The opulence, sophistication and the sheer spectacle of ancient Egypt as the backdrop for one of the most resonant tales in the Old Testament is brought to vivid, 3-D life by director Ridley Scott in “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
It’s the story of Moses, played evocatively here by Christian Bale, who was raised into a life of Egyptian privilege and “knighthood” before learning he is actually the son of Hebrew slaves and is exiled to the desert by Ramses, (Joel Edgerton) the Pharoah’s son and a rival for the ruler’s attention and affection.
With a gritty realism and an unexpected depiction of the character of God, Moses takes his place as leader of the Jewish people to deliver them from slavery in Egypt, sacrificing for a time the family life he’s created.
The religious may find the film not faithful enough to scripture. The secular will enjoy the dramatic interpretation of a story for the ages, complete with vivid and haunting imagery of the ten plagues.
The opulence, sophistication and the sheer spectacle of ancient Egypt as the backdrop for one of the most resonant tales in the Old Testament is brought to vivid, 3-D life by director Ridley Scott in “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
Bruce Springsteen fans will devour every second of the two hour and 12 minute tribute to him recorded at the 2013 MusiCares person of the year benefit and airing as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival.
From the opening introduction by fellow New Jersey native Jon Stewart to Neil Young’s punk rock version of “Born in the USA” to Elton John’s heartfelt “Streets of Philadelphia” to the climactic performance by the Boss himself leading the E Street Band in blazing renditions of his iconic ”Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” and then into an epic finale with all the evening’s performers, the program is a tribute as well to the power of music.
As Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa look on proudly from their table–and often rock out and sing along–an array of noted musicians across multiple genres perform his songs before a crowd of 3,000 people, many of whom are shown in cutaways having the time of their lives.
Spotted in the crowd: Sean Penn, Les Moonves and Julie Chen, Rita Wilson, Conan O’Brien and Judd Apatow. Springsteen’s daughter and mother were also in attendance.
Nearly every number is a huge highlight, from John Legend performing a piano-driven arrangement of “Dancing in the Dark” to Tom Morello and Jim James shredding their guitars on an electrified version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” to Patti Smith playing her smash hit co-written with Springsteen, “Because the Night.”
Recording Academy president Neil Portnow gave Springsteen a crystal trophy and lauded his humanitarian work in addition to an illustrious career that began with his 1973 Columbia Records release “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”
Since then, Springsteen has released a total of 18 studio albums, taken home 20 Grammy Awards and won an Oscar for best original song from 1993’s “Philadelphia.” And of course he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor.
But the ever modest legend gave a low-key yet powerful speech lauding the magic of music after thanking John Legend for making him sound like Gershwin and Neil Young for making him sound like The Sex Pistols.
“I’ve seen it before, and been part of the magic of music, he said. “Music is life. The earth and stars rolling through the heavens, the winds whistling and the birds singing. Musicians are a brotherhood and a sisterhood. We’re the wrong people, but sometimes we hit it right.”
Here’s the set list from the evening:
- “Adam Raised a Cain” (performed by Alabama Shakes)
- “Because the Night” (performed by Patti Smith)
- “Atlantic City (performed by Natalie Maines, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite)
- “American Land” (performed by Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys)
- “My City of Ruins” (performed by Mavis Staples and Zac Brown)
- “I’m on Fire” (performed by Mumford and Sons)
- “American Skin (41 Shots)” (performed by Jackson Browne and Tom Morello)
- “My Hometown” (performed by Emmylou Harris)
- “One Step Up” (performed by Kenny Chesney)
- “Streets of Philadelphia” (performed by Elton John)
- “Hungry Heart” (performed by Juanes)
- “Tougher Than the Rest” (performed by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill)
- “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (performed by Jim James and Tom Morello)
- “Dancing in the Dark” (performed by John Legend)
- “Lonesome Day” (performed by Sting)
- “Born in the U.S.A.” (performed by Neil Young and Crazy Horse)
- “We Take Care of Our Own” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
- “Death to My Hometown” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
- “Thunder Road” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
- “Born to Run” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
- “Glory Days” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and full ensemble)
Oh, what a night.
(A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen premieres as part of PBS Arts Fall Festival on Friday, December 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT)
In the past decade or so on cable television, Bravo has launched many popular shows that have become part of the pop-culture zeitgeist, from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” to the “Real Housewives” franchise to “Inside the Actors’ Studio,” “Top Chef” and “Watch What Happens Live!”
Yet one thing it has never done is aired its own original scripted series, until now, with tonight’s premiere of “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”
The new program gained notoriety recently when its slightly risque ad campaign was pulled from city buses and subways in New York and Los Angeles for being “inappropriate.” It showed series star Lisa Edelstein displaying her wedding ring finger, sans ring, with the slogan, “Go find yourself.” The campaign ended up running on tour buses and in phone kiosks.
Edelstein plays Abby McCarthy, a self-help author whose career crumbles as she navigates a separation from her husband. Seeking advice from others who have gone through similar situations, she confronts unexpected and life-changing experiences.
Created by Marti Noxon, whose credit list includes “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Mad Men” and “Glee,“ the series was inspired by Vicki Iovine’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” books.
Noxon and Edelstein dove into the show’s elements in a recent phone call with television reporters. Here is an edited version of their conversation:
Q: Is it meaningful to you both that this is Bravo’s introduction to scripted television as an original scripted television show?
Lisa Edelstein: They picked a great project and that was the first sign that it was a great network to be on. And because they’re so excited about it, they have really put everything into it. They’ve given us a lot of love and a lot of freedom and I feel really very trusted by the network and the studio, which is an unusual place to be. So we’re very fortunate. Very, very fortunate.
Marti Noxon: Yes. I agree. We’ve had an incredible amount of support from Bravo and it’s exciting, I mean obviously if we fall flat on our faces, that will be a bummer, but if the show works then we’ll feel like it’s a fit with the network. It feels exciting to be able to set the tone and start a conversation that I think a lot of viewers will be interested in.
Q: Lisa, what was it about the premise of this show in general and about your character in particular that made you want to do this?
Lisa Edelstein: During “House,” that was seven years of playing a very balanced woman. I mean from clothing to her ability to respond to things. So it was really exciting when Marti sent me the script because, here was the woman who seemingly had it all together and was actually falling apart. All the scenes were opening and I really looked forward to being able to explore that and I love that it’s funny and dramatic at the same time. It’s so smart and Marti is an amazing boss, so that was also a plus.
I love that Abby is so vulnerable. That’s she’s very smart and very successful but also a little bit like a little girl. She’s a little lost. I love her struggle and I love her sense of humor. I mean — she’s a great, really, really, great, well-rounded character.
Q: Do you guys think that Abby will be considered the next Samantha?
Marti Noxon: No. I think there’s an obvious comparison to “Sex and the City” and I’m flattered by those because that show obviously was a phenomenon, but I think that if we had a hope in terms of comparison, Abby is the new Carrie because it’s not about age anymore, it’s about the quest.
Lisa Edelstein: Right. Yes. Our show isn’t so much about the romping – the romps, the sexual romps. It’s a little bit more of a raw exploration of what it means to find yourself in the world again.
Martin Noxon: Right, Abby’s not a cougar. And she’s not all that sex in the way that Samantha was, but I think that sex is part of her discovery and figuring out what feels right and what doesn’t.
Lisa Edelstein: She’s not searching for her boys again. I mean, she’s searching for everything. Every way that she’s defined herself up to the point of the pilot is now taken away.
Q: Marti, where did you get the inspiration for some of the supporting cast as well as for Abby?
Marti Noxon: One of the things that I found really fun and unexpected about going through a divorce was that you end up being friends with other people going through the same thing. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re people you would have been friends with, so I ended up in one instant hanging out with a much younger woman who I always thought was sort of a trophy wife. I judged her because she was so beautiful.
And we do that sometimes. We just think well, she’s been taken care of and so I can’t relate to her and of course because you’re both going through a similar thing when someone introduced us, I realized, no, she’s a person just like me and in a way, knowing helped me get rid of my assumption about what it is to be an extraordinary beautiful woman. I learned a lot more about the pitfalls and my assumptions were blown away and that was really the inspiration for Phoebe. Let’s take a look deeper into what we think about these women and men, what is the reality. They have all kinds of issues of their own.
And the Lyla character was based on a friend of mine who’s just going through a really, really ugly divorce and I always feel like she’s my rage.
She’s the voice of vengeance. But also the vulnerability underneath that. Because underneath that anger you’re still a little bit, you’re still a lot attached. A lot of characters came from those kinds of people and feelings inside of me. And then of course Abby is the person I wish I’ve been. She’s braver and more open to having more feelings than I did. And she also gets to say the things I wish I’ve said in a moment but only later that I regretted.
Q: Some viewers maybe expected a comedy in the vein of “The Starter Wife” and may be surprised at how serious the show is.
Marti Noxon: I think there’s a lot of lighter moments in the show but it was never intended to be a comedy first. I wish that we could be in the same world as some of the Richard Curtis Working Title romantic comedies that have a lot of funny people in them but they’re not — but I would say that they also feel relatively grounded and you kind of want to be with those people and they’re not afraid to dip into the much more serious side. I would think about that scene in “Love, Actually” where Emma Thompson has to excuse herself from opening presents and she goes into her bedroom and just weeps. Because she knows the truth about what’s going on with her and her husband and that’s just a funny, delightful movie in so many ways, but there’s a woman who realizes her husband is cheating on her. We wanted to have that time where we can shift tones readily and some of the episodes are much more romp-like.
Q: Tell us about Paul Adelstein’s role on and off camera.
Marti Noxon: He wrote episode four and he’s a consultant. He and I have been friends ever since we did “Private Practice” together and I always thought since that I wanted to work with him again. He’s such as a deep and talented actor and I wanted Jake not to be just an obvious person you could write off as the bad guy. And I think as the show progresses, you’ll really feel the complexity of two people who’ve grown up together, trying to figure out if they really do want to do this or if they don’t want to do this and in a way rediscovering each other through the process.
Marti Noxon: And a lot of where the story went was unexpected for all of us I think because once we saw how Paul and Lisa worked together, it encouraged me to push the story more into the direction of both Jake and Abby’s journey. So it’s not really just a chick show. A lot of men have come up to me and said, “I would watch the show.” It was full of surprise, you’re actually giving the guy a voice and he’s not just an asshole. I find that very gratifying.
Q: How did you collaborate with Vicki Iovine, and tell us about that part of the creative process going back to her books.
Lisa Edelstein: Well, there’s no real book “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” to be clear. I think Vicki was more of a leaping off point. The idea of a person who writes — because she did write a “Girlfriends’ Guide” series and she did have a really public messy divorce.
Marti Noxon: Meryl Poster, who’s the sort of instigator, she’s a producer on the show — we had lunch and she said, “I wish you would write about divorce, so many of my friends are going through it.” In this day and age, it’s so different than it used to be for a lot of us where women might be the bread winner or it’s not uncommon for women now to pay alimony and for the men to have raised the children and all that. This was so compelling, but I said I thought divorce as a concept sounds like it’s such a bummer, then she thought for a second and she said, “Well, did you ever read the Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy?”
And I was like, “Of course, it’s one of the books you get when you’re pregnant.” I mean you get, “What to Expect” which I always say is sort of how to kill your baby, terrifying. It’s just a book of all the things we might do wrong, and then there’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” which is chatty and forgiving and genuine and very honest and it kind of relaxes you and makes you feel like you’re not alone. So she said Vicki had just gone through this divorce while she was writing “Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Your Groove Back,” she found out that her husband — and this is not the scenario on the pilot — but her husband was cheating on her and her marriage fell apart. She still had to go on a book tour, for “Getting Your Groove Back.” And I was like, “Well that is a show.”
And she literally texted her that moment and said, “What do you think about doing a show “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”? And immediately, Vicki texted back, “Yes. ” And that was the beginning. But the show is not Vicki’s life, Vicki is already remarried.
Lisa Edelstein: Right, I’m not playing Vicki or trying to portray Vicki in any way.
Marti Noxon: Yes. She’s remarried. Her ex-husband is Jimmy Iovine.
Lisa Edelstein: And she’s got a lot of enthusiasm and a great sense of humor. She loved the full process.
Marti Noxon: You know she’ll tell the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it. But I would also say it’s just a very unusual thing we’re doing, which is we’re creating a fiction from a life that is well known in public. Like it’s true up to this moment and now we’re creating a fiction around the book that’s from an existing series of books and in real life, and everything from that point on is made up. So, I don’t know that that happens very often but Vicki is working on a “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” and I think she’s getting it right out there.
(“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” premieres Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.)
What better way to kick off the holiday season than a festive premiere event for Hallmark Hall of Fame’s comedy “One Christmas Eve,” which stars Anne Heche, Kevin Daniels, Carlos Gomez and Brian Tee in a holiday caper with the tagline “Chaos is coming to town.”
Held on November 18 at West Hollywood’s Fig & Olive restaurant, the cast took to the red carpet along with canine stars of the film – beagle puppies that are an integral and heartwarming part of the story.
Guests enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before heading upstairs to dinner in a private room where they were also treated to clips from the film and a special surprise– as each received a plush beagle with the full length film on a dog bone shaped USB flash drive hanging from its collar.
There were oohs and aahs all around as the stuffed animals were handed out and carefully tucked away at the beautifully decorated three-course sit-down dinner.
Hallmark Hall of Fame president Brad Moore was in high spirits as he gave a speech that celebrated the new partnership between Hallmark Hall of Fame and the Hallmark Channel where, for the first time ever, a Hall of Fame movie will premiere– rather than on a broadcast network.
Moore also noted that Heche has now starred in three Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, while her boyfriend, James Tupper, only has one on his credits, while welcoming him to jump on board others.
Other cast members attending included Griffin Kane and Ali Skovbye, alond with Crown Media Holdings President and CEO Bill Abbot. Director Jay Russell and executive producer Brent Shields were also on hand for the festivities.
“One Christmas Eve” premieres on the Hallmark Channel on Sunday, November 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT as part of the network’s “Countdown to Christmas” programming lineup.
What used to be taken as generally accepted wisdom– that the path to success in our society includes a college degree– is called into question in a thought-provoking documentary, “Ivory Tower,” which asks the burning question of whether college is worth the cost.
College tuition has spiraled out of control in the past four decades– in absolute terms, it’s escalated at a rate of more than 1000% since 1978, far outpacing the cost of healthcare or any other goods and services. In another surprising statistic, student loan debt has surpassed the $1 trillion mark– more than the U.S. credit card debt.
Public universities face particularly dire straits as their funding has been drastically reduced and rising intuition only makes up a portion of the losses.
In just the latest example of the seemingly endless cost increases, the University of California Board of Regents is scheduled to vote today on whether to raise tuition by 28% over the next five years for students in the 10-campus UC system.
“Ivory Tower,” which will make its television premiere on CNN after its world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, was directed and produced by Emmy-nominated filmmakers Andrew Rossi and Kate Novak.
From the hallowed halls of Harvard University to community colleges struggling for funding, the documentary examines new models for accessing higher education fueled by technological advances that portend a transformational breaking point.
It looks at how colleges struggle to balance their mission for higher learning with the need to compete with other institutions for the best and brightest faculty and students – and the pressure to pivot university funding towards capital enhancements like state-of-the-art sports facilities, luxurious dining halls and research labs that may gain prestige but do not always lead to better learning experiences.
“We were surprised at how rapidly outside forces are changing education,” said Rossi, in an interview describing his experience making the film. “Institutional change has been at the core of almost every movie I’ve made, from the upheaval in the newspaper business depicted in ‘Page One: Inside the New York Times’ (2011) to the death of grand, formal dining experienced by the Italian family in ‘Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven’ (2008) to the advent of legal same sex marriage in Massachusetts, as documented in ‘The Sky Did Not Fall’ (2004).”
Rossi says when production started on “Ivory Tower” in the spring of 2012, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs – the free, digital versions of some of world’s best college classes) were just beginning to capture the imagination of technologists and the media. Now, some colleges and state university systems are examining whether MOOCs can help broaden access to a college education while reducing costs.
“Here was a revolutionary force that could upend the ossified traditions of lecture-driven education, allowing for cost savings that might rescue future students from crippling student loan debt,” he said.
As for the solution to the student loan debt crisis, he says it must come from its constituents — informed parents and students who should demand that the current system change by being open to a broad range of choices for professional preparation, not all of which will include going to a traditional four-year college.
In the film, the complex issues of the costs of higher education are brought to life in interviews with professors including Columbia University’s Andrew Debanco, author of “College: What It Was, Is, And Should Be” and students like David Boone, who won a full scholarship to Harvard after a hardscrabble life in a Cleveland ghetto.
Yet the benefits that Boone enjoys are becoming increasingly difficult for other American university students to attain, even as Harvard continues to be the role model for almost every institution of higher learning in the United States, setting a precedent for constant expansion and improvement.
The documentary also looks at education in what are known as “party schools,” and how that that can mean that some students are shortchanged academically and do not get learning value for their tuition money.
But the news is not all bad. Rossi and Novak find that other unique programs hold the potential for life-changing college experiences.
Rossi says that overall, the landscape is shifting.
“Online courses will get better and add more to the competitive landscape that impacts tuition, and the credit bubble for student loans has to change. The job market is not stable enough for most people to count on uninterrupted employment for an entire career. But, we’re just at the beginning of this market disruption – we don’t know how or what the college experience will look like at the end of this transition.”
Still there are burning questions that need to be answered now for students looking ahead to the future, and after making the documentary, Rossi has some advice for them.
“Get to know what you’re getting into before you sign the acceptance letter,” he said. “Students need to think of college with a long view – what will it prepare me to do with my life? Are there experiences I need from a particular college that are worth the debt it will cost me? Will the school I’m considering help me get into graduate school if that’s part of my professional development plan?”
Sounds like questions that could also engender insightful answers to college admission application essay questions.
(“Ivory Tower” airs on CNN November 20 at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET/PT.)
Until now. As Desiree Dupree on FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” that question hung in the air until a recent episode.
Bassett joined the “AHS” ensemble last year when she appeared in “Coven” as New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Most of her scenes than were with Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange. This year, she mostly plays off Michael Chiklis and Emma Roberts.
The character of Desiree was introduced to the audience as being “intersex,” something that in a bygone era was called a hermaphrodite. But while her biological and gender identity was recently revealed, Bassett says she’s still in the dark about her character’s full story arc — and also how Desiree and Marie might be linked in a larger “American Horror Story” universe, as co-creator Ryan Murphy recently alluded.
The Oscar-nominated actress spoke by phone recently to talk about her character’s evolution, the breakup of her relationship with Dell, the character played by Michael Chiklis, and the nitty-gritty details of shooting with an uncomfortable three-breast prosthetic, Desiree’s signature characteristic. Here is an edited version of the conversation:
Q: When you signed on for “Freak Show,” did you know what the part was? What was your reaction when you found out what the part was?
Angela Bassett: I didn’t have a clue whatsoever what the part might be, what it might encompass, when I signed on. I just knew I had a great time the previous year, and if that was any indication, it was going to be a wild ride. I think it was about two weeks before I was scheduled to come down to start shooting that I got the hot off the press script. I sat down to read it to see and I remember wondering, “Now, how am I going to know who I am?”
Then you read the stage direction, “African American woman in her 40s, hermaphrodite, three breasts, and a ding-a-ling.” You’re like, oh, my gosh. You immediately close the pages, and have to walk around, and process that for a minute. You’re thinking, “What does that mean?” If they thought I was crazy demonic last year, what are they going to think this year? I just knew that it was absolutely going to be something that I had never done before. What does an actor crave, but new challenges? This certainly was going to be one of those.
Q: Do you feel like the “American Horror Story” cast is sort of a family of performers, and do you feel like more of a part of that now that this is your second time on the show?
AB: Absolutely. I feel like it is a traveling troupe of performers. This year I feel more a part of the family. You know, having been here before, having established those relationships, not the brand-new girl. We’ve got some other new faces. I feel like I’ve been around the block at least one time with them. I feel more comfortable. I was excited. I’m still excited, but I feel more a part of the family this year, most definitely.
Q: How does it feel to try on another character? Is there a learning curve? Is that the challenge within itself?
AB: As an actor you’re used to putting on characters, taking them off, becoming someone else, doing your research, working on that. I think what I found most challenging about television and shedding one character and having to come up with another is that there’s this lag time before I get to actually see what the characters are looking like, or sounding like, or how they’re coming across. We start filming in July and the first episode is in October. As an actor who wonders if you’re getting it right because you don’t have the immediate reaction of the audience just yet — that’s the little caveat. I can’t say it’s a real crazy frustration. If there were something that you had to call that, that would be it for me.
Q: Now that we know Desiree is 100% female, is that going to change how you approach the character and how Desiree acts?
AB: No. I don’t think it’ll change how I approach or how she acts. I think she’s comfortable with who she is, by and large. I think she’s just had to find a way to work and survive in a world that she’s always been reaching for what she calls normalcy, to have a family, a real family, and children of her own. I don’t think it’s going to change and make her more feminine or whatever it might be. They might write her so differently, so I’m open, but I don’t anticipate it’ll change the way that she behaves. I think what influences that is how she’s treated, how she’s treated by others.
Q: Do you think she might demand a different kind of treatment now, especially from Dell?
AB: Well, she’s walked out on him. She does demand a different kind of treatment. I guess honesty. Honesty for one, but that’s just not a desire of her as a freak, it’s just desire for her as a human being.
Q: How does your character view Michael Chiklis’? Do you think that she really sees the good in him in spite of his being kind of a bully, and a monster?
AB Yes. I think that there was a time when he was kind, and good to her, and believed in her, and made her feel valuable and special. I think that there have been moments over those years when they’ve been together where he’s crossed the line with her in the things that he says. He’s begged for forgiveness. It’s that same old thing, sometimes it happens, when people are abusive physically. I think there’s been maybe some emotional abuse throughout the years, but … never crossing the line, and completely crossing the line, or she’s weighing, if I give this up, what do I lose? Can I move on from this? Can we move on from this? Can we remain together?
I think there has come a point where he crossed the line of no return. She thought she knew who he was, but she found out she was living with the enemy. There’s something about him that was dishonest and disloyal. They were there for each other. They told each other their painful truth. I think he crossed the line. Sometimes that happens and you can’t go back. You can’t make yourself go back.
Q: What’s the process that turned you into Desiree? How does she get that third breast and how long does it take to put on?
AB: Well, I go into my regular makeup artist. She applies the appliance to me, so that it’s there basically. Then I go over to the special effects trailer where her husband makes sure the edges and everything sort of blend seamlessly. From there, he and the other special effects gentlemen will begin to apply the paint. … They spray it on. They’ll start with the brown. They’ll go to the red, and yellow, and green. It’s amazing these colors and undertones that they claim you possess. You’re like, oh, those are weird, weird colors. Then he’ll take a photograph of it to make sure that it appears as if it’s my own and based on that he’ll maybe go in, and do so more painting, and carry on.
It takes maybe from start to finish about an hour, just enough time to check out a Netflix episode of “Orange Is the New Black” or something.
Q: What was your initial reaction when you first tried on the prosthetic?
AB: Well, I was glad it wasn’t on my face. I’m claustrophobic. The initial appliance was extremely heavy. I think it was made of silicone. It started out fine, but after about hour number 12, it became hot and heavy. I believe it started sagging, which I’m like, what is the point of having three sagging breasts? No, this is not good. They reworked it and made it out of foam, which I was so, so pleased about because it’s the difference of night and day. Still, after about 12 hours of that internal heat, you begin to sweat. You begin to itch. You can’t really provide relief because you can’t get to yourself. You’re scratching foam. It’s much lighter. It’s much more bearable. I guess I’ve grown accustomed.
(“American Horror Story: Freak Show” airs on FX Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)
As we move deeper into the heart of awards season, you will be hearing more and more about British actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, and for very good reason. In “The Theory of Everything,” both are equal parts spellbinding, charismatic and heartbreaking as they portray the time and space of a relationship that not only shaped two individuals and their families but the entire universe of astrophysics.
As the legendary, brilliant scientist Stephen Hawking, Redmayne brings to cinematic life the time before he was struck with Lou Gehrig’s disease– and given just two years to live. Playing Jane Wilde, a fellow student, Jones vows to be by his side throughout the unknown challenges that lie ahead, and puts marriage to him and having children into hyperdrive. The rest, as they say, is history.
In reality, Hawking has survived for half a century with the disease, and was married to Jane for 25 years before each moved on to other relationships.
This beautiful film, with stellar performances from its leads, serves to make their lives even more inspirational.
The pay cabler is about to launch the third and final season of its drama “The Newsroom,” followed by the comedy comeback of “The Comeback,” which ran for one season nearly ten years ago.
The first episodes of both shows were premiered in Los Angeles this week, and for “The Newsroom, it was a bittersweet but festive sendoff Tuesday night at the Directors Guild of America Theater.
Created by Aaron Sorkin, who is currently writing the screenplay for a Steve Jobs biopic, the show– which has also served as a lightning rod for controversy about its politics– goes beyond the headlines as it follows the anchors, reporters, researchers and producers of a fictional national news network akin to CNN.
Jeff Daniels won the Emmy for portraying the lead anchorman of ACN, Will McAvoy, and as we left the polemical newscaster last season he seemed to be getting his personal life under control by finally proposing to his executive producer and former girlfriend, played by Emily Mortimer.
HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo introduced the first episode of the new season before an audience which included most of the show’s cast including Daniels, Sam Waterston, Olivia Munn, Dev Patel, Grace Gummer and Alison Pill.
“Of all the dramas on television, it’s the only show that examine social issues–and this final season is nothing short of magnificent,” he said, before bringing Sorkin to the stage.
“HBO has been a fantastic home and more than supportive,” said Sorkin, who reflected on the fact that he first saw Waterston on Broadway in “Much Ado about Nothing” in the 1970s. “I saw him as an acting god then, and now after working with him, I see him that way more than ever.” He also praised the other actors and his co-executive producers, who include Scott Rudin and Alan Poul.
Waterston told me later that the time Sorkin referred to was his breakout year as an actor and that he performed the Shakespearean play then on Broadway, in Central Park and on television as well– but naturally didn’t meet Sorkin, who was a pre-teen at the time.
Without any spoilers, the first episode of “The Newsroom” is set against the backdrop of the Boston Marathon bombings last year, from the chaotic, confusing first moments of the explosion to the dramatic events that led to the death of one of the suspects and the arrest of the other.
Reminiscent of the Edward Snowden scandal, one of the subplots involves stolen classified government documents that are handed over to Patel’s character, the newsroom’s scrappy IT pro who keeps everyone on top of tech advances and social media but knows and cares little about traditional journalism.
Another involves the potential hostile takeover of the network, and hints at the impending arrival of hard-partying, ultra-wealthy half-siblings of Chris Messina’s character, twins who are about to celebrate their 25th birthday and could conceivably gain control of the network and all of its employees. (Any similarity to Murdoch spawn would probably be officially denied.)
All the while, throughout the regular interruptions of breaking news, the often strange alliances and unlikely romances, the show takes a hard look at the core issue of maintaining journalistic integrity in the era of 24-hour news cycles and citizen journalism resulting in the dissemination of misinformation—such as what happened in the search for the Boston bombing suspects.
By contrast, “The Comeback” skewers reality television and its evolution over the past decade through the eyes of the egocentric actress Valerie Cherish as portrayed by Lisa Kudrow, who desperately wants back into the game.
Created and executive produced by Kudrow and Michael Patrick King–HBO royalty going back to his time with the seminal comedy “Sex and the City”—“The Comeback” picks up nine years after it left off with Kudrow hiring a student film crew to shoot her every move. She even has a camera set up in her bedroom, much to her husband’s displeasure. Her game plan is to then edit the footage into a presentable package to get her on Bravo, after she apparently had an earlier falling out with the cable network’s Andy Cohen.
The first two episodes were screened Wednesday night at Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre, with Lombardo, King and Kudrow intro-ing them and setting the stage for the comedy to come, which includes a Chateau Marmont encounter with Cohen, who’s lunching with RuPaul. Lisa Vanderpump also has a cameo in another funny lunch scene at Villa Blanca relating to the Bravo thread of the story.
Fans who were drawn to the comedy in 2005—which had a cult following that’s grown over the years– and plenty of new ones are sure to be won over by Kudrow’s character, who is equal parts pragmatist, snake, unaware of her own limitations and so vain she always has her hairdresser in tow. In fact, they have a line of unsold hair products for redheads stored in a warehouse, in case anything Valerie ever does on TV takes off and spurs sales. Because her earlier promotional campaign for it completely bombed.
Valerie’s trademark red tresses are being constantly fussed with as she navigates her renewed road to fame, which this time involves a huge step up in the showbiz food chain: working on an HBO show with a longtime foil, writer and show creator, Paulie G., who’s written a program that portrays a character just like Valerie Cherish—try Mallory Church—in a very unflattering light.
After briefly considering a lawsuit, Valerie realizes being part of an HBO show– no matter how negative the characterization—is a game-changer in seeking the spotlight. So there you have it, without any spoilers, an HBO show within an HBO show. It’s inside baseball stuff that audiences will greatly enjoy—and it left the premiere audience, many of whom work at the company, in roar-out-loud laughter.
Like Paulie G., played by Lance Barber, many of the original characters have returned. “We were still writing the episodes when people started discovering that there was going to be more of ‘The Comeback,’” Kudrow said in an interview. “Initially we reached out to some people, and then we were hearing from others. We knew we would be able to have them all in every episode, but we were hearing people say, ‘I want to be part of it.’ So we moved our production schedules around, and they moved their movable schedules around to make it work. It was great.”
As for whether Valerie Cherish or any other characters have changed much in nine years, Kudrow says they will be tested in this new season. “Everyone thinks their priorities are straight, although I’m not sure Valerie ever says her priorities have changed, so that’s pretty honest. At first, she seemed a little crankier to me. Michael and I talked about her character and how she might have changed. But as we kept going, we did find that person who’s so optimistic, who spins everything into, ‘That’s okay, because …’ And that’s Valerie.”
(“The Newsroom” debuts on HBO Sunday November 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO, followed by “The Comeback” at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)
But if that band is the Foo Fighters, the concept was to create it in an entirely different way. Yes, it involved taking a road trip–not to tour in front of sellout crowds, but to discover the heart and soul of America’s musical identity by exploring eight cities across the country, each with a unique cultural environment, social and musical history and artistic legacy.
Those elements, in turn, inspire songs for the band’s eighth studio album that are written and recorded in each of the cities at recording studios that have been integral to each place’s musical identity and character, past and present.
The journey is documented in an eight-part HBO series, “Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways,” directed by the band’s frontman, Dave Grohl, on the heels of his acclaimed feature film documentary “Sound City.”
As the band hits the road in the opening scenes, Grohl narrates in a voiceover. “We’ve been all over the world, but never in one place long enough to really see it. For our 20th anniversary we wanted to make the creative process new, to do something we’ve never done before. We wanted to find out what inspires studio owners, musicians and producers. This is a musical map of America.”
First stop: Chicago, midway philosophically between the coasts and a mecca for music going back decades to the heyday of Muddy Waters, the blues musician who was a magnet attracting and inspiring other talented musicians.
That eclectic list of artists who got their start or made their home in Chicago includes Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, the group Chicago, Wilco, Cheap Trick, Naked Raygun, Smashing Pumpkins, Herbie Hancock and Kanye West.
Guy, the legendary blues guitarist and singer, is interviewed extensively about the city’s musical history. “I was looking for a dime, I found a quarter,” he said about moving there from the South in 1957. Those lines are later incorporated into the lyrics of a new Foo Fighters song, “Something from Nothing,” which is performed at the end of the episode.
Guy reminisces about making instruments from buttons and strings in his early days of abject poverty. Then, footage is shown of him receiving an award at the Kennedy Center Honors two years ago, one of multiple honors, including six Grammy Awards that he has received in a career that stretches more than 50 years.
“We’ve all made something from nothing,” Grohl remarks in the documentary. “The inspiration for the first song is coming from all these people.”
It’s thrilling to watch the creative journey fueled by the stories of other musicians as Grohl and bandmates Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear along with longtime Foo Fighters (and Nirvana) producer Butch Vig set up shop at the Windy City’s legendary Electrical Audio studio. The studio’s owner, producer Steve Albini is also there, and a key part of the Chicago story.
Grohl has close ties to him, and bittersweet memories. Albini produced Nirvana’s third and final studio album, “In Utero,” released in 1993. The episode features clips from several Nirvana music videos, with Grohl on drums, bassist Krist Novoselic and the late Kurt Cobain front and center.
As with 2013’s “Sound City,” Grohl’s passion for music and the inspiration for its creation fuels honest and trusting exchanges amongst the people in the studio, where local legends become part of the creative process and some of whom participate in the recordings.
The journey continues with upcoming stops along the sonic highway in Austin, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
(“Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways” premieres on HBO Friday, October 17 at 11 p.m. PT/ET with 7 additional episodes slated for subsequent Fridays in the same time slot. The “Sonic Highways” album drops November 10 on RCA Records.)
Fifteen women. One hundred years. That’s the terrain covered in 52 minutes in “Makers: Women in Hollywood,” a new documentary produced by Rory Kennedy and co-produced and directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, airing on PBS and available in an extended version on AOL.
The film, second in the “Makers” series, is narrated by Julia Roberts and showcases showbiz women from the earliest pioneers of the silent film era to today’s power players in television and film like Kathryn Bigelow, Shonda Rhimes and Lena Dunham.
Kennedy and Knowlton interviewed a group of women whose talents lie both in front of and behind the camera including Jane Fonda, Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Sherry Lansing, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marti Noxon, Alfre Woodard, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Callie Khouri, Ava DuVernay and Linda Woolverton.
Viewers will also see some of women who played groundbreaking roles on television in the 1960s and 70s, including Marlo Thomas, Diahann Carroll and Valerie Harper.
Through them, a history of their impact on the industry emerges as does a landscape where women are still vastly underrepresented as directors and writers, the creators who shape not only the business but lasting images of American life and culture that are exported around the world.
AOL, which provides the major funding for “Makers,” sponsored a preview screening Monday night at the AMC theaters in Century City, followed by a panel moderated by critic Anne Thompson with key participants in the documentary.
“It was interesting to look back on history and to find that women were instrumental in the silent film era but were basically thrown out when talkies came in and huge amounts of money followed,” Kennedy said.
In the 1920s and into the 1940s, there literally was only one female director in the movie business—Dorothy Arzner, for whom the organization Women in Film gives out a directing award annually. The film shows that she dressed like a man and smoked cigars, a trailblazer who stood alone during the era known as the Golden Age of Hollywood’s studio system.
One of the threads that runs through the documentary is that women have more opportunities when less money is at stake, which is why there are infinitely more complex female characters on television and in low-budget films than there are in blockbuster motion pictures with $250 million budgets.
Producer Judd Apatow, the only man interviewed in the documentary, talks about how it’s easier to blow things up and make stupid– and expensive – movies than it is to come up with original ideas.
For Woolverton, a screenwriter who re-imagined the traditional Disney princess by making Belle in 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast” a self-possessed, strong-willed young woman, it’s all about the original ideas and focusing on the story.
“I want to write the best story possible,” she told the audience in the packed theater. “I want to show all sides. We can be bitches and horrible things can happen and you can still come back from that.”
Noxon, who rose to acclaim for her work on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and has worked with Rhimes on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice,” said that TV is better because of women. “In cable there is tolerance for flawed feminine characters that is greater than in broadcast,” she said, while saluting broadcast shows like “Scandal” and “The Good Wife” for their complex female characters.
“Our mothers may have paved the way, but they couldn’t have the careers their daughters did,” she said about the increased number of female executives in television and film. “There was this idea that we had to surrender our femininity, like Arzner, who dressed like a dude.”
“There’s a corporate mentality in Hollywood, more so than being creative and taking risks,” Kennedy said. “Yet I haven’t experienced sexism in documentary, because it’s low-budget.”
(“Makers: Women in Hollywood” airs Tuesday, October 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on PBS stations. Check local listings.)