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Jul. 28 2010 — 8:26 am | 494 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

Memorial Day 2012: Could Will Smith sink Rihanna’s ‘Battleship’?


Can she beat the Men in Black -- in 3D?

Universal just may have assembled the most beautiful movie cast this side of Twilight. The studio has signed three of-the-moment stars — Friday Night Lights‘ Taylor Kitsch, True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård, and, most recently, pop idol Rihanna – for Battleship, an action film based on the Hasbro board game that’s set for release on May 25, 2012.

For those of you who haven’t already done the math, that’s almost two years from now. Two years — a virtual eternity in pop-culture time. Kitsch, Skarsgård and Rihanna are hot now, but will we still love them tomorrow? Chances are that we will. But what about in 2012, when Battleship must wage combat against Men in Black III-D at the box office over Memorial Day weekend?

The film’s price tag, reported to be in excess of $100 million, is a lot of money to bet on three unproven leads up against Will Smith, probably Hollywood’s most bankable star. (Eight of his last nine movies have grossed more than $130 million in North America.) If Universal were smart, the studio would rush this thing into production for a 2011 release date (originally, it was supposed to come out next summer), if not to get away from Smith, to make sure that its principals are still piping hot.

I suspect that Rihanna will continue to sizzle. She’s beautiful and stylish, the perfect pop package, and we know the camera adores her. But can she act? For a film like Battleship, that might be beside the point. She already proved in the “Hard” video that she’s perfected her battle pose, and she wears combat couture gorgeously. She’ll also have some extra time to work on her acting technique for what will be her film debut —  at least as much as she needs to prepare for a role that is sure to be not particularly demanding on a thespian level. And she can even revive Jordin Sparks’ great 2009 hit “Battlefield” for the soundtrack.

Kitsch, who will portray Naval commander Alex Hopper should have no problem handling whatever acting tasks are thrown his way. He’s already spent four seasons as the resident bad-boy hunk on one of the most critically beloved shows on TV, so I’m surprised that he has yet to break out as a big-screen leading man. As for Skarsgård, who’ll costar as Hopper’s brother, he’s as improbably gorgeous as the others; he has a respectably lengthy resume (which includes the 2001 cult classic Zoolander); and HBO’s True Blood is nearly as high-buzz as Glee among TV shows. I have yet to be washed in the True Blood viewing experience, but I loved Skarsgård as Lady Gaga’s lover/tormentor/poison victim in the “Paparazzi” video.

So potentially disastrous release date aside, Rihanna has chosen wisely for her first movie role. She has two strong costars, and in Peter Berg, a well-respected director with a decent rack record. (Ironically, his last film, 2008’s $227.9 million-grossing Hancock, starred Will Smith.) That Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) considered taking on Kitsch’s role before opting to do There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson’s next movie gives it a slight credibility boost. It might not be the best test of Rihanna’s potential as an actress, but it could be her ticket to movie stardom — at least for one summer blockbuster.

The only thing standing in her way will be Will Smith.

Jul. 27 2010 — 8:00 am | 2,024 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Why Taylor Swift’s new album might be bigger than Eminem’s ‘Recovery’

U.S. Country music singer Taylor Swift perform...

Look out Slim Shady, I'm coming to get you!

We’re still three months away from the October 25 release of Taylor Swift’s third album, Speak Now, and already the pressure is on. Although her label, Big Machine Records, is forecasting first-week sales of 750,000, which would put it just ahead of 2010’s biggest debut so far, Eminem’s Recovery, which opened at 741,000, some industry executives are wondering if she could be the first artist to top the one-million-in-week-one mark since Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III’s 1,005,545 seven-day total in June of 2008.

Personally, I’m not ready for another round of Swift, but if she can assist Eminem in lifting the music industry out of its current sales doldrums, I’ll grudgingly root for her. And I agree with Will Botwin, president/CEO of Red Light Management and ATO Records, who recently told Billboard magazine why the odds are stacked in her favor.

It feels like if anybody can do it now, she could be the one. She has the sales base and the heat from the last two albums. And with all the amazing things she has going on, she is as likely as anybody to reach a million units, especially with the efforts of Big Machine and Universal behind her.”

That’s not all she has on her side. The fourth-quarter release date immediately gives Speak Now a sales edge. Album sales typically peak from the end of September through the holidays, with people purchasing more music as Christmas gifts and a larger number of major stars releasing new music, which drives increased traffic into record stores and onto iTunes and Amazon.

Swift’s previous album, 2008’s Fearless, also was released during the fourth quarter (November), and it sold 592,000 copies in its first week. Though the industry has slumped further since then, Swift has gotten much bigger, becoming the most successful country-pop crossover star since Shania Twain. Lady Gaga might get more attention, but Swift sells more albums in the U.S., if not worldwide. In 2009, Forbes listed her at No. 12 on its list of the 100 richest and most powerful celebrities, with $45 million in earnings, up from No. 69 and $18 million in 2009. (In comparison, Gaga, whose international profile is considerably higher than Swift’s, was No. 4 in 2009, with $62 million, while Eminem didn’t make the list.)

In addition to her increased earning potential, Swift now has a busload of industry awards, including an Album of the Year Grammy (for Fearless); she’s been in a hit movie (Valentine’s Day); she’s gotten the Kanye West seal of disapproval; and she’s become a major media star without having to suffer a public meltdown, get arrested or take off her clothes.

She’s also an independent women — a singer, songwriter and producer — putting her completely in charge of quality control. Swift has said that she wrote every song on Speak Now by herself, and she co-produced it with her Fearless/Taylor Swift collaborator Nathan Chapman, which means she probably won’t be giving herself a bad ill-advised makeover to prove to the world that she can’t be tamed — and hopefully, there won’t be any poorly spelled song titles (“California Gurls,” ugh!) or misplaced rap cameos to stink up the proceedings.

Although I still don’t think she belongs in the company of the Paul Simons and Laura Nyros of the songwriting world, her description of the first single, “Mine,” due in mid August, sounds promising. She recently explained what it’s all about on Ustream.

My tendency to run from love… Every really direct example of love that I’ve had in front of me has ended in goodbye and has ended in break ups and things like that. So I think I’ve developed this pattern of sort of running away when it comes time to fall in love. This song is sort of about finding the exception to that.”

OK, so she’s about as eloquent as you can expect any 21 year old to be, but the subject matter would appear to be more universal and less high school than “Love Story” or “You Belong with Me.” And what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall the first time her ex, Joe Jonas, hears this one.

Jul. 26 2010 — 5:10 am | 672 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

Justin Timberlake’s status update: ‘Will the Facebook movie make me more than just the next King of Pop?’

Singer Justin Timberlake runnning.

No strings attached: Timberlake races to world domination

I’ve always thought of Justin Timberlake as the second coming of Michael Jackson. Like the late, great King of Pop, Timberlake started out as the lead singer and youngest member of a hugely successful boy group, and emerged as the breakout star with a solo career that transcended his boy-band origins.

The parallels only begin there: As a solo artist, Timberlake has racked up multiple Grammy nominations (and six Grammys), including Album of the Year nods for both of his solo works, 2002’s Justified and 2006’s Future Sex/Love Sounds; he sings, he writes, he creates hits for other artists; he takes his cool sweet time making albums; and he’s the greatest dancer.

But Justin Timberlake might be en route to a place where Michael Jackson was never able to get to: movie stardom. Over the past decade, while dating movie stars (Cameron Diaz and Jessica Biel), he’s been slowly building his Hollywood resume, with supporting roles in EdisonAlpha Dog and Shrek the Third, and two Emmy wins. Come October 1, he’s poised to ascend to level two with his supporting role in the David Fincher-directed Facebook drama The Social Network. Jesse Eisenberg may have the lead, as Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, but Timberlake nabbed the pivotal role of Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster who went on to become Facebook’s first president.

Some Oscar bloggers already are putting Timberlake on the shortlist for a best supporting actor nomination, and considering Fincher’s recent track record, it’s not entirely implausible. His last film, 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was a $127.5 million hit and the long-acclaimed director’s Oscar breakthrough, scoring 13 Academy Award nominations, including acting citations for Brad Pitt and Taraji P. Henson. Also on the creative team: Emmy-winning writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), who wrote the screenplay, and Oscar winners Kevin Spacey and Scott Rudin (No Country for Old Men) as producers. (Incidentally, by working with Fincher, Timberlake has walked even farther in the King of Pop’s moonwalking shoes: Fincher directed Jackson’s 1993 video “Who Is It.”)

It’s too early to tell for sure, but the trailer (see below) is intriguing, and Fincher’s films are usually well received critically. A strong commercial run is almost a no-brainer, given the zeitgeist subject matter, and if it plays well with the critics groups throughout Oscar season, it would have a good shot at one of the 10 Best Picture slots, and Timberlake easily could be carried along on the wave of adoration.

Though he’s got a long way to go before he joins the hallowed $20 million-a-film club, Timberlake will continue to move up the Hollywood food chain. His next project, after voicing Boo-Boo Bear in the upcoming Yogi Bear (December 17), is a leading role in the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits, which he began filming this month in New York City with Mila Kunis — soon to improve her own resume with Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. (Guess we’ll have to wait even longer for that new album.) Friends with Benefits doesn’t sound particularly Oscar bait, but it does have a trio of Academy Award nominees among its supporting cast: Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins and Patricia Clarkson.

Which goes to show, with talent, smart choices and a little luck, there can be plenty of life after 20 for a former boy-band teen idol.

Jul. 24 2010 — 5:02 pm | 640 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

The latest ingredient to Angelina Jolie’s recipe for action stardom? A dash of ‘Salt’

HOLLYWOOD - JULY 19:  Actor Brad Pitt and actr...

Jolie and her "plus one" at Salt's Los Angeles premiere

As an actress, Angelina Jolie always has had a bit of a split personality.

There’s Jolie, the acclaimed Oscar-winning star of Girl, Interrupted, who first came to Hollywood prominence in the late ’90s with Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated TV roles in George Wallace and Gia. In recent years, this side of Jolie has been most visible, winning acclaim (and, in my opinion, being robbed of an Oscar nomination) for 2007’s A Mighty Heart, and then finally scoring her second Academy Award nomination for the following year’s Changeling.

Unfortunately, one day, when the dust settles on Jolie’s career, little-seen performances like her lived-in turn as Marianne Pearl — pregnant widow of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed by Al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan in 2002 — which made A Mighty Heart seem more like a documentary than a biopic, probably won’t be the ones for which Jolie is best remembered.

Blame it on Jolie’s alter, the woman who would be Hollywood’s first action queen. This is the Jolie that people pay good money to see, star of 2000’s Gone in 60 Seconds ($101.6 million), 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith ($186.3 million) and 2008’s Wanted ($134.5 million). In the early ’00s, she nearly became the first woman since Alien star Sigourney Weaver to launch a successful action franchise when Lara Croft: Tomb Raider grossed $131.2 million at the North American box office, but those high hopes were doused two years later when the sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, collected a disappointing $65.7 million.

If at first you don’t succeed…

It’s possible that trying again — and again — might be working for Jolie. The Friday box-office estimate for her latest action venture, Salt, was an impressive if not quite blockbuster $12.7 million. Although that’s behind the one-day total for Inception ($13.2 million), it’s more than most films headlined by a solo female star earn in their entire opening weekends. And for the sake of comparison, Grown Ups, the latest Adam Sandler movie, pulled in $14.5 million on opening day and has grossed $137.2 million to date. Decent, as in not overwhelmingly scathing, reviews have helped Salt. Also, Jolie has become a bigger star in the near-decade since the first Lara Croft, thanks in part but not only to her relationship with Brad Pitt, raising her box-office potential.

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s estimates for Salt’s opening weekend were in the $30 million dollar range, and the studio might actually get it right this time. Saturday-night grosses generally build on Friday estimates, and it’s possible that Salt will end up exceeding Sony’s expectations. That wouldn’t necessarily make it Jolie’s best opening weekend ever: Both Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Wanted landed in the $50 million range, and the first Lara Croft: Tomb Raider did $47.7 million, but with built-in interest from the video-game character. Still, if it has legs as impressive as Jolie’s and plays well internationally, it could be the start of a new franchise, with Jolie as a kind of female Jason Bourne.

Interestingly, Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy, wasn’t intended as a Jolie vehicle. It was meant to be The Tom Cruise Show, but when he dropped out, the role was rewritten for the female lead. This weekend, as Jolie dodges bullets onscreen, Sony must be thanking their lucky, limber star that they dodged Cruise’s.

UPDATE Salt ended up with an estimated $36.5 million over the entire weekend, behind Inception, which added $43.5 million, raising its 10-day total to $143.7 million. Although taking inflation into consideration, Salt would fall short of peak-era Julia Roberts (1999’s Runaway Bride, $35 million) and Reese Witherspoon (2002’s Sweet Home Alabama, ($35.6 million), it’s slightly higher than Sandra Bullock’s two 2009 hits, The Proposal ($33.6 million) and The Blind Side ($34.1 million), which both opened on several hundred fewer theaters. Get ready for the sequel!

Jul. 22 2010 — 5:31 pm | 137 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Christina Aguilera cleans up in her new video. Is it too late?

Can Christina Aguilera’s Bionic be saved? In six weeks on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, the set, which debuted at No. 3 with 110,000 copies sold in its first week, has fallen all the way to No. 59 (this week plummeting a steep 25 notches). Meanwhile, both Bionic singles have tanked. The first, “Not Myself Tonight,” topped out at No. 23. Its follow-up, “Woohoo,” did even worse, peaking at a lowly No. 79.

So far so bad.

In what might be a last-ditch effort to save the album, which is miles away from platinum and in danger of failing to go gold (500,000 copies sold) in the U.S., Aguilera is back to doing what she does best: singing. Releasing the delicate ballad “You Lost Me” as the album’s third single might be the smartest move Aguilera has made since 2002, when “Beautiful” rescued Stripped — which had been similarly marred by “Dirrty,” an under-performing first U.S. single — from commercial mediocrity. The song is a delicate ballad in which Aguilera allows her voice to be center stage where it belongs, not shrouded in overdubs and overpowered by over-production.

The new video (watch the full clip here) might be problematic, though. While it’s refreshing to see Aguilera looking beautiful and demure — no traces of “skanky,” nor of Madonna, nor of Lady Gaga — nothing much happens. Though it undoubtedly cost a fortune to make, the video looks a little cheap and homemade, like it could have been filmed with a $200 digital camera. The “visual effects” are sort of cliché, with some sequences appearing to be over-lit or under-lit, and there’s not a single “wow” moment in its nearly 4:30 running time. I understand that Aguilera probably was aiming for minimalist after nailing over the top, but as she proved with “Beautiful,” low-key need not mean boring. More primary colors would have livened things up, or she could have gone for the dramatically bare but striking look of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” At least its pretty dull, not ugly dull.

Even if the video and the song fail to reverse Bionic’s chart direction (and I suspect, fear, that they won’t), at least they’re solid reminders that when it comes to delivering a power vocal, no pop diva can match Aguilera. May her career live to see another massive hit.

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    1. I was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and moved to Florida when I was 4, but I've never been able to get rid of my Caribbean accent. When I was a kid and just wanted to fit in, I hated it. Now that I don't, I hope I never lose it. Not that anyone in Buenos Aires even notices it!

    2. I've been a writer and editor for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly.

    3. My favorite city is London, and my favorite country is Italy. I hate Athens, Paris and Berlin.

    4. I once made Brandy's mother cry.

    5. I'm probably one of the few people on earth who can say I stood up a former Beatle. It was Ringo Starr, and I only did it because traffic through Central Park to the Upper East Side was so bad that I showed up to our interview 30 minutes late.

    6. My favorite band of all time is the Smiths. R.E.M. is second. The Cure is my third. I cried when Tammy Wynette, my favorite singer ever, died.

    7. "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand is my favorite book. I know it's cliché to say, but it changed my life -- not as a political or social manifesto, but as a personal one. What lessons did it teach me? Two: 1) To thine own self be true. 2) Just do it.

    8. "The Golden Girls" is my favorite TV show. I've seen every episode a billion times, but every time I watch one, I notice something I never noticed before.

    9. "Blue" is my favorite movie, and its star, Juliette Binoche is my favorite actress. When she won the Oscar for "The English Patient," all my friends called to congratulate me. By the way, I hated "The English Patient."

    10. At one point, I was doing so much on-air pop-culture commentary that when I walked into Mary J. Blige's hotel suite to interview her, she hugged me and exclaimed, "I've been seeing you all over the TV!" "Likewise!" I replied!

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