Sunday, April 13, 2014

DWTS Week 4: Switch This

Meryl Davis and Valentin Chmerkovskiy dance the Argentine tango. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
EDITOR’S NOTE: There are some really great photos for this week, but ABC (for some reason) is slacking on actually posting them to the DWTS website. I got most of these from other places. I had really wanted to show some of the other competitors (and if they ever post Week 4, I may still add them, but at this point, just wanted to get the column up before Week 5). #ABCFail

When I first heard (during the Good Morning America segment in which the new cast was announced) about this “switch” concept, I was enthused. I envisioned a path in which favorite dancers who had been voted off could reappear with new partners. Well, that’s not at all how this happened. (Sorry, Karina! *pouts*)

I also pictured partners being switched mid-season, stuck with other partners for the rest of the season (which would’ve been interesting). That is also not what happened.

No, in the final analysis, this Switch thing will go down (like the Glitter Pit before it) as a grand failure. What is very interesting about this week, though, is why.

I knew, on some level, that the “stars” would be more comfortable with partners with whom they’d already built up a rapport. What I really had no idea about was how much like a fish out of water they really were, in the arms of other partners. No one (except Val and Meryl, above) really seemed comfortable with other partners.

Consequently, and sadly for us viewers, where we had been having really dynamic amazing dances the past few weeks, almost without exception, they were less than they could’ve been. It was, pretty much, like Week 1 all over again, except with their real partners, they also have a few weeks’ of prep time. So more like Week Minus 1 or something. Blech. Please don’t do this again, ABC. It so didn’t work.

Now, that said, we did have some interesting things happening.

For example, I was wondering who would be paired up with NeNe. (I was hoping for Maks.) It ended up being Derek. Derek, who, with his regular partner Amy Purdy, holds her tightly and close, almost didn’t touch NeNe at all. It was very interesting. Not sure I really dug it. (Although it looked FANTASTIC!).


OTOH, the pairing I was most hoping for/waiting for was to see Mark Ballas (whom I just love) with Amy Purdy. It is not easy dancing with a dancer with disabilities. It requires someone with sensitivity and kindness and a different way of looking at things. In short, if it couldn’t be Derek, it had to be Mark Ballas.

And their pairing did not disappoint. It certainly seemed to both stretch and enliven Mark and Amy. It was a wonderful salsa.

Those three were my main favorites from this night. Other things of note: Drew Carey had a gold suit (and shoes!). Sharna and Cody were revelling in their Aussie-ness. Maks and Danica did a fun jive. And Charlie should never ever ever wear his hair like that again. Whew!

Also of note, Derek Hough, DWTS resident dance genius, seems to have taken on more of a creative role with the show this season. That played out most effectively when Macy’s Stars of Dance returned.

Derek choreographing and designing this amazing dance, with other troupe members and some woman from So You Think You Can Dance. It was just brilliant and beautiful. Thank you, Macy’s. Glad you’re back to give us such stunningly beautiful dances.

Very glad Derek is in this role, too. His vision about dance is just breathtaking. They did some cool things with slo-mo in camera that were visually just amazing to watch, and about as state-of-the-art as you can get.

Derek’s sister, Julianne, was guest judge on this evening (not quite as nasty as she was last time). She mentioned that she and Derek are going to be touring with a dance show later this year. Mark your calendars for that.

Erin Andrews’ outfits (black and white each week, with maybe a pop of color) are really starting to annoy. After being spoiled every week with Brooke Burke, who always had fantastic clothes, Ms. Andrews’ wardrobe does leave quite a bit to be desired. Still really glad she’s there, though.

Worth mentioning is that one of the casualties of letting go of the entire orchestra is that this week’s music (which seemed to rely more on tapes than people playing and/or singing) was consistently off, though the dancers seemed to dance through it. It’s pretty important that the music play when it’s supposed to. Here’s hoping they can work all that out sometime soon.

Meanwhile, back to the normally scheduled Dancing with the Stars next week, with regular partners in tow. And someone again eliminated (thankfully).

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

DWTS Week 3: Gut-Wrencher Overload

Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Meryl Davis. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
There is a week in Dancing with the Stars (usually early on) where you get to know the “stars” a little better. They dance to a “special year” in their lives, usually dedicate the song to someone, and many tears are shed. (Well, in good years, that’s what happens.) Some years, like last, we had celebs whose greatest life-changing moment was “booking Glee.” (Who shall remain nameless... AHEM.)

It depends, I would suppose, on the people who populate the dance floor, and what they’ve gone through in their lives. Soldiers/war heroes always have a good story for this evening. Self-absorbed celebrities, well, not so much.

In Season 18, we have “My Special Year” in Week 3. I shed tears watching it this year, I admit it. It was a special week.

It was also unusual for me. There were basically 10 couples left (one of whom, Billy Dee Williams, voluntarily dropped out, “on doctor’s orders”; to which I say, THANK YOU, Doctor!). So there was no elimination on this night. Not even much hooha about Billy Dee leaving (also, thank you, producers).

FIVE of the couples who danced on this night BLEW ME AWAY. FIVE! So much so that I can’t even name a TOP choice. Or even rank them in any way. I don’t think that’s ever happened, as long as I’ve been writing about this.

So, let me get the other three out of the way first.

The stunningly beautiful Cheryl Burke and Drew Carey.
Tony and NeNe and Cheryl and Drew did nice dances. I enjoyed them. They just didn’t blow me away like the other five.

And, it kills me, cause I really love Mark Ballas and his dancing so much, but the whole prude thing crossed Candace Cameron off the list for me. I don’t even care about them as a couple anymore.

Oh, and the kids (Cody whatever and Witney) danced to some Surfboard song of his. Yawn...

Now let’s get to the good...no, GREAT stuff.

Kicking off the evening with a bang was Peta Murgatroyd and James Maslow. Their dance was amazing.

And, I said it in a Tweet at the time, but I’ll say it again: the music, especially for this number, is 1000% better than it’s ever been. How nice to have up-to-date songs to dance to!

Peta Murgatroyd and James Maslow. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
Man, this song was just such a bouncy blast to watch. So much fun.

And while we’re on the subject of fun songs, Sharna Burgess and Charlie White, got out of the somber tango mood they were in last week, and played to Charlie’s strengths. Remember when I said last week that he was good at the smiling thing? Well, here you go.

Charlie White and Sharna Burgess dance to “Happy.” Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
If ever there was a song tailor-made for Charlie White to dance to, it’s Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Oh, you know? That song you can’t get out of your head? Yeah. That one. Smiley-faces all over the stage too. Way happy. Way fun.

I think it’s true of Mark Ballas, Derek Hough, and now Valetin Chmerkovskiy, that whoever they dance with, they make them look so much better because they are so talented as choreographers. Honestly, for season after season now (since he’s been a pro), Val has really taken my breath away with how stunning his choreography is. Danica McKellar is one very lucky woman, and this was one amazing dance (on Val’s birthday!).

Valentin Chmerkovskiy (on his birthday!) with Danica McKellar. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
Such a wonderful dance. Amazing, incredible choreography. A joy to watch.

But it was his brother, Maksim, who continues to astonish and amaze with the depth of emotion he brings to the dance each week.

There is always a ”will they or won’t they?” thing teased with various couples during the show. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. As far as the dance, it really doesn’t matter. But there was an almost-kiss held for a really long time in this dance, which might have been powerful if it hadn’t been so carefully choreographed that it was so perfectly placed for the camera.

Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Meryl Davis.
Remember that this was the guy who was giving Charlie White lessons in how to be a “bad boy” last week. So do with all that information what you will. Whatever it was, it was a helluva dance.

But really, the most gut-wrenching dance, the one that had me (and probably a lot of America) in tears, was Derek Hough and Amy Purdy’s dance.

It’s a pretty big deal, likely a very difficult technical challenge, to choose to dance with a woman with no legs. A woman who has overcome her challenges so much that she just medalled at the ParaOlympics. Yet, still, has no legs from the knees down.

This contemporary dance that Derek created was just stunning to watch, a poem about Amy not being able to walk, yet wanting to and how, with the help of her father (who was in the audience, and to whom she dedicated the song), she was able to. Such a beautiful and amazing dance. There truly are no words.

Derek Hough and Amy Purdy dance contemporary. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
Amy Purdy and Derek Hough
It is a dance that won’t soon be forgotten. An incredible week this time, indeed.

Oh, but let’s end on a Happy note...

Seriously. Don’t you just love DWTS’ set designers? Wow.
Next week, we get the guest judging of Miss Julianne Hough (Derek’s sister). She was (I thought) a bit unprofessionally mean to Mark Ballas last time. I hope we have none of that this time around. No need to be catty here. But then, this is also the woman who wore that racist outfit for Halloween, so maybe she doesn’t have the best judgment at all?

We shall see.

Robin Roberts was a guest judge this time, but come on. She’s gonna like everything. Please.

I like the three judges we have (Carrie Ann, Len and Bruno). These other ones just mess up the place, and cause the judging comments to run longer. Blech. But I suppose that dancers who actually know dance are better than talk show hosts, in the scheme of things.

Oh, and we also have this big “Switch” thing next week. I suspect that they were going to have it for all season, and the pros complained, so it’s only going to be one week of a Switch.

Truthfully, I don’t know how they can do it at all. These celebrities require so much coddling and hand-holding, why switch that off to someone else? Ugh.

At LEAST, we know that Mark Ballas will be paired with someone who is OK with this whole dance concept. I hope they do something really steamy and unclothed! Take that, Candace! heh

(Now who’s catty?) ;-)

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

DWTS Week 2: It's Not YOU, It's the Character

Sharna Burgess and Charlie White. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
It’s been an interesting season of Dancing With the Stars so far. It’s only Week 2 of Season 18, and already we have learned so much.

The thing that I love about #DWTS (well, so many things)... is that you really do learn a lot about this art form called dance, if you really truly listen.

This dance above, for example. Sharna Burgess and Charlie White’s tango, in which all-around great guy Charlie White had to enlist Maksim Chmerkovskiy so he could truly put forth a character which is two-timing and with a roving eye. (I might add that Charlie did not achieve said aim to these eyes, but his dancing was decent along the way.)

And that is something at an advanced level of dancing, I might add. Actors, for example, in their beginning days, may think they just have to stand up and say a bunch of lines. As their learning progresses, they learn that to be a good actor, they have to actually convincingly portray someone else (someone who is NOT them). And if they are a truly sublime actor, they truly become that person before your eyes. Convince you with every fiber of their being that they ARE that person, and that the words they are saying are TRUE, that is, from their very soul. That’s tough stuff. Most actors, frankly, do not attain such heights, only a handful really make that transformation.

But we learned, if we did not know it already, in this Week 2 episode of #DWTS, that great dancing involves creating a character, WHO IS NOT YOU, to inform the dance. For example, tangos. The greatest tangos, as we have seen, involve lots of passion and drama. Those participants may or may not have such passion between them, but they have to CONVINCE us they do. They have to convey the love story, and the dance is the vehicle with which to do that.

Also, anything that gets in the way of the essential heart of the drama being played out is going to detract from the dance.

I bring all this Dance Education 101 up because of what else happened in Week 2, which we saw hints of on Week 1. Namely, this.

The oh-so-patient Mark Ballas and Candace.
Now, Miss Candace has already warned us (last week) that she’s “a mom,” who won’t be partaking in any of those skimpy costumes this show struts around. I’m sure there are those in the audience cheering this decision. (Mind you, those are also the folks who had a problem with Janet Jackson’s nipple.) AND, as if that weren’t bad enough, this week, we get to see her NIX the idea of Mark taking his shirt off.

Mark and Candace were set to dance A RUMBA, arguably the sexiest dance this show offers, and she is making them dress in sackcloth. :-0

Here’s the thing, Candace Cameron-Bure, and take this advice very seriously. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. When you are dancing, you are a CHARACTER. And it’s not that DWTS just likes to have everyone running around in skimpy outfits. Think for a moment. You have a limited amount of time (what is it, three minutes?) to convey something to an audience. You use every device at your disposal (BRAVO to the stage crafters, lighting designers, producers and others who make magic every week on DWTS). But one of those devices is also COSTUMES.

How does one convey that this romance between two people is the hottest you’ve ever seen? In three minutes? Sorry, but it helps if you have two partially unclothed people, because it conveys some kind of sexual activity between them. It’s a shorthand that everyone in the audience understands.

I don’t give a crap that you are a Mom, and you feed your kids peanut butter and jelly on lunches. In that moment, when I am a viewer watching your dance, all I want to see is the emotion, and the sexuality, that you are supposed to be portraying. That’s it. And if you don’t give us that: THE DANCE LOSES.

Poor Mark Ballas. He had to suffer through this kind of nonsense with Bristol Palin. His interview in Week 2 noted about Candace, “you are even worse than Bristol Palin.” SIGH. I really feel for him in this.

So, in their dance, he did what he could, emoting up a storm to convey that these two people are desperately passionate in their Week 2 RUMBA, but what could you do?

The professional Mark Ballas and the prude Candace Cameron Bure.
Sorry, but this is just not selling “sexy” to me, though I can really see Mark Ballas trying hard. But they look like nuns. Horrible stuff. Eh.

Later, when the judges scored her negatively for doing an unsexy rumba, she had the balls to say, “I want to reserve certain things for my husband.” Jeez, woman, get off the stage. We are not asking you to have sex with Mark Ballas in front of us. This is a CHARACTER and it’s in service of the DANCE. If you don’t get that, well, frankly, you shouldn’t have signed up for this show.

Let me show you a contrast.

James and Peta do a salsa (also a very sexy dance). In his interview, he jokes about doing it fully nude. Now THAT would be a very sexy salsa. All 10s! Ahem... anyway... their dance was STEAMY. They were my second favorite of the week. Look.

Peta Murgatroyd and James Maslow do a samba. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
Steamy, right? Sexy just dripping from this picture. Now there is also nothing in this photo that one would have to “save for their husband.” The dancer, Peta, is conveying mostly by her costume, that the salsa is one sexy dance. That’s the deal here, Constance.

And guess what? James and Peta were the second-highest scorers of the night.

Also, if you think of dance in a kind of feng-shui way, you don’t want to throw up anything which is going to block the emotion and the sexuality you are trying to convey. Taking a stance of “I’m not going to do that, and I’m not going to let you as my partner do that either,” just ruins it. There’s no other way to say it.

I am simply crying for Mark Ballas right now.

But OK, to the rest of the show, and those who DO get it.

Those voted out this week (two couples) were Diana Nyad and whoever it was she was dancing with, and Karina and her lunkhead hockey player. Hopefully we will see Karina back during that Switch Up thing at least. But honestly, I’m really glad to see both of those couples go. Will be glad to see Billy Dee Williams leave very soon too. And, as much as I love Mark and his dancing, I really hate what Constance is doing, so Goodbye to them soon too... (hopefully).

Oh, but let’s talk about what we enjoyed this week, shall we?

We had this:
NeNe Leakes and Tony Dovolani do a jive.
And this:
Cheryl Burke and Drew Carey’s jive.
Speaking of hotness, and not afraid to show it, we had this:
Danica McKellar and Val Chmerkovskiy do a hot samba.
A continuously amazing pair: Derek Hough and Amy Purdy, who did an incredible swing dance this week.
Derek Hough’s amazing swing choreography with Amy Purdy.
Derek, as always, had amazing choreography. But look at this swing move (above). He swung her whole body around, in time to the music. Incredible.

With the ice dancing couples, let’s start with Charlie and Sharna. As mentioned a bit above, one of Charlie White’s greatest challenges in this show is not the choreography, but to unlearn the concept of constant smiling (which you have to do in figure skating). Also, the tango, which he attempted this week, is about anger and volatile passion, whereas Mr. White seem like a total pussycat.

So, the steps were there, but the bubbling passion underneath (to me) was not. I hope they get a chance to do another (maybe Argentine tango) later in the season, when he’s worked on this concept a bit more.

Also, they danced to a song which said, “I’m Addicted to You,” and Charlie’s stage direction was to be looking out at other women in the audience. Clearly, if one is addicted to someone, that person is all they can think about, so the song (as far as character motivation) didn’t work at all for me.

Sharna Burgess and Charlie White do a tango.
However, bravo to the costumers who are doing more with sheer fabrics so that you can see the feet of the female dancers. This one, on Sharna, was just stunning and mesmerizing. (And while we’re talking costuming, can I just say how much I love that they are wearing sneakers much more, both women and men?)

But my favorite dance of the night was the other ice dancing couple, Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Meryl Davis. Maks called it, “the most lift-y routine I’ve ever done.” He says he’s “way too old for this,” but I thought he looked just great out there.

Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy swinging.
And the interplay between Maks and Erin was once again golden. Love it!

All in all, some really great dances already at Week 2. I don’t know about you, but I’m still thanking the lucky stars that Maksim is back.
Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Meryl Davis do a swing. Courtesy of ABC.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sexy, Sultry Dancing with the Stars Is BACK! and so’s MAKS! YAY!

The stunning opening number to Season 18, choreographed by Mandy Moore. Courtesy of ABC.
I had the misfortune of perusing comment boards prior to the start of Season 18 of Dancing with the Stars. The vitriol went along these lines: “I’m not going to watch because...” “those costumes! So skimpy!” “Why’d they get rid of Brooke Burke?” “Where’s the bandleader and orchestra?” “I’m not going to watch anymore...” Blah blah blah, like that.

Well, ladies and gents, ABC had its answer for ya. And it was this. (See above.) In your face, right out of the gate, we had the first ever guest artist singing in an opening number, with Jason Derulo, belting out, “Talk Dirty to Me,” as the sexy cast of pros strutted and sauntered sexily (women and men). The music, btw, SOUNDED GREAT!

Here’s what it was (the whole show) most of all: ALIVE. The music throbbed and pulsed and seemed up to date, the cast interacted with the hosts in a natural way (Congrats, Erin Andrews, great job! I love ya!), there was just less BS overall.

In fact, I would even say that it was really more distilled essence of Dancing with the Stars than it’s ever been. No frou-frou crap to fill time. The heinous “Glitter Pit” from last season is blissfully gone (replaced by the upstairs waiting area in a different place, with wider stairs as access). The judges are back on the side they belong on, all is seemingly right with the #DWTS world.

Oh, and most of all, THIS.
Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Meryl, the gold medalling ice dancer.
Let me just say this about that. I was one of the many who, when Maks had his egotistical dustup with the judges, was wishing him banished. But this is me, now, like a scorned lover coming back with her tail beween her legs, kissing the floor in front of Maksim, joyously proclaiming his return.

Sure, sure, we’ve made do with the Chmerkovskiy magic with Valentin’s amazingness (which, thankfully, we still have), but it is Maks (like he said) who really makes the show. There is just something he gives this show, a gravitas, a deep-rooted sexuality, something, without which it threatens to fly away with its bubbliness and pandering to sponsors. I almost cried to see him dancing again with his partner Meryl.

For me, it boils down to this: This is DWTS. Derek. Mark Ballas. Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Karina Smirnoff. Cheryl Burke. Len, Bruno, Carrie Anne. Tom Bergeron. That’s it. Others can come and go, but those elements MUST be there for it to be the show it’s capable of being.

Others, like Valentin and Peta Murgatroyd and Tony Dovolani, buff it up and make it better, but those others are its core. Maybe the powers that be at ABC finally realized it, too.

Also, let me say that (although I suppose we’ll never know the reals on this sitch), the dance floor is littered with those rumored to be Maks’ conquests (Karina, Peta, etc.), the most fun to me, while ABC was busy playing up the romance of Peta and her dance partner (she is always rumored to be romantically involved with her dance partners; I actually think it makes her dance better), the real hot sparks (to my eyes) were between (also romantically rumored) former dance partners Erin Andrews and Maksim C.

The hottest (sexiest) dance I’ve ever seen on this show was between Maks and Erin, that dance in that bed they did. WHEW! I get hot just thinking about that dance.

Nothing was said in any of the packages about that hotness, but to me it was palpable in their banter.

I don’t know about anyone else, but dance is primal. It’s all about the sex. All Maksim has to do is walk into a room, and a person’s thinking about sex already. So, as we start fanning ourselves here, let’s just say that with the dancers and Maksim back and the new show orientation: they’ve indeed brought SEXY back.

It’s dripping with sex, and hot costumes, and hot bodies and appreciation of the DANCE of it all. APPLAUSE.

OK, now let’s get to the nitty gritty of this premiere episode: the dances.

Twelve competitors. Let’s start with the easy ones. The ones I cover my eyes when they appear, and really wish they would be gone immediately are: Billy Dee Williams and Diana Nyad. Heavens! Case in point. Did you know he is going to be in the upcoming Star Wars movie? No? Let us remind you. *sigh*


Oh dear God. There have been some clunky competitors: Valerie Harper from last season comes to mind. But old, and I do mean OLD, Billy Dee Williams takes the cake. He looks like he is waiting for his walker, which is just offstage. If there was a shuffling off to Buffalo award, he’d win it. No, wait, that gives a bad name to shuffling. Ah, let’s not bash the poor guy, after all, in a galaxy far far away he was once Lando Kalrissian. (Emphasis on FAR AWAY.)

Let’s just hope that he gets voted off first next week! (I really do feel bad for Emma, who had such a great season last year with someone that no one, me included, thought could dance at the beginning.) As the 5s from the judges started rolling in this week, she looked crestfallen. Dude, Billy Dee was TERRIBLE. Possibly worst contender on DWTS ever. (I’m truly hard-pressed to come up with a worse one.) Seriously, MY EYES!

Diana Nyad wasn’t much better. Dreadful. Hope she’s the next to go. And it’s truly not that I’m ageist, it’s just that straight-up, these folks can’t dance. Not an iota. Hell, Billy looks like he can barely walk. No joke.

So let’s focus on the dancers who have a hope in hell of lasting past a couple of episodes, shall we?

Since I seem to be going from least-liked to best-liked, there is also Karina’s partner, a former hockey player who seems to have difficulty even smiling. Talk about an oaf! Sheesh. Now, I think Karina Smirnoff is the best female dancer on this show, and one of the world’s best dancers (as Maksim said last season), but man, I sure hope these two are voted off quickly.

Karina Smirnoff, looking like a world-class dancer. Sean Avery, looking like a longshoreman.
James and Peta seem to have a romance brewing. Drew Carey is the “only partner I didn’t have to Google,” said Cheryl Burke like five times to different press outlets. *eyeroll*

For the youngsters, there’s some 18 year old who’s apparently big in Australia. He’s dancing with a new pro, Whitney. They were fun.

Those are my bottom tier this seaon. Any of those could go, and I’d be quite happy.

Let’s just pause, take a deep breath, and then ponder those who are actually going to be winning the Mirror Ball this season.

Amy Purdy and Derek Hough. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
Derek Hough, always pushing boundaries, and taking us into places that the rest of us can’t go, is this season dancing with a woman who has no legs. Amazing, incredible and brave.

Valentin Chmerkovskiy, always one to watch, is this season dancing with a woman who, if she doesn’t tone down the smile wattage a few notches is going to put the audience into a sugar coma.

Danica and Val.
Tony Dovolani, previous Mirror Ball winner, has his work cut out for him (similar to winner Amber Riley last season) with NeNe Leakes. She is a whole lotta woman, and I don’t mean size, I mean attitude and presence. She dominates that dance floor (as Amber did last season, with Derek).

Tony Dovolani and NeNe Leakes.
I’m not sure what this whole “Change partners and DANCE” thing is that they hint about for midseason, but I sure hope it ends up with Maks and NeNe dancing together. THAT I wanna see.

Let’s get to the three teams that I hope are some combination of final three.

MARK BALLAS and CANDACE CAMERON BURE

I always like Mark Ballas as a finalist going in. He’s one of the main reasons I watch DWTS season after season. I feel sorry that he keeps being saddled with partners who wear their conservatism like a badge. I liked Ms. Candace just fine until she says in her package: “I'm not going to wear those skimpy costumes! I’m a mom!” *huff, puff* Good grief.

On this show, baby, you’re a DANCER, so suck it up. Just look at this.

Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas do contemporary.
Now, if you weren’t so intent upon being “a mom,” and chaste and whatever, you might not end up with folds of clothing which splat into your partner’s face like this. Why don’t you just SHUT UP and let the costumers (who are fantastic) do their job? Do you think it endears you to us to say such things? No. It makes me want to vote for you less. You signed up for this gig: DEAL WITH IT.

You are blessed with a partner whose amazing dance talent is going to take you MUCH further in this competition than you really deserve to go, so enjoy it, and be gracious to the team that got you there. Wear whatever costumes they give you.

Remember when poor Mark was saddled with Bristol Palin? *shudders* Or that other chick, who also wouldn’t wear skimpy clothes because of her religion? She had clothes up to her neck, and the judges kept saying she was unable to “find her sexuality.” Well, duh. (Dance, remember, at its purest, is about SEX! As the producers so clearly know.)

So far, Ms. Bure seems to be a better dancer than either of those two, so I hope she can learn to curb her errant comments a bit and be gracious about what the wonderful Mr. Ballas has to teach her. Ugh.

MAKSIM CHMERKOVSKIY and MERYL DAVIS

I don’t know about you, but I was still on an Olympics high when this season of DWTS began. And Meryl and Charlie contributed greatly to that. So it’s just so wonderful to see Meryl dancing! And add to that the supreme visceral, all-is-now-right-with-the-world joy of seeing Maksim on the dance floor again.

In the packages, people are all meeting their partners for the first time, seeing what they can do. Maks asks Meryl to spin into his hand, “Can you do that?” he says innocently. She flawlessly spins on point about six times. Maks smiles slyly, “Yeah, I can work with that.” It was great.

Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy.
Maks, I take back every single bad word I ever said about you. Be a bad boy, be an egotistical bastard. I don’t care. Just don’t ever go away again. DWTS needs you. Truly. And I am so glad you are back!

SHAUNA BURGESS and CHARLIE WHITE

The other half of the Olympic ice dancing team that just won America’s first gold medal is Charlie White. They did a cute thing when Meryl started her dance, with both of them waving and Maks pulls her away to dance. It was really nice.

Hopefully this season they will both learn the art of doing a character, and quit smiling so much. To that end, we had this.

Charlie White and Sharna Burgess do contemporary. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
My favorite dance of the first night of Season 18. Charlie and Shauna. Awesome stuff. These top three teams are my favorites to watch.

And with any luck, America will have done the right thing and voted out the worst dancer. So we don’t have any more of this nonsense...

Meryl and Maks with two “audience members.”
Ugh.

Erin Andrews, btw, was just what the show needed. I am so very glad she’s there, and so very glad that the wondrous Tom Bergeron is still there, too. (And that he got his pinch from Maks.) The world smiles.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dancing With the Stars Season 18 Announces New Cast and Changes

Why should we watch Dancing with the Stars Season 18? WHY? Here’s why.

Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Sharna Burgess. Courtesy of ABC


Those two crazy kids in the middle there? You might recognize them. They just won a couple of gold medals in Sochi for ice dancing.

And the man to Meryl’s right? Love him or hate him, the fact is, we miss him. Dancing with the Stars’ bad boy extraordinaire, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, is BACK!!! I have bitched about him too, in these pages, but I am really glad to see him in the roster. Cause I’ve missed Maks’ dancing. Sure his little brother Val was great, transcendent even, with his last two partners, but the Mirror Ball proved as elusive to Val as it did to his brother before him. (Sadly.) And Maks just flat out gives the show something that it really needs, so I am truly and sincerely, really glad he’s back.


Sharna Burgess, the gorgeous woman to Charlie White’s left, has also gotten kind of a bum deal in the last few seasons. She was superb with Andy Dick, but got voted out too soon. And she danced her heart out as part of the troupe last season, but it was very clear that this woman is meant to be a pro! So I’m very glad that she starts out the season with possibly the best male competitor, Charlie White. Go Sharna!


Those aren’t the only reasons to watch, of course, but those are the—pardon all the Olympics puns—the gold star reasons.


There are other Olympians, other athletes, which we’ll all go through in good time as the season progresses. Plus our usual roster of has-beens and washed-up stars. Oh, settle down, it’s a joke... speaking of which, did you see Chelsea Handler talking to George Stephanopolous recently? She had to explain every joke to him. And he asked her: “Why don’t you go on #DWTS?” Quothe she: “I have a job.” It really is like that.
NeNe Leaks and Tony Dovolani. Courtesy of ABC
We also have these two. Talk about an interesting pairing to watch! 

So we’ll get into all these folks more in detail on the first episode. Today, I just wanted to tell you what I’m excited about.

All the important people are here: both Chmerkovskiy brothers, Mark Ballas, Sharna, Karina Smirnoff, Cheryl Burke, Peta Murgatroyd. I was just about having a heart attack during the announcement because they had announced everyone and Derek Hough was still not there. Luckily, he is there, and this season, he’s dancing with a woman with two prosthetic legs. That should be amazing.

(My own personal “I won’t watch this show if...” would come down to two things: Mark Ballas and Derek Hough. As long as they are there, all is right with the world.)

Which brings us to the next part. If you read any #DWTS comments sections this week, you’re going to see a whole lot of *huffy* “Well, I’m not watching the show NOW!” stuff.

Let’s all just take a deep breath, shall we?

Two major things happened to ruffle the continuum in the #DWTS universe. One, conductor Harold Wheeler and his orchestra (and presumably singers) are all gone. They have been replaced with... well, it’s unclear. I’ve seen reports that say both a smaller band and a tape machine. We shall see, won’t we?

In either case, in the case of both of these changes, I say, let’s just see what the show has up its sleeve, shall we? While I always mourn talented artists in Hollywood having jobs and then losing them, I also really love how #DWTS, like any good artist, is always changing, evolving, moving with the times. That is how cutting-edge art is made. Whether anyone else knows it or not, #DWTS is really full of cutting edge art, dancers at the top of their game being brilliant.

However, it’s also true that the show started as a “strictly ballroom” show. Hence, a big orchestra with a bandleader. But as the show has evolved, doing more “jazz” numbers and hip hop and other things, it’s really not appropriate to have an orchestra do those. Or, in some cases, with some songs, they just flat out can’t. So what does one do? Force the orchestra to do record scratches? Or evolve, and let the artists that this show is about (ie, DANCERS) do what they need to present their art in the best way?

I firmly say: the LATTER. And so, apparently, did ABC. Gone is the big orchestra. Hopefully, the wanky little waiting area on the side of the judges is also gone (from last season). Good change: not having tired dancers have to mount a flight of stairs after dancing. Bad change: the dancer waiting area right next to the judges. There is a certain amount of distance between artist and audience which is appropriate and necessary, so I really hope that is one of the first changes we also see. Also, we don’t want the forced, “You have to sit there,” nonsense. Let them walk around backstage or warm-up or do whatever they have to do for their process. It’s not necessary to have everyone on camera all the time.

And the other big change, the one which really got a lot of folks up in arms, and prompted the “Well, I’m not watching now! Harumph!” nonsense all over social media was the firing of Brooke Burke-Charvet. Here’s my opinion on the matter. Brooke Burke is gorgeous, looks great in a dress, and I look forward to seeing her on a calendar or in a magazine at some point in the future. But frankly, the job is that of announcer. Which doesn’t just mean reading off cue cards (which, let’s face it, our Miss Brooke struggled with QUITE OFTEN), it’s also being an integral part of the show. Like lube that eases everything along.

Tom Bergeron is brilliant at this. Some people were snarkily commenting that it’s because Brooke Burke is getting older and Erin Andrews, her replacement, is younger, and that’s why. To which I say: Tom Bergeron. Tom is probably older than the both of them put together, and he’s not going anywhere. And that’s because he knows his job, and he does his job as well as anyone in the business (which is also why HE got nominated for Emmys, and Brooke Burke-Charvet never did).

Here’s why Tom earns his salary and Brooke didn’t. In the Maks dustup with the judges, which caused Maks to exit the show for two seasons, Tom was right there, making (unscripted) jokes, keeping things running, keeping tempers smoothed. Brooke, in contrast, was like a deer in headlights. That, IMHO, is why she really needed to be fired a couple seasons ago.

Let’s see. She can’t read cue cards decently, she asks inane questions awkwardly, she is terrible at impromptu unscripted moments. What does she do again? Oh yeah, she looks great in a dress. That’s not what you hire ANNOUNCERS for. So ABC is very savvy to put in Erin Andrews, who, like Brooke, earned her dance stripes by dancing on the show, with Maks, no less.

And, right out of the gate, at the big Good Morning America announcement, Andrews proved why she’s the right person for the job. Not only does she smooth things with banter, but she also understands social media, and referenced it. Naturally. Like she actually uses it.

So, it appears that the new season of #DWTS is about change. Many in the audience seem to be bristling at it, but I thrive on change and look forward to everything DWTS has to offer us.

Oh, speaking of which, sometime (I would assume mid-season) they are throwing in a twist, where the teams will switch partners and WE, the audience, get to choose who is partnered up with whom. That should be very fun. One wonders if that means that good pros who are voted out quickly might be able to come back? Or just from the ones who are left? Either way, recent seasons have seemed like it was a long, but assured, walk to the Mirror Ball for some people. It’s good to change it up a bit. Keeps the pros on their toes.

Plus, it also may mean we get to see Derek dancing with Meryl at some point after all. :-)  Or Maks with NeNe, which is the pairing I wanted. Should really be a fun season. I can’t wait.

Dancing with the Stars Season 18 starts Monday, March 17 on ABC.

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BTW, in another side note, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but I sure have. ABC has this new “Watch ABC” app, which is all well and good. I love the idea of being able to watch past shows whenever and wherever you can. But here’s the thing. You have to be “verified”—you have to have subscribed to one of the approved service providers, otherwise, you don’t get to see ABC on your devices. I, like most of LA, has Time Warner as my service provider. Guess what? They are not on the verified list.

So suddenly what used to be free TV is now unavailable. If you don’t watch it in the moment, you’re screwed. I suppose it’s available on some service (Hulu+ or iTunes or somewhere), but it’s free TV which is now no longer accessible. Very frustrating. So I don’t know how many recaps I’m actually going to be doing this season. I used to just hop on my computer and rewatch whichever parts I needed to see again to write my reviews. But no longer!

I was trying to do just such a thing to watch The Bachelor: Women Tell All thing, which I missed because of that little Oscars event, and now can’t access it. So I’m not writing a story about it.

Sure hope these corporate giants figure this crap out someday. Don’t make it HARDER for us to watch something, jeez! Most people will just not watch. Plenty of other choices out there. 

Bad move, ABC.

However, I am thanking the stars every single day that Juan Pablo is not on Season 18’s cast. Good move, ABC.

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2014 Oscars Recap

THE INCREDIBLE, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S TRUE
The searing, hard-to-watch, but important, 12 Years a Slave actually wins.

Jared Leto’s acceptance speech mentions not only important acting things, but also Venezuela and Ukraine, the most political speech of the night. BRAVO!

All the tech awards that Gravity scooped up were because it truly went somewhere no other film had gone. Incredible stuff.

Lupita Nyong’o, dancing in the aisles with Pharell Williams. She was “Happy.”

THE FANTASTIC
Gravity walks away with the most awards, including Best Director
Her wins Best Original Screenplay for Spike Jonze
All the usual suspects don’t win Best Score this year
Idina Menzel still did an amazing job singing the winning Best Song, “Let It Go”
U2 on the Oscar stage. Wow.
Jared Leto. Wow. A brave, amazing performance as Rayon.
Matthew McConnaughy, who truly took all the Matthew McConnaughy-isms out of this performance.
Yale Drama School grad Lupita Nyong’o won’t be a name we soon forget
Catherine Martin winning both Production Design and Costume Design for the wondrous Great Gatsby
Fitz & the Tantrums’ “The Walker” becomes the hot Oscar song

THE GREAT
The Oscar selfie

Cate Blanchett, smoothly skirting all the Woody Allen hooha, thanks him and moves on

Sarah Jones, who died on set, was remembered with a title card

The set was luminous and ever-changing. Droplets of crystal to backgrounds of roses. Beautiful.

THE EXPECTED
Frozen wins Best Animated Feature

Ellen overall did a serviceable job of bringing the Oscars into the 21st Century. Not my fav, but no Letterman or McFarlane.

WTF???
John Travolta? WTF? Oh, sorry, I mean Jabel Testerle.

What was that thing with Ellen sitting side stage strumming a guitar? A nod to Inside Llewyn Davis?

Pizza? Um, seriously?

Kim Novak. Yes, love her, but WHAT?

LIZA MINELLI. I would’ve bet money when she walked onto the red carpet that it was a female impersonator. What’s up, Liza?

No reference anywhere to Alain Resnais, who died earlier in the day. A true film pioneer.

Also, it didn’t happen during the broadcast, but earlier in the pre-show, when Jimmy Kimmel is talking to Lara Spencer, and then jumps into some audience members’ living room (supposedly) to berate them for nasty Tweets. Very inappropriate and ill-advised. Those who Tweet are the lifeblood of TV’s dying corpse. And speaking of corpse, the two folks in the sketch are over 60. Most likely those Tweeting nasty stuff are much younger. Just a thought.

Friday, February 7, 2014

El Bachelor Does El No-No in the Ocean

The Bachelor on ABC. Cassandra, Juan Pablo, Kat. (Courtesy of ABC/Christopher Jue)
Oh, I was so hoping to get through all of Juan Pablo’s season without writing about any of it. But no...

First, let me release my usual disclaimers. I know that large parts of this mess we call The Bachelor is scripted. Nonetheless, I believe in a perfect world, where people don’t lie to me on TV, and really would prefer that, thank you very much.

Like most women who watch this mess (I believe), I wanna believe in The Bachelor. I really do wanna start at the beginning with 27 candidates and end up with a teary proposal at the end of it all. However, I am simultaneously aware that the whole prospect is ridiculous. Even if you told the producers beforehand every last detail of what you want in a spouse... really? Are they going to come up with that, when you’ve spent your whole life searching for it, and came up with bupkiss? Ahem...

So let’s have another disclaimer here. If one did want to walk through this TV process of finding a wife/husband, and you only have a month or two to do it, what would you do? Exactly. You’d cut to the chase. How does he kiss? Is he good in bed? Does he have a job? And we’re halfway there already.

Well, that’s how I’d do it.

So, we have this artificial construct, because it is national TV, and you remember America? America freaked out when Janet Jackson accidentally showed her nipple for a half second. Add to that, we are on ABC, owned by the lovely Disney corporation, so you could say that having people banging live on TV probably isn’t in its worldview.

Which makes for a very strange “dating” show.

Remember back when I said I was into honesty? Well, I would honestly rather have someone say at the beginning: I am not attracted to any of these losers, forget it. But they can’t. They are contractually obligated to go through the hoops that ABC lays down for them, and lemme tell ya, many of those hoops are beyond ridiculous.

For example: you can’t tell someone how you really feel, because you don’t want to give them false hope over the other 26 contestants. You also (of course) are being filmed constantly, so that every conversation (even if you wanted to have one privately) is being taped.

That’s all Bachelor 101, for those who might not be up to speed with this particular bizarrity we have here in America.

And I’m quite sure that along with English lessons and whatever else the Bachelor producers had Juan Pablo go through, he was trained well in what to do, and what not to do. What the multitude of rules are.

The fact that indeed one of ABC’s big selling points of this guy at this time, besides the fact that he’s dreamy and nearly every woman who sees him is creaming her jeans over him, is that (insert Swoon here) he’s also a DAD. So, yes, at prominent points, we are going to show little Camilla, so the country can all swoon together. Ready?...

It has been noted already in this season (whether through producer coaching, or his own volition, or a combo of both) that Juan Pablo is quite free with the kissing. However, when he doesn’t want to kiss someone, suddenly, there’s a “oh, I don’t want my daughter Camilla to see her daddy doing bad stuff on TV,” or some such nonsense. (Instead of just saying: I really don’t want to kiss you, thank you. Which would truly be the gentlemanly way of doing it.)

Juan Pablo, as you may’ve read elsewhere, already has an image problem. He let his mouth fly with what he really thinks and said (in interviews), basically, that he wouldn’t want to see a gay version of The Bachelor because “they are too perverted.” ABC quickly put the spin on that, finally ending up with, “Ooops, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean that. You know... my English... so bad.”

*eyeroll*

Yeah, ok.

Anyway, back in reality.... We had a Bachelor a couple of seasons ago. I called him in my blog posting, “The Bachelor of Shame.” Mostly because I was ashamed of how ABC handled the whole Ben-Courtney fiasco. Don’t know if they are doing this again this season (so far it doesn’t seem so), but ABC spent a good part of Ben’s season painting Miss Courtney as the “hated” one in the women’s house, the witch, the villainess. Then wondered why, when Ben actually proposed to her, no one cared. Or, instead threw tomatoes at the screen. It makes my skin crawl this minute thinking about it.

Believe me, I would like very much to forget that both Ben and Courtney even exist. Sadly, we have a moment in Juan Pablo’s season which prompts me to bring it up.

There was a moment early on in Ben’s season, when the women were trying to distinguish themselves from each other, that Miss Courtney grabbed Ben, late at night, while all the other women were sleeping, and they both disrobed and jumped into the ocean naked. We couldn’t see it definitively (and I’m sure ABC would deny it officially), but let’s just assume that they had sex. In the ocean.

Which, of course, made Miss Courtney the new frontrunner (and, I would argue, the ultimate winner) who got proposed to. Cause say what you will, things change when two people have sex. They look at each other differently. There is just a difference. And as much as ABC and the two people involved tried to make it look like nothing had happened, in fact, she had just turned over all the cards, and all the other women could go home.

And OK, I suppose you could say, well, all is fair in love and war, and love doesn’t happen on some TV show’s timetable. She wanted him, she got him. She did what any woman would do. And, when last I paid attention to it, I think they are still together now. So, good for Courtney.

What was bad (and hopefully they fired the producers because of it) is that they had already invested in making Courtney the “villainess” of the season, and they stuck with it. And then were surprised that America hated them both at the end.

(I still do. I hate being lied to.)

So this season, everyone (of course) is madly in love with “El Bachelor,” Juan Pablo.

Juan Pablo and some of his contestants. (Courtesy of ABC/Christopher Jue)
He’s hot, he’s a soccer player, he’s Latin, what’s not to like?

And I think it’s safe to say that he’s partial to blondes, but intimidated by brunettes. But one blonde, in particular, named Clare, seems to have caught his eye. In various moments, he can be seen canoodling with her. In fact, in whatever country they are now in (I think it’s Vietnam), she is the only one who was shown (by him) where he was staying. (They messed around a bit in his pool on one group date.)

So one night (after said group date), after she receives the rose from said group date, she decides she wants more, and comes back to his hotel room (at around 4 am). He, of course, is dressed, seeing the camera crew there at his window. He comes out, and instead of saying, “What’s wrong with you, you crazy stalker lady?” as most sane humans would probably do, he interviews that “I was trying to get her to open up more, show me her emotions.” (Typical Bachelor speak. *eyeroll*)

In true speak, it was more: “Sure, you wanna go frolic in the ocean at 4 am? Let’s go!”

The Bachelor producers this time had learned their lesson. They insisted both of them kept their bathing suits on, at least until they got to the ocean, and when they came back.

But there is no doubt in my mind that these two did the nasty in the ocean.

We could tell this because of how weird and crazy they were acting afterwards.

Of course, it always gives someone an edge if they have slept with someone and the other girls have not.

From afar, on paper, the other woman with a child named Renee is who I would pick to be his best match. She’s indeed the one I’m rooting for. She, at least, is doing everything by the rules. But she was recently worried about whether or not he would actually kiss her. (He finally did. And she was over the moon about it.)

Sadly, I fear another Ben-Courtney repeat. Where Clare will be the last one standing because she was the first who dared to jump in the ocean with Juan Pablo.

We shall see.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Who Will Win Best Picture This Year?

First, I have to say, I love Sasha Stone. I consider her one of the best film critics around, admire the hell out of the amazing website she’s built over at Awards Daily and consider her (generally) one of the best Oscar pundits around.

Sasha’s Essay on BP This Year

That said, I totally disagree with her thesis of this morning that American Hustle is going to win Best Picture this year. Her reasoning has a major flaw: that critics in any way matter to what Oscar voters will choose. (For the record, I agree with her predictions for the 10 best films selected, and have had the very same list up here for awhile now. I am being even bolder. I think the Academy will have only 9 this year, and leave Inside Llewyn Davis off the list.)

Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams in David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.” Courtesy of Sony Pictures.
But back to the critics. Oscar voters don’t give a crap what critics think. They (the Oscar voters) are, after all, the ones who make the craft of film. THEY are the ones who know better what is best, and I think they take that responsibility very seriously indeed. In fact, if they wanted to vote for a piece of mindless fluff (as Ms. Stone asserts), they would’ve picked “Silver Linings Playbook” last year. And they didn’t.

No, I do think they will try to pick what is best, and yes, their Number 1 votes matter most. Right now, we don’t even have any nominations to look at, so it’s almost hubris to pick the winners now. But, following this thread logically, can one really say that everyone is jumping around saying, “American Hustle was just my favorite”? No. You can’t.

Personally, I predict that “American Hustle” will get a boatload of acting noms and production noms, but not win Best Picture. (Jennifer Lawrence also isn’t winning a second Oscar this year. Amy Adams is far more deserving of one this year, for my money.)

If Oscar voters were brave, they would pick “12 Years a Slave,” of course. But many Oscar voters (sadly) won’t even sit through it. I am still hoping (and so far predicting) that they do the right thing and choose Steve McQueen to win the first ever Oscar for direction for an African-American for this film. (Cause that distinction is long overdue.)

I predict several acting noms for this film as well, and fully well believe that its lead actor shall be the one winning Best Actor. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Michael Fassbender winning Best Supporting Actor, though my official prediction is Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club.”

But I digress. (My predictions, so far, are listed elsewhere on this page.)

My feeling is that Oscar voters like to project better versions of themselves onto the year’s winner. In some cases, the sheer artistry of something is what wins (“Avatar”). Sometimes, it’s a feel-good spectacle (“Chicago”). Sometimes, it’s applauding the bravery of the filmmaker having done what they did to get something on film (“Slumdog Millionaire”). Sometimes, it’s a film that captures the ethos of the moment (“Crash”). Sometimes, it’s all of those.

Even last year’s winner (“Argo”) was the ultimate “Aren’t we [filmmakers] great? We saved hostages!” film.

The one that I think will take home the golden statue this year is the one that Ms. Stone posits as her third choice:  “Gravity.”

It has many of the above-mentioned qualities. It’s actually about something, it took us to new worlds, and gave us visuals we hadn’t seen before.

To say nothing of the fact that it’s pretty much Sandra Bullock and space. If every woman who voted for Kathryn Bigelow to win Best Director voted for this film... A woman as the protagonist? Remember how hard it was to get this film made? It kept bouncing around between different actors and directors. Who wants to be encapsulated in a space suit through an entire movie? Thankfully, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney finally took up the mantle, and helped this movie get made. STILL, Sandra being up there all alone is really landmark when you look at Hollywood film (sadly).

Ms. Stone (who’s normally good about calling Hollywood out on its sexism) is right, though, that in the Oscar race, it goes back and forth as new projected “winners” are crowned, and then uncrowned. What does remain constant, though, and good Oscar prognosticators would be advised to keep this in mind, is that the critics awards don’t matter one bit. Nor do the Golden Globes matter one bit (they being a critics group also).

The only thing that one really need look at are the precursors in the guilds, of which we haven’t seen any winners yet.

I would not be surprised at all to see “Gravity” taking a bunch of these awards, including the PGA. Although, of course, “American Hustle” could clean up with the SAG award, for which (obviously) “Gravity” (being pretty much only Sandra Bullock) wasn’t even nominated. But then, so could “12 Years a Slave.” (It’s really only a predictor of Oscars if there are a lot of people in the cast.)

Remember how “Gravity” took our breath away. The Oscar winner is picked because those who vote want to believe that they are all moving film forward. Isn’t this grand? Look at what we did this year. There are many landmark films this year, that make you think of film in a different way (“Her,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Captain Phillips” among them), but it’s “Gravity” that just takes your breath away. I think that’s why it will win.

(No offense, Sasha.)

Sandra Bullock in “Gravity.” Courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Mark Gantt Photography Exhibit Opens in Beverly Hills

You know him, of course, as the multi-award-winning (Streamys) co-screenwriter and lead actor from Crackle’s “The Bannen Way,” (and seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WATCH IT NOW!!!).

Watch “The Bannen Way”!

On his upcoming slate for the next year, he’s acting, he’s directing, he’s writing... just when you think, “Man! Is there anything Mark Gantt can’t do?” he shows you. (No, no, there isn’t.)

Photography. Sheesh.

Mind you, everyone and their brother these days fancies themselves a photographer. Photos litter the Internet.

But there is a difference, my friends, with the type of photography that deserves to hang in galleries. Photography that you want to take home and hang on your wall, because it so poetically speaks to your soul. And yes, THAT is the kind of photo that this man takes.

At his recent photo exhibit opening (where the packed crowd ranged from Beverly Hills glitterati to hot Internet web video sensations to up-and-coming actors), it was one superb photograph after another hanging on display.

I couldn’t even pick a favorite if you forced me to. There were stunning photos of Dennis Hopper (taken behind the scenes at a Vanity Fair cover shoot), joyous pastiches of life in Europe (the Barcelona train station image truly haunts me), or the breathtaking portrait of his acting mentor, breathing in the fragrance of a rose.

Moments captured that somehow also encompass the pure magic of those moments. That is what a real photographer does.

He is still selling limited edition prints on his website:  Purchase Gantt Photography
If you ask me, the prices are an absolute steal for the quality of this work. So do yourself a favor. Once you return that plaid shirt that Grandma so kindly meant for you at Christmas, and are pondering what you really want to get instead, that would make YOU happy, consider one (or several) of these photos.

Your soul will thank you.

A joyous photography exhibit opening in Beverly Hills, CA.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Please Send The Sound of Music Live Show Away


The Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood. Courtesy of NBC.

Maybe this sounded like a good idea to someone. After all, The Sound of Music (with Julie Andrews) is a beloved film. And to many people, Carrie Underwood is a beloved singer. What could go wrong?

It would be bad enough to redo a movie of The Sound of Music, but wait! Let’s do it LIVE! on TV! With someone in the lead who has little or no stage experience, to say nothing of dramatic experience. What could go wrong?

Well, $9 MILLION later, we have this mess. Dreadful doesn’t even begin to describe it.

First most glaring were the garish sets. One cannot replicate the wonder of the Alps with cardboard and paint. The Alpine vistas were laughable. I’ve seen better, more magical views in community theatre productions. Also, the main piazza set was more suitable to Italy than Austria, where this is supposedly set.

Sure, every Alpine home has great open plazas to walk around in. (Not a drop of snow on them, either.) *eyeroll*

Second, and I admit I have a bias about this. I LOVE theatre actors. I am a firm believer that whoever originates the role on Broadway should have it in the movie. And I pretty much wish a pox on all the famous people who think they can walk the Broadway boards and it’ll be fine. Even worse, those who then scoop up Tonys for their celebrity more than their work COUGHScarlettJohannssonCOUGH.

So the idea of “American Idol” winner Carrie Underwood acting in a big, splashy theatre work on TV doesn’t exactly fill me with excitement. But I gave it the old college try. I went to this show with as much of an open mind as possible.

Which was pretty much slammed shut once Ms. Underwood attempted to act. Well, I wouldn’t call it “acting,” exactly. More like rushing through a bunch of lines to get to the song parts. The dreadfulness of Ms. Underwood’s acting actually made Lindsay Lohan’s Liz Taylor look like a Tony winner.

Zero chemistry between Underwood and the poor miscast Stephen Moyer (“True Blood”). At least Moyer could sing decently. He does have some stage background, but all his TV work must’ve made that a dim memory, cause he was pretty terrible in this. His singing ok, but he should stick to TV.

It’s supremely hard to care when the lead role (Underwood) is sinking like a lead weight, right there in the middle.

Thankfully, we had glorious stage performers, who do actually know how to do this, with Tony winner Laura Benanti (who was way better than she needed to be in a small thankless role) and Tony winner Christian Borle (also late of “Smash”), both acting up a storm around the lead weights of Underwood and Moyer. And the kids were good.

Glorious (five-time) Tony winner Audra McDonald (sharing the record for most Tonys won by an actor) belted out a superb “Climb Every Mountain.” So, it wasn’t all madness and bad acting. There were real glimmers of glory here.

But the bad stuff. Wow, so bad.

The final climactic scene, when the von Trapp family is hiding in the garden, they are pretty much, sitting there as plain as day, all someone has to do is shine a light on them. Of course, stupid Nazis, only search the convent building, and don’t go in the garden. Riiiiight. Ridiculous is a good word for that scene, as portrayed.

Oh God, Carrie Underwood was so bad that in many scenes, I could barely stand to look at her. Really leaden. Really dreadful.

And there seemed to be songs added. There was one, REALLY tasteless, about happy millionaires being trapped in their capital gains, that I really don’t remember from the Julie Andrews version. Although at least Benanti and Borle were singing it, so it was OK from that aspect.

So whoever squandered $9 Million on this monstrosity instead of putting good, talented hard-working actors to work in something decent, I hope you got your money’s worth. Please, though, don’t do this again.

#NBCFail

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