October 27th, 2009
05:12 PM ET

Dealing a better hand for Darfur

Did you hear the one about the actor and the poker champ?  Actually, it's no joke: Don Cheadle and Annie Duke have raised some $2.5 million for Darfur over the last few years with celebrity poker tournaments.  Their charity, Ante Up For Africa, brings together stars from the worlds of showbiz, sports, and poker to have a lot of fun - and raise a lot of money and awareness.  Their latest event is this Thursday in California.

"People really underestimate the generosity of the poker community," says Duke, who's also raised millions for Children's Hospital Boston and other causes.  "It's filled with people who are really committed to giving back and using whatever resources they have in order to improve the world."

Cheadle, who received an Oscar nomination for "Hotel Rwanda" and saw the devastation in Darfur first-hand when he traveled there with a Congressional delegation, is serious about helping the war-torn region - and about poker.  He protested only mildly as Duke described to me how Cheadle took down superstar Phil Ivey at the 2007 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship.  And he's not the only celeb intent on the game: Casey Affleck, one of the big winners at last year's Ante Up For Africa event, is back this year, and his big brother Ben has qualified for some high-profile tournaments.

Winners at the Ante Up For Africa events generally donate most or all of their winnings to the cause, but Cheadle says the tournaments are also about building awareness: "Money is obviously extremely important; it's an effective tool to get things accomplished.  But in the end, awareness is what really matters, because we all know that the lasting solutions to these problems are actually political solutions, and you don't get political solutions without the people that are electing those governments caring about the issues."

I asked whether it wasn't an odd pairing: well-off celebs having fun around a poker table in the name of desperate people forced to flee their villages half a world away. Duke pointed out that the events encourage people to stay involved, increasing the money and awareness raised.  "Everybody wants to give, but they also want value in return for their time," she told me.  "I'm not sure anything is more effective than a poker tournament, because people come and they can genuinely hang out with celebrities and some of the famous poker players, and just have a really fanstastic time while they're giving."

Say what you like about celebs' motivations for how they use the spotlight - and I'm sure many of you will, in the comments - but it's hard to argue with results.  And Cheadle is accustomed to taking flack for using his celebrity for good causes.

"Some people look at that and are cynical about it, and think that it's just frivolous celebrities trying to give themselves some sort of gravitas sometimes," he told me.  "But I still say, even if it is that, there is still something going on over there, and we want you to look over there.  So you try and take the opportunity whenever you can."

October 27th, 2009
02:10 PM ET

Heavy breathing on 'Dancing'

Lots of celebrities have mentioned how they’ve lost weight by competing on “Dancing With the Stars,” and it’s easy to see why.

Last night, many of the stars were barely able to catch their breath after dancing the jitterbug, a bouncy, energetic, athletic – and sometimes acrobatic - dance made popular during World War II.

Donny Osmond and his professional partner Kym Johnson did a fun, train-themed jitterbug that had him huffing and puffing afterwards.

Professional snowboarder Louie Vito seemed so out of breath after his routine that he looked like he was going to do what Osmond’s sister Marie did a few season back on “Dancing:” faint during the judges’ comments.

Judge Carrie Ann Inaba also noted that Vito dropped his professional partner Chelsie Hightower twice during their wild jitterbug. “It was all wacko,” added judge Bruno Tonioli.

Meanwhile, Kelly Osbourne did a fun, cute routine with Louis Van Amstel, but didn’t impress the judges, who called her performance “flat footed.”

“It was like a blueberry muffin without the blueberries,” said judge Len Goodman.

He was more complimentary of some of the couples who danced the waltz on last night’s show, giving the thumbs up to celebrities including Melissa Joan Hart and Michael Irvin.

Tonight, the results show features a double elimination. Who do you think should go?

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Filed under: Dancing With The Stars • television
October 27th, 2009
12:45 PM ET

Your pop culture cheat sheet

Here's what's happening in the world of entertainment today:

Microsoft is pulling its ads from the upcoming "Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show" special on Fox, according to Variety. Execs from the company were offended by some of the jokes at a taping for the show, which reportedly poked fun at deaf people and the Holocaust, among other things.

Speaking of advertising, Advertising Age reports that "Grey's Anatomy" has the most expensive ad prices for a scripted show, while "FlashForward" is the priciest new program. Among comedies, "Two and a Half Men" will cost you the most.

"Blue Collar" comedian Ron White has been a fixture on Comedy Central and The Hollywood Repoter says that the network has cut a new deal with him for an animated series called "Hounds," starring White's voice in the title role.

New music out today: the long-awaited "This Is It" soundtrack album (the Michael Jackson documentary is out in theaters tonight), Train's "Save Me, San Francisco," "Full Circle" by Creed and Rod Stewart's "Soulbook."

On DVD today: animated hit "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," horror flick "Orphan," Woody Allen's "Whatever Works," "Nothing Like the Holidays," full-length movie "Battlestar Galactica: The Plan," six-part documentary "Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut)" and "The Prisoner: The Complete Series."

October 27th, 2009
10:58 AM ET

Chris Brown shows his softer side

Interesting how a restraining order will make a man show his softer side.

Chris Brown, charged with five years probation and six months of community service for the beating he gave his ex-girlfriend Rihanna nine months ago, is still apologizing – this time for using Twitter to wax nostalgic about the ghosts of his relationship past.

Late Sunday night, the 20-year-old singer tweeted a link to a video montage on YouTube featuring him and Rihanna in better days, set to a saccharine song by Lee Carr, “The Way We Used To Be.” Brown wrote with the link, “IM SORRY YALL. JUST HAD TO POST IT.”

He followed that tweet minutes later with: “FOR THE FELLAS: showing emotion doesn't make u weak... BEING HONEST MAKES U STRONG.”

The video for Brown’s latest single, “I Can Transform Ya” debuted today.

Filed under: Celebrities • Chris Brown • Rihanna
October 27th, 2009
09:50 AM ET

'Dance' top 20 show their stuff

"Season six is gonna be sick," pronounced jazz dancer Mollee last week, and judging by Monday night's special "Top 20 intro" show, it's certainly looking that way.

For the first time ever, all of the dancers were divided up into different styles and had the chance to show off their skills in their own style, and the result was a quick, entertaining hour, without the threat of elimination (that comes tonight). Before they got to that, the top 20 had a group routine choreographed by Wade and Amanda Robson about four rival gangs in the 1930s, and this one really worked for me - though, of course, the Robsons rarely disappoint.

Then, Russell, Kevin and Legacy performed a fun, frenetic hip-hop routine choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon. Once again, krumper Russell caught my eye the most, but Kevin is certainly a force to be reckoned with. As for Legacy, as much as I liked him in his auditions, I can practically hear the words "you're very good at what you do, but..." coming from Nigel Lythgoe in a future episode.

Tyce Diorio's contemporary routine with Nathan, Ariana, Jakob and Channing was a disappointment overall. Mary Murphy said that she was "dizzy" afterward, but she found it "touching." I would just stick with "dizzy." There was a lot going on here, but no doubt Nathan and Jakob are definitely potential front-runners. Nathan's pirouettes and airborne Jakob stood out.

Bianca, Phillip and Peter took the floor next for the first ever tap-dancing routine, choreographed by Derick K. Grant. I know that Phillip rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but I still liked him here. Peter has a lot of potential, not to mention personality, so I wouldn't count him out. I've been a fan of Bianca's but she seemed a bit winded towards the end of this dance.

Sonya Tayeh gave dancers Mollee, Pauline and Ellenore quite the work-out of their jazz dancing skills. All three ran out of steam in the last 30 seconds or so, and at one point it seemed like Mollee took a bit of a spill, but Pauline, who was almost out of the top 20 due to an injury, really stood out for me (Ellenore a close second).

Mandy Moore's contemporary routine was the highlight of the night (a "relentless work of art" according to Adam Shankman), and it really showcased the brilliance of Billy Bell. This made it all the more bittersweet to hear, prior to the show, that Billy has since fallen ill and has had to leave the show. As for the rest of the dancers, they were all good but the most pleasant surprise of the night for me was Noelle.

The grand finale was Jason Gilkison's Latin ballroom routine, which deserves a lot of kudos for finding a way to use three dancers without being awkward. Married couple Ryan and Ashleigh teamed up with Karen for this fiery dance, and once again Ryan stole the show. I don't see Ashleigh sticking around for long, and Karen's skill isn't matched by a big personality thus far (see past seasons' Heidi, Pasha and king-of-the-hams Benji).

Of course, as the top 20 become ten couples (with Billy's replacement Brandon Dumlao set to join them), a lot will depend on who is paired with whom, so Tuesday night's show will give us an even better idea of what to expect, not to mention the loss of one guy and one girl. Until then, who do you want the judges to send home? Did any of the dancers surprise you? Share your thoughts on video, or below in the comments.

October 27th, 2009
01:48 AM ET

Bradley Cooper: Liam Neeson is the man

Liam Neeson, fresh from his gritty, tough guy performance in "Taken," is tackling a very different kind of role in the upcoming big-screen version of "The A-Team." Neeson's usual screen persona is as serious as a triple coronary bypass, and I'm not quite sure I see him as the light, devil-may-care leader of the group, "Hannibal Smith," the role made famous by the late George Peppard.

But Bradley Cooper, who plays "Face" in the film, vouches for his new on-screen boss.

"We're filming it right now, and he's fantastic. I think that people are going to love his Hannibal. He certainly raises everybody's game when you do a scene with him. He's an incredible actor."

But what exactly is the tone of this thing? Serious? Funny?

"It's everything, you know, it's like, at its best, if we succeed in this movie, it'll toe the line of being both, which I think is the goal."

So Neeson's hitting the comedy notes?

"He's hitting notes I've never even heard of. Yeah, he's that good."

I love it when a plan comes together...

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