Monthly Archives: April 2014

By Meryl Gottlieb | | @buzzlightmeryl
Star Wars: Episode VII is set for release on Dec. 8, 2015

star-wars-episode-7-cast-announceThe force is strong in the universe: the new slew of Jedis has been announced.

John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Max von Sydow will join the original stars of the saga, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Kenny Baker in Star Wars: Episode VII.

“We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII,” said J.J. Abrams, the director. “It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.”

I absolutely loved Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis; he was a remarkable lead with a great voice. Here’s hoping there is a folksy Jedi role to be filled. Adding Andy Serkis to any nerd classic is the right move. That man has done incredible work in Lord of the RingsRise of the Planet of the Apes and King Kong. I’m interested to see if he will do a motion-capture performance or if he will appear as himself. With the vast world of Star Wars and all the creatures it contains, it wouldn’t be a long shot to transform Serkis into an other-wordly being.

Adam Driver of HBO’s Girls has long been rumored to be connected to the latest Star Wars film, so now it’s simply official. Will he be playing the role of the villain as so many have guessed? There’s no way anyone will let that slip this early. In fact, I think they only piece of information we know for sure is that Episode VII takes place some number of years after the events of Return of the Jedi.

You may not know John Boyega, but I’m sure you will soon. Not only has he garnered this incredible deal, you will also be seeing him in the 24 reboot. Domhnall Gleeson is still relatively unknown but Harry Potter fans will recognize him as Bill Weasley from the final films. Max von Sydow is not pictured, but you may know him from as Father Merrin in The Exorcist. Lastly, you won’t really find anything on Daisy Ridley because there isn’t really anything to find. Of all the unknowns in the cast, she is the biggest mystery. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

As a Star Wars fan, it is great to know the old favorites are returning. Ford, Fisher and Hamill should all be returning to their original roles as Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, respectively. It would be more than silly if Abrams brought them all back to play random mom and dad figures to the newbies. And a major jump for joy comes from the fact that favorites Anthony Daniels will be good ol’ C3PO, larger-than-life Peter Mayhew will return as the furball Chewbacca and Kenny Baker will beep-boop back into our hearts as R2-D2.

Also pictured between Driver and Abrams is the writer Lawrence Kasdan, who also penned Empire Strikes Back — the installment I deem as the best Star Wars film ever. Furthermore, composer John Williams, who wrote the scores for all six Star Wars films, will create the music for Episode VII.

So really, what more could a fan ask for as of now? I mean, could it really be any worse than Episode I? I have faith in Abrams, so hopefully I haven’t been led astray.


By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl    
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox    
Rating: 4/5 

shirleyIt looks like we’re on an uphill streak as Glee’s fifth season nears its end. Tonight’s episode, “The Back-Up Plan” is the epitome of what I meant when I said the show would be better in New York City and without pointless side characters. Artie’s (Kevin McHale) and Sam’s (Chord Overstreet) absence went without remorse. Though they may be original glee club members, they are not interesting, and thus only bring down the show when they are forced into the storylines. Tonight’s episode was free of lackluster storylines and finally had an entire episode full of songs I enjoyed. This hasn’t happened in awhile, so let’s rejoice!

doo wop 1Mercedes (Amber Riley) needs a hit for her album, so she teams up with Santana (Naya Rivera) to help muster up that magic they made in high school together when they did duets. While in the studio, they realize the real magic comes from getting out from behind the glass. With a pretty low-tech microphone and a JAMBOX speaker, the two sing “Doo Wop (That Thing)” all throughout the building, even the bathroom. I was not a fan of the rapping; it was pretty poorly executed. However, the few times Rivera chimed in with her smooth, incredible voice made the scene acceptable.

The producer loves it, but he doesn’t want Santana on the record because she’s a nobody. As the good morals girl we all know she is, Mercedes puts her record deal at risk when she refuses to do the duet with Santana or no one at all. Good for you for sticking up for your friends and everything, but are you really in the position to make that drastic decision? I’m not sure you’re being rational, Mercedes.

Kurt (Chris Colfer) has been asked to perform at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reveal of the new dance lab to be named in honor of socialite June Dolloway (Shirley MacLaine). Naturally, he has the authority to make it a duet with Blaine (Darren Criss) to “Story of My Life.” Seriously, you kids need to follow directions. You can’t make solos into duets at your own will. Anyway, Criss blows Colfer out of the water with this performance. Criss’ vocals are a much better match for this song; Colfer has to dig too deep in his range to harmonize and it simply doesn’t do him any favors. Maybe it’s on purpose because June is supposed to take special interest in Blaine, or because Criss just has a bigger — and, in my opinion, better — voice than Colfer.

bjuneJune wants Blaine to be her new project, the thing she will groom into a star. She takes him to a banquet in which only the 1 percent of the 1 percent are in attendance. In order to introduce Blaine and raise more money for whatever cause this banquet is for, June brings Blaine up on stage to duet to “Piece of My Heart.” Criss and MacLaine have amazing chemistry and make a great pair. I absolutely loved this performance. MacLaine has never been the strongest of singers but this song fit her talents well.

Next, June wants to hold a showcase for Blaine to really show him off. All of a sudden Blaine and Kurt are inseparable and in love again, so he asks if Kurt can be a part of the show. And June’s response really peaks my interests. She tells him to break it off with Kurt and that love comes and goes. He puts up a fight initially but doesn’t try to dissent for long. When he gets home, he lies to Kurt and tells him that June wants Kurt in the show. Oh boy. This is going to be some juicy drama.

Now THIS will be an interesting issue to follow. I don’t want Klaine’s relationship to be easy, but I also don’t want it to falter because one of them cheated or something. It should be about their careers. We all know Ryan Murphy loves Criss beyond belief, so it’s only natural that Blaine is the one who is continually handed all of these things. We’ve already seen these two get competitive in “Tested” and it led to a great musical number, so fingers crossed we get good drama and a musical number next time.

Also, congrats to Glee for finally remembering how to use a new guest star. Peter Facinelli and Ioan Gruffudd were used poorly and awkwardly, but MacLaine was great. Her character is going to be a great tool in advancing the storylines of a few characters; her musical number was fitting to her talents; and she simply knocked it out of the park. I love her, and I was thrilled to see in tonight’s episode.

montageIt’s been three weeks since the opening of Funny Girl and Rachel (Lea Michele) is on cloud nine. She is being recognized, and she even signed with one of the top five talent agencies ICA, where Richard Kind is her agent. These random guest appearances are simply too much. But not everything is perfect; she seems bored in the consistent ritual of doing eight shows a week. She sings a beautiful ballad version of “Wake Me Up” while a montage demonstrating how repetitious her job is plays. This would have been a perfect moment had that montage not botched it up. This ballad is what made Glee. It took songs and made them new by performing them in unique ways. I love this cover way more than the original. However, the continual cuts in the first part of the montage when Rachel is doing her makeup is distracting and the worst part was seeing a never-ending parade of Rachel Berrys march out of her dressing room. So close, Glee, so close.

When she is approached by Jim Rash, who plays the head of Fox, Rachel thinks the future of her career lies in television. Rash — whose character’s name escaped me — tells her to be in Los Angeles Tuesday for a reading of the pilot “The Song of Solomon.” To fulfill her ambitious dreams, Rachel goes so far as to fake call-in sick to producer Sidney (Michael Lerner) so that she can miss a show and head to LA.

She sings “The Rose” for her audition and makes my heart melt. Michele’s vocals cannot be beaten; this episode spectacularly showcased her voice. You would think the Fox producers would be equally impressed, but alas, they were not. It’s because the show isn’t a musical! Surprise! It’s a sci-fi opera, a Guardians of the Galaxy meets Game of Thrones concept with a splash of Grey’s Anatomy — an A+ description in my book. I’m not really sure if anyone else enjoyed this scene but I sure did. It was more Lea Michele than Rachel Berry doing the read-through, but I didn’t care. It was hilarious. I would personally like to give a pat on the back to whoever thought of this crazy idea.

The audition was a flop but Rachel has a bigger issue at hand when Sidney calls saying her understudy got hurt and they need her regardless of her health conditions. But Rachel is still in LA so she calls Kurt and co. to help her out. Oddly, they decided to fix this by having Santana go on as her replacement. At least they didn’t try some whacky idea where the three of them would somehow delay a Broadway show with an opening act or comedy bit. This at least got the issue taken cared of.

Rachel meets with Sidney the next morning to find out that he and the rest of the producers really wanted to fire her, but they won’t because she is so good in the role. Yet, he makes it quite clear that if she ever lets her ambition get in the way of the show, he will fire her and sue her for breach of contract — a very good point that she really should have thought of. It seems as if she has learned her lesson when Jim Rash calls her to tell Rachel that Fox wants to create an entire TV show around her and that they are sending a writer to New York to meet with her.

This is a little too meta for me. Lea Michele essentially made her Broadway breakout not too long before joining the Fox show Glee. If this show created around Rachel turns out to be about her experiences in her high school glee club, I will never forgive Ryan Murphy. This fifth season just started to get tolerable. I just stopped loathing it entirely and simply dislike it now. That’s a major improvement! Do not ruin it with that bailout, cheating “solution.” We know the sixth season of Glee will not be New York-centric, but let’s pray it isn’t set on the Fox studio lot. Writers, please don’t do this. Please.

By Meryl Gottlieb | | @buzzlightmeryl
The 68th Tony Awards, hosted by Hugh Jackman, will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Sunday, June 8 on CBS

hugh jackmanThe nominations for the 68th annual Tony Awards were held early Tuesday morning and were announced by Broadway babe Jonathan Groff and TV star Lucy Liu.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder leads with 10 nominations, followed by Hedwig and the Angry Inch with eight noms and After MidnightBeautiful: The Carole King MusicalThe Glass Menagerie and Twelfth Night each garnering seven nominations. Other notable productions are The Cripple of Inishmaan with six nominations, Aladdin: The Musical with five and Rocky with four.

I suspect A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder will dominate the award show as Kinky Boots, Once and The Book of Mormon did in their respective years. I guess I’ll have to add it to my list of must-see shows for when I’m in NYC.

I haven’t heard much about Gentleman’s Guide so I can’t fairly assess the nominations, but I’m surprised that with all the buzz, Rocky didn’t make the top mark of a Best Musical nomination.

nph hedwig first look2I’m beyond thrilled to see some of my favorites up there: Neil Patrick  Harris, Sutton Foster, Audra McDonald and Kelli O’Hara. There’s no doubt in my mind that these are deserved nominations. As much as I love Idina Menzel, I have to question this nomination. I haven’t heard great things about If/ Then and am a bit surprised she is getting one of its two nominations. I hate to say it, but I feel this is more of a popularity vote because she is so high right now. Get ready for tons of Frozen jokes and “Let It Go” parodies.

The nominees in Best Revival of a Play are essentially dominating all of the other play categories — a section we can only hope is finally presented in a better way than usual.

The only snub I think worth mentioning is the absence of Cabaret in the Best Revival of a Musical category. I’m quite surprised by that one.

Lastly, my loudest initial thought is remorse over the fact that First Date was not nominated for anything. I know it was a long shot, but a girl can hope. First Date was quite possibly one of the best musical comedies I’ve ever seen. It should at least be recognized for its score.

What do you think of the nominations? Is your favorite show missing from the list? Let me know @buzzlightmeryl

Here is a full list of the nominees:

Best Play
Act One
All the Way
Casa Valentina
Mothers and Sons
Outside Mullingar

Best Musical
After Midnight
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

Best Revival of a Play
The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Glass Menagerie
A Raisin in the Sun
Twelfth Night

Best Revival of a Musical
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Les Miserables

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Samuel Barnett — Twelfth Night
Bryan Cranston — All the Way
Chris O’Dowd — Of Mice and Men
Mark Rylance — Richard III
Tony Shalhoub — Act One

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Audra McDonald — Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Tyne Daly — Mothers and Sons
Estelle Parsons — The Velocity of Autumn
LaTanya Richardson Jackson — A Raisin in the Sun
Cherry Jones — The Glass Menagerie

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Ramin Karimloo — Les Miserables
Neil Patrick Harris — Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Jefferson Mays — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Bryce Pinkham — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Andy Karl — Rocky

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Idina Menzel — If/Then
Mary Bridget Davis — A Night with Janice Joplin
Jessie Mueller — Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Kelli O’Hara — The Bridges of Madison County
Sutton Foster — Violet

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
Reed Birney — Casa Valentina
Paul Chahidi — Twelfth Night
Stephen Fry — Twelfth Night
Mark Rylance — Twelfth Night
Brian J. Smith — The Glass Menagerie

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Sarah Greene — The Cripple of Inishmaan
Celia Keenan-Bolger — The Glass Menagerie
Sophie Okonedo — A Raisin in the Sun
Mare Winningham — Casa Valentina
Anika Noni Rose — A Raisin in the Sun

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Danny Burstein — Cabaret
Nick Cordero — Bullets Over Broadway
Joshua Henry — Violet
James Monroe Iglehart — Aladdin
Jarrod Spector — Beautiful

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Linda Emond  Cabaret
Lena Hall  Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Anika Larsen  Beautiful
Adriane Lenox  After Midnight
Lauren Worsham  A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Best Book of a Musical
Chad Beguelin — Aladdin
Douglas McGrath — Beautiful
Woody Allen — Bullets Over Broadway
Robert L Freedman — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

Best Score (“Music & Lyrics)
Jason Robert Brown — The Bridges of Madison County
Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey — If/Then
Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Alan Menken and Chad Beguelin — Aladdin

Best Director of a Musical
Warren Carlyle — After Midnight
Michael Mayer — Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Leigh Silverman — Violet
Darko Tresnjak — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Best Director of a Play
Tim Carroll — Twelfth Night
Michael Grandage — The Cripple of Inishmaan
Kenny Leon — A Raisin in the Sun
John Tiffany — The Glass Menagerie

Best Choreography
Warren Carlyle — After Midnight
Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine — Rocky
Casey Nicholaw — Aladdin
Susan Stroman — Bullets Over Broadway

Best Orchestrations
Doug Besterman — Bullets Over Broadway
Jason Robert Brown — The Bridges of Madison County
Steve Sidwell — Beautiful
Jonathan Tunick — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Christopher Barreca — Rocky
Julian Crouch — Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Alexander Dodge — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Santo Loquasto — Bullets Over Broadway

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Beowulf Boritt — Act One
Bob Crowley — The Glass Menagerie
Es Devlin — Machinal
Christopher Oram — The Cripple of Inishmaan

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Linda Cho — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
William Ivey Long — Bullets Over Broadway
Arianne Phillips — Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Isabel Toledo — After Midnight

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Kevin Adams — Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Christopher Akerlind — Rocky
Howell Binkley — After Midnight
Donald Holder — The Bridges of Madison County

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Paule Constable — The Cripple of Inishmaan
Jane Cox — Machinal
Natasha Katz — The Glass Menagerie
Japhy Weideman — Of Mice and Men

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Peter Hylenski — After Midnight
Tim O’Heir — Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Mick Potter — Les Miserables
Brian Ronan — Beautiful

Best Sound Design of a Play
Alex Baranowski — The Cripple of Inishmaan
Steve Canyon Kennedy — Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Dan Moses Schreier — Act One
Matt Tierney — Machinal

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
| Directed by Nicholas Stoller | Rated R

NEIGHBORS-Poster-ArtDuring the past two years, it appears that Seth Rogen has finally defined his formula.

Whether it is as a star, producer, writer or director—or all of the above—he has been developing a strong sense of his comedic presence and of his own sense of rhythm and timing.

But, most importantly, he has finally figured out that he needs to be seen in the R-rated raunchy format. After some false starts staring in The Green Hornet (which he also co-wrote and executive produced) and The Guilt Trip (again, he was an executive producer, so he deserves at least some of the blame), it was apparent that he is a likable lead, but that he needed the freedom only the R-rating can give him, should he make the most of his time on the screen.

What makes this so commendable is that, where so many stars try too hard to make push their R-rating rather than actually make good jokes—I’m looking at you, Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler—Rogen has actually improved in many ways. Last year’s This is the End, which he co-directed, proved to be one of the tightest, leanest and surprisingly, delightfully dark big-budget comedies in some time.

While not quite as good as that film, he continues this tradition with his latest film Neighbors.

Centered on a clash formed between a stereotypical frat and a newly formed family, Rogen, who produces, continues his usual stick, perhaps to a fault. But the real surprise, and secret to this movie’s success, is found in Zac Efron, who plays the frat’s leader Teddy.

This is the type of movie that Efron needed. Although, to his credit, he tried it earlier this year with That Awkward Moment, this is the movie that truly gets him away from any Disney association he possibly had left and, finally, away from the lead in insipid romantic dramas. In addition to being extreme charismatic, he proves that he does have some chops in comedy beyond his good looks.

I doubt he has enough to make it completely on his own. But in an ensemble comedy like this with some strong writing by Andrew J. Cohen and Brandan O’Brien, he makes the most of his talent.

In fact, the biggest problem that this movie faces, in terms of his character, is that its attempts to make him a more fleshed-out character often feel like an afterthought. I have a hard time believing that I am criticizing a movie for giving character development, but when it is as rudimentary and ineffective as it is here, I have to say something.

Not only do these moments slow down a film that is actually quite well paced throughout, but it never fully feels like these motivations are completely figured out. Instead, it feels like the work of re-writes, potentially from other ghostwriters, that didn’t fully make their way into the final product. It is possible that some of this was just lost in the editing room too, so maybe I shouldn’t just blame the script.

Efron’s character is not alone, though. There are several moments in this script where characters act a certain way just because the script tells them to. These moments never feel authentic, and often pull back on the film’s effectiveness. Although these are mostly found in Efron’s character, it is often seen in Rose Byrne’s too, who plays Rogen’s wife. Although, the screenwriters are so wisely meta about her character, getting some good comedic mileage out of select stereotypes of female characters in raunchy comedies.

Although the writing throughout is quite good, these problems weaken the elements of the film that are quite good, including Nicholas Stoller’s competent direction and its surprisingly good physical comedy timing.  There are more than a few bits that just don’t work—whether they are just not fully formed, or too immature or just plain stupid—and most of these come in the movie’s first 10 or 20 minutes.

I must admit: the beginning of this movie is a bit of a slog before the good stuff comes around, and that is when Efron and Rogen get time to shine together with their surprisingly decent chemistry. Whether it is sex jokes that aren’t that funny, or set ups that don’t really pay off, or their attempts at awkward humor that are too heavy-handed, these opening moments are easily among the weakest of the film’s humor offers. Which is a shame, because it does drag the film from being the truly good comedy it could very easily have been into just a pretty good one.

Of course, there are more than just that that makes it just a slightly above-average comedy. In addition to what I mentioned above, there is also the problem that the movie is more amusing than outright hilarious. There are certainly some very, very funny moments, but there are some that just don’t work either. Oddly, with one or two exceptions, it is usually the smaller moments that are funnier than the brash, outlandish ones.

Rogen appears to be skating on his typical comedic personality here. Which, truthfully, is fine, but one must admit that it is going to get old pretty soon. I am hoping that he does more comedies like Observe and Report pretty soon. Because, in attention to being one of the most underrated big studio R-rated comedies in some time, it proved that Rogen could play a different kind of character and do it very well.

The main reason that this movie doesn’t live up to how good This is the End was is because it simply lacks that movie’s heart. There are moments of sweetness throughout, but where the former movie had a thoughtful look at male bonding relationships, this is mostly a strictly juvenile frat-boy comedy. Which, if done well like it is here, is fine, but not exceptional.

Admittedly, the frat boy audience in my screening ate it up like nobody’s business. But they are also the type of people that enjoy movies like Project X, so their comedic opinions don’t really matter.

Because seriously, that movie sucked. Hard.

Despite these flaws, though, this is a constantly funny movie, which is very well paced and knows how to keep things light and moving quickly. It is not hard to imagine that this movie is going to be a hit, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be. There is a lot here to like, even if there are a couple of things to dislike too. It may be hit-and-miss comedy, but the hits are hard.

Yes, I guess that is a penis joke. But, there are so many in here, it’s hard to not get sucked up in its attempts. Oh God, there I go again.


By Meryl Gottlieb | | @buzzlightmeryl

Grease Sing-A-LongFor Fox, Grease is the word that will put them on the live-musical map. The network has announced its order for a live-musical adaptation of the popular ’70s musical to be aired in 2015.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the broadcast will be three hours and is the first-ever live broadcast TV production of the 1971 musical from Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs, which also inspired the 1978 hit film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Remember that the film adaptation is the highest-grossing movie musical ever with nearly $400 million worldwide.  

“From Broadway to film, and across generations, Grease is one of the most beloved musical stories ever told – and we can’t wait to bring it to our air in a spectacular live event,” said Shana C. Waterman, senior VP of event series for Fox. “Its iconic characters and addictive songs make it the perfect fit for Fox, and we’re going to give it the kind of star power and production quality to make every Sandy, Danny, Rizzo and Kenickie out there want to get up and sing along.”

I know everybody wants a hickie from Kenickie, but it’s pretty safe to say this is Fox’s move to take some of the spotlight away from NBC, who revamped the live-musical game in December 2013 with The Sound of Music Live. With The Sound of Music garnering more than 20 million views — even though the lead actress was atrocious — it was obvious NBC would continue bringing Broadway shows to the small screen. In January, the Peacock network announced Peter Pan would be the featured musical for its Dec. 4 broadcast. Now, others are clearly looking to get a taste of the musical success.

Sure, this seems like a copycat move, but didn’t NBC’s Smash feel like an attempt to cash in on the success Fox was having with Glee? It seems these two are locked in battle for the title of musical broadcast champion. You think Glee is bad now, you should have watched passed the pilot of Smash. In that sense, Fox has won the series battle, but will it win the bigger undertaking of a live-broadcast? The Sound of Music Live was accepted so wholeheartedly because it was the first and because many were curious to see how the all-star cast would do — A+ to the Broadway vets but F- to Carrie Underwood. Who knows if Peter Pan will even be as marginally successful as The Sound of Music?

A key question is when Fox will air its broadcast. NBC is clinging to its “family” angle of airing the musical in the winter so that families can gather around and watch a family-friendly show. Is Fox going for the same motif? Both networks have chosen very safe musical choices in that, yes, they are ones an entire family can watch together — though Grease definitely has that risqué factor — and they are classics that everyone knows. I’ll be more interested in this battle when they started making tougher choices and pick a musical that isn’t so obvious.

It’s also only a matter of time until the Disney-owned ABC network produces its own broadcast. With Disney’s musical history, it’s a wonder they haven’t joined in this debacle already.

What are you thoughts on Fox’s announcement? Will you be watching these live musical broadcasts? Let me know @buzzlightmeryl

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
Nymphomaniac: Vol. II
| Directed by Lars von Trier | Not Rated

Nymphomaniac-Volume-II-PosterIn my assessment of Nymphomaniac: Vol. I, I highlighted my misunderstanding of how to approach the film. As in, whether it should be looked at as one half of one overarching film, or just as its own individual film?

Well, I still cannot give an answer to that question. But, having now seen Nymphomaniac: Vol. II, I can at least assertively put my foot down on what I feel about writer/director Lars von Trier’s latest “treat” for the cinema.

In a way, then, this should serve as both a review of Vol. II and a new review of Vol. I. While my opinion on the first volume hasn’t really changed, I at least have a stronger understanding now of what I feel about it.

So, with that in mind, let’s dissect what Trier has accomplished here.

Like I noted before, this is the second part of Trier’s look at a woman’s sexuality from a child to her near fifties. It is a rollercoaster ride of sex, romance and a lot in-between. It makes for an individually perverse and yet occasionally engaging film series.

My biggest problem with the last movie was that I believed it walked a very fine line between being sexual fantasy and character study. Whenever it was directly the later, it made for an interesting, if at times repetitive, film. When it was stepping into the former’s territory, though, it was as if the audience was sitting inside an overlong, extended porno.

This was something I had even more of a problem with in Vol. II. But, as it eventually wrapped itself up, I felt like Trier’s finally decided to showcase his overarching point. Which, it would seem, would be a feminists piece based on one’s own sexuality. Which I figured was the case, but it was never directly stated until the movie’s final flickering moments.

This movie provides its actors more availability to showcase their performances, even more so than in Vol. I. In particular, as the titular sex addict, Charlotte Gainsbourg gives a more subtlety versatile performance this time around. Especially as the weight of her sexuality becomes an even greater factor to her motivations in life and, therefore, the story.

The same can also be said of Stellan Skarsgard. His purpose in the film is much more centralized here, and it makes his scenes with Gainsbourg even weightier, especially considering that they are the best-written sections in both volumes.

Although this installment is much more decidedly dramatic and darker, there are still occasional segments of dry comedy spilled lightly throughout the film. This film is not quite as darkly humorous as the former film, but it does have its quiet moments of comic levity, and they are much more spread out than they were in the first movie.

Compared to his other movies—at least, those that I have seen—I don’t think Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II carries the same headiest that the director has given to the other movies on his resume. There are many times that the director seems to be trying to shock his audiences, but, without much of a point, these scenes always seem rather morally bankrupt.

They are well done, which is what ultimately makes these two films worth the time put into them, but compared to what he was trying to communicate creatively with his last two movies, Antichrist and Melancholia, Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II too often feels a bloated attempt for the filmmaker to try to push the audience’s sense of moral decency.

I guess he did this in Antichrist too. But, again, I feel like that movie had more of a purpose throughout. Speaking of which, there seems to be a little nod in this movie to that film here, but I can’t say that for certain. It may have just been a plot point similarity.

The biggest feather in Nymphomaniac Vol. II’s cap is that it is more entertaining than the past volume. That’s not so much to say that this is going to get audiences as excited as they would be in Captain America: The Winter Solider, but the stakes this time are much more realized and the plot has a stronger understanding of what it is trying to communicate to its audience.

If I had to choose, I would say that I preferred Vol. II a little more than I did Vol. I. Neither are perfect by any stretch of the imagination (I should also note, without getting into spoilers, that I found at least one part of this movie’s climax—narrative climax, that is—to be rather far-fetched and another example of the film’s attempt to push the envelope too much), but this movie seems to be more level-headed in what it wants to say.

In the end, I don’t plan to revisit this movie like I never plan to revisit any Trier movie—although, I have seen Melancholia twice, but not by choice. But I can at least somewhat understand and continue to respect Trier for what he was able to accomplish here.

It may be too stuffy and overlong for its own good. But it is still a well-crafted semi-feminist film with a strong lead performance, as always, from Gainsbourg. If anything, these movies are great at showcasing her talents like no other.

By Meryl Gottlieb | | @buzzlightmeryl

meg ryanThere hasn’t been much big news about the How I Met Your Mother spinoff, How I Met Your Dad, except for the casting of its star Greta Gerwig. Other than that, there’s only been the disappointing news that Krysta Rodriguez wouldn’t actually play the bff.

But now there’s something to talk about. Meg Ryan has landed the role of “future Sally,” aka the unseen narrator. Essentially, she’ll be the Bob Saget of HIMYD.

I’m still very much on the fence about how I feel about the spinoff. Do we really need another HIMYM that isn’t actually HIMYM? It will be great to mix in Gerwig’s female voice with Carter Bays and Craig Thomas’ already known style, but will it work when you are playing to the stereotypical woman searching for love instead of the unusual male lead who is desperately searching for his one true love? Can you really take the same structure and dynamic of an already loved show and make it fresh by simply putting in new faces and storylines?

Regardless, I am very excited Ryan is joining the show. If you’ve seen Anastasia — and if you haven’t, you’re doing something wrong — then you know she has a great voice for narration. Maybe they can even get Liz Callaway to come in and sing for her again. Ba Dum Cha.

However, How I Met Your Dad has yet to receive its series order, but CBS is announcing its pickups at its Upfront presentation in May and HIMYD is a likely pick for the fall lineup.

What are your thoughts on the HIMYM spinoff? What would you like to see? How much do you love Anastasia? Let me know @buzzlightmeryl