Archive for April, 2009

THE SUMMER MOVIE SEASON BEGINS

April 30, 2009

This past weekend, I got the chance to cover the first press junkets for this summer’s onslaught of blockbuster movies. First up was “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” I certainly enjoyed the movie, thanks to lots of exciting action scenes and the as always perfect portrayal of Wolverine by Hugh Jackman. The movie also benefitted from a ferocious portrayal of Sabretooth by Liev Schreiber. I also enjoyed the way the film fitted into the previous “X-Men” movie continuity, as it was really a prequel to the excellent “X2.”

The interviews took place on the Fox lot on Saturday morning. While they had installed some nice backdrops on Stage 20 for the television interviews, the radio press conference took place in a tent outside the soundstage. We got five members of the cast at once, plus director Gavin Hood. As if it wasn’t hot enough in the unfortunately black colored tent,  Hugh Jackman was sitting right under a very hot light but it didn’t seem to bother him.

Most of the questions centered on the training that most of the actors undertook for the movie. Hugh said he never worked harder to get in shape, while Ryan Reynolds talked about training with swords for his portrayal of Deadpool and Taylor Kitsch constantly practiced manipulating a deck of cards to play Gambit.

One thing I found interesting as an X-Men fan is that originally Hugh wanted to make a movie about Wolverine’s adventures in Japan based on the popular 1982 miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller but he was convinced by Fox that after all the talk in the “X-Men” series about Wolverine’s origins that it would be better to finally show them. Jackman said he’d like to explore the Japanese material next if there was another Wolverine movie. Hugh’s not one to count on something that hasn’t yet happened though. Someone asked him if he would host the Oscars again and he replied, “They’d have to ask me first.”

As the cast members filed out, I took the opportunity to ask Hugh to sign my hardback copy of “Marvel: The Characters And Their Universe,” and he readily obliged. He’s definitely one of the more charming actors around and is always a pleasure to talk to.

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AMERICAN IDOL 8:TOP 5 ANALYSIS

April 29, 2009

It’s “Standards From The Rat Pack Era” tonight on “Idol.” Of course, that doesn’t mean we heard much swing, unfortunately. Just about everyone chose songs identified with Sinatra, with one exception. Gee, I wonder who that could be? (Hint: He sang last!)

Let’s see what we got…

“THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT” – Kris Allen

His version reminds me of Michael Buble, and sure enough, Michael has recorded the song. Kris seems confident and heats things up midway through the song. Speeding things up wasn’t necessary though. A nice job. And if Kris doesn’t make it in music, there’s always the CW…

“SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME” – Allison Iraheta

I liked what Jamie Foxx stressed in his mentoring: relating the song to your life in order to make it more heartfelt. That’s always been a problem in past seasons with many contestants not reflecting the lyrics in their performances.

Okay, I see what people are complaining about when it comes to Allison’s diction. The entire middle sounded like another language, like it’s one of those cases on “House” where the patient doesn’t realize they’re being affected by sickness which is changing their perceptions. Too bad, because Allison’s voice is impressive.

“MY FUNNY VALENTINE” – Matt Giraud

As soon as I heard the song title, I immediately thought of the master class in feeling Melinda Doolittle brought to this classic. This time, I didn’t agree with Jamie’s advice, as I didn’t find Matt’s deeper tones in the early part of the song that pleasing. I thought it sounded better when he started going a little higher. He had a nice catch in his voice, showing some emotion. Matt’s best performance in a while, which may spell trouble for Allison tomorrow night.

Funny thing… I read the review of the performances on MJ’s Big Blog before the show came on here in L.A. She thought Simon was throwing Kris and Allison under the bus in order to keep Matt and Danny in the competition. I read elsewhere that Simon had earlier predicted an Adam/Danny final and he may have wanted to help move things along to what he envisioned. But after seeing the actual performances, while I think Simon may have been undully harsh on Kris, I do think he said what he believed, as Allison really wasn’t that great.

“COME RAIN OR COME SHINE” – Danny Gokey

I certainly didn’t expect this. Although he could have been a little looser posture-wise at first, Danny gave an excellent performance. He certainly stepped it up at the right time. Anyone predicting a surprise elimination of Danny will have to wait.

What does it say about these contestants that some of them gave their best performance in weeks on a night devoted to American standards?

“FEELING GOOD” – Adam Lambert

While I didn’t recognize this song, now that I’ve looked it up on Itunes, I know I’ve at least heard it before, because it’s on George Michael’s album, “Twenty-Five.” But the most famous rendition is by Nina Simone. Sammy Davis, Jr. also recorded it, making it eligible for tonight.

Turns out Randy had it right (that this was the most Broadway Adam has been) until he had it wrong (that this performance wasn’t that good). A very catchy song (I could have sung along with the chorus after hearing it the first time), it was really a showcase for one long held note. Wouldn’t you know it… just when the other contestants have a great night, Adam comes along and blows them all away. Ladies and gentlemen, your American Idol!

AMERICAN IDOL 8: TAKE 2 TOP 7 ANALYSIS

April 22, 2009

Ah, nothing says disco like Vince Neil of Motley Crue, who was sitting in tonight’s audience…

As a veteran of the disco era, tonight’s “American Idol” should have highlighted some of my favorite music, but it didn’t.  It turns out that while the contestants played it safe with their song choices, they went wild with their arrangements, making for a rather un-disco Disco Night. Let’s see what we got…

“I’M EVERY WOMAN” – Lil Rounds

Obviously Lil is trying to be more of an entertainer in her performance tonight. Unfortunately, she should have chosen a song that gives her more lyrics to sing. Instead, she concentrates on runs and trying to get the audience involved and the judges hammer her for it.

“SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY” – Kris Allen

This sounds like something Jason Castro might have done, but Kris is way more comfortable on stage. Yes, it works, but then I think this is kind of cheating. It’s like when I found out I could take a meteorology course in college to fulfill my science requirement instead of the harder chemistry or biology. I want to hear some disco!

“SEPTEMBER” – Danny Gokey

And Danny makes my wish come true, doing “September” with the original arrangement. Unfortunately, the performance is like a kid playing with a light switch that turns Danny’s soul off and on at random. Sometimes he sounds great, sometimes just fair. As always, he sounds good by the time the last chorus comes around.

Because Paula’s critiques this year have been so on point, I hate to hear her yell to Danny, “See you in the finals!” Not that Danny doesn’t have a good shot at being one of the last two standing, but I wouldn’t count Kris out just yet…

“HOT STUFF” – Allison Iraheta

Kara: “That was a nine or ten.” Really? I found it to feature quite a bit of shouting. Here’s an instance where the original arrangement would have worked better. While Allison was my early favorite, she’s fallen behind Kris and Adam in the last two weeks.

“IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU” – Adam Lambert

I know I ripped on Kris a bit for not doing disco the way it should be done, so I don’t have the right to call Adam’s performance here genius… but it was. Sure, there was a little out of control wailing on the chorus and he may have dropped a few words here and there, but color me impressed.

“STAYIN’ ALIVE” – Matt Giraud

I thought Matt came out strong, but that first falsetto note was awful. Then he got it back together, only to have the performance fall apart on him. And this is why people like Simon. After hearing three judges natter on about how Matt can really sing, Simon tells the truth and delivers the bad news.

“DIM ALL THE LIGHTS” – Anoop Desai

Anoop makes a bad mistake by either not staying with a ballad tempo through the entire song or at least revving it up in the end. Instead, the performance comes across as not very exciting. Anoop has been quoted as saying he’s very hard on himself, and you can see the disappointment on his face at the end. With two going home this week, it could be the bookends of the show, Lil and Anoop, although I’d rather see Lil and Matt go Home Sweet Home.

AMERICAN IDOL 8: TOP 7 ANALYSIS

April 15, 2009

You may have noticed that unlike last season, I haven’t been doing any analysis of the latest season of “Idol.” One reason might be that for the most part, the contestants haven’t captured my heart, but I think the reality is President Obama is to blame! His press conferences have pushed two “Idol” performance shows up against my beloved “Lost” and “Lost” comes first, and knowing that I wouldn’t be able to blog week in and week out about “Idol” made me think I shouldn’t start. But since I have nothing else to blog about right now (and the judges were so often off base tonight), I’ve changed my mind. Let’s see what we got tonight…

“I DON’T WANT TO MISS A THING” – ALLISON IRAHETA

When I have tuned in this year, I’ve usually found myself rooting for Allison. I even picked up the phone and voted for her, something I usually don’t do until the final week. But tonight she disappointed me. First I didn’t like the string intro and then Allison made one of the biggest mistakes a contestant can make: she made the performance about her voice, not the song. In trying to show off her big voice, she forgot about the emotions in the lyrics she should have been trying to convey. At least it was nice to see Simon moving away from his support of Lil and give Allison some props. She may need it going first.

“EVERYTHING I DO (I DO IT FOR YOU)” – ANOOP DESAI

I’ve been rooting for Anoop since the beginning, although he’s really had his ups and downs. Tonight was more down than up. He showed nothing special in the verses and the chorus wasn’t much better, as he kept trying to hold notes and add runs which didn’t work. The amazing thing was Kara saying the performance was one of Anoop’s best. You could see Simon in his corner wishing he had the chance to correct that overstatement!

“BORN TO BE WILD” – ADAM LAMBERT

Now here’s a contestant who does have the voice to play around with a melody. While I found the electro take on this Steppenwolf classic jarring at first, Adam was a lot of fun to watch. His vocal power reminded me a bit of Meat Loaf, which is what I think Simon was getting at when he mentioned “Rocky Horror.” Of course, he also has the wide range of a Freddie Mercury, so let’s hope Adam can find some songs that let him show that off.

Simon was wrong about one thing though. The people that would be appalled by Adam’s take on a rock classic like “Born To be Wild” aren’t watching “American Idol,” although he’s right when he mentioned that “Mad World” was better. Adam is doing a great job of mixing things up each week. It’s just too bad there isn’t another horse in the race to really push him each week, like last season’s Cook/Archuleta duel.

“HAVE YOU EVER REALLY LOVED A WOMAN?” – MATT GIRAUD

This performance was just okay. It seemed like every time he reached for his falsetto, Matt was out of breath. I had to laugh when Kara admonished him for doing a rock song. While this may have been originally performed by a rock artist, it’s no rock song! I also wonder if Simon knew he was on camera as he made those goofy facial expressions while Kara was speaking.

“ENDLESS LOVE” – DANNY GOKEY

It seems like everyone who ever recorded this song has a richer voice than Danny. Paula was right on when she pointed out the key was wrong for him. But as always Danny impressed on the chorus. I just have to wonder… with the gravel in his voice, maybe the judges should have pushed him into trying a soul classic or two.

“FALLING SLOWLY” – KRIS ALLEN

A very emotional performance from a singer who actually looks like a star. If anything, he didn’t need the background vocals behind him. Showed off a great falsetto too. The performance of the night.

“THE ROSE” – LIL ROUNDS

I think it was a big mistake to add the R&B flavor on this. When she was riffing on the words  “cold, cold winter,” I actually laughed. I think a more straight- ahead version would have served her better, but with all the songs to choose from, she could have easily picked something that was completely R&B. She’s lucky she was last on the show, because otherwise she’d be in a lot more trouble vote wise, although arguing with Simon won’t help her case.

IN FRONT OF THE STAGE AT THE “GEORGE STRAIT: ACM ARTIST OF THE DECADE ALL STAR CONCERT”

April 8, 2009

Well, I certainly have to laugh when I read back my entry about the ACMA rehearsals. If you kept up with the news, Tim McGraw never did rehearse for his spot on the ACMA’s and in fact didn’t appear on the show at all. He did make it to the George Strait concert though. More details on that, but first let’s review my night at the ACMA’s:

I got tickets for myself and my friends Annie and Chris. We ended up sitting in the stands to the right of the stage. Unfortunately, our view was blocked at times by a camera operator, but once we moved down a few rows, we were so close, it was like we were onstage. The show moved fast and the three hours were over in a flash. But the highlights of the evening came after the show. First, as Nicole Kidman was leaving the arena via a door on our side of the stage, Annie yelled out a goodbye to her and Nicole looked up and waved to her. Funnily enough, the next day Annie found herself sitting next to Nicole in a VIP lounge at the Bellagio and didn’t say a word to her!

After a quick dinner, we attended the ACM’s All Star Jam. This is an event that takes place after the show in a huge ballroom behind the Grand Garden Arena. I actually enjoyed the All Star Jam more than the official show, because while on the Awards, the performers tend to showcase their new singles, at the Jam, they play their most popular hits. While I was upset to find we were too late for a three song mini-set by Kenny Chesney, we did get to see John Rich, Luke Bryan and Randy Houser (whose song “Anything Goes” is going on my Ipod at my first opportunity). Best of all were the Zac Brown Band, who performed their number one song, “Chicken Fried” as well as a blazing version of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” and the newly crowned Entertainer Of The Year, Carrie Underwood, who was so on top of the world after her win that she gave the loosest, most spontaneous performance I’ve ever seen from her, rocking out on “Last Name” and “Before He Cheats.”

But that wasn’t the end of the country festivities, not by a long shot! The next night, we taped the “George Strait: ACM Artist Of The Decade All Star Concert” at the Grand Garden Arena. The show attracted another full house and since there were fewer people from the music industry in attendance than at the Awards, it was even louder. In fact, the energy didn’t flag the entire evening, as performer after performer went above and beyond in their salute to King George. The real question is how will they edit the show down to two hours? Every singer not only talked about what George and his music meant to them before their song, but afterward, most of them spoke even more before going over to shake George’s hand. It was really very moving.

Now I don’t want to give away too many details about the show, since it’s air date is still two months away at the end of May. I will say you might just be getting a look at your humble blogger. It seems during Alan Jackson’s rendition of “The Fireman,” one of the roving cameramen started filming our row. I figured he had trained his camera on Annie who was sitting beside me (although for that song, the entire audience was standing up and dancing), but it seems I was the target of his lens. I know this because I was later told that everyone at the producer’s table following the action on monitors yelled out my name when they saw me, so I should be on the show. Of course, every time I ran into one of the producers today, he mimed a pair of scissors cutting something. I think he was kidding…

YOU WILL BELIEVE A MAN CAN SING (WITH HIS MOUTH CLOSED!)

April 5, 2009

The other night I got to see singing ventriloquist Terry Fator’s new show at the Mirage, and I can’t recommend it enough! I had never seen Terry, the winner of the second season of “America’s Got Talent,” perform before, so for the first fifteen minutes of the show, I sat there with my mouth open in amazement… unlike Terry, whose gift is to sing incredibly well with his mouth closed. It’s astounding, especially since so many of his imitations are spot on. And it’s one thing to do an impression of a star but it’s even more impressive to sing like them.

Terry Fator is also a very smart performer, mixing things up with different puppet characters throughout the show. It won’t be long before you’re applauding for the puppet as if it’s a real person. Terry also brings a member of the audience onstage and cleverly turns them into a human puppet.

So if you’re in Vegas and want to come out of a show smiling, try seeing “Terry Fator And His Cast Of Thousands.” You won’t be sorry!

BACKSTAGE AT THE 2009 ACMA’S

April 5, 2009

I’m writing this from the production office of this year’s ACMA’s at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. Today things are a bit more hectic than previous days this week, thanks to the crush of performers coming in for rehearsals before tomorrow night’s live show. Although things will never get too over the top, thanks to the calm and steady demeanor of Executive Producer RA Clark (known to everyone as RAC). Assisting him in keeping the mood light is Producer/Writer Barry Adelman, who is constantly cracking jokes and singing the most nonsensical lyrics he can think of in current pop songs (you wouldn’t believe how many times we’ve heard the words, “That’s not my name”).

For an excellent overview of the rehearsals, you can check out Whitney Pastorek’s reports at Entertainment Weekly’s website. But my vantage point is quite a bit different. While Whitney is writing about what’s going on in the arena, I’ve been spending time watching the performers booked for “George Strait: ACM Artist Of The Decade All Star Concert” working on their songs with the house band for the show. It’s been fascinating sitting a few feet away while Jack Ingram rocks up his song or Keith Urban shows off his skills on acoustic guitar. The funniest thing is while the area around the Grand Garden Arena is ringed with fans and autograph seekers, outside the hall where they’re coming in to rehearse for our show, it’s totally free of fans.

As you know, I did phone interviews with many of the performers on the George Strait show before I got to Las Vegas, but it’s much more fun to talk to the stars face to face and tell them things I’ve always wanted to share. For instance, I got to tell Faith Hill how much I enjoy her song “Paris” from the album “Butterflies,” even though I’ve never been all that sure what it was about. Faith said she wasn’t sure what it was about either, so I certainly felt good about that. Continuing with the compliments, I told Keith Urban how happy I was that he redid the song “Got It Right This Time (The Celebration)” on his “Greatest Hits” album. Previously, he had put a demo version on a previous album and while I liked the song, I still wanted a full-blown version, which I got on “Greatest Hits.”

But the most memorable moment was getting a surprise hug from Taylor Swift. Writer Fred Bronson had approached Taylor to show her the intro that she’ll give before her song. She was very happy with it and didn’t want to change a word. Fred reminded her that she had done a phone interview with me just a week ago, so much of what he had written were her words anyway. So Taylor came over to say hello and gave me a hug. Naturally I had her sign something for my friend’s daughter, who’s a big fan. And don’t think I forgot about myself, as I also had her sign the CD cover for her latest album, “Fearless.” So far I’ve also gotten autographs from Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley and Toby Keith, which probably makes me one of the most successful autograph hunters in the building. I was only stymied by Lee Ann Womack, as I didn’t have a CD cover along when she was rehearsing yesterday, something I was reminded of when she turned up in front of me when I was walking through the casino to my room this afternoon.

Okay, time to check out Tim and Faith rehearsing on the big stage!