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Miss Ntertainment

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Idina Menzel has been enjoying the after-effects of a viral moment in the 21st Century. Ever since John Travolta botched her name while introducing her at the Oscars, she’s been everywhere. It helps that Frozen, the animated movie she lends her voice to, is also riding a wave of positive news, having just become the highest-earning animated film of all time (knocking off Toy Story 3 from the top spot). For fans of Wicked and Rent, Idina Menzel has been a name long revered, synonymous with agile vocal ability (the kind you want to try emulate in the shower, but can never, ever achieve) and theatrical dreams. Her recurring role on Glee helped increase her exposure, beyond the theatre world, and she’s gaining even more attention now – especially with Let It Go and the Frozen soundtrack sitting pretty atop the Billboard charts.

In the midst of this new-found attention, Idina has just started a run of the new Broadway show, If/Then. The production has received mixed reviews – the likes of The Hollywood Reporter believe the it wouldn’t be worth staging without Idina, while Vulture.com says it’s an apt take on the choices presented by living in a modern city.

In the play, Idina plays a 38-year-old woman who has just moved back to New York, after giving up her dreams of being a city planner and living with her husband in Phoenix for 12 years. As has been said by many reviewing the show, there is a close resemblance to the movie Sliding Doors, in which her character plays out two different paths of her life, based on the decisions she makes. Only in this version, the actress uses glasses and a name change to signify the difference instead of changing hair colour. 

It takes a while to get into, and the first half can get a little confusing trying to keep up with her character, Elizabeth, who becomes “Beth” or “Liz” based up the two sets of decisions. But the second half does better, leading into some really poignant moments. If you’ve ever felt the impact of a decision that caused you pain (and who hasn’t, really?), I defy (*insert lame joke drum sound here*) you not to choke up during Idina’s Learn to Live Without song. She holds back until her final number, during which one can only marvel at the talent she has to command all that emotion within her voice. It makes me wonder how on earth she manages to do it twice a day, as Broadway requires. 

While the show does hinge on Idina, the actress Rhonda LaChanze Sapp, known as LaChanze, who won the Tony for her role in The Color Purple, deserves mention too, for she is a delight. Overall, while there are a few things that irritated me about the production – a few of the songs really don’t feel like they warrant being musical numbers all on their own – the set design at times is great, especially when creating the city night sky and the subway map. The mirrored ceiling, reflecting the actions and introspection that goes on onstage, is an inspired move.

If/Then is currently showing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

* Johnny Depp‘s been promoting his new movie Transcendence in China, his first time to the country. Seems he’s making it count, taking in the sights and jamming with a local rockstar – naturally.

* Last week, Wu-Tang Clan announced details of the one-of-a-kind album The Wu – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, and this week, RZA told Billboard they’ve already been receiving offers for it in the $5 million range.

* Drake‘s two for two this week, dropping Draft Day on Wednesday and then Days in the East on Thursday. Some say the track is about his relationship with Rihanna, which is apparently getting serious, but either way, I wonder if there’ll be another song tomorrow too?

* Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was the subject of that riveting doccie a few years back Never Sorry, has opened the biggest showing of his career to date, in Germany.  Called Evidence, it deals with his feelings on repression and his relationship with his homeland.

* Scarlett Johansson has been busy – playing a murderous alien in Under the Skin and Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but in Lucy, she displays powers of a different kind, in Luc Basson’s new movie, which is due out in August. It looks a heck of a lot better than his most recent film The Family was.

* In between recording with Neil Young and preparing to tour almost every festival this coming summer, Jack White has been working on the follow-up album to Blunderbuss. Called Lazaretto, it’ll be coming out in June.

* How I Met Your Mother had its highest ratings ever with the finale episode on Monday night, although I’m sure most expected that would be the case. The two actors who play the children also revealed that they had been keeping the ending, which they filmed 8/9 years ago, a secret all this time. Now we know who to trust secrets with.

* The Council of Fashion Designers of America will honour Rihanna in June, with its Fashion Icon Award at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards ceremony.

* The latest Skrillex video is all kinds of amazing, featuring dancing in a township but so much more. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it yet, but you need to watch it all the way through. Extra points because it was created by a South African team at Egg Films.

* Samuel L Jackson showed off his spoken word skills with a Boy Meets World-inspired  riff on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Kimmel. It’s slam poetry at its best!

* How I Met Your Mother wrapped up 9 seasons with an hour-long finale on Monday night, that was for some, legendary, for others not so much. But through the years, HIMYM has taught us some valuable lessons: do what makes you happy, nothing good ever happens after 2am, your past doesn’t define your future, and – courtesy Barney – when you’re sad, stop being sad and be awesome instead.

* April has brought with it the sad news that Frankie Knuckles, known fondly as the ‘Godfather of House’, has died at the age of 59. The cause of his death on Monday night in Chicago is as yet unknown. RIP to Francis Nicholls – as his parents knew him - one of the most important DJs of our time.

* Eight songs recorded by Michael Jackson over the course of his career but never released will appear on a new album coming out in May, called Xscape. The songs, found by LA Reid, who was granted unlimited access by the singer’s estate to MJ’s archives, gave the songs to producers to help finish them off.

* The biblical drama Noah premiered in London on Monday night – with an epic red carpet! The film has been doing well at the box office, despite the controversy over its subject matter.

* This month, something known as the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt is about to kick off in NYC – over 260 large eggs have been placed all over the city, each designed by globally renowned artists, designers, architects, photographers and brands. And it’s all for a good cause too.

Hello from New York, where we are receiving a batch of snow and sleet for this new week. Spring??

* It’s fitting, then, to start with the news that Frozen has become the biggest animated film of all time. Since it premiered in November, the flick has consistently made headlines. With its opening in Japan this weekend, Frozen has pushed Toy Story 3 off the top spot, earning more than $1 billion at the box office. As an aside, another animated film, The Lego Movie, also reached a milestone: it’s become the first film in 2014 to rake in $400 million globally.

* That wonderful movie magazine, tinged with British humour, Empire celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The mag honoured Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and more, with its annual accolades, the Jameson Empire Awards.

* The Walking Dead ended its fourth season on Sunday night, with an episode entitled A, full of questions that remain to be answered when the next season starts up again in October.

* Meanwhile, How I Met Your Mother wraps up its final episode EVER tonight. Kids, it’s been a long journey – 9 years exactly, to find out how Ted met the Mother. Let’s hope it’s Legen – wait for it - dary.

* Lady Gaga celebrated her 28th birthday on Friday with the first of her 8-night residency at The Roseland Ballroom, as a send-off to the iconic NYC venue. It was fun to see her do ‘old’ tracks like Just Dance, alongside her Artpop ditties.

** And just for your Monday pleasure, in case you missed it, Bill Murray sang kareoke this past weekend. Thank you, Internet.

[Pic: Disney]

In the middle of answering a question about her experience with comic book fans, Scarlett Johansson is given a glass of tomato juice. “Don’t worry, it’s not a Bloody Mary,” she says. “Or maybe it is,” she adds, mischievously. “I had it on the plane over here and I just really liked it.”

“Is it a craving?” I ask, sitting next to her in London’s Dorchester Hotel where the film is having its premiere that night.

“No, that’s a silly question,” she says, as she moves on to carry on talking about the devotion to the Marvel fans around the world have shown.

Perhaps, but it’s an innocent one. The 29-year-old actress has yet to confirm her pregnancy herself, but Marvel producer Kevin Feige let it slip a few weeks ago, and since then, Scarlett has already found herself topping lists about pregnant women in Hollywood. She and fiancé French journalist Romain Dauriac are believed to be in the early stages of expecting, and Scarlett is still on track to film The Avengers sequel in April.

 

Pregnancy is just one of the many roles Scarlett, who has been nominated for four Golden Globes since she started acting at the age of 10, currently has. Her honey-warm voice helped earn Her a best picture Oscar nomination, she’s currently enjoying critical acclaim with the indie movie Under the Skin, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and now, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which releases this weekend, sees her slip back into costume as Natasha Romanov, aka the Black Widow.

In The Winter Soldier, Scarlett reunites with Robert Redford, who witnessed the early part of her career when they were in The Horse Whisperer in 1998. Scarlett, who was born in New York City and studied threatre there, was 13 then. “It was nice to meet him as an adult; he was just as pleasurable as I remember,” she says. “He has a real natural way about him in life, and in his performance. I never thought I’d be holding a gun to his head though!”

Black-Widow

Dressed in a blue suit with a red-and-blue patterned silk shirt, she looks casual with her hair swept up in a pony,every bit of the easy-to-work-with, anti-diva her co-stars Samuel L Jackson and Anthony Mackie describe. Her role as the Black Widow has made her part of the billion-dollar franchise – a success that superseded the industry’s expectations. The Avengers became the fastest film to gross $1 billion, and the third-highest-grossing film in movie history. Does she feel any of that pressure for the sequel, which is due out next year? “ [Director] Joss [Whedon] is supposed to experience all that pressure,” says the actress, chuckling.

“For me, one of the exciting things about doing a film like this is that you have the challenge of keeping the character fresh, while still maintaining the integrity of what the audience loves about them,” she says. “Even doing theatre doesn’t compare to this,” continues the Tony-Award winner. “You have a relationship with the audience, because you’re coming back to them. I like that, because it’s an opportunity that we don’t always have as actors.”

The key to playing a superhero, Scarlett says, is confidence, even though she admits there’s a bit of fake-it-til-you-make-it. “The most important thing is you just have to drive it like you own it, so even if you feel goofy doing it, if you sell it with conviction, and add some music, it’ll look cool.”

“The most important thing [to playing a superhero] is you just have to drive it like you own it, so even if all you feel goofy doing it, if you sell it with conviction, and add some music, it’ll look cool.”

No doubt she’ll be channelling that while filming Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, which shoots in London, although the production team has been filming some of the set-up shots in South Africa. “South Africa is really beautiful, I’d love to go there,” she says. “There are so many of us, so who knows where, if anywhere, we’ll be going. But I think we’ll just be here [in London].”

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier

There’s talk that Black Widow may get her own movie one day soon. “The material is certainly there, she says. “And it’s great to have a female-driven superhero who is not just a character taking every opportunity to pose sexy but actually has some substance to her.” Scarlett loves seeing women at Comic Conventions rocking the Black Widow costume. “It’s not an easy one to pull off,” she says. “I’m always, like, ‘you go, girl! And I love it when my friends’ daughters dress up as her. It’s great that they have someone who can go head-to-head with the guys and is witty to look up to.”

“It’s great to have a female-driven superhero who is not just a character taking every opportunity to pose sexy but actually has some substance to her.”

While the Black Widow may or may not get her own movie, Scarlett will be getting hers. The actress will direct her first feature-length movie, based on a Truman Capote novel called Summer Crossing. New mother and new director – true to Scarlett’s definition of superhero.

* It has the potential to be a genius move – Wu Tang Clan are planning to release just one copy of a secret album that’s been recorded with producer and extended family member Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh. The idea is to tour the one-of-a-kind album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, which will be housed in a box designed by British-Moroccan artist Yahya, and then sell it for a one-of-a-kind price. For the rest of us plebs, there’ll be the group’s 20th anniversary album, A Better Tomorrow, which will be available this July.

* Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum are our new heroes in the upcoming film from the siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski, who last gave us Cloud Atlas. This time, Jupiter Ascending is an original story from the duo – still, of course, along the science fiction side of things. It comes out in July.

* CinemaCon has been taking place in Vegas, where the studios have been showing sneak preview footage of films coming out in the next couple of months, like 50 Shades of Gray, Spider-Man 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more have been shown. Former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences head, the late Tom Sherak, was also remembered at a tribute dinner.

* Oprah has announced she’ll be hitting the road – the TV tycoon will take her The Life You Want tour from  Atlanta to 7 more locations around the US. Having seen her speak a few times live, it’s pretty hard to walk away uninspired from an Oprah A-Ha moment.

* A letter by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee, in which the To Kill a Mockingbird writer explains why she never gives interviews, will go under the hammer in Los Angeles today. (Good reason, but it doesn’t stop some of us from trying…)

Hello from a still-cold New York. Will it ever end…

* It’s one of the biggest music fests around (and still on my bucket list) – Lollapalooza has announced its lineup for August. Recent Brit winners Arctic Monkeys, Eminem, Kings of Leon, Outkast and Skrillex will headline, while the rest of the players can be found here

* While the gossip mags are looking into the intricate details of the split between Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, Martin’s band Coldplay are preparing to release their new album, Ghost Stories. They played the album at an intimate gig in LA the other night. First single Magic is quite a gem, even if the words now, in hindsight, seem extra poignant.

* It seems Madonna has found her next movie to direct – a debut novel written by the daughter of Alice Walker, Rebecca. Called Ade: A Love Story, the film will be based on the relationship between a young college student and a Swahili man, set against a civil-war stricken Kenya.

* P Diddy is dropping a new video next week ahead of his first album in about 4 years. But the thing that’s had people talking is he’s going back to his former moniker of Puff Daddy – a persona he says he’s always been. Either way, if you’re a Diddy fan, keep an eye out for the video next Monday.

* Blink and you’ll miss it – as I clearly did when it came out on Monday – but there’s a 10-second promo of the new Rosemary’s Baby miniseries online. The series has been adapted from Roman Polanski’s 1968 film, this time set in Paris, not NYC, and stars Zoe Saldanha in the lead role. It’ll air in the Summer. Ah, Summer…

 

Hello from New York – where we will soon have our very own cupcake ATM

* Director Bryan Singer tweeted out the much meatier second trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which we see a lot more of the cast and action of what looks to be a fun frolic into the past. Glimpses of the characters from the original X-Men join forces with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class, to try go back and change the course of fate. The film is due out in May.

* There hasn’t been a new album from the Pixies since 1991, but as of next month, that all changes. The alt-rockers release Indie Candy in April – sans co-founding bassist Kim Deal – but today, you can get three of those songs off their website.

* Sundance London announced its lineup for this year’s across-the-pond edition of the famous festival. Running for a third year, the fest will feature 21 films, including one about Jarvis Cocker and his band Pulp, which will surely be a treat for Britpop fans.

* If you’re a CSI fan, you’ll be saying goodbye to one of the show’s two long-standing cast members. Paul Guilfoyle, who has played Captain Jim Brass since the crime drama debuted in 2000, will be leaving at the end of the current season. That means he stuck around for 14 seasons. Talk about longevity.

* Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has won the architect’s world version top accolade, the Prizker Prize. Ban designed the wonderful Centre Pompidou Metz art museum in Paris, but he was given the prize for the innovative way he uses everyday materials to construct temporary relief shelters.

Hello! Back in New York, after an in-out visit to the UK where Spring feels much more on its way…

* The weekend box office results show that Divergent raked in most of the movie-going share, while the Muppets, sadly, did not.

* By the end of this week, tickets will go on sale for Kate Bushreturn to the stage. The ethereal singer of whimsical delights such as Wuthering Heights has not toured in 35 years, and the news, understandably, has the British press – and her legions of fans, myself included, very giddy.

* This weekend Lady Gaga shared with the world her longest music video to date. The Hearst Castle-set G.U.Y, which she also directed, clocks in at 11 minutes and 46 seconds – 4 minutes of that purely for the credits. It’s filled with snippets of other tracks, synchronized swimmers, men in suits, sort-of cameos by Michael Jackson and Ghandi, and some solo grinding.

* An album of previously unreleased Johnny Cash songs will be released this week - as part of the lost 1980s album, Out Among the Stars. The selling point here, aside from this being uncovered music from one of the world’s most beloved country singers, is that this material was recorded in between the lowest point in his career and the time he started working with super-producer Rick Rubin, who helped resuscitate the late Cash’ commercial appeal.

* Onto another John – an auction of John Lennon‘s letters and drawings is going under the hammer in June, under the title You Might Well Arsk. Continuing commemorations of the 50 years since the Beatles performed for the first time in the US, a piece of the Ed Sullivan stage backdrop will also be auctioned at a later date.

[Pic: Disney]

Howzit from London, where I’ve travelled forward in time to interview the cast of Captain America (in England, oh the irony!). Lots of movie news worth knowing today…

* It’s the YA (Young Adult) series many say will take over from The Hunger Games - which took over from Twilight -Divergent had its Hollywood premiere on Tuesday night. The film’s stars, Kate Winslet (fresh from receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Theo James and singer Ellie Goulding, who has a song on the soundtrack, all made an appearance, ahead of the film’s release on March 21st.

* After years of waiting for the time to be right, Charles Schulz’ son, heir to the Peanuts legacy, decided to go ahead with a silver-screen adaptation, and we’ve been given the first look at what our CGI-feature film Charlie Brown is going to look like. The movie is being produced by the fabulous Paul Feig (who gave us Bridesmaids) and is due out in November 2015.

* Staying with animated movie news, The Incredibles will be returning for a sequel, as confirmed by Disney Pixar. No details have yet been announced about when the new adventures of Mr Incredible and his family will hit the big screen.

* And in more film news, Star Wars VII is due to start shooting in May in the UK, at Pinewood Studios near London. Disney and Lucasfilm confirmed the latest installment in the series would be set about 30 years after the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Now, let the casting speculation continue until we know exactly who’ll be part of the “trio of new young leads along with some very familiar faces”, as stated in the press release.

* Glee marked 100 episodes (is it just me or does it feel like it’s been going for more?) with the return of Gwyneth Paltrow, Kristen Chenoweth, and the original cast, singing ditties to save McKinley High’s singing club from imminent closure. The episode also paid tribute to the late Cory Monteith, who died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol last year.

 [Pic: Courtesy Lionsgate]

I’m back! After the madness of SXSW and the travelling and all the woes that go with that, how about some of today’s news worth knowing then…

* Maleficent continues to tease with the release of a new clip and image showing Angelina Jolie’s villain with wings, once upon a time.

* Would you believe the NFL is still harping on about MIA‘s finger flipping from the 2012 Super Bowl? They’re suing for $16.6 million, but she’s got her attorney hitting back with claims that her behaviour wasn’t the first time something salacious happened during America’s biggest football game.

* Darren Aronofsky’s latest film Noah will premiere in Italy tonight, and, according to reports, its star Russell Crowe has been trying to get the Pope  to watch the biblical epic inspired by the story of Noah.

* We always knew Kate Winslet was a star, but now the Oscar-winning actress has one to prove it. Kate was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday, with her Divergent co-star Shailene Woodley on hand.

* The Rolling Stones have postponed the first date of their Australian tour, after the very sad news that Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, designer L’Wren Scott died in an apparent suicide on Monday.