Even if you're of the mindset that the awards no longer matter, it's hard not see the Grammys as a free televised concert coutesy of the biggest names in music. (Thanks, guys!) And while it's all the spirit of togetherness and musicianship, it's hard not to pit performers against each other. Who blew us away and who sank like rock in the Ocean?
Most Confusing Horror/Literary Reference: Taylor Swift
Her performance of "We Are Never Getting Back Together" opened with a Jigsaw lookalike reciting lines from "The Raven," before adding Alice in Wonderland characters to Taylor's sparkly ringleader, all so she could tie Glasses Guy to a psychadelic torture device for even thinking that they could like, ever, ever, ever get back together. It's still got a little too much of that T-Swizzle hubris though. Color us confused and amused.
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Most Baby-Making Performance: Miguel and Wiz Khalifa
Were you distracted by the sheer amount of stripes onstage during this performance? If your answer is "yes" then your TV's volume clearly wasn't turned up high enough. Miguel's vocals were everything we dreamed they would be live, and man, were they sexy. Yes, Wiz Khalifa was there too. But Miguel, you guys. The Grammys cruelly made him cap off his performance by announcing the Solo Country Performance nominees, and it was jarring, but that performance was still perfection.
Most Lena-Dunham-Pleasing Performance: fun.
Alright, this was cute, albeit a little lackluster. Their performance of "Carry On," what with its little floating light orbs and lack of Lena Dunham cutaways (she's dating the guitarist) was simply nice. After learning every last word to "Some Nights" and "We Are Young," two endlessly rousing pop songs, it's just hard to get really into it when they slow it down. Plus, when the mid-performance rainstorm came down on them, I was too distracted by wondering what happened to the instruments to really give the tune a chance. Lena Dunham sure liked it though.
Most Awkwardly Heartbreaking Performance: Frank Ocean
Ocean's performance was saved for last (we refuse to count the LL Cool J performance that was basically what happens when the Karaoke DJ closes down the bar for the night), and by all rights it should have been the best of the night. Ocean is widely regarded as one of the most important new voices in the music industry for both his talent and the courage it took for him to be openly gay in a community that's largely without that brand of honesty. So when he took the stage with "Forrest Gump," a song that openly celebrates his lifestyle, we wanted it to be perfect. But Ocean's vocals were off, causing him to go flat for most of the song. It was heartbreaking, and the radio silence from everyone, including the Staples Center audience, was a clear sign that a flub from Ocean was something none of us was able to really wrap our heads around.
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Best Justin Timberlake Comeback: Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z
The self-promotion was getting a little nutty, but by the time Ellen and Beyonce were girling out over JT onstage together, all annoyances were forgiven. JT is back! And he's in sepia tone! (Which is a move he may have stolen from Bruno Mars' last Grammy performance, but he pulls it off way better so we're going to go ahead and let that go.) And with a standing ovation from the Grammys crowd! JT didn't get nearly as dancey as he's generally wont to do, but watching him perform "Suit and Tie" with Jay-Z was an epic moment in musical history. And for the "Suit and Tie" haters, Justin tacked on "Pusher Love Girl" — a wonderful song until that point where you realize he's singing about Jessica Biel and not you.
Most Familiar, But Not in Annoying Way, Performance: Mumford and Sons
This looked a heck of a lot like the band's 2011 Grammy performance alongside Bob Dylan — between the straight line formation and the flashing lights behind them, it was all a little too familiar. But then, Marcus Mumford started breaking it down and melting hearts and suddenly, the staging mattered not. We will wait for you all damn day, boys. (And if we're not there, you can be sure super fan Taylor Swift will be.) Video coming soon
NEXT: Worst Psych! Performance Ever...
Worst Psych! Performance Ever: Bruno Mars' Bob Marley Tribute
Once the performance added Sting, Rihanna, and Ziggy and Damien Marley to get the crowd going for "Could You Be Loved," this sweet little tribute to Mr. Marley picked up and became something of a momentary beach party. But when it (and by "it," I mean a tribute to Bob Marley and not a moment of Bruno Mars' self-promo time) started, the first song sounded a hell of a lot like "Locked Out of Heaven," which is a Bruno Mars song and not a Marley tune. Oh, that's because it was? What other tribute started with someone's own music as opposed to the person being honored? Oh, none of them? So, Bruno Mars is the only ego-maniac dropping his own song into a tribute. Okay. Glad we got that straight.
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Most Unintentionally Disturbing Performance: Rihanna
In what should have been a great, intimate performance of "Stay," Rihanna made us all very uncomfortable. We knew she was at the show with Chris Brown, and we know how autobiographical she can be in her art. It was hard not to feel like she was singing this song to the man none of us can believe she's gone back to. Sorry, Gavin Purcell. Your assist was fine, but we're a little distracted here.
Performance Most Likely to Serve as a Really Affective Lullaby: It's a Tie! Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley/Ed Sheeran and Elton John
Miranda's a great singer, and she looked great in her sparkly dress, but there was something so sleepy about this performance. No level of Bruce Springsteen impression from Mr. Bentley could change that. And while aesthetics aren't really the crux of a good performance, the strange tree, Lambert's endlessly sparkly dress, and Bentley's devil-may-care chic went together about as well as Chris Brown and anything we like. The best part was watching Blake Shelton's proud gaze at his pretty wife, but that could just be because it was over.
Sir Elton, you are a legend. Ed (can I call you "Eddie"?), you're an adorable British singer-songwriter. This should have been more engaging. But this rendition of Sheeran's "The A-Team" just had me wondering, "Why isn't Beyonce performing tonight?" Hell, even Elton looked bored.
Performance That Was Most Likely to Be Way Better if Adam Levine Wasn't Involved: Alicia Keys
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Alicia Keys, wearing a sexy dress and banging the hell out of some drums before singing "This girl is on fire" like an Amazonian battle call, would have been a highlight of the evening if it wasn't followed by the Maroon 5 frontman trying to keep up with her. The last thing Ms. Keys needs is a sidekick.
Most Straight Up Incredible Performance: It's a Tie! The Black Keys with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band/Jack White
The Black Keys are already incredible live, and that's without any elaborate set pieces or flashy costumes. But when they added the New Orleans flair of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to "Lonely Boy" (even if they Kelly-and-Michelle-ed the horn section's volume), it made the ubiqitous song brand new and thus, even more incredible.
Jack White, you magnificent bastard. As someone who's not normally a follower of our pastey friend, I have to admit, his performance of "Love Interruption" was a thing of beauty. Plus, he did it with the help of a band of lady musicians who look like they were plucked from a Victorian Uptopia. You've got me, Jack White.
NEXT: Best Redemption from a Past Idol Performance....
Best Redemption from a Past Performance on American Idol: Kelly Clarkson
Saying Kelly Clarkson ever wasn't perfect during a performance doesn't happen often, but when she sang "Natural Woman" on Idol, she was, well, less than perfect. But when Clarkson sang "Tennesse Waltz" for Patti Page and then "Natural Woman" as a tribute to Carole King. It was beautiful, and incredibly moving, and coming from someone as genuine as Kelly, it's a performance that's hard not to love.
Best Unadorned, Yet Perfect Performance: The Lumineers
All they did was stand together and sing "Ho Hey" with a few twinkly lights in the background. And it was perfect.
Worst Dance Moves: Carrie Underwood
For a girl who can sing the hell out of any song, especially "Blown Away," her performance blew us away for all the wrong reasons. Her vocals were great as always but the strange use of her Barbie prom dress as a movie screen for butterflies and clip art roses ruined it all. And if the light show wasn't distracting enough, the fact that there was clearly some life-size Barbie rack hidden under that dress preventing her from moving anywhere was disconcerting. If she would have just gone up there in a pretty dress and did her thing, she'd probably be remembered as one of the better performers of the night.
Best Ignored Tribute Because the Performers Aren't Mainstream Enough: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Kenny Garrett
This year, the jazz world lost Dave Brubeck, and the loss was crushing. Watching these guys deliver a sweet, simple rendition of Brubeck's "Take Five" was the perfect way to say "Thank you" to the legend, but apparently, this performance doesn't get an introduction from a pretty musical celeb. (It was so awesome, no one has yet put a video on the Internet.)
Most Surprisingly Awesome (And Not At All Annoying) Tribute From Five or More Performers: The Levon Helm Tribute
Elton John, Zac Brown, Mumford and Sons, Elton John, T Bone Burnett, Mavis Staples, and Brittany Howard from the Alabama Shakes on one stage? It sounds like a combination too overloaded to work, but when all these voices came together to deliver "The Weight," the song made famous by The Band, it was perfect harmony. Of course, Howard had to go and show everyone up (even Staples was impressed) with her too-perfect-words closing verse. Can we see an Alabama Shakes cover of the song soon, please?
Best Terrible American Idol Audition: Juanes
Dude, have you ever heard "Your Song" before? It doesn't sound like this. If this was American Idol, Nicki Minaj would be giving you a nickname, telling her she loves you boo, and sending you home to pursue other dreams.
Best Performance That Was Shorter Than a Teaser Trailer for the Actual Movie Trailer: Hunter Hayes
Dude, they give you a piano with your lyrics written all over it, and all you get to do is sing a few bars and then throw it Carrie Underwood and her technicolor dream dress?
Performance Most Likely to Make the Performer a Laughing Stock For the Foreseeable Future: LL Cool J
After Mumford and Sons were awarded their Album of the Year trophy, we were all ready to say goodnight, but LL Cool J insisted on continuing the show, like the guy who can't accept the bar is closing at 4 AM. He was still singing at the top of his lungs (or in this case, rapping) as the commercials started rolling and folks started filing out of the Staples Center. Sorry LL, but you're going to get a lot of s**t for this one.
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In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.