When you're in high school it feels like the whole world is against you. In writer/director Stephen Chbosky's high school-set The Perks of Being a Wallflower the whole world may actually be against Charlie (Logan Lerman) whose freshman year of high school should be listed in the dictionary under "Murphy's Law." Plagued by memories of two significant deaths as well as general social anxiety Charlie takes a passive approach to ninth grade. A few days of general bullying later he falls into a friendship with two misfit seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) who teach him how to live life without fear. Perks starts off with a disadvantage: introverts aren't terribly engaging but Chbosky surrounds Charlie with a vivid cast of characters who help him blossom and inject the coming-of-age tale with a necessary energy.
Set in a timeless version of the '90s Charlie's world is full of handwritten journals mixtapes and a just-tolerable amount of tweed. He writes letters to a nameless recipient as a way of venting a preventative measure to keep the teen from repeating a vague incident that previously left him hospitalized. The drab background of Pittsburgh fits perfectly with Charlie's blank existence. And when he finally comes to life as part of Patrick and Sam's off-beat clique so does the city. Like the archaic vinyl records Sam lusters over (The Smiths of course!) Chbosky visualizes Charlie's journey through the underbelly of suburban Pennsylvania with a raw emotion blooming lights and film grit at every turn. Michael Brook's score and an adeptly curated soundtrack accompanies the episodic affair which centers on Charlie's search for a song he hears during the most important moment of his life.
The charm that keeps The Perks of Being a Wallflower from collapsing under its own super seriousness come from Chbosky's perfectly cast ensemble. Lerman has a thankless job playing Charlie; often constrained to a half-smile and shy shrug Lerman is never allowed to grapple with Charlie's greatest fears and problems until (too) late in the film. Watson nails the spunky object-of-everyone's-affection but she's outshined by Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth another rebellious friend in the pack who takes a liking to Charlie. The real star turn is Miller riding high from We Need to Talk About Kevin and taking a complete 180 with Patrick a rambunctious wiseass who struggles to have an openly gay relationship with the football captain but covers his pain with humor. A scene of confrontation — at where else the cafeteria — is one of the best scenes of the year.
Chbosky adapted Perks of Being a Wallflower from his own book and the movie feels stifled by a looming structure. But it nails the emotional beats — there is no obvious path to surviving high school. It's messy shocking and occasionally beautiful. That about sums up Perks.
I predicted it. You predicted it. Even Charles H. Duell could have predicted it. In fact, all were so sure that a Phillip Phillips win was on the horizon, I wrote this first paragraph before American Idol's finale even began.
But it turns out it's true: Our laid-back growler Phillip survived the pain of kidney stones and the torture of awkward group performances to be crowned Season 11's American Idol. And though he might be the unconventional choice (despite the prevalence of rock-inclined male winners of the past), it was a deserved victory — the singer only experienced one vocal setback, "Time of the Season," and is the only Idol since Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia to make a victory song even slightly listenable. Sorry, Jessica Sanchez. Broken Hearts go to this link.
But you’d be cold-hearted to not love the finale’s final moments, during which an overcome Phillip was reduced to happy (or relieved?) tears, unable to sing more than a verse of his first single, “Home.” It’s a great reminder of the artist’s dedication — no matter how many funny faces or sardonic comments he makes at Ryan Seacrest, Phillip Phillips was hopelessly devoted to Idol. Just as much as at least half of 132 million voters were to him.
No doubt, however, the singer has a struggle ahead of him. It’s no secret that Idol’s male rockers have tried hard to tow the difficult line between rock legitimacy and being on a reality series that forced them to dress in funny costumes to shill Ford’s latest model. Of course, luckily (or unluckily) for Phillip, his poor health forced him to skip most of the Ford Music Video shoots, sparing him any future humiliation, but few in his position and genre have surged onto the music charts like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
That said, it certainly doesn’t hurt that his first single is far more listenable than other victory songs of seasons past, which tended to focus too much on rainbows (David Cook), dreams (Kris Allen), and childish grammatical errors (Scotty McCreery), concepts that don’t quite meet Daughtry-esque standards. Instead, “Home” is actually a radio-ready track, something you would feasibly want playing in the background this summer as you sit barbecuing burgers and drinking Old Style Genuine Draft.
But Phillip’s inability to sing more than the first minute of his new track wasn’t the only proof that the finale wasn’t about the music after all: Though the series’ finales typically serve us an Idol ice cream sundae — mixing together all the best elements of all the season’s best singers, with a celebrity guest singer cherry on top — Season 11’s bow served us a popsicle, offering plenty of non-musical stickiness that was no less delicious to ingest. I’m speaking first, of course, of the best surprise of the night: The emergence of diva catsuits. If there’s anything I expected less than Phillip dressed up as a Marshall Applewhite follower at the outset of the episode, it’s Fantasia and Chaka Khan rocking Jennifer Lopez’s 2010 wardrobe. Look, I’m not a fan of body-snarking. And I’m hardly an expert fashionista, seeing as shirts covered in cat pictures occupied most of my closets until I was 15 years old. But not since Nutty Professor have I seen anyone so enthusiastic about Spandex. I hope I’m confident enough at 59 to dress like our “Tell Me Something Good” singer, but I sure hope I’m dead enough before someone slaps Fantasia’s bedazzled Batsuit on me.
NEXT: Indecent proposalSo while Fantasia and Chaka Khan’s wardrobe made it impossible to pay attention to the former’s “Take Me To the Pilot” duet with Joshua and the latter’s “Ain’t Nobody”/”I’m Every Woman” medley with the women, it was impossible not to stare wide-eyed at another terrible/awesome non-musical moment: Idol’s segment inside Steven Tyler’s dressing room. Between the Playboy bunnies, the sloth, and the rocker’s supposed sister aggressively making out with someone right in front of him, I felt like I had stepped into an episode of Mad Men through Roger Sterling’s LSD-fueled psyche. Or New York’s hottest club, Meth Nightmare.
But the night’s most uncomfortably entertaining non-musical moment came courtesy of Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, an Idol power couple I found out about just days ago, despite the fact that they’ve been dating for two years. (I’m enraged! Why do I not get such important inter-Idol dating news sent to me via text alert?! #CNNFail) Now, I’m as big an Idol fan as they come, and watching two alums get engaged on the finale stage is a bigger jackpot than watching Paula and Simon’s Season 2 kiss on a continuous loop. Unfortunately (or fortunately for us viewers), Ace’s proposal was the equivalent of a jackpot at Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal: As tacky as Tara Conner in daisy dukes. (Excuse me for a minute — I’m short-circuiting on metaphor overload. Beewwwwwwwwop! Okay! Rebooted!) It’s true every woman wants a romantic proposal set in a meaningful location, but, last I checked, “Will you marry me?” typically isn’t paired with, “With the help of David Webb jewelry… “ Let’s just be thankful it wasn’t Coke, Ford, or Bravo? Aww, shucks, I’m still a sucker for Idol romance — good luck to those kids. Here’s hoping they have a long, happy life, and many healthy babies who come out of the womb singing “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” or “Against All Odds.”
Of course, all these unexpected diversions only partly distracted from the fact that there were a few quality musical performances throughout the finale. Though Season 11’s bow didn’t boast the star power of seasons past (though I get miffed when big acts — ahem, Rihanna and, yes, Jennifer Lopez — show up to the reality series finale, only to not perform with any members of our Top 12), a few helped show off our young contestants’ abilities. Take Reba McEntire, who sang alongside Skylar Laine while sweetly still allowing the young country hopeful to step into the spotlight. The two singers were nearly indistinguishable during “Turn On the Radio” — not only did they look alike, but Skylar managed to brandish an on-stage presence that rivaled the country star spitfire. No wonder our fifth place finisher dressed like a pirate — girl stole the show! (Not to mention outshined Season 10 runner-up Lauren Alaina, who boasted a “moment” with the song during semifinals. Yarg.)
NEXT: Diva Duel!And how could I forget the epic diva duel between 16-year-old runner-up Jessica Sanchez and Jennifer Holliday? Reba and Skylar’s number might have been collaboration, but Jessica and Jennifer’s was a friendly competition. There was no word that Jessica could enunciate that Jennifer couldn’t over-enunciate harder. There was no note Jennifer could sing that Jessica couldn’t sing louder. There was no hair Jessica could flip that Jennifer couldn’t flip faster. It was thrilling; it was awe-inspiring; it was revenge against any voter who didn’t call AT&T for Jessica. It was also aggression we haven’t seen from Jessica in weeks. It's obvious the young contestant performs much better when she’s actually having fun on the stage. Getting the opportunity to match vocal chords with one of her idols does more for her on-stage spirit than forcing her to rehash a tired Whitney Houston ballad for the umpteenth time. (Yes, “I Will Always Love You” repeat performance, I’m looking at you.) And how lucky was Jessica to go out on such a powerful note with Holliday? Idol’s introduction might have insisted that both our final two’s “stories will end very differently,” but is that even remotely true? Last I checked, both Phillip and Jessica were a lock for recording contracts — and perhaps the young, sheltered Jessica is better off enjoying hers out of the high-pressure Idol spotlight.
But if Jessica and Phillip deserve contracts, so do Skylar, Colton — the only consistently on-key performer in the rest of the best — and Joshua, if only for simply shrugging his shoulders and moving on after an embarrassing fall during the Top 12’s “Runaway Baby” group performance. (A number far more entertaining than the boys’ ill-advised Neil Diamond medley. Diamond himself sounds so karaoke singing “Sweet Caroline,” I couldn’t help but immediately go on karaoke autopilot, getting up to go to the bathroom to bide time until the song was finished.) And Jimmy Iovine himself deserves a contract… to sit on the judges’ table. Especially after learning that the producer consistently calls Jennifer Lopez “Jessica,” we cannot possibly pass up the opportunity to watch the diva gradually fill with pent-up rage throughout the season. Idol, it’s worth whatever number Jennifer’s currently floating your way.
But there we have it — another season come and gone, allowing us Idol fans to finally get some Vitamin C and a life. That is, of course, until the American Idols LIVE! tour comes to our town… Ugh, I'm already going through withdrawal! Forget barbecues and the beach — is it January 2013 yet? But tell me, friends: Were you satisfied with the Season 11 conclusion? Or did Jessica’s numerous appearances throughout the finale make her seem more worthy of the win over Phillip, who only sang with CCR’s John Fogerty and, later, his runner-up? Does anyone else wonder if the living legends who agree to sing with our contestants feel peeved hearing the audience scream louder for someone else covering their own song? Are you jealous that Phillip somehow managed to get 10 hours of sleep and you didn’t? Did Ryan’s declaration that “We look forward to making many more memories next season” in front of the judges’ table mean that Jennifer might indeed be returning to us in Season 12? Do you, like me, get angry when unpopular dark horses like Hollie Cavanagh get more singing time than unfairly eliminated musicians like Colton? Oh my god, remember Jeremy Rosado? Did you too have a five-minute conversation with your dad about how Dean Cain was not, in fact, on Early Edition? And, finally, what am I going to do now on Wednesday and Thursday nights?! Read books?! Help.
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
[Image Credit: FOX]
American Idol: Dream Duets For the Finale
Phillip Phillips Backstage at Idol: 'I Was Scared to Death'
American Idol Recap: Opposites Attract
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.
What a year 2002 has been for Eminem. His new album, The Eminem Show, sold 7.4 million copies and his feature film debut 8 Mile has been one of the most successful pop music films in history. But Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers III, says he may be getting too big. "It's almost getting to the point where I truly believe I may be getting too big for my own good," he told the Detroit Free Press, "and I never really asked for that." The 30-year-old rapper, who has given up drugs and works out daily, said he also fears his success and newfound mainstream acceptance may do more harm than good. "When everyone loves you, who's left to hate you?" he said. "The kids want something they can hold on to that their parents hate. I know I did growing up. I didn't want to listen to anything my parents listened to." Looks like the bad boy of rap knows a good marketing strategy when he sees it.
Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling was the top woman earner in Britain this year, according to an annual list in The Mail on Sunday newspaper. Rowling, whose enchanting annual pay of $77 million was six times the salary of Queen Elizabeth, was followed on the list by Madonna, investment banker Robin Saunders, The Weakest Link host Anne Robinson and Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Pop singer Justin Timberlake, who hired a look-alike of his ex-girlfriend Britney Spears in the video for his new single "Cry Me a River," is denying that the video is about their breakup. "I feel I became so consumed about her that I didn't see some things that I should have seen," Timberlake told Vibe magazine. "I don't feel like I'm saying too much when I say she knows why this happened."
On Friday a federal judge blocked the deportation of English-born rapper Ricky "Slick Rick" Walters stemming from his attempted murder conviction for shooting a cousin, the cousin's pregnant girlfriend and a bystander, The Associated Press reports. The rapper pleaded guilty to the shooting, which occurred in 1990, and spent five years in a New York prison. Walters was arrested in June by Immigration and Naturalization Service agents enforcing a U.S. law requiring deportation of foreigners convicted of violent felonies and has been in jail since.
Hip-hop star-turned-actress Queen Latifah is scheduled to be arraigned today on not-so-regal drunk driving charges following her arrest near Universal City, Calif., last month, according to City News Services. The performer was stopped on Nov. 20 after she allegedly made an unsafe lane change on the Hollywood Freeway. She was arrested on suspicion of DUI after failing a field sobriety test. According to California Highway Patrol Officer Alex Delgadillo, Queen Latifah, whose real name is Dana Owens, cooperated with officers and was released on $2,500 bail.
Eva Mendes, who played Denzel Washington's kept girlfriend in the police actioner Training Day, will be reunited with her on-screen love interest for MGM's fall thriller Out of Time. The film revolves around a small-town police officer who steals money from the evidence room to runaway with his lover. But when she double-crosses him, he discovers the affair was a setup and vows to seek revenge. The film, which also stars Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain, is scheduled for release Oct. 3, 2003.
Superior Court Judge R. Bruce Minto ordered rapper and producer Master P to pay $105,000 in punitive damages to a grandmother whose voice was secretly recorded and used to introduce a track on artist Magic's album Sky's the Limit, the AP reports. Geneva Burger, 80, said she didn't know a conversation with a friend of her grandson was being taped when she asked, "When people get hooked on pot, can they get sick if they don't get it?" She said she suffered embarrassment and anxiety when she heard her voice on a "crude gangsta rap CD."