Friday, June 30, 2006

The Beatles In Concert! Sort Of!

The new Cirque Du Soliel show "Love" debuts today. It's built around the songs of the Beatles and cost $125 mil. I can't decide whether it's grotesque or a must-see. Variety's review is decidedly mixed. But the soundtrack could be fun: George Martin and his son do a lot of "mash-ups" -- mixing up elements of different songs to create something entirely new. Obviously, someone has been listening to Danger Mouse's "The Grey Album."

James Bond Sneak Peek Received Warmly

Theater distributors saw 20 minutes of the new James Bond and the buzz was good. Variety describes the action:
The footage showed off Craig as a grittier Bond, with scenes of more intense, visceral hand-to-hand combat than 007 has tackled in recent pics. One black-and-white scene flashed back to Bond's first ever (brutal and hard-to-pull-off) kill as an agent, as well as his (much more sleek and signature) second assassination.

Also introducing the pic was one of the new Bond girls, Caterina Murino, and the reel featured some sultry scenes between her and Craig. For any gearheads, Bond's new ride also got some screen time, as did high-octane chase scenes, including one of Craig following a baddie up and down a construction site with aerial jumps and twists.

WB Bids Farewell Sept 17 By Going Back To The Future

The WB sings off Sept 17 with a fun stunt: airing the pilots of some of its signature shows. Thanks to the complicated web of rights entailed, this means they'll run ads for cable channels where the shows are airing and promos for the DVD collections. The shows getting this fond farewell? "Felicity," "Angel," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and "Dawson's Creek." ("Gilmore Girls," "Smallville" and "7th Heaven" are still active so they weren't considered. And consider this one more slap at "Everwood," which didn't get renewed when the WB and UPN merged. This also ignores "Charmed" and more crucially "The Jamie Foxx Show" and other "urban" comedies that gave the WB crucial ratings early on. Besides, Foxx is only one of the biggest stars in the world.) Inteestingly, none of the shows highlighted came from Warner Bros. -- an interesting fact since everyone assumes channels like The WB and Fox will favor their own studio fare. But hits can come from anywhere and network execs are too desperate to play politics when it comes to new shows.

Dean Cain On The New Superman

Dean Cain speaks out about the new Superman movie, giving Kevin Spacey props over his own Lex Luthor (maybe he and Spacey have lots in common?), finding it odd that the new Lois Lane would put her 5 year old son in danger and giving props to Brandon Routh. Of course, he doesn't say the one thing I'd like to hear. And USA Today wonders which will be the bigger box office hit, "Superman" or "Pirates of the Carribbean?" I'd say "Pirates," since Supe is having trouble pulling in the ladies and Johnny Depp has never had that problem.

Is Protest Music Alive and Kicking?

The LA Times does a good job of covering the obvious and subtle ways political protests have become matter-of-fact throughout the pop world, whether it's a video, song lyrics even in pop ditties like "Hips Don't Lie," fan mash-ups and frequent artist commentary from the stage. It ain't just Neil Young. And since most fans agree with them, they're not paying a price. (Yes, Springsteen's recent shows have been slow sellers and his CD of folk music has done so-so business. But I think a tour where Springsteen DOESN'T play "Born To Run," "Thunder Road," et al and delivers an album of 100 year old folk tunes would have been an iffy commercial prospect regardless of the political times.

"GMA" Beats "Today"...For a Day

I once fought with an editor who wanted me to write a "Good Morning America" is about to beat "Today" in the ratings story. This was maybe four or five years ago. I argued vociferously that it wasn't the case -- I said we'd already written that story every year for years and we could keep writing it, but it wasn't going to come true until someone from "Today" left -- and even then it wasn't a given. People who watch morning TV are truly creatures of habit. Now, with Katie Couric leaving "Today" and Charlie Gibson leaving "GMA" for the evening news slot, what's remarkable is how steady the ratings for both have been. "Today" doesn't seem to have missed its stride and Meredith Viera hasn't even started yet. Gibson could enjoy a little victory: his goodbye show beat "Today" head-to-head. At least for one day, "GMA" was tops. Of course, it's odd to see both shows lose their stars to the evening news -- morning TV has a bigger audience, much more airtime for all types of stores and makes MUCH more money. With the 24 hour news cycle, it's like leaving major league baseball to go play in the minors. By the way, I won the argument with my editor -- but they never forgave me for being right.

Doping Scandal Rocks Tour De France

Imagine if the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets were kicked out of the post season just as they were gearing up to fight for a slot on the World Series. That's what is happening in the world of cycling, where three top racers have been eliminated due to a doping scandal. Don't think cyclists are bigger cheaters than other professional athletes. Nope, cycling is merely the one sport behaving responsibly and tackling this problem aggressively. If baseball, football and other US sports took action, we'd be rocked by similar revelations of cheating for years to come. Don't hold your breath.

Just Waking Up

How has the world of entertainment survived without me? Working till five in the morning on arranging my books and trying to clear out unwanted titles. It was a purge Stalin would have been proud of, but there's still much to do. Got to go to the CD store, pick up my mail and drop off stuff at home before heading out for the Yankees vs Mets game tonight.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Superman Returns" -- First Day(ish) Gross Is $21 mil

A very strong opening for "Superman Returns" -- it grosses $21 mil in its first full day (a total which includes Tues screenings at 10 p.m. and midnight). Yes, "Spiderman 2" holds the record for a Wed. opening of $40 mil, but Supe's total ranks higher than "Batman Begins" and twice as big as "King Kong." In other words, unless you think every movie should gross more on opening day than the one before and is otherwise a "disaster" (which means in 10 years, opening day movies would have to gross $150 mil or so in one day), then "Superman Returns" did blockbuster status.

Biboy and his wife and son all enjoyed the movie, with only biwife thinking it was a tad slow at times. They all gave low marks to Lois Lane, but biwife thought James Marsden struck just the right note as her boyfriend, biboy thought aesthetically it was just gorgeous and their son thought it was all pretty awesome. It's no "Spiderman 2," but fans seem to be finding it solid fun, rather than the more finicky critics who actually hope for, God forbid, an actual good movie. I'm checking it out Saturday night with friends after a Yankee-Mets game.

"X-Men: The Last Stand" -- The Review

So sue me -- I'm just catching up with "X-Men," since I was away when it opened. (Did I mention I was in Cannes?) I like the comic books a lot, but I haven't been a fan of the first two. The first was weak and the second was pretty good, but no more. With Brett Ratner at the helm, I thought this would be a train wreck. But to my surprise, I liked it just as much if not more than "X2." The gay subtext was as strong as ever (thanks to the all-too-brief subplot with Angel), it moved along nicely (only 90 minutes) and there were actual deaths (though no one stays dead for long as anyone who stayed to the end found out in a kicker). On the negative side, why does Hollywood always think bad guy rebels need to dress like lame punk rockers (or more accurately, look like kids dressing up as punk rockers for Halloween); it was awfully hard to buy Kelsey Grammar as an action hero; and with all the gay subtext it would be nice if at least one of the X-men could actually be gay. (I thought for sure at least Magneto could come up with a juicy comment when Angel flew by.) But all in all, pretty fun. And to heck with Wolverine -- let's give Ben Foster's Angel a spinoff pronto.

Paris Hilton Is A Pop Star

Her first single debuts at #18 on the Billboard charts. Reality TV, movies, books and now music. Is there anything Paris can't do poorly? I don't think so.

Lyra Cast In "His Dark Materials"

Philip Pullman's brilliant trilogy "His Dark Materials" is a landmark work of fantasy that will rank one day alongside "The Lord of the Rings" and the far lesser "Narnia" books as an enduring work of fiction. A reworking of "Paradise Lost," it's also a stunningly bold and adult tale -- basically think of it as the fantasy equivalent of "The Satanic Verses," especially if you're touchy on issues of organized religion and sexuality. The three books were adapted into a reportedly marvelous stage play and now they're being filmed as a movie. The first book -- "The Golden Compass" -- starts filming in the fall and the absolutely crucial role of Lyra (a 12 year old girl who takes center stage for most of the story) has just been cast. They don't seem to be filming all three movies at once, which could be a problem: the three books follow one after the other in time and little girls grow fast. Besides, the first book doesn't end so much as stop so you wouldn't want to wait long for the sequel. It's one long tale, a la LOTR as opposed to three connnected adventures. If you haven't read the books and are a fantasy fan, jump on them. The first is disarmingly simple, but it all pays off in the end.

Peter Gabriel Celebrates 20 Years of His Label Real World

My favorite passage: "The first location [of Gabriel's studio] was an old farm-shed in the southernmost valley of the Cotswolds. It was warm, well insulated and we managed to stick in a couple of picture windows, looking up the valley. The cows would sometimes come and lick the window panes while we were making music. This we would take as a sign of good fortune and good taste.

Fox News Beats CNN 18 Straight Quarters In A Row

If you're a fan of Fox News, you can point to the fact that its audience is double CNN's in primetime -- 1.38 mil compared to 700,000. If you're a fan of CNN, you can take some small comfort in the fact that both channels are losing viewers, with Fox dropping 11% in ratings versus a year ago and CNN dropping just 5%. In other words, Fox has twice as many viewers but they're losing them twice as fast. Uh, don't get too excited. At that rate, Fox and CNN will be, oh, five or so years. Fox News' top show is still "The O'Reilly Factor," with 2.08 mil. CNN's only Top Ten show is Larry King at 1.04 mil.

Pope Cracks Down On "Modern" Music In Churches

One of the main reasons I'd leave the Catholic Church is the abysmal music that you have to endure at Sunday mass. But somehow I don't trust Pope Benedict to make things better. He doesn't like the women trilling away on acoustic guitars any more than I do. But if only the Pope realized how silly it was for him to say, "It is possible to modernise holy music, but it should not happen outside the traditional path of Gregorian chants or sacred polyphonic choral music." Modern Gregorian chants? Watch out, Jay-Z.

"Donnie Darko" Followup Bought By Sony

"Southland Tales," the sci-fi gumbo cooked up by Richard Kelly as the followup to his marvelous "Donnie Darko," was a major flop at the Cannes Film Festival. So what? At least he tried to do something bold and different...even if I didn't think it worked on any level for even a moment. I'm still looking forward to his next movie. Kelly is reediting it and now made a deal with Sony. But how bad was the movie tarred at Cannes? Sony felt obliged to make clear that its release "would be theatrical" -- in other words, they knew people were wondering if it would go straight to DVD.

America's Got Talent? Maybe Not

I didn't think a low-rent "Gong Show" was possible, but "America's Got Talent" proves me wrong. Why is it a cheap rip-off of that Chuck Barris guilty pleasure? Because it doesn't KNOW it's a silly piece of junk. It thinks it's a spin on "American Idol," which seems like "Citizen Kane" compared to this foolishness. I've been wrong before (hello, Howie Mandel and that box game show), but I think this is harmless summer filler but would be a flop in the fall opposite other shows. The big problem is that no one has talent -- almost none of the acts could do anything more than fill two minutes in a cavalcade showcase. Who could hold the stage for say ten minutes in Vegas? The Russian-born go-go boy dressed as an angel that sort of balanced a sword on the end of a knife? The boy band spin-off of Riverdance with five chunky, suburban looking guys who tap-danced like crazy? The scary little girl who mimicked Jennifer Holiday and got wrongly praised as if she were a singer instead of a stunt? (There's a big difference between singing and karaoke. That kid was a killer karaoke performer, but not a singer. Maybe she has talent but Shirley Temple aside, even kids with voices usually shouldn't sing -- whatever skill she might have would be ruined by performing at such a young age when all she can do is belt.)At least the Snow White stripper brought a little old school pizazz, a certain Coney Island feel to the proceedings. (Followed closely by the beat box military guy and the martial arts trio who all wisely began their acts by taking off their shirts.) Sure it had good kitsch. The Russian-born sword-balancer dressed like a psychedelic angel came back and begged for a second chance in such broken English they felt obliged to provide subtitles, winning over the crowd as he knelt before them in prayer. Crazy. Silly. But not actually talented.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"Lord Of The Rings" Musical Closing In Toronto

They've posted a closing date of September 3, 2006 for the "Lord of the Rings" musical in Toronto. At the same time, tickets are already on sale for a London production that begins in May, 2007. Several thoughts: the Toronto production has to be a disappointment for them -- ticket sales were strong, but reviews were very mixed. Yes, it swept the Canadian equivalent to the Tonys recently. But still. It's unclear whether the same actors will carry over -- the biggest criticism was the actor playing Galndalf. I doubt he'll be going to London. More importantly, with all this time off, the creative team will have a major opportunity to revamp this musical. Almost every critic felt the visuals were striking and memorable and there were some strong supporters of the score. With a lot of work and tightening up, they could very well turn this into a triumph, as long as they're willing to not stay wedded to the way it is now. Since the show barely played for seven months, I'm sure they won't be. Their website is very cool, by the way.

Superman Vs. Meryl

Ok, it's not a contest. "Superman Returns" will do better than "The Devil Wears Prada," the comedy starring Meryl Streep. And I don't have access to tracking data like Box Office Prophets. But I think they're crazy for suggesting this comedy will get crushed and would be lucky to gross $50 mil total. The book has huge name recognition; Anne Hathaway is a serious draw among young chicks and the reviews for Streep have been great. I'll be surprised if "Prada" DOESN'T gross more than $50 mil. It looks like tremendous fun and it'll appeal to adults, women and girls. About the only group that it would never appeal to is teenage boys (straight boys, that is) and they were going to "Superman Returns" anyway.

Wimbledon Tennis

Anyone watching the coverage? The new uniforms of the umpires look like something out of "The Great Gatsby." Trust Wimbledon to introduce a change that looks like it's been around for 80 years.

Billboard's Top Ten Albums

Here's a first peek at Billboard's Top Albums, with Nelly Furtado debuting at #1 in a very slow week and Christian band Underoath at #2. (Hey, I thought Christians weren't supposed to make oaths.)

1. Nelly Furtado -- Loose
2. Underoath -- Define The Great Line
3. The Dixie Chicks -- Taking The Long Way
4. Keane -- Under The Iron Sea
5. Busta Rhymes -- The Big Bang
6. Various Artists -- High School Musical
7. Field Mob -- Light Poles and Pine Trees
8. Gnarls Barkley -- St. Elsewhere (I can't believe this isn't higher yet)
9. AFI -- Decemberunderground
10. Various Artists -- Cars soundtrack

DVDs This Week

Here's a look at the DVDs that come out this week.

Failure To Launch
A commercial hit, this witless romantic comedy stars Matthew McConaughey as a guy still living at home and Sarah Jessica Parker as the expert who plans to woo him away from mom and dad (for a fee). Beware any movie that cuts to animals for a reaction shot. Modest extras include a look at the Failure To Launch “phenomenon.”

Family Affair Season One
Never a critical fave, this sweetly gentle sitcom has aged very well indeed, thanks to subtle performances by Brian Keith, Sebastian Cabot and two adorable kids who are smart but never smart alecks. Extras include a 21 minute chat with Kathy Garver, who played Cissy. Sadly, not a word from Mrs. Beasley.

Why We Fight
** ½
An almost successful documentary, this begins as a look at the military industrial complex, but avoids most of our country’s history to focus on Iraq and then gets sidetracked into other issues. Solid extras include an update on one central figure, a young guy who joined up after 9-11 because the military looked like his only option.

Slings & Arrows Season 1
Did you like the Tony-winning musical “The Drowsy Chaperone?” Check out this unheralded Canadian drama. It’s about a run-down theater troupe trying to mount “Hamlet” with a new artistic director haunted by a ghost from the theater’s past. It springs from the same creative community as “Drowsy” and has a similar droll wit. Extras include bloopers and deleted scenes.

Also out: Tyler Perry’s crowd-pleasing “Madea’s Family Reunion” (Lions Gate; $28.98); the chameleon-like Tracey Ullman’s “Tracey Takes On… Season Two” (HBO; $34.98); “MLB Bloopers: The Funny Side Of Baseball” (Shout; $19.98); a look at the absurdly obsessed fans of Morrissey in “Is It Really So Strange?” (Strand; $24.99); the Oscar-nominated boarding school drama “Evil” (Magnolia; $26.98); and the funny fourth season of the terrific sitcom “Roseanne” (Anchor Bay; $39.98).

Jeff Buckley Biopic in the Works

A biopic about the tragically short life of singer Jeff Buckley is in the works. No news there -- ever since his death, people have been discussing this. But this project is being overseen by his mom, who has the rights to Jeff's music. She resisted before, but realized it would be made one way or another (one project was pegged to a biography) and decided biopics like "Ray" and "Walk The Line" meant it could be done without sucking. Besides, making a movie about Buckley without using his music would GUARANTEE it would suck. And who should play him? Jared Leto? James Franco?

Charlie Gibson Leaves "GMA"

I've always been a fan of the lowkey Charlie Gibson. It's a shame to see him leave "Good Morning America" right now because when Katie Couric left "Today," it provided the best chance for him and Diane Sawyer to catch up with the NBC monster hit. Gibson has been with "GMA" since 1987 -- minus a nine month break when he thought he'd retired. He's so old school, Gibson still thinks the evening news is important, which is quaint and nice and not true -- though the three networks may enjoy a brief respite in declining ratings thanks to all the new faces. It was a classy, casual goodbye, just like the last one he took in 1998. My favorite moment? When Brian Williams of NBC -- his future competitor --wished Gibson "Good luck. With limits."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"Superman Returns" Tonight

Have fun if you're going to a midnight screening. But don't get your hopes up too high. I've avoided the press screenings because I think it wil be more fun to watch the movie with a paying audience. But everyone I know who has seen it has been nonplussed. The trades were positive about its commercial prospects, but the mainstream reviews are mixed, from the NYT to the LA Times. It's not a bomb -- if you want to enjoy it, you will. But it's not a rousing success either, so take what pleasure you can from a scenery chewing Lex Luthor and a stalwart Superman. It flies. It just doesn't soar.

Axl Rose Trashes Hotel Room!

And he gets arrested? I thought that was expected of rock stars. (Mind you, biting a security guard on the leg was a bit much.) And who knows, maybe this rock star-like activity means he is actually going to finish that Guns n Roses album he's been sitting on for almost 15 years.

JK Rowling: Two Or More Characters Will Die In Final Book

...and she might kill off Harry for good measure. She's been saying so for quite a while. Her new reason is a good one: she won't be tempted to bring him back if he's dead. (Apparently, no one has told Rowling about the return of Sherlock Holmes after he was killed -- and that was in a world that didn't even include magic.) Rowling drew gasps a few years ago at a reading of (I think) Book Five when kids were allowed to ask questions and one tot wondered if Harry might become a teacher at Hogwarts after he graduated. Rowling responded with, Well, you're assuming that Harry's going to live. causing a frenzy of delicious despair.


Obviously, killing Dumbledore in Book Six (assuming he WAS killed) was a strong step to take. But it would only be the death of Ron or Hermione that would really count as a "kill." Hagrid would be too easy a tearjerker, Snape giving his life to protect Harry too obvious, bringing back Dumbledore so he could die again (remember, he went over the side of the castle tower rather than dying in front of our eyes and we never saw the body until it was in a coffin) too cheap, etc. What made the most sense after Book Five was having Neville Longbottom die to save Harry, but since they ignored his character in Book Six, that seems less likely. Still, Neville dying for Harry or Snape dying for Harry seem the most likely to me, with Ron buying it as well for good measure.

"Kyle XY" Is "Saved" By "The Closer"

Three new shows airing on Monday nights. I can see why Kyra Sedgwick's "The Closer" is a hit -- it's a relatively straighforward cop show, with Sedgwick drawling out her Southern niceties while tearing through a crime scene like a bloodhound on a trail. But comparing her to Jane Tennison of "Prime Suspect" is a huge leap, even if Sedgwick does have a shabby personal life. But don't people ever wait for their lawyers? Sedgwick ends every episode by cornering a suspect in interrogation and pulling out the info she needs with the ease of Perry Mason cracking a witness on the stand. I thought that sort of manuever went the way of Dudley Do-Right. It's hard to imagine it working when even punk gang members know enough to ask for their "Johnny" (ie Johnny Cochrane ie their lawyer) the second they're arrested.

I kind of like Tom Everett Scott (of "That Thing You Do!") in "Saved" and David Clennon (Miles from "thirtysomething") has some very good moments as his surgeon father. But this meandering look at EMT workers is toothless and confusing. When they touch a patient on the scene, we get a black and white flashback quickly showing us the backstory of the victim. (For a minute, I thought our hero was psychic.) But the accidents are way too "crazy," from a guy falling "out of the sky" onto a woman's car to a crazed dad upset his son is gay going into a gay bar with a hatchet. Throw in Scott's ex-girlfriend and a swishy gay loan shark he owes a gambling debt to (!) and you've got a lot more going on than it's worth keeping track of.

And "Kyle XY" is a pseudo sci-fi mush of everything from "Powder" to "Starman" and a million other sci-fi TV shows, movies and books all whipped together. Our good looking alien (how come aliens made to appear human are never ugly or at least average looking?) just pops up in the middle of the woods and is soon ensconced at the suburban home of a social worker/psychiatrist and her dull, anonymous family. Kyle "observes" the family with endless voice-overs that range from dull to treacly -- though I did like the scene where he feels a pain in his stomach (everything is new to Kyle) and then suddenly feels very, very good and we realize he's peed in his pants. You don't see that every day. But the cast -- Kyle aside -- is too weak to rise above the generic material.

Catching Up With Letterman, Conan and Jon

Just watched Letterman interview Al Gore from last Thursday's broadcast. The New York Times had a laughable article in which Alessandra Stanley said there was a battle of wits between Letterman and Leno and that it was a draw. She did at least suggest Letterman SHOULD do better, but even suggesting Leno was close puts her in a category of one when it comes to critics. Her example of Leno's ascendancy -- Stanley narrowed the discussion to how effective they cover politics rather than simply which show is better -- was Leno's toothless whining at Ann Coulter. (Why can't you be nice?) Letterman, in comparison, recently came to blows with Bill O'Reilly and drew blood. And last Thursday, he held a substantive discussion with Gore about global warming, of course, but also Iraq in which he thoughtfully mirrored the confusing feelings most Americans have while getting direct, concrete answers from Gore on what needs to be done next. It was more fruitful than all the Sunday morning talk shows combined. Conan scored on Friday with a raucous sing-along with Bruce Springsteen, who performed two numbers, including "Pay Me My Money Down" with Conan on guitar and vocals. Just a hint at how fun Springsteen's current tour has been. And what does it say about Gay Pride parades when even Jon Stewart -- a friend to gays -- makes jokes about how embarrassing it is to stumble on the parade with your little son in tow?

Gore's Movie: Cooling Down Or Heating Up?

Can you ever call a movie that is one of the ten most successful of all time a disappointment or write a headline that says "Cooler days for global warming documentary"? Only if you want to be misleading. Variety, like many others, has jumped all over the fifth weekend slowdown of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," which has now grossed $9.6 mil after five weeks -- putting it in the Top Ten of all-time grossing theatrically released documentary films and getting there faster than most. Variety again raises the bar and compares the movie to "March of the Penguins" -- the second highest grossing docu OF ALL TIME -- and surprise, finds "Truth" coming up short. And guess what? Every movie released this year will fall short of the $460 mil grossed by "Star wars" -- the second top-grossing movie of all time behind "Titanic." Does that make them failures? Of course not. "Truth" will continue to make money throughout the summer and continue to add to its impressive total. But if it fell off the charts today it would still be a resounding success by any standard.

Monday, June 26, 2006

"Cars" Chugging Along

Adam Sandler's dumb new movie (which is almost redundant) opens at #1 with $40 mil. Good -- Sandler makes some interesting small movies (like "Punch Drunk Love") but knows when to get goofy to please his fans. But the big news to me was that "Cars" keeps chugging along. It grossed $22.5 mil and has hit $160 mil. Clearly the movie will hit $200 mil in the US, which is the new $100 mil (the old standard for a blockbuster). How anyone can paint that as a disaster for Disney is beyond me. Sure, the movie cost $120 mil or so and Pixar movies are averaging $250 mil (which is insanely good), but EXPECTING a movie to gross $250 mil is just crazy. And for the critics who think "Superman Returns" wil pummel it: yes, of course, but that's a PG-13 movie (as is "Pirates"). So families with little kids will still see "Cars" as their number one option and that should give it legs. Other critics said Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" was "slowing down" and that it clearly wasn't any "March of the Penguins." Again, this is like comparing every feature film to "Titanic." ("Penguins" was the second biggest theatrically released documentary of all time.) "Inconvenient Truth" is now one of the ten biggest grossing documentaries of all time. It's just hit $9.5 mil, plays on 400+ screens and barely dropped from a week ago. Oh and that other disaster "The Da Vinci Code?" Closing in on $700 mil worldwide. Remember: don't get caught up in opening weekend or second weekend percentage drop figures. The only numbers that matter are the movie's budget and the movie's final worldwide gross.

Warren Buffett Gives Bulk Of Fortune To Bill Gates?

Good God, surely Bill Gates is the LAST person in the world to need that money? I guess I wasn't in the running. And now the Bill Gates Foundation is literally going to be the biggest charitable foundation in the history of the world. It's certainly a testament to their effective and innovative giving that Buffett is doing this.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Springsteen At The Garden

Before the show, I was a little ashamed of New Yorkers. I don't care what album he's promoting, if Bruce Springsteen is performing at Madison Square Garden, the show should be a sell-out. Instead, people outside looking to buy were trying to bargain down fans with extra tickets. Inside, there were scattered empty seats throughout the arena. It was certainly very full, but seeing ANY empty seats at Springsteen's one and only show in NYC on this tour is a bit of a shock. I couldn't help thinking Bruce might be feeling a bit bummed. He's delivered a rollicking, fun album and it's barely made a ripple on the charts and casual fans are taking a pass on a stage show with 20+ musicians in tow. On the other hand, this meant the only people there were the faithful. And none of it mattered once the show began.

Most rock shows, including Springsteen's, are raucous, pounding affairs. I've seen Springsteen in concert and been so exhausted at the end I can barely stand. (Seriously.) The same is true for everyone from U2 to Billy Joel (who sold out the Garden for 12 straight nights recently.) But this 2 hour and 40 minute show to promote "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," an album of classic folk tunes and protest songs associated with or written by Pete Seeger, was different. It was a joyous, uplifting affair -- at the end, I was ready to go on for another 2 and a half hours or at least go home and get politically active. Rousing, moving, and tremendous fun, it was the equal of any Springsteen show I've ever seen, which means it's the equal of ANY concert I've ever seen. The only way I could have enjoyed it more is if my seat was even closer. (I was on the floor, which contained three sections. The front section was standing room. The middle section and back section had seats. I was in the fifth row of the middle section pretty much dead center.)

I didn't recognize the fine opening number, which might have been an old folk tune or a Springsteen original called "American Land," but since the people at fanzine Backstreets didn't recognize it either, I don't feel so dumb. "John Henry" followed immediately. A folk tune and one of the first I think to become widely popular that treated a black man as a hero, it's about a fellow working the railroad who competes with a steam drill to see who can work faster and dies in the process. You probably know it from your school days (back in the day when school actually included some music lessons). Like the album the songs come from, this was a combustible performance. The stage was crowded with 20+ musicians and a scorching brass section that literally rocked the house. The crowd roared when a fiddle player stepped forward to take a solo and did the same for the banjo player (some crazy young guy with a Seventies 'fro), the accordian player and on and on. It was a beautiful noise, always a bit ramshackle, as if they were just getting together to have some fun -- they were good, but not too good, because that's not the way this music is meant to be played. It's spontaneous and fun.

He followed immediately with "O Mary, Don't You Weep," an old gospel tune that was just as energetic. It quickly became clear what a unique show this was. Springsteen was playing an album of all new material -- always freeing for an artist who has a massive back catalog and fans who want to hear all their favorite numbers. No one in the Garden was waiting for "Born To Run" or "Thunder Road" this night. On the other hand, these are classic songs, so instead of new tunes that everyone hadn't quite embraced yet, it was like a string of greatest hits Springsteen simply hadn't played in a long, long time. It was new and old, fresh and familiar.

The crowd of faithful knew every word. At the slightest prompting, they dived in on choruses -- even a short intro would have the crowd singing the words before Springsteen had even started. "Johnny 99" was the first Springsteen tune to be reimagined for this show and to me was the closest to an unsuccessful performance -- there was something dissonant and awkward about it that didn't quite take hold. But then came "Old Dan Tucker," with Bruce arranging a sing-off between New Yorkers and people from New Jersey. As the Jerseyans held their own, Bruce smiled and said, "I don't know, it's pretty close," teasing both them and the New Yorkers as they traded the chorus back and forth. But then he closed by saying now in the spirit of the evening, everyone sing it together. Exactly. The spirit of the show was heartfelt...and deeply political.

"Eyes On The Prize," my least favorite moment on the album, was a little more lively onstage. But after that and "Johnny 99," it was simply one highlight after another. "Jesse James" (oh how I hate that coward Robert Ford) was a barn burner, "Atlantic City" had a sinewy vigor, and "Erie Canal" (another childhood favorite of mine) was intro'd by Bruce as being part of the vanishing genre of mule appreciation song.

"My Oklahoma Home" is a comic highlight on the album. But here Bruce began it by talking about New Orleans, reminding us that things like having your entire life wiped away can actually happen. (He didn't need to add -- "and no one will care" -- but he did describe the shocking sight of seeing a major American city emptied out with street after street of abandoned homes and urged us to remain "vigilant" about the reconstruction.) Bruce started with just an acoustic guitar, and while the rest of the band joined in slowly and the humor was still there, Bruce kept the tragedy underneath the black humor up front and made it real. (The crowd's chant on the chorus "Blown Away!" was especially lively.)

Then came a lovely swing version of "If I Should Fall Behind," followed by "Mrs. McGrath," the tune of an Irish mother whose son comes home from the war without any legs. Springsteen said simply we have to keep writing and singing songs like that because it keeps happening. That was followed by a thunderous "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" My only disappointment about this song is that it's not on the album -- substitute it for "Eyes on the Prize" or "Shenandoah" or "Froggie Went A Courtin" and a terrific album would become that much better.

I can't emphasize enough the roars of delight that greeted most numbers. Though in many ways new to us, they were greeted like old friends. Certainly "Jacob's Ladder" -- a real crowd pleaser that built and built and built to a climax and then kept goin' -- was yet another highlight. He followed with a number that I was not looking forward to: "We Shall Overcome." Frankly, the album version is too slow and pokey for me -- in concert, it was vastly improved and strikingly moving.

Again, tune after tune was tremendously fun but my mind was truly split open wide by the "Nebraska" song "Open All Night." (It's no surprise over the years that songs from "Nebraska" keep being reimagined in concert with tremendous success -- it's simply his greatest album with his best batch of songs.) Bruce turned "Open All Night" into some sort of swinging, hep-cat number, complete with the background female singers making like the Andrews Sisters and Bruce delivering the lines in a talking jive manner that made the song completely fresh. An astounding, wonderful, ten minutes (?) of pure bliss. Followed by "Pay Me My Money Down," which exploded everyone into joy. The brass section was scorching the stage by this time. These men had probably never played to crowds this big and they were not wasting the opportunity. One trumpet player in particular got roars of applause when he stepped forward because the man was simply on fire. Then the band left the stage one by one, with Bruce tapping them on the shoulder and calling them away until just the tuba player was front and center, with the crowd belting out the chorus over and over as he played along. Usually, Bruce comes out and taps him on the shoulder. But we'd already heard the guy's mom was in the audience that night and suddenly a little old lady came out on stage and went up behind the tuba player and tapped him on the shoulder. He clearly had no idea it was happening and seeing the tuba player and his mom hug on the stage at the end -- well, it was that kind of show.

There was a thread of politics and social consciousness throughout the show -- again and again, side comments by Bruce or the simple fact that the songs championed the common man made that clear.

But no one could ignore the steely purpose of the encores. Bruce began with an acoustic version of the Pete Seeger song "Bring Them Home." Some people think all New Yorkers are hippie liberals, but it's a town of 8 million people (not to mention the folks from New Jersey). And Bruce's fans are definitely more blue collar than say, Streisand's. But with just a guitar and stinging lyrics about how we shouldn't let our brave young men die because of the gleam in someone's eye, Bruce had the entire audience singing "Bring 'em home," with a sense of purpose and moment that should strike fear into the heart of any Republican running for office in the mid-term elections.

That was followed by "My City of Ruins," the anthem Bruce played at the 9-11 concert with breathtaking majesty. This version was more gut-wrenching and gospel-powered than the almost pacific, spiritual original. And when it got to the chorus, the crowd roared out "Come on, RISE UP!" with an overwhelming ferocity and passion that completely drowned out anything that had come before in the entire evening. It was an emotional, stunning moment -- I was taken aback momentarily and frankly don't know how Springsteen managed to ride that wave of feeling without stumbling for a bit. I certainly would have lost my voice for a moment. But of course that's why he's onstage and I'm sitting in the audience. Then came the joyous release: more barn-burning, more exhilarating solos from the band, more joy with "Ramrod" and "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)."

Then the one song I hated to hear because I knew it was the last number: "When The Saints Go Marching In." Directorboy thought this quiet, stirring version was beautiful. I had expected a rousing finale and so was a little disappointed, mostly because I knew the show was over.

If you're even remotely a fan, don't miss this show if you can at all help it. I wouldn't have said that about his acoustic tour or the tour supporting "The Rising," as much fun as Bruce ALWAYS is in concert. You'll never go wrong seeing him at any time. But this tour is not to be missed.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Corinne Bailey Rae At Bowery Ballroom

A delightful UK singer, Corinne Bailey Rae has delivered what will definitely be one of the best CDs of the year. I interviewed this sweet, charming artist on Monday for the New York Post and went to catch her live act last night with my friend Janie. Janie hadn't heard the album and after the first song, she turned to me and said, "Marvin Gaye." Indeed, you can hear all sorts of classic soul references when listening to Rae, from Gaye and Bill Withers to Nina Simone and (with her gorgeous finale "Seasons Change") Stevie Wonder. Usually, she's namechecked as a "Norah Jones with soul," which is fair enough since her album is intimate, adult, personal and extremely accessible in the best sense of the word. The 27 year old Rae is still working on her stagecraft -- she has all sorts of cool little hand gestures down pat and will only improve with time. And that Led Zeppelin cover proved she's got a far wider palette to draw from than her debut might indicate. Rae comes back in August for an 18 city tour. Buy her CD and you'll surely want to see her in concert. Now if only she'd ended her show like Aretha with a plea for us to "Keep Whitney Houston in your prayers," my pleasure would have been complete.

Ray Romano To Film Sitcom For HBO

The clock is ticking for "Everybody Loves Raymond's" Ray Romano, who will film 10 episodes of a "limited comedy series" (which presumably means the number of episodes and not the amount of comedy) for HBO. He'll be teamed with the creative team behind "24," because God knows that show has been a laugh riot. (Actually, I do giggle now when Jack Bauer starts to torture someone -- it's the dramatic equivalent of "Seinfeld's" "Not that there's anything wrong with it" or "Diff'rent Stroke's" "Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis?") The show will even have a ticking clock aspect, as Romano plays a 40-something billionaire who only has six months to live. Just when every cable channel is desperately launching edgy dramas like "The Closer" and "Rescue Me," HBO breaks the other way and starts to create traditional comedies.

Aretha Postscript

P.S. I forgot the funniest part of the show. At the encore (which consisted not of a song, but of Aretha coming out, taking one more regal bow and tossing her earrings into the crowd), she implored us to "Keep Whitney Houston in your prayers! Keep Whitney Houston in your prayers!"

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Taylor Hicks Debuts At #1

The Taylor Hicks single "Do I Make You Proud" sold 228,000 copies and debuts at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. That's much better than the last two winners -- Carrie Underwood (169,000) and Fantasia (142,000). In fact, in a way "Idol seemed to be slipping into just a TV show with the music as barely a sidelight. (That's an exaggeration, but still.) Now Hicks has rejuvenated it to a degree, almost tying Kelly Clarkson's 236,000 and yet no where near the phenomenal numbers of runner-up Clay Aiken, who sold 393,000 to winner Ruben's still-terrific 286,000. Whew, that's a lot of numbers. On top of the album charts: Busta Rhymes with his latest. Chugging along just fine is the "Cars" soundtrack and Disney's TV movie "High School Musical." Obviously, kids wanna rock.

Aretha At The Apollo

I saw Aretha Franklin at the Apollo last night, thanks to monkeyboy sharing an extra ticket with me. Spotted Roger Friedman -- soul afficionado and driving force behind the fine soul documentary Only The Strong Survive -- and felt very plugged in. Never seen the Queen of Soul in concert before and I've heard for years that she can be indifferent when not in the mood. But the Apollo seemed like the best bet for a good show and seeing her seemed like the perfect time to make my first trip to that venue.

The crowd was as raucous and responsive as one could hope and the show featured -- in true Apollo fashion -- introductions of famous people in the audience. They'd turn on some SERIOUS white lights and light up the crowd whenever someone was mentioned. Aretha gave a nice intro to Steve Harvey, who hadn't shown up yet and an even more ebullient intro for Rev. Al Sharpton, who clambered on stage and then did a little dance (quite convincingly) to the delight of the crowd.

The show itself? Aretha wasn't quite on auto-pilot but she wasn't transcendant either. She opened with "Respect" thankfully, and while there are a dozen or so songs you would think she just HAS to do, certainly any very short list would include "Think" and "Chain of Fools," neither of which made an appearance. Aretha did best on the slow groove numbers, scoring terrifically well with "Rock Steady" and a tremendous "Dr. Feelgood." She did a gospel number I wasn't too familiar with, a civil rights number that bored me and closed with "The Greatest Love Of All." An attempt to recreate her Grammy triumph when she sang an operatic aria fell flat as she cut off notes and basically failed to scale the heights.

But overall, she was in good spirits, dressed nicely, and shook her groove thang enough to dislodge both dangly earrings throughout the show. (Since she tossed them into the audience as an encore, I'll assume they weren't real diamonds.) I was delighted to see her but frustrated to realize that if she was focused she could still deliver a really great show from start to finish.

How Is "Cars" Doing At The Box Office?

The new Pixar movie "Cars" has grossed $117 million in ten days in the US. (It will not open in most overseas territories for a few weeks.) But it has been labeled a terrible disappointment for Disney since they bought out Pixar -- Disney stock has even taken a tumble because of it. They are wrong. Here are their arguments:

1. It is a bust because the movie dropped more in the second week than "The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo," etc. -- Everyone knows about looking for the second week drop -- that is, how much a movie fell from the opening weekend numbers. The reasoning? Opening weekend tells you how the marketing campaign and the star power worked. Weekend two tells you how the movie worked. It CAN be a useful stat, but people are blowing it all out of proportion. "Cars" dropped more than those earlier Pixar movies, but it had the LOWEST second week drop of any major release this summer -- and since comparing stats from even 5 years ago can be misleading, "Cars" ability to open solid and drop less than any other movie this summer is a huge positive.

2. "Cars" is a flop because it is grossing less than "The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo," etc. Again, here is another artificial comparison. Do analysts really expect every single Pixar film to gross more than the last one? In ten years, they would have to gross $600 mil to keep up that standard. Yes, Pixar has had an amazing run, but it is unrealistic -- to say the least -- to expect every new release to keep setting records.

Ultimately, the only standard that matters is this: how much did a movie cost to make and how much money did it take in? "Cars" probably cost around $120 mil. It will gross roughly $200 mil in the US and maybe another $200 mil overseas (though that could be less since NASCAR is not a draw around the world). Figure at LEAST $300 mil worldwide for DVD and TV sales. That's a total of $700 mil, not counting merchandising, which is reportedly going very strongly. So unless you think every Pixar movie made should be a record-breaker, "Cars" is fine. It didn't get the usual glowing reviews of Pixar movies (I'd only give it three stars out of four) and it fell below "expectations" of $250 mil, but "expecting" a movie to break records or creating the artificial standard of second weekend drops is beside the point. "Cars" will make a lot of money. And maybe it will force Disney to revamp that lame driving ride at Disney World.

The Deal

Okay, so getting new software and switching to a new server is gonna take a little time -- especially since I am not fully moved into my new apartment and am broke from my trip to Cannes. (Since Cannes costs me lots of money every year, I like to work it into as many conversations as possible.)

Without automatic posting, I cannot afford to serve as a "filter" and make constant updates on what is happening in the entertainment world. So for the moment I will just speak up when there is something I strongly agree or disagree with -- any issue on which I have an opinion, like for example, how "Cars" and "An Inconvenient Truth" are doing at the box office....

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Back From Cannes and London

Hello, Popsurfers. I'm back from London and Cannes. I'm looking to move my home webpage ( to a new site as well as my blog. Blogger is driving me nuts. It seems like every time I try to post something this week, the service is down or moving too slowly. Hard to complain since it's free, but still. Also, I've found it impractical to continue my all-day blogging without the ability to post items and have them appear later. If I have to be by the computer 12 hours a day, it ain't gonna work. So hold tight while I try to make all these technical switches to new software and a new website -- it ain't easy since I'm a computer doofus. Thanks for the emails asking what's up.