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<p>A scene from Danny Boyle's Olympics opening ceremony on Friday.&nbsp;</p>

A scene from Danny Boyle's Olympics opening ceremony on Friday. 

Credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Memo to Oscar: Get Danny Boyle to direct your show

After his epic Olympic ceremony, the Oscars would be a breeze for the Brit

So, what did you watch this weekend? I'm betting that, for many of you, it wasn't anything in the cinema. By and large, US and UK distributors (and I expect many others besides) steered clear of the dark Olympic shadow, knowing that the biggest release of the week may have come from a major filmmaker, but it certainly wasn't a movie. Given the scale of the occasion, Danny Boyle's opening ceremony for the London 2012 Games would have been deemed appointment viewing even if he'd done little more than plonk One Direction on a stage to mime for three hours. 

As it was, he did rather a lot more than that. So much more that viewing parties around the world -- a greater total audience, one presumes, than has been enjoyed by all Boyle's feature films combined -- were left open-mouthed: some with bewilderment, some with delight, many more of us with both. Eschewing the kind of regimented, choreographed float-spectacle that is par for the course at such events -- and was mastered pretty much to the point of unimprovability by Zhang Yimou at the 2008 Bejing Olympics -- Boyle took a more avant-garde approach, wittily crafting an extravaganza that celebrated difficulty, damage and imperfection in place of the standard Olympic virtues of serenity and supremacy.

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<p>I'm sure it's different if you grew up on it, but I look at this, imagine people talking about 'seriously' adapting it, and I laugh and laugh and laugh.</p>

I'm sure it's different if you grew up on it, but I look at this, imagine people talking about 'seriously' adapting it, and I laugh and laugh and laugh.

Credit: Filmation Animation

Jon M. Chu continues his '80s nostalgia tour as director of 'Masters Of The Universe'

With his 'G.I. Joe' still struggling towards release, it seems like a gamble to us

When I was on the set of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," I had a chance to talk to Jon M. Chu about his approach to the sequel and to the world of "G.I. Joe" in general.  While that set visit remains embargoed, probably forever thanks to the post-production convulsions the film is going through, I think it's safe to report that Chu struck me as an '80s kid through and through, sincere about his love of everything involved in a "G.I. Joe" movie.

It's also probably safe to say that any kid who grew up with "G.I. Joe" as a regular part of his diet also was well aware of "He-Man" and "Transformers," the other two corners in the '80s afternoon cartoon pyramid.  I was too old for all three, but it seems that they marked the kids who watched them deeply, and at this point, it goes beyond nostalgia.  It's just part of their pop culture DNA, and so it makes sense that you'd want an '80s kid to come in to direct "Masters Of The Universe" for Sony and Escape Artist.  You want someone who's going to take this seriously, who has a love of the characters and the world already firmly in place, and who can find the right tone for what could easily be straight-up ridiculous.

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<p>Bryan Cranston's hair may be real now, but we had a great conversation about the power of Cohaagen's wig in the new 'Total Recall' remake</p>

Bryan Cranston's hair may be real now, but we had a great conversation about the power of Cohaagen's wig in the new 'Total Recall' remake

Credit: Hitfix

Watch: Bryan Cranston describes wig acting in 'Total Recall'

One of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood also happens to be one of the nicest

When I sat down to speak with Bryan Cranston on Friday, I told him that, based on the comments I hear from everyone else who does this same video interview circuit, he may well be one of the most universally liked interview subjects out there today.

And why not?  Here's a guy who was a working actor for decades who is finally having that moment where he is getting near-universal praise for his work and who is in demand in a way that few actors ever experience, and he seems genuinely grateful for the experience and, beyond that, aware of just how unusual it is.  When you sit down with Cranston, you can count on a real interview.  You can count on real answers.  You can count on a guy who wants to be in that chair, who actually thinks about what he's going to say instead of just spitting out a stock answer.

Cranston was at the press day to talk about his work as Cohaagen, the main antagonist in the remake of "Total Recall" that opens on Friday.  In the Paul Verhoeven film, the role was played by Ronny Cox, and I love that Cranston goes out of his way to talk about his regard for Cox and his work in the film.  That's one actor paying lovely tribute to another actor that he obviously thinks highly of, and it's just one more reason to like Cranston.

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<p>John Mayer</p>

John Mayer

Watch: John Mayer heads west in 'Queen of California' video...or does he?

Singer/songwriter has his walking shoes on

John Mayer goes through his own westward expansion on the video for “Queen of California.” The  low-key video matches the laidback feel of the song, as Mayer strolls casually through various landscapes —New York City’s hustle and bustle, a movie set, the snow-crested Rockies—as he wends his way to a final beautiful scene (that still looks decidedly east coast, given the trees) and reunites with his band.

[More after the jump...]

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Album Review: Joss Stone returns with 'The Soul Sessions Volume 2'

Album Review: Joss Stone returns with 'The Soul Sessions Volume 2'

Can she make lightning strike twice?

It was in 2003 that teenage British lass Joss Stone released “The Soul Sessions,” a collection of primarily obscure ’60 and ‘70s R&B covers delivered with an almost preternatural maturity and vocal prowess.

Nine years later, Stone is all grown up and it shows on “The Soul Sessions Volume 2,” out July 31 on Stone’d/S Curve Recordings.

Often such sequels are bad ideas and feel like a calculated way to try to recapture the unplanned magic that made the first effort soar. However, this time Stone has done the near impossible: she has caught lightning in a bottle twice.

Her remarkably lush, throaty vocals seems even stronger, but more importantly, the 25-year-old Stone has sufficient living and heartache under her belt to bring the needed bite to songs like The Honey Cone’s “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar.” And there’s certainly no way a 16-year old should have been singing a cover of Sylvia’s breathy “Pillow Talk.”

Recorded primarily in Nashville and produced by S-Curve chief Steve Greenberg, who helmed “Soul Sessions” with Betty Wright,  “SS2” features such soul stalwarts as Ernie Isley, Delbert McClinton and Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section pianist/keyboardist Clayton Ivey. They ground Stone in a sense of time and place and authenticity in a way that more modern players likely could not (although a special nod has to go to Raymond Angry, best known for his work with Christina Aguilera and the Roots, whose B3 work here drenches the album in his own delectable brand of soul honey). It’s possible to feel transported back to another era as she sears through tunes like Eddie Floyd’s “I Don’t Wanna Be With Nobody But You.”

Just as she included The White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With A Boy”  on “Soul Sessions,” Stone expands the definition of soul here to include a striking cover of The Broken Bells’ “The High Road.” While she remains faithful to most of the soul originals, she upends “The High Road,” infusing it with a sultriness totally non-existent in the Broken Bells’ version, and discarding some of the song’s mournfulness. 

Stone proves adept on all numbers here, but she’s at her best when she’s belting with a purpose. A revamp of soul and country classic “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” with just acoustic guitar and strings, shows off her softer side, but it’s the sassy, take-no-prisoners Stone that will keep listeners interested, such as on the spritely, vengeful “First Taste Of Hurt” (one of four extra songs on the expanded deluxe version) or the funked out “Stoned Out Of My Mind.”

As much depth as she’s able to infuse these songs with now, it would be incredible to have Stone record a new edition of “The Soul Sessions” every decade. In about 20 years, when life has kicked her around a bit more as it does all of us, Stone should really be able to give them some heft.  In the meantime, “The Soul Sessions Vol. 2” will have to suffice and it does so masterfully.

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<p>The &quot;Sparkle&quot; soundtrack</p>

The "Sparkle" soundtrack

Credit: RCA

Review: Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks lead 'Sparkle' soundtrack

A remake, a tribute, spiritual, profane, a labor of many masters

The remake of the 1976 musical film “Sparkle” isn’t intended to serve as a historical document, but it does attempt to invoke the sounds and feel of the Motown era along with race relations in 1960s Detroit. It’s “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks’ first significant film appearance as its title role, and was to be the late Whitney Houston’s return to the big screen (and now it serves as her swan song). It gets further wattage from freshly penned contemporary R&B songs from R. Kelly, as well as an ample opportunity reintroduce Curtis Mayfield classics like “Something He Can Feel.” It's got the sacred, the profane, and some soul.

Thus, the soundtrack to “Sparkle” ends up serving more than one master, which makes for a muddled effort. The first pieces to arrive from the set were both from Whitney Houston, to effectively link her to the project as the movie’s promoted. She sings with Sparks on “Celebrate,” which has gotten a hard push at adult top 40 and contemporary formats at radio, but her weathered pipes sound harsh compared to the youthful saccharine of the AI star’s vocals. Houston is much more suited to heart-filled spiritual classic “His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” with its slow speed, rusty lower range and all the room in the world for her religious pining.
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<p>Contrary to popular belief, it is not a good thing when Liam Neeson gets his hands on you.</p>

Contrary to popular belief, it is not a good thing when Liam Neeson gets his hands on you.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Liam Neeson continues his killing spree in full domestic 'Taken 2' trailer

A clever conceit allows for a bigger body count in the sequel

When "Mission: Impossible 3" was released, the thing I enjoyed most about it was the way it took a convention of the series and spun an entire bad guy plot out of that.  In almost every episode of "Mission: Impossible," the team would grab some low-level nobody, knock him out, tie him up, and use their magic elastic masks to steal the guy's face.  Hunt's mistake in the movie was doing that to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who decided to pay him back.  It would be like a "Star Trek" film where the bad guy was some anonymous red shirt who was pissed off because Kirk left him for dead on an alien planet.

When I look at the trailer for "Taken 2," it feels like the same sort of interesting riff on the conventions of the genre, and I really like the set-up.  In the first "Taken," Liam Neeson killed about 10,000 dudes who were all part of the same criminal organization.  It's pretty standard action movie behavior, but what seems new is the idea that those guys actually mattered to someone, and so in this film, we see them strike back at him.  It's very personal, and unlike a sequel like "Die Hard 2," where pure coincidence is the only thing that brings John McClane back into the action, this is very much a reaction to what John Taken (or whatever the hell Liam Neeson's name was in the first film) did.

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<p>David Nevins of Showtime</p>

David Nevins of Showtime

Credit: Showtime

Press Tour 2012 Live-Blog: Showtime Executive Session with David Nevins

We're not sure what news there could be, but follow along...

BEVERLY HILLS - After The CW in the morning, it's time for Showtime, with Entertainment President David Nevins.

It's unclear if Showtime has anything controversial or newsworthy or even vaguely interesting, but click through...

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"Beauty & The Beast"

"Beauty & The Beast"

Credit: The CW

Press Tour 2012: 'Beauty & The Beast,' Kristin Kreuk get animal

New CW show blends police procedural with romance in this '80s show reboot

Some fans of retro TV may remember "Beauty & The Beast" as an '80s TV show starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton, but the CW hopes a new reboot premiering Thurs. Oct. 11 (9:00 p.m. ET) will freshen up the concept. This time around, the beast isn't a lion living underground, but a former soldier (played by Jay Ryan) who's been subjected to experiments while serving in the military. "We talked about the idea… of a super soldier gone bad," Executive Producer Sherri Cooper told an audience of press tour journalists. And don't get too comfortable with this beast basically being a good guy, either. "He's going to become beastlier [as the series continues] and we're going to explore story wise what the reasons are [for him to change]. He is going to get worse…"

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<p>Will Robert De Niro come out of the fests looking like a Best Supporting Actor sure-thing in &quot;Silver Linings&nbsp;Playbook?&quot;</p>

Will Robert De Niro come out of the fests looking like a Best Supporting Actor sure-thing in "Silver Linings Playbook?"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Fall fests set to fire the Oscar starting gun

Plus: The annual Telluride guessing game

Now that the first wave of festival announcements has hit, let's take a look at things.

Toronto came out of the gate first with a typically stuffed program. The high marks that could easily figure into the awards race include Ben Affleck's "Argo," Roger Michell's "Hyde Park on Hudson," David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina," Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski's "Cloud Atlas," Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Impossible" and Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."

Meanwhile, films looking for distribution that could come out of the fest with a buyer, staring at the season, include Robert Redford's "The Company You Keep," Mike Newell's "Great Expectations," Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini's "Imogene," Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines" and Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder."

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<p>Matchbox Twenty in &quot;She's So Mean&quot;</p>

Matchbox Twenty in "She's So Mean"

Watch: Matchbox Twenty's video for 'She's So Mean'

'Mean' equals 'hot' in band's new clip

Warning: Several vinyl albums were harmed in the making of this video.

“She’s So Mean,” Matchbox Twenty’s video for the  first single from its first album of all-new material in 10 years, should be retitled "She's So Hot." As the lyrics state, “You want her, but she’s so mean,” as they detail a girl who wreaks havoc but you just can’t let her go. “Mean” = “Hot.” Trust me, no guy in the world would put up with this femme fatale’s antics if she weren’t a 10. Some guys like the cray-cray, but only when it comes wrapped in a very pretty package.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman and the ensemble of &quot;The Master.&quot;</p>

Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman and the ensemble of "The Master."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

'The Master' will premiere at Venice - is Toronto next?

The festival scene gets a bit more exciting this year

Long rumored, but discounted by some, the Venice Film Festival has officially announced that Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" will make its highly-anticipated premiere at the prestigious European fest.

Anderson's follow up to the Oscar-nominated "There Will Be Blood," this new drama centers on a young drifter (Joaquin Phoenix in comeback mode) and the founder of a cult-like religion (Philip Seymour Hoffman) which is beginning to finally gain traction with the general public.  The filmmakers and their surrogates continue to deny the connection between the fictional religion and Scientology, but as more footage is revealed the allegory is becoming harder to discredit.  The picture also features Amy Adams and Laura Dern.

The Weinstein Company is releasing "The Master" in the United States and recently moved the film's limited opening up to Sept. 14.  Along with the Venice news, it's a slam dunk that the film will also screen at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival which takes place a week before its release date.

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