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Summer 2010: Hollywood Hits & Misses

By Emily Christianson, Whitney Friedlander, Lisa Fung, Todd Martens and Jevon Phillips, Los Angeles Times staff

We’ve seen a lot this summer.

Our jaws dropped when we heard alleged recordings of Mel Gibson berating his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva over the phone, and we found Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi exiting “American Idol” to be completely out of tune. Of course, the summer wasn’t all bad. Katy Perry lightened the mood with her “Teenage Dreams,” and Christopher Nolan helped us get away with his dreamscape thriller “Inception.”

Now, presenting entertainment’s summer in review... (Clockwise from top left: Chris Pizzello/Associated Press; Capitol Records/Associated Press; Warner Bros.; Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times)
Eminem: Hit
After a five-year absence, Eminem returned with two albums in less than 12 months and instantly reclaimed his superstar crown. In just eight weeks, his “Recovery” sold more than 2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That’s a feat unheard of in this download era and reminiscent of the mid-'90s. Meanwhile, his late-2009 effort, “Relapse,” has sold more than 2 million itself. “Relapse” is more of a shock-and-awe album, but Eminem showed a bit more soul on “Recovery,” and audiences have responded in a more than positive manner.

-- Todd Martens (Andrew Milligan / Associated Press)
‘American Idol’ makeover: Miss (for now)
Paula Abdul stirred the pot last year when she left her “Idol” post over a contract dispute, but that was nothing compared to the drama this summer. After Simon Cowell‘s heartfelt exit at the end of Season 9, two more judges left the show. First, Ellen DeGeneres announced she was quitting because it “didn’t feel like the right fit for me.” Days later, news spread that Kara DioGuardi would not be returning either. After weeks of speculation over their replacements, news broke that Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez would join Randy Jackson on the panel. We’ll have to wait for January to see how all this plays out, dawg.

-- Emily Christianson and Whitney Friedlander (Michael Becker / Associated Press)
‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore': Hit
Who knew Chris Pine had it in him? Sure, we’ve seen the “Star Trek” actor in Neil LaBute‘s “Fat Pig” at the Geffen Playhouse in 2007 and in Beau Willimon’s “Farragut North” two years later at the Geffen. But the Irish accent? The violence? The comic timing? And his special way with cats? Pine was the man to watch in the Mark Taper Forum production of Martin McDonagh’s blood-soaked black comedy “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” As crazed Irish terrorist Padraic, who was willing to shoot his own father over a mishap with his cat, Pine still managed to show off his charm. And, as Times theater critic Charles McNulty noted: “The conviction and fine-grained texture of his acting continue to impress, as does the exemplary way he’s been managing his career -- one of the few young box-office guns eager to enrich his talent every bit as much as his bank account.” Oh, and it didn’t hurt that Taper audiences had a bloody good time.

-- Lisa Fung (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Chick flicks: Miss
When the “Sex and the City” gals took off for Abu Dhabi this summer for an all-expenses-paid getaway, their fans didn’t come along for the ride. The reunion flick with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda earned an embarrassing 16% rating among critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile, the movie’s $37.1-million opening over the long Memorial Day weekend was nothing compared with the $57-million premiere splash made by the first “Sex and the City” flick.

But Sarah Jessica Parker isn’t alone. Julia Roberts’ summer didn’t go all that well either. Critics gave her movie “Eat Pray Love,” based on the New York Times bestseller, 37% on Rotten Tomatoes. Apparently, the book’s mega-fans weren’t interested in going back to Italy, India and Bali, leading to a dismal $23.7-million opening.

-- Emily Christianson

Left photo: John Corbett and Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City 2,” credit: New Line Productions; right photo: Javier Bardem and Julia Roberts in “Eat Pray Love,” credit: Sony ()
‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest': Hit
Who says no one reads books anymore? The hardcover U.S. version of the last book in author Stieg Larsson’s posthumous trilogy arrived on May 25 and made its way to many poolside lounge chairs during the summer. Click here to read The Times’ review of the book.

-- Whitney Friedlander (Knopf)
Lilith Fair: Miss
Fans were not as kind to Sarah McLachlan‘s girl-power music festival as they once were. Ticket sales plummeted, and tour dates were canceled as big names like Norah Jones and Kelly Clarkson bailed. The L.A.-area show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre was at barely over half its capacity. Click here to see what The Times’ staff thought of the music amid the crickets chirping.

Photo: Martie Maguire, Sara Bareilles, Emily Robison, Sarah McLachlan, Serena Ryder and Jill Hennessy attend Lilith Fair at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, N.J. (Gilbert Carrasquillo / Getty Images)
Avenged Sevenfold: Hit
This Huntington Beach band survived a tragedy and documented it in full on record. Avenged Sevenfold confronted the unexpected death last year of drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan on its recently released “Nightmare.” The darkly personal hard-rock song cycle was instantly embraced by fans and gave the locals its best-ever sales week on the U.S. pop charts. “Nightmare” landed at No. 1 in early August, topping the chart with 162,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. After three weeks, the album was still in the top 20.

-- Todd Martens (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
‘The Kids Are All Right': Hit
Director Lisa Cholodenko‘s tale of an everyday family of four (headed by a lesbian couple) whose lives get twisted around when the teenage children track down their biological father was a hit with fans and critics. Although a wide release wasn’t as kind to ticket sales, the film (which Cholodenko co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg) has a 94% fresh rating on, and Times film critic Betsy Sharkey wrote, “Whatever your politics, between peerless performances, lyrical direction and an adventurous script, this is the sort of pleasingly grown-up fare all too rare in the mainstream daze of this very dry summer.”

-- Whitney Friedlander (Suzanne Tenner / Associated Press)
‘Rent’ at the Hollywood Bowl: Miss
It seemed like a good idea on paper, right? Neil Patrick Harris, himself a veteran of the Ahmanson Theatre’s cast of “Rent” way back in 1997 and not to mention other musical-theater roles, took to the director’s chair to stage the late Jonathan Larson‘s Pulitzer-winning play at the Bowl. The “Rent” cast even included “names” like Vanessa Hudgens and Wayne Brady. But the venue’s space and rehearsal-time constrictions might have been too much, says Times theater critic Charles McNulty: “Harris can do almost anything in my book, but he wasn’t able to figure out the spatial and logistical challenges of mounting a full-scale musical at the Bowl.” (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
George Gershwin: Hit
The late composer had a pretty hot summer in 2010. The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson released an album that “reimagines” his classics, and Jason Mraz, Nancy Wilson and others joined the L.A. Philharmonic for the “Gershwin Across America” concert at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 25.

-- Whitney Friedlander (A&E Publicity / Myriad Pictures)
Arcade Fire: Hit
The indie act, based in Canada, topped the U.S. pop charts with its third album, “The Suburbs,” awarding its label, Merge Records, its first-ever No. 1 album. What’s more, the Arcade Fire did so by outselling Eminem, moving 156,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The act has been ruling the digital sector, having sold 122,000 downloads in just two weeks (out of a total 209,000 sales over the span).

And that doesn’t even touch on the music. “The Suburbs” is a full album experience, with themes and sounds shifting in and out from song to song. It’s quieter and less anthemic than past efforts from the act, but over the course of 16 tracks, the Arcade Fire crafts a novel-like look at a residential life populated with broken dreams and sprawling strip malls. (Cory Schwartz / Getty Images)
Television Critics Assn. 2010: Hit
The summer Television Critics Assn. press tour might have come and gone, but the two-week preview left us ready for fall.

Although some shows fared better than others with critics (sorry, “Outsourced” and “Running Wilde”), there is more promise than peril this fall as dramas outshined their comedy counterparts.

Juice up your DVRs, and make sure not to miss NBC‘s “The Event” (especially if you’re still mourning the loss of “Lost”) and “Undercovers,” CW’s “Nikita,” ABC’s “No Ordinary Family,” Fox’s “Lonestar” -- also “Mike & Molly” and " Hawaii Five-O,” both potential big winners for CBS.

If broadcast doesn’t tickle your fancy, there is a slew of cable shows set to make a splash: Showtime‘s “The Big C,” FX‘s “Terriers” and HBO‘s “Boardwalk Empire” should be on your radar. And if you’re a fan of HBO’s " Big Love,” TLC has the real thing with “Sister Wives,” a series about a polygamist family in Utah(Clockwise from top left: NBC [“The Event”]; CBS [“Mike & Molly”]; Showtime [“The Big C”]; HBO [“Boardwalk Empire”], CW [“Nikita”])
‘Thurgood': Hit
One man on a sparse stage offering up a history lesson. Perhaps not the easiest sell for a theater production. Unless the man is Laurence Fishburne and the history lesson revolves around the U.S. Supreme Court‘s first African American justice, Thurgood Marshall. Reprising the role that earned him a Tony nomination for his performance in the 2008 Broadway run of George Stevens Jr.‘s “Thurgood,” Fishburne proved this wasn’t just a Hollywood vanity project. Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote of the Geffen Playhouse production: “He salutes the man (winking affectionately at his appreciation of a stiff drink and fine looking women) and pays homage to the civil rights legend, allowing us to see how the injustice of growing up in the ‘separate but equal’ Jim Crow South prompted Marshall to become a champion for justice.”

-- Lisa Fung (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
Comic-book adaptations: Miss
This summer saw the hugely anticipated “Iron Man 2" do OK at the box office and the extremely buzzed-about comic-book adaptations “Kick-Ass” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” do not so well. Both “Kick-Ass” and “Scott Pilgrim” were well received by critics and many who saw the movies. But that seemed to be the problem: getting people to see them. After the success of the first “Iron Man,” its sequel had huge shoes to fill, which might have contributed to the ho-hum reviews and the middling box office.

-- Jevon Phillips

Photos, from left: Michael Cera in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” by Universal Pictures; Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man 2" by Marvel Entertainment; Aaron Johnson in “Kick-Ass” by Lionsgate ()
Katy Perry: Hit
Pop vixen Katy Perry waited till the end of summer to release her “Teenage Dream” (Aug. 24), but she’d been inescapable in the three or four months prior to that. After cavorting with Snoop Dogg in her “California Gurls,” she scored a second Top 5 single with the album’s title track -- a glossy and nostalgic look at young love. Yet don’t be fooled. “Teenage Dream” the album is largely about lust.

-- Todd Martens (Joseph Nair / AFP / Getty Images)
Al Pacino in ‘The Merchant of Venice': Hit
Al Pacino‘s role as money-lending villain Shylock in New York‘s Public Theater production of the Shakespeare comedy was the talk of the city, said Times theater critic Charles McNulty, who added, “It’s also the most intriguing element in veteran director Daniel Sullivan’s handling of a play that is as curiously compelling as it is notoriously troubling.”

-- Whitney Friedlander (Joan Marcus / Associated Press)
M.I.A.: Hit and miss
After finding mainstream success with her “Paper Planes,” a heavily licensed, Clash-sampling cut that won the border-hopping electronic artist a Grammy nomination, M.I.A. seemed poised for superstardom with her “Maya.”

That hasn’t quite panned out, as the first glimpse of the album, “Born Free,” was far more punk than dance and came with a controversial, extremely violent video. Soon after, the New York Times painted a not-so-flattering picture of the artist, contrasting her posh life with her political ideals, and M.I.A. responded by posting the reporter’s phone number online. All this overshadowed the release, which in five weeks has fallen out of the top 100 and doesn’t look likely to cross the 100,000 sales mark anytime soon.

A shame, as The Times’ Ann Powers wrote, “It feels like a serious artist’s sometimes tentative but very promising step toward a broader vision of herself. In its 12 tracks, M.I.A. explores both what it means to serve as a sexual/romantic ideal in the Beyoncé way and what happens when a self-consciously political artist like herself confronts the sentimental streak deep within.”

-- Todd Martens (Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images)
‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ casting: Hit
One of the hardest parts for director David Fincher in his American retelling of the novel by late Swedish author Stieg Larsson and subsequent Swedish film might have been the casting. In the end, he went with fan favorite Daniel Craig for the role of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Some devotees of the original movies might have wanted Noomi Rapace to reprise her role as Lisbeth Salander, the brains behind the operation, but the coveted role went to relative unknown Rooney Mara (sister to “Iron Man 2" and “Brokeback Mountain’s” Kate Mara). Can we consider the fact that Noomi and Rooney’s names sort of sound alike a compromise?

-- Whitney Friedlander

Left photo: Rooney Mara, credit: Merrick Morton / Columbia Pictures; Right photo: Daniel Craig, credit: Greg Williams / Columbia Pictures ()
Comic-Con 2010: Hit
Comic-Con International doesn’t really get bigger and bigger as most people keep saying. They reached capacity, with sold-out tickets earlier and earlier, a long time ago. It’s just the coverage that seems to grow.

Big stars and big projects continue to come, and this year did not disappoint (except maybe the " Harry Potter” fans). Appearances by Harrison Ford, Natalie Portman, the whole new cast of the eagerly awaited “Avengers” movie, a pairing of con greats in the Joss Whedon-J.J. Abrams hour, the Seths (Green and McFarlane), triple comic-book movie threat Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges and “Tron,” Bruce Willis uniting with Sylvester Stallone and the men of “The Expendables” ... Star overload. Star overload. (Clockwise from top left: Denis Poroy/Associated Press; John Shearer/Getty Images; Associated Press; Getty Images; Associated Press)
Reality TV for foodies: Hit (mostly)
It was a foodie fest in summer 2010, starting with the launch of the Cooking Channel. And maybe it’s just us, but it seems as if chef Gordon Ramsay was everywhere we looked. No sooner did the “Hell’s Kitchen” overlord bestow Season 7 honors on San Bernardino‘s Holli Ugalde than he launched a new show, “MasterChef,” which -- finally! -- featured the “real” cooks in America: home cooks.

But the most charming food hit of the summer? The lovely Aarti Sequeira. The L.A. blogger waltzed away with our hearts, overcoming self-doubt to become “The Next Food Network Star” winner. We couldn’t wait to set the TiVo for “Aarti Party” to see if the magic lasts. Another notable hit: “The Great Food Truck Race.” Granted, it has the easy-on-the-eyes Tyler Florence at the helm as gourmet-food trucks duke it out. But it’s still a nail biter (and it made our stomachs growl).

One dish definitely left us cold: Fan favorite “Top Chef.” While host Padma Lakshmi remains red-white-and-blue hot, the show itself felt like it lost some sizzle in Season 7. And spinoff “Top Chef: Just Desserts?” Emotional breakdowns and tired challenges definitely left a sour taste in our mouths.

-- Rene Lynch

Photos from left: Gordon Ramsay, credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press; Aarti Sequeira, credit: Food Network; Tyler Florence, credit: Associated Press ()
‘Inception': Hit
The summer movie season was overcrowded with sequels, adaptations and remakes, but amid the retreads, moviegoers had “Inception.” Christopher Nolan introduced viewers to a dreamscape where ideas were a precious commodity, and the critics raved. With an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and more that $272 million at the domestic box office, the film was one of the biggest hits of the summer.

-- Emily Christianson (Melissa Moseley / Warner Bros.)