Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Is Paula crazy? Will Syesha survive?

So the word on the street is that "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul needs to be committed — fast — after her blunder last night.

For those of you that missed it, Paula started giving her comments for two of Jason Castro's songs last night.

Poor Paula jumped the gun a bit too early, giving her comments for the second song during the first segment, before the group picked up their mics again to sing their second tune.

Yes, it was a bad night for the seemingly flustered Paula. Conspiracy theorists believe her blunder proves the show is scripted. I don't really think so. But scripted or no, it just proves that Paula can be somewhat incompetent. That, or she was so bored by Jason's performance of "Forever in Blue Jeans" — which was so lackluster — she thought he was singing two songs in one.

If that's the case, I can easily sympathize with the former pop star.

If America is truly wise, Jason — who seems quite lazy on stage lately — will get the boot tonight, keeping Syesha — who continues to show a growing prowess — safe for another week.

Still, it's got to be a scary thought for Syesha to know that the last few weeks have landed her in the bottom vote-getters spotlight. This is getting intense.

Keep your fingers crossed. — January Holmes

Monday, April 28, 2008

Are these "Idols" marketable?

Let me say this politely ... I'm kind of hoping Syesha Mercado doesn't win "American Idol."


Well, since the winner of "Idol" is given an automatic record deal on the spot, along with the tremendous pressure that follows on making such a deal successful for all parties involved — well, I'm not sure if Syesha can pull that off. She seems to be more vibrant doing Broadway tunes. So I can easily see Broadway knocking on her door, especially since she was studying to be an actress before "Idol" came along and swept her up.

Either way, it would be heart-breaking to watch her win if she can't pull off record sales. Remember Taylor Hicks, last year's "Idol" winner? He was dumped by his record label after bad sales. Tragic.

On watching the show, I'm starting to wonder about the marketability of these folks. Who could pull off the biggest recording success from this crop of five?

My mind immediate races to David Cook. The guy obviously has his own sound and personality, even if it is a little Daughtry-esque. Cook's album would be successful regardless, as long as he has solid lyricists working alongside him.

Then there's the other David, which, when put in the "record deal" light, may seem a little too young for all the fanfare that follows "Idol." But still, he has a sort of Michael Bublé appeal about him.

Brooke may be a hit or miss. There's definitely something there though — a kind of Tori Amos gone soft thing. As long as she doesn't try to dance, and has a good lyricist to reflect her style, she'll shine.

Jason Castro — as odd of a duckling as he is, he has a very unique sound along with a tight fan base it seems since he made through unscathed on "Idol" after a horrendous song choice last week. I think he would do alright with his own album. At least for a little while. — January Holmes

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"American Idol": Syesha shines ... finally

Did you catch Syesha Mercado singing on top of a grand piano last night during "American Idol," belting out a theatrical tune like nobody's business?

Were you just as amazed and stunned and shocked and awed as I was? Her performance may blow my earlier predictions of the Sarasota native being booted off soon out of the water.

If she keeps up the momentum, she could easily wind up in the top three.

Last night's theme was the "Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber," which meant show tunes galore. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Webber's honest and amusing comments kept things lively.

What wasn't lively was Jason Castro's performance of "Memory." The guy, who told America that he's never seen any of Webber's musicals, looked like he was suffering from immense physical pain when he was singing the tune — a tune that Webber couldn't fathom the dread-head Castro singing to begin with.

Next on the unpleasant list was Brooke White with "You Must Love Me." It wasn't her greatest performance. I think she was trying too hard. Then she forgot the lyrics and asked to start the song over before she began to sing it. When you try too hard, you don't come across well. Carly Smithson knows this, or at least has been told this several times. Last night, though, was the first time Carly actually looked like she was letting loose with her "Jesus Christ Superstar" tune. It was great to see her energized for once. Though it was kind of cheesy afterwards when she brought out a T-shirt that said Simon loved her performance (this week).

David Archuleta pulled a sort of David Cook by putting his own contemporary twist on "Think of Me" from "Phantom of the Opera." It was a very pleasant performance. I'm sure he swept the hearts of tweens across American by taking Webber's simple advice of keeping his eyes open during the song.

Speaking of David Cook, he didn't pull any musical twists with "Music of the Night" but the performance still sounded solid with his haunting, rich voice.

So based on last night's performances, it may basically come down to Jason or Brooke saying their good-byes next, with Carly — who has grown ever more slightly annoying each week — joining them for the bottom three.

Good times.

- January Holmes

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sarasota Ballet: Not just men in tights

So I'm not sure how many ballet buffs there truly are in Bradenton.

Sure, people around here like to dance. I've met contemporary dance teachers and musical theater choreographers. I've heard about people who are keen on grovin' to country music, read about ballroom dance enthusiasts and seen those who like to watch any live and/or televised reality dance shows with the stars.

But when it comes to ballet ... well, it seems more people flock to it only when it involves anything to do with "The Nutcracker." And possibly "Swan Lake."

Sugar plum fairies anyone?

But this season, the Sarasota Ballet has been offering ballets that are just as sweet — sometimes even sweeter — than our dear "Nutcracker."

It seems Iain Webb, artistic director of the Sarasota Ballet, is trying to change people's perspective on the "ballet" — from that of men in tights carrying girls in classic pink tutus through the air to that of an evolving, thought-provoking art form that can be modern, edgy and more enticing.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview the not-so-new artistic director (he's been with the ballet company for a year now) for a story that will run in the Herald's Weekend section on Thursday. He's got a lot of interesting things planned (SPOILER ALERT) that doesn't include "The Nutcracker." But don't worry, in its place will be a delightful dance that still has snow, he said. And ice skating.

So now I'm at the part of this blog where I could go on many different tangents. I could tell you the interesting stories he shared, but I think I'll save that for fodder for next season. Or I could tell you all he has planned for next year — things he hopes will draw a new kind of ballet crowd — but you can read that in Thursday's story.

One of the things I will share though is that Webb isn't shy about straying away from the status quo of the ballets people have become accustomed to around here.

He called it taking a gamble — not just with the ability of the dancers to perform these rarely seen progressive works, but with area audiences ability to digest something fresh and different. As Sarasota audiences seem to love Webb's approach, I wonder if the ballet company's rapid new appeal is felt in Bradenton. — January Holmes

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

'American Idol' guys turn up the 'wow factor'

Now that the Sarasota Film Festival is over — leaving me in a haze from the whirlwind of celebs, parties and films that lit up Sarasota for 10 days — it's time to get back to the matter at hand: "American Idol."

Sarasota's Syesha Mercado is still in the mix, performing as one of the top seven in the competition (though I still feel she won't be able to break into the top five). Last night she sang "Vanishing" for Mariah Carey week. I agreed with Paula that she was wise in picking a song that the audience wouldn't be as familiar with. I thought she did good with it — maybe good enough to keep her safe another week — but the performance didn't wow me.

But the guys had their wow-factor turned up high last night. I was blown away by David Archuleta's rendition of "When You Believe." During David Cook's "Always Be My Baby," I was a little worried because I wasn't sure where he was going with it at first, but then his creativity with the song won me over in the end. He'll reap extra votes by his tearing up on stage after the judges praised his performance.

Jason Castro's "I Don't Want to Cry" was good — it really showed off his great and unique vocal tone.

In the women's realm, I was disappointed by Brooke White's performance of "There's a Hero." It felt rushed and she ventured off-key too many times to overlook.

As for Carly Smithson, cheers to her for finally wearing sleeves! I was beginning to get sick of seeing those tattoos literally EVERY week. Not that I'm against tattoos, but if she were more of a rock 'n' roll darling like former Idol Amanda Overmyer, the look would work better for her. I'm starting to agree with Simon though about her performances, she doesn't really seem to let herself go when she sings. It's like she's always holding something back. She was a little better last night with "Without You," but not by much.

When it comes to Kristy Lee Cook, I honestly didn't pay attention to how she performed. But I remember thinking briefly that she sounded good. Don't know if it was good enough to stay another week.

Based on this week's performances, I think tonight's bottom three may be Brooke, who's never made bottom three (hopefully that won't send her suddenly packing like Michael Johns last week), Carly and, for good measure, Kristy.

- January Holmes

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tucci talks of films and meets a new relative

Yes folks, the Sarasota Film Festival is the place where you can find long lost celebrity relatives.

Well, at least for one lucky gentleman.

Thursday, during the festival's "In Conversation with ... Stanley Tucci" at the Historic Asolo Theater, a man sitting in the front row interrupted moderator David D'arcy — a critic from Screen International — during his talk with Tucci on what attributes it takes to play some of the villainous roles the star has portrayed in the past.

The guy in the audience blurted out that good villains also need to be Italian. The audience laughed, which got the man talking even more to Tucci out of turn. After a couple of minutes, he threw a name out and asked if Tucci knew of the person.

"Yes," said Tucci, a Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning actor. "He's my uncle."

One of the guy's relatives (someone on his mother's side, if not his own mother — I couldn't make out what he said) married Tucci's uncle.

It was really nice to see Tucci — dressed in blue jeans, a light blue shirt and a dark blue dress jacket and loafers — speak to the fellow for a bit after the "In Conversation ..."

Contrary to popular belief, the event wasn't sold out, but most of the seats on the ground floor were filled. I went up on the second level and there were plenty of seats to chose from.

Tucci talked about film favorites such as the 1996 flick "Big Night," the ups and downs of independent movie-making and playing dark roles such as Hitler's officer Adolf Eichmann in the 2001 made-for-TV film "Conspiracy."

Tucci said there was a moment during filming "Conspiracy" when everything caught up with him — filming on site in Germany, surrounded by actors portraying the German army, plotting the extermination of millions of Jews.

"I thought I was going to vomit," he said. "I've never felt that way."

Being an actor, playing such a role called for him to repress his feelings just to get through the scene, he said.

"Because if you felt it, you couldn't have done it," he said.

Tucci also talked of his movie "Blind Date," which will be screened at the film festival 7 p.m. today and 2:45 p.m. Sunday at the Hollywood 20. He also discussed food films, such as his upcoming project "Julie and Julia" where he stars alongside Meryl Streep as Paul and Juila Childs. Sounds like the film is going to be a good one.

Of course, a fan in the audience had to ask him about his time working on 2006 hit film "The Devil Wears Prada" where he played the fashion guru Nigel.

He said he was chosen about three days before the filming began. The crew had auditioned "every other actor" in town for the role before finding him.

His wife said he played the gay-ish, fashion-loving character all too well, he added. — January Holmes

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Festival throws a culture-filled street party

The Sarasota Film Festival's World Cinema Celebration last night in downtown Sarasota was a wonderful mix of cultures, cinema, food and fire-breathers.

Yes, there was actually a dude breathing fire. He was very talented, earlier in the night I saw him ride a unicycle and later balance on a ball.

The event was co-sponsored by the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation and featured an Israeli-themed food tent. I had a wonderful falafel/pita sandwich at the booth.

Film actress Liv Ullmann was honored for her work in such films as "Face to Face" and "Scenes from a Marriage." Film festival executive director Jody Kielbasa recognized the actress and sponsors from the stage and then showed clips of Ullmann's films. I was glad the crowd actually paid attention to the presentation rather than party on rudely.

Folk-punk band Golem Israel, from New York, was a hit with the early crowd. The lead singer, dressed in a bright, pink shirt, was very energetic and fun to watch.

I think the coolest entertainment for the night was the demonstrations by Champion extreme Jumpers, a competitive jump rope team, featured in
Helen Hood Scheer's documentary, "Jump!" The jumpers were amazing, performing intricate maneuvers you should not try at home.

Food booths lined the streets from the corner of Main and Lemon around to Whole Foods. Free festival fare (for your $65 ticket) included ahi tuna from Anna Maria Oyster bar, Italian sausage from Alpine Steakhouse, salmon cakes from MacAllisters Grill & Tavern, chicken wings from Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, smoked salmon from Lynches Pub & Grill and lots more. My absolute favorite food item came from Cosimo's Brick Oven — Tempura jumbo shrimp with microgreens and topped with wasabi aioli and sweet chili sauce. Wow. The shrimp were so large, that two would've made a great meal, but I think folks were going back for thirds!

The booze flowed freely, with wine and beer stations, and several booths featuring specialty drinks, including the popular red-cupped drinks presented by main sponsor City Place of Pineapple Square.

Mattison's at the corner of Lemon, was blocked off for the swells, with burly security guards at the front entrance. A peek inside unveiled plush surroundings ... including a large bed on the outside patio. Not sure what that was all about.

When I left about 10ish the party was still going strong, but alas, it was a school night.

Things really start to heat up this weekend with the Night of 1,000 Stars on Friday and tons of film screenings. Stay tuned to for all the updates.

— Jana Morreale, Accent editor

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A chat with Tony Award-winner Jennifer Ehle

Before settling into the Sarasota Film Festival's Luncheon Under the Bayans today, I had a chance to chat with two-time Tony Award-winning actress Jennifer Ehle who stars in "Before the Rains," which was screened during the festival.

She won a Tony award in 2000 for lead actress in a play for her role in "The Real Thing" and another Tony in 2007 for featured actress in a play for "Coast of Utopia." Among her many stage, film and TV projects, she played Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 TV mini-series "Pride and Prejudice."

Ehle, from upstate New York, was dressed for spring time in Sarasota, donning a floral dress with her hair pulled back and a smile.

"Sarasota's just so beautiful," she said.

She and husband love it so much that they called her parents to come in and join them during their time here at the festival, she said. Her parents will see her in "Before the Rains" for the first time tonight during the screening.

Upon meeting me and noting the fact I had an interesting name (January) — she told me about the small flock of chicks her and husband are raising on their land in New York. She plans on raising a small colony of bees soon, too.

I was "stunned" by that. I've never met an actress that's into bees, or chickens for that matter. Interesting.

Besides the thrill of having little chicks and the prospects of bee raising, Ehle discussed the Merchant-Ivory film "Before the Rains." The film takes place in India and is set during the 1930s. Englishman Henry Moore (Linus Roache) plans to establish a spice plantation in Kerala but needs to build a road through the terrain of India to get to it first. While making plans, he becomes friends with his manservant and develops a deep relationship with his maid, Sajani (Nandita Das). He struggles with his ambitious plans for the region when villagers find out about his relationship with one of their own.

Ehle plays Henry's wife, Laura, who is back home in England unaware of his affair.

"She's just mystified by his behavior," said Ehle, who fell in love with the script that highlights India's struggle with British colonialism.

She said there are subtle little shifts in Laura's character and before long, the events taking place come to a head.

I'm hoping to see the film this week to let you know my thoughts on it.

In parting, I told Ehle to be careful with those bees. She assured me she'd be fine. — January Holmes

Monday, April 7, 2008

'The Deal' worthy of major distribution

Friday's opening night film of the Sarasota Film Festival attracted a large and eager audience, hoping to get a glimpse of a few Hollywood stars and enjoy William H. Macy's new, locally-invested film "The Deal."

I could tell from the laughs at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, where the film was screened, that it was a sure-fire hit. Audience members I interviewed afterwards couldn't say enough good things about the movie.

Fun all around, "The Deal" is a great romantic comedy about the ups and downs of movie-making and one washed-up producer's (Charlie Berns, played by Macy) last attempt to make a movie deal despite the odds. He cleverly railroads a movie studio into financing a kung-fu flick called "Ben Disreali — Freedom Fighter," tricks his nephew Lionel (Jason Ritter) into thinking the studio is producing his script based on a 19th-century British Parliament debate and cajoles black-action-hero-star-turned-Jew, Bobby Mason (LL Cool J), to sign on and stay on the film project as well. Until Bobby gets kidnapped by terrorists, that is. And Charlie, with the help of studio executive development director Deidre Hearn (Meg Ryan), finds a way to keep filming — changing the plot once more.

Macy shines as Charlie, who appears particular obnoxious in the beginning, especially when trying to flatter and pull the wool over the eyes of Deidre, who believes he's a film producing fake. But eventually, she's charmed by Charlie's determination.

It's great watching Macy and Ryan's characters interact in the film. "The Deal" itself is filled with funny one-liners and terrific laugh-out-loud scenes with LL Cool J, Elliott Gould (who plays a clueless Rabbi/film consultant who helps Jew-ify Charlie's flick), Fiona Glascott (who plays Bobby's on-screen love interest) and others. By the way, Glascott has a fabulously funny scene with grenades in the flick.

My only quibble with "The Deal," though, is that it could have used a little more character/plot development — just a few extra sentences of dialogue thrown here and there to give a more complete picture of Charlie. It's amazing what a sentence or two can do to strengthen a film even more. Showing shots of newspaper articles on Charlie's past and his depressed face when he's attempting a subtle suicide at the beginning of "The Deal" just isn't enough. Neither does it help when he gets the brilliant idea to turn his nephew's screenplay into an action film from starring at newspapers articles featuring Bobby. A brief, spoken epiphany would have been nice here. But then the film pulls you into the next scene and, if you don't already have an idea of what's going to happen, you have to play catch up.

"The Deal" really begins to take off when the action moves to Cape Town, Africa, where Charlie's pipe-dream of a flick begins shooting, offering us a behind-the-scenes look at film making. From this point of "The Deal," the comedy just keeps getting better.

It's the type of movie I wouldn't mind seeing again and again just for the fun of it. — January Holmes

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Film Festival opening gala a 'magical' night

The 10th anniversary of the Sarasota Film Festival started with a film screening of "The Deal," starring William H. Macy and Meg Ryan. It sounds like a great movie, but I wouldn't know because the Van Wezel was sold out and I couldn't get a ticket. They did let me into the swank Opening Night Gala which followed the film screening.

Upon arrival, you could sit in a $100,000 Mercedes sedan if you wanted. Couldn't afford the car, but I did get a free pen that lights up.

There's nothing like partying in the courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art. It's so beautiful and last night was no exception. The crowd was a mix of young and old - all dressed to the nines. I saw lots of bright colored long dresses. But it was steamy out, so I also saw lots of shiny, sweaty people.

A DJ was spinning tunes like "Funkytown" and "YMCA" which was fun to watch everyone dance to. The food and booze was flowing like crazy. There were tables piled with fancy cheeses, sushi and fried potstickers, a Greek-themed offering and tons of shrimp. For dessert, there was an entire table of cupcakes. It looked like almost 1,000! The strangest thing about the food tables was that there were these really in-shape girls in skimpy magic-themed outfits dancing in the center of the tables! Needless to say, I didn't have a cupcake.

As for the celebs. I saw "The Deal" actor Jason Ritter, but I didn't manage to find Mr. Macy in the crowd. I'm never much for star-gawking anyway.

The party was great. But remember, folks there are more than 200 films screening at the festival and you should take some time out this weekend or next week to check some of them out. In Sunday's A&E section, we recommend 10 you should see.

- Jana Morreale, ACCENT editor

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Syesha's predictablity may hurt chances

Last night's Dolly Parton theme on American Idol was more enjoyable than I imagined it would be.

David Cook got a nice haircut and performed a great rendition of "Little Sparrow" and Ramiele Malubay finally picked a decent song to suit her voice with "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" — though she was off pitch several times, but the change was refreshing. Even Jason Castro sounded more fluid with his song "Travelin' Through." Almost everyone improved or did a smashing job.

Then there was Syesha.

I told my colleagues here at the paper that I wouldn't be surprised if she chose "I Will Always Love You" for Dolly night but hoped that she would take an unpredictable approach and wow us with something different.

She, of course, took the predictable path, melding Dolly's version of the song with Whitney Houston's version. I agree with Simon on the fact that the first part of her performance sounded better than the second. But the unstunning last half of the song is what people will remember most — at least that's what I remember.

That may very well send her packing tonight or at best land her in the bottom three again. Unless you're as good as Whitney (who has set the bar fairly high), you shouldn't sing Whitney. Who may be joining Syesha this week: Ramiele and Kristy Lee Cook, who also was off key in a genre I thought she would excel in. — January Holmes