Romy Shiller

Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

American Idol: Season 13

In review, TV on May 29, 2014 at 8:51 am


ABOUT: American Idol, subtitled The Search for a Superstar for the first season, is a reality television singing competition created by Simon Fuller and produced by 19 Entertainment, and distributed by FremantleMedia North America. It began airing on Fox on June 11, 2002, as an addition to the Idol franchise based on the UK show Pop Idol, and has since become one of the most successful shows in the history of American television. It was the most watched TV series from 2005 to 2011 in the Nielsen ratings, and it is the only program to have been number one for seven consecutive seasons.

So, I’m watching American Idol [2014] AGAIN. I am kind of addicted to this show and watch it every year. At the end of the show I’m usually frustrated with the votes but hey, this is a democracy and not a dictatorship – the opportunity to hear outstanding voices is worth everything to me.

There are auditions the first few weeks. This gives the viewing audience a chance to get familiar with the judges and contestants. The judges this season are; J-Lo [returning after an absence last season], Keith Urban [returning] and Harry Connick, Jr. [new]. Veteran judge, Randy Jackson, is the mentor this year. At the very beginning, I thought they would be boring and dry. I was wrong. They have great chemistry and their critiques are extremely professional. They are entertaining and Harry Connick, Jr. is hysterical – really! As a judge though, I cannot stand him. He is too harsh, critical and negative.

The goal of the first round of auditions is to get a ‘gold ticket to Hollywood.’ ‘Hollywood Week’ has more, intensive auditions. They start out at over 200 contestants and are whittled down to 30. These top 30 audition usually in Las Vegas. Not this year, however! The last 2 males are voted upon to see who will take the last spot in the top 30. The final auditions are live, voting shows. Now we get a top13.

Standout female: Jena Irene

Standout male: Caleb Johnson

The singing nights are great but the elimination nights are tense. The judges have one ‘save’ per season but they seem to wait until a truly amazing contestant might leave. When a contestant is voted out, they ‘sing for their life.’ I kind of think that usually this is futile, as the ‘save’ won’t be used. They eventually used the ‘save’ on Sam – a teenage heartthrob. Yikes.

Caleb should win. He is an authentic rock-star whose voice is far superior to any of the other contestants. He was called ‘sexy’ by J-Lo and a ‘slow motion air bag’ by Keith Urban.

The vibe this year was more positive than usual – between the judges and between the contestants. There was a marked emphasis on social media – Facebook and Twitter. Ryan Seacrest, the host, was constantly taking ‘selfies.’ During the Top 3 show they had the DJs ‘The Chainsmokers’ perform their hit ‘Selfie.’ The show obviously wants to be relevant to young viewers. When the contestants were eliminated their image was deleted on a screen like the kids who died in ‘The Hunger Games.’ It all seems very manipulative to me.

Anyways… the move beyond a singing competition is obvious. The context for the show now is mainstream pop-culture. I really don’t think anything on television can be ‘pure’ – especially when ratings are involved. I also do not believe that there is ‘reality’ on ‘Reality TV.’

In an article I wrote on the television show, Big Brother called ‘Big Bother’ I say: Ideas of ‘the real’ we hold are very interesting to me on many levels. Reality television exemplifies a level that suggests that if an actual person, not an actor, says or does certain things, it is fact and genuine. Things like editing or producing are invisible. I was in a mini-documentary (“Modern documentaries have some overlap with television forms, with the development of “reality television” that occasionally verges on the documentary…Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) and sure what I chose to say came from my own mind but I had no choice in what was used, I had no say in how it was put together and it followed a predetermined aesthetic in keeping with the news-show airing it (even though the fabulous woman filming it had her own style). I would gladly do it again and was asked to be in a feature-length film documentary, but I am under no false illusion here. Even documentaries are ‘unreal.’


C.J. Harris (far right) went home. From left to right: Caleb, Alex, Jessica, Sam, Jena, C.J.

The top 5: Caleb, Jena, Sam, Alex and Jessica.

So, my earlier standout female: Jena Irene and standout male: Caleb Johnson are in the finale, competing against one another. [Should I say ‘told you so’?] They are both so good it really doesn’t matter who wins. Not like when Adam Lambert lost to Chris whatshisname – oh, don’t get me started…

Caleb Johnson – the rocker – won. For the first time, I would have been pleased in each case.


Only Lovers Left Alive

In Drama, Fantasy, Film, review, Romance on May 6, 2014 at 10:50 am

Tilda Blood 

About: Only Lovers Left Alive is a 2013 British-German romantic drama vampire film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Hmmm. I have seen pretty much every vampire-themed film and television show, My bible was ‘The Vampire Chronicle’ books by Anne Rice. So yeah, I’m kind of a vampire expert if I do say so. There is a darkness or alternative feel to most good vampire fiction. To me the Swedish vampire film ‘Let the Right One In’ (2008) was the best followed by ‘The Hunger (1983).’

This film is very good, there is a blending of art, beauty and music: Yes, another vampire movie. But Mr. Jarmusch is not Stephenie Meyer, Ms. Swinton is not Kristen Stewart, and, despite its title, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is less about sex than about art. Vampirism, in other words, serves in this film as a metaphor not for insatiable desire (as it has, to different effect, in the “Twilight” movies and the HBO series “True Blood”), but for passionate creativity. Mr. Jarmusch imagines the tribe of the blood-consuming undead as a kind of aesthetic aristocracy, counting in their ranks most of the world’s geniuses of painting, fiction, cinema and music. Byron and Shelley are name-checked, a careful selection of books (including “Don Quixote” and “Infinite Jest”) are packed into Eve’s suitcases, and Adam’s walls are hung with portraits of Buster Keaton, Mark Twain, Robert Johnson and others.

Plot: Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?

Someone I saw the film with remarked upon the slow pace: When you live for hundreds of years without the inevitability of a natural end, there is no reason to hurry, and Mr. Jarmusch is a practiced hand at slow filmmaking. What sustains “Only Lovers Left Alive” is less a story than a sensibility, an attitude of nostalgic and somewhat cranky connoisseurship. Plots are for squares, which is not to say that nothing happens.

As I’ve said, the metaphors for the vampire are clear: Ideas such as eternal youth, beauty, strength and never ‘dying’ – in the sense of being gone forever are prominent. The vampire embodies the cultural desire for youth [creams, Botox, plastic surgery etc.] and strength [gyms] in addition to other things.

This film is chock full of metaphors and names borrowed from literary fiction and elsewhere: One of Eve’s passports has her name as Daisy Buchanan. The Great Gatsby reference is not lost on me. The literary allusions are plentiful. Watson is the name of a doctor. Adam calls himself Dr. Faust when obtaining a blood supply from a hospital. The actual Christopher Marlowe is a close friend of our leads and there is talk of Shakespeare. There are biblical references – our leads are called Adam and Eve… There are scientist references and Adam makes a Quantum Theory analogy, there are musician references etc.

Adam and Eve are not the type to go out and bite necks: They purchase their nutrition from medical professionals (including one played by Jeffrey Wright) and drink it from long-stemmed, shapely goblets. But the film does not hesitate to make another familiar metaphorical link — one between vampirism and addiction. After these vampires taste blood, their heads roll back and the room starts to spin. And when supplies dwindle, things grow desperate in a hurry. It is also clear that not everyone manages the habit as well as Adam and Eve, as demonstrated when Eve’s wild sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), shows up for a visit.

The soundtrack is incredible. This is by far, the most original mixture of film music I have ever heard. Yes, EVER. We have goth, classic rock, middle-eastern music, classical, jazz etc:The brooding NYC rock outfit SQÜRL, (Jim Jarmusch, Carter Logan and Shane Stoneback) have created an epic score in collaboration with Dutch composer Jozef Van Wissem of stoner riffs, minimal orchestration and haunting vocals, courtesy of guest appearences from Zola Jesus, Yasmine Hamdan and Madeline Follin of Cults. It pulses with vigour and romance, much like Jarmusch’s film itself.

What’s wonderful here is a tapestry or aesthetic … a blend of high art, music, sensibility and fragility. Immortality is very uncertain here and an appreciation for beauty is like breath on a spider-web.