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|Thurs, November 04, 2010 at 3:58 AM|Send Blog · Share on Facebook · Bookmark on Delicious
NEW YORK – On "The Event," Blair Underwood plays newly sworn-in President Elias Martinez, who, like every president before him, meets with crises he could never have imagined when he took office.
One problem he inherits is from out of this world: What to do about extraterrestrial aliens who crash-landed in Alaska in 1944. While an unknown number of them remain at large to this day (and happen to be indistinguishable from humans), 97 are imprisoned as Top Secret detainees. After more than six decades of interrogation and torture, they still press the U.S. government for release. And since they've barely aged with the passage of time, they'd still be young enough to enjoy it.
But how would the American people react on learning of the aliens' existence? And do some of these creatures pose a threat to human life?
Such questions dog Martinez, who is just one of many characters in this multi-strand ensemble thriller also starring Jason Ritter, Sarah Roemer, Laura Innes and Zeljko Ivanek.
Airing on NBC Mondays at 9 p.m. ET, "The Event" has the action-adventure rambunctiousness of "24" and a time-shifting narrative that smacks of "Lost." While not a smash hit since its September premiere, it has won a full-season order. And so far, it's been a wild ride.
But Underwood recalls that, when he was first approached by its producers, "My major question was, 'How authentic do you see this show?' They said, 'We want to keep it as realistic as possible.'"
It figures Underwood would ask. During a quarter-century of roles, the 46-year-old actor has tried to keep at least one foot on the ground with performances that feel real, going back to his breakout role as smooth but headstrong attorney Jonathan Rollins on "L.A. Law."
He subsequently starred on the medical drama "City of Angels," joined the cast of "Sex and the City" its final season and set off sparks with Heather Locklear on their short-lived airport drama, "LAX."
During 2008, Underwood was appearing on no fewer than three TV series. He had a recurring role as the sexy grade-school teacher on the CBS sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine." He was a regular on ABC's comic melodrama "Dirty Sexy Money." And on HBO's acclaimed drama "In Treatment," he was a troubled Navy fighter pilot undergoing psychological therapy.
Then, after a jobless 2009 he describes as "tough" but instructive ("Maybe the larger lesson was about being still"), "The Event" came his way.
In crafting the character Martinez, Underwood says he asked himself, "What do you look for in someone you'd vote for?"
Whatever it is, Martinez seems to have it, even as, radiating dignity and leadership, he wrestles with a crisis he still can't fully grasp. Most recently, he has focused on the mysterious disappearance of Sophia Maguire (Innes), the leader of the detainees with whom Martinez had met to discuss their release.
Martinez was born in Miami to Cuban refugees, but his Afro-Cuban heritage is just one of many details that make up the character. That's the way Underwood likes to see himself as an African-American actor inhabiting roles.
"Race comes into play in every aspect of life, whether we acknowledge it or not," he says. "But the conscious effort I make as an actor is, 'Just let this man be a person.'"
That includes on-screen romances, which, with Underwood's leading-man good looks, come naturally for him.
He points to his pairings with Locklear, Cynthia Nixon ("Sex and the City"), Melissa George ("In Treatment"), Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Old Christine") and Julia Roberts (the 2002 feature "Full Frontal")
|Wed, November 03, 2010 at 2:15 PM|Send Blog · Share on Facebook · Bookmark on Delicious
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Country-pop singer Taylor Swift thanked her fans on Wednesday for buying more than one million copies of her new album "Speak Now", making it the biggest first week seller in five years.
"I... Can't... Believe... This... You guys have absolutely lit up my world. Thank you," Swift said in Twitter message. Official Nielsen SoundScan figures showed that "Speak Now" sold 1,047,000 copies in the United States during the week ended October 31.
It was the biggest sales week for an album since rapper 50 Cent's 2005 album "The Massacre" sold 1,141,000.
The critically well-praised album -- the third from the 20 year-old singer-songwriter -- also notched up the second-largest sales week of any country album since 1991.
The bumper numbers, helped by a massive promotional push including TV appearances, advance digital releases of some of the new songs and free concerts by Swift, came after years of music industry gloom over declining album sales and piracy.
Swift, who won four Grammys earlier this year, has carved out a distinctive niche over the past two years for songs that address adolescent heart-break and the social perils of high-school.
Her album "Fearless" was the biggest selling record of 2009.
In "Speak Now", she delivers a forthright commentary on several men who have broken or messed with her heart.
The album includes songs widely believed to refer to singer John Mayer, pop star Joe Jonas, rapper Kanye West, "Twilight" actor Taylor Lautner, and music industry critics who slammed her shaky vocal performance at the 2010 Grammy Awards.
Nashville music industry writer David Ross, editor of MusicRow, said Swift's success flies in the face of conventional wisdom about the dire state of the recording industry.
"Unlike many of the top-charting female artists of today, Ms. Swift eschews tabloid behavior and asks fans to focus on her music," Ross said on Wednesday.
"In some universal way, her life contests connect with similar moments that have brushed the fabric of others as well," Ross added.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant, editing by Christine Kearney)
|Wed, November 03, 2010 at 10:56 AM|Send Blog · Share on Facebook · Bookmark on Delicious
LONDON – Staines wants the world to know it's no blot on the landscape.
Sandwiched between Heathrow Airport, a cluster of reservoirs and a bleak industrial park, some in this London commuter town feel Staines has received some bad press — and needs a change of name to change its fortunes.
Middle-class Staines might have wallowed in happy obscurity had it not been picked by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as the home of Ali G, his tracksuit-wearing wannabe gangsta who specialized in hip-hop-inflected malapropisms.
Ali G's adventures cast the town of 45,000 as an urban wasteland whose main attractions include a traffic circle and the local KFC. The town initially welcomed Baron Cohen's fame, but the negative connotations lingered even as the comedian moved on to other projects, including the movies "Borat" and "Bruno."
A 2008 Australian tourism campaign cast Staines as the epitome of glum, soggy and industrial Britain. Staines business leader Alex Tribick said that was an unfair picture of a picturesque riverside settlement whose history stretches back to Roman times.
"Ali G did us a favor and put Staines on the map," Tribick told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "The trouble is, no one knows where on the map it is."
Tribick argued for changing the name to Staines-on-Thames or Staines-upon-Thames, which would highlight the area's proximity to the River Thames, the lifeline that also cuts through London. It might even boost business and tourism in time for the 2012 Olympics, he says.
Some critics say the proposed rebranding would be prohibitively expensive and point out that the proposed name — Staines-upon-Thames — might draw the same kind of ridicule. If the new name were to be approved, maps, street signs and a whole host of other documents would have to be changed.
Anne Damerell of the Staines Town Society called the idea "pretentious nonsense."
The name change request has to go through a series of hoops — ultimately needing council approval before it goes through.
Although the city sounds like something red wine might leave on a white tablecloth, by some measures Staines doesn't have it so bad.
Britain is peppered with embarrassing place names — from Slack Bottom near the northern England city of Burnley to Lickers Lane outside of Liverpool. Many are far worse.
Ed Hurst, co-author of "Rude UK" — a compendium of snicker-inducing place names — said residents of places like Shitterton in southern England and Butt Hole Lane in northern England have also tried to change their names.
Hurst said he knew of no effort that had been successful — and he opposes fiddling with even the most unfortunate names.
As for Staines-on-Thames, he was unimpressed.
"I think you're always in trouble when you put Staines-on-Anything," he said.
|Wed, November 03, 2010 at 9:53 AM|Send Blog · Share on Facebook · Bookmark on Delicious
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former President George W. Bush says criticism from some, including prominent rapper Kanye West, that his handling of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina showed he did not care about black people represented "an all-time low."
In his memoir, "Decision Points," to be released next Tuesday, Bush writes that charges flung at him that he was a racist during the Katrina crisis "was the worst moment of my presidency."
In excerpts of an interview of Bush by NBC's "Today" show, the former president was asked about West's comment that "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
The accusation arose because many blacks were affected by the hurricane that ravaged Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states, and Bush came under sharp criticism for his handling of the calamity.
Bush, whose Today show interview is to be aired next Monday, said West's charge was tantamount to being called a racist.
"And I didn't appreciate it then. I don't appreciate it now. It's one thing to say, 'I don't appreciate the way he's handled his business.' It's another thing to say, 'this man's a racist,'" Bush said.
"I resent it, it's not true," Bush said. "And it was one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency."
He said his record was strong "when it came to race relations and giving people a chance."
Bush writes in his book, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, that his initial mistake on Katrina was failing to communicate his concern for the storm's victims.
He said he should not have done an Air Force One flyover of New Orleans while much of the city was under water.
"The photo of my hovering over the damage suggested I was detached from the suffering on the ground. That wasn't how I felt. But once the public impression was formed, I couldn't change it," he writes.
Bush tells of trying to convince then-Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept U.S. troops to help maintain order but was repeatedly rebuffed. He said he wished he had simply overruled her but feared it could have triggered a constitutional crisis.
And of his much-ridiculed statement to then-emergency response leader Michael Brown that "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," Bush writes he was trying to give him a morale boost.
"I never imagined those words would become an infamous entry in the political lexicon," he said.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)
|Wed, November 03, 2010 at 5:41 AM|Send Blog · Share on Facebook · Bookmark on Delicious
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Filmmaker Tyler Perry has had no trouble claiming financial success when audiences flock to his comedies, but this week his box office pull will be tested with the dark drama, "For Colored Girls."
Currently America's most successful African American film director who often attaches his name to movies adapted from his own stage plays, Perry has raked in more than $450 million at box offices, mostly in the United States.
But his new movie, "For Colored Girls," opening on Friday, is far removed from the comedic fare for which he first gained fame, including "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Madea's Family Reunion.
"For Colored Girls" tackles issues such as abuse and abortion, and is adapted from poet and playwright Ntozake Shange's, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf."
"This was the most intimidating work I have ever taken on," Perry told reporters in a recent news conference. "I walked away from it many times."
Yet the intertwining stories of nine women facing trials in their everyday lives kept pulling him back, and for his adaptation, Perry has updated the 1970s-era play with a film presentation of modern black women living in New York City who face troubling dilemmas and decisions.
Helping the movie's box office potential is its long roster of high-profile female actors and performers, including Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Kerry Washington, Thandie Newton and Macy Gray.
But Carl DiOrio, a box office analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, said while pre-release interest was "high", the actresses alone were not enough to guarantee popularity.
"It's a solid cast but the cast itself won't necessarily drive the opening. If there is a star in the mix it's Tyler Perry," he said. "There is no doubt that he delivers a fan base. (But) because of the turn into much grittier fare that he takes with this film, it remains to be seen how it plays over subsequent weekends."
The film is projected to make Perry's usual opening haul of around $20 million based on tracking surveys, said DiOrio, but the long-term box office was unclear as "it's hard to market this like a typical Tyler Perry movie."
Adding to that are questions over whether Perry can handle translating Shange's poetic monologues and capture her feminist sensibilities. Early critical reaction has been mixed.
"While Perry's craft has slowly but surely improved with each successive film, this latest project seems to fall beyond his reach," said Variety in its review.
Shange, who met with Perry several times to discuss his script, has said she is "75 percent" happy with the screen adaptation, after becoming used to various adaptations.
"This is an opportunity for her work to be presented to a much wider audience," her associate Claude Sloan told Reuters. "She looks at that as a benefit, but she has trepidation as any artist would at being at the hands of another artist."
Perry, who produced, directed and wrote the film told reporters he was satisfied with the end result: "I did the best work I could do at this time in my life."
Reacting to whether he was qualified to direct the film, he said, "as a man, it is difficult to understand a lot of this, but hearing these women say it, it really changed it all."
In addition, he said
|Tue, November 02, 2010 at 5:18 PM|Send Blog · Share on Facebook · Bookmark on Delicious
NEW YORK – The Broadway theater where "The Lion King" is playing dimmed its lights Tuesday night in honor of a fallen lion cub: An 11-year-old actress from the show who lost her battle with leukemia.
Shannon Tavarez died Monday afternoon at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, on Long Island, of acute myelogenous leukemia, a common type of leukemia among adults but rare among children.
"Shannon's strength and her happy, positive spirit will live on in our hearts and minds each day," her mother, Odiney Brown, said in a statement. "Shannon's dream was to perform on stage, and that she did."
The sixth-grader's battle with cancer won the hearts of many, including Alicia Keys, Rihanna and 50 Cent. The Minskoff Theatre, home of the "The Lion King," paid tribute to the actress by dimming its marquee lights.
"It is our hope that Shannon's legacy will continue to inspire other brave children battling leukemia. We are grateful for the outpouring of love and prayers," her family said in the statement.
Shannon was forced to quit the show in April. She beat out hundreds of other hopefuls last year to earn her spot playing the lion Nala, the childhood pal of Simba, hero of "The Lion King." She split the role with another girl, performing four shows a week for six months.
Shannon had received an umbilical-cord blood transplant in August. The procedure was performed as an alternative to a bone marrow transplant. Her doctor, Dr. Larry Wolfe, said that a perfect bone marrow match for Shannon could not be found.
The search for a match was especially daunting because Shannon's mother is African-American and her father is Hispanic, from the Dominican Republic. For bone marrow transplants, minorities and those of mixed ancestry have a more difficult time finding good matches because there aren't as many people from those groups signed up as potential donors.
Right now, 83 percent of African-American patients who need marrow transplants don't find matches after six months of searching, according to the National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping patients receive transplants.
On her website, which includes a photo of herself as Nala and a video of her singing "The Circle of Life," the 78-pound actress said, "Some people think that the test for compatibility is scary! ... All it really takes to get started is a cotton swab of the inside of your cheek.
"So please get tested today. Who knows? You might be my match. Or, you may be able to help other young people with similar illnesses. And remember... 'One swab will do the job.'"
In a hospital interview with The Associated Press after being diagnosed, the young actress talked about her love for the theater.
"It's an indescribable feeling, being on stage," she said. "I portray this character with fears, but who is so tough. I feel like that's who I am."
Her long, curly brown hair was gone because of chemotherapy, but the sixth-grader said the most difficult part was being away from acting and her friends.
Keys, Rihanna and 50 Cent campaigned to help Tavarez find a bone marrow donor, and cast members held bone marrow donor registration drives outside the play's Minskoff Theater. Katharina Harf, co-founder of the bone marrow donor center DKMS, said the donor center registered 10,000 people as potential donors. Keys skyped with Tavarez while she was at the hospital, Harf said, and the singer, Rhihanna and 50 Cent urged their fans to sign up as potential donors.
Child performers from "The Lion King" and other shows also sold bracelets and key cha