Last night’s episode of The Voice marked the beginning of the battle rounds. Performers face off against members of their own team, with one competitor to be eliminated after each duet. (This is where I’d make a timely Hunger Games reference, if I knew anything about The Hunger Games besides a. Jennifer Lawrence and b. teenagers killing each other with arrows?)
This season, coaches can steal a losing contestant away from another team with by pressing their buttons. (“We paid for the freakin’ things,” I can imagine a grizzled props manager grunting, “We might as well use them.”)
In other news, Adam, Blake, Christina, and Cee Lo have finally changed out of the outfits they wore throughout all the blind auditions — presumably to make editing out-of-order for heightened drama possible — and I no longer have to worry that they’ve been locked without food and water in the auditorium weeks at a time. But just in case: If you’re being held against your will, Xtina, look bored and unimpressed during every performance. I’ll send help.
Aided by mentor Michael “Hamm and Bublé” Bublé, Blake pairs up Casey Muessigmann — remember his ass-spanking rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama”? — and Scottish rocker Terry McDermott. Both singers auditioned with rock anthems, so Blake assigns them the Kansas classic “Carry On Wayward Son.”
Casey’s omnipresent cowboy hat (a Hulk Hogan-esque ploy to conceal premature baldness?) makes for an entertaining contrast with Terry, who looks like an aging Justin Bieber that fired his manager and neglected to trim his hair for months.
Though Casey’s country take on “Carry On” is fun, he’s easily overpowered by Terry’s formidable rock-and-roll chops — even country boy Blake has to agree, choosing McDermott. None of the other coaches steal Casey, and I feel improbably sad, like The Voice has suddenly become an ASPCA commercial about dogs that don’t get adopted (please, for the love of god, no Sarah McLachlan covers tonight).
Next up, Adam and mentor Mary J. Blige pit Bryan Keith, son of a Grammy-winning Latin artist, against pleasant, enormous-faced Collin McLoughlin.
Sublime’s “Santeria” challenges the artists to nail a difficult balance of toughness and sweetness. In rehearsals, Adam compliments Collin’s “razor-sharp pitch” but encourages him to explore the song’s emotional complexity. The coach also grows increasingly frustrated by Bryan’s apparent inability to deliver a convincing Adam Levine impression.
In their battle, Collin brings a likeable reggae flair to “Santeria,” but Bryan’s winning personality lets him do exactly that: win. Fortunately, Forehead McGee’s fairy tale doesn’t end here — Blake steals him for Team Shelton.
Native Peruvian Diego Val and YouTube star JR Aquino duke it out on “Jessie’s Girl” for Cee Lo and team mentor Rob Thomas. Diego struggles with memorizing the song’s lyrics (uh, really?), while Cee Lo pushes JR to “dirty” up his pristine, nonthreatening voice.
Ultimately, neither performance is exceptional. JR delivers an emotionally unsatisfying but well-executed cover, but Diego — whose mannerisms, full disclosure, have started to annoy me — sounds a little pitchy. Nevertheless, Diego it is, and JR is sent home to the small comfort (ahem) of his nearly 500,000 video subscribers.
With Billie Joe Armstrong (who is, ermahgerd, totally watching this episode from rehab right now) at her side, Christina chooses “Message in a Bottle” for the charmingly genuine Nelly’s Echo and the adorably androgynous De’Borah.
Between Billie Joe’s cheerfully constructive criticism (“Even the mistakes you’re making sound amazing,” he tells De’Borah) and Nelly’s reference to finding one’s “best self,” this segment feels like a group therapy session, and maybe even an ill-conceived network tie-in with NBC’s five hundred hourly promos for Go On.
Though De’Borah is initially flustered by Nelly’s connection with the song, they both excel in front of the coaches, performing a creative, lively, and well-matched duet. Christina finally picks De’Borah, if only for her fantastic outfit (part NBA hipster, part Steve Urkel). As De’Borah’s parents tearfully embrace her backstage, I experience many feels inside my heartholes.
In Team Blake’s second battle of the night, yodeling Gracia Harrison takes on mother-daughter duo 2Steel Girls. As the three rehearse the Dixie Chicks’ “Sin Wagon,” Mama Steel grows nervous that the song doesn’t suit her voice, while Gracia works to overcome her natural shyness.
But during the battle, Harrison radiates confidence, looking like a cowgirl version of Glinda in an Oz-ready pink minidress and boots. Though 2Steel Girls harmonize beautifully, having three performers on stage makes for awkward choreography — mom and daughter become unwitting back-up singers, nervously standing to the side while Gracia rocks out center stage. Unsurprisingly, it’s she who wins the battle. Though 2Steel Girls are, in Carson’s words, “available to steal” (or are they available… 2STEEL?), no one claims them.
The episode ends with another Cee Lo match-up: former Adele background singer Amanda Brown vs. 18-year-old Trevin Hunte, who previously brought down the house with a cover of Beyoncé’s “Listen.”
Cee Lo picks Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” to test the pair’s power and control, but it soon becomes clear that these two are more than he bargained for. Rob Thomas throws his hands in the air in surprise as Amanda, who is distractingly gorgeous, immediately starts flawlessly belting the song — leaving the already characteristically nervous Trevin visibly shaken.
Their live performance escalates beautifully, electrifying yet amazing controlled. Jeebus, I have no idea who is better; neither, it seems, does anyone else. Undeterred, Adam climbs atop his chair and commits to steal whichever performer their coach doesn’t choose.
Cee Lo, who must make terrible March Madness brackets, admits he was foolish to undervalue Amanda, but decides on Trevin instead. Don’t worry, Amanda — Adam is more than happy with his sloppy seconds.
The Voice is back with more battles tonight at 8 pm. If there’s any justice in this world, at least one pair of singers will wear Brady Bunch-style matching jumpsuits and bust out an elaborate, synchronized line dancing routine (that one’s for free, producers).
Find me on Twitter @mollyfitz.
[Image Credits: NBC]
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
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.
The Little Britain funnyman was devastated by the shock death of his former partner Kevin McGee, who was found hanged at his apartment in Edinburgh, Scotland last week (05Oct09).
Lucas was too upset to face performing in the production in the subsequent days - and show bosses have now confirmed he will not return to the role.
His part as Keith Halliwell in the play will be taken over by actor Con O'Neill.
A statement from show producers reads, "Given the sad news that Matt Lucas has recently received, and the role he was playing, it is understandable that he could not return to play Halliwell at this time and our thoughts are with him.
"Ongoing support for our production from audiences at the Comedy Theatre over the past week has been wonderful and given the huge investment from our cast, director, writer and production team, we are delighted that the brilliant Con O'Neill is joining our company so that the show that we are so proud of can complete its West End run."
Lucas and McGee married in a lavish ceremony in 2006, only to divorce earlier this year (09).
Actor Ethan Hawke's Kris Kristofferson tribute in the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine has been attacked again -- by the country star himself.
Hawke has already upset Toby Keith by suggesting he and Kristofferson almost came to blows during a backstage dispute at a Willie Nelson tribute show in 2003, and now the "Me & Bobby McGee" singer is questioning the validity of the article.
Kristofferson insists he has no recollection of the altercation between himself and Keith, and although he thanks the actor for his "generous and respectful story about me," the country legend and movie star suggests not everything Hawke wrote is true.
In a letter to the Tennessean newspaper, he writes, "I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willie's birthday party -- least of all to Toby Keith... for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect.
"And, contrary to what the college classmate said (to Hawke), I never was president of any class in college or on the debating team, writing club or played baseball. I hated politics and never ran for anything."
Rolling Stone editors continue to stand by the story and Hawke's reporting.
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