Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Posh Spice Reality TV Deal

Why would NBC pay $20 million to make a reality series about Victoria Beckham that DOESN'T include her world-famous socceer playing husband David Beckham? I can understand keeping the kids off camera. (That's a nice and unepxected show of restraint.) But not Beckham, one of the most well-known athletes that's ever lived? It makes no sense.

Husband Admits Faking Wife's Classical CDs

As I suspected and hoped, it seems to have been a love story. The husband faked the recordings to mask the groans his wife made during recordings, brought on by her fight with cancer. Small patches grew bigger and bigger until he just slapped her name on entire recordings by other artists. It's still unclear whether she knew or now. Did he keep her away from the released recordings? Did he play her them and watch her marvel at how much better it seemed than when she was recording? (This seems unlikely, given how any artist at that level should instantly recognize a recording as not being by them.) In any case, it's a truly amazing tale of deception and love and I can't wait to see the movie.

Daniel Radcliffe -- The Reviews

Not bad, actually. Not bad. The BBC was especially friendly, saying "the overriding impression is of a gifted young actor casting off the shackles of a restrictive screen persona." The Guardian was also kind, saying Radcliffe "really can act." But I'm more inclined to suspect Variety, the Times of London and Nicholas De Jongh of the Evening Standard are more on target when they found Radcliffe AND Richard Griffiths AND the play rather lacking, despite a still simmering theatricality that can make you forget the absurd pop psychology at the heart of the show. I'm seeing it next Wednesday.

Billboard's Top 10 CDs -- Norah Still On Top

God loves rappers! Former DC Talk member tobyMac debuts at #10 with his new solo album. Billboard describes this as a "slow week" for sales. Here's a suggestion: save us all some time and just let us know when it's a FAST week for sales. In a sign of weak times, Norah Jones is the first artist to be at #1 for three weeks (and not even in a row) since "Now 22" last summer. I often pooh-pooh people who say the sky is falling because of low CDs sales, pointing out the billions being spent on ringtones and ringmasters alone, which certainly diverts a lot of funds. Last year, $1 billion was spent on ringtones, etc. If you think of $20 as equivalent to an album (and most people count $10), that's equal to 50 million CDs being sold, or about 1 million extra CDs a week that aren't being counted. That's a LOT of money; it just isn't reflected in the album charts. But a 17% drop from last week and last year is still a 17% percent drop. That's pretty steep.

1. Norah Jones -- "Not Too Late"
2. Daughtry -- "Daughtry"
3. Fall Out Boy -- "Infinity On High"
4. Various Artists -- "Kidz Bop 11"
5. Akon -- "Konvicted"
6. Robin Thicke -- "The Evolution Of Robin Thicke"
7. Justin Timberlake -- "FutureSex/LoveSounds"
8. Corinne Bailey Rae -- "Corinne Bailey Rae"
9. Gerald Levert -- "In My Songs"
10. tobyMac -- "Portable Sounds"

Controversial Mickey Mantle Book Due Out This Spring

"7: A Mickey Mantle Novel" was the straw that broke the camel's back for bottom-feeding but very commercially successful publisher Judith Regan. She was fired when the Mantle book created an uproar on the heels of her sleazy OJ Simpson sort-of-tell-all-with-my-fingers-crossed book. Now Publishers Weekly says the Mantle book is coming out this spring exactly as it was and they even include a review of its lazy, lame "revelations." Personally, I don't understand why anyone is paying the slightest bit of attention to it. It begins with Mantle in heaven talking about old times, so it's clearly not intended to be a serious biography. It has Mantle telling crude jokes, sleeping with Marilyn Monroe and so on -- but since it's all sheer speculation not worth taking seriously and certainly isn't presented in a serious manner, who cares? Do I want to read it? No. Does it besmirch the name of the Mick? Only if you think fictional works that have zero relation to reality actually matter. If this were EL Doctorow presenting Mantle as a foul figure, I could understand commenting. But even then, I don't go to Doctorow to get my history. Why would anyone who likes the Mick given "7" a second thought, much less free publicity by condemning it?

Oscar Slights The Dead

Here's a nice blog entry at Huffington Post (pointed out to me by fellow IRA member George Robinson). It takes the Oscars to task for slighting some big names in its memorial tribute. Obviously, they can't include EVERYONE, but surely any Oscar nominee or winner (like Malcolm Arnold, who wrote the score for "The Bridge On The River Kwai," which included one of the most famous themes in movie history) should be a given. If they had added every person mentioned in this post, it would have increased the show's lengthy by 30 seconds. Golly, would that mean one last glimpse of Pilobolus?

Overnight TV Ratings -- "Fifth Graders" Very Smart Indeed

It's amazing to think that for many, many years -- essentially decades -- gameshows were basically absent from primetime. With "Deal Or No Deal" propping up NBC's schedule, filler like "1 Vs 100" doing yeoman's work" and now "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader" getting a HUGE sampling after "Idol," the networks must be asking themselves, "What were we thinking?" Gameshows are cheap, family friendly entertainment. "Fifth Grader" was slightly better than most of the recent idiotic entries like "Identity." But it has the same problem must current ones do: it takes FOREVER for them to ask a question. Every round involves an explanation of the rules, banter, byplay, some commentary, numerous options and then finally the question and answer. Merv Griffin -- the king of gameshows -- would never stand for such a pokey format. The addition of kids could create a few Cosby-like moments of genuine cuteness, though those were very absent last night. And I'll be interested to see if it's the same kids every night or an ever-changing cast. Jeff Foxworthy clearly helped bring in the heartland, but his quips were mild in the extreme though not harmful. The questions were actually kind of hard every once in a while, since it involved modest facts most adults haven't contemplated for years. How many sides does a trapezoid have? Who was the first president to be impeached? And personally, I hadn't a clue what month Colombus Day takes place in. But how dumb are the adults? The guy didn't get a single question right and the gal didn't even remember the Mayflower was the boat the pilgrims came in on. I can see families watching this with the added advantage that kids could actually do better than their parents -- something that wasn't true on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." But it's oh so slow and an hour-long format will seem interminable. Speed it up and it could do okay. But this was a great sampling, reaching 26 million people and holding on to almost all the "Idol" audience. Typically, "Idol" reached almost the same viewers than the other networks combined. Can't wait to see the ratings explode when we hit the final 12. For a complete ratings breakdown, go to MediaWeek's Marc Berman.

8 p.m
1. American Idol -- 30.44 million viewers
2. NCIS -- 16.20 million
3. Dateline -- 6.10 million
4. America's Funniest Home Videos (r)-- 5.81 million
5. Gilmore Girls -- 4.08 million

9 p.m.
1. American Idol -- 30.44 million/Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? -- 26.57 million
2. The Unit -- 12.81 million
3. Law & Order: Criminal Intent -- 9.29 million
4. Primetime Live: The Outsiders -- 5.41 million
5. Veronica Mars -- 2.74 million

10 p.m.
1. Law & Order: SVU -- 11.72 million
2. Criminal Minds (r) -- 10.52 million
3. To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports -- 10.11 million

"American Idol" Recap

A big improvement for the guys from last week. They don't seem quite so outclassed by the ladies. A nice shout-out to Jennifer Hudson at the beginning; short and sweet and appropriate. Indeed, anyone who makes the final 12 and gets that weekly national exposure that is invaluable and goes on to make a mark of any sort is indeed a credit to "Idol" and the work of their behind-the-scenes producers (who sit through tens of thousands of auditions) and the three judges who winnow them down a small group of just a few dozen. Jennifer Hudson has wavered back and forth, being polite about the leg-up of "Idol" but also saying that if she'd won the entire thing that she would never have been in a place where she could have auditioned for "Dreamgirls" and got the part. That's absurd and she knows it -- the massive audition came down to Hudson and...Fantasia, the winner of the show the season Hudson was in the final Top 12. Fantasia was available and ready and darn near got the role. Fantasia has also starred in a TV movie (about herself) and will star on Broadway in "The Color Purple." Saying the winner of "Idol" would be too busy to star in a major new movie musical is just silly. The opposite is far more true: if Jennifer Hudson hadn't been in the Top 12, she probably wouldn't have been within a mile of the film auditions. Yes, talent will out but lucky breaks and national exposure sure help and "Idol" will always deserve credit for showcasing Hudson's talent.

PHIL STACEY -- he played the military card, again, by dedicating his song to his fellow men and women in uniform. The photograph of his pals was unintentionally hilarious -- one guy had a fey, come hither look on his face, with another sailor resting his head on the guy's soldier and next to Stacey was a pretty boy sailor. It looked like the Village People's "In The Navy" world. Singing John Waites' "Missing You," Stacey aka Bat Boy was for most of the show the most improved. his vocals were much better all the way through, and not just when he went for a rock vibe, but even during the quiet passages. Good enough to stick around a few more weeks.

Then we got our first random shot of Jeff Foxworthy, who hosted the slow-moving but somewhat tricky quiz show "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?" During the interviews between Ryan and the contestants meant to pad out the episode to a too-lengthy 90 minutes, AJ looked super-nervous as he tapped his toes while answering a question.

JARED COTTER -- Dedicated to his folks. Looking very nice in a dressy but casual suit sans tie, Jared tried to channel Marvin Gaye while singing "Lets' Get It On." It was smooth, but draggy and he was about as sexy as a Cub Scout. He was performing in front of his parents and didn't have to be embarrassed for a moment, whereas if you're really digging into Gaye's salacious ode, your mom should be red-faced while her baby gets seriously worked up. He was imitating sexy quite nicely but not genuinely passionate. And the hand down the face at the end was absurd, marring a so-so finale. Still, the vocals were fine. But Simon's ref to a performance on a cruise ship, specifically The Lvoe Boat, was spot-on as usual.

On a night filled with sexual double entendres and gay refs, Ryan blurted out "The things we've done to that song. Memories!" It was odd but more genuine than anything in Jared's performance.

AJ TABALDO -- Dedicated to his folks. AJ sang Michael Buble's "Feeling Good" and looked very nice in a vest, classy but not too "adult." I thought he performed well, with his vocals being his best so far. But his moves were so choreographed, I couldn't help feeling he'd practiced them a thousand times before alone in his bedroom, in front of a mirror. He hit the big notee towards the end, something that can always get you through to the next round. But agin AJ waved his hand in the air and looked like a club kid at Splash or some other gay bar. Obviously it doesn't bother me, but isn't there just something too gay about his performance style that is gonna hurt AJ down the road? Hence Simon's pointed comment that "You looked strangely comfortable" performing.

SANJAYA MALAKER-- Dedicated to his grandfather. Wearing a dorky hat, Sanjaya sang the standard "Stepping Out" in a thin, small voice that was so quiet, I was constantly worried he would be drowned out by the musicians. He had an absolutely awful finale and was timid while singing and even more timid while talking with the judges, sounding like a Michael Jackson-wannabe. Like AJ, he was way too choreographed, with lots of little moves that were over-rehearsed. Back to back, they both just seemed super-gay to me. A disaster.

CHRIS SLIGH -- Dedicated to his wife. He sang "Trouble," and was smooth and confident throughout. Sligh will easily get through the next round and while we can't expect a dramatic makeover (he's just a big guy), I don't think he's even come close to showing off his vocal ability yet. This is one contestant who is going to keep sounding better and keep impressing. Despite his popularity, as a singer Sligh has almost been under the radar. He clearly won't be peaking too soon as far as showing off his talent.

NICK PEDRO -- Dedicated to his girlfriend. A decent but passion-less performance of "Fever," with too many shots of the drummer by the director. (As I've said before, one or at most two shots of the musicians and backup singers is plenty; anything more just detracts from the singer.) Nick was very rough right before the finale and overall I couldn't shake the feeling that he came across as Sanjaya's older brother. The judges were far too nice (not Simon, of course) and Nick FINALLY made the "Vote For Pedro!" joke we'd all been waiting for. That alone might get him through to the next round; that and his nice guy looks.

More sexual banter from the judges, with Ryan trying to make fun of Simon's clothes by saying they should dress Nick in tight black shirts and he should rub his hands all over his chest and Simon saying, "Calm down, Ryan." They will seemingly never tire of gay banter. And clearly, the odd moments from last week between them were just that -- moments.

BLAKE LEWIS -- Dedicated to his folks. He had on a very goofy hat and sang Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity." I thought it was a fun performance, with some good beatboxing and some shaky falsetto towards the end. But his singing was undistinguished and not terribly strong, especially in the first part where he was singing the song straight. Plus his pants were too baggy for nice grey slacks and looked terrible with white sneakers. I'd place him in the middle, but the judges loved it, except for Simon.

More gay banter from Simon, when Ryan asked if "they" were dating, meaning Simon and Paula and Simon responded with "Who? Me and Randy?" because gay banter never, ever gets old.

BRANDON ROGERS -- Dedicated to his late grandmother. He sang Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" with his mom tearing up in the audience. Unfortunately, his vocals were terrible. He had a horrible beginning, was weak on the chorus and generally just awful. It was his dad's b-day and maybe that coupled with a pillorying from Simon wil get him through to the next round. But it won't be his singing that does it. Simon finally punctured the obnoxiousness of dedication week, but saying, "It's my mum's November." and "I like puppies. I LOVE puppies." Brandon also scored points here by laughing along with the joke, as he should have.

CHRIS RICHARDSON -- Dedicated to his grandmother, who is living, thus giving Brandon a leg up on Chris. He sang "Geek Into Pink" and I thought he was way too jerky with his dance moves; personally, I was starting to get seasick. His vocals were okay, but not exceptional to me. His strong suit is that he's doing hip-hop while everyone else is mired in older styles, so Chris seems modern in comparison. (Frankly, this could have been standards night, what with Fever and Stepping Out and Feeling Good.) But the judges loved him, with Simon saying he was the best by a mile. But wait....

SUNDANCE -- dedicatd to his son Levi, with Sundance scoring points by tearing up when he said he missed his kid, who was just learning how to smile. Sundance FINALLY gave a decent performance of the warhorse "Mustang Sally." He'd been so awful and didn't deserve in the least to still be here and he knew it. The difference was so dramatic it sounded like the second coming. Yes, he was the most improved, but he went from awful to good, not awful to great. A million bar bands do that song just as rousingly every night. But it was good, though I have no confidence he can maintain his mojo on theme nights.

GOODBYE -- to Sanjaya and Brandon Rogers, if there's any justice.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Blogger Down For Me ALL Day

This is the first time I could access my blog all day or even edit earlier items (like my ref to "The Dearpted" in a headline instead of "The Departed" that was driving me to dirnk, I mean drink.

The Met Adds Seven New Productions

In a smart creative move, the Met is moving away from emphasizing world premieres. They'll let shows debut elsewhere -- like the revival of Philip Glass's Satyagraha in London -- and then bring it to NYC after it's been road-tested, just like they do with a Broadway show. This will give the creative talents involved a chance to tweak their shows, especially important for new works. I'm especially looking forward to John Doyle tackling "Peter Grimes" and Audra McDonald (hopefully) starring in John Adams' "Doctor Atomic."

"The Departed" Principals Announce Deals

Flush with their Oscar success, everyone associated with "The Departed" is making deals. There is, of course, a sequel in the works, a development astonishing in and of itself for Martin Scorsese. But Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan and star Leonardo DiCaprio are also teaming together on a remake of another Hong Kong actioner, this one called "Confessions of Pain." In it, a cop and a private eye work together to solve the murder of the cop's father-in-law. Scorsese has a piece on the last duel in the works, as well as that "Departed" sequel. But first he has the Rolling Stones concert film out in the fall. And he and Monahan and Mick Jagger are teaming up on "The Long Play," which follows two buddies through 40 years of rock n roll -- from r&b to hip-hop. Plus, Monahan is working on a Marco Polo project for Matt Damon.

Fans Freak Over "Naked" Harry Potter

Actor Daniel Radcliffe was mobbed by fans of Peter Shaffer's "Equus" -- okay, actually he was mobbed by 400+ fans of "Harry Potter" who wouldn't know Peter Shaffer if he came to their homes and offered to perform "Amadeus" as a one-man show. That's not surprising. What IS surprising is the claim that costar Richard Griffiths exited via a window to escape the mob. "Maybe he escaped via a PICTURE window," said biboy. Indeed, even the people involved said it wasn't easy.
For Griffiths, the maneuver proved difficult, according to the show's producer David Pugh. "You try to get Richard Griffiths out of a back window – it was a bit touch and go," Pugh told London's Evening Standard of the substantial-sized actor who also plays Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Potter movies.
The show opens Tuesday night in London. I'll be seeing it Wednesday during the matinee. And yes, I didn't buy the tickets but they are rather close to the stage. (Hey, unless it's a musical you WANT to be as close as possible.)

Overnight TV Ratings -- "Black Donnellys" Bleak

The debut episode of "The Black Donnellys" did only marginally better than the sad final shows of "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip." And given the massive promotional push NBC gave it, that has to be considered a disappointment. If it drops in week two, this could be good news for "Studio 60," which would have lost its slot for good if TBD had worked. Some critics who've seen the first five episodes say the second is a jump in quality but I'm certainly not inclined to watch again. Two minutes into the show, we were in a bar with Van Morrison playing -- thanks for the obvious. Actually, that was the only bearable music cue of the entire episode, with some miserable pop (perhaps Celtic Woman or something?) blaring throughout the action scenes with electronica gurgling in the background. And the look of the show was ludicrous. Apparently, they began each scene by turning off each and every light within a five mile radius. Sure, a smoky pub might be dark and certainly an alley way. But every single home and bar and restaurant and store, down to a diner and a hospital cafeteria, were gloomy and dark and murky and, frasnkly, silly. I personally had a strong hatred for "Crash" so if you liked that movie you might want to take my comments with a grain of salt. But everything here had a false, manic tone from the unreliable narrator who told us the life story of the lovable thieves the Donnellys to the "surprise" ending that simply made everything we've been told about these guys seem absurdly off base. As for "Heroes," the episode focused on Claire and her family and was especially involving. Maybe they'll realize we don't need little cross-cutting plots every single weekl. For a complete ratings breakdown, go to MediaWeek's Marc Berman.

8 p.m.
1. Deal Or No Deal -- 17.35 million viewers
2. Prison Break -- 9.39 million
3. How I Met Your Mother -- 9.42 million/The Class -- 8.90 million
4. Wife Swap -- 8.98 million
5. Everybody Hates Chris -- 2.80 million/All Of Us -- 2.44 million

9 p.m.
1. Two and a Half Men -- 16.70 million /Rules Of Engagement -- 13.73 million
2. Heroes -- 14.27 million
3. 24 -- 12.81 million
4. Supernanny -- 10.15 million
5. Girlfriends -- 2.49 million/The Game -- 2.47 million

10 p.m.
1. CSI: Miami -- 17.24 million
2. Building A Dream: The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy -- 8.85 million
3. The Black Donnellys -- 8.42 million

Why Eddie Murphy Lost

According to Roger Friedman of, Murphy bolted from the Oscars the moment he lost to Alan Arkin. Didn't wait to see Jennifer Hudson win. Didn't wait to cheer on his costars as they performed a "Dreamgirls" medley. Didn't go to after parties and hobnob and pretend it was an honor just to be nominated. Just left, bitter about losing an award he acted as if he didn't really want in the first place. Hollywood is a small town and they like people who can at least pretend to support the community. Murphy can take solace in the fact that he's one of the most successful movie stars of all time and easily the most successful black actor of all time, though Will Smith looks set to give him a serious run for his money. By the way, Friedman is the only one I saw who reported on Murphy bolting from the show. Kudos to him for seeing the significance of what should have been obvious to everyone in attendance in LA.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My Oscar Roundup

Here's a link to my rambling Oscar roundup. I'll keep this link at the top all day today.

Weekend Box Office -- "Ghost Rider" Fading But #1

Thanks to little or no competition, "Ghost Rider" remained #1 at the box office despite dropping almost 60% from its opening weekend. Given its reviews, I wonder if it feels like a hit or a flop to Nicolas Cage. Probably a bit of both, I imagine. As I predicted, "The Number 23" opened even lower than the modest expectations of everyone. By the way, it grossed $15.1 million and when you add up the numbers in the title and the gross (2+3+1+5+1) you get 12 and 12 ends in "2" and 12 is 1 and 2 and 1+2 = 3 which is 23. Oh my God, isn't that amazing? If it had been $15.2 million, that wouldn't have worked, but it was $15.1 million and it DID. I am getting all creeped out, aren't you?The Top 10, per Box Office Prophets.

1. Ghost Rider -- $19.7 million ($78.7 million total)
2. The Number 23 -- $15.1 million total
3. Bridge To Terabithia -- $13.6 million ($46.2 million total)
4. Reno: 911! Miami -- $10.4 million total
5. Norbit -- $9.7 million ($74.7 million total)
6. Music and Lyrics -- $8 million ($32.1 million total)
7. Breach -- $6.2 million ($20.5 million total)
8. Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls -- $5.3 million ($25.6 million total)
9. The Astronaut Farmer -- $4.5 million total
10. Amazing Grace -- $4.3 million total

The Bestseller List -- Scrotum!

"The Higher Power Of Lucky," the children's book that shocked a nation by using the word "scrotum" (I kid, of course) moves up to #2 on the children hardcover list. Meanwhile, the fiction list remains devoid of serious fiction, with Norman Mailer dropping off right quick down to #19. If book sales were votes, Barack Obama would be our next President, since his "Audacity Of Hope" is still #1 on the nonfiction list. And shhhhhh, but the #1 advice book is "The Secret."

Director James Cameron Finds Tomb Of Jesus, Wife Mary Magdalene and Their Son, Judah

Or so he thinks. But before you start questioning it, I should say that Cameron points out that statistical analysis and DNA back him up. So there.
"It doesn't get bigger than this," he said in a press release.

"We've done our homework; we've made the case; and now it's time for the debate to begin."

Local residents said they were pleased with the attention the tomb has drawn.

"It will mean our house prices will go up because Christians will want to live here," one woman said.

Kaiser Chiefs #1 in UK

Kaiser Chiefs put on one of the funnest small gigs I'd seen in ages when I caught them in a tiny bar in Jersey. Now they're back on top of the UK charts with the first single off their new album, "Ruby." They push Mika down to #2 with his smash hit, "Grace Kelly," while Amy Winehouse does the same to Mika on the album chart. Meanwhile, my beloved Magic Numbers slip onto the charts at #36 with their new song, which has the rather explanatory name of "This Is A Song."

Overnight TV Ratings -- "Oscars" Ratings Okay

The Ellen-hosted Oscars rated just a shade under 40 million, which is about the average for the past five years. (A recent high point was 55 million viewers when "Titanic" swept, but declining ratings have been the trend for all awards shows.) And of course, I called it the "Ellen-hosted" Oscars because while it's the movies that really draw the audience, everyone holds the host responsible for the ratings. Personally, I think Ellen was the closest to the amiable, but self-deprectating charm of Johnny Carson as anyone I've ever seen. I'd rather see her for the next ten years than Billy Crystal for one. Note: the Oscar audience is the average for the entire evening. Hour by hour breakdowns of the audience weren't available.For a complete ratings breakdown, go to MediaWeek's Marc Berman.

7 P.M.
1. Barbara Walters Oscar Special -- 19.66 million
2. NASCAR overrun -- 11.96 million
3. 60 Minutes -- 9.26 million total viewers
4. Dateline -- 5.01 million
5. Reba (r) -- 2.60 million/Reba (r) -- 3.20 million

8 p.m.
1. Road To The Oscars -- 32.93 million/The 79th Annual Academy Awards -- 39.48
2. The Amazing Race: All-Stars -- 8.19 million
3. The Simpsons (r) -- 8.37 million/The Simpsons (r) -- 7.83 million
4. Grease: You're The One That I Want -- 4.59 million
5. 7th Heaven (r) -- 2.42 million

9 p.m.
1. The 79th Annual Academy Awards -- 39.48 million
2. Without A Trace (r) -- 8.38 million
3. Family Guy (r) -- 7.91 million/Family Guy (r) -- 7.84
4. Crossing Jordan (r) -- 4.11 million
5. Beauty and the Geek (r) -- 1.28 million

10 p.m.
1. The 79th Annual Academy Awards -- 39.48 million
2. Cold Case (r) -- 7.24 million
3. Crossing Jordan -- 6.66 million

Oh, Oscar

No, no, no. Pilobolus was not the low point of the evening. It was the HIGH point of the evening. (Perhaps literally.) No other event of similar proportions manages to come up with bizarre, unexpected, laughably awful touches as consistently as the Academy Awards. Nothing in our lifetimes will ever match the surreal spectacle of Rob Lowe dueting with Snow White on "Proud Mary" amidst dancing, twirling tables, of course. But what was producer Laura Ziskin smoking when she decided to invite Pilobolus to the show? How did such a thought even begin to occur to her? Hmm, how can we recreate the logos from those movie posters? Where can we work in some interpretive dance? Don't you just love shadow puppetry?

In any case, Pilobolus had my Oscar party laughing and shaking their heads, guessing the shapes Pilobolus would attempt, delivering mock applause and shaking their heads in delighted confusion over the entire ridiculous spectacle. Nothing makes Oscar as compulsively watchable as absurd moments like that.

THE PRE-SHOW -- It's an all-day affair and I didn't even watch Barbara Walters on DVR. But the highlight of the coverage I did see was the sad spectacle of Jennifer Holliday belting out "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" for E! They gave her a nice buildup, with a story about Holliday being bankrupt and attempting suicide just a few years after "Dreamgirls" ended its run on Broadway. And her actual singing was good, though Holliday has performed the song so many times that she's added in grunts and groans and other tics that at times almost make it unrecognizable. But the staging of it was strange and sad. There was Holliday standing on top of a local hotel in LA, alone except for a cameraman or two and the backing tracks. Down on the street below her were some people, most of whom seemed unaware she was singing. For lengthy stretches of the song, the camera would pull far away from Holliday, showing her tiny and alone. At another point, while Holliday was belting out the fact that she refused to go away, we saw people streaming onto the red carpet, making her isolation from the real event all the more poignant and Norma Desmond-like. Ryan Seacrest gave her a few more moments in the spotlight after the song that restored her dignity somewhat but it was an unintentionally pointed commentary on how fleeting fame can be.

THE HOST -- I thought Ellen Degeneres was pretty delightful, emphasizing how she was a fan, but without being fawning -- right down to the gospel choir celebrating the nominees. Her intro was amusing and brief and her comedic bits were generally short and to the point, like when she handed Martin Scorsese a script or got her picture taken with Clint Eastwood and had Steven Spielberg take the snap. I'll be surprised if she doesn't come back next year, though I was one of the four people who thought David Letterman did a great job, too.

THE FILLER -- The beginning piece by Errol Morris that focused on the nominees and had them discussing who they would thank, how nervous they were, their reaction to the nomination and so on was very good. It was a nice emphasis on the people we were supposed to be celebrating -- the nominees, with all of them given at least a moment of face time at the top of the show while they were all still hopefuls rather than winners and losers. The song about comics by Will Farrell and Jack Black and John C. Reilly was quite funny. But here's the danger -- if you accept filler, you can't really say, just give us the good stuff. Because obviously they think it's all good stuff. I would happily give back the modest amusement of that song in exchange for dumping ALL the filler. The Oscars run FOUR HOURS LONG. What in God's name makes them think we need FILLER. The special effects tribute, with the choir doing effects to film footage was both ineffective and boring. Besides, we've seen it before and it didn't work the last time, either. The montages were exceptionally bad this year. The foreign film montage was a disaster, boring even people who LIKE foreign films. It would show a film, id it, then show another film and then jump back to the one previous (though unless you were familiar with the films, it probably seemed like they only id'd about half the clips). It didn't work even if you knew the films being excerpted. For people who hadn't seen them, it was a meaningless montage. Even worse, perhaps, was the Michael Mann tribute to America that threw in James Brown at the end because he was dead. I loved how he kept including his own movies. And the backstage commentary from Chris Connelly, reminding us of who just won and the horse race for Best Picture and the little toy that tracked which movie had won the most awards, like it was election night and he was tallying up delegates. The show runs four hours, for god's sake. NO FILLER.

THE AD -- That ad for the iPhone by Apple was a show-stopper. A stream of film clips featuring famous actors saying hello on the phone? That must have cost a FORTUNE to clear all those clips and get all those people/estates to agree to be in an ad. I'd love to know the final cost.

THE TRIBUTES -- The Sherry Lansing tribute was painless enough. The Ennio Morricone tribute was a shambles. Again, his montage was poorly done. They would have been far better showing an extended clip from three or four movies that would truly demonstrate the brilliance of his scores for Days of Heaven and The Mission and The Good The Bad and the Ugly, for example, rather than a mishmash of a bunch of movies. Even better, show a scene without music and then show it with to make clear the tension and excitement a great score adds. And if you're going to list SOME of his movies (including Orca and The Exorcist II: The Heretic) shouldn't you do a quick scroll of ALL his credits, all 400+ movies? That would have been far more fitting. The Celine Dion performance of a new song with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and a melody taken from "Once Upon A Time in America" was of course dreadful, with Dion's steamrolling sincerity in full bloom. It shouldn't have been done -- it's not like Morricone is known for his pop songs -- but they could at least have had Dion sing earlier in the show rather than interrupting his tribute with something so inappropriate. Having Clint Eastwood translate was charming, though the speech seemed to take ten hours. Personally, I would limit the live tributes to ONE person. The other one can stand up after a quick spotlight. Heck, even the parade of the dead obituary seemed awkwardly done.

THE PRESENTERS -- Again, I see no need for all the presenters to come up with comic bits to do. We just want to see what they're wearing, how they look and get to the awards. Yes, the kids presenting the short subject Oscars were cute. And the bit about getting Meryl Streep a cappuccino was very funny, thanks mostly to Streep's deadpan look. But I'd trade both of those modest moments in exchange for dumping ALL the jokey asides by all the presenters. And there's no need to give us explanations of what editors or costumers or sound mixers do (and certainly no need to have the microphones cut out when talking about sound, the way they do EVERY SINGLE YEAR, it seems). Frankly, viewers are so savvy now they know about first dollar gross deals and per screen averages. You don't need to educate them. And my God -- Philip Seymour Hoffman looked like he'd just been attacked. Didn't anyone have a comb, at least?

THE SONGS -- Another botched job. I hate medleys, since it always short-changes something. It's a shame Eddie Murphy didn't want to perform; that would have been a lot of fun. But Bill Condon did a good job of giving each woman her moment in the spotlight and ending with that Dreamgirls pose. Beyonce did better at the Grammys where she had the spotlight to herself but sounded good until Jennifer Hudson started belting it out. Following James Taylor immediately with Melissa Etheridge was just nonsensical.

THE VOICEOVERS -- Another horrid touch. Announcers, desperate that we don't get bored for the ten seconds while people walk to the stage, offer up asinine factoids about the winners. Typically, these tidbits were so absurd and random that we burst out laughing and missed the first few words of the winner.

THE DIRECTING -- In a night of especially dull speeches, perhaps the best moment was the behind the scenes shot of Martin Scorsese peeking out from backstage while his producer was accepting the Best Picture award.

THE SPEECHES -- Sadly unmemorable. I purposely avoid all the other pre-Oscar award shows so I won't have heard these speeches ten times over. It didn't help. Alan Arkin's was okay. I did enjoy Jennifer Hudson blurting out "And Jennifer Holliday!" as she left the stage in a last-moment panic. Forest Whitaker was as rambling and incoherent as ever, though I wish he could have offered a tip of the hat to Peter O'Toole, who looked disappointed and near-death throughout the entire affair. Even Martin Scorsese's speech (and thank God he won) wasn't that great. And Helen Mirren, poor thing. She'd clearly run out of things to say. But Mirren is so dependably earthy and funny, I was sad to see her offer up that stiff, awkward, too thought out tribute to the Queen. Her final, "I give you, the Queen!" with her statue held aloft wasn't a disaster of James Cameron proportions but it was certainly cringe-inducing. Was she celebrating herself or the Oscar or the Queen exactly? It was perhaps most disappointing because Mirren herself is so witty and smart.

THE FILMS -- Oh yes, the movies we were supposed to be celebrating. As always, they got short shrift. With all the filler and unnecessary time-killers, there was no time to highlight the films and performances of the year. Since so many of the films were modest hits at best, this seemed a wasted opportunity, at least. Did anyone really get a flavor for Babel or Dreamgirls or Pan's Labyrinth? No. If you hadn't seen them and only watched the Oscars, I doubt you could even describe their basic plots with any coherence. I'll never understand why they don't put the spotlight on the films we're supposed to be honoring.

THE AWARDS -- In retrospect, they always make a certain amount of sense. The dazzling "Pan's Labyrinth" won most of the tech awards. "The Departed" won most of the awards it was up for because it was going to win Best Picture. And it won Best Picture because it was a commercial hit (by far the biggest of the nominees) and came from a veteran director who was beloved and overdue. There's always a surprise and that came from Alan Arkin, who has had a long and distinguished career, as opposed to Eddie Murphy who's had a long undistinguished career and stays aloof from the industry. I foolishly thought the fact that I had no emotional attachment to any of the five nominees meant I would do a better job of predicting the winners. In fact, I did a worse job because to pick the Oscars you have to stumble on the right combination of smarts and heart. My only point of pride was picking all the Oscar shorts correctly, especially The Danish Poet when everyone said The Little Matchgirl would win. Oh, well, there's always next year.

THE BIG WINNER -- Global warming. It swept every category it was in, winning for Best Documentary, Best Song (Melissa Etheridge's theme song for "An Inconvenient Truth") and even Best Animated Film, where the heavy-handed eco-friendly message of "Happy Feet" beat out those gas guzzlers in "Cars."

THE SHOW -- Some people dream of winning the Oscar. (I know I do.) Some dream of hosting the Oscars, like Ellen. I dream of PRODUCING the Oscars. I know you can't just dump the "boring" awards. But I would push hard for just one live tribute, dump ALL the filler (except for a few quick asides by the host -- which Ellen did a great job with). But NO taped comedy bits, no songs, no dance performances by Pilobus, etc. No voiceovers, no moronic backstage commentary, no pointless montages, no tribute to sound effects or editing or costumes. More clips, lengthier clips, better clips. A proper spotlight of the best songs, which would vary depending on the songs involved. Spotlight the MOVIES and the people who star in them. I'd get it in at three hours, with maybe 15 minutes going over at most and by God at the end you'd have a sense for the performances that were being honored and the films that were being celebrated and it would be FUN. I'd have the winners announced beginning with the FILM for all the tech awards, so people at home would know it was, say, "Pan's Labyrinth" that won instead of keeping them in suspense while they meandered through all the obscure names and got to the film. Obviously, no need to do that with the actors and directors. Just have the presenter say, "For "Babel," Gustavo...." I might show a graphic listing the movies that had won awards and how many when cutting to commercials. But above all, more and lengthier clips of the actual films and performances highlighting the actors and Best Picture nominees. Is that so hard?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Oscar Ballot

Here's a link to my Oscar ballot -- telling you what to vote for if you want to win that office Oscar pool. I'll keep this at the top of the page till Sunday night, but new entries will pop in below. (NOTE: I made a change in score from Babel to The Queen.)

I Complain Because I Love

In a NYTimes DVD review of "Family Ties: Season One" (a perfectly reasonable review that says the universal jokes are better than the hippie parent jokes and that Michael J. Fox is really talented), there's an odd claim:
“Family Ties” was one of the first contemporary family sitcoms, preceding both “The Cosby Show” and “Growing Pains.”
I don't know whether to say I disagree or simply that I don't understand.

What could they possibly mean by saying "Family Ties" was one of the first contemporary family sitcoms? Seriously, what could they POSSIBLY mean? Obviously, family sitcoms (parents and kids, so we won't really include "The Honeymooners" or "I Love Lucy" despite Little Ricky) have been a constant staple of television from the very beginning. Not a single week has ever gone by since TV's earliest days without a family comedy being on the air. Not a single one, starting with "Mama" (a spin-off from the movie "I Remember Mama") in 1950 and "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet" (which ran from 1952 to 1966, the year I was born) right up to today.

Without even counting workplace families like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the family comedy has been more of a staple than the western, the primetime soap or just about any other genre except the evening news. And even the evening news will end before the family comedy. Just to name obvious, popular shows, "Ozzie & Harriet" ended in 1966, when "The Andy Griffith Show" was on the air. "Andy Griffith" overlapped with "Family Affair," which overlapped with "My Three Sons" which overlapped with "All in the Family" which overlapped with "Happy Days" which overlapped with "One Day At A Time" which overlapped with "Family Ties" which overlapped with "The Cosby Show" which overlapped with "Roseanne" which overlapped with "Home Improvement" which overlapped with "Everybody Loves Raymond" which overlapped with "The King Of Queens" which overlapped with "The Simpsons" which apparently will be running until the end of time. I could easily make a similar list with entirely different shows, of course. But what exactly did this writer have in mind when they said "Family Ties" was the first contemporary family comedy? I honestly haven't a clue.

An Oscar Sunday Chat With Clint Eastwood

A perfect diversion on this cinematic holy day of obligation: a Guardian Q&A with Clint Eastwood that is thoughtful and interesting. One detail: Eastwood's three favorite movies: The Ox-Bow Incident, The Grapes of Wrath and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. Personally, I prefer different movies by all three directors: for Wellman, I'd choose "The Public Enemy," for Ford I'd choose "Stagecoach" (or "The Quiet Man" or "The Searchers") and for Huston I'd choose "The Man Who Would Be King" or "The Dead," perhaps the greatest final film by a major director. Thanks to George Robinson of the IRAs for pointing me to the story.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

New-Age Guru Cage Fight

The #1 book on the nonfiction list this week is "The Secret," a self-help book that puts a New Age spin on the power of positive thinking (offered up by Norman Vincent Peale in the 50s), which was itself a rehashing of "Secrets of the Ages" from the 20s which ITSELF came from books like "Master Key System," "The Science of Getting Rich," Christian Science and -- later -- my favorite title, "Thoughts Are Things."

Anyway, there's a book and a DVD, all devoted to The Law Of Attraction, which says basically that if you really, really want something and can devotedly yearn for it, you'll get it. (I guess I don't really want a date that much.) Oprah has devoted two shows to it. There's a best-selling DVD. And there's a feud.

Esther Hicks has been making millions over the past two decades pushing her book "The Law Of Attraction" and channeling spirit voices from beyond that she collectively calls Abraham. Though she was featured prominently in an early version of the DVD and got more than $500,000 in royalties, Hicks was genuinely unhappy the movie didn't explain that she made the discovery of the Secret by "vibrationally accessing broader intelligence."

My favorite detail: Rhonda Byrne of "The Secret" (who often has a silver circle affixed to her forehead) had a falling out with Esther Hicks of "The Law Of Attraction." And who came in to try and heal the breach? Why, Jack Canfield, the author of "Chicken Soup For The Soul." You just can't make this stuff up.

Weekend Box Office -- Friday Estimates

Well, as I predicted, Jim Carrey's "The Number 23" did even worse than everyone expected. Based on the Friday numbers, it should open at around $15 million, according to Box Office Prophets. "Ghost Rider," as just about everyone predicted, fell mightily from its opening week, about 65% to be exact. And while Bridge to Terabithia had a decent second weekend of $13 mil and a very good total gross of $42 mil, I was hoping the word of mouth would be even better for one of the best reviewed movies of the year so far and a fine family film. Maybe it will show legs its third weekend.

JJ Abrams To Direct Next "Star Trek" Movie

Abrams (creator of "Lost" and "Alias," both promising shows that went deeply off the rails) was always attached to making "Star Trek XI" happen. But only late Friday night, according to the Hollywood Reporter, did he fully commit to directing. Good. Why be involved if you're not going to direct? Here's hoping the discipline and time constraints of a feature film will bring out the best in Abrams. Given the pilots for "Alias" and "Lost" (both gems), there's every reason to think he'll succeed. The story will show Kirk and Spock meeting at Starfleet Academy and then going on their first mission. Fascinating.

Justice League Of America: Worst Movie Idea Ever

Warner Bros. has taken its first major step to bringing the Justice League of America to the big screen by hiring screenwriters. What a terrible idea. The JLA has always been a popular comic book and virtually every DC hero has been a member at one point or another. But the core group is Superman and Batman and Aquaman and the Flash and Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. The 70s cartoon version was always super hokey and it's impossible to think of a feature film featuring all of them that wouldn't seem ludicrous on eight different levels. Plus, how would the directors behind the next Batman and Superman films feel about seeing their characters thrown into the mix? They couldn't make JLA without Supe and Batman but including them would cheapen the other already active franchises. Plus this derails the obvious franchise of a solo Wonder Woman movie -- which should be a period piece or it'll be ludicrous, by the way. There's only one context in which the JLA makes sense and that's on TV. It's already a de facto thread on "Smallville" and a spin-off of the JLA featuring hot teen/young adult versions of these characters figuring out how to work together and beat the bad guys is low risk and does no real damage to feature film versions. But a movie? "Fantastic Four" was bad enough, wasn't it?

Friday, February 23, 2007

I'm Off see "Journey's End." Righto and all that, my good man. You seem to be wounded in the chest. Spot of tea?

Weekend Box Office Preview

"Amazing Grace" looks terribly noble -- I really like Ioan Gruffudd but just couldn't bring myself to attend a screening. And whatever anyone predicts for Jim Carrey's "The Number 23" at the box office, I predict it will be lower. BOP says it might hit $19 mil, but this movie just looks silly, people laughed at the trailer when I was seeing another film and the reviews are so bad I just have to assume word of mouth will be poisonous. Sadly, Carrey's most recent dram -- "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" -- was probably the best of his career, so he loses momentum as a serious actor. But no one should think he's not capable of it.

"Journey's End"

The British stalwart of a play opened last night to very good reviews. The NYTimes and the NY Daily News loved it. The NY Post gave a more reserved three stars out of four but the review read like a 3 1/2 star review, at least. Only Variety was more cautious, saying the cast hadn't gelled yet. I saw the London production well into its lengthy revival a few years ago and found it utterly conventional but effective, thanks especially to a rock solid performance in the role that Boyd Gaines is tackling. I'm seeing the show tonight and with the dashing Hugh Dancy in the Laurence Olivier role and stories of Dancy snogging women and men with abandon all over London, I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Howard Stern Loses #1 Power Ranking In Radio

I think he wouldn't mind so much if Stern hadn't dropped from #1 to #12 and the sub-Stern team of Opie & Anthony wasn't at #6. Does this mean Stern will demand to have a slot in terrestrial radio AND on satellite? Somehow, I don't think so. And if you're not a fan of far right politics, shout-fests, fake doctors and even hate speech (Hello, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck), this annual ranking of influence and importance by the industry bible Talkers is downright depressing. The top 15:

1. Rush Limbaugh
2. Sean Hannity
3. Michael Savage
4. "Dr." Lauara Schlessinger
5. Ed Schultz
6. Opie and Anthony
7. Laura Ingraham
8. Mike Gallagher
9. Neal Boortz
10. Glenn Beck
11. Mancow
12. Howard Stern
13. Randi Rhodes
14. Don Imus
15. Bill O'Reilly

The Blu-Ray HD-DVD Combo Player: A Complete Joke

USA Today reviews the combo DVD player that can handle (sort of) both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs. It's laughably bad. Some people idiotically claimed this would help end the format war because people wouldn't have to "choose" between the two types of discs. Of course they would? Who wants to buy 50 titles in Blu-Ray only to see it phased out. When your player dies after five years, you're not going to be able to buy another one, so you'd be screwed. Anyway, the $1200 machine they review was really built for Blu-Ray but they just retrofitted it to handle HD-DVD as well. Kind of -- it can't find special features, extras don't always work, the sound on some titles dropped out (probably poorly mastered discs and not the machine) and to top it off, the darn thing doesn't even play CDs. Are they kidding? Why would anyone commit to either of these formats? Stay away, that's my advice.

The Top 10 Books Of All Time, Per Famous Writers

The full poll, presumably with breakdowns of the Top 10 books by author, is out next month. George Eliot's "Middlemarch" was the only novel by a woman in the top 10. But the BBC says the top 5 is as follows:

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
4. Lolita by Valdimir Nabokov
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Hamlet by Bill Shakespeare

Sadly, I've only read three of the top 6 (and didn't care for "Madame Bovary"). I still have Anna Karenina, War & Peace and Lolita to look forward to. Hey, at least I own copies of them -- that has to count for something, right? And where's "Don Quixote?"

Graphic Novels Outsell Comic Books

For the first time in history, more money was spent on graphic novels than on comic book periodicals. Of course, part of that graphic novel total includes repackaged comic book periodicals and comic strips like "Peanuts" and "Gasoline Alley." Nonetheless, this is an historic switch for the industry and a troubling one perhaps for specialty comic book stores. They tend to be weak on graphic novel sales, which has given an opening to chain bookstores. For example, the Barnes & Noble at Union Square probably has a better selection of graphic novels than Forbidden Planet and other stores. People spent $330 million on graphic novels and $310 million on comic book periodicals. I'm probably somewhat typical of the graphic novel consumer. I was never a big comic book reader and frankly never went weekly to buy any titles. But when graphic novels first came to prominence I read "The Watchmen" and "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Maus" -- all the obvious titles. And in recent years I've been reading more and more of them. I wait for any hot series to be collected in book form and love classic strips, like "Krazy Kat" and "Little Nemo." With a graphic novel serialized in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine, graphic novels are slowly being seen as just another genre, like mystery or sci-fi and just as likely to be taken seriously.

Overnight TV Ratings -- Goodbye "OC"

"Grey's Anatomy" clearly was NOT hurt by the brouhaha over the bigoted comments of one cast member. The show has now definitely solidified its lead over "CSI." "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" were both especially good last night. Oprah's first Oscar special won the 10 p.m. slot. And oh how I teared up for the finale of "The OC." I was a very faithful watcher in season one, but drifted away by the end of season two. So here I was watching people reunite when I had no idea who they were. SPOILER ALERT. I saw the Cohens invade the home of a gay couple in Berkeley. They gave up their home and sold it to them once it became clear that this was where the Cohens belonged -- besides, gay men don't have REAL lives, so how could they feel an attachment to their home? By the way, one of them proved to be a midwife while the other was a wedding planner. At least the show meant that to be funny instead of a given. At the very end, Ryan wandered through their empty OC mansion, in a clear echo of the finale of "Upstairs, Downstairs" complete with echoing voices from the past and glimpses of early episodes. Boy, nothing dates faster than the appearance of a soap star -- Benjamin McKenzie was only wearing a t-shirt in glimpses from the pilot, but somehow that looked out of style too. We see that Seth and Summer ultimately do get married and in a very silly finale, Ryan years later is leaving a construction site, sees a troubled but handsome kid on a bike who looks lost, remembers how he was taken in by the Cohens and asks the kid if he needs any help. I thought the kid -- who might just have been waiting for his friends ----- might say, "Get away from me, you perv," but in fact he really was troubled but good-looking, just like Ryan. (Does anyone ever rescue the troubled but fat kids?) Ah, the circle of life. For a complete ratings breakdown, go to MediaWeek's Marc Berman.

8 p.m.
1. American Idol -- 24.18 million viewers
2. Survivor: Fiji -- 13.59 million
3. Grey's Anatomy (r) -- 9.73 million
4. My Name Is Earl -- 8.70 million/The Office -- 8.24 million
5. Smallville (r) -- 2.93 million

9 p.m.
1. Grey's Anatomy -- 27.29 million
2. CSI -- 21.59 million
3. Scrubs -- 5.69 million/30 Rock -- 4.58 million
4. The OC (series finale) -- 6.68 million
5. Supernatural (r) -- 1.73 million

10 p.m.
1. The Oprah Winfrey Oscar Special -- 15.78 million
2. Shark -- 14.27 million
3. ER -- 9.93 million

Still Debating Your Oscar Picks?

Well, among many other prognosticators, the NYTimes gives you its choices for the winners. Their picks are substantially different from mine, so you can see what a wide-open year this is. We'll see who is smarter come Sunday night.

EBTG's Tracey Thorn Goes Solo

A second solo album from one of my favorite singers, Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl. (Start with their mellow "Idlewild" or mellow but ever-so-slightly more upbeat "Eden" if you're unfamiliar.) It's been about 25 years since her first EP. Can't wait.

Ryan Gosling's Last Stab At The Oscar

Actor Ryan Gosling pretends to be above the petty fray of vying for the Oscar, but popsurfer Aaron pointed me to this news story about a high school principal arrested for buying crack cocaine in his office. Clearly, Ryan set up this sting to give a little bit more attention to his role in "Half Nelson." The fellow teachers should have suspected something -- the students had nicknamed their principal "G-Dawg."

MP3 Royalties Due To Company After Major Court Ruling

In what could be a multi-billion dollar decision, a company that holds onto some MP3 patents won a $1.52 billion judgment against MicroSoft and could be suing Apple and others next. Since MP3s are the bedrock software for distributing music on the web, this could have major repurcussions.

"American Idol" Recap

I hate hour long results shows, but when you've got 24 contestants, it doesn't seem like such a stretch. They announced the guest coaches/stars for the season in advance for the first time and the list was pretty good.

Diana Ross - I'd love to see her coach the what, diva training? Jon Bon Jovi -- he felt like a young choice. Gwen Stefani -- another very current act, which definitely felt like Idol was shaking off the senior citizen route so many of their guest judges fit into. Martina McBride -- that was the best country artist they could pull? Not a SINGLE clap from the audience. I don't think they even know who she is. Tony Bennett -- an old fogey of course, but how can you criticize them choosing Tony Bennett; he got tons of applause. I predict he'll say they're ALL wonderful. And then he'll thank his sponsor Target. J-Lo -- now that really feels like "Idol" has pull to bring her in. Lulu and some guy from Herman's Hermits -- hmm, which one of these guest judges does not fit? Sure it's the British Invasion, but the kids are gonna have NO idea who these people are. Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees -- fine choice. All in all, a good group that felt a lot more contemporary, thanks to Bon Jovi and Gwen and J-Lo.

GROUP SONG -- Tears For Fears' "Sowing The Seeds Of Love" -- as always, the group song is terribly cheesy and felt very Up With People. LaKisha already sounded and looked more confident, putting most of the others to shame.

Chris Sligh -- the best recovery as Chris said he didn't mean to show disrespect to Simon when he mocked Simon's artists and successul albums by Il Divo and the Teletubbies. Uh-huh, so what were you trying to do? Compliment him? Chris joked "I love Simon," causing Randy and Paula to gag and Simon to smile and joke (off camera) "I like this guy."

PAUL KIM-- Going home. "It hurts, man. It hurts." The he sang "Careless Whisper," proving again why he was going home. And why didn't he kick off his shoes before performing? Wasn't he the no-shoes guy? He had one distinctive gimmick and abandoned it at the end.

ANTONELLA -- during a lineup of six girls, it was just her and Melinda left standing and everyone KNEW Melinda wasn't going anywhere and Antonella looked absolutely miserable because of course she deserved to go home...but was spared. Maybe it was the almost-topless photos that surfaced online.

AMY KREBS -- deservedly going home. She briefly asked if she could sing another song, perhaps the first person to ever ask if they could do something other than the song that sent them packing. But Ryan asked the band and they wanted to stick with the tune she'd done the night before. Too bad, since you think the band could be more nimble than that.

FANTASIA -- came out and announced the not-so-shocking news that she would be taking over the lead role in Broadway's "The Color Purple," a smash hit for the first eight or so months of its run that suddenly dropped precipitously at the box office this winter. Quincy Jones was in the audience to give his blessing and Ryan asked Quincy if she would do well in the show. Quincy said, "Absolutely," gave a thumbs up and then said, "The Color Purple is about..." when Ryan cut him off and said, "OK" and asked Fantasia to perform. That was definitely the low point of the night. Didn't they arrange with Quincy whether he would speak or not and if he was going to speak, wasn't he going to be able to say more than one word? Very uncool and it made Q look foolish and the show indifferent. There goes any chance of bringing Quincy on some week to work with the kids. Fantasia's "I'm Here" was very good, polished and a nice buildup to the climax. I hope she's got a vocal coach to help her prepare for eight performances a week, though. Her voice always sounds like it's on the edge of blowing out.

GINA -- Like Antonella, she looked super-nervous before she was made safe. We also saw one of several shots of Simon in the second half where he had his eyes closed or looked exhausted. Late night last night?

NICOLE -- going home. Hardly unexpected and her performance of Chaka Khan's "Stay" again had a weird feel to it. Not quite like an imitation, but definitely something odd, even if she could hit some seriously high notes with ease.

RUDY -- The Venezuelan with hips that lied. It was down to him and Sanjaya and I was happy to hear Sanjaya was in the top 4. As I expected, Sanjaya's youth and deer-in-the-headlights reaction to criticism and general appeal kept him very safe indeed. It was Rudy and Sanjaya and AJ, so you knew the gay quotient of the show was going down. When Rudy lost, he turned to shake hands but Sanjaya was having none of that and gave him a big hug. The montage of their journey played with a song called "I'm Going Home" but I don't know who sings it. Then Rudy said, "I'm going to go out with a bang, if that's alright!" Baby, I love the spotlight. Actually, his performance of "Free Ride" was better than the night before and the only one of the four going home that might make people think he was eliminated too early. It sucks to be first on Idol, especially during the two hour shows where five million fewer people watch the first half hour.

"Nashville Star" Recap

I'm the only blue-stater who watches "Nashville Star," the "American Idol" contest with a twang. Last year's winner Chris Young performed a fine new single "You're Gonna Love Me" in hopes of restarting his album, whcih has failed to make any long-term impression on the country charts. Several "Nashville Star" acts have turned into best-selling acts (including also-ran Miranda Lambert) but Young seems to be following in the footsteps of the sadly ignored Brad Cotter.

ZAC HACKER -- In his video intro, Zac played the Bible card, saying he was torn between being a preacher and a musician and went to his grandfather's house to pray and read the NT and decide. He chose music because he could reach a lot more people. (His daddy, had a band the Hacker Brothers that never made it.) Yeah, that's one reason he chose music -- we also see Zac signing a female fan's chest with a magic marker. When asked what he was looking for in a girlfriend, Zac ended with "doesn't get TOO drunk." He performed "Lady," which struck me as a bizarre choice since Zac's strength is bluesy rock. But he gave a really convincing, strong vocal. Blake Shelton, the judge that's been consistently hilarious all season, said he wished he could think of another way to say this but, "You're a very sexy man." He won't win, but Zac gave his sister a real run for her money.

JOSHUA STEVENS -- In his video intro, Joshua played the biological mom left me card one last time. We saw Joshua and his mom reuinted on camera. (Nothing says sincerity like taping your reunion for a TV contest.) Joshua sang "Please remember Me" pretty well, but I've never been impressed with his vocals as much as the judges sometimes were. He didn't make the cut and won't be in the finals. Blake said Joshua wasn't as country as the artists Blake likes but sang well tonight and host Jewel said if that was a compliment she didn't want to hear an insult.

DAVID ST. ROMAIN - Tiny sparkplug David proved a very good performer, doing a good "Live Like You Were Dying" but with a very rough final few notes. Blake was amusing again in addressing Blake's wife instead of Blake since she made the song selections and on-target when he wasn't sure what specific kind of artist David was. (His best number was a cover of a rock song.)

ANGELA HACKER -- She's been the front-runner since day one and the only week that might have tripped her up was original song week when her brother delivered a hell of a tune. But her song was good too, and she has such a lived-in, authentic voice that you can't help rooting for her. She sang "Strawberry Wine" and had terrific vocals. Plus she had BIG earrings and it doesn't get more country than that. If she doesn't win, I'll eat my (ten gallon cowboy) hat.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Matthew Broderick Turns Down "The Producers"

The Broadway musical will now close on April 22, six years and a few days after it opened. Broderick and Nathan Lane had been asked to come back for one last hurrah and Lane was ready to go. Broderick declined for lots of reasons: both he and Lane are tired of being joined at the hip, they'd already returned to the show once before, he was still smarting from negative reviews for "The Odd Couple" and he was hurt that Mel Brooks had all but offered him the lead in the musical version of "Young Frankenstein" but had later changed his mind. All of that probably, perhaps, maybe contributed to his decision. (It's been a while since I've read Broderick's mind, actually, so I can't be certain.) But I think one reason overshadows all the others and it's the right one: they'd already said goodbye to the show twice, already caught lightning in a bottle twice, so why tempt the fates for one more grab of cash? It was time to move on and they already did and there was absolutely no good reason to try and do it again other than money and they've got plenty of that already.

"Borat" Vs Frat Boy Lawsuit Dumped; Van Morrison In Bio-Documentary

Two stories from Variety. It says a judge has dumped the lawsuit by the two frat boys who claim they were given alcohol to make them drunk before singing a release form, as well as being told the movie would never be released in America. They're gonna appeal.

And in an odd story about Van Morrison and the movies, Variety says in a deck that he is considering a biographical documentary. But the story itself says nothing about this project except for an oblique opening quote. At the end, Van says he'd been approached about making a movie around "Astral Weeks" but that seems to have been a fictional film and nothing has come of it.

More Scrotum Talk

The controversy over an award-winning children's book continues, with many unhappy over the NYTimes coverage that didn't speak to any of the many librarians (the vast majority in fact) that support the book and include it in their collections. Publishers Weekly has the latest. The best comments come from the author herself, who notes the pernicious practice of reflexively avoiding anything that might cause anyone, anywhere some discomfort:
"Lucky" author Patron has been observing the proceedings largely from the sidelines. However, she can't help but respond to all the attention as a wearer of two different professional hats. From a librarian standpoint she notes, "It appeared that some of my colleagues were so fearful of possible objections that they didn't want to risk adding "The Higher Power of Lucky" to their collections. But to other librarians —- I think the vast majority -— this was almost a treasonable act: how dare those professionals withhold children's access to the 2007 Newberry Award book!"

Counter-responses on Patron's behalf have proved enormously heartening, she says. And ultimately, "It turns out that many librarians, as well as teachers, booksellers and parents, agree that kids can handle the naming of a body part, especially in the context of the whole book," Patron says. "I believe that the majority of my colleagues are willing to put their jobs on the line if necessary to support children's access to books, especially when the book in question has won a major award. These are the librarians who respect the intelligence of children, and I thank and applaud them heartily."

Why No-Budget Movies Are Fading Away

Fellow blogger Daryl pointed me to this Filmmaker Magazine article by Anthony Kaufman (who I know from Cannes) about no-budget films and how despite the easy availability of cheap digital cameras, we're not seeing a wave of truly independent films. This one line sums it up nicely: “The studios want the Capotes and the Sideways’, the $8 million film to make $100 million instead of the $1 million [film] to make $10 million,” InDigEnt co-founder Gary Winick told Reuters.

Are Oscar Winners Worth The Money?

Popsurfer Joe pointed me to this article on CNN about a study that decided casting Oscar winners in a new movie won't guarantee financial success. Well, duh. No one in their right minds would think an Oscar winner was a guarantee of financial success. In fact, NOTHING is a guarantee of financial success when making a movie and if there was such a formula, everyone would use it.

This professor at Rutgers decided that having a "star" in your film -- which he defined as being someone who had won an Oscar -- was only marginally helpful. First, any marginal help is welcome. Second, who decided a "star" was someone who had won an Oscar. No, a "star" is someone who sells tickets. Tom Cruise is a star. Eddie Murphy is a star. Julia Roberts was a star even before she won an Oscar for "Erin Brockovich." And so on. Winning an Oscar is nice. Being a star is better and the two may occasionally cross paths, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

Then why does the price of someone who just won an Oscar go up? Because they've just been placed in front of tens of millions of movie-lovers and that can't hurt. But it's not everyone who wins an Oscar who suddenly gets a huge paycheck. Many are glad just to keep working. And their choice to illustrate the study -- Jennifer Hudson -- is way off. Has Hudson's salary gone way up? Of course it has and rightly so. Is she a proven box office commodity? Nope. But she was in the pivotal role in the top-grossing black drama/musical OF ALL TIME. She has huge awareness thanks to American Idol. And she's working on a debut album with top producers that will keep her in the spotlight a la J-Lo, regardless of how her next movie does. And in the right role, Hudson is definitely worth the $1 mil+ she'll get. Will it pan out? No one knows. But that would be money well spent.

A Singing Newscast?

Save your money, Yahoo. That might be a cute idea from some college kid doing it in their dorm room. But an "edgy," "envelope-pushing" newscast performed in song by a massive conglomerate is just annoying.

"Suite Francaise" Author A Self-Hating Jew?

One of publishing's most Cinderalla-like story in years surrounded "Suite Francaise," a tale of a French village under Nazi occupation rescued from the dustbin of history and released to remarkable acclaim and sadness that the author died in Auschwitz. Now come serious reports that the author was not the most sensitive of types when it came to Jews and her own Jewish origins.

Elton John Releasing A #1 Greatest Hits Album A La Beatles

Apparently, every superstar whose been around long enough is going to feel compelled to mimick the Beatles and release a greatest hits album devoted to #1 singles. Elton John is the latest. Two days after he performs in Madison Square Garden on March 25 (with a full choir and cameras capturing every moment for a later TV special) they'll put out "Rocket Man -- Number Ones," with 17 tracks. The Beatles #1 was a massive hit for many reasons -- most notably, the fact that their music hadn't been repackaged a million times over and their greatest hits compilations were limited to two double albums (the red and blue albums). So a single CD for the biggest band in history -- and one with the easy to grasp gimmick of including only #1 hits -- was a phenomenon, selling 10 million copies in the US alone and another 15 million around the world. Elvis followed suit with his "30 #1s" album -- that sold only four million copies in the US, for the obvious reason that there are dozens if not hundreds of Elvis compilations. Elton John knows something about massive selling greatest hits packages: his first Greatest Hits set is a remarkable bestseller that has sold 16 million copies in the US alone and is one of the best-selling albums of all time. More than half the songs on his new hits package (nine, to be exact), can be found on that greatest hits set. One more reason why this clever bit of marketing will certainly sell CDs but not be a phenom.

Taye Diggs Joins "Grey's" Spinoff

I failed to do my job and ignored the early news of a spin-off from "Grey's Anatomy." I've already grown disenchanted with the show (it was the Super Bowl episode and the exploding bomb that turned me off; they were doing crazy stunts like this so early in the show's run that it set off warning bells) and frankly the idea of a spin-off just bored me. So now Taye Diggs looks set to join the spin-off, in an undetermined role, if it actually happens. For fans of the show, it's all bad news: creator Shonda Rhimes will have her attention diverted between "Anatomy" and the spin-off AND a show about female journalists she's also developing. I'll never understand why people who are lucky enough to create an acclaimed, hit series can be so eager to jump to OTHER shows when it takes every ounce of energy you have to keep a good series working well. I know, I know, money and all that. But couldn't they at least wait till season five?

Hmm, Harry Potter Or The Reporter?

I'm sure tickets for "Equus" - in which actor Daniel Radcliffe exposes his kit and gets all actor-ish -- will be nigh on impossible. (And yes, "nigh" was a subtle wink towards "neigh.") But now here's another UK play I want to check out in two weeks: it's "The Reporter," starring Ben Chaplin as a gay, suicidal foreign correspondent. It's based on a real person and Nicholas De Jongh liked it very much indeed -- more than the other critics, but if he found it worthwhile I'm sure I will too.

Meanwhile, the NY Post's Michael Riedel makes all sorts of silly jokes about "Equus," saying the problem with the show is the length...of the PLAY and other tame jokes of that sort. He also says Richard Griffiths is taking a very long time to learn his lines (par for the course for Griffiths, apparently) and that prompters are placed in the wings but he's sure to put it all together before opening night. Riedel also says there's precious little chemistry between Radcliffe and his love interest in the show. But if he can get through the show without embarrassing himself, that will be a feat in itself, since Radcliffe sometimes seemed overwhelmed by the dramatic demands of the recent Potter movies. And frankly, it's just not fair to make pronouncements on a show that hasn't opened yet.

And really, those jokes about Radcliffe were just sophomoric. I would never do anything that childish just to be tittilating.

Billboard's Top 10 Singles -- Justin On Top

The Grammy Awards were very nice to Justin Timberlake. He was practically the host of the show, thanks to two lengthy performance segments, one where he covered "Ain't No Sunshine" and then duetted with a girl who won an online contest and the other where Justin performed his latest single. That song has jumped from #8 to #1 this week on the Billboard charts. Even more stunning, the Dixie Chicks jump back onto the charts at #4 with "Not ready To Make Nice" five months after it had its initial run. They hit #1 on iTunes, but probably got very little airplay. Justin got a jump in digital sales AND had lots of airplay, hence his overall triumph. This is a demonstration of the power of online sales where people can hear a song and buy it within minutes. I expect we'll be seeing a LOT more of this down the road. For years, the British charts were pepppered with odd moments -- why was an old Temptations tune on the charts, why was Doris Day in the top 10 with a greatest hits package, how did Ladysmith Black Mambazo get a five year old tune on the Top 40. Invariably, the answer was that a song had been used on an advert or in a TV show or movie or perhaps a special on Doris Day had aired on the BBC the week before. That sort of fluidity on the charts is now coming to the US, thanks to digital sales and Billboard's willingness to include that factor in how it ranks songs. Finally, Corinne Bailey Rae debuts at #56 with "Like A Star."

1. "What Goes Around...Comes Around" -- Justin Timberlake
2. "Runaway Love" -- Ludacris featuring Mary J. Blige
3. "Say It Right" -- Nelly Furtado
4. "Not Ready To Make Nice" -- Dixie Chicks
5. "Don't Matter" -- Akon
6. "The Sweet Escape" -- Gwen Stefani
7. "It's Not Over" -- Daughtry
8. "Cupid's Chokehold" -- Gym Class Heroes featuring Patrick Stump
9. "Irreplaceable" -- Beyonce
10. "This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race" -- Fall Out Boy

"Indian Idol" Contestants Threatened By Muslim Radicals

Militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir threatened to attack anyone who auditioned for "Indian Idol" in their territory. Just like "American Idol," the spin-off shows stage auditions in different cities each season and this was their first visit to Kashmir. Happily, no one was hurt.

Apparently, "Dreamgirls" Is Just A Movie

The people behind "Dreamgirls" have taken out a full-page ad in the trades explaining that "Dreamgirls" is just a movie and NOT based on Motown. Thanks for that.

Oprah Vs Barbara Walters

Another story about Oprah's competing Oscar special airing tonight. Barbara Walters -- in typical TV fashion -- insists she and Oprah love each other. But the article doesn't mention the fact that months ago ABC said the Barbara Walters special would NOT air the night of the Oscars.

The Gyroball Mystery

Another peek into the world of sports, this time exploring the mystery of the gyroball, an elusive pitch popular in Japan. People debate whether this is really even a genuine pitch, something Kazushi Tezuka lays to rest with a demonstration and DVD compilation of Japanese pitchers throwing the gyroball and making batters flail. My favorite detail in this story: a book was published in 2001 detailing the pitch, called “Makyuu no Shoutai.” In English, that means roughly, “Secrets of the Demon Miracle Pitch.”

Apple gets Rights To iPhone Name

No details on the terms they settled with, but Apple and Cisco both pronounce themselves happy and of course the inevitable -- that Apple would release the iPhone as "the iPhone" -- has come to pass.

Wimbledon Will Pay Women Players The Same Prize Money As Men

In a LONG overdue change, Wimbledon has agreed to finally pay female players the same prize money as the men. Their stubborness had just become idiotic in recent years, with the male champion getting paid a measly $60,000 or so more than the female. It was obviously a meaningless, symbolic difference -- especially when you're talking about more than $1.1 million so their refusal was just a slap in the face. Now the French Open remains the only Slam that's a hold-out. Its winners get the same amount, but there is a discrepancy in the earlier rounds. Women play best of three matches while men play best of five matches that often last longer. On the other hand, women typically hit the same number of strokes -- if you want to break payment down by each struck ball. As far as who draws more, it always goes in cycles. But half the time, the women will be a bigger draw for fans, so paying them less simply made no sense from a commercial point of view.

Overnight TV Ratings -- Aaargh! "Friday Night Lights" Hits Low

One week after doing terrifically well (by its modest standards), "Friday Night Lights" takes a serious stumble opposite "Idol" and an original episode of "Jericho," which didn't do that well itself but couldn't have helped. It dropped by 2 million viewers, from 7.43 million to 5.37 million. That's a series low for an original episode. AND "FNL" was about sex, so if you can't gain viewers with sex, boy, that's not good. "Idol," of course, was massive. By the way, as people commented on Berman's site, the performers on "Idol" in the first half hour were seen by about 5 million FEWER viewers than people in the later 90 minutes. That has to be a big disadvantage come voting because if people don't see your full performance, they've got to be far less likely to vote for you and 5 million viewers is a big difference. Since Amy Krebs and Leslie Hunt were weak, that's okay. But opener Stephanie Edwards might get hurt too.For a complete ratings breakdown, go to MediaWeek's Marc Berman.

8 p.m.
1. "American Idol" -- 28.99 million viewers
2. Jericho -- 8.65 million million
3. Friday Night Lights -- 5.37 million
4. George Lopez -- 5.92 million/The Knights Of Prosperity -- 4.17 million
5. Beauty and the Geek (reunion) -- 3.09 million

9 p.m.
1. American Idol -- 31.68 million
2. Criminal Minds -- 14.44 million
3. Deal Or No Deal -- 8.14 million
4. Lost(r) -- 5.38 million
5. One Tree Hill -- 3.15 million

10 p.m.
1. CSI: NY -- 14.08 million
2. Lost -- 12.89 million
3. Medium -- 7.85 million

"American Idol" Recap

Boys, go home. In fact, while you're at it, white girls -- you go home, too. This definitely looks like a season where the women will outshine the men. But first, this editorial:

The most useless bit of advice they hand out on "Idol" is: "Pick the right song." Uh, how exactly is that going to guide a person? Obviously, they thought they were picking the right song when they chose whatever song it was they performed. So unless the judges get specific and tell them WHY the song they chose wasn't right for them, this comment is useless. Even then, they're confusing. Half the time, they tell people they shouldn't tackle songs by Stevie and Aretha and Celine and Mariah. The other half of the time they praise people for nailing songs by those same people. Some people get told to pick "young" songs. Then Jordan Sparks sang Tracey Chapman's "Give Me One Reason" and Simon applauded her for picking a "young" song. Wha? Chapman is inherently an adult artist. And while "Give Me One Reason" hit #3 on the pop charts, it was a MASSIVE hit on the adult contemporary charts where it stayed for a year if not longer. I thought she did a good job but it is not a young song.

Anyway, Ryan needs to stop trying to make issues with Simon and just get on with the show. A quick aside is fine. Blowing up a still of Simon and saying he was annoyed is not. And why does Randy feel the need this season to sigh and hang his head before delivering bad news? Is it really such a psychic weight on his shoulders to "keep it real?" Stop acting like it takes every ounce of his energy to tell someone who screeched through their performance that they weren't good. And now, the ladies.

STEPHANIE EDWARDS -- she looked good (despite too much makeup) and sang Alicia Keys' "How Come You Don't Call Me" -- which I should have recognized but didn't. (Again, they should flash the names of the songs on the screen, maybe before the break as in "Melinda Doolittle will sing Aretha Franklin's 'Since You've Been Gone.'") Tearing up in the video because her parents urged her on is always a good idea. She started slow but assured and had a big finish, even if she delivered too many trills and runs. But best of all, she looked very comfortable on stage.

AMY KREBS -- there are literally tens of thousands of great pop songs for people to sing. So why do they foolishly choose the same songs over and over and over. Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" is so mellow, it's very wrong in a way for "Idol." But Amy was terrible, very harsh and mediocre and an awful ending that was flat and rough. Her hair looked good, but she'll be lucky to make it to next week. Ryan made his first good contribution by asking Amy what she would take away from the judge's device. (Not that her answer was revealing, but at least he asked.)

LESLIE HUNT -- She sang Aretha's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." (Or should that be Carole King's....) It was the third ballad in a row, always a deadly combination -- it's not clear to me when they find out their order of performance or what other people are doing, but if the first two people did ballads, you wouldn't want to do one too. Oddly, it sort of sounded dubbed -- not that it was, but it just didn't seem to be coming from her. Plus, the director cut away to the background singers too often. One shot of them is plenty; any more just detracts from the singer on stage. Very draggy.

SABRINA SLOAN -- Finally, a really good performance. She sang Aretha's "I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You." And she sung it. Overshadowed by later singers, but I thought she really did a terrific job, even if she wavered a tad on the final note. Her comment about strategizing was interesting and on-target. A comer.

ANTONELLA BARBA -- the Paris Hilton wannabe (she looks like she was born in a mall -- to which she would say, 'What's wrong with the mall?'), she seemed very middle-aged perched on her stool and singing her ballad, in this case Aerosmith's I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" Rough, just not a good voice. I don't even really know why she made it to the final 24. And in the cruelest cut, I'd say her scarf/belt was affected and a bad look and blended in too much with her top. Dang, I even dissed her accessorizing.

JORDiN SPARKS -- She sang Tracey Chapman's "Give Me One Reason," a personal favorite of mine. She started off pretty good and then got GREAT. Bizarrely, the judges criticized her for holding back at first. But the biggest mistake inexperienced singers do is try to Mariah Carey every line of every song -- they BEGIN with the trills and the runs and the improvs before they've even sung the melody once. The great singers never do that. They introduce the melody and then start to embellish (and never as much embellishment as the bad singers feel compelled to pile on.) That's exactly what Jordin did. I think she's a wild card who can stay a little under the radar and keep improving week after week.

NICOLE TRANQUILO -- she sang a Chaka Khan song and it felt like a really weird vibe at first, not because she's white and singing soul but somehow because it didn't feel right for her. But ultimately as the song went on I finally started to groove on it a bit and she got decent towards the end. And Paula is right: she's definitely got a good voice. But is she a soul singer? I don't know what to think of her yet.

HALEY SCARNATO -- bonus points for the best cleavage of the night. (By the way, Simon's comments about looks are spot-on and he does the same with the men -- he points out when someone is good-looking and sexy and acknowledges the obvious, that cute people with sex appeal can coast a bit on their looks or at least gain a core fan base while working on their singing. Ooh, what a shock -- people are attracted to cute people.) She sang Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" and was polished and smooth but not truly distinctive.

MELINDA DOOLITTLE -- Another Aretha song, this time "Since You've Been Gone." She was awesome, a true pro. This would have been a great job at the finals, much less the first show. She seems genuinely sweet and excited to perform and to be gaining confidence every night. Is she a ringer for being a backup singer, like one of the guys? No. With all her connections and work in the industry, she couldn't get a deal, could she? To me, she already feels inevitable. But then, so did Justin Guarini at one point. Even after seeing the rest of the performances, she's the front runner in my mind because I feel she can sing anything and diversity is definitely a useful tool in this show.

ALAINE ALEXANDER -- Finally, a cool rock/pop song that we haven't heard a million times before, namely "Brass In Pocket" by the Pretenders. Unfortunately, Alaine was terrible, flat and breathy and her high notes were extremely harsh. Simon's comment about whether Ryan was trying to date Alaine was inappropriate, given the controversy over Paula and dating.

GINA GLOCKSEN -- She could go farther than I'm expecting at the moment. Her big note on Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" was indeed a bit rough, though when she modulated down towards the end of it she got stronger and her finale was very good. She could be versatile.

LAKISHA JONES -- I still hold Melinda Doolittle in the highest regard, but there's no question Lakisha belted out "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" in high fashion just four days before Jennifer Hudson will win an Oscar for "Dreamgirls." I thought the shortening of the song to fit the time constraints was a bit awkward but she overcame that and was indeed terrific. But belters can't always be versatile and what sounds great the first time on a song that really demands it can seem forced in another context. What would she do with an ABBA tune? But serious pipes, obviously. I can easily see her and Melinda in the finals, but the bloom may come off Lakisha sooner than you'd expect from the comments tonight.

Who should leave? Any of the white girls, cause the women of color were by far the best. I'd choose Amy Krebs and Antonella Barba.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My Oscar Ballot

Okay, here are my picks for the Academy Awards -- the choices I'm making (and the choices YOU should make) if you want to win the office pool. By the way, do you wanna have some fun and win a side bet? Everyone knows Helen Mirren is going to win Best Actress. In fact, a British bookie has ALREADY started making payouts to people who bet for her, even though the Oscars is four days away. But of course there are always surprises and upsets and of course other people aren't as savvy as you. So here's what you do: make an outrageously unbalanced bet, such as saying if anyone other than Helen Mirren wins you'll run naked through Times Square. And if she does win? The other person has to give you a kiss (or whatever it is you might want to see them do). Now naturally Mirren is going to win, but with a bet that unbalanced and with their obligation relatively small, you're sure to get someone to take that wager. And then, trust me, you'll get to collect. And now, here are my predictions. I reserve the right to change my mind by Sunday, but these are the choices for my Oscar Pool and they should be your choices as well. The nominations are here.

BEST PICTURE -- Babel -- NO (It was The Departed)
BEST DIRECTOR -- Martin Scorsese -- YES
BEST ACTOR -- Forest Whitaker -- YES
BEST ACTRESS -- Helen Mirren -- YES
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR -- Eddie Murphy -- NO (It was Alan Arkin)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY -- Babel -- NO (It was Little Miss Sunshine)
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY -- Children Of Men -- NO (It was Pan's Labyrinth)
BEST ART DIRECTION -- Pan's Labyrinth -- YES
BEST COSTUME DESIGN -- Dreamgirls -- NO (It was Marie Antoinette)
BEST EDITING -- Babel -- NO -- (It was Thelma Schoonmaker)
BEST MAKEUP -- Pan's Labyrinth -- YES
BEST SCORE -- The Queen -- NO (It was Babel)
BEST SONG -- "Listen" from Dreamgirls -- NO -- (It was An Inconvenient Truth)
BEST SOUND EDITING -- Letters From Iwo Jima -- YES
BEST SOUND MIXING -- Dreamgirls -- YES
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS -- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest -- YES
BEST DOCUMENTARY -- An Inconvenient Truth -- YES
BEST FOREIGN FILM -- Pan's Labyrinth -- NO (It was The Lives Of Others)
BEST ANIMATED FILM -- Cars -- NO (It was Happy Feet)
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT -- The Blood Of Yingzhou9 District -- YES

14 FOR 24

"Sex and The City" -- The Movie

Am I the last to realize the feature film version of "Sex and the City" is back on? I assumed it was just lazy rumor-mongering by the British, but in fact a web search makes it clear that a number of people have been saying the film will indeed be happening. Personally, I don't see the point. Why not just have the four gals remake "The Women?" But as long as they ignore the happy ending of the series and just plunge them back into the dating maelstrom of New York City, maybe it could work.

Billboard's Top 10 CDs -- Norah Jones Back At #1

Even better, Corinne Bailey Rae jumps to #4, thanks to her wonderful Grammy performance. Look for her CD on my best of the year list coming oh so soon. And out of the Top 10, Lucinda Williams debuts at #14 with "West." The top 10, per Billboard.

1. Norah Jones -- "Not Too Late"
2. Gerald Levert -- "In My Songs"
3. Various Artists -- "2007 Grammy Nominees"
4. Corinne Bailey Rae -- "Corinne Bailey Rae"
5. Fall Out Boy -- "Infinity On High"
6. Robin Thicke -- "The Evolution Of Robin Thicke"
7. Justin Timberlake -- "FutureSex/LoveSounds"
8. Dixie Chicks -- "Taking The Long Way"
9. Daughtry -- "Daughtry"
10. John Mayer -- "Continuum"

"Dreamgirls" Hits $100 Million

On Monday, "Dreamgirls" grossed $376,000, putting it just over the top of $100 million. That is more than any other drama or musical starring or dominated by a black cast has ever grossed in Hollywood history. (Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple" grossed $93 million.) You can find a handful of comedies starring or dominated by a black cast that have grossed more, such as "The Nutty Professor" and "Dr. Doolittle" and yes almost all of them star Eddie Murphy, one of the most popular actors of all time and undoubtedly the most successful black actor of them all. (He also starred in "Daddy Day Care," which along with Martin Lawrence's "Big Momma's House" features major white co-stars.) That's an historic achievement for the film, which is also one of the rare musicals in the last 20 years to be a hit.