Friday, May 11, 2007
Favorite movies
There are the great movies -- the film-school canon, the award winners, the "Sight & Sound" list -- and then there are your favorite movies.

Your favorite movies don't have to be great. They don't even have to be good. Maybe you saw one on a glorious date. Maybe you accidentally stumbled into another on the late show and stayed up for the whole thing. Maybe it moved you to tears or laughter or ecstasy in a way no other film had. You can't help telling others and hope they're similarly touched.

My favorite movies are an ever-changing list, but a few core films always have slots. "Airplane!" and "Blazing Saddles." "Europa, Europa" and "Casablanca." "My Fair Lady" and "This Is Spinal Tap." "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Brazil." "Network," for its bottomless cynicism, and "Hannah and Her Sisters," for its transcendent goodness.

And "The Third Man."

I first saw "The Third Man" -- Carol Reed and Graham Greene's 1949 mystery about a naive pulp novelist and his black market-engaged friend -- in college. I was entranced from the outset: The haunting photography of a crumbled postwar Vienna, the knowing script, that zither theme -- at once playful and cutting -- all brilliant. And what other movie (SPOILER ALERT!) could go more than half its running time before introducing one of its stars? (That first revelation of Orson Welles still gives me gleeful shivers.)

I bring up "The Third Man" because Criterion is releasing a new, two-disc edition May 22. (A single-disc edition came out in 1999.) If you haven't seen it, do. If you have, well, you know how good it is already.

I can't help raving. It's one of my favorite movies.

What are some of yours?
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
'Idol' chatter: And then there were three
We're at the point of "American Idol" where you can be fairly certain that all the remaining contestants will get record deals.

So as we say goodbye to LaKisha Jones, who was the most amateur of the final four, I wonder where she fits in. She can do great singing gospel; Christian-themed music suits her low-key personality better. And I think her records will be solid because her studio voice will be much more controlled than her live voice.

But now it's on to Blake, Jordin and Melinda. Next week they'll each get three songs, with music executive Clive Davis picking one song for each contestant (probably after a five-minute video montage showing how great he is). Davis gets a lot of criticism for his song choices -- justifiably, because they're usually awful choices. I can only surmise that he intentionally takes the singers out of their comfort zones.

Which means Blake Lewis could a chance to shine, since he's easily the most inventive of the three. The most pressure is on my favorite, Melinda Doolittle. I hope she breaks out a little "Chain of Fools" to get back the momentum she's lost over the past few weeks. But then again, Simon will probably call her old-fashioned.

Jordin Sparks still seems the odds-on favorite, which is a'ight with me, dawg. And she is young, so she has room to grow.

Song suggestions, anyone?
(Not) watching television
If your household is like mine, you seldom watch TV shows when they first air anymore. And that's a problem for the broadcast networks, as The Associated Press reports.

The networks are being hurt by a variety of factors. Some shows -- particularly serials -- had long breaks, and the audience didn't return when they did. Others may have overstayed their welcome, and in a multichannel, multimedia world, viewers aren't going to stick around after the shark jump.

Besides, with all those channels -- and DVRs and DVDs -- there's no need to watch a show right away. My wife and I have gotten in the habit of watching "House" on USA Network late Friday night before bed, so we don't bother with its initial Tuesday broadcast. A colleague prefers to watch "24" in one marathon session, so she waits until the season's over.

And, maybe, the TV's not on at all. (In my house, if it's on, it's often showing a movie or a baseball game.)

How about you? What are you watching -- and when? Or are you watching at all?
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
'Idol' chatter: Jordin rises
Who woulda thunk that Bee Gees tunes were so hard to make interesting?

Thank goodness for Jordin Sparks. It was her night again, which is especially gratifying after last week's Sanjaya-like version of "Living on a Prayer."

Ms. Sparks sang "To Love Somebody" and "A Woman in Love" flawlessly. My complaint was that singing two ballads was a really, really safe way to play the night. I guess I can't blame her (considering last week). I'd also add something about how pretty she looked, but her dad is a former NFL player and I don't want him on my bad side. I think she'll coast into next week. (Watch Steve and Rodney hash things out.)

I also think Melinda Doolittle is safe -- despite an emotionless performance and a half. I was really worried about her until she suddenly decided to turn on her inner Aretha midway through "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart." If this were her first week I wouldn't be surprised if she got booted off. But given her body of work, she should be fine.

I'm not sure what to make of Blake. There were parts of "You Should Be Dancing" that made me physically uncomfortable. But I kinda liked "This Is Where I Came In," which fused reggae and disco. I found a clip of the original online and I see why it was never a hit, so Blake gets extra points from me for making a bad song listenable. He'll stay.

That leaves us with LaKisha Jones.

I think LaKisha did much better with "Stayin' Alive" than she got credit for, with a good vocal and a nicely different tempo. She also showed the ability to be coached. But her lack of stage presence -- she's completely devoid of it -- means this is her last week. She may have even realized that when she flubbed the final big note of "Run to Me."

So will we get a big surprise on the results show?
Monday, May 07, 2007
Stagecoach: What a ride
A week ago CNN Entertainment Correspondent Denise Quan went to Coachella, the annual California music festival that brings together dozens of bands and tens of thousands of people. She spent last weekend at Coachella's country cousin, Stagecoach, a new festival that featured 27 acts and attracted more than 55,000 concertgoers over two days. Here's her report:

'COUNTRY'S WOODSTOCK': It was the inaugural year of Southern California's Stagecoach country music festival –- and judging from the turnout, it won't be the last. Thousands of visitors showed up each day, cowboy hats on their heads and nylon folding chairs slung over their shoulders, to sample 27 acts over the two-day event, including headliners Kenny Chesney, Brooks and Dunn, Alan Jackson and George Strait. As artist Eric Church put it, "It's kind of like country’s Woodstock."

THE SCENE: Both Coachella and Stagecoach were held on the Empire Polo field in Indio, just outside Palm Springs. At Coachella, it was all about hipsters, tattoos and indie rock. At Stagecoach, the theme was families, quasi-cowboy garb and tunes with a twang.

CROWD PLEASERS: Even though there were four stages –- all with equestrian-themed names -– the audience was clearly there to see the big names on the Mane Stage. Besides the aforementioned headliners, fan favorites included Sara Evans, Gary Allan, Pat Green, Sugarland and newcomer Jason Michael Carroll, who said "Years from now, I can say, 'Yep! I played the first Stagecoach. We were the very first band on the Mane Stage that anybody heard.' That’s very cool."

STILL AN OUTLAW: Not unexpectedly, there was support for the military from several artists. Brooks and Dunn shot red, white and blue streamers into the audience during "Only in America," while men in uniform stood on the stage. Former Army captain (and Air Force general's son) Kris Kristofferson also dedicated a number off his current album to the troops, but in a riskier way for the conservative crowd. "This song goes out to all the veterans of Iraq who are opposed to the war in Iraq," he said quietly.

BIGGEST BUMMER: Over at the Palomino Stage, beloved songbird Emmylou Harris struggled to find an audience for her delicate set, while playing opposite the raucous boot-scootin' boogie of Brooks and Dunn on the Mane Stage, a couple of football fields away. To add to her woes, their highly amplified sound was clearly audible to her and her crowd, causing Harris to remark at one point, "I’m going to do this even if we have to compete with every other stage here."

CHUCK WAGON: Organizers say the Stagecoach crowd ate more than the Coachella crowd. And beer sales were up. Gone were Coachella's popular organic booths –- replaced by a rib cook-off ($2 a taste). Our non-official tastebuds went nuts for AZ Barbeque out of Phoenix.

A GOOD GAMBLE: Everyone seemed happy with the inaugural year of the two-day country music fest, from festival-goers and vendors to artists and the promoter. It's safe to say this Stagecoach will be back for another ride.

-- Denise Quan
Occasional musings and gab about the world of entertainment.
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