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Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, episode 114: 'Smash,' 'The River,' Super Bowl ads and more

Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, episode 114: 'Smash,' 'The River,' Super Bowl ads and more

Dan and Alan also answer letters about '30 Rock,' casting news and reality TV


The Super Bowl has ended, and since Dan and I couldn't agree on an acceptable wager, the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast is the same as it ever was. We don't dwell on the game very much, but we do talk for a while about the underwhelming crop of commercials, before transitioning into reviews of NBC's "Smash" and ABC's "The River," and then a smattering of listener mail.

The line-up: 

Super Bowl commercials (01:15 - 20:40)
"Smash" (20:40 - 39:00)
"The River" (39:00 - 52:50)
Listener Mail - "30 Rock" (53:30 - 58:45)
Listener Mail - "Kid Nation" and stuff (58:45 - 01:05:45)
Listener Mail - Casting "exclusives" (01:06:25 - 01:13:25)
As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. Or you can always follow our RSS Feed, download the MP3 file or stream it on Dan's blog.
And as always, feel free to e-mail us questions for the podcast.
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<p>Alexander Payne at last week's Directors' Guild Awards.</p>

Alexander Payne at last week's Directors' Guild Awards.

Credit: AP Photo/Dan Steinberg

American Cinema Editors honor Alexander Payne

'The Descendants' director named Filmmaker of the Year by guild

Considering his film isn't much of a crafts showcase, the editors' contingent has really showed up for Alexander Payne and "The Descendants" in the past month. When it looked like the modestly scaled domestic dramedy was in danger of receiving no below-the-line recognition at the Oscars, Fox Searchlight -- doubtless mindful of the fact that no film has won Best Picture without any since 1980 -- stepped up their game with a targeted campaign highlighting the film's technical properties, highlighting in particular the work of editor Kevin Tent.

Editing, of course, is routinely the easiest craft category for unflashy Best Picture nominees to find a home in, and the studio's strategy worked a treat -- Tent landed a nomination from the American Cinema Editors, followed in due course by the Academy's editors' branch, beefing up the film's contender profile at the expense of more artfully edited fare like "The Tree of Life" or "Drive." 

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<p>Tyson Ritter</p>

Tyson Ritter

Credit: HitFix

Watch: All-American Rejects' frontman talks 'Kids in the Street' and poisonous women

Band on the run as 'Beekeeper's Daughter' music video debuts

Tyson Ritter, in a few mere motions, slipped off his artfully ripped t-shirt in front of 15 people and slipped on a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, all for the sake of being "twinsies," to match my last-ditch gray digs. He bounced on the balls of his feet between questions and smoothed his long hair during our interview at this year's 2012 Sundance Film Festival, cunningly throwing in a phrase like "bag of d*cks" with his philosophizing on his band's varietal fanbase.

Like their frontman, the All-American Rejects are kind of all over the place. The quartet has been finished with their newest album "Kids in the Street" for a year, and in between have been "finagling" with their record label Interscope and their core listeners, lining up dates with Warped Tour and mulling how to depart from the traditional album release cycle and the alt-pop mold.

"We're melodic, we have a pop orientation," Ritter tells me of "Kids," "but this record... has a story in it."

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<p>&quot;The River&quot;&nbsp;is about the search for Bruce Greenwood's Dr. Emmet Cole.</p>

"The River" is about the search for Bruce Greenwood's Dr. Emmet Cole.

Credit: ABC

Review: ABC's 'The River' keeps the scares coming week after week

Found-footage horror story from 'Paranormal Activity' creator works as a TV show

At first blush, horror is a genre that wouldn't seem to lend itself well to television. So much of what makes a scary story effective in a darkened movie theater shouldn't necessarily apply to a weekly series. You can maintain a sense of dread, or willingly suspend your disbelief about why the damn fools won't get out of the haunted house already, for two hours, but week after week for years? That's tougher.

But horror has had some past success on the small screen ("The X-Files," for instance, took more of its stylistic cues from horror than science-fiction), and we're in a mini-boom right now with AMC's "The Walking Dead" and FX's "American Horror Story." You can argue with how successfully each of those shows has tried to tell their ongoing stories — and even the "AHS" producers recognized they couldn't keep their story going past a single season, and will start over from scratch with a new idea and characters — but these are very big hits for their respective channels, and "Walking Dead" has a long-running comic book series to draw stories from for years to come.

And now comes "The River," the new ABC found-footage horror series from "Paranormal Activity" creator Oren Peli, which is debuting tomorrow night at 9. I watched the pilot months ago, was impressed by the level of suspense maintained throughout, yet wondered how on earth it would work as an ongoing series.

And having seen four additional hours since then (one of which will air after the pilot tomorrow night), I'm pleased to tell you that —for now, at least — it does work.

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<p>Jonah&nbsp;Hill in &quot;Moneyball&quot;</p>

Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Oscar Guide 2011: Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, Jonah Hill, Nick Nolte, Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow square off

(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy's 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)

This year's Best Supporting Actor race seemed to settle in rather early on. The eventual five nominees were all considered formidable as far back as September and nothing really came along to significantly alter the landscape. The one "surprise" came in the form of a contender popping up who had been expected to fall the way of his film.

Well, ultimately he did, though it was a different way than anticipated. And he took the place of an apparent dominant force int he field who was nevertheless snubbed by SAG before getting snubbed here, so perhaps that should have been writing on the wall.

The nominees are…

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<p>Danny DeVito gives voice to one of Dr. Seuss' greatest creations in the new film adaptation of 'The Lorax'</p>

Danny DeVito gives voice to one of Dr. Seuss' greatest creations in the new film adaptation of 'The Lorax'

Credit: Universal/Illumination

A visit to Illumination Studios and a sneak peek at 'The Lorax'

Can the 'Despicable' studio get Seuss right, and is this just the first?

Illumination Studios stands in an unassuming building on an industrial street in Santa Monica.  The only indication from outside as to the building's identity comes from an occasional glimpse of a Minion from "Despicable Me" through one of the windows.  One would never guess just driving by that this building is where they're currently working to build a new animation legacy.

And, by all accounts, succeeding.

I first visited the studio as they were working on "Despicable Me," and my first impression of Chris Meledandri was that he definitely knew how to talk a good game.  He was an important part of Fox's animation relationship with Blue Sky Studios, and when he left Fox, he decided that he wanted to focus all of his energies on creating animated movies.  If you're going to get into that business, you can't dabble.   You have to go all in.  You have to believe in animation 100%, and you have to focus on making each film great.  I've seen studios make the mistake of thinking they can crank out kid movies and they don't have to respect the audience or the process, but in those cases, they almost always fail.

Meledandri's first picture for Illumination, "Despicable Me," did a very nice job of establishing a style and a sensibility that was their own.  They also ended up with their very own mascots, the Minions, who they are going to be dropping into films for some time to come, I suspect.  The film did well for Universal, but more than that, it gave Illumination credibility.

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<p>Bon Iver for &quot;Saturday Night Live&quot;</p>

Bon Iver for "Saturday Night Live"

Watch: Bon Iver on 'Saturday Night Live'; band announces West Coast shows

How'd Justin Vernon and his 8-piece band fare?

Bon Iver may not be a big fan of the Grammys at the moment, but that hasn't kept him from being on a pre-Awards blitz this month. Justin Vernon's stop-offs included his first appearance on "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend, performing his Grammy-nominated track "Holocene" and "Beth/Rest," both from his sophomore full-length "Bon Iver."

The soft-rock songs may feel sparse on record, but Vernon's eight-piece backing band made an example of how involved the production was. Check out the percussive elements of "Holocene," and take a deep breath. "Beth/Rest," the Jagjaguwar band's best impression homage to Steve Winwood is a rare performance of Vernon not singing in falsetto, which may be why it was chosen as the second track.

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<p>Harvey Weinstein (far right) at the 2010 BFI London Film Festival with &quot;The Artist&quot; stars Jean Dujardin and B&eacute;r&eacute;nice Bejo</p>

Harvey Weinstein (far right) at the 2010 BFI London Film Festival with "The Artist" stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Off the Carpet: Harvey's victory lap

A trip down memory lane as 'The Artist' sets its sights on The Weinstein Company's second-straight Best Pic Oscar

"The Artist" is indeed a runaway train. Here is lightning, here is a bottle, and that's the 2011 Oscar season. Really, that's the Oscar season in general, capturing a feeling, an emotion, a vibe, and riding it as hard and as definitively as you can.

Last year, The Weinstein Company turned on the gas at just the right moment with its "Find Your Voice" campaign for "The King's Speech" in the wake of critics' circuit dominance by "The Social Network." This year, with no real uncertainty about it, they're cranking up the heat again with ads featuring the phrase, "You don't have to say anything to feel everything."

"Find Your Voice" was great, because it worked organically with the season. In addition to tying in with the speech impediment thing, it also said, succinctly, "Don't let the critics tell you what to think." And the subsequent "Some Movies You Feel" sealed the deal in phase two. This one (and the one I've seen on TV spots: "Speak With Your Heart") feels a bit more forced, though no less brilliant because it again aims squarely at what guides most voters this time of year: the heart.

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<p>Nicki Minaj</p>

Nicki Minaj

Credit: AP Photo

Predicting the 2012 Grammy Awards: Best New Artist

Could Skrillex make the Grammys look hip?

We continue with our countdown to the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, which air Feb. 12 on CBS, with a look at the Best New Artist category.

Best New Artist

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<p>OK Go</p>


Credit: Nathaniel Wood

Watch: OK Go's 'Needing/Getting' gets a musical instrument-playing car

Two-mile driving course makes the remix

What takes two miles of desert, four days of shooting, four months of prep, 1,000 instruments, a car sponsorship and a song? The new OK Go video, of course.

The Chicago rock act's new single "Needing/Getting" features a Chevy outfitted with boom mics and retractable pneumatic arms that play upended pianos, guitars grafted to fences, bottles dangling from archways and such. The quartet sits helps noise-make in the car, with an impressive effort from frontman Damian Kulash, who sings and drives like a maniac (he took stunt driving courses).

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<p>Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins in &quot;John Carter.&quot;</p>

Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins in "John Carter."

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Round-up: The Super Bowl's crystal ball

Also: R.I.P. Ben Gazzara, and Iranian backlash to 'A Separation'

The Super Bowl is an event that passes me and most of my over-the-Atlantic brethren by, but I've been doing my best to mop up the buzz this morning. (Among other things, I've been amused to learn people still find flipping the bird a subversive gesture -- I'm sure if M.I.A. had wanted to shock America, she could have done better than that.) Anyway, many seem excited by the blockbuster trailers that were unveiled during the proceedings -- normally, I avoid trailers of heavily anticipated films, but since I'm not personally anticipating any of these, I watched them all in the name of journalistic thoroughness. Well, enough to register my disappointment that "Battleship" doesn't look at all like the board game, and that "John Carter" still doesn't star Noah Wyle. Here's a better rundown.  [Television Without Pity]

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<p>What are the &quot;Cougar Town&quot;&nbsp;characters so happy about?&nbsp;The season 3 highlight reel will give you a big clue.</p>

What are the "Cougar Town" characters so happy about? The season 3 highlight reel will give you a big clue.

Credit: ABC

'Cougar Town' season 3 trailer gives away the story to save the show

Creator posts spoiler-filled highlight reel to illustrate what the comedy has become

"Cougar Town" returns to ABC a week from tomorrow, at 8:30 p.m. on Valentine's Day. On the one hand, this is good news for a show that's been absent a long time. On the other, it has an extremely incompatible lead-in from "Last Man Standing," and it's been off the air so long (9 months since the last episode aired) that all but the real die-hard fans may have forgotten it exists, and — worst of all — it's still fighting the perception created by that off-putting title and the show's early episodes, neither of which remotely represent what the series became.

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