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Culture Cafe

Movie, music, and television reviews from a select group of bloggers.

'The Newsroom' cast, including Jeff Daniels, is uniformly stellar. (John P. Johnson/HBO/AP)

Aaron Sorkin's 'The Newsroom' gets off to a shaky start

By Anthony OcasioScreen Rant / 06.25.12

After a noticeable three-year absence, Aaron Sorkin makes his long-awaited return to television with The Newsroom, a behind-the-scenes look at the fictional news network ACN, its onetime staple series “News Night,” and its host, the seemingly uncontroversial Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels).

Following an unexpected, emotionally-driven speech while appearing on a panel of political experts at Northwestern University, the career of McAvoy changes dramatically, as the subsequent weeks find his show in decline and much of his newsroom staff jumping the sinking ship.

Hopes were high that The Newsroom would become a “perfect storm” of sorts, taking the best elements of Sorkin’s past work to help create a new, original series on HBO. That being said, the series premiere of The Newsroom never felt as succinct as Sports Night, as earnest as The West Wing, or as honest as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Leading The Newsrooms’ eclectic cast of exceptional actors is Jeff Daniels, whose portrayal of the typically-sardonic Will McAvoy is, as expected, wonderful. Unsurprisingly, the same thing can be said about Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher, Jr., Allison Pill, Dev Patel, Thomas Sadoski and Sam Waterston. In the case of The Newsroom, it feels as if it’s the man, not “the machine,” wherein the problem lies.

Kicking of the premiere with a wonderfully-crafted monologue for Daniels, much of the premiere follows in suit. Coming in at just over 72 minutes, the almost feature-length premiere felt, at times, like more of a collection of wonderfully written monologues than the character-driven series we’ve come to expect from the man that helped revolutionize single-camera series.

The Newsroom’s placement on HBO allows Sorkin to do many things he couldn’t on TV, but perhaps it’s through those very same network limitations and time constraints where his stories became perfectly tuned. Slated as a 60-min series, there were many times where scenes felt like they could have either been shortened, reworked, or completely left out.

Sorkin perhaps felt like he needed to include a lot in the premiere episode, but a tighter pace would have made for a more fluid viewing experience, allowing audiences time to become attached to the characters on their own terms. Though one of the smallest television casts that Sorkin has worked with, very few characters, along with their motivations, are clearly defined by the end of the premiere.

With an orchestral theme song that doesn’t feel quite right for the series, and a unique, sometimes chaotic, visual styling that separates (not elevates) The Newsrooms from Sorkin’s usual pedigree, watching the premiere can easily become a challenge; it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that some things are amiss with this series.

Even so, for fans of Aaron Sorkin, there’s much to be excited about. While many will certainly focus on the political aspect of the series, HBO’s The Newsroom is as much about politics as FX’s The League is about football. Instead, this series much more about one man’s attempt at being true to himself.

McAvoy’s comments about America no longer being the greatest country in the world certainly caught the attention of everyone watching, but it was his further explorations (some forced), where the real story lies. Dropping references to New York Times media reporter Bill Carter and NBC’s famed late night staple Jay Leno, Sorkin is highlighting viewer’s trends toward more honest media – perhaps not always the highest-rated, but certainly more honest. For McAvoy, the struggle about coming to terms with his unconscious need (and want) to be more than just “the guy that doesn’t bother anyone” is one of The Newsroom’s few narrative anchors, though one that was only briefly touched upon. Fortunately, it’s an extremely hefty anchor. Certainly mirroring conversations that many longtime personalities must have had internally, McAvoy’s transition brings up some interesting questions.

As the familiar Sorkin storylines from the past begin to bleed their way into The Newsroom, audiences will be able to continue along an enjoyable journey that was started on Sports Night. However, for those looking for a truly more evolved series, one must look within those familiarities to find growth. At this point, it’s difficult to say how challenging that may be for audiences, but hopefully it becomes easier in subsequent episodes.

For all intents and purposes, HBO’s The Newsroom is anything and everything that one would expect to see from Sorkin’s return to television – though perhaps not what many had hoped. While there’s more than enough beautifully-written dialogue for fans to sit back and enjoy, it’s hard not to acknowledge a certain disconnect from the series and its characters that can be felt throughout the premiere.

Even though, at times, much heart can be felt onscreen, there’s not much more than Sorkin’s name currently driving curiosity and intrigue for subsequent episodes. Fortunately, for now, Sorkin’s name alone is enough.

Giving The Newsroom a few weeks to find itself, as well as to introduce the rest of the cast (Jane Fonda & Olivia Munn), isn’t much to ask from a series, writer, or network of this caliber. However, unlike in previous series, where Sorkin was able to tweak storylines to reflect the current status of the actual show, the first season of The Newsroom is already completed.

Like a train following an already set course, there’s no chance of correcting its path, even if it’s on the wrong one. At this point, the only thing you can do is to hope that you still end up at your destination. Thankfully, Aaron Sorkin is one of the few people to trust when it comes to navigating the world of television.

As if taking a note from The Newsrooms’ original title, we hope for more as this series develops.

Anthony Ocasio blogs at Screen Rant.

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Legendary director Martin Scorsese discusses 'The Age of Innocence'

By Brian GeldinThe Film Panel Notetaker / 06.25.12

The Museum of the Moving Image’s See It Big series, curated in collaboration with Reverse Shot editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert (Remote Area Medical), presented Thursday night, a 35mm print of Academy Award-winning auteur Martin Scorsese’s 1993 masterpiece, The Age of Innocence, starring Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence is a love triangle between aristocrats and their social mores set in 1870s Manhattan. The film is a beautiful piece of art, a painting come to life, every single frame so carefully crafted from the makeup to the costumes to the set design, to the way the camera moves from one room to another, and to the incredible performances. I’m particularly in love with the shot of Michelle Pfeiffer as she’s standing on the docks by the lighthouse, and we see her from the point of view of Daniel Day Lewis, as he’s waiting to see if she’ll turn around and look at him as the boat passes.

This era (the 1990s, not the 1870s, mind you), happens to be one of my favorite. Other similar films to come out then that I extremely admire are Merchant and Ivory’s Howards End and The Remains of the Day, though these two are set in England. Like The Age of Innocence, these films also examine social manners between rich and poor, and have forbidden romances. Not to digress too much, but I think Anthony Hopkins gives his best performance ever, maybe one of the best in cinema history, in The Remains of the Day.

Scorsese came to the Museum Thursday night to do a brief introduction to the film. There was not a Q&A after the screening, but he eloquently reflected on his film, and what inspired him to make it. He said this picture goes a long way back. He has always been enthralled by films that are set in the past, usually the 19th Century. He’s enthralled by these characters that live in such a different world. Their thoughts, their emotions, all their conflicts. It was very immediate to him in and odd way. This connection of people in the past sheds humanity. It was a major desire of his to make a film that he wouldn’t call it a genre, but a period piece. Although he joked that everything he’s made is a period piece.

The first period film to really strike a blow with him was The Heiress, based on the novel by Henry James and directed by William Wyler. When he was two years old, his father took him to see it. Another film he admired was Albert Lewin’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. He also loved The Innocents, which had an eerie quality. But all of these period films culminated in Visconti, particularly The Leopard (showing soon at the Museum from a restoration print).

Woven through all of these films like a thread during the 20 years he watched them, was filmmaker Max Ophüls. Letter From An Unknown Woman, a very melancholy, sweet film, was on television all the time until he was about 12 years old. Then later on, Le Plaisir and La Ronde. And in 1968, the restoration of Lola Montès, for which he said the late and great cineaste writer Andrew Sarris called it “the greatest film ever made.”

Scorsese said the style in all of these films is enveloped in narration. Narration is very important to him. The British film,. The satire of the British film, Kind Hearts and Coronets, with its sharpness, really led to Goodfellas.

In the early 1980s, screenwriter Jay Cocks, his old friend, gave him the book of The Age of Innocence, and by the time he read it, it was in England in 1985. He  told Cocks when they started writing the script together that it’s a love story primarily. What’s important is the feeling and to nail the emotion right, not necessarily the setting. The challenge is to make a picture that stands on its own, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have references to the past art form.

Scorsese told the audience that if you’re young and you find this of any interest, you may seek out some of the films he was talking about and learn other filmmakers’ ways of thinking of other cultures and to see the universal connection of our shared humanity.

The Age of Innocence was a special film for Scorsese, one that he said he was very passionate about making, and was very special for a personal reason. It certainly changed his life in ways he didn’t expect. He loved Edith Wharton’s writing. It’s reflected in the use of narration, but he doesn’t think he can talk about Edith Wharton’s work without any real insight, except when he read it, it affected him deeply, and so he had to make the picture. It wasn’t easy to make. It was on and off for many years until finally Columbia Pictures put some money together and got a lot of incredible people to work on this film. Scorsese ended his introduction by thanking them all. Michael Balhaus, cinematographer, Dante Ferretti, production design, Gabrielle Pescucci, costumes, for which she won an Academy Award, Thelma Schoonmaker, editor, Elmer Bernstein, music, Saul and Elaine Bass, opening credits. Jay Cocks co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. They both show up as photographers in the film. And all of the actors. Joanne Woodward did the narration. Michael Gough and Alexis Smith, who played the van der Luydens, Robert Sean Leonard, Jonathan Pryce, Siân Phillips, Richard E. Grant, Geraldine Chaplin, Mary Beth Hurt, Miriam Margolyes, Alec McCowen, and the remarkable Norman Lloyd whose work goes back to Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. At 97 years old now, he’s a nonagenarian tennis champion. And leads, Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder.

Brian Geldin blogs at The Film Panel Notetaker.

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'Sing-Off' winners Pentatonix sing Gotye's 'Somebody That I Used to Know,' their cover of which has over 6 million views on Youtube. (Youtube/PTXofficial)

'Sing-Off' a cappella winners Pentatonix release their first EP

By / 06.22.12

They won our hearts on "The Sing-Off," teased us with some stellar Youtube covers, and now, after much anticipation, they're releasing their EP. 

Pentatonix, the five-person a cappella group that includes Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, Avi Kaplan, and Kevin Olusola, won 200,000 dollars and a recording contract with Sony (which they have since dropped) as winners of the third season of NBC's "The Sing-Off," a show in search of the nation's top a cappella group. The group gained an edge with their electronica vibe and ability to do vocal dubstep, covering artists like Usher, Ke$ha and Kanye West

Scott, Kirstie and Mitch all met at the same high school in Arlington, Texas, where they formed a trio and began performing. A day before their audition for the sing-off in June of 2011, they added Avi and Kevin, and Pentatonix was born.

Here's a breakdown of the members:

Scott sings most of the solos and has one of those silky-smooth voices you thought had gone extinct after Sinatra or Fitzgerald. He can trill, riff, go high, low, sound like Britney Spears or impersonate Marvin Gaye. You name it. He even did reggae at one point in the show. 

Kirstie is the only girl in the group, but always stands out with energetic performances and pitch-perfect vocals. (It's probably important to point out here that all the vocals in the group have always been on-key, which is a welcome break from shoddy vocals on shows like "American Idol.")

Mitch is a little fireball of passion and can hit notes I haven't even heard Kristie reach. You can often hear him singing the upper harmonies, but on occasion, he comes out with a stellar solo, as he does here in Florence and the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over." 

Before they were of "Sing-Off" fame (and excuse me for sounding like a hipster), I actually came across Scott, Mitch and Kirstie in a video with Todrick Hall, an ousted American Idol hopeful. In the video, the four singers deliver their drink orders at a Starbucks in vocal form, much to the barista's surprise. Listen to the catchy tune here:

Avi makes up the bass half of the two-person rhythm section that "Sing-Off" judge Shawn Stockman fondly called "Meat and Potatoes." His voice can go incredibly low, allowing him to sound like a human synthesizer. The most recent video they've posted, a mash-up of Justin Bieber's "As Long as You Love Me" and Katy Perry's "Wide Awake," actually ends with Avi singing solo, a first for him. 

Last but not least, Kevin is maybe the most impressive member of the group simply for his ability to beat-box, percussion, sing and rap, sometimes all at the same time. Sounds in his repertoire include horse-hooves, choo-choo trains, gunshots, and motorcycles. I also came upon Kevin before his Pentatonix days in this video of him playing cello while beatboxing:

If you like what you hear, subscribe to their Youtube channel for more covers and make sure to check out their EP out next week. Here's one last video for you, a cover of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," which has over 6 million views so far.

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'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' actor Benjamin Walker (l.) manages to deliver a thoughtful performance as Lincoln despite outrageous escapades. (Stephen Vaughan/20th Century Fox/AP)

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' is surprisingly enjoyable

By Ben KendrickScreen Rant / 06.22.12

For moviegoers who are still unfamiliar with author (now screenwriter) Seth Grahame-Smith, the idea of an undead-slaying Honest Abe might seem especially ridiculous – but that’s only because Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter beat Grahame-Smith’s other well known horror mashup novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, to the big screen. While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies continues to languish in preproduction hell, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) managed to bring Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to fruition, barely two years after the source material book was first published (in March 2010).

However, despite an intriguing (and purposefully absurd) premise, moviegoers have a plethora of vampire films to choose from, these days. Do Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov manage to deliver a film adaptation that successfully juggles the campy setup and over-the-top action with intriguing alt-history tie-ins and enjoyable character/Presidential drama?

Fortunately, the answer is yes, assuming that moviegoers can suspend enough disbelief and lock into Grahame-Smith’s eccentric retelling of Abraham Lincoln’s secret monster-slaying nightlife. Certainly, anyone expecting a straightforward and grounded take on the life of Honest Abe should pass on the film (and look to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis), as Vampire Hunter is full of one-note characters, sometimes laughable attempts at tying the supernatural plot to real life events, and several over-the-top set pieces. That said, the mashup film is exactly what viewers should have expected from a Bekmambetov film about an axe-wielding President who fights to free America from slavery and undead bloodsuckers, alike.

For anyone unfamiliar with the alternate historical account depicted in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the film (and source material novel) are centered around Abe’s secret diary, which includes the account of both his political – as well as supernatural – encounters, starting with the death of his mother at the hands of Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), a local businessman/vampire. After years of patiently waiting, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) sets out to avenge his mother and encounters Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) – who trains Abe in the art of vampire hunting and impressively choreographed axe wielding. Despite Henry’s instruction to avoid making friends or starting a family, Lincoln befriends a local shopkeep, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), courts Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and reconnects with childhood friend/free African-American, William Johnson (Anthony Mackie). Though, when vampire chief Adam (Rufus Sewell) forms an alliance with confederate separatists, Lincoln’s loved ones (as well as the country itself) are threatened – forcing the 16th President to take action in and outside of the political arena.

As mentioned, the basic plot of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter can be pretty convoluted – especially in its attempts to marry historical events and real-life personalities with supernatural elements. At times, history and fiction are stitched together in a way that makes both sides of the mashup more interesting, such as Lincoln’s time spent running a general store and a flatboat trip to New Orleans; unfortunately, other moments are too on-the-nose – relying on thin (and overly convenient) supernatural explanations for real events.

Similarly, characters are exceptionally one-dimensional – which is, by far, the biggest missed opportunity in the entire film (considering the story utilizes a number of historical figures within a supernatural conspiracy plot). While audiences may be surprised to find that one of history’s most iconic leaders (who, in this case, also happens to fight vampires at night) isn’t all that interesting, it’s hardly the fault of actor Benjamin Walker – who manages to keep what could have otherwise been a goofy portrayal of the 16th President (both old and young) grounded and believable during even the most outrageous monster slaying escapades. Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Mary Todd and Anthony Mackie’s William Johnson are equally competent but underutilized – mostly reacting to increasingly crazy revelations without room to actually flesh out their characters as anything more than Lincoln’s loved ones. However, the biggest character misfire is the flat-out boring implementation of the primary vampires – the aforementioned Adam, and his lady Vadoma (Erin Wasson), who are nothing more than soulless faces in a convoluted attempt by Grahame-Smith to marry a vampire rebellion with anti-abolitionist confederates.

In spite of its shortcomings, the core premise rarely fails to entertain (even if there are a number of eye roll-worthy moments), since the vampire hunting elements successfully up-the-ante with each encounter. Early on, Lincoln forgoes his mentor’s preferred means of dispatching vampires, i.e. silver bullets – in favor of some slick axe work. While some audience members may find the axe versus vampire flesh sequences to be a little too flashy (and hard to follow), Bekmambetov utilizes some effective slow motion camerawork to showcase Lincoln’s stylish and acrobatic slaying techniques. In a genre that is overwrought with gun battles and throwing knives, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter thankfully presents a number of entertaining close quarters combat sequences that, despite our obvious real-world knowledge of Lincoln, make it easy to believe that the President could go toe-to-toe with similarly gifted monster slayers like Blade and Van Helsing.

Despite some high-octane action moments in the film’s trailer, Vampire Hunter is actually pretty intimate – as most of the epic moments are still pretty confined (narratively speaking). Few of the set pieces are given much time to build tension and many of the encounters offer little more than flashy hack and slash choreography. This isn’t to say that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter can’t deliver on excitement – since a number of the vampire hand-to-Honest Axe combats benefit from Bekmambetov’s trademark fast and furious action beats.

Additionally, while many theaters will be pushing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 3D, the film would be just as enjoyable without the premium upgrade. There are a few moments where the slow-motion axe combat looks especially slick (as vampire blood spews into the air) and several larger shots (such as a trip on the Mississippi river as well as Civil War battlefields) are definitely enhanced by the added dimension; but only those few moments are must see in 3D. As a result, the 3D up charge isn’t a waste, but it’s hardly required viewing.

Moviegoers expecting a gritty “Lincoln kills vampires” character drama will likely be disappointed by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; although, as a tongue-in-cheek action mashup, Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov have, for the most part, delivered an entertaining (albeit campy) historical retelling. The film doesn’t quite deliver a fully-formed combination of history and supernatural horror (if that’s even possible), but for anyone who can accept the experience on its own terms, there are plenty of entertaining moments of vampire hunting to keep your appetite for blood a fun time at the theater sated.

Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.

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'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2' will focus on the fight to protect Bella and Edward's daughter Renesmee. (Summit Entertainment/YouTube screenshot)

'Breaking Dawn – Part 2' full-length trailer arrives

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 06.21.12

While we all wait to see if The Twilight Saga is getting a reboot, there is still the old business of closing out this first version of the story, which will be done when Breaking Dawn – Part 2 hits theaters this winter. Today, we have the first full trailer for the film, which was once again directed by Oscar-winner Bill Condon (Dream Girls).

The teaser trailer focused on Bella (Kristen Stewart) as she enjoyed the super speed, strength, and ruby eyes that come as perks with being transformed into a vampire. In the full-length theatrical promo for the film, Mrs. Cullen also clarifies that she was, in fact, born to be a blood-thirsty immortal creature (take THAT as you will).

However, there are far more important events in motion in Breaking Dawn – Part 2, beyond Bella’s coming of (vampire) age. The powerful Volturi clan has gotten wind of the fact that Bella and Edward (Robert Pattinson) have procreated, giving rise to their human/vampire hybrid daughter, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) – and are misled to believe that the Cullen child represents a serious threat to the very existence of their kind.

Determined to protect Renesmee at all costs, Bella and Edward gather allies from around the globe, including, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who remains fiercely loyal to Bella and her daugher, having “imprinted” on the latter – and other vampire clans, hailing from areas as exotic and foreign as the Amazon. Together, they form a small army, in order to prepare for the impending battle against the Volturi and their forces.rMuch like the trailers for previous Twilight films, there’s many a noteworthy moment and scene teased in the Breaking Dawn – Part 2 footage shown here – which is enough to send die-hard fans running up the wall in excitement – similar to how trailers for The Avengers left superhero fans ecstatic. Of course, those who fall on the opposite side of the Twilight fence (does that even exist?) will have little in the way of new material to bring to the conversation, other than the usual complaints about the quality of the collective cast’s acting, CGI werewolf effects, or a joke about just how tight Lautner’s shirts are.

To be fair, though, not every Twilight fan was blown away by what director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg did with the first half of Breaking Dawn (read out review). In fact, a minority are probably envious of how other young adult series (Harry PotterThe Hunger Games) have managed to offer solid entertainment value for their fans, beyond the chance to see their favorite characters brought to life on the big screen. For that reason, we hope Breaking Dawn – Part 2 does, in fact, end up being a satisfying finale for Twilight‘s followers.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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'To Rome with Love': Woody Allen continues his European tour in his newest film

By / 06.21.12

Next stop for Woody Allen on his European tour de force? Rome.

The film, featuring four vignettes of different characters in a style typical for Allen films, stars a slew of celebrities, including Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, Alec Balden, Jesse Eisenberg, and Allen himself. Check out the trailer below and come back for Peter Rainer's review on Friday.

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Duran Duran will release their first live album in almost a decade this July. (Andy Butterton/AP)

Social media keeps Duran Duran fans hooked

By Suzi Parker / 06.20.12

Duran Duran is still keeping fans enthralled.

After more than 30 years in the music business, the 1980s pin-up boys have long graduated from the covers of Tiger Beat and Bop. But the British band still has the golden touch in connecting with their millions of fans through vast channels of social media, contests, and the much desired meet-and-greet.

Take today, for example. It's bassist John Taylor's birthday, and he posted a handwritten birthday message for one lucky Duranie to win. Earlier this month, keyboardist Nick Rhodes sent a video birthday message along with a playlist of some of his favorite songs.

Tonight, Duran Duran makes a special appearance in New York City at a private show with DJ Steve Aoki. The band gave away tickets to the event, billed as a mystery gig, to fan community members. (Yes, Duran Duran still has a rabid fan club.)

Maya Garcia, a Duranie since 1982, received two tickets to the show. She paid for airfare from Chicago to the Big Apple on short notice in order to attend. It's super special for her because it's John's birthday - although Nick is her favorite.

"I am expecting a bit more interaction with the band than during a normal show, since the crowd will be comprised of mostly Duran Duran fans, most of whom are fan club members, the 'hardcore' contingent," she says. "I expect to hear rarities or tracks never performed live before. And I also hope to see the band members sing 'Happy Birthday' to John Taylor. That should be both entertaining and amusing to watch."

It's no surprise that Duran Duran has intensely engaged 21st century technology. The band was one of the first to shoot glossy music videos in the 1980s. Lead singer Simon Le Bon running through the jungle in "Hungry Like The Wolf" has become an iconic image of the decade. In 1997, Duran Duran touted that it was the first band to sell a single on the Internet.

The band's social media goddess, Katy Krassner, manages the popular Duran Duran website and various streams of social media, including Pinterest, the most recent Duranie addiction.

"I've been working with Duran Duran for over a decade, and the evolution of their social communities has truly been amazing," Krassner says.

Krassner snaps candid pictures of the band at rehearsals and tweets them to nearly 70,000 Twitter followers and 860,000 Facebook fans. She sends reminders about upcoming media appearances and interacts with fans about the band. She also creates content across media platforms.

Now is a busy time for Krassner. That's because Duran Duran is releasing its first live DVD and CD, "A Diamond in the Mind," in nearly a decade in July. They are also preparing for more dates on their current world tour and will headline a major concert on the opening night of the Olympic Games in London.

Krassner is currently overseeing a Facebook giveaway that asks fans to change their profile pictures to one of three featuring the Diamond project. Daily winners receive a CD and a shout-out on the band's Facebook page. In a move reminiscent of the '80s when Duranies waited breathlessly for MTV world premiere videos, the band will debut the live concert on Facebook on July 8. For $4.99, fans can watch the concert online, and then participate in a live Q&A session with the band after they play a show in Istanbul.

So much interaction has reignited Duranies who have never stopped loving their teen idols.

"The band's fans have been so supportive, and have literally followed them off magazine pages onto the Internet," Krassner says.

Suzi Parker is a Monitor contributor.

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'The Dark Knight Rises' is slated to be star Christian Bale's last film as the Caped Crusader. (Reuters)

'The Dark Knight Rises' new trailer may be the best yet

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 06.20.12

Many fans have been waiting to see a trailer for The Dark Knight Rises which effectively encapsulates the epic thematic nature of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy finale, showcases its majestic action sequences and set pieces – and, even throws in some light-hearted moments, meant to offer viewers a chance to catch their breath (without feeling forced or out of place). Suffice it to say: that day has come.

Nokia has released a trailer for Dark Knight Rises, and it really is the best of both worlds. Everything fans loved about the third theatrical promo and the first TV spots for the film, are mixed together here. Put frankly: if this preview doesn’t get you pumped to see Nolan’s last Batman movie, nothing will.

The latest promo for Dark Knight Rises offer the most alluring taste of Bane’s (Tom Hardy) blitzkrieg campaign against the citizens of Gotham City – including, its shadowy guardian, Batman (Christian Bale), who’s been semi-retired for nearly eight years, following his defeat of The Joker. Under-prepared and overwhelmed by the sheer might of Bane and his forces, our hero finds himself exiled from his homeland.

With the assistance of old comrades like Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) – plus, a shaky alliance struck with the mysterious crook Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) – Bruce Wayne attempts to fully resurrect his identity as the Caped Crusader… and stage a last-ditch effort to take Bane down, once and for all.

Avengers proved to offer loads of unmitigated fun, while next month’s Amazing Spider-Man has potential to also be a great addition to the superhero pantheon. However, there’s a weightiness to everything in Dark Knight Rises that its comic book peers simply do not possess. Perhaps that’s due to the unmatched grittiness of the street battles staged in Nolan’s film – or the emotional-resonance inherent to a climactic chapter in the grim legend of Bruce Wayne. Either way, TDKR is poised to pack quite the emotional punch, while delivering all the awe-inspiring spectacle we’ve been anticipating for several months (years?) now.

The Dark Knight Rises stars Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard. It is of course directed by Christopher Nolan, based on a screenplay he co-penned with Jonathan Nolan (working from a story co-conceived by Davis S. Goyer).

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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'Falling Skies' actor Noah Wyle's character (r.), Tom Mason, was the subject of a cliffhanger that the writers were initially unsure how to resolve, says executive producer Remi Aubuchon. (Ken Woroner/TNT/AP)

'Falling Skies': Executive producers preview the second season

By Tiffany VogtThe TV Addict / 06.18.12

FALLING SKIES debuted last summer to record breaking numbers as fans across the globe avidly tuned into see the mesmerizing aliens and to figure out how humans were going to reclaim their planet. During a recent press conference at Zoic Studios, executive producers Remi Aubuchon, Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank provided some insight on how they approached the second season of the alien occupation series that has the whole world buzzing.

The first season finale was clearly a game-changer?  What were you thinking ending it with Tom Mason walking onto the alien ship?
 REMI:  Well, I wasn’t involved then.
 DARRYL:  When we hired him, he was like, “Thanks a lot guys.  Now I’ve got to write my way out this one!”  ‘Cause he wasn’t involved in the first season. He was only involved in the 2nd season.
 REMI:  I only got involved when we started talking about possibly me coming and running the 2nd season.  I was literally thrown in a room on a Saturday and I watched all of the episodes, and as I was watching I was going, “This is cool.  This is cool.”  Then it got to the end and I went, “Oh my god, what am I going to do?!”  So someone else painted me into that corner.  But the truth is that I love a challenge.  It was really fun to figure out: why did he go there?  I called up the writers of the first season and they all said, “I don’t know.”  But the truth is we came up with an awesome way to move forward from that; and actually in many ways, that final sequence ended up informing much of the energy, thrust and engine of the second season.
 DARRYL:  We had ideas.  I mean, we had ideas of where we would go — possible different directions — but we sort of left it up to Remi and the writers. We have some writers from the first season that stayed on and some new writers who sort of come up with what they wanted, and we’re really happy with where it ended up. 

What’s the balance like?  For example, in the first season there was a good balance between the sci-fi elements and the relationships and the more homosapien drama.
 REMI:  I think we follow basically the same balance.  The one thing that I’ll say is that the stakes are upped on both sides of that equation.  I think we have incorporated a lot more of what I’d call science fiction elements into the second season.  But at the same time, I think the emotional stakes for our human drama has also risen a lot.  People are more comfortable with each other.  They were just thrown together literally in the first season.  They were trying to figure out who they are and what their roles were.  Those roles are a little more defined in the second season, and so the consequences in that with familiarity comes actually increased conflict a lot of the time; or certainly more interaction between characters.  The one thing I’ll say is that most of the writers — we all come from genre backgrounds and we’re all basically science fiction geeks and we love that sort of stuff — but we always forced ourselves to have the center of the story be emotionally based from our characters.  We surround them with a lot of fun science fiction elements, which I think makes it cool, but ultimately it’s about our own characters’ needs, wants and conflicts. 
 DARRYL:  I’ll concede that the dual franchise was critical from the get-go.  It was important for Steven [Spielberg] and certainly our partners at TNT — and it is something we never want to lose sight of. There’s certainly more mythology in the second season, and, as Remi said, as we’ve gotten to know these characters, it all of that moves along at a brisk pace — a really satisfying one at that, I think.

Is there more pressure on you after a successful season and the bar has been raised really high to try to keep the bar that high?
 DARRYL:  The first thing that Steven [Spielberg] said to us about Season 2 was: “We have to deliver on the promise of the first season.”  I remember when we first brought Remi in, it was no real pressure.  We’ve need we had the first 2 episodes since we were talking about doing a 2-hour premiere.  But Steven’s like, “It’s got to be bigger and badder than the first season ’cause we’ve delivered at such a high level in the first season that if you don’t reach that in the second season, you’re going to let the audience down.”  Steven was very clear that we need to take it up a notch – to amp it up.  These were all the words he used; and I think we totally delivered.
 JUSTIN: I’m already anxious about the third season!  But the 2nd season is mostly attributable to [Remi]. It’s fantastic.  I mean it really does deliver in  a meaningful way.  It’s going to be fun.

Can you talk about how you upped the ante in the second season?
 REMI:  I think that the first thing is that the 2nd Mass, which is the group that we’re following, have decided to take the fight to the enemy; and the enemy has responded to that by taking the fight back to us.  I think that makes us more mobile and on the move.  I think that as relationships have developed — specifically, I’m thinking of the relationship between Captain Weaver and Tom and then Tom and Pope, and other factions in the group — that those stakes have been raised also.  It’s questions of: “Who’s direction do we follow?  Where do we go? What are we going to do?” Those have also helped amp it up.  I think largely what we are doing is we’re more mobile; we’re going to learn more about the aliens; and during the course, we’re going to have more interaction with the aliens — and that immediately amps things up.  It is one thing to see them from a distance.  It’s another thing to see them face-to-face and to have to deal with them.  So a lot of that is involved.
 DARRYL:  It’s also: “What’s the motive of the aliens?  What’s the mythology behind the harness and how that has repercussions on some of the folks that have had those put on them?”  All of those things are answered in a really satisfying and interesting way.

Speaking of the harness, Ben seems to be at the forefront of this season.  Can you talk about the evolution of his character?
 DARRYL: It was interesting.  Connor came back as an actor and had really blossomed physically.  He was a boy who became a man over the course of our hiatus and it really worked well into that character and the changes he is undergoing, without giving much away. 
 REMI:  We had a nut of an idea with what we wanted to do with Ben and, in early discussions with Greg Beeman who is our director/producer, he said, “You know, Connor is a really smart kid and even though he’s not as experienced an actor as others in the cast, I think he can handle this.”  So we had several discussions with him.  He goes through quite a journey this season and I think all of that has been set up in the first season — what ends up happening to him and the rest of the 2nd Mass, it has repercussions for everybody.
 DARRYL:  His character really breaks out.  Every member of the Mason family is critical, but he really steps up in a meaningful way. Not only as a character on the page, but in the maturity of the actor, Connor, himself in a satisfying way.

Where is this season going?  Last season it was about discovering that they could fight back.  What’s this season really about?
 REMI:  I think this season is about finding a way for humans to establish a hold on their home. The reason that sounds more vague than I mean it to be is just because there’s so many twists and turns that I really don’t want to give away because it will be fun.  But I think that a lot of what we are exploring in the 2nd season is:  “How much do we want to survive?”  Which I think is a relevant question.  “How much do we really want to make this our place and our home? What are we willing to sacrifice in order to make sure that we prevail over some species that has decided, without asking permission, that they want what we have?” We’re not putting that on big billboards, but I think that is the underlying engine that is driving the motivations of our characters.  I am fascinated by the human ability to survive the most horrible things and out of that comes usually amazing stuff.

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Hugh Laurie (here pictured with the Golden Globe he won for his work on 'House') would most likely play the villain in the new 'RoboCop' film. (Kevork Djansezian/AP)

Hugh Laurie may appear in the remake of 'RoboCop'

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 06.14.12

Now that House, M.D. has concluded an eight-season run, star Hugh Laurie is once again available for more than the occasional onscreen appearance (Street Kings) or voiceover job (Arthur Christmas). Besides a leading role in the upcoming Mister Pip adaptation, it looks like Laurie’s next significant live-action role will be a part in the RoboCop remake/reboot.

Laurie is currently in negotiations for the new RoboCop; assuming a deal is struck, he’ll portray the villainous CEO of Omnicorp (known as Omni Consumer Products, in the original film), the organization responsible for resurrecting near-dead Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) as the titular super-human cyborg.

Credit for the scoop on Laurie circling RoboCop goes to Heat Vision; as is also mentioned in their report, the actor could join a cast that already includes such noteworthy people as Abbie Cornish (Bright Star), Gary Oldman, and Samuel L. Jackson in supporting roles. That’s a different collection of talent than the buzz-worthy acting crew MGM/Sony was supposedly eying originally (including, Edward Norton and Rebecca Hall), but it’s equally impressive. Certainly, part of the appeal of the RoboCop do-over (for the actors) is the opportunity to appear in the first Hollywood vehicle helmed by acclaimed Brazilian filmmaker, José Padilha (Elite Squad).

Few concrete details are currently available for the RoboCop reboot script, which Nick Schenk (Gran Torino), James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man), and promising newcomer Joshua Zetumer share screenwriting credits on. Padilha previously indicated that his take on the story will explore the process (physical and psychological) that Murphy undergoes to become a half-machine; moreover, Murphy’s (ex-)wife (Cornish) is expected to play a much more significant role in the proceedings. Those elements alone could help to distinguish Padilha’s RoboCop from Verhoeven’s, considering Murphy’s wife was only featured via flashbacks in his version – and the title character’s transformation was covered over the course of a brief montage (shown entirely from Murphy’s POV).

Padilha’s RoboCop will also cover social themes similar to those in Verhoeven’s movie (in particular, the influence of corporate America), in addition to exploring ideas about the increased prevalence of technology in our everyday lives. There’s certainly a risk that the satire in RoboCop could fall on the preachy side – or (worse?) retread the exact same territory as Verhoeven did – but Padilha has already demonstrated a knack for mixing social commentary with gritty violence, which bodes well for the remake. Having people like Laurie and Oldman around to humanize the film’s “evil businessmen” should also help, in that regard.

RoboCop is scheduled to begin production later this summer, in order to make an August 9th, 2013 U.S. theatrical release date.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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