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Friday, February 29, 2008

Winehouse cleared of witness tampering

Police are no longer investigating Amy Winehouse on suspicion of attempting to interfere with a court case involving her husband, her spokesman said Friday.

The 24-year-old singer is no longer required to return to a police station for further questioning, her spokesman, Chris Goodman, said in a statement.

"Amy is pleased to be discounted from the investigation and thanks the police for their professionalism in their dealings with her," the statement said.

Winehouse was arrested in December after being called to a police station. At the time, she was released on police bail and had been asked to return at a later date for further questioning.

Police said they cannot identify former suspects by name, but they did confirm that prosecutors planned to take no further action against a 24-year-old arrested in December on suspicion of trying to pervert the course of justice.

Meanwhile, Winehouse's husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, appeared in a London court Friday on charges of attacking a pub landlord and then later conspiring with him to withdraw as a witness at the trial.

Fielder-Civil spoke only to confirm his name and plead not guilty. He is due to appear again in April.

Winehouse didn't attend court because she was traveling to Paris to perform at a Louis Vuitton party, her spokesman said.

The singer won five Grammy Awards, including best record, best song and best new artist, in early February, but her musical success has been overshadowed by her tumultuous private life and public struggles with drugs and alcohol.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Coen Brothers' Film Wins 4 Oscars

They ground up Steve Buscemi in a wood-chipper. They made baby-snatchers out of Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter. They turned mythic Greek wanderer Odysseus into a Depression-era roots-music minstrel with George Clooney's face.

Two of the most imaginatively twisted minds in modern film, Joel and Ethan Coen, completed their journey from the fringes to Hollywood's mainstream on Sunday as their crime saga "No Country for Old Men" won a leading four Academy Awards, including best picture.

In a year when the quirky, offbeat and just plain weird storytelling of the Coens triumphed at the biggest ceremony in show business, the oddball brothers found a lot to like in their fellow nominees.

"It sounds like a cliche, but all the movies that were nominated were really interesting to me personally, and that isn't always the case," Joel Coen said. "All of them to me personally I thought were fantastically good movies."

The Coens' brooding, bloody tale of violence in a desolate corner of west Texas was the American standard-bearer for an Oscar show that otherwise had an international flair.

All four acting prizes went to Europeans: Frenchwoman Marion Cotillard, the best-actress winner for "La Vie En Rose"; Spaniard Javier Bardem, who took supporting actor for "No Country"; and Brits Daniel Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton, he claiming his second best-actor honor for "There Will Be Blood," she winning supporting actress for "Michael Clayton."

Talking to reporters backstage, Swinton still was in disbelief, saying she initially thought "I heard someone else's name and suddenly, slowly heard my own" when she was announced as the winner for her role as a ruthless attorney.

"I'm still recovering from that moment, and I have absolutely no idea what happened after that," Swinton said. "So, you know, you can tell me my dress fell off and I'd believe you, so don't be cruel."

Day-Lewis, a previous best-actor winner for "My Left Foot," was gratified that a line he utters in "There Will Be Blood" — "I drink your milkshake," a reference to draining oil that's not yours — has found a life in the broader vernacular.

"I think it's fantastic," Day-Lewis said. "If people absorb something that you've done — for whatever your reasons are, it's not relevant — but if that gets absorbed into the culture in such a way that people make something else, somebody can make something else out of it, that's delightful to me."

By winning three Oscars — best picture as producers on the film, director and adapted screenplay — the Coens matched a feat achieved by only an elite list of filmmakers who also received three awards for a single film, including Francis Ford Coppola ("The Godfather Part II"), James Cameron ("Titanic") and Billy Wilder ("The Apartment").

They did miss out on a chance to become the only people to win four Oscars with one film, losing the editing prize, for which they had been nominated under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes.
How did the fictitious Jaynes, whom the Coens describe as a cranky British recluse in his 80s, take the loss? "We haven't talked to him," Ethan Coen said backstage. "We know he's elderly and unhappy, so probably not well."

Crime often has paid for the Coens, a pair of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett fans who gravitate toward lawbreakers even in their comedies, such as Cage and Hunter's infant-kidnappers in "Raising Arizona," the bumbling thieves in "The Ladykillers," an abduction that leaves a trail of bodies — including Buscemi in a wood-chipper — in "Fargo," or Clooney and his fellow jailbreakers in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

"They're as talented as anybody in the game over decades now," Clooney, a best-actor nominee for "Michael Clayton," said of the Coens. "For 20 years they've made films that last."
In addition to its Oscar haul, "No Country" has delivered the Coens' biggest commercial spoils with $64 million and climbing at the domestic box office, topping the $45.5 million gross of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

The biggest commercial success among the best-picture nominees, the $100 million hit "Juno," came away with the original screenplay Oscar for first-time scriptwriter Cody Diablo, who penned wickedly smart dialogue for her cast, led by best-actress nominee Ellen Page as a pregnant teen.

"I've always been a writer, I've always been a storyteller, but I never thought about screenwriting," Diablo said backstage. "I grew up in the Midwest, you don't know any screenwriters. It didn't seem like a realistic career possibility."

Adding to the international Oscar flavor, the animation winner was a U.S. film set in a Paris restaurant, "Ratatouille." The best-song recipient was a tune written by the Irish and Czech stars of a micro-budgeted romance set in Dublin, "Once."

The globe-trotting thriller "The Bourne Ultimatum" swept all three of its categories, film editing, sound editing and sound mixing. Other winners included three films set around Britain and Europe: "Atonement" (music score), "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (costume design) and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (art direction).

Host Jon Stewart started his opening monologue with a wisecrack about the 100-day writers strike that ended just in time for the Oscars to come off as usual.

"These past three and a half months have been very tough. The town was torn apart by a bitter writer's strike, but I'm happy to say that the fight is over," Stewart said. "So tonight, welcome to the makeup sex."

As singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose," Cotillard became the first performer ever to win an Oscar for a French-language film. Backstage, she crooned a bit of a Piaf song in French and described the task she had in playing the singer from her fiery teens to her fragile 40s.

"My aim was to understand her, to understand her heart, her soul, and so I went as deep as I could," Cotillard said. "I tried to do my best to find her inside me. But it was not so hard because I really love her."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Take That scoop Brit Award double

Take That, the Arctic Monkeys and the Foo Fighters were the big winners at this year's Brit Awards in London, scooping two prizes each.
Take That won the trophies for best British live act and British single.

The Arctic Monkeys took best British group and album - both for the second year in a row - while Foo Fighters won best international group and album.

The ceremony saw performances from Amy Winehouse and Sir Paul McCartney, who received a lifetime achievement honour.

Kate Nash won best British female and Mark Ronson was named best British male.

Producer Ronson, who performed with Winehouse and Adele at the Earl's Court show, is the first non-singer to have scooped the solo artist prize.

"I've never felt so British or male in my entire life," he told the crowd.

As well as singing with Ronson on their hit Valerie, Winehouse sang one of her own numbers, Love Is A Losing Game.

It was the first public performance from the troubled star, who recently won five Grammy Awards, since being admitted to rehab.

During her solo performance, Winehouse mouthed "I love you" into the camera - presumably at husband Blake Fielder-Civil, who is currently on remand in London's Pentonville Prison.

Addressing the crowd at the end of her song, the star said: "Make some noise for my husband, my Blake."

Another memorable moment came when host Sharon Osbourne - presenting with husband Ozzy and children, Jack and Kelly - swore at comedian Vic Reeves.

When Reeves appeared to forget which award he was presenting, she accused him of being drunk, swore at him and told him to "shut up" before trying to announce the winner of best British album herself.

The Arctic Monkeys, who did not turn up to the awards last year, attended Wednesday's show dressed as country gents.

The Sheffield band wore tweed waistcoats, breeches, flat caps, and blew a hunting horn on stage.

Public vote

As Take That accepted their award for best live act, band member Jason Orange said he had an arthritic knee and said: "We appear before you bruised and battered, but dead chuffed.

"We are so honoured. We've worked so hard over the years."

Their second award, which was presented for the single Shine, was chosen by a live public vote that continued throughout the show.

Kylie Minogue won best international female. The Australian star, who performed her single Wow, said she was "extremely grateful and thankful".

Mika, who kicked off the show with his songs Love Today and Grace Kelly, was named best British breakthrough act.

He also performed with Gossip singer Beth Ditto.

Will Young presented the critics' choice award to Adele, a graduate of the Brit School in Selhurst, south London.

Accepting the prize, the Londoner said: "My heart's beating so fast." She also thanked her "beautiful" mother.

US star Kanye West, who was unable to attend the ceremony, was named winner of the best international male prize.

"I'm sure there's someone who deserves this more than me, but I just don't know who they are," he said in his acceptance video.

Also accepting his band's best international group and album awards by video, Dave Grohl joked that the Foo Fighters - formed in 1995 - had won the award for best newcomer.

Rihanna followed with a performance of her number one single Umbrella, accompanied by Klaxons.

Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney performed a medley of hits, including Live and Let Die, Hey Jude and Lady Madonna after he was honoured with an outstanding contribution award.

Doctor Who star David Tennant, actor Sir Ian McKellen, Bionic Woman actress Michelle Ryan were among the guest presenters.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Stars To Replace Ledger In Movie

Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell will appear as Heath Ledger's character in unfinished film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the BBC has learned.

A spokeswoman for Law confirmed the three would play the role of Tony in the film "subject to negotiations".

She said she did not know how the role would be restructured.

The Terry Gilliam-directed film was halted when Ledger, 28, died from a drugs overdose in the US shortly after filming scenes for the movie in London.

It is thought that original footage of Ledger will remain while Law, Depp and Farrell will play different incarnations of his character, Tony.

The fantasy film follows a travelling theatre troupe which offers audience members the chance to pass through a magical mirror to alternate dimensions.

'Great actor'

Depp, Law, and Farrell are each expected to "become" Ledger's character in one of these new worlds.

Law's spokeswoman said the actor, who is on holiday, was unavailable for comment.
Ledger died from an accidental overdose of six different types of prescription drugs in his New York apartment.

After filming for the movie had finished in London, the $30m (£15.1m) production then moved to Vancouver, Canada for interior and bluescreen scenes before it was suspended upon news of Ledger's death.

At the time, the film's makers described Ledger as "a great actor, a great friend and a great spirit" and said Gilliam and his producers would be "assessing how best to proceed".
Last weekend, international film stars were among mourners at a memorial service for the Ledger in his home town of Perth.

Speakers at the service, which was followed by a private burial for close family only, included actress Cate Blanchett and film director Neil Armfield.

Monday, February 18, 2008

John Grisham has no illusions about writing

Some things John Grisham knows: He got 15 rejections before his first book, "A Time to Kill," was published. He made $9 million last year. He's not James Joyce or William Faulkner. He's an entertainer.

John Grisham recently published his 21st book, a legal thriller (of course) named "The Appeal."

"I'm not sure where that line goes between literature and popular fiction," the mega-selling author says. "I can assure you I don't take myself serious enough to think I'm writing literary fiction and stuff that's going to be remembered in 50 years. I'm not going to be here in 50 years; I don't care if I'm remembered or not. It's pure entertainment."

Grisham is happy to write what he hopes is "a high-quality popular fiction." But that matters not to fans, who gobble every word.

Sometimes he wraps a serious issue around a plot -- the death penalty in "The Chamber," insurance reform in "The Rainmaker," homelessness in "The Street Lawyer." Now the self-styled political junkie and former Mississippi state legislator has written a book that's more political intrigue than legal thriller.

"The Appeal" (his 21st book) tells the story of a huge chemical company that loses a $41 million lawsuit for causing cancer deaths and then essentially tries to buy an election for the state Supreme Court -- where, yes, the appeal will be heard.

"I guess every year now is a political year. ... And it just felt like it was time to write this story," Grisham says, alluding to how the run for the White House has become a marathon of sorts.

Grisham, who turned 53 on February 8 and still has the lanky look of an athlete who once chased a baseball career, is a big supporter of Hillary Clinton and says the Democrats have been outmaneuvered by the Republicans.

"I think what the Republicans have done in past elections is brilliant. Because, they've convinced a lot of people to vote for them against their own economic self-interest, and they've done that by skillfully manipulating a handful of social issues, primarily abortion and gay rights and sometimes gun control," he says. "And the Republicans have used those to scare a lot of people into voting for Republican candidates. It's skillful manipulation."

Grisham, who lives in the Charlottesville, Virginia, area, is so addicted to following the presidential race that he jokes he might need rehab.

"My wife and I went out to dinner a couple of weeks ago, and we actually called somebody to find out if they had any results from the Nevada caucuses," he says, chortling almost sheepishly. "And I said this ought to tell us something: 'You know, we're in this thing way too deep.' "

Still, he's able to pull himself away from primaries and polls to indulge fans and tour his new book, already at the top of some best-seller lists.

Grisham's books have sold 235 million copies worldwide, according to publisher Doubleday. Some, of course, have been adapted into blockbuster movies, starring such heavyweights as Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Cruise and Matt Damon.

Reviews of "The Appeal" have been generally positive, though some can be reduced to previous assessments of Grisham: fine storyteller but not a particularly good writer.

"When I start getting good reviews, I worry about sales," jokes Grisham, who says he's learned to ignore reviews.

"It's a better day if I don't read any reviews," he says. "It's the only form of entertainment where you're reviewed by other writers. You don't see rock stars reviewing each other's albums, and you don't see directors reviewing each other's movies."

An enduring influence on Grisham's work is John le Carre, author of such celebrated thrillers as "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold," "The Honourable Schoolboy" and "A Small Town in Germany."

"He's still my hero," Grisham says.

But he doesn't read a lot when he's writing. "We all want to read good books, and so you read a good book by a really good writer, and I catch myself inadvertently imitating him or her. And so you think, 'Well, I wouldn't use that word, I wouldn't do that sentence that way.' I read a lot when I'm not writing."

He started this year with the goal of reading everything by John Steinbeck ("The Grapes of Wrath," "Cannery Row," "The Pearl"), who was one of Grisham's favorite authors growing up. And he just finished a "Mark Twain binge."

"I keep up with the other lawyers [who write] -- Scott Turow. I read all Scott's stuff. And I think Scott is really underestimated as a writer. He's really, really good," Grisham says.

Turow recently told The Associated Press that the feelings were mutual: "I am an enormous admirer of John Grisham at every level -- as a person, as a citizen of both the literary and legal worlds and, most relevantly, as a writer. John is one of the pre-eminent storytellers of our time, and the grace and seamlessness with which his stories come together to grip us all is a wonder."

Among other writers Grisham likes: David Baldacci, Steve Martini, Pat Conroy and Stephen King.

"I'll start two, three books a week, rarely finish one. But I'm always looking," Grisham says. "Love to buy books. Love to stack 'em up in the house. We've got a million books in the house."

When he first started writing, Grisham says, he had "these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important."

"The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I'd jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week."

His goal: to write a page every day. Sometimes that would take 10 minutes, sometimes an hour; ofttimes he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, which he never especially enjoyed. In the Mississippi Legislature, there were "enormous amounts of wasted time" that would give him the opportunity to write.

"So I was very disciplined about it," he says, then quickly concedes he doesn't have such discipline now: "I don't have to."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Golden Bear for 'corruption' film

The Elite Squad, a violent tale of corrupt drug-squad officers in Brazil, has won the Golden Bear, the top prize at the annual Berlin Film Festival.

It had created unprecedented interest upon its release in Brazil, because of its portrayal of a police force willing to torture and kill unarmed suspects.

Producer Marcos Prado said the award "gives us the strength to go forward".

The UK's Sally Hawkins was best actress for Happy-Go-Lucky and Iran's Reza Naji won best actor on The Song of Sparrows.

Born in London, 31-year-old Hawkins has also appeared in Mike Leigh's abortion drama Vera Drake and has had an extensive television career.

The Rada-trained performer's TV appearances include several Little Britain episodes and the controversial lesbian drama Tipping the Velvet.

US filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson took the prize for best director for There Will Be Blood.

This epic story of an oil prospector is already nominated in eight categories at the Oscars, which are being held on 24 February.

Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai received the prize for best for In Love We Trust, while Lake Tahoe, directed by Fernando Eimbcke of Mexico, was named most innovative film.

A total of 21 pictures were screened in competition in the German capital for the 58th festival.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

With strike over, glamour back for Oscars

The end of the Hollywood writers strike means the Oscar show will be the usual star-studded, fashion-filled extravaganza, organizers promised.

"The strike, the bad news, is past us," Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said Thursday.

The 80th annual awards show will be held February 24 at the Kodak Theatre and will feature a host of A-list stars. Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Hudson, Miley Cyrus, George Clooney and Nicole Kidman will be among the presenters. Others include Denzel Washington, Martin Scorsese, Cate Blanchett, Cameron Diaz, Harrison Ford and Tom Hanks.

Had the three-month writers strike not ended Tuesday, the Academy still would have put on a "B" show -- one without the glitter of the nominated actors, virtually all of whom said they would not cross a picket line.

"The 'B Show' was going to have the musical numbers, and there was going to be a lot of energy to that," telecast producer Gil Cates told AP Television. "But it was going to rely mostly on film clips, mostly on historical clips, because it is the 80th year of the Oscars."

The "A" show will feature performances of the year's five nominated songs. "Enchanted" star Amy Adams will sing "Happy Working Song," one of the film's three nominated tunes.

Kristin Chenoweth and Marlon Saunders will perform "That's How You Know" and Jon McLaughlin will sing "So Close," also from "Enchanted."

Second Week For McCartney Hearing

Sir Paul McCartney's divorce hearing has been extended into next week after he and estranged wife Heather Mills failed to reach an agreement.

Court 34 at London's High Court has been booked for Monday, when the case will continue, even though it was originally scheduled to end on Friday.

The financial settlement could break records, it has been suggested.

The hearing has been taking place in private. Any settlement will not be made public unless it goes to appeal.

Sir Paul has a fortune estimated at £825m. Based on recent cases, divorce experts have suggested that Ms Mills could walk away with £60m.

The record currently rests with the £48m businessman John Charman was told to pay his former wife last year.

Ms Mills, who lost part of a leg in a road accident in 1993, married Sir Paul in June 2002, four years after his first wife, Linda, died of breast cancer.

The couple have a four-year-old daughter Beatrice. They announced the end of their marriage in 2006.

Several press reports suggest High Court judge Mr Justice Bennett has warned the couple that leaking details of the case to the media could be in contempt of court and punishable with heavy fines.

The judge is likely to decide next week if he has heard enough to give a ruling on the division of wealth and will impose his conditions on the couple, although the actual judgement will follow in a few weeks.

The media have speculated that a sticking point could be a confidentiality clause - the former Beatle is said to be anxious to keep details of his marriage to Ms Mills secret.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Director And Editor Chemistry Key To A Film's Success

When Tony Gilroy's mother heard that he was going to have his younger brother John edit his directorial debut, "Michael Clayton," she was worried her boys would clash.

It wasn't an unreasonable fear. Any two people locked in a small space for weeks on end struggling to transform hours and hours of raw footage into a concise, entertaining work of art are bound to have conflicts. When those two people are brothers with a history of sibling rivalry ("Tony is taller," John says; "But Johnny can kick my ass," Tony admits), the potential for disagreement is exponentially higher.

But Tony, who received Oscar nominations for writing and directing the George Clooney legal thriller, found that their differences produced not violence but a better film.

"It took about three days to figure out that there'd be a kind of push-me, pull-you (dynamic)," he says.

"I would always be pulling to not explain things and turning the thermostat down, and Johnny would always be pushing to turn it up, and the by-product of that would be room temperature. And we were both really happy with where we were going to land."

"It's very good to see different perspectives," concurs director Marc Forster, who has worked with editor Matt Chesse on six films, including 2007's "The Kite Runner," 2004's "Finding Neverland" (which earned Chesse an Oscar nod) and 2001's "Monster's Ball." "Matt and I have a very strong connection and love for cinema and a love for similar movies, but he sometimes sees things differently than I do. My attention span is a little shorter than his. Sometimes he likes to let it breathe a little more than I do."

They are reteaming a seventh time for MGM/Sony's upcoming James Bond film.

Long-standing editor-director relationships like the one between Forster and Chesse are not uncommon: Editor Joel Cox has worked with Clint Eastwood for more than 30 years, and Thelma Schoonmaker has been Martin Scorsese's go-to editor since 1980's "Raging Bull." And brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have been collaborating for decades under the moniker "Roderick Jaynes," an Oscar nominee for "No Country For Old Men."

"I think it's a trust-based relationship," says Chesse of the editor-director union. "You see all the warts and all the stuff that nobody gets to see, and you shape it into something that hopefully leaves people without any doubt of the director's vision."

Director David Cronenberg and editor Ronald Sanders have worked together since 1979's "Fast Company." On their latest film, "Eastern Promises," they followed the same pattern they have developed working on such films as 1986's "The Fly" and 2005's "A History of Violence."

During the shoot in London, Cronenberg did not look at any footage, except for the occasional dailies, which he finds less necessary today with instant on-set video playback. In the meantime, Sanders cut together an assembly of the film in proper narrative order that he screened for Cronenberg two weeks after principal photography wrapped. Cronenberg then joined Sanders in the cutting room to polish the edit.

"I feel that the only shot I've got at being fairly objective is to be surprised by my own movie," says Cronenberg of his willful ignorance of the first edit.

"It comes from my first movie -- (1975's) 'Shivers' -- that Ivan Reitman produced. I was basically sitting in the editing room as we were shooting, editing it with the editor. We had a screening, and nothing worked. But Ivan said, 'It's not so bad. You just do a little of this, you take a little of that and do that.' I thought, 'I want to be where he is, in his objectivity, rather than so intimately involved with every cut and every shot that I can't see the forest for the trees."'

On "Promises," he and Cronenberg were "in the zone," according to Sanders. "We weren't trying to force anything or fix anything." Easiest of all was the film's infamous bathhouse scene, in which a naked Nikolai (Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen) fights two Russian thugs to the death.

"I did it in a few hours one afternoon," Sanders says. "I put all the masters together -- end to end -- so I could see where it was all going, and I used that as a template. It had the stuff that it needed, so it told me what to do."

"He nailed it so perfectly that I couldn't improve it by one frame," Cronenberg says.

Review: 'Spiderwick' is worthwhile journey

A dozen producers share the bragging rights for bringing the popular Holly Black-Tony DiTerlizzi "Spiderwick" children's fantasy books to the screen. That wouldn't necessarily be grounds for optimism, so it's a relief to report that "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is free of the elephantine designs that bogged down "The Golden Compass."

Unlike "Compass," New Line's luxurious, sporadically entertaining misadventure, Mark Waters' crisp little movie is modestly scaled and keeps the story front and center. Heck, it even comes supplied with something called an ending: The narrative is tied up, characters work through their problems, tears are shed, all that stuff. The makers of "Compass" might want to check it out.

Like "Golden Compass," "Spiderwick" is imprinted with the influence of C.S. Lewis' Narnia books. The Grace children -- angry, troubled Jared; his sweeter twin brother, Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore); and older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) -- move into a ramshackle country house with their newly divorced mom (Mary-Louise Parker). The estate once belonged to their great-great-uncle, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), a naturalist whose field research revealed some unexpected new species: fairies, goblins and the like.

Uncle Arthur has long since vanished -- and his daughter Lucinda is now an old lady in the local asylum -- but Jared's discovery of his loosely bound notes reawakens the interest of the terrible ogre Mulgarath (Nick Nolte), who will stop at nothing to get his claws on them, if only he and his toadies can break the protective circle that surrounds the house.

Mulgarath isn't the only monster in this movie. Jared does a good impersonation of one in the early scenes, railing against his mom and taking a switch to the SUV. His home is broken, and he's all upset about it. When his sister wakes up to find her hair tied to the bedstead, everyone assumes Jared is the culprit.

In fact, it's Thimbletack, a "house brownie" whose job is to protect Spiderwick's book. A midget-sized hulk voiced by Martin Short, Thimbletack can work himself into a green fury unless you sweeten his disposition with generous helpings of honey.

Jared also gets some help from Hogsqueal, a bird-eating hobgoblin (voiced by Seth Rogen) who has sworn vengeance on Mulgarath and who'll spit in your eye to expose the ogre's invisible minions.

Waters ("Mean Girls") hasn't done an effects movie before, unless you count "Freaky Friday," but he's kept a firm grip on the material and gets impressive performances out of Bolger and Highmore (though it's questionable whether it was worth twinning him; Simon -- "I don't do conflict" -- is mostly on the sidelines).

The storytelling is economical and brisk. In some ways, Waters approaches it more as a pre-teen horror movie. The domestic squabbles within the ruptured family are realistic and raw, and the climax is like something out of a home-invasion thriller (but with more goo).

That said, these intense sequences are offset by moments of whimsy and humor, by Caleb Deschanel's beautiful cinematography, James Horner's warm score and the benign presence of old pros like Strathairn and Joan Plowright. Incidentally, Strathairn's regular collaborator, indie filmmaker John Sayles, is one of three credited screenwriters.

Parents of younger children should proceed with caution; this walk in the woods is no picnic. But "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is animated by its anger issues; edgy and brittle, it's at least a cut above average.

Actress Bai Ling Accused Of Shoplifting

Bai Ling's good looks and eccentric outfits have frequently put her picture in celebrity magazines, but that doesn't mean she can take the magazines for free.

The Chinese actress was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of shoplifting two celebrity magazines and two packets of batteries at Los Angeles International Airport. The items had a total value of $16, said Sgt. Jim Holcomb of the airport's police department.

The 41-year-old actress was detained by a store employee who summoned police, Holcomb said. She was booked for investigation of misdemeanor shoplifting and released after agreeing to appear in court on March 5.

An e-mail message seeking comment sent to Ling's agent on Thursday was not immediately returned.

Ling has appeared in such films as "The Crow" and "Anna and the King" and in the TV series "Lost."

The day of her arrest, she posted a message on her blog with a photo of herself at the airport waiting for a delayed flight. She made no mention of her arrest, instead wondering whether people were "rushing in the cold wind to work" after the Chinese New Year.

"Life is a sad song sometime but still sings the beauty for their loved ones," she wrote.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Review: Definitely, Maybe

In the saga of his love life that he weaves as a bedtime story for his preteen daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin), in "Definitely, Maybe," Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) sounds like a man from Hope as he recounts the good old days of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign

Back then, Will was an idealistic campaign worker straight out of college in Wisconsin; today he's a Manhattan ad guy about to finalize his divorce from Maya's mother. The Clinton name-check (along with a trip down memory lane to the testimony of former Clinton paramour Gennifer Flowers) gives this value-enhanced romantic semi-comedy a gentle zing of timeliness, especially as the wife who stood by her man 16 years ago is now the Clinton seeking the presidency herself.

And the pointed reference to the curious case of the Clinton relationship announces that "Definitely, Maybe" is absolutely, probably more comfortable with human romantic complication than the usual stuff released on Valentine's Day.

If only Will the character weren't such a generic, pizzazz-less Ken doll of a Gen-X adult male! If only Reynolds the actor didn't vanish before our eyes even as he walks and talks!

Will describes three uncommon women who have moved him from mild to warm over the years, disguising the names so his daughter can guess, in the end, which lady became her mommy. (That's an odd form of father-daughter bonding, true, but the big-city girl has just had her first sex-ed class.)

There's Emily (Elizabeth Banks), the wholesome Midwesterner who feared that the bright lights of New York would change her beau; there's Summer (Rachel Weisz), the glamorous belles-lettres adventurer, whose involvement with an older literary lion (Kevin Kline) didn't diminish her appreciation for Will's boyish good looks; and there's April (Isla Fisher), the free spirit, who, although winsomely kooky enough to serve as a dream girl for "Daily Show" boys, is nevertheless receptive to Will's white-bread-and-mayo appeal.

No reason is adequately given why Will and his wife have chosen to split up and share custody, but I assume an inability to distinguish husband from hat rack is grounds for divorce.

And so Will advances the narrative, year by year, interrupted by Maya's perceptive present-day questions and commentary, delivered with the kind of therapeutic Wise Child tolerance we have come to expect from the star of "Little Miss Sunshine." The thing is, each lady under discussion would not only make a reasonable mommy but also a really attractive, realistic woman. No one's a cartoon villain, and no one's beyond reproach, either. Everyone speaks like a grown-up (er, including Maya).

But in a bounty of candidates, keep your eye on Banks. In a performance of invigorating complexity (and typically sunny equanimity), her Emily is a breakthrough non-neurotic beauty, perfectly built for an election year unimaginable back when Gennifer Flowers was acting out a much older female role.

Actors To Stop Strike

Four of Hollywood's biggest stars have taken out adverts in US trade papers urging their leaders to start contract talks in a bid to avert a strike.

Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro want the Screen Actors Guild to negotiate with studios over a contract which ends on 30 June.

Their call comes as US writers begin to return to work after they voted to end a three-month strike.

Networks have started to announce the return of shows halted by the strike.

Strong support

The adverts, placed in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, appeal with leaders of the 120,000-strong Screen Actors Guild (SAG) to begin talks over a new contract.

On Wednesday, SAG national executive director Doug Allen said the union would open negotiations over pay and conditions "at a time that will most benefit our members".

Last week, Clooney warned SAG leaders their negotiating power would diminish if they waited before starting talks with producers, because of "a lot of strike fatigue".

The actors' union offered strong support to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) in its strike over work distributed on DVD or over the internet.

TV and film writers are now returning to work after the WGA's back-to-work order was approved by 92.5% of the 3,775 members who voted on the deal struck by leaders at the weekend.

But it will take weeks for the TV industry, in particular, to mobilise while new material is prepared.

Network CBS has announced that a number of its most popular dramas, including Cold Case, Criminal Minds and Without a Trace, will be back on air by early April.

And ABC's courtroom drama Boston Legal will be back in front of cameras as soon as next week because the script was already half-finished when the strike began in November.

Long wait

The current US TV season runs out in late May.

Viewers will have to wait longer for shows with continuing storylines than those with self-contained episodes with many networks choosing to wait until they can show seasons in their entirety.

NBC's superhero series Heroes is expected to stay off air in the US until autumn for that reason.

Fox thriller 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland as agent Jack Bauer, is now scheduled to begin in January 2009 so that all 24 episodes can be shown in full.

Films have not been as severely affected because they have longer production times.

Some 10,500 writers stopped work on 5 November, a few days after their old contract with studios ended.

Sunday's deal gives them a greater share in money made from TV programmes and films offered over the internet and other new media.

TV and film production was crippled by the strike and it led to the cancellation of the Golden Globes ceremony.

The Academy Awards, which were also threatened, will now go ahead.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Strange Wilderness

Since the studio decided not to screen Strange Wilderness for the press, I was forced to head out on my own (albeit tax deductible) dime to my local Movie Tavern to see the flick on opening night. Now, if you aren’t familiar with the Movie Tavern phenomenon, let me say that it is certainly something to behold. It is the curiously hot transvestite of the movie theater and fine dining industries, mixing good food (think Applebee’s) with movies. In this particular case, I was thankful that the Tavern is a purveyor of alcoholic beverages, as I knew I would need something to take the sting off of another Happy Madison produced comedy.

Little did I know that there is no amount of alcohol that could possibly take the sting out of having to sit through the nails on a chalkboard-esque annoyance that is Strange Wilderness. Happy Madison’s last flick Grandma’s Boy may have been both stupid and funny, but Strange Wilderness is just stupid. In fact, the film reaches such a tragically unfunny level that I found myself scrolling through the address book in my Blackberry, searching for the numbers of people with whom I no longer want to be associated and deleting them.

The story centers around Peter (Steve Zahn), a second generation wildlife show host who has successfully driven his father’s once great show into the ground thanks to heavy doses of pot and a crew of nitwits. And even though said crew of nitwits (which includes Grandma’s Boy’s Allen Covert, Superbad’s Jonah Hill, Accepted’s Justin Long, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’s Peter Dante, Super Troopers‘ Kevin Heffernan and Jericho’s Ashley Scott) are loyal, they are not in any way cut out for the television business. So when the head of the television studio that runs the show (played by Jeff Garlin) threatens to cancel them, this rag-tag team of imbeciles sets out on a journey to find and capture for the first time on film, the legend that is Big Foot.

From there, the results are absolutely disastrous. It is mind-numbing to me to think that a film with a premise like that could end up with zero story arc. Despite the fact that we are given a conflict and a resolution, the film yields no notable climax — for the laymen among us, nothing ever really happens.

In addition, the film’s comedic pace is completely incoherent, playing out less like a funny movie and more like an incoherent jumbling of bad Saturday Night Live skits that should have died on the floor in the writer’s room at Rockafeller Center. The performances were disappointingly sub-par as well. Steve Zahn, who has shown us bits of greatness in films like 2007’s Rescue Dawn, just flails around like a hyper kid just off his Ridalin. He should have been giving the audience someone to root for, instead we just feel sad for his character. Jonah Hill also stands out as being completely out of place. It defies all logic how he can go from something so rock solid and hysterical like Superbad to something as blatantly moronic as this.

If you combine the unnervingly bad script (penned by director Fred Wolf and co-producer Peter Gaulke) with the wasted talent in the cast, you get a film that is a pointless, humorless mess. To be quite honest, Strange Wilderness is a modern day comedic tragedy. The only redeeming value of the experience was that I discovered the wonders of the Movie Tavern and its giant-sized beer mugs. Oh, and the nachos were pretty damn good, as well.

Review By Neil Miller

Fool's Gold

Hello, I’m Abayomi, and I can’t go a month without needing a romantic comedy fix. There, I said it. Call me a fool for loving romantic comedies, but I’m drawn to them like a duck to water. The rom com world is filled with fluffy, feel-good films that have little or no lasting impact on our lives and serve only as temporary escapism into a fantasy

land of pleasant people falling in love. It’s a given the ending will be a happy one with the leads waltzing off into the sunset holding hands and making goo-goo eyes at one another. What’s not to like? They’re sappy, silly, time-wasters, but they’re also strangely addictive.

Occasionally the genre will even sneak in a movie that’s above and beyond the norm – Love Actually, Knocked Up, and When Harry Met Sally come to mind – but for the most part the genre’s loaded with fun but forgettable fare. Unfortunately, the romantic comedy world also has more than its share of real stinkers. A brand new one of those was just added to the pot with Fool’s Gold.
The Story

Ben ‘Finn’ Finnegan (Matthew McConaughey) loves treasure hunting. In fact, he loves treasure hunting so much he risks everything he owns in order to seek out long-lost gold buried under the sea. He once had a wife, Tess (Kate Hudson), who loved searching for riches with him, but she lost both the desire to find sunken treasure and the desire to wake up next to Finn’s golden, ripped abs. No matter, Finn forges on despite being in debt up to his earlobes to rapper-loan shark-all around bad guy Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart).

Finn, equally as unlucky at searching for gold as he is in love, can’t come up with the money to pay off the Bunny Man. Yet that doesn’t stop him from trying to hunt down what’s been lost for centuries. When a piece of The Queen’s Dowry (the ultimate pot of gold for fortune hunters) literally floats into his hands, Finn knows he’s onto something. All he needs to finally discover the whereabouts of the treasure is his ex-wife’s help and her millionaire boss’ big boat and bankroll. Of course Tess and millionaire Nigel (Donald Sutherland) will just have to sign on to his plan after he flashes those pearly whites and turns on the charm. And showing lots of skin also helps sell his case - or maybe not. That’s probably just for the benefit of the audience.

But Finn, his best buddy and diving partner Alfonz (Ewen Bremner), and the rest of the motley crew aren’t the only ones out for gold. Finn’s mentor, Moe (Ray Winstone), wants it for his own as does Bigg Bunny. And word apparently doesn’t reach Bunny and his thugs that they’re in a romantic comedy because they actually try to kill people!

The Cast

Matthew McConaughey gets his butt kicked multiple times in Fool’s Gold, with the worst beating delivered by the script and not his onscreen enemies. The plot is convoluted and confusing, and McConaughey’s left to try and pick up the pieces by gamely taking some lumps and – as mentioned before – showing off his tanned and handsome body.

Kate Hudson doesn’t get that much to do, other than look cute. Tess isn’t much of a character but rather a female love interest grabbed not fully formed from Column B of the romantic comedy handbook.
The Bottom Line

The bad guys repeatedly try to kill our heroes but it’s all for laughs, right? One murder attempt might be okay in a romantic comedy world, but Fool’s Gold really pushes the violence level way out of proportion. It also pushes our level of tolerance for exposition. Fool’s Gold comes to a complete stop as the characters plop themselves down for a lengthy discourse on where the treasure came from, who sent it out to sea, whose ship it was on, why it was there, where it was going, the weather conditions during the voyage, the geography of the land, and the color of the captain’s underwear. That last bit of info wasn’t actually included but might as well have been for all the good the rest of the explanation did in clueing the audience in on the location of the treasure. It feels like hours, even days, have passed by the time this information dump concludes.

For those who do succeed in following at least some of the history of The Queen’s Dowry, it’s quickly evident that the aforementioned explanation leads to major plot problems having to do with continuity. The location where Finn found the plate that set him off on this grand adventure doesn’t make sense, and that’s just one of the film’s many problems. And, seriously, the ultimate location of the treasure is just ridiculous. Someone over the course of 300-odd years would have stumbled across this buried loot long, long before Finn and Tess seek out their fortune.
The underwater scenes are done well, but don’t sell that sense of adventure you'd expect the characters to feel while chasing down millions – maybe even billions – in treasure. The time spent on land also lacks the thrill of the hunt. Combine that with the absence of any truly funny scenes and Fool’s Gold is one 'treasure' better left buried.

Grade: D+

Fool's Gold was directed by Andy Tennant and is rated PG-13 for action violence, some sexual material, brief nudity and language.

Theatrical Release Date: February 8, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Grammy Awards : Know The Winners

The 50th annual Grammy Awards have been handed out in Los Angeles. Here is a selection of the key winners.
Record of the year
Amy Winehouse - Rehab
Also nominated:
Beyonce - Irreplaceable
Foo Fighters - The Pretender
Rihanna - Umbrella
Justin Timberlake - What Goes Around... Comes Around

Album of the year
Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters
Also nominated:
Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Vince Gill - These Days
Kanye West - Graduation
Amy Winehouse - Back To Black

Song of the year
Amy Winehouse - Rehab
Also nominated:
Carrie Underwood - Before He Cheats
Plain White Ts - Hey There Delilah
Corrine Bailey Rae - Like a Star
Rihanna - Umbrella

Best new artist
Amy Winehouse
Also nominated:
Taylor Swift

Best female pop vocal performance
Rehab - Amy Winehouse
Also nominated:
Candyman - Christina Aguilera
1234 - Feist
Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie
Say It Right - Nelly Furtado

Best male pop vocal performance
What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake
Also nominated:
Everything - Michael Buble
Belief - John Mayer
Dance Tonight - Paul McCartney
Amazing - Seal

Best pop performance by a duo or group with vocals
Makes Me Wonder - Maroon 5
Also nominated:
(You Want To) Make A Memory - Bon Jovi
Home - Daughtry
Hey There Delilah - Plain White T's
Window In The Skies - U2

Best pop vocal album
Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
Also nominated:
Bon Jovi - Lost Highway
Feist - The Reminder
Maroon 5 - It Won't Be Soon Before Long
Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full

Best dance recording
LoveStoned/I Think She Knows - Justin Timberlake
Also nominated:
Do It Again - The Chemical Brothers
D.A.N.C.E. - Justice
Love Today - Mika
Don't Stop The Music - Rihanna

Best rock song
Radio Nowhere - Bruce Springsteen
Also nominated:
Come On - Lucinda Williams
Icky Thump - The White Stripes
It's Not Over - Daughtry
The Pretender - Foo Fighters

Best rock album
Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Also nominated:
Daughtry - Daughtry
John Fogerty - Revival
Bruce Springsteen - Magic
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Best solo rock vocal performance
Radio Nowhere - Bruce Springsteen
Also nominated:
Timebomb - Beck
Only Mama Knows - Paul McCartney
Our Country - John Mellencamp
Come On - Lucinda Williams

Best rock performance by a duo or group with vocals
Icky Thump - The White Stripes
Also nominated:
It's Not Over - Daughtry
Working Class Hero - Green Day
If Everyone Cared - Nickelback
Instant Karma - U2

Best alternative music album
Icky Thump - The White Stripes
Also nominated:
Alright, Still... - Lily Allen
Neon Bible - Arcade Fire
Volta - Bjork
Wincing The Night Away - The Shins

Best female R&B vocal performance
No One - Alicia Keys
Also nominated:
Just Fine - Mary J Blige
When I See You - Fantasia
If I Have My Way - Chrisette Michele
Hate On Me - Jill Scott

Best male R&B vocal performance
Future Baby Mama - Prince
Also nominated:
Woman - Raheem DeVaughn
B.U.D.D.Y. - Musiq Soulchild
Because Of You - Ne-Yo
Please Don't Go - Tank

Best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals
Disrespectful - Chaka Khan Featuring Mary J Blige
Also nominated:
Same Girl - R Kelly Featuring Usher
Hate That I Love You - Rihanna Featuring Ne-Yo
Baby - Angie Stone Featuring Betty Wright
Bartender - T-Pain Featuring Akon

Best R&B song
No One - Alicia Keys
Also nominated:
Beautiful Flower - India.Arie
Hate That I Love You - Rihanna Featuring Ne-Yo
Teachme - Musiq Soulchild
When I See U - Fantasia

Best R&B album
Chaka Khan - Funk This
Also nominated:
Ledisi - Lost & Found
Musiq Soulchild - Luvanmusiq
Jill Scott - The Real Thing
Tank - Sex, Love & Pain

Best contemporary R&B album
Ne-Yo - Because Of You
Also nominated:
Akon - Konvicted
Keyshia Cole - Just Like You
Fantasia - Fantasia
Emily King - East Side Story

Best rap solo performance
Stronger - Kanye West
Also nominated:
The People - Common
I Get Money - 50 Cent
Show Me What You Got - Jay-Z
Big Things Poppin' (Do It) - TI

Best rap performance by a duo or group
Southside - Common Featuring Kanye West
Also nominated:
Make It Rain - Fat Joe Featuring Lil Wayne
Party Like A Rockstar - Shop Boyz
Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You) - UGK Featuring OutKast
Better Than I've Ever Been - Kanye West, Nas & KRS-One

Best rap song
Good Life - Kanye West Featuring T-Pain
Also nominated:
Ayo Technology - 50 Cent Featuring Justin Timberlake & Timbaland
Big Things Poppin' (Do It) - TI
Can't Tell Me Nothing - Kanye West
Crank That - Soulja Boy Tell'Em

Best rap album
Kanye West - Graduation
Also nominated:
Common - Finding Forever
Jay-Z - Kingdom Come
Nas - Hip Hop Is Dead
TI - TI vs TIP

Best female country vocal performance
Before He Cheats - Carrie Underwood
Also nominated:
Simple Love - Alison Krauss
Famous In A Small Town - Miranda Lambert
Nothin' Better To Do - LeAnn Rimes
Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love - Trisha Yearwood

Best male country vocal performance
Stupid Boy - Keith Urban
Also nominated:
Long Trip Alone - Dierks Bentley
A Woman's Love - Alan Jackson
If You're Reading This - Tim McGraw
Give It Away - George Strait

Best country performance by a duo or group with vocals
How Long - Eagles
Also nominated:
Proud Of The House We Built - Brooks & Dunn
Moments - Emerson Drive
Lucky Man - Montgomery Gentry
Sweet Memories - The Time Jumpers

Best country song
Before He Cheats - Carrie Underwood
Also nominated:
Give It Away - George Strait
I Need You - Tim McGraw & Faith Hill
If You're Reading This - Tim McGraw
Long Trip Alone - Dierks Bentley

Best country album
Vince Gill - These Days
Also nominated:
Dierks Bentley - Long Trip Alone
Tim McGraw - Let It Go
Brad Paisley - 5th Gear
George Strait - It Just Comes Natural

Best electronic/dance album
The Chemical Brothers - We Are The Night
Also nominated:
Justice - Cross
LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
Shiny Toy Guns - We Are Pilots
Tiesto - Elements Of Life

Producer of the year, non-classical
Mark Ronson
Also nominated:
Howard Benson
Joe Chiccarelli
Mike Elizondo

Best short form music video
Johnny Cash - God's Gonna Cut You Down
Feist - 1234
Gnarls Barkley - Gone Daddy Gone
Justice - D.A.N.C.E.
Mute Math - Typical

Five For Winehouse

Troubled singer Amy Winehouse has been showered with glory by the prestigious Grammy Awards, winning five prizes - despite being absent from the ceremony.
Her awards included song of the year and record of the year, both for her single Rehab, and best new artist.

But she was not at the Los Angeles ceremony to collect them due to visa problems. Instead, she performed and made an acceptance speech by satellite.

Kanye West scooped four Grammy Awards, while Bruce Springsteen won three.

The White Stripes, Justin Timberlake, Carrie Underwood and Mary J Blige were among the acts who picked up two awards.

'My Blake incarcerated'

But the night belonged to Winehouse, whose stunned reaction to winning record of the year, was beamed into the ceremony from a London studio.

The 24-year-old singer was seen hugging her mother as the crowd in Los Angeles chanted her name.

She paid tribute to her husband, "my Blake incarcerated", who is in custody awaiting trial on charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice and grievous bodily harm.

She also dedicated the win to London, "because Camden Town ain't burning down", a reference to a huge fire in the capital this weekend.

Winehouse, the first Briton to win the Grammy for best new artist since soul singer Sade in 1986, also performed You Know I'm No Good and Rehab.

In the song of the year category, Rehab saw off competition from singles by Rihanna, Carrie Underwood, the Plain White Ts and Corinne Bailey Rae.

Rehab was also named record of the year, beating efforts by Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and the Foo Fighters.

Her other accolades were best pop vocal album for Back To Black and best female pop vocal performance for Rehab.

Winehouse will now return to the Capio Nightingale clinic, where she has been treated for the past two weeks to overcome her high-profile drug problems.

The US embassy initially refused her a visa, then reversed their decision - but it was too late to allow her to travel to the ceremony.

She had been nominated for six awards, but lost out on the prize for album of the year.

Jazz upset

In a major upset, that went to jazz legend Herbie Hancock for River: The Joni Letters, his tribute to singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell - only the second time a jazz album has triumphed in the 50-year history of the Grammys.

"I'd like to thank the academy for courageously breaking the mould this time," Hancock said.

Kanye West led the nominations with eight, and came away with four trophies - for best rap song, best rap album, best rap solo performance and best rap performance by a duo or group.

The hip-hop star used his acceptance speech for best rap album to pay tribute to his mother Donda, who died in November.

But when the band struck up to try to cut short his speech, he said: "It would be in good taste to stop the music," and the music stopped.

"I know you're really proud of me right now and I know you want me to be the number one artist in the world," he said. "And mama, all I'm going to do is keep making you proud. We run this."

The show opened with a duet between Alicia Keys and footage of the late Frank Sinatra singing Learnin' the Blues.

Tina Turner returned to the stage for the first time in seven years to perform with Beyonce.

Songwriter Burt Bacharach received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement at a separate ceremony on Saturday.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Amy Winehouse may be key Grammy moment

Kanye West is nominated for a leading eight Grammy awards and has a history, good or bad, of creating memorable awards show moments. But the superstar rapper and producer may be upstaged on Grammy night by another nominee who's not even able to attend Sunday's ceremony.

Troubled British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, up for six awards including album of the year for her "Back to Black" album, is due to perform via satellite from her home country, where she is currently being treated in a rehabilitation center for substance abuse.

In the days leading up to the ceremony, suspense was building whether the 24-year-old, whose personal life has fallen apart over the past year as her career blossomed, would be at the ceremony in any form. It was unclear whether she'd be well enough to take a break from rehab to attend; then, it was unclear whether the United States would grant her a work visa to appear.

After she was initially rejected for the visa this week, Grammy producers arranged for her to perform via telecast. Soon afterward, the U.S. government reversed itself and approved Winehouse, but it was too late in the week at that point to make the cross-continental trek.

Winehouse is only behind West for the most nominations on the night. The retro-soul singer's top-selling American debut is not only up for album of the year, but song and record of the year for her autobiographical, sassy hit "Rehab," about her refusal to undergo treatment. Though the album was a critical and commercial breakthrough for her, her personal troubles, which made regular tabloid headlines, threatened to overshadow her music.

In any other year, it would likely be West who would be the main story line going into Grammy week. He too is up for album of the year for "Graduation," which had the best-selling debut of last year with almost one million copies sold in the first week alone. This is West's third album and the third time he has been nominated for album of the year.

While he has won a handful of Grammys, they have been in the rap categories, where the bulk of his nominations are this year as well. West has provided stirring awards show performances, but has also been known to go on a tirade when he has not won what he thought he deserved, perhaps most notably at last year's MTV Video Music Awards.

Late last year, he suffered a traumatic loss when his mother and manager Donda West died after complications of plastic surgery. West, whose mother was often with him at awards ceremonies, is due to perform on Sunday's broadcast.

Besides West and Winehouse, the other album of the year contenders were the Foo Fighters' "Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace," Vince Gill's "These Days," and Herbie Hancock's "The River."

For record of the year, Winehouse's "Rehab" is competing against Beyonce's "Irreplaceable," Rihanna's "Umbrella," "The Pretender" by the Foo Fighters and Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around ... Comes Around."

Among the broadcast's scheduled performances were Beyonce with rock goddess Tina Turner; Rihanna with The Time; Aretha Franklin, Josh Groban, Alicia Keys with John Mayer and Carrie Underwood.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Grammys. But the Hollywood writer's strike had threatened disrupt the telecast when the Writers Guild of America indicated they might not grant the show a waiver to use writers, leaving the potential of a boycott. But an interim agreement was reached.

The show will be broadcast live on CBS. The bulk of the 100-plus trophies will be given out in a pre-telecast ceremon

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Adieu Heath Ledger

International film stars and close relatives were among the mourners at a memorial service for Australian actor Heath Ledger in his home town of Perth.
The service was to be followed by a private burial for close family only.

The 28-year-old star of Brokeback Mountain died of an accidental drugs overdose last month in New York.

Hollywood star Cate Blanchett was a speaker at the service, along with Neil Armfield, who directed Ledger in his last Australian film, Candy.

Ledger's former fiancee, Michelle Williams, attended the service along with Australian actors Bryan Brown and Joel Edgerton.

'Difficult to cope'

Local musician Levi Islam told reporters outside that he opened the service by playing an ancient Aboriginal tune on a didgeridoo.

His father, Kim Ledger, told reporters the family wanted to be allowed to grieve alone.

"We're finding it pretty difficult to cope by ourselves, let alone with everyone else around the world," he said.

"Having said that, we do really appreciate the outpouring and the emotional support from all over the globe."

About 500 people attended the memorial service at Penrhos College, in the Perth suburb of Como.

Mourners then went to a wake at the city's Cottesloe Beach, which was one of Ledger's favourite places.

Lethal combination

A memorial service was held in Los Angeles last weekend.

On Wednesday, the New York City medical examiner ruled that Ledger died from the combined effect of six different prescription drugs.

They included painkiller Oxycontin and anti-anxiety drugs Valium and Xanax.

Traces of painkiller Ibuprofen and the sleeping pills Restoril and Unisom were also found in Ledger's blood.

Kim Ledger said: "While no medications were taken in excess, we learned the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy."

Local media reported that Ledger would be buried in a family plot, next to his grandparents, in a Perth ceremony.

Colin Farrell Discusses 'In Bruges'

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play hit men sent to Bruges to lay low for a couple of weeks in the twisted comedy, In Bruges. After a hit goes bad, boss man Harry (Ralph Fiennes) sends Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson) away for what's supposed to be a brief, relaxing vacation. The problem is, Ray doesn't want to spend even one night in Bruges after taking an immediate disliking to the city. Instead of enjoying the scenery in the most well-preserved medieval city in Belgium, Ray hates the idea of staying put in Bruges and that leads to arguments and, of course, big trouble.

Farrell says the script for In Bruges was the best he’d ever read. That’s high praise coming from a man who worked his way onto the A-list over the past decade with starring roles in Tigerland, Alexander, Miami Vice and The New World.

“It's just my favorite thing I've ever read,” said Farrell of the In Bruges screenplay. “On one hand, I understood the characters. I felt that I understood them and I understood their way of communicating. On another hand, I couldn't figure out how an actor could say any of these words because some of it's quite outlandish. Thank God we had the three weeks rehearsal, but it was just beautiful language, really beautiful language, beautiful descriptions. It was a lot more expressive of a certain kind of truth that was inherently existing within all the characters than it seemed on the page. There is a melancholy to the piece that is completely lacking in indulgence. It was beautiful. I found reading it, yes, it was very poignant and all that, but it was also very painful and very emotional. But it just wasn't crescendoing to any particular moments. So it was just a beautiful script.”
Farrell doesn’t think his past directors Michael Mann or Oliver Stone would feel slighted by his insistence In Bruges is the best thing he’s gotten his hands on. “How do I think they'd feel? They'll feel fine, I'm sure,” said Farrell. “They have an idea of who they are and how good they are and how strong they are as artists. They'd be fine with it.”

Farrell can point to a couple of lines in particular in writer/director Martin McDonagh's script that absolutely blew him away. “There was two lines that just I actually had to put the script down. When he says, ‘Amsterdam, that's just full of bloody prostitutes.’ And so she says, ‘Yes, that's why I came to Bruges. I thought I'd get a better price for my p---sy...’”

Farrell's other favorite bit of dialogue didn't make the final cut but will be included on the DVD. “There's a great line where Harry is on the train, the channel tunnel, going to Bruges to do the deed. He sits down in front of a businessman and the businessman says something to him like, ‘You going to Bruges on business or something?’ Harry looks at him and says, ‘If I wanted to talk to a c--t, I would have gone to the Talk to a C--t shop.’ So those were two I remember - I couldn't believe it.”

But it wasn't just the script that got Farrell enthused. The whole process of working on the film was a revelation to Farrell who credits McDonagh with making In Bruges a real learning experience as well as a pleasure to work on. “The whole thing was, apart form the singularity of Martin's vision manifesting in this script, after that fact the whole thing became such a collaboration. The three weeks of rehearsal we had was just such playtime for us, really. It's a luxury that you don't really get on films that much. I think the only other time I rehearsed as intensely was for Phone Booth because that was a 10 day shoot and we had to really block it and stuff. But no, it was a great time just to sit in there and just talk about it. I thought we'd run out of steam about halfway through the second week, we'd be going, ‘Can we shoot it already?’ But every time we asked one question of the script and thought we came to a conclusion, then 10 other questions would pop up. It was that good.”

“I thought it existed on the surface, as I said before to a certain degree, but there was just so much subtext going on that I didn't even comprehend the first time I read it,” explained Farrell. “And the facial expressions and all that, I don't know... He's just a very honest guy and was so raw. So raw, I mean, by the time we meet him he's been through this terrible ordeal, this tragic event that takes place that he brings into being, this atrocious act that he commits so he's just incredibly raw and agitated and despairing. Knowing the reason why they're going to Bruges is because of what he's done, so Bruges in itself all around him is a reminder.”

Farrell’s character, Ray, has more than his fair share of inner demons to battle and is extremely conflicted. But Farrell thinks his character’s inner conflicts reflect the reality of being alive. We each have our own issues to deal with, though it's likely most people will never have to go through the turmoil Ray does after a hit goes bad. “I think the majority of us do really, to be honest,” said Farrell. “I mean, maybe good old Deepak [Chopra] doesn't. God bless him if he doesn't, but I've met some very peaceful Buddhists in my time. But I think the majority of us as human beings have a certain amount of conflicts that resonate within us to varying degrees.”

“Ray certainly has a load of conflict. In a way, he's not fully formed. He's still like a big lump of plasticine that is just very pliable. He's trying to figure out what shape he's going to take and how much of that will be based on the actions that he's put into play and how much of that can possibly be as a result of the universe. How much that does affect our existence is another matter. I think he's asking questions and searching more than he ever did before, based on what he's been through.

Grammy Award Nominations 2008

Presented February 10, 2008

Thursday December 6, 2007 the nominations for the 2008 Grammy Awards were announced. The awards will be presented February 10, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. The nominees are voted on and winners selected by members of the Recording Academy.

The Grammy Awards give out over 100 different trophies. I have listed only the nominations in the General, Pop, and Rock categories. The nominees are:

Record of the Year

Beyonce - "Irreplaceable"
Foo Fighters - "The Pretender"
Rihanna featuring Jay-Z - "Umbrella"
Justin Timberlake - "What Goes Around...Comes Around"
Amy Winehouse - "Rehab"

Album of the Year

Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Vince Gill - These Days
Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters
Kanye West - Graduation
Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

Song of the Year

Plain White T's - "Hey There Delilah"
Corinne Bailey Rae - "Like a Star"
Rihanna featuring Jay-Z - "Umbrella"
Carrie Underwood - "Before He Cheats"
Amy Winehouse - "Rehab"

Best New Artist

Taylor Swift
Amy Winehouse

Best Female Pop Vocal

Chrisina Aguilera - "Candyman"
Feist - "1,2,3,4"
Fergie - "Big Girls Don't Cry"
Nelly Furtado - "Say It Right"
Amy Winehouse - "Rehab"

Best Male Pop Vocal

Michael Buble - "Everything"
John Mayer - "Belief"
Paul McCartney - "Dance Tonight"
Seal - "Amazing"
Justin Timberlake - "What Goes Around...Comes Around"

Best Pop Duo or Group With Vocal

Bon Jovi - "(You Want to) Make A Memory"
Daughtry - "Home"
Maroon 5 - "Makes Me Wonder"
Plain White T's - "Hey There Delilah"
U2 - "Window in the Skies"

Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals

Tony Bennett & Christina Aguilera - "Steppin' Out"
Beyonce & Shakira - "Beautiful Liar"
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)"
Gwen Stefani & Akon - "The Sweet Escape"
Timbaland featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake - "Give It To Me"

Best Pop Instrumental

Beastie Boys - "Off the Grid"
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals - "Paris Sunrise #7"
Dave Koz - "Over the Rainbow"
Joni Mitchell - "One Week Last Summer"
Spyro Gyra - "Simple Pleasures"

Best Pop Instrumental Album

Beastie Boys - The Mix-Up
Chris Botti - Italia
Dave Koz - At the Movies
Spyro Gyra - Good to Go-Go
Kirk Whalum - Round Trip

Best Pop Vocal Album

Bon Jovi - Lost Highway
Feist - The Reminder
Maroon 5 - It Won't Be Soon Before Long
Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full
Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

Friday, February 8, 2008

Stars set Obama speech to music

A speech by US presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been set to music by a series of celebrity supporters.

Actress Scarlett Johansson and jazz legend Herbie Hancock sing lines in the music video, created by Will.I.Am from pop group Black Eyed Peas.

The rapper was inspired to create the song, Yes We Can, after the Democratic candidate spoke in New Hampshire.

"That speech effected and touched my inner core like nothing in a very long time," Will.I.Am said.

The result was produced in two days and has been watched by millions of internet users.

Others participants include R&B singer John Legend, rapper Common, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, CSI star Adam Rodriquez and Pussycat Dolls frontwoman Nicole Scherzinger.

Obama approval
Will.I.Am explained: "It was as if he was talking to and defending everything that made me who I am.

"I took that speech, and I wanted everyone else to be inspired by that speech as I was."

It has gone down well with Mr Obama.

The candidate has had it posted on his website and personally recommended it to journalists following his campaign.

But Will.I.Am said Mr Obama's team has not been in touch personally: "They have more important things than to be contacting me to say thank you.

"If they had time to call me, I'd be panicking."

Four years ago, the Black Eyed Peas supported Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Meanwhile, songs by rocker John Mellencamp have been dropped from Republican contender John McCain's events after the musician's publicist questioned their use.

"Are you sure you want to use his music to promote Senator McCain's efforts?" asked Bob Merlis.

"Logic says that the facts might prove to be an embarrassment, were they to be circulated widely," he added.

Mellencamp had supported John Edwards for the Democratic nomination until he dropped out.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ledger's Death Caused By Accidental Overdose

Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription medications including painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills, the New York City medical examiner's office said Wednesday.

"Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine," the office said in a short statement.

"We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications."

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are painkillers. Diazepam is an anti-anxiety drug commonly sold under the brand name Valium; alprazolam is also an anti-anxiety drug sold under such names as Xanax. Temazepam, sold under such names as Restoril and Euhypnos, is a sleeping agent. Doxylamine, an antihistamine, can be obtained over the counter as a sleep aid.

Ledger died January 22 at an apartment in Lower Manhattan. The Oscar-nominated Australian actor, best known for his role as a stoic, closeted cowboy in the 2005 film "Brokeback Mountain," was 28.

Police reported finding several prescription medications in the room but no illegal drugs.

CNN has learned the Drug Enforcement Administration has requested the toxicology and prescription records related to Ledger's death. The DEA requested the records Wednesday from the New York Police Department and the medical examiner's office after the release of the report detailing the cause of death, according to a law enforcement source who asked not to be identified by name or agency because the request concerns an active investigation.

The DEA confirmed it will look into anything suspicious concerning Ledger's death. "We will investigate any leads in respect to this," DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said while declining to provide any specifics. "In any case, we look to see whether prescription drugs were illegally obtained or whether it was through proper channels."

An autopsy done on the actor January 23 was inconclusive

In a statement released through Ledger's publicist, Ledger's father, Kim, said Wednesday: "While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath's accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage."

The family added, "Families rarely experience the uplifting, warm and massive outpouring of grief and support as have we, from every corner of the planet. This has deeply and profoundly touched our hearts and lives. We are eternally grateful."

Ledger had talked about his difficulty sleeping after back-to-back roles as a Bob Dylan figure in "I'm Not There" and the Joker in "The Dark Knight," part of the "Batman" series that is due out this summer.

"Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night," Ledger told The New York Times in November. "I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."

In the hours leading up to Ledger's death two weeks ago, a housekeeper, identified as Teresa Solomon, arrived at the apartment about 12:30 p.m., a police source with knowledge of the investigation said.

She saw Ledger lying on a bed face down with a sheet pulled up around his shoulders and heard him snoring, the source said.

Masseuse Diana Wolozin arrived at the apartment about 2:45 p.m. to give Ledger a massage, according to the police source. About 15 minutes later, when he had not come out of the bedroom and the door remained closed, she went in, saw him lying in bed and set up a massage table.

She shook Ledger, but he did not respond, so she used his cell phone to call actress Mary-Kate Olsen, a friend of Ledger's, in California, the source said.

Wolozin told Olsen that Ledger was unconscious, according to the police source.

Olsen reportedly told her that she would call private security people in New York.

At 3:26 p.m., Wolozin called 911 and told authorities Ledger was not breathing. While on the phone with dispatchers, Wolozin tried to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Ledger, but he was unresponsive.

Emergency personnel arrived seven minutes later, according to the police source, at about the same time as a private security person summoned by Olsen.

The medical technicians performed CPR on Ledger and used a cardiac defibrillator, but their efforts were in vain and he was pronounced dead at 3:36 p.m. By then, two other private security people summoned by Olsen had arrived as well as police.

His former fiancée, actress Michelle Williams, has asked the public to respect the need for her, the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Matilda, and others "to grieve privately."

"My heart is broken," Williams said in a statement issued last week via her publicist. "I am the mother of the most tender-hearted, high-spirited, beautiful little girl who is the spitting image of her father. All that I can cling to is his presence inside her that reveals itself every day. His family and I watch Matilda as she whispers to trees, hugs animals, and takes steps two at a time, and we know that he is with us still. She will be brought up in the best memories of him."

Condolences poured in from Ledger's friends and co-stars.

"He was a wonderful guy, he was a wonderful actor, he had a wonderful future ahead of him, and I liked him," said actor Eric Roberts, who worked with Ledger in "The Dark Knight."

Colleagues on Terry Gilliam's film "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," which Ledger had been shooting in England, said the actor apparently had been suffering from a respiratory ailment in the days before he died.

Christopher Plummer told Entertainment Weekly that Ledger had a "terrible, lingering bug in London, and he couldn't sleep at all. We all -- I thought he'd probably got walking pneumonia."

Ledger's first American film was the teen comedy "10 Things I Hate About You" in 1999. He passed up several scripts before taking a role in the Revolutionary War drama "The Patriot" in 2000 and "A Knight's Tale" in 2001. He also played a supporting role in "Monster's Ball."

But Ledger was perhaps best known for his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in "Brokeback Mountain," Ang Lee's film about two cowboys who had a secret romantic relationship. The role earned Ledger a best actor Oscar nomination.

Michael Clayton Movie Review

Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter responsible for the Bourne movies, makes his feature film directorial debut with the intense and riveting drama, Michael Clayton. Gilroy does a fantastic job of creatively exposing the shady underbelly of the corporate world in his engrossing rookie directing effort. George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton deliver award-worthy performances in this conspiracy thriller that takes full advantage of the current political climate to lay out a compelling and hauntingly realistic tale.

The Story

Michael Clayton (Clooney) is the guy you turn to when you need things fixed or hushed up in a hurry. Clayton weaves his magic behind the scenes at the huge law firm of Kenner, Bach & Leeden where he makes anything that could damage any of the firm’s clients simply fade away.

Clayton hides well the fact thats he’s begun to feel repulsed by what his job entails. And while he’d just as soon tell these scummy corporate bigwigs where to go, he continues performing the job the firm expects of him while loathing himself for doing it. His displeasure is just barely contained beneath the surface when he’s called out of a poker game to take care of a hit-and-run accident. Arriving at the driver’s home, Clayton reels off the client’s options while obviously struggling to hide his distain for the man who clearly believes he’s entitled to special treatment due to his connections -- and money.

But that’s just the set-up for the main story of Michael Clayton which is the potential settlement of a $3 billion class-action suit that’s been dragging on for half a dozen years. The firm’s lead litigator assigned to the case, Arthur Edens (Wilkinson), has snapped. Edens has stopped taking his manic-depressive meds, as evidenced by a bizarre strip tease he does while in the middle of a deposition. Edens has come to the conclusion that the class-action suit against his client, the agrochemical giant U/North, has merit. Hundreds of people have died as a result of using weed killer from U/North, and Edens believes U/North should be held accountable.

Clayton’s called upon to rein in Edens, a man he respects, admires, and knows well. At the same time as Clayton’s assigned to watch over Edens, a pair of ‘investigators’ are hired by Karen Crowder (Swinton), the in-house lawyer for U/North and one of the most power-hungry beasts in the corporate jungle. Unfortunately for Clayton, Edens has become a man obsessed with getting the truth told – damn the consequences.
The Cast

Let’s face it. To say George Clooney is aging gracefully is a gross understatement of facts. The man appears to be eternally, youthfully handsome, even with grey streaks and a few wrinkles. However in Michael Clayton, Clooney disguises the boyish charm that works so well for him in so many different films behind the mask of a man resigned to the fact he’s basically sold his soul to the devil.

Tom Wilkinson spouts crazy gibberish as he passionately renounces the legal firm he’s dedicated his adult years to serving. Every little bit of torment Wilkinson feels as a lawyer who’s representing the wrong side of a lawsuit is clearly evident on his face and in his voice. Wilkinson delivers an amazingly powerful performance and one that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Swinton’s equally as mesmerizing as a woman you wouldn’t want to cross ever in life.

The Bottom Line

Michael Clayton may be his first film as a director, but here’s hoping it’s not Gilroy’s last. As a director, Gilroy has shown great skill and restraint in being able to patiently allow his story to unfold, without drawing things out or rushing the plot along. Gilroy also doesn’t play down to his audience. He assumes we’ll figure things out as the film moves along, and he’s correct in that assumption because he’s done a great job of crafting an intelligent script and then handing it over to actors who allow themselves to be completely absorbed in their characters. It’s a dialogue-heavy film and some of the scenes might have played out as too wordy had they not been delivered by actors of Wilkinson, Clooney and Swinton's talent.

The fall has become synonymous with serious George Clooney films. Of the lot – Syriana, The Good German, Good Night, and Good Luck – Michael Clayton is the best of the bunch. Fully fleshed-out characters, dynamic performances, and a compelling story add up to a smart must-see thriller.


Michael Clayton was directed by Tony Gilroy and is rated R for language including some sexual dialogue

Atlanta Offers Heartbreaking Stories On ‘Idol’

One auditioner lives in his car, while another lost recently lost her father

You may have noticed an emphasis on heart-wrenching stories during this year’s “American Idol” auditions. And in that regard, Atlanta did not disappoint.

The contestant most people will be talking about is Josiah Leming. The 18-year-old from Morristown, Tenn., has been living in his car for months, but his family had no idea — they thought he was staying with friends. That’s probably no longer true, assuming there are any televisions within driving distance of his hometown.

Leming was confident before the judges, telling Simon Cowell, “I can win because I have more ambition and more motivation than you’re ever gonna meet in an 18-year-old.” He also looked to buck a trend by singing an original composition, which has worked approximately zero percent of the time in the past.

His result, however, was different. Even though the judges were flummoxed by his British accent when he sang, he’ll get the chance to abandon his car for a nice hotel room in Hollywood, at least for a night or two. “You’ll never regret this. I guarantee it. Not a day in your life,” Leming said, taking the early lead as a fan favorite should he reach the final 24.

Then there was Asia’H Epperson, whose father was killed in a car accident while she was driving to her “Idol” audition. The 18-year-old said that she’d just called him half an hour before his death to tell him she was on her way to audition. “It was kind of hard,” she said. “But he’s here with me today and it’ll be ... it’ll be good.”

The singing was actually not that good, as Epperson changed her song at the last minute to “How Do I Live” by LeAnn Rimes. That’s a tough song to sing well and, under the circumstances, it was too big for her voice. Of course, once she told the judges the reason she was changing things up was to honor her father, and related the story of how he died, their hearts melted and they sent her through to Hollywood.

“I like you. And that was tough. That was tough. You sang that very well. Well done,” Simon said.

“I thought you were excellent. The circumstances were unbelievable, but you worked it out,” Randy Jackson agreed.

And, the topper: “I think your dad would be very proud of you,” courtesy of Simon. The only thing better would have been a quick cut to a commercial for tissues for the audience to cry into.

From beauty queens to rockin’ nurses
Leming and Epperson may have been the best stories, but numerous others from Atlanta took full advantage of their airtime and made it through to Hollywood.

Brooke Helvie came to the auditions wearing her crown from the Ms. South Florida Fair. Ordinarily that only leads to merciless mocking and an early hook from the judges, but the 18-year-old was fully aware of that danger, saying that her goal was to prove to Simon that pageant girls can sing.

And sadly enough for Simon, she could. Her cover of the Jackson 5’s “Who’s Loving You” got her three yes votes. But as soon as she left the room, Simon called her “possibly the most annoying person I have ever seen in my life. I actually didn’t want her to sing well.”

On the other hand, Amanda Overmyer was not crowned Ms. Anything, and doesn’t appear to be a candidate to enter a beauty pageant anytime soon. The 22-year-old from Indiana was one of the many hopefuls this season looking to take on the role of “Idol” rocker, and had the requisite blasĂ© attitude. She insisted that she was satisfied working as a nurse. “I’m happy either way. It’ll just be a matter of whether they dig it or not,” she said.

They dug it. Overmyer continued the Janis Joplin revival from auditioners this season, choosing to begin her performance with “Mean Woman,” and the judges ate it up. “I think you’re authentic and real, and I love you,” Paula Abdul said. The rock ’n’ roll nurse, as Randy put it, sailed through to Hollywood.

Alexandrea Lushington is only 16, and brought her 93-year-old great-grandmother to the auditions. That has to be a record for the widest age disparity in one room in the history of the show, but at least they sent the whole family home happy by cheerfully sending her to the next round.

Joshua Jones also made it through, but probably won’t need to take more than a couple of days off from his job as a glass cutter. Though he sang well, the judges were disturbed by his “demonic” eyes and finally had him sing with his back to them. “It’s something we should have done to Clay Aiken years ago,” Simon said, though he still proved to be Jones’ lone no vote.

Two seats away from fame
Among those who didn’t make it was J.P Tjelmeland. His hook to get before the judges was that two years ago, he sat two seats away from Carrie Underwood when she began her route to stardom. But after his second chance in Atlanta, it looks like that will always remain his claim to fame.

“I am not that bad. Was I that bad?” he asked the judges.

“My pen has more charisma,” Simon replied.

Eva Miller was shocked that she didn’t make it. The judges were shocked that her performance wasn’t just an act to get on television. Falling down while dancing to “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton will do that.

But Nathan Hite was the most memorable of those who didn’t move forward. Hite, 16, is repeating ninth grade in Savannah, Ga., presumably because he doesn’t spend nearly as much time on his homework as he did coming up with witty rejoinders to the judges’ criticisms.

After Hite finished, Simon dismissed it by calling it “a bedroom audition.”

“Does he keep this written down on a piece of paper or something?” Hite asked.

“Do you want to be a smartass, or do you want to listen?” Simon responded. And it went downhill from there.

When Ryan Seacrest asked Hite what Simon meant by the “bedroom audition” comment, Hite responded “Maybe it’s the fact that I refused to spoon with him so he wouldn’t let me through.”

In fact, Simon said that it sounded like someone singing along to a record in their bedroom with the door closed, proving the long-uttered parent’s lament true. Teenagers just don’t listen.

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