a little piece of Krajcik magic.
Chris Rene hit the stage next, singing his go-to song Young Homie, one of his own creations. He did a good job, but I was a little surprised he chose to sing it since we've heard it about a million times before. I thought he would've tried going for something a little more bold or different, but I guess you go with what works and the judges ate it all up. No seriously, Paula freaked out and said he was basically the air that she breaths and Simon congratulated him on keeping his word to stay sober this whole time and encouraged America to get behind him and vote for him. I wonder what poor Melanie had to say about that...
And rounding out the final performance was Melanie Amaro, who sang Listen by Beyonce and it was fantastic. Not only was it a genius song choice, but she completely brought the house down with it. The emotion, the steadiness, the wardrobe -- all of it would've made my girl Beyonce proud. Seriously, it was extremely moving and probably one of her best performances to date. L.A. called it a $50 million dollar performance, while Simon said it's because of talent like hers that made him want to bring this competition over to America in the first place. It was a brilliant, perfect way to end the show. I bet those boys are nervous...
So who do you think will win the majority of the votes and become America's very first X Factor winner? Personally, I think it will come down between Chris Rene and Melanie Amaro, but this show isn't exactly known for its predictability, so anything's possible. Sound off in the comments section below!
Animation particularly when it comes out of the Disney/Pixar stable is one of those areas of filmmaking that regularly inspires the phrase "They don't make them like they used to." In the case of Toy Story 3 however it's more accurate to say "They have never made them like this." It's certainly not unheard of for an animated film to be good for a Pixar film to be great or for the third film in a trilogy to be outstanding (though that's the rarest of the three) but in the case of Lee Unkrich's film the sheer degree at which it exceeds at all three is not just rare it's unprecedented.
Eleven years have elapsed since Woody (Tom Hanks) Buzz (Tim Allen) and all of Andy's favorite playthings had their last adventure -- rather 11 years have elapsed since Andy stopped playing with his toys. Buoyed by Woody's never-failing devotion the gang is all optimistic that Andy will elect to bring them with him to his first year of college but as that fateful empty-nest day approaches it becomes clearer and clearer that the only toy that will be making the trek to school is Woody. The rest are all by a series of unfortunate events consigned to live out their remaining days at Sunnyside daycare. Things are actually looking up for the neglected entertainers until they realize just how careless the ankle-biters are when it comes to playing with toys.
Unfortunately there is no escape in sight for the lovable personalities Pixar has been refining for over a decade. Lotso Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty) runs a tight ship at Sunnyside; the new toys are just going to have to be sacrificed to the aggressive toddlers so the old veterans can have a relaxing time with their more mature counterparts. Eventually Woody catches wind of what kind of life his old pals are being forced to live and Toy Story 3 quite brilliantly becomes a riff on classic prison escape movies as Woody seeks to breach Lotso's security measures and bring his bunch back to Andy where they belong. And while this on-the-run chunk of the film is some of the most thrilling material Pixar has ever delivered it's also some of the most touching.
Unlike most sequels not a moment of Toy Story 3 feels artificial. There's no sense that Pixar decided to make a third film because it knew that the box office would gladly support another entry; no sense that this is a cash grab (unlike a certain green ogre's most recent trip to the big screen). All of those typical sequel pitfalls are carefully avoided by a swelling sense of finality. Toy Story 3 isn't just another adventure with these characters -- there is in fact no doubt that this is their final adventure their final hoorah together. Director Lee Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt meticulously lead the audience along with bated breath the entire time culminating in a life-or-death scenario for the toys that is more heartfelt and genuine than most live-action films can ever muster.
It's astonishing how the creative team at Pixar can make you forget that what you're watching is all a bunch of digital wizardry. Maybe it's the 3D this time around maybe it's that this is the studio's most accomplished technical feat to date (there are single shots at a landfill that pack in richer detail than the entirety of the pioneering first film) that makes Toy Story 3 such an immersive experience. Or maybe it's simply because Pixar treats its property which is ostensibly for children with the utmost sincerity. The result is an overwhelming success the rare kind of film that were it a human being would be your best friend.
One could reasonably make the case that Toy Story 3 is the single best animated film ever made. I wouldn't outright agree with such grandiose claims but it's certainly not a baseless proposition that you'd be laughed at for bringing up. However with part three now tucked under Pixar's belt one could present an even better case that Toy Story is the best film trilogy ever made -- a claim I am far more comfortable signing on the dotted line for.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Although The Great Buck Howard is not the literal story of the once popular (in the '60s and '70s) entertainer known as the Amazing Kreskin the film makes it known this is a pretty thinly disguised tribute to the man who made 88 appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show before fading into obscurity on the dinner theater circuit. Writer/director Sean McGinly who worked briefly as Kreskin’s assistant has reinvented him essentially as Buck Howard a “mentalist extraordinaire ” who once strode in the limelight with numerous TV and Vegas appearances but now plays faded community centers and hasn’t filled a theater in decades. As his new assistant law-school dropout Troy Gable quickly learns it isn’t easy working for Buck who still sees himself as a big star but when a quirk of fate intervenes and he really does get a second chance at the national spotlight neither one is quite prepared for what comes next.
WHO’S IN IT?
John Malkovich is a fine actor but he isn’t exactly known for comedy. As Buck Howard however he has the role of a lifetime and he’s simply amazing wryly funny as the has-been mentalist who would never admit he isn’t still every bit the top celebrity he used to be. Although Malkovich plays him somewhat pompously he’s ultimately quite touching as a celeb who once commanded great attention and still craves it on his own terms. As his new unwitting assistant Colin Hanks drolly underplays most of his scenes with Buck and effortlessly shows the quiet desperation of a wannabe writer who’s not exactly sure what he should be doing with his life. Emily Blunt is lovely as a publicist who helps engineer Buck’s surprising comeback; and there are also small but fun bits with Steve Zahn Griffin Dunne and even Colin’s real-life dad Tom Hanks whose company bankrolled the movie.
In the same sweet but low-key vein of My Favorite Year McGinly paints a portrait of the less glamorous aspect of showbiz when an outsized personality starts traveling on the downside of the entertainment world. Clearly his days with Kreskin gave him an entree into this life and his film is nicely observant and respectful. But still very funny.
The film plays it all a little too safe. It doesn’t seem to want to be anything more than a snapshot of life after huge success has faded; adding a little more complexity might have offered an even richer role for Malkovich. It’s pleasant but there’s not a whole lot of depth.
Buck hypnotizes a large crowd of volunteers but gets sidetracked and neglects to snap them out of it. It’s pricelessly funny and captures the ego of the guy perfectly in the expert hands of Malkovich.
Award shows have always lavished celebrities who appear at their ceremonies with gifts. But judging by the gift bags the lined up for the stars of the Grammys, it's obvious the gifts are not only getting bigger, they are getting better and better.
Steve Stein of Hollywood Connection, a company that puts lavish gift bags together for awards shows, joked that it's just one of those instances where the rich get richer.
For the 44th annual Grammy Awards, which will take place Feb. 27 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, stars will treated to a package worth between $15,000 and $20,000.
Stars will receive a Blackberry two-way pager, DKNY jeans, a two-night stay at any Ian Schrager hotel, a 13-inch Philips television, Lalique rings and Casio digital camera watches. Let's not forget the mints and deodorant.
At January's American Music Awards, performers and presenters got digital cameras and electric scooters.
The AMAs also threw in a few extras for more prestigious guests like Michael Jackson, who got extra scooters--perhaps for his inner child. Admitted Starbucks addict Britney Spears also received an extra package with Starbucks products.
But the most valuable perk at the AMAs was undoubtedly a year's pass allowing stars and nine members of their entourage to eat free at the fast-food Mexican chain Baja Fresh. If used every day, the value could reach $30,000.
According to Stein, there have already been five celebrity sightings of stars using the VIP fast-food pass.
Presenters at the Golden Globes received two first-class plane tickets, a $250 bottle stopper, a certificate to a day spa, a customized sculpture, Microsoft's X-box game system and his-and-hers luxury watches worth about $1,300 each.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the Golden Globes, learned all too well the importance of doling out gifts to the stars rather than receiving them.
In 1993 there were reports that voting members received all-expenses-paid junkets to New York in exchange for votes for Scent of a Woman.
The Globes came under scrutiny for their policy on promotional gifts again in 1999 after voting members received expensive Coach watches sent by USA Films on Sharon Stone's behalf. (Stone later received a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a musical or comedy for USA Film's The Muse).
While everyone knows that Tom Hanks can go out and buy a $1,300 watch if he pleases, Scott Orlin, a board member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, told the AP the gifts are a way of thanking the stars, who otherwise do not get paid for their appearance.
"There have been celebrities who come in (to the) rehearsals and say, 'I heard about the gift bag. Where is it?'" he said. "I think everybody likes to be appreciated."