I wanted to like ‘La La Land,’ and I’m the perfect audience. For starters, I love musicals. I also love the idea of resurrecting a dead medium, and given the rise of television musicals, it’s the perfect time for it. And though I’ve kept largely quiet about my take on the film, the Oscar hype has awakened the beast.
‘La La Land’ attempts to remind us of old Hollywood, as a Jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress. It’s a nice try, but ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ it is not. First, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling cannot sing. When I say they can’t sing, I’m being kind. They literally cannot sing. I understand the idea of finding stars who can sing rather than singers who can be stars, but this idea only works if you can actually SING. It’s insulting to take two A-listers and put them in a medium that doesn’t suit their talents just to draw an audience. As a result of this sad fact, the vocals are mixed so low I can barely hear them in the songs. It’s a MUSICAL, which means I expect bright, rich vocals. In fact, the opening scene was also mixed horribly, and I can only assume it was a sad attempt to keep the vocals consistent with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s sub-par performance.On the Fresh Air radio show, the host called this opening scene “beautiful mayhem.” I’d call it a mess. The original song is not memorable, the choreography is EASY, and (as previously mentioned) the sound is lacking. And just as I tried to acclimate to this struggling sound, then came John Legend, whose mere presence reminded me what singers actually sound like, and my disbelief was no longer suspended.
If you thought my take on Emma and Ryan’s singing was harsh, I’m going to to be even harsher about their dance number. I appreciate a one-take shot of their tap dancing as opposed to the chopped-up mess we saw from Richard Gere in Chicago, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are not good tap dancers. As a former tap dancer, I can tell you first hand that their moves were EXTREMELY easy, and I’ve seen 75-year-olds achieve more impressive results on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’
I love the IDEA of this movie, and I appreciate the effort, but it is not good enough to justify the hype. As previously mentioned, I also resent that idea that Hollywood values a box-office-draw over casting a true triple threat. I understand that not everyone is a star, and those triple threats are not easy to find, BUT DO THE WORK. They’re out there.
Writers are often told to write what we know, which can get tricky. For starters, shouldn’t we be able to do research, step outside ourselves, and come up with original, out-of-the-box ideas? Do we all have to be married to write about marriage, and do we all have to be anxious to write about anxiety? Though I often take issue with that advice, the most recent episode of ‘This Is Us’ proved the power of that point.
In a series of flashbacks, Randall suffered crippling panic attacks, which involved shaking, crying, and a complete mental breakdown. When he called Kevin to explain that he’d miss his opening night, Kevin ran to his side, in a move that proved his own evolution given that he previously mistreated his brother when he was young.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety since exiting the womb, I’m well aware of what it looks like, and this is perhaps the most cliche, on-the-nose example I can think of. Also, the flashbacks of Randall as a much younger child reflect his cool, calm, and collected nature, with ZERO indications of this condition. Sure you can have multiple qualities at once, but there will always be shades lurking beneath the surface, and no such shades existed in any of the other flashbacks. I think this was a missed opportunity for Sterling K. Brown to exhibit his more nuanced acting prowess.
After an embarrassing interview on ‘The Today Show’ with Matt Lauer in which Lauer bluntly told her she “made no sense,” MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” has decided to ban Kellyanne Conway from appearing on their show, saying that the White House Counselor to President Trump is “out of the loop,” and clearly “in none of the key meetings.” They furthered that “she goes out and books herself often [on television shows] and “she doesn’t know, she doesn’t have the information.” Co-host Mika Brzezinski agreed with Joe Scarborough’s account, saying, she does “not believe in fake news.”
In case you missed it, Lauer asked Conway about Michael Flynn resigning as Trump’s national security adviser when information arose about Flynn’s contact with Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office, thereby making him at risk for blackmail. Just two days after Flynn took office, The Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn was under investigation by U.S. counterintelligence agents for these communications. These calls occurred the same day President Barack Obama announced retaliatory sanctions for Russia’s alleged cyber-attacks against the Democratic Party. At the time, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the calls with Kislyak had nothing to do with the retaliatory measures, but U.S. intelligence officials countered that claim and indicated that such discussions did in fact take place. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates allegedly warned the Trump White House that Flynn had not been truthful and was therefore vulnerable to blackmail by Russian intelligence, but we know how that story ended.
Trump allegedly knew Flynn discussed the sanctions, but Mike Pence did not, and the Vice President went on television to deny any such conversation took place. When Kellyanne Conway insisted that Michael Flynn enjoyed the “full confidence of the President” the day before Flynn resigned, she stepped into a flaming pile of dung. Either she was out of the loop or she is not concerned about the ramifications of being a completely untrustworthy representation of the White House. It’s clear that Trump wanted to keep Flynn on staff and chose to request his resignation when the fallout became far too difficult to manage. Conway likely thought that he’d stay on staff, thus confirming her lack of access to the White House. Watch both videos below, and notice Conway’s clear exhaustion. Something tells me she’ll be removed from her post soon.
To quote a personal friend about this year’s Grammys, “There’s so much amazing music out there. The Grammys are idiotic in general. Imagine how terrible the Oscars would be if it was always the two highest grossing films battling for best film.” It’s no secret that this party is run by old, white men, and the performances and awards reflect that lack of imagination. After all, if you’re going to a music show, you better burn the house down, and that’s not what happened. Read below for my individual critiques.
As the only artist nominated for Album of the Year who actually wrote his entire album ALONE, Sturgill Simpson deserves special recognition. The country music outlaw also gets special cred for breaking into a category dominated by the typical pop-music stars, including Beyonce, Drake, Justin Bieber, and Adele. He has never compromised his integrity for fame, and he therefore deserved that Best Country Album win for ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.’ Too bad they didn’t televise his award.
For a pop star that does not dance, Katy Perry’s capability will always be behind her cohorts,which makes her performance at the Grammys surprisingly good. This is the best she’s looked and she seemed extremely comfortable on stage. As for her new song, “Chained to the Rhythm,” it’s repetitive, unoriginal, and moderately grating, and the message is a tad ridiculous. We need to stand for something, remove our rose-colored glasses, but ALSO party? I’m confused. Watch below.
I get that she’s pregnant, but Beyonce’s seated deity-style performance felt more like a painting than an actual song. Did she take that “Queen Bey” thing literally? This is a MUSIC show, and every move she’s made since announcing her pregnancy feels indulgent (see pregnancy pics), especially given the current state of affairs. Watch below.
After an off-key start that is being attributed to the same technical difficulties that marred other performers that night, Adele proved her prowess by stopping the tune and asking for a do-over. She solidified her authenticity, stayed true to her claim that she would never again relive last year’s debacle, and showed Mariah a thing or two about how to climb out of a sticky on-stage mess. Plus, she swore, which is always fun. Having said all that, I HATED the arrangement of George Michael’s “Fastlove.” It’s so boring I almost fell asleep. Watch below.
I’m going to come down hard on Gaga for her handling of the technical problems during her performance with Metallica. When the lead singer’s mic went out, she should have immediately walked over to him with her own mic. She spent three verses on her side of the stage, until James Hetfield finally walked over to share her mic. At that point, she still hogged it, and she did not even tilt it in his direction. To quote my friend, “If you’re not giving light, you’re taking it.” As for the Grammys, there’s no excuse that mic went out. I understand a technical difficulty here and there, but there were FAR TOO MANY. Furthermore, I resent Gaga’s presence at all. Metallica does’t need an assist from a pop-star, and adding glitter to a rock G-D to keep people entertained is an insulting use of their stage time. I love Gaga, but I don’t need a side of shiny with my grits.
When ABC announced the end of ‘Nashville,’ I had mixed feelings. For starters, though I love the show, I certainly wondered whether it had run its course. It had become far too character driven, with plot points taking a back seat to the merry-go-round relationship struggles. And speaking of characters, many of the protagonists seemingly went from complicated to unlikable overnight. Scarlett’s rejection of fame grew tiresome and tedious, Maddie’s parental pushbacks became intolerable whining, and the shadow’s of Juliett’s underlying good character vaporized. What’s left was a schmaltzy soap in need of some reinvention, and the move to CMT seems to not have helped. For example, their portrayal of a mixed-race relationship was so on-the-nose it cause me physical pain, thereby convincing me the writer’s room lacked diversity. Where’s the mysterious plot points that leave me wondering what will happen next? Where’s the fresh new guest stars that shake things up? Sure it’s harder to write your characters inside relationships than out of them, but if the entire show wasn’t about romance, perhaps the story would push forward.
Here are some easy ideas:
1. Make Avery hugely famous, and release a Juliett Barnes album that flops. This will tilt their relationship, thereby stirring the pot.
2. Make Gunner gay for a day (maybe him and Will kiss?). I realize this sounds ridiculous, but sexuality is a spectrum, and this is a far less on-the-nose offering of a key societal point.
3. Some huge star steals Deacon’s song and they land in court, offering the audience a rare inside look at how these songwriting courtroom debates work (this would also be timely, given the Blurred Lines decision).
4. Send Maddie to New York or Los Angeles to launch her career. Actually film the show in another city to juxtapose Nashville with LA. This doesn’t have to be a whiny breakdown, but rather — a refreshing new look at her life.
Steve Dorff’s songwriting catalog spans decades, ranging from iconic television theme songs (‘Growing Pains,’ ‘Reba,’ ‘Murphy Brown,’ ‘My Sister Sam’ starring the late Rebecca Schaeffer, and more), to a string of hits for legendary artists such as Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Willie Nelson, Blake Shelton, Dolly Parton, and George Strait. But despite his prolific career, like most songwriters, he’s comfortable sitting back and letting others be the face of his tunes. That all changed last night when he treated a packed audience to the inside story behind his most beloved classics at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Center.
Dorff recently lost his son Andrew, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become one of the most successful songwriters in Nashville. Andrew’s hits include “Neon Light” by Blake Shelton, “Bleed Red” by Ronnie Dunn,” “Ride” by Martina McBride, and many more. The family’s talent also extends to Dorff’s other son Stephen, who has enjoyed a successful movie career, including a very memorable role in ‘Blade’ beside Wesley Snipes. Stephen took the stage to perform a heartbreaking original song he penned for his late brother, which I can only hope one day makes it to the radio. He also performed a song from his film, ‘Wheeler,’ which he wrote with his brother.
Other notable acts took the stage last night, all of which are featured below. It makes sense that each and every one of them are supremely talented, given that Dorff has elite taste and he had Jan Rosenthal by his side, who used her creative eye to produce the captivating show. This includes: Dylan Chambers, whose guitar-playing made it sound as if ten people were on stage; Norwood, whose voice and presence had me feeling like I’ll see him again very soon; UK ‘X Factor’ winner Sam Bailey, who tore the roof of the joint; and singer/songwriter Bobby Tomberlin, whose performance of the song “One More Day” that he wrote for Diamond Rio had me in tears.
I’m sure Steve Dorff will do this again, and when he does, you should be there.
As a Jewish woman with a big schnoz who refused to conform to society’s shiksa standards of beauty, I’m partial to Hollywood stories about women who also rejected those pesky, white-washed ideas about what women should look like. ‘Will and Grace’ star Debra Messing spoke at a MAKERS Conference in California this week about her own experience with anti-Semitism, having stayed home a lot as a child to lay low and avoid the risk of having her “differences” exposed. The emotional recount of her childhood was inspired by her experience on ‘A Walk in the Clouds,’ where she co-starred with Keanu Reeves in the 1995 romantic drama. According to Messing, director Alfonso Arau called her “the nose” and insisted she get naked, despite it not being in the original script, saying, “Your job is to get naked and say the lines. That’s it.” The director then wanted to “set the sheet,” by lifting it, scanning her naked body and then dropping it on top of her like it was a “piece of Kleenex.” Ultimately, she was not naked in the film, leading Messing to classify it as a “power play” meant to “demean her” and assert his dominance over her. To watch her 17 minute video in full, click HERE. It’s moving and disturbing.
There’s a lot of talk about the new Vogue cover, with angry twitter trolls pouncing on it’s faux diversity, coupled with a critique on Ashley Graham’s decision to cover her thigh with her hand instead of proudly displaying her curves. Graham has spoken out, saying that she chose her pose, and the powers that be at Vogue did not demand it.
The new Vogue cover was an attempt to feature women of different backgrounds, races, and sizes, which includes (from left to right), Liu Wen, Ashley Graham, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Imaan Hammam, Adwoa Aboah, and Vittoria Ceretti. Though it’s an admirable effort, many readers also pointed out that everyone featured is light-skinned.
I have a few observations here. First, calling out Ashley Graham’s pose is equivalent to saying, “Why didn’t you show your fat leg?!” The effort to protect her thereby becomes latent, online bullying. Second, Vogue brought this on themselves. If you want to feature diversity, then don’t style all of your models to look exactly the same. They should not all be wearing black turtle necks with polka-dot bottoms so as to suggest that they look alike. It’s a major fail that will inevitably lead to comparison. Diversity celebrates our differences, and this cover strips its models of that. Lastly, I agree that this could have been generally more diverse. Using Ashley Graham doesn’t remove your responsibility to feature more realistic frames. We need to move from the term “plus-size” to actual, real women. The traditional model frame is dated in today’s society, and Vogue isn’t catching up.
To honor those who have made key contributions to Heart Health Awareness, the Red Dress Awards entered its 14th year with Jane Lynch as host and some special guests, including a performance from Grammy® Award and Oscar winner Melissa Etheridge, who headlined the event. The Awards featured additional performances from rock all-female string-quartet Bella Electric Strings, and teen singer Carly Rose Sonenclar of The X Factor. Enjoy pictures from the event below. All photos courtesy of Rabbani & Solimene Photography.