Tuesday, May 24, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Female Forces Rule

Rihanna, Pink, Gwen Stefani, Arianna Grande, and Demi Lovato at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards.
by Liz Smith

Female Forces Rule: Caitriona Balfe ... Eva Green ... Celine Dion ... Demi Lovato ... Pink ... Belinda Carlisle ... Rihanna ... Adele ... Madonna.    

"I DO not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves," said Mary Shelley.
POWERFUL WOMEN were on my mind this past weekend. Not in the political arena, but rather the arts, acting and singing, in particular. I had hoped to catch the new feature film, "Love & Friendship" but found myself reading a new book about the cultural impact of Elizabeth Taylor on celebrity life as it has evolved. More on this book, titled "Elizabeth Taylor: A Private Life for Public Consumption", later this week. (It's very good, but I do have some issue with the author's references to me.)
Otherwise, I was impressed a great deal by performances I caught on TV. Two were rather epic, in the cable series' "Outlander" and "Penny Dreadful," respectively.

"Outlander" in its second season on the Starz network is a fantastical tale of a woman, Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) a married British nurse, who is transported back in time, from 1945 to Scotland in 1743. (She was vacationing in Scotland and encounters some magic portal to the past.) Claire has trouble adjusting, naturally, but her confusion is assuaged when she has to marry the hunky laird, Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan.) This is not the worst thing than can happen to a woman in trouble!
Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) in "Outlander."
They clean up well, too!
If you haven't seen the show, I won't belabor the details and adventures, which include quite a bit of literal bodice-ripping and poor Jamie comes in for some sadistic sexual abuse himself. Both the leads are attractive and talented, but last week's episode concentrated almost solely on Miss Balfe, attempting to recover physically and emotionally from a terrible miscarriage. The actress hit every intimate note perfectly — from despair to bitterness and finally acceptance. If Caitriona were performing in any other show, she'd be up for an Emmy, but "Outlander" despite its excellent production values and popularity, gets an eye-roll from Emmy voters, who consider it "Forever Amber" with some supernatural tossed in. Pity.
As for "Penny Dreadful" I have written about this show — now in its third season — a number of times. A Showtime original, this is a monstrously compelling Gothic blend of Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, the Wolfman, Lucifer, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It shouldn't work at all, but it does, and the show is held together by the go-for-broke performance of Eva Green as the unfortunate woman who seems to attract nothing but the undead or those cast out of heaven.
Eva Green going for broke in season three of "Penny Dreadful."
Last Sunday's episode took place almost entirely in a padded cell. The actress had some brilliant assistance from Patti LuPone (Dr. Seward) and Rory Kinnear who ends up as Dr. Frankenstein's Creature, but the heavy lifting was done by Green, who is always super-intense but went so far beyond her usual excellence it was almost unbearable to watch the suffering her character endures. Again, Emmy-worthy. But like "Outlander" this show is not taken seriously.

I have to wonder why, because neither is any more outrageous or fantastic than "Game of Thrones" which has had Emmy recognition. ("GOT" itself had a fine episode this weekend, most satisfying in the fact that the put-upon and brutalized Sansa — young actress Sophie Turner — is finally asserting herself.)

In any case, brava, kudos and shout-outs to Caitriona Balfe and Eva Green; two great actresses who need some love from their peers.
Patti LuPone and Eva Green in "Penny Dreadful."
WOMEN ALSO dominated the Billboard Awards, which I managed to watch almost without interruption. I enjoyed and recognized some of the guys — Justin Bieber, Nick Jonas and Blake Shelton — but it was ladies' night from beginning to end. Britney Spears opened with her trademarked obvious lip-syncing and notoriously stiff dancing, but it was a spectacularly flashy production, the girl herself looks great and she was there to pick up a well-deserved award for her phenomenal popularity.
Britney Spears' Opening Performance at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards.
The rest of the night seemed to me to be one sensational performance after another — Rihanna's "Love on the Brain" was a scorcher ... Pink's "Just Like Fire" generated heat although her high-flying trapeze thing is wearing thin ... Gwen Stefani flirted deliciously with her real-life love Blake Shelton during their duet ... Arianna Grande's "Dangerous Woman" seemed to get the crowd moving the most ... Demi Lovato's upbeat "Cool for Summer" was very cool for summer! ... Adele, who took several awards, also introduced her stylish new video "Send My Love to Your New Lover." (Adele is on tour, and accepted her awards amusingly, from wherever in the world she is performing now.) And the Go-Go's, singing "We Got the Beat" almost as if time had stopped. (Belinda Carlisle is still a great beauty.)
Adele accepting her awards from wherever in the world she is ...
The evening's emotional pinnacle came with the appearance of Celine Dion, who belted out Queen's "The Show Must Go On." The singer, who lost her husband and her brother to cancer earlier this year — and in the very same week — tore down the house, rebuilt it, and then took everything to another level when her teenage son appeared onstage to present her with Billboard's Icon Award. Dion, who was not expecting him, struggled to maintain her composure, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry for crying" she said, and held her son's hand while she gave her acceptance speech. It would be a stony heart indeed not to have been moved by that!
Celine Dion accepts the Billboard Icon-Award from son Rene Charles Angelil.
I've always enjoyed Celine's openly dramatic style of singing and performing — her unique stance and gestures, which she never attempts to tone down. It's kind of old-fashioned, in a good way, and I wondered if the Billboard crowd would really appreciate her. I think they did.
THE HIGHLY anticipated, piece de resistance was Madonna, still-vibrant survivor of the great era of the 80's superstars, performing her tribute to Prince. Despite fears that she might choose one of the late singer's more salacious numbers, Madonna wisely and elegantly sang "Nothing Compares 2 U," joined toward the end by Stevie Wonder, on "Purple Rain."
Her affection and respect for Prince apparently conquered the nerves that sometimes afflict her when performing at an awards show. (Although, the number opened with a close-up of her hand, which appeared to tremble slightly — shades of her famous appearance at the Oscars in 1991.) But she beautifully worked her way through the song, and by end, the Queen was tearful.
It was a fitting finale to the show, and to my observing 48 hours of female excellence, professionalism and commitment.

P.S. Of course I took notes during the Billboard broadcast. Off the top of my head, if you said "Demi Lovato" or Arianna Grande" to me, I'd reply "The only Demi I know is Moore and the other one sounds like an opera diva." So I learned a few things.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.