Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office

  • Click on the chart to enlarge.
  • New 3-day weekend record: the estimated $278 million in weekend box-office revenue broke the previous record of roughly $253 million set in July 2008, the weekend The Dark Knight was released.
  • Avatar lost just three percent of its opening-weekend audience as its 10-day total soared to $212.3 million across the United States and Canada.
  • Reviews of Sherlock Holmes, It's Complicated and Up in the Air can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive image at left.
  • A review of Nine will be posted here soon.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Actual figures are released on Monday.
  • Sources: Nielsen EDI,, AP

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Movie Reviews

It's Complicated

Writer/producer/director Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, Something's Gotta Give) brings us another film geared to the middle-aged female audience. Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia) plays Jane, a self-reliant divorcee with three grown children and a successful bakery business. Ten years after her divorce, she finally has a good relationship with her ex-husband Jake (Lymelife's Alec Baldwin), a successful attorney who has remarried a much-younger woman. While attending their son's college graduation, Jane and Jake end up having a fun-filled dinner --just the two of them. And this leads to an affair between the two, making Jane "the other woman" for a change. Complicating matters is Adam (Steve Martin), an architect Jane hires to remodel her house. Adam is healing from a divorce of his own, but has begun to fall in love with Jane.

I wanted to like this movie so much more than I actually did. Streep, Baldwin and Martin are great actors who deserved a better script. John Krasinski (Away We Go), who plays the fiance of Jane and Jake's oldest daughter, was the only supporting actor who stood out. Unfortunately, the actors playing the three adult children were a bit flat. And scenes with Streep and her girlfriends were painful. Two of these girlfriends were played by Alexandra Wentworth and Rita Wilson -- mediocre actresses at best. If you're going to cast Meryl Streep -- you better surround her with better actors. Alas, I can only slightly recommend this movie -- and only because Streep, Baldwin, Martin and Krasinski manage to bring just enough laughs to predictable storytelling. [Rated R; opens today]

Grade: B-

Sherlock Holmes

Director Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) resurrects Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuth and sidekick, Dr. John Watson. Purists will complain that this action-oriented retelling is a bit out of character for Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law), but the action sequences are fun. So, too, are the great sets and costumes that transport you back to 1891 London.

Downey (The Soloist) and Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley) are perfectly cast -- and have great chemistry together. But the scriptwriters failed to fully capitalize on that great chemistry. The writing team of Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg had the opportunity to bring more humor to the relationship -- and the story overall, but fall short. The plot centers on a conspiracy to destroy Great Britain. The film opens with Holmes apprehending the murderous cult leader Lord Henry Blackwood (Mark Strong), who promises he will return from the dead and exact his revenge as he is being led to the gallows. Along for the ride is Rachel McAdams (The Time Traveler's Wife) who plays a femme fatale who once outwitted Holmes -- and is back for more deceit.

Sadly, McAdams' character is never fully-developed -- and she is mostly wasted. And the Lord Blackwood plot is at times simplistic, predictable and dare I say, even boring. Luckily, Downey and Law fill the screen with plenty of fun to carry the film. If you have high expectations for this film, you may leave disappointed. But my expectations were low, so I left happy enough. [Rated PG-13, opens today]

Grade: B

  • Click the film reviews icon in the upper left column for a full alphabetical archive of other movies reviewed this year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

MusicMonday: Brittany Murphy's Music Career and More Free Downloads

RIP, Brittany Murphy

Although she will be remembered mostly for her acting, Brittany Murphy also dabbled in music. She was in a band called Blessed Soul in the late 1990s. And for the 2006 film, Happy Feet, she covered Queen's "Somebody to Love" and Earth, Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland." But her biggest music success came in partnership with DJ Paul Oakenfold. Together, they released the 2006 single "Faster Kill Pussycat" from the album A Lively Mind. The song became a club hit, and hit number one on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart. It also hit number seven in the UK singles chart. Click on the image above to see a video of the catchy single. We'll never know if more music was ahead for the young star -- who died suddenly yesterday at the age of 32. RIP, Brittany.

Free Downloads

Hang in there -- it's the last week of Christmas music! And plenty of non-holiday tunes are available if you've already had enough! Here are this week's offerings:

  • Amazon's 25 days of free holiday music concludes this week; click here for today's offering.
  • The Fray has four free acoustic Christmas songs for download -- if you join the band's fan club (also free) here.
  • Click here for a Christmas single from The Smithereens.
  • A final holiday offering comes from the folks at HBO's hit "Big Love;" click here for a free download of the Juniper Creek Christmas album.
  • Click here for free downloads from artists participating in New Zealand's Parachute Festival early in 2010.
  • Compliments of, click here for a free download of Bowling for Soup's "Goodbye Friend."
  • For US music fans only -- Facebook, iTunes and Starbucks have partnered for a free 20-song sampler here.

And don't forget to continually check the following sources for more free downloads -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.


  • This is the last MusicMonday column of 2009 -- see you next year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Actress Brittany Murphy Dead at 32

As reported earlier via Twitter, actress Brittany Murphy died today at 32 after suffering cardiac arrest. A police investigation is underway -- and an autopsy will be performed.

Probably best known for her work as the made-over Tai in Amy Heckerling's Clueless, Murphy was recently replaced on the set of her latest starring vehicle, The Caller, for being a disruption and hindering production. Murphy's rep stated "creative differences" as the reason for the split.

News of her exit from The Caller was made light of on the December 5 episode of Saturday Night Live that EntertainmentBlogger attended! After Seth Meyers reported Murphy's "detriment to production," cast member Abby Elliott (see below) came out to the Weekend Update set as Murphy, parodying her as a ditzy airhead who believed she was actually hosting that evening's episode before leaving with her infamous line reading from Don't Say a Word, "I'll never tell."

Murphy's other credits include Girl Interrupted, Drop Dead Gorgeous, 8 Mile, Just Married, Spun, Uptown Girls, Little Black Book, The Dead Girl, Summer Catch, Riding in Cars with Boys, and Sin City.

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office

  • Click on the chart to enlarge.
  • James Cameron's Avatar soared to No. 1 with $73 million domestically and $159.2 million overseas, for a $232.2 million worldwide total. The film cost an estimated $400 million to make.
  • A massive snowstorm on the East Coast kept many people at home, cutting into overall weekend movie business -- and preventing Avatar from breaking the December opening record of $77.2 million set two years ago by Will Smith's I Am Legend.
  • A review of Up in the Air can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive image at left.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Actual figures are released on Monday.
  • Monday, 12/21 Update -- Avatar tally bumped up from $73 million to $77 million
  • Sources: Nielsen EDI,, AP, Variety
  • Reviews of Brothers and It's Complicated (opening Christmas Day) will be posted here soon.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Movie Review: Another British Costume Drama

The Young Victoria

In most historical accounts, we see Queen Victoria as the old, record-breaking monarch dressed in mournful black. This film serves as an early account of the Queen who ruled the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland for 63 years. And we learn why she mourned for so many of those years. Emily Blunt (Sunshine Cleaning, Devil Wears Prada) stars as the young Victoria -- whose uncle is the current, but ailing King William IV. At the film's onset, we learn how protective everyone is about the heir Victoria -- since the King and his brothers have no other viable heirs. She is so protected that even into her late teens, someone is required to hold her hand each time she navigates the stairwell of her castle. She is raised in near isolation -- with her spaniel, Dash, being her closest companion.

The film focuses on the dramatization of some of the events preceding and following Victoria's coronation at age 18, focusing on her early reign and romance with her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Rupert Friend of The Libertine, Pride and Prejudice). What first appeared to be an arranged union, later blossoms into true love. We only witness the early years of their marriage -- but we learn that his tragically early death resulted in her long, mournful reign. One thing that bothered me about the film were some obvious historical inaccuracies (I won't spoil the enhanced dramatizations -- but you can find a list on Wikipedia after you see the film). But what is lacking in story -- is made up visually in the amazingly detailed and grand sets and costumes.

As these British-themed costume dramas/period pieces go, I still prefer this year's earlier release -- Bright Star -- a bit more. This one felt a bit rushed in its storytelling. Clocking in at just over an hour-and-a-half, I didn't feel a true development of the passion between the two leads. For the first time in a long time, I actually think a film could have benefited with some added length! But Blunt and co-stars Miranda Richardson (Victoria's mother) and Jim Broadbent (King George IV) are excellent as always. Look out for Princess Beatrice of York, Victoria's great-great-great-great granddaughter, in a cameo role. Beatrice's mother, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, served as an executive producer of the film. Directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.). [Rated PG; opens today]

Grade: B

  • Click the film reviews icon in the upper left column for a full alphabetical archive of other movies reviewed this year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

MusicMonday -- Downloads Galore!

Lots of new downloads this week -- all free of charge! Whether you're in the mood for holiday music -- or sick of all the jingle-jangle, there's something for everyone.

Holiday Music
  • Amazon's 25 days of free holiday music continues; click here for today's offering.
  • Also from Amazon, a holiday tune from country star Tracy Lawrence can be downloaded here.
  • Is classical music more your style? Here is a 5-track orchestral sampler from Amazon.
  • Not to be outdone, iTunes has a 20-track holiday sampler with contributions from plenty of big-name artists. Click here.

Non-Holiday Music
  • The Smashing Pumpkins is making good on its promise! "A Song for a Son" is the first of 44 tunes that will be rolled out -- one at a time -- as part of their new album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. Eventually, all 44 of the new Smashing Pumpkins tracks will be available for free at the band's website here.
  • Walmart has a free offer from the Black Eyed Peas available here -- just use code, BOOMBOOM.
  • Nylon Magazine has offered 27 songs good for download through February 28. Check out the selections here.
  • And Adult Swim has 17 songs in its album presented by Rockstar Games and Timbaland! You can even download the artwork for free, too -- all here.

And don't forget to continually check the following sources for more free downloads -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office

  • Click on the chart to enlarge.
  • Disney's The Princess and the Frog scored the biggest opening for an animated film debuting nationwide in December, grossing an estimated $25 million from 3,434 locations to top the domestic box office. The movie rolled out in very limited release on November 25 -- but nationwide on Friday.
  • A review of 2012 can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive image at left.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Actual figures are released on Monday.
  • Sources: Nielsen EDI,, Variety, AP

Monday, December 7, 2009

MusicMonday -- Rihanna's SNL Appearance, More Free Downloads!

Rihanna on SNL

Rihanna was the musical guest on this past weekend's Saturday Night Live -- and as reported earlier here, I was at the dress rehearsal for the NBC show! Rihanna sang two songs -- "Russian Roulette" and "Hard" featuring Young Jeezy. Admittedly, I'm not very familiar with Rihanna's music, but I dug the first song. And really loved the theatrical staging as Rihanna donned a chain mail headdress and started and ended the song while sitting on a throne-like chair.

But let me point out that I thought this first song sounded a lot better in rehearsal than it did later on in the live TV version. In the later TV version, the band was a bit overpowering during Rihanna's softer vocal moments. As for the second rap song with Young Jeezy -- well let's just say that's the first time all night I rested my eyes a bit.

Surprisingly, Rihanna's biggest hit of the night came in the digital short "Shy Ronnie" with Andy Samberg. She did a great job here -- and may have proven that she can act, too! The hilarious skit can be viewed here.

Grammy Controversy

In a posting to its website last Friday, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center condemned what they called "the appalling Grammy nomination for Buju Banton, a performer whose music promotes the violent murder of LGBT people." The Recording Academy announced last Wednesday that Banton’s 2009 album Rasta Got Soul was nominated for best reggae album. In August, the Jamaican singer's U.S. tour was canceled, seemingly because of protests. Let's face it, the Grammy committee really dropped the ball with this nomination.

Free Downloads

Here are some holiday tunes for free download:

There are plenty of non-holiday downloads, too. New this week:
  • Former American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee's single, "Had it All" is available here.
And don't forget to continually check the following sources for more free downloads -- new songs covering all genres are added frequently. Just click on the links below and enjoy some new tunes.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Recap/Review of a Saturday Night Live Rehearsal

Yesterday, a friend and I made a trip to (the real) 30 Rock in NYC to sit in on the 2-hour dress rehearsal for the NBC mainstay, Saturday Night Live. Episode #666 of the 35-season series was hosted by Blake Lively (CW's Gossip Girl) with musical guest Rihanna.

Arriving in Manhattan in the afternoon, we were greeted by pouring cold rain and sidewalks so full, we had to dodge many an umbrella spike. When we finally reached Rockefeller Center, I was shocked at how small the Christmas tree looked in person. Television cameras really have a way of making everything seem so much larger. As the rain turned to snow though, the tree aglow in an abundant number of multi-color lights looked perfect.

Onto the dress rehearsal. Each Saturday, the cast and crew do a complete run-through of the show from 8-10 pm. Yes, an extra 30 minutes. Before the live show starts at 11:29 pm, a full half hour has to be cut. So what made the cut and what didn't? Stay tuned!

When you enter the studio, you're reminded again that everything looks bigger on TV. The studio is quite tight -- and it's interesting to see how the stage is sectioned-off into different compartments allocated to certain sketches. A large crew is endlessly moving scenery and setting things up in between skits -- you'd be amazed how fast they turn things around during those short commercial breaks! Some skits end up being outside your view -- and some scenes like the commercials and digital shorts are shot ahead of time. So monitors appear before you to allow you to see all the action -- giving you the exact feel of watching the show on your home TV.

About ten or 15 minutes before the rehearsal start time, legendary announcer Don Pardo came out to greet the audience and introduce us to the band, the band leader and castmate Jason Sudeikis. Sure, Pardo may have gotten some names mixed up along the way -- but all is forgiven. He'll turn 92 in February -- and he's still quite spry! Sudeikis did a great job warming up the crowd with his humor -- and even brought up fellow castmate Will Forte to sing a duet of the Doobie Brothers' hit, "Takin' it to the Streets."

And then it was onto the show -- sketches/segments included "Obama and the Salahis" (the White House party crashers), "Host Monologue with Adult Muppets," "Carter 'n Sons" (repeat commercial), "Vagisil Superstars of Bowling Tournament 1989," "The Situation Room" (Breaking news on Tiger Woods incident),"Shy Ronnie" (Digital Short), "Gossip Girl: Staten Island," "10th Annual Kickspit Underground Rock Festival," "Virginaca Hastings at Barney's," "Weekend Update," "UPS" (two commercials), "Late Night with Chris Hansen," and "NASA Recruitment Office."

Cut for time before the live show were 3 skits, 2 segments from "Weekend Update" and one more UPS commercial. The cut sketches included:
  • an "Action News Promo" where Sudeikis and Lively appeared as anchors, and Fred Armisen was a bumbling traffic reporter
  • a "Norwegian Country Diner" segment where Lively played a counter waitress
  • a "Paparazzi Brothers" family Christmas scene -- where the photography gets a bit out of hand thanks to the aggressive brothers played by Bill Heder and Fred Armisen
The diner skit deserved to be cut -- it was my least favorite. I enjoyed the other segments, but once again -- it's all about cutting things to the exact timing needed for a live show.

"Weekend Update" went through several revisions before the live show. Two sets of guests were cut. Jenny Slate and Sudeikis played a married couple affected by recent gay marriage legislation. It was a funny segment -- and I was surprised it didn't make the cut. I was less surprised by the omission of an Andy Samberg character -- an ecstatic NJ Nets fan thrilled that the team finally won a game --and later revealed as an actual team member. Some other jokes and images within "Weekend Update" were slightly re-worked.

There were some minor edits made to some other skits as well. An ending image in the "Situation Room" changed from a tiger to a bear. Why? And a skirt reference in the "Virginaca Hastings at Barney's" was altered from Juicy Couture to Prada. The most glaring of the minor script edits was the last name used for the character Michelle, one of the bowlers in the "Vagisil" skit. Her last name changed from "Harvey-Oswald" to "Rayburn-Gene." Again, why? Is an old-time dead game show host's name funnier than that of a long-dead presidential killer?

Overall, the show had plenty of laughs -- with the "10th Annual Kickspit Underground Rock Festival" segment being my favorite. Watch here. Figures it was pre-taped! So you saw it exactly as I saw it. There were so many funny references in that short piece, that I had tears rolling down my face. Would I have laughed as hard if I was just watching this episode at home? Probably not. Sure the show has been mediocre at best this year. But this weekend's episode seemed above average for the season.

So how was Lively? Honestly, I knew so little about her before the show. I never saw a "Traveling Pants" movie, nor a "Gossip Girl" episode. She definitely was appealing, but not naturally funny -- and she wasn't really challenged by the material either. My attention was still focused on the regulars -- and I have a new-found respect for all the hard work they put in to pull off the show week after week.

  • Rihanna performed "Russian Roulette" and "Hard" (with previously unannounced surprise guest Young Jeezy) She also appeared in the digital short with Samberg. Check back tomorrow as I review her performances in the weekly MusicMonday post!
  • NBC is being criticized in some circles for airing the "Situtation Room" skit -- because it poked fun at possible domestic abuse at the hands of Tiger Woods' wife. Was the skit in bad taste with domestic abuse victim Rihanna in the house? Maybe. But it was still funny. And since when do we want SNL to be politically correct? You can view the skit here.
  • Other clips: view "Obama and the Salahis" here, "NASA Recruitment Office" here, and more here.
  • So how do you get free tickets to a live SNL show or dress rehearsal? It's not easy. I have been applying for years to gain a pair of tickets via the show's random lottery system. Each August, you can send NBC one email with your full name, address and telephone number to For years, I never heard back. But just a few weeks ago, I got word that I was randomly picked for this rehearsal. So make a note on your 2010 calendar -- to send that email next August.

Top 10 at the Weekend Box Office

  • Click on the chart to enlarge.
  • New Moon raised its domestic cume to $255.6 million in its third weekend. The vampire romancer took in another $40.7 million overseas for a foreign cume of $314.5 million and massive worldwide total of $570.1 million.
  • Among specialty openers, George Clooney's new film Up in the Air scored a lofty per screen average of $79,000 as it grossed $1.2 million from 15 theaters in major markets.
  • Reviews of 2012, Everybody's Fine and Up in the Air can be found by clicking on the Film Reviews archive image at left.
  • All figures are industry estimates. Actual figures are released on Monday.
  • Sources: Nielsen EDI,, Variety, AP

Friday, December 4, 2009

Movie Reviews -- Three to See!

There's a common thread in today's three movie reviews -- all center on delivering bad news. The good news is -- the films all do a terrific job with the difficult topic. And what do you know -- all get strong recommendations today -- especially due to powerhouse acting by the lead actors.

Everybody's Fine

In this new drama from director/writer Kirk Jones (Waking Ned), Robert De Niro plays Frank, a recent widower trying to re-connect with his adult children. When the children one-by-one pull out of a planned visit to the family home, Frank decides on a whim to take a road trip to visit them -- unaware that they've been avoiding him because they're unsure how to deal with telling him some bad news. Along the way, Frank discovers that the lives of his grown children are far from perfect -- nor is his. Although he was a great family provider, Frank learns that he wasn't exactly emotionally attached. As one of his daughters points out, "
Mom was a good listener, you were a good talker."

Don't be fooled by the studio's mis-marketing of the film as a warm and fuzzy holiday movie. It's actually quite depressing and certainly a tear-jerker. But the reward is in witnessing the top-notch, understated performance by De Niro -- you'll be reminded again why one the greatest actors of our time has two Oscars on his mantle (The Godfather Part II, Raging Bull). Drew Barrymore (Whip It), Kate Beckinsale (Whiteout) and Sam Rockwell (Moon) are also very good as the adult children. The cast is further strengthened by a group of young actors -- some of who play the children in revealing -- and ingeniously-shot "flashbacks." Look out for a small role by last year's Oscar nominee Melissa Leo (Frozen River) -- someone please give this fine actress another meaty role! [Rated PG-13; opens today]

Grade: B+

Up in the Air

In this timely film, George Clooney plays Ryan, a man who travels around the country to terminate corporate employees. In these recessionary times, companies don't want to deal with the heavy task, so they use Ryan's outsourced firm to deliver the bad news to the cut employees. We learn that in the past year, Ryan has spent 322 nights on the road -- er, up in the air. For most of us, this time away from home would be unbearable. But Ryan thrives on his life away from home. In fact, his shell of a small apartment in Omaha is far from a home. And he's even distanced himself from what else makes up a home -- his family -- which consists of two sisters.

Clooney (Syriana) is excellent as a detached, but happy soul -- whose only goal seems to be reaching the unfathomable ten million mile frequent flier mark. Things start to change when his firm hires recent grad Natalie (of Twilight fame), who develops a method of video conferencing that will allow termination without ever leaving the office -- essentially threatening the existence Ryan so cherishes. But Ryan insists that firings still must be dealt with in person, so he takes Natalie on one of his cross country firing expeditions -- where both unexpectedly discover the downfalls of this career choice. Further complicating his neatly set life, Ryan falls for Alex, another frequent flier (The Departed's Vera Farmiga) -- can either stay content with just scheduling brief (and literal) layovers?

Just yesterday, The National Board of Review named Up in the Air the best film of the year. Although I agree it's one of the year's best, I don't think it's THE best. In fact, I liked George Clooney's last film, the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox more! This film got bogged down a bit towards its close -- as a family scene drags on a bit too long. But this is in no way meant to diminish Jason Reitman's huge success in only his third feature film (after Thank You for Smoking and Juno). Reitman does a masterful job helming an intelligent and witty film. I especially appreciated how he weaved in actual real-life folks who share their thoughts about their recent unemployment status. And the irony in showing how some people are rewarded for years of hotel stays, air travel and car rentals -- while so many others are so easily dismissed after putting in years of dedicated work service -- well, it's simply brilliant. Also stars Jason Bateman (Juno, Extract). [Rated R; opens in limited release today, wider December 23]

Grade: A-

The Messenger

It's not too late to catch a movie that's been out for a couple of weeks, but not gaining as much attention as it deserves -- probably due to its tough subject matter. Like Up in the Air, this film is another timely example of those responsible for delivering bad news. Ben Foster plays Will Montgomery, a U.S. Army officer who has recently returned from a tour in Iraq and is re-assigned as a casualty notification officer. He is partnered with fellow officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), who trains his younger counterpart in the unbearable role of relaying bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers. Things are bad enough for Montgomery, who initially wants nothing to do with the job, but now faces more difficulty when he becomes involved with a widow of a fallen officer (played by Samantha Morton).

Director/co-writer Oren Moverman, also the co-screenwriter of Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, was born and raised in Israel, where he served in the army. That military experience surely makes up for his inexperience in directing. Moverman opens your eyes to a part of our wars you don't usually consider -- and probably would rather ignore due to its painful nature. But surprisingly, he softens the grief with some humor -- and gives us a moving and rewarding film.

Foster (Alpha Dog) does an excellent job conveying the complex ethical dilemma he is faced with -- while also juggling an unconventional friendship with his mentor. After a fun turn in Zombieland (and a bright spot in the dismal 2012), Harrelson is back in fine dramatic form. He delivers a powerfully emotional performance as a tough-as-nails officer full of pent-up sadness and emptiness. Morton (Minority Report, Sweet and Lowdown) is superb as always. Also stars Jena Malone and Steve Buscemi in smaller roles. [Rated R; in theaters now]

Grade: B+

  • Click the film reviews icon in the upper left column for a full alphabetical archive of other movies reviewed this year.