Monday, December 31, 2012

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012


Of all of the top films that came out this year Spielberg's bio of America's favorite president towers above them like the iconic stovepipe hat the subject is known for wearing.  Life of Pi is mostly spectacle, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is too intimate, but Lincoln feels just right to top the list.  All of the key elements are there for an instant classic in the making.  Daniel Day-Lewis's uncanny performance, the accomplished script by Tony Kushner, the gorgeous cinematography by Janusz Kaminski and the one and only Steven Spielberg at the helm.  That is all to say nothing about the indelible supporting work by Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln.  I would be surprised if the academy doesn't agree. 


The idea of turning one of my favorite novels into a film didn't immediately appeal to me, but I could have rested assured it would be in good hands when I learned that the author himself, Stephen Chbosky, was adapting and directing it for the big screen.  It's clear that this singular coming-of-age tale is Chbosky's baby from the care he takes with its telling.  The unique tone blends pathos, humor and angst so beautifully it feels like a trip back to high school.  The pitch-perfect casting didn't hurt either.  Logan Lerman makes an indelible impression as the forlorn protagonist Charlie, Ezra Miller steals every scene as the outspoken Patrick and Emma Watson can leave Hermione Granger behind for good. 


Another beloved novel adaption that, by director Ang Lee's own admission, seems unfilmable.  However, the genre-jumping auteur has again made the impossible possible.  The story of a boy on a life raft in the middle of the ocean with only his thoughts and a Bengal tiger may feel more intimate than spectacular on the page, but in film form it manages to be both.  With 3D effects and visual flourishes it's easy to lose nuanced character development and, in the wrong hands, it would  be difficult to connect to the characters, but such is not the case in Life of Pi.  We feel Pi's pain, frustration and even his elation.  The effects only serve to punctuate those emotions and enhance the experience.  This is 3D done right!  


With the heavy topics like war and natural disasters in so many films this year it was nice to have a break from all of that with a broad, yet well-crafted comedy.  Channing Tatum (redeeming himself from the awful Magic Mike) and Jonah Hill pair up for a 21st century buddy cop movie that makes the genre feel fresh again.  Other than the basic premise (and some fun cameos) it has little to do with the 80's teen drama is based on and that's probably for the best.  I had to include this film because it made me laugh more than anything else I've seen this year and there is a real plot beneath all of the sight gags and comedic riffing that makes repeat viewing just as pleasurable every time. 



First of all, it's only fair to note that I don't think that Django Unchained is as controversial as many would assume.  Although it's arguable that Tarantino's bold use of the polarizing N-word in other films is problematic, the setting and plot of this particular story justifies it.  Once you get past that it's thoroughly enjoyable.  For Tarantino, a linear plot is a new thing and he makes it work without feeling like anything is missing.  In fact, the real novelty of Django is that, for the most part, it's a straight forward western.  The twist is that it's about an ex-slave, bounty hunter taking out white people before slavery is officially over.  With strong supporting performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson it's one of the most entertaining and visionary films of the year and a nice bookend to Lincoln


When a film has as much awards buzz as this and stars multiple Oscar nominees, it's easy to forget that at its heart it's a romantic comedy, but that's just what Silver Linings Playbook is.  The take on it is so fresh and well executed though, that it feels wrong to group it with the drivel that rom-coms have come to be associated with.  In this crazy-meets-crazy love story two damaged souls come together in the most unconventional way and their obstacles are more complicated than a wacky ex, or an embarrassing secret.  Jennifer Lawrence, once again proves that she is the young actress to watch, Bradley Cooper stretches beyond his fratboy persona and Robert DeNiro gives his best performance in years.  A winner.   


Christopher Nolan, in the final chapter of his Batman trilogy, continues to transcend the comic book movie genre with another sensational, intelligent thriller.  As someone who liked The Dark Knight, but is partial to Batman Begins, I was glad to see the caped crusader rebuild himself this time around and rediscover why his pursuit of justice is so important and symbolic for the people of Gotham.  Also, with the addition of Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt it was nice to see a reunion of the cast of Inception.  Though ending on a high note is probably a good idea, I would trust Nolan to keep the franchise going until Bruce Wayne has little grandbats. 


So, yes the plot was a bit nonsensical, and Anna Kendrick might not have been so believable as the outsider emo-girl, but those absurdities are what make comedies like these work.  Instead of going the route of a typical musical where the characters express themselves through song, the singing is just a backdrop for the story.  It was refreshing to see a girl-power comedy that anyone could love and that didn't get too treacly sweet to stomach.  There are romantic subplots, but the real meat and potatoes is this motley group of girl singers learning to work together and rise above obstacles.  Rebel Wilson's starmaking turn as Fat Amy is worth the price of admission on its own. 


When I heard promos for The Sessions I was expecting writer/director Ben Lewin's story of a polio afflicted writer to be somber and challenging in a typical indie festival film kind of way.  Fortunately, the story is based on the true life experiences of Mark O'Brien, who made up for his physical limitations with a sharp wit and endearing personality.  John Hawkes shines in the lead role having to rely solely on his expressive face since the character spends much of the film in an iron lung.  Helen Hunt boldly bears all as the sex surrogate that O'Brien hires to help him lose his virginity and the always dependable William H. Macy warmly plays the priest he looks to for guidance.  


Wes Anderson's penchant for deadpan, yet emotional comedy always seems to work best when coming from the mouth of babes and the precocious child actors in Moonrise Kingdom are no exception.  Part romance, part coming-of-age story, part adventure, this tale of preteen lovers trying to be together despite opposition from pretty much everyone in their respective lives manages to be funny and adorable without becoming too twee for its own good.  The young actors are right on target and supporting work by the adults, Anderson stalwarts like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, are also strong.   

Sunday, December 30, 2012


This past year was odd for me musically.  Most of the albums I was looking forward to were disappointments.  No Doubt's PUSH AND SHOVE and Garbage's NOT YOUR KIND OF PEOPLE had their high points, but failed to recapture their mid-90's awesomeness.  The top artists with the biggest hits, continued to bore me and I got the most enjoyment from artists that were either fairly new (Frank Ocean, Rye Rye), or had been around but I was discovering them for the first time (Gossip, The Presets, Miranda Lambert).  Either way here are the top 5 albums that I most thoroughly enjoyed in 2012 and some highlights from other ones that are still worth giving a listen.  

1. A JOYFUL NOISE - Gossip 

This has to be as close to a perfect pop record as you can get.  On their wonderful previous album MUSIC FOR MEN they went a bit slicker and poppier than their early records, but their evolution to a more pop sound is more fully realized on this record.  The raw emotion, song craft and gorgeous arrangements are what a good pop record should be so their rock roots give it just the right edge (Think: Hole's CELEBRITY SKIN).  Slick and beautifully crafted.  It's soulful, danceable pop at its finest. 

Download: Get a Job/ Move in the Right Direction/ A Perfect World

2. THE IDLER WHEEL . . . - Fiona Apple 

Fiona, our feisty, thoughtful heroine has done it again albeit a bit differently this time.  The expressive strings and whining horns of TIDAL and EXTRAORDINARY MACHINE are replaced with more of the the pounding piano we heard on WHEN THE PAWN... and she threw in some stripped down percussion as well, creating a musical style as stripped-down as her naked lyrics. 

Download: Anything We Want/ Jonathan/ Hot Knife

3. CHANNEL ORANGE - Frank Ocean 

A delicately crafted hip-hop gem of an album.  After his previous mixtape NOSTALGIA/ULTRA showed off his eclectic mix of rock/hip-hop/r&b Ocean took it to the next level with his major label debut.  Guest spots by the likes of Andre 3000, John Mayer and his Odd Future cohort Earl Sweatshirt never dim the shine of the man at the center.  His announcement about his sexuality is at once poignant and rendered irrelevant. 

Download: Sweet Life/ Pyramids/ Bad Religion

4. FOUR THE RECORD - Miranda Lambert

Technically it was released in 2011, but it was too late in the year to make an impact and make the list.  In 2012, it's been on repeat on my iPod all year.  Taking the baton from her plucky country fore-mothers like Loretta Lynn, Lambert has crafted a beautiful set of tunes showing off both her sweet and sour sides and making her all the more relatable in the process. 

Download: Mama's Broken Heart/ Baggage Claim/ Fine Tune

5. GO! POP! BANG! - Rye Rye 

The plucky 22 year-old rapper has been putting out material since she was in high school and this, her debut album, consists of some of those singles in addition to some newly recorded material.  It all adds up to a bouncy, club-banging, burst of energy that is more than welcome among the boring rehashing of dance/pop clogging up the Top 40.  The only misstep is DNA, which feels too familiar. 

Download: Drop/ Hotter/ Boom Boom  

                           HONORABLE MENTION  

PACIFICA - The Presets                            


THE MAGIC HOUR - Scissor Sisters

FANTASEA - Azealia Banks

TRILOGY - The Weeknd




1. Move in the Right Direction - Gossip
2. Let's Have a Kiki - Scissor Sisters 
3. Sweet Life - Frank Ocean
4. Some Nights - Fun. 
5. Somebody That I Used To Know - Gotye 
6. Love Interruption - Jack White 
7. Ghosts - The Presets
8. Gold on the Ceiling - The Black Keys
9. Gangnam Style - Psy
10. Adorn - Miguel
11. Boom Boom -Rye Rye
12. Baggage Claim - Miranda Lambert
13. Anything We Want - Fiona Apple
14. Beez in the Trap - Nicki Minaj
15. I Hate Love - Garbage
16. Settle Down - No Doubt
17. Shady Love - Scissor Sisters            
18. Big Mouth - Santigold
19. My Kinda Love - Emeli Sandé 
20. My Fault - Imagine Dragons

Friday, December 21, 2012


The popularity of shows like Glee, The Voice and X-Factor have made belting out pop hits an unfortunate staple of modern entertainment. Initially, I was hoping that Pitch Perfect, a comedy about college a cappella groups, would skewer the sort of overly sentimental celebration of loserdom that those shows spew out every week, but instead it's right in there with them.  This would be trite and overwrought in the wrong hands, but it's handled in such a fresh and funny way it's easy to just go with it.

When the all girl a cappella group, The Bellas, lose some key members at graduation, returning songbirds Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp), have to find some new members to get the team competition-ready in time for this year's regionals (It's ALWAYS regionals with these people!) where they were disgraced the previous year.  The problem is, no 'acceptable' people want to audition for an a cappella group....especially one for girls.  You see, at Barden University the male a cappella singers are gods.  It's like an alternate universe where The Backstreet Boys are The Beatles.  In desperation, The Bellas decide to audition and select some of the outsiders that show interest.  Topping the list (and stealing the movie) is Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson).  Everything that comes out of her mouth is hilarious! This is the star-making role that justifies her recent ubiquity.

Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a freshman who really wants to go to school in Los Angeles, but she's stuck at Barden, where her father is a professor, working at the campus radio station.  Luckily for her, the scenery is good with her super hot senior supervisor and an apple-cheeked crooner Jesse (Skylar Astin), her co-worker who has a song in his heart for her.  What Beca really wants is to be a DJ, and she's always mixing up beats on her laptop but, in a funny/creepy shower scene, we also find out that she can sing.  Once Chloe learns this she pounces and eventually Beca is a Bella.  From the start she clashes with queen Bella, Aubrey, who wants to stick to the same routines they have done year after year.  The other girls mostly agree that they need to freshen up their sound, but none are brave enough to speak up.  And one, the scene-stealing Hana Mae Lee, can't.  We'll just ignore the fact that their idea of edgy is replacing 1993's 'I Saw The Sign' with 1996's 'No Diggity'.

Director Jason Moore (Broadway's Avenue Q), in his motion picture debut, seems to be going for Bring It On  meets Glee to the point of taking the plot from the former and the mash-ups from the latter.  The fun of the movie however isn't the music, which is cheesy at worst and nostalgically catchy at best.  It's also not the plot which leaves you with more questions than answers.  (Shouldn't they have a faculty coach? Would they even be allowed to do the same routine twice? How did a girl who barely speaks above a whisper make the team?) No, the heart of the movie is the journey the girls take together and the formation of unlikely friendships.  The film manages to embrace everyone's differences in a way that feels organic and not forced.  If you ignore the unlikely plot and just enjoy the plucky spirit of the film it will be the most fun you'll have at the movies this fall.

                                                    8/10  Treble clefs ********


The National Ballet of Canada's ambitious interpretation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is nothing short of magical.  The fantastically trippy source material can be a production designer's dream and nightmare.  Putting together a show this elaborate is exciting to create, but difficult to execute, however, designer Bob Crowley has more than risen to the challenge.

The sparing yet effective use of projection screens was also exceptional.  Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington's projections were seamless and enhanced the dreamlike quality of the piece.  The choreography by Christopher Wheeldon was inventive throughout and the farcical comedic moments were especially well handled.  It is not very often that one encounters a ballet with this much humor and wit.  This, coupled with the wonderfully crafted set pieces and innovative imagery make it an exciting spectacle for children.  The dancing was routinely excellent.  Sonia Rodriguez's Alice was a breathtaking presence and she was matched by Guillaume Cote's Knave of Hearts. The Queen of Hearts was danced with humor and grace by Greta Hodgkinson and Aleksander Antonijevic was a stylish White Rabbit.  The blink-and-you'll-miss-it 3 day engagement will surely leave spectators and dance enthusiasts begging for more.  

The show is here for four more performances at The Dorothy Chandler Pavillion.  Two shows on October 20th and 21st.  Tickets are still available. 

                                                          9/10 Tea cups *********


Like the majority of Tyler Perry's films Madea's Witness Protection has its few charms along with many flaws.  The flat acting and underdeveloped storylines that have become routine are more evident in the comedies.  At least it appears that he is branching out to a broader talent base.  His early films were peopled with his repertory group of actors from his blockbuster plays, but lately he's been casting more seasoned performers.  It worked in The Family That Preys with Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates, and the casting of Eugene Levy and Doris Robert helps this time (Denise Richards, not so much).

The thin plot involves George Needleman, a lowly accountant (Levy), who finds out that he unwittingly participated in a ponzi scheme that laundered money for a mob family through bogus charities set up by his boss.  Now that the jig is up, George is set up to take the fall and go to jail unless he can figure out how they did it right under his nose.  Guided by his lawyer Brian, played by an out-of-drag Perry, he and his family seek refuge at none other than Chez Madea while they try to keep him from going to jail.  George's mother Barbara (Roberts), his young wife (Richards) and his two kids are rich white folks trying to live incognito in the 'hood.  Twenty years ago that might have been a mildly humorous conceit, but here it feels pretty stale.  There are some funny moments, the best of which come from Perry as Brian's father Joe (brother of Madea) and his interactions with the Needleman's.  Though Madea is the star of the film, Perry is the funniest and most convincing as the mischievous old man.  It's just too bad his subplot doesn't get more screen time (or a real resolution).  Roberts also gets some good laughs as George's senile mother and Levy is predictably awkward and meek.  Richards's role as the beautiful trophy wife should have been easy enough, and under a director with a surer hand it might've been, but in this film, written, directed and produced by Perry himself, she isn't afforded that luxury.  In his defense, Perry is spreading himself pretty thin here juggling those duties along with three acting roles.   By now though, when he should be perfecting that balancing act he's been attempting for so many years, it feels like he isn't progressing.

Madea is, at this point, an acquired taste, but she still has some bite for the most part.  She has become iconic enough on her own that you don't feel like you're watching Tyler Perry when she's on screen and her Madea-isms can still be funny, although they were better in other films.  Despite the fact that the editing is choppy, the music cues feel off and the plot development is glacial for a comedy, if you're already a fan you will probably still enjoy Madea's Witness Protection for the most part, but it's still not likely to be your favorite.

6/10 Stars ******


When watching a Tyler Perry film, it's at once obvious that the director isn't quite comfortable with the medium.  It's evident in the editing, the shot choice and even in the performances he gets out of the actors.  On stage however, it's clear that Perry is more at home.  It makes sense being that he built his brand on his numerous hit gospel musicals in the 90's. It is interesting that none of his films have been adapted as musicals even though he often works with the same actor/singers and has even cast singers like Janet Jackson and Jill Scott in his dramas.  Then again, it seems that the music may be taking  more of a backseat.  The music numbers in I Don't Wanna Do Wrong are so few and far between that you almost forget you're watching a musical during the long stretches of dramatic dialogue.  It is to the director's credit however, that the songs don't feel intrusive when they do show up.  As is typical in Perry's plays the focus of the story is heart and soul.  There are laugh-out-loud moments and life lessons aplenty.  The comedic heavy lifting comes from the leads, quirky preacher Wallace (Palmer Williams Jr.) and his feisty wife Hattie, played to the hilt by Patrice Lovely.  Her tough old lady schtick has hints of Madea, but doesn't feel like a rehashed imitation as played by Lovely.  She also has the strongest solo work on the songs.

Wallace and Hattie have marriage issues that they're hiding not only from the people at church, but also from their adult daughter Yolonda (Kislyck Halsey) who is staying with them while her husband Jamal (Tony Hightower) is deployed in Iraq.  Yolonda is in medical school and we soon find out that she and her sexy study partner Marty (Andre Petri) are more than just platonic friends.  This, of course, gets complicated when Jamal returns from overseas.  Hightower does his best with the one dimensional character he's given, but really shines when he sings.  He has a smooth tenor that belies the tough exterior of his character, but manages to convey the vulnerability better than the actual dialogue.  Petri's Marty is not as strong vocally, but he is handsome and affable in the role of the sensitive other man.

Halsey is unfortunately the weak link in the ensemble.  Her stiff performance doesn't warrant the sympathy the audience is meant to feel for her character's predicament.  Her solo on the title song was also the weakest, but in her defense the key did sound wrong for her.  She fared better in the finale where she sounded more comfortable, but was still outshone by the other performers.  The cast is rounded out by Renee, a friend of Yolonda's played by Alexis Jones exactly as the one note character is written.  Thankfully, her voice is nicely displayed on her solo.  Besides the opener and the closer, all of the songs are solo showcases for each performer, which consisted of them singing while another cast member (mostly Halsey) awkwardly reacted to the lyrics.  The songs themselves, co-penned by Perry and Elvin Ross, were contemporary gospel soul with facile lyrics that were mostly performed well, but didn't necessarily do much to push the story forward or punctuate the theme.  I Don't Wanna Do Wrong doesn't reinvent the wheel by any means, but it does have enough humor and heart to be entertaining.  The sometimes clunky dialogue and broad comedy works much better on the stage and makes for a more satisfying overall experience.

7/10 Stars *******

Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection & I Don't Wanna Do Wrong available now on DVD.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


As a fan of Stephen Chbosky's superb coming of age epistolary I was extremely nervous about the prospect of adapting it to film.  I knew upon reading it that Chbosky was a screenwriter and was actually surprised that it took so long to come to fruition.  I was glad that he had adapted the novel himself, but what made me nervous was the fact that he was also directing.  I worried that he might be too close to the material not to make an over indulgent film that would get bogged down by vanity and lose what made the book so special in the first place.

Fortunately, I could not have been more wrong.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower uncannily captures the tone and nuance of the book in a way that is rare when converting material from one medium to another.  The experience of watching the film was almost eerily similar to what it felt like to read the book (which I have done multiple times).

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a gentle, sensitive teen with the innocent, yet haunted, eyes of someone forced to see very adult things at a young age.  He is just starting high school, and after recently losing his best friend he's hurting for new ones, cautiously trying to connect with new people and eschew his reputation as a 'freak'.  In Shop class he meets Patrick (an engaging Ezra Miller), a senior, who is somewhat of a class clown earning the moniker "Nothing" after a cheeky interaction with the teacher.  Patrick, not afraid of letting his own freak flag fly, isn't put off by Charlie's demeanor and introduces him to his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson), who Charlie instantly falls for.  The siblings take Charlie under their wing and he quickly becomes a  part of their close-nit group of friends.

Paul Rudd (always a welcome face) plays Bill, an English teacher that picks up on Charlie's potential and starts to give him more advanced books to read and report on outside of class, cultivating a special relationship with him.  At one point in the film Bill explains to Charlie that we "accept the love we think we deserve."  This theme runs through several of the relationships depicted in the film including Sam's relationship with her boyfriend and the complicated relationship his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) has with her boyfriend Ponytail Derek (Nicholas Braun).

Charlie's journey has its fun moments, like the group's performance at the Rocky Horror Picture Show sing-along and tripping on pot brownies, but there is also heartbreak and heartache, felt by, and caused by, Charlie himself.  Lerman couldn't have been more perfectly cast as the put-upon boy with the forlorn expression that just makes you want to hug him.  And in addition to strong turns by Miller and Watson, Mae Whitman (NBC's Parenthood) is wonderful as Mary Elizabeth, a bossy feminist that Charlie briefly dates.

The book and the film are set in the early 90's, but Chbosky purposely understated the period references instead opting to give the film a timeless quality like memories trapped in amber, which also matches the novel.  The result is a gem of a film capturing the murky journey of adolescence to adulthood in a way that will resonate with those going through it and those of us who survived it.

                                                                   9/10 Stars *********

Thursday, September 13, 2012


In God We Rust brings us Lewis Black live from the State Theater in Minneapolis.  Recorded last year, Black's grumpy old man schtick is well on display grumbling and shouting his way through funny bits about  malfunctioning cell phones, facebook and LSD trips.  While the material is good, it's not the most uproariously funny, but still worth seeing.  Black doesn't tell jokes so much as he tells stories about things that upset him and you knowingly laugh along.  His technique has a conversational quality that makes you feel like you're listening to your favorite uncle at Thanksgiving.  If you've seen his other specials, or his work as a correspondent on The Daily Show you know what to expect.  If not, then you'll just have to take my word for it.  It would ruin the impact to give any of the jokes away.  

The director's cut of the DVD has a couple of fun extras and outtakes as well.  There are some good exchanges with the audience that were edited out of the final cut and also outtakes from a photo shoot he did  in preparation of the release.


Kyle Cease's  I Highly Recommend This, skews younger and much more upbeat than Black.  If Black is a grumpy old man, then Cease is the opposite.  His comedy is positive, random and quirky.  His presentation is more observational and absurdist.  The set includes a CD of new material and a DVD of one of his Comedy Central specials and several web videos he made that were co-written and directed by his brother Kevin Cease.  The material on the DVD is the funnier of the two.  Edited for television, it's cleaner than the stuff on the CD, but it's also tighter and more concise.  On the audio only performance he is looser and takes more chances, but they don't always work.  When he drifts off into some of his absurdist tangents it's funny, but they admittedly don't really go anywhere.  However, the journey is still pretty fun.

Both, In God We Rust and I Highly Recommend This are available now on DVD.

7/10 Knee Slaps *******

Monday, September 10, 2012


In the clever opening sequence of Girl in Progress we meet Ansiedad (a plucky Cierra Ramirez), a precocious teen, at school doing a 3D power point presentation about someone who inspires her.  The subject, is her mother Grace (Eva Mendez), who we soon learn likes to hop from city to city and boyfriend to boyfriend with her daughter in tow, which is how they ended up in Seattle where Grace's new boyfriend is a married gynecologist (Matthew Modine).  However, this is not told in a montage as Ansiedad is doing her project.  This is the project.  Inevitably, her antics land her in the principals office, but this is only the first of many stunts she pulls throughout the movie.

Ansiedad, is fed up with her mother's irresponsibility and neglect so when she learns about coming-of-age stories in English class, she decides to create her own in real life, so once she's completed it she will be a woman.  And that's where the film gets really meta.

With help from bestie Tavita (Raini Rodriguez) she goes through the motions of a "good girl gone bad" and checks off each step along the way.  That is until she gets to the part where she has to dump her best friend for the cool kids and starts stealing.  Most of this is played for laughs, like when she goes to a convalescent home to find a "grandma" on death's door so she can experience a tragedy, but there are other moments that get real, albeit in an after school special kind of way, when she tries to get 'deflowered' by a bad boy.

Meanwhile Grace is working as a waitress in a crab shack, and as a housekeeper to her gynecologist boyfriend's family so she can afford her daughter's school tuition.  Her flaky ways are not only problematic in her relationship with her daughter but also at the crab shack, where her boss is so leery of trusting Grace, or any of her co-workers, with the restaurant that he actually holds a contest for who can be the most responsible.  So, while her daughter is trying to become an adult Grace is being treated like a child, only she doesn't pick up on either until much later.

The performances are good throughout, especially the child actors.  Patricia Arquette, who plays Ansiedad's English teacher and Eugenio Derbez who plays 'Mission Impossible', Grace's co-worker with a crush,  help ground the film.  The clever script manages to make the coming-of-age-story-within-a-story feel fresh and carefully straddles the line between Thirteen and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  

Girl in Progress is out on DVD and Blu-ray September 11.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


The dark comedy Bachelorette is aiming for Heathers meets Bridesmaids, and while it doesn't have the quotable script of the former, or the LOL factor of the latter, writer/director Leslye Headland's debut feature mostly succeeds.  High School frenemies Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Katie (Isla Fisher) and Gena (Lizzy Caplan) are all part amused, part horrified at the thought of being bridesmaids for their high school "friend" Becky (Rebel Wilson) who they have lovingly dubbed Pig Face.  Most of their animosity comes from the fact that she's the first one to get married (how dare she?), and they are all in various states of failure and arrested development.

As alpha-bitch Regan, Kirsten Dunst is right on target with her ability to be two-faced on a dime and make it believable.  One second she's appalled at the thought of Pig Face getting married in a gown that she's dreamed of herself and the next she's berating the wedding planner about peonies to make the bride happy.  As maid of honor it's her job to make sure things run smoothly and she receives little to no help from party girl Katie and irresponsible Gena, if anything they only make her job harder.  When the girls ruin the bridal gown the night before the wedding there is a mad rush to fix it in time for the big day initially, but soon they get sidetracked by boys and the dress quickly drops down their list of priorities.

Fisher manages to still be charming as the hot red-head more concerned with not sharing her coke and getting drunk than finding a husband or furthering her career.  When one of the groomsmen Joe (Kyle Bornheimer), takes a liking to her you almost understand why he chooses to ignore the fact that she's a total mess.  Caplan, as the slutty slacker Gena, shows vulnerability in her relationship with her ex, Clyde (Adam Scott).  What's unfortunate is that Becky appears to still be the doormat she was in high school when she took the heat for one of her friend's bulimia.  Even more unfortunate that Wilson doesn't get a chance to shine like she did so brilliantly in Bridesmaids and the upcoming Pitch Perfect.

James Marsden, who is normally the nice guy in romantic comedies, goes edgy as a first rate a-hole Clyde who tries to bed caustic Regan.  He's not necessarily into her specifically, but of his available options, the other being a vomiting Katie, she's the better bet.  Although, in the end to him it doesn't really matter.  And should it? Would either of them be considered wife material? Doubtful.  While watching them trip and fall over their ineptitude and insecurity is entertaining, when Fisher's character wonders aloud if they'll all be okay, you kind of feel like they probably won't and almost feel sorry for the bitches.

Bachelorette is available On Demand for download on Google Play and iTunes.
In theaters September 7.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


In the brisk, hilarious sequel to 2007's 2 Days in Paris (also written and directed by star, Julie Delpy) we meet up with neurotic photographer Marion a few years after her tumultuous trip to her native France with then boyfriend Jack, played by Adam Goldberg (who doesn't appear in the sequel).  She has a toddler that resulted from that previous relationship, but now she has a new beau, Mingus (Chris Rock), who has his own young daughter, and they're living their version of post-racial domestic bliss.  That is, until they are paid a visit from Marion's French relatives, complete with unwanted guest.  Reprising their roles from the first film Marion's dad (Albert Delpy), her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and unexpectedly, Marion's ex, and Rose's current, boyfriend Manu (Alex Nahon) come to wreak havoc on their tiny New York apartment for two days.  During this time Marion is also hosting an exhibition of her photographs at which she is auctioning off her soul as a conceptual art piece.  Talk about timing.

This sequel is more lighthearted than its predecessor which focused on the relationship between Marion and Jack and whether or not they had a future together.  Now, Marion seems happy with Mingus for the most part, but her family is threatening to give him second thoughts about making these people his in-laws.  Rose, her passive-aggressively competitive sister with a startling lack of boundaries, must be the worst child psychologist in France.  While Manu, her boyfriend, is a foreigner who learned everything he knows about America, and more specifically black people, from MTV in the 90's, and manages to always be saying or doing the wrong thing.  Marion's father, who speaks hardly any English, is only less of a problem because his difficulties communicating make his foibles slightly more palatable.  Though his penchant for keying cars is a bit problematic.

Over the two days of their visit Marion runs the gamut of emotions giving Delpy a wonderful showcase for her varied comedic chops.  She has one particularly funny scene on the phone with a customer service rep where she goes from polite to frustrated to catty on a dime.  The script, co-written by Landeau and Nahon, is well-paced and clever allowing each of the primary characters a chance to be fully formed.  Chris Rock, who has appeared in broader comedies like Grown Ups and Death at a Funeral plays it understated and is a great straight man to the wacky Parisian visitors.

The puppet shows that open and close the film could have been too precious in the wrong hands, but it is just another credit to Delpy's intelligent sense of humor and restraint that they come off as endearing and make nice bookends to the vibrant slice of life in between them.  From the rich and funny dialogue to the effortless performances it's 2 Days in New York well spent.

Monday, July 16, 2012


First of all, it would be futile and somewhat irresponsible to ignore Frank Ocean's "coming out" preceding the release of Channel ORANGE, his major label solo debut, since most people hadn't even heard of him before the announcement (Is he related to Billy Ocean?).  Well, correction; they may have heard him, but didn't know who he was.  This was pretty much the case with me.  I had heard his voice plaintively crooning on Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church In The Wild" and "Made In America" but didn't know much about him as an artist.
Most people's knee-jerk reaction might've been to see Ocean's revelation about his sexuality as a ploy to drum up some attention for his album.  This, in and of itself, speaks to an important shift in our culture.  Controversy is often good for business, but 20, even 10 years ago this would have been a surefire way to derail a music career, not boost sales.  The fact that Ocean is a hip-hop artist actually still leaves his fate unclear.  Though pop artists like Adam Lambert are out and proud, there is no precedent for such a thing in hip-hop.  The quotes placed around the words coming out stem from the fact that he didn't really make a statement of "Yep, I'm gay," so much as he simply revealed that he has been in love with a man.  Time will tell whether this is a transient David Bowie phase, or if it's a legitimate confession of bisexuality.  Either way, for now he has everyone's attention, so the question is does he have something to say?

Luckily for Ocean, that's an area where he doesn't have anything to worry about.  Revelations aside, Channel ORANGE is a wonderful debut.  A friend of mine, remarked that the lyrical complexity will probably take listeners a while to catch on to, and he might be right, but I don't think that it will hinder any initial connection to the material.  He so effortlessly wraps his metaphors in plain prose that you're grooving to it before you're aware of the layers beneath them.  "Sweet Life" plays like a breezy summer jam in the vein of Carl Thomas's "Summer Rain" so you're forgiven if you don't quite catch the existential social commentary just below the surface.  As someone relatively new to the game, songs like "Super Rich Kids [featuring Earl Sweatshirt]" are no surprise.  As a 24-year-old recording artist in Los Angeles, I'm sure he's seen his share of spoiled TFK's whose "maids come around too much," but "parents ain't around enough," he's just one of the precious few actually addressing it.   And that, in a nutshell, is what sets Ocean apart from his contemporaries.  The only draw back to being so thoughtful is that it rarely feels like he's having fun.  But I'm not going to pick nits.

Though he could easily fit into an R&B or Pop format, at heart, Ocean is clearly hip-hop.  It's not hard to imagine an artist like Common rapping the lyrics to "Crack Rock" or "Pyramids."  Sometimes this causes him to lean toward a conversational style of singing that a lot of the current rapper/singers have adopted in recent years, but he fortunately doesn't stray into the whiny, emo register of some other artists (sorry, Drake).  It just makes it all the nicer when he opens up vocally on songs like "Sweet Life"and "Bad Religion," the latter of which could arguably be about unrequited love, or actual religion, or both.  In the closing song, "Forrest Gump" Ocean presents a simple love song to man.  It has a touch of camp to it, but nonetheless feels heartfelt and earnest.

While fun might not be the best adjective to describe Channel ORANGE, don't let that stop it from becoming the album of the summer.  While you're seeped in the seasonal languor, allow the layered subtext to sink in when you're chilling at the family cookout, coasting down the highway, or relaxing on the beach.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Butterfly Swords is a nearly twenty year-old film finally making it to DVD.  With the all-star cast of martial arts superstars it boasts you would expect there to be more dazzling fight sequences, but this was originally released in 1993, years before films like The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero revolutionized the way people do battle on screen.  In Butterfly Swords there are a few good hand to hand fight scenes that showcase the talented martial artists, but there are mostly just whiplash inducing cuts that don't allow the viewer to take in the impact of each move, let alone admire the execution.  In its own hokey way though, the film still manages to be charming, albeit pretty violent (a lot more blood and severed heads than the aforementioned films).  I imagine this is the type of crudely edited film that would inspire a much better Tarantino film.  This is okay since the film doesn't take itself too seriously and the lighthearted way it bounces along with poorly spaced subtitles adds its appeal.  Admittedly it's an acquired taste, I don't think that the average person who might have enjoyed The House of Flying Daggers for instance would find the charm in Butterfly Swords, but fans of Tarantino and old Bruce Lee movies might get a kick out of it.

The plot surrounds two assassins Sister Ko (Michelle Yeoh) and Sing (Tony Leung) from the Happy Forest, who are trying to protect their kingdom from a neighboring group of rebels from Elites Villa...or something.  That part is not really clear, but mainly serves as a backdrop to the real story which is the subplot love quadrangle that includes the two assassins, another assassin Yip (Donnie Yen) and Sing's girlfriend Butterfly (Joey Wang).  Though the three assassins are like siblings, they are not blood relatives. There is a funny flashback sequence explaining how they met and how Sister Ko came to "raise" the younger boys.  As adults however, Sister Ko seems to have formed feelings for Sing and disdain for Butterfly with whom she has to compete for his attention.  They have a bitchy tea party that is one of the films comedic highlights.  Meanwhile, Yip is the one who harbors feelings for Sister Ko, but he's too bashful to act on them.  Unfortunately, the film favors the undercover assassins plot over the love story in terms of resolution, so it doesn't really go anywhere.  It's also interesting to see how far the culture has come in twenty years.  The women fight valiantly as equals to the men, but an unmarried pregnant woman fears being drowned by he townspeople. Yes, the movie is set in the past, but it's something to look at as much as the evolution of the martial arts choreography.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Ever since word first leaked out that Steven Soderbergh was directing a film based on the pre-Hollywood stripping life of heartthrob Channing Tatum, the anticipation has been building for Magic Mike.  And now, after months of anticipation, the actual film sort of feels like the morning after a one night stand where you realize, the person you thought was so hot the night before, isn't all that hot and is even less interesting when you actually try to have a conversation with them.

In the beginning we meet Mike (Tatum), construction worker and auto detailer by day and exotic dancer by night, waking up from a threesome with two sexy ladies, one of which's name he can't remember.  The other is Joanna (Olivia Munn), a sexy, bi-sexual, psych student we later find out is studying nightlife workers like Mike for school.  Had these two really connected something interesting could have been explored with their relationship and the chemistry with the two actors could have been explored more, but alas the script feels like it's doing all it can to avoid being intriguing or fresh in the least.  Instead a nineteen year-old slacker named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) shows up at Mike's construction site with no experience and a busted hooptie and Mike, being the stripper with the heart of gold that he is, gives him a ride home where he meets Alex's older sister Brooke (Cody Horn), who is only slightly more lifelike an actress than Kristen Stewart.  Of course, Brooke has a boring boyfriend who she and Adam have dinner with that night and when Adam can't take it anymore he heads out of the restaurant where he runs into Mike at a nearby club.  Mike encourages him to talk to a girl celebrating her 21st birthday and before he knows it he's giving her a lap dance at Xquisite, the nightclub where Mike dances.

Soon after, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the owner, decides to take him on as a dancer and make him a part of the gang.  The other guys include Ken (Matt Bomer) nicknamed for his made-by-Mattel good looks, Tito (Adam Rodriguez), the latin lothario, Tarzan (Kevin Nash), the wild man and Big Dick Richie (Joe Mangianello), named for obvious reasons.  It would have been nice to find out if the guys were as colorful as their nicknames, but they don't do much other than a few awkwardly choreographed group dances and brief solos throughout the film that are too cheesy to be sexy.  The cheesiness wouldn't have been so bad if the film was a straight forward comedy like The Full Monty, but about half way through it tries to become Boogie Nights-lite and completely loses its way.

Adam gets into drugs, Mike gets rejected for a business loan and everyone else seems to be waiting around for something to do.  There were several scenes that felt like they were improvised, but not in an inventive Knocked Up kind of way, but more of an experimental way that would have worked better with comedians or skilled improvisors.  The romance with Mike and Brooke falls totally flat since the charm is only coming from his end.  Adam's downfall is pretty much ignored by the end of the film.  There are no consequences for his actions and taking care of him just serves as a device to bring Mike and Brooke together.  Worst of all, the sexy stripping that everyone has been waiting for is pretty anti-climactic.  Tatum is clearly the best (read: only) dancer in the bunch, but he mostly pop-locks as if his character from the Step Up movies has turned to stripping.  It's cool to watch, but not necessarily sexy.  The only one of the men with any real sex appeal ends up being Matthew McConaughey who, as the elder statesman, is the host of the show and only really gets one actual strip tease towards the end, but he earns it, and as far as those scenes go it's a highlight.

Overall, the "magic" in Magic Mike is utterly lacking, but if you just want to see some pretty actors in thongs, rent it and get someone to wake you up during the "good" parts because they are few and far between.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Remember back in 2005 when Extraordinary Machine came out reminding us of why we initially fell in love with Fiona Apple and confirming that she was well worth the wait?  Well now here we are in 2012, and after another lengthy hiatus the indie/pop goddess has graced us with a fourth album and once again our patience has been duly rewarded.  Where Extraordinary Machine found her at the sunniest we've ever seen her with songs like the title track and "Better Version of Me," on this latest offering she's more of the angsty, sullen girl we met on Tidal back in 1996.  In "Valentine" she sings about cutting herself (hopefully only figuratively) and wonders how she can ask someone to love her when all she does is beg to be left alone ("Left Alone").

The major difference is that this album could have just as easily been titled Tribal (It would have been less of a mouthful than the 23 word moniker it ended up with).  From the guttural wails on the opener "Every Single Night," to the rumbling drums and overlapping vocals on the closer "Hot Knife" every track feels raw and primal.  "Periphery" contains what sounds like marching feet on gravel, and on "Werewolf" she seems to be yelling at her lover over a pack of screaming children.  Thematically this is nothing new for her.  Her famously poetic lyrics lay her emotions so bare that she might as well be singing stark naked.  On past albums though, this emotional nakedness was often accompanied by lush strings, plaintive horns and Apple's own sturdy piano, making her the alterna-jazz chanteuse that provided the soundtrack to all of your break-ups.  This time however, the instrumentation is so stripped down and simple it borders on experimental but, in the end, the arrangements work by punctuating the visceral lyrics.  As she sings in "Every Single Night" she just 'wants to feel everything' and apparently she wants us to do the same.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


The year is 1987 and the smell of Aqua Net is in the air, which is fitting since hair bands rule the airwaves.  Also, since this is a campy musical people break into song on the bus.  This is where we meet our protagonist Sherrie (Julianne Hough) on her way to Hollywood, rock albums in tow, leaving behind her grandmother in Oklahoma.  Young, blonde and beautiful she sets out to become a rockstar, but if you've ever seen ANY movie before you know where this is going and there will be few surprises in Rock of Ages for you.  That's okay, because it's not supposed to be anything more than a fun, singing and dancing ride down memory lane and on that level it totally delivers.  If, like me, some of the songs are before your time, you will still have fun.  If Journey, Poison and Bon Jovi were your high school soundtrack, then you'll enjoy it even more.  The Gleeks, however, will absolutely love it!  There's puppy love, mash-ups and the requisite Journey songs to boot.  If most of the scenes weren't at a concert venue, I would've been looking for a band to appear out of thin air when the singing started.

Hough (Dancing with the Stars) who is known more for her dancing than her singing will probably continue to be after this movie.  She has chops, but she's not the showstopper she would need to be to make this her star-making role.  However, the camera loves her and she has the angelic face of the country girl in the big city that make her a perfect fit.  As Drew, the boy she falls in love with, Diego Boneta is even blander, but not too much to bring the movie down with him, and his boy band excursion is one of the film's highlights.

In the end though, it's the veteran stars that keep this ball bouncing even when no one's singing.  Catherine Zeta-Jones is a hoot as a political wife rallying against the sex, drugs and rock and roll on the Sunset strip.  The camp factor is probably at its height when she's joined by a group of ladies to cover Pat Benetar in a church.  Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are both hysterical as guys that run The Bourbon, a hip spot on the strip, where most of the action takes place.  Baldwin is a joy to watch in anything these days and Brand is essentially playing an 80's version of himself (which isn't all that different as it happens), but that's not really a complaint.

The real draw, especially in terms of curiosity is, of course, Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx.  He doesn't disappoint either.  He manages to ooze sex yet still be hilarious and does surprisingly well with the vocals.  He may not be able to wail like Bon Jovi, but he does a more than satisfying job.   He's so good he never gets upstaged by his monkey sidekick and his scenes with Malin Ackermann as a Rolling Stone reporter profiling him are some of the sexiest in the film.  Ackermann, in her tight miniskirt and sky-high Reagan-era perm, is exactly the kind of "reporter" you would expect to see in a White Snake video, complete with "brainy" glasses that are begging to be ripped off at just the right moment when she's writhing on top of a Mustang.  Mary J. Blige is in full diva mode as the matron of a strip club where Sherrie ends up working at one point.  Her primary reason for being in the movie is to look fabulous, (her wigs seem to change every time the camera cuts to her) and do some soulful wailing on the big group numbers.  Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


The seven actresses that bring to life the stories of the “Colored Girls” are the where the real magic lies in this powerful and touching piece by Ntozake Shange.  They aren’t able to rely on sophisticated set design, costumes and wigs because there are none. The stage is small and sparsely decorated with five, lightly painted, pillars and a small fence behind which a multi-instrumentalist (Derf Reklaw) provides musical accompaniment.  For much of the show, each actress is dressed simply in black with a bright scarf at her waist in the color that she represents; red, purple, yellow, orange, blue, green and brown. 
Between them they portray an array of characters, some funny, others intense, that represent the broad spectrum of experiences women of color face in America.  The play was written in the 1970’s but the images and themes are timeless.  In the 2010 film version, For Colored Girls, adapted and directed by Tyler Perry, each character had a singular storyline throughout and they were connected by either their work or the apartment building that many of them lived in.  Here, however, each story has its own set of emotional and social complications and the glue that binds them together is each woman’s search for her own peace, love and humanity. 
The performers selected for each of the colors represented were chosen well.  Standouts were Mystie Galloway, Nia Witts and Yvette Saunders.  Galloway, the lady in yellow, brought a lively, focused charm to her monologues, most clearly evidenced in the first, where she brings to life a coquettish young virgin ready to take the plunge into womanhood.  Witts, the lady in brown, exercised her range throughout the production and really shined in a monologue about a preteen in love with the ghost of a long-dead Haitian revolutionary.  Yvette Saunders, the lady in blue, was also wonderful in multiple roles and glided with a grace and ease that made the stage seem to dance with her.  These actresses brought nuance and depth to their multiple roles, but also were supported solidly by the other four performers, and every one of them shined in their final monologues where the intensity was heightened to a fever pitch. 
The director (J.C. Gafford) and choreographer (Fernando Christopher) are to be commended for staging such a powerful piece on the limited budget of a small playhouse, and my one note would be that as much as dance is referenced in the verse, I expected to see even more and I think that more music could have been used in some of the transitions to make them smoother and accentuate the mood.  All in all, with seven bright stars at the center, it’s hard not to be moved by the message of the playwright’s honest and universal piece.  This production proves that in the right hands, the material can speak for itself.

 The show will be playing until March 17, 2012.  Tickets are available on their website ($20) :

Monday, February 13, 2012


For better or for worse, the Grammys are the Oscars of the music industry.  They are the height of prestige, but also stretch your patience and endurance with one overblown presentation after another culminating in a waste of three to four hours of your life that you might’ve condensed to about 20 minutes via youtube and reading the news online the following day punctuating the highlights.  I will do my best to save everyone the pain of reliving one of the most interminable shows in recent memory, by focusing on the modicum of stand-out moments. 
            Someone at CBS had the bright idea to hire one of its stars to host the event, and since Morley Safer must’ve had a hip replacement surgery scheduled, they got LL Cool J.  I love LL, he has an appealing presence and the camera loves him, but I don’t think the show needed a host per se, and if they were going to have one, why not a comedian (Kevin Hart, since he wasn’t the host of VMAs, but really was) who could wake the crowd back up after the Glen Campbell tribute?  Where are the funny segments Ellen did when she hosted in the 90’s?  (To this day, I can’t sing ‘Waterfalls’ by TLC without saying, “…and booty slap, and booty slap.”)  It was nice that they acknowledged the untimely death of Whitney Houston right away since surely the audiences, both at the Staples Center and at home, were still reeling from the news and Bruno Mars’s lively opening performance was uplifting and set a nice tone for what could have been an exciting night.  Unfortunately, the rest of the performances fell far below the bar he set. 

            Alicia Keys (Does she have to come every year?) and Bonnie Raitt did a simple, but lovely, rendition of ‘Sunday Kind of Love’ for the Etta James tribute and it felt appropriate and respectful.  In retrospect though, I think they might’ve done a bit more.  I’m not a huge fan of James, but she has inspired countless singers and it would’ve been nice to have Christina Aguilera come out and try to redeem her fluid-leaking performance at James’s funeral.  Then again, I have heard ‘At Last’ abused by more karaoke singers than I care to remember, so not hearing it last night was a welcome change. 
            Chris Brown, who at one time was one of the most exciting performers in pop music, and a winner for Best R&B album, is starting to bore me personally.  It feels like he keeps giving the same performance over and over again.  He’s a great dancer, but he doesn’t have Michael Jackson’s artistry, Usher’s style, or even Bobby Brown’s raunchy sexual energy.  All of these artists are clearly influences, but he’s just presenting a diluted version of what they do on stage.  Five-time winners, The Foo Fighters gave a rousing outdoor performance of their hit “Walk” in front of The Staples Center and it was classic Foos, which was nice, but didn’t they do the same thing last year? When they came back later in the show with Dead Mau5 and did a mash-up remix of “Rope” I thought it went a lot better, and after Dave Grohl’s mini-diatribe about “real music” versus computers it was nice to see them embrace dance music and show that they’re not so elitist. 

   Speaking of dance music and Chris Brown, who also came back out to (pointlessly) duet with David Guetta during the dance music segment (Seriously, was Usher somewhere comforting Ray J. about Whitney?), his ex (and possibly current) lady-friend and Album of the Year nominee (Really, Grammys?), Rihanna came out to perform her annoying hit ‘We Found Love’ followed by Coldplay who did a pitchy rendition of their hit “Paradise”.   The performance was billed as a duet, but I saw Rihanna, then subsequently tuned out, then came back and there was Coldplay.  The duet component was lost on me, but it’s just as well. 

            Another annoying thing that the Grammys does is have the same artist come out for repeated performances.  I get that this show is unique in that it’s basically wall to wall music with a few awards mixed in, but there have to be other artists that are available and could use the boost by performing at the Grammys.  Why not have all of the Best New Artist nominees perform? Why not let a Producer of the Year nominee do a medley with artists they collaborated with? Why not leave Paul McCartney in England where he belongs?! (Seriously, did he need to come back so many times? Why academy, why?)  Also, Glen Campbell is a respected artist, and I get that he inspired many country performers like The Voice coach Blake Shelton (also a nominee, who came out to perform with him), but I could’ve lived without that tribute as well. 
The one old-fogey performance that did go over well however, was the Beach Boys reunion.  The original members, who all looked like wax figures of their former selves, were joined by Foster the People and Maroon 5, both multiple nominees.  For all of their geriatric stiffness though, the Beach Boys’ harmonies still sounded fresh as a summer day in the sand (unless they were lip-synching).  Maroon 5 did a solid take on 'Surfer Girl' and Foster the People did a good job with 'Wouldn’t It Be Nice,' but I couldn’t help thinking, what would’ve been nice (See what I did there?) was Foster the People singing one of their hit songs like 'Helena Beat' or the ubiquitous 'Pumped Up Kicks.'

And speaking of ubiquity, the belle of the ball was clearly Adele, who inevitably walked away with everything including Album, Record and Song of the year.  The singer’s return to the stage after taking a couple of months off to have throat surgery was a bit overblown and added extra hype to her performance which ended up rendering it underwhelming.  She sounded confident, albeit a bit twangy, but she has never been particularly exciting on stage, and I was looking for her to do something different with such a high profile performance, but alas, she did a really safe rendition of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and I pretty much forgot it before it was over. 
One of the last performances of the night, and one of the few I was looking forward to, was Nicki Minaj and I’m not sure if 'disappointing' is quite the word to describe it.  Actually, I’m not sure what words would describe it.  Apparently, she walked in with a pope or something and she wore a huge red bag of an outfit that looked like something that would be hanging outside of a Chinese dress shop, or more appropriately a church, with a light bulb or a candle in it.  She was foreshadowing her on-stage “exorcism” that came later during her performance.  I’m all for crazy, over-the-top, performance art madness when there’s something substantially interesting at the core, but this didn’t qualify, or I missed it.  She was debuting a new song from her upcoming album Roman’s Revenge, which is always risky, and the performance, which managed to include a show tune and a Christmas carol no less, came off as all shock and no substance that I think Lady Gaga might’ve found “reductive.” 

Speaking of Gaga, where was her performance? The multi-nominated Born This Way singer was sorely missed in the sea of mediocrity.  I understand that Beyonce was at home lactating and Jay-Z was by her side, but what was Kanye doing? He couldn’t come in and interrupt Taylor Swift’s performance to suggest a better dress?  Or couldn’t he have assisted Katy Perry with their song ‘E.T.’ and flown across the stage on a bicycle. Actually, he probably did that, I wasn’t watching so I wouldn’t know. 
The only reason I hung in so long was to see Nicki (nice waste of time that was), and to see the Whitney Houston tribute.  I understand they had precious little time to prepare something and I thought Jennifer Hudson did a nice job, with an understated rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’ at the end of the In Memoriam segment.  I have to commend her for holding it together during the performance. I was able to do the same when she sang, but the clip of Whitney herself doing it in the beginning left me weeping.  

Overall, it was a horribly boring show.  Let’s hope with all of the albums coming out from 90’s stalwarts like No Doubt, Bush, Fiona Apple and Garbage, not to mention the Jack White solo album and albums released too late in 2011 to be considered (Mary J. Blige, Robin Thicke, Miranda Lambert), that next year will have something more exciting in store.