Update January 27, 2018 - February 2, 2018
Film Review: Liam Neeson rides again in ‘The Commuter’
image shows Vera Farmiga (left) and Liam Neeson in a scene from “The
Commuter.” (Jay Maidment/Lionsgate via AP)
Los Angeles (AP)
- The tagline for the Liam Neeson Metro-North
thriller “The Commuter” — “Lives are on the line” — feels like a missed
opportunity. I would have gone with: “The quiet car is about to get
It’s been ten years
since Neeson’s unlikely reign as the movies’ best action hero began with
“Taken” — the little Paris kidnapping that unlocked Neeson’s special set
of skills. What has followed has been a decade of lean, blunt and glum
thrillers (three “Taken” movies, “Non-Stop,” ‘’The Grey”) anchored by
the looming and still quite potent presence of Neeson.
suggested that, at 65, he’s nearing the end of the line. So “The
Commuter,” which reteams him for the fourth time with Spanish director
Jaume Collet-Serra, may be one of our last chances to see Neeson kick
some butt. “The Commuter” rides very much the same rail as his previous
movies with Collet-Serra; it’s a hostage crisis tick-tock that speeds
straight ahead. Collet-Serra’s genre mechanics, stylized and sober, are
efficient. His trains run on time, even if — especially in “The
Commuter” — a rush-hour’s worth of implausibility eventually wrecks the
Michael McCauley, an ex-cop who has spent his last ten years as a life
insurance salesman, commuting Monday through Friday into Grand Central
from his family’s suburban home up the Hudson in Tarrytown, New York.
The movie’s clever overlapping opening montage shows the repetition of
his days, begun every day with 1010 Wins on the radio, a ride from his
wife to the train station and the crowded but solitary walk through
But one day is a
particularly bad one. McCauley is fired five years short of
retirement. With his savings depleted by the 2008 financial crisis and
college tuition coming soon for his high-school graduate son, McCauley’s
panic is palpable. He stops for a drink with his old police partner
(Patrick Wilson) before boarding the train home. There, he’s greeted by
a Hitchcockian stranger on the train (Vera Farmiga) who explains that
McCauley will make $100,000 on his ride home if he can only find the
person on the train “who doesn’t belong.”
McCauley, as he
soon discovers, has stepped into the plot of an absurdly powerful
syndicate that will use him to ferret out a crucial FBI witness. The
gaps in the story’s logic aren’t to be minded. The web around McCauley
is mysterious. And for Cold Spring, a few stops past McCauley’s usual
one, to be epicenter of such intrigue is curious. But then again, even
the Feds deserve a bit of antiquing and a brisk hike.
raising for the 1.6 to 3.1 million who trudge into and out of Manhattan
everyday will be an unforgiveable incongruity in the train’s otherwise
largely accurate path. It makes various subway stops through Manhattan,
when every commuter since the time of “Revolutionary Road” knows it runs
straight to Harlem. It’s the kind of inaccuracy that will cause untold
swarms of strap-hangers to throw their MetroCards at the screen.
whose “Non-Stop” similarly relished the confined space of an airplane
cabin, is too interested with swooping his camera through the train to
care much about the blur on the outside. But he knows well how to shoot
Neeson, following the actor’s hulking frame from car to car.
Their movies are,
in part, parables for the terrorism age. Like in “Non-Stop,” where
Neeson played an air marshal, the protagonist of “The Commuter” must
wrestle with the morality of uncovering the one threat in a sea of
maybe-innocent, maybe-guilty faces, some of them “regulars” (daily
riders), some of them unfamiliar. As before, Neeson is a lone warrior
trying to stay decent in a fallen world. With pandering references to
the big banks throughout, “The Commuter,” has just enough smarts to make
its final destination disappointing.
The old equation of
man-plus-locomotive has been a dependable one for the movies since
Buster Keaton rode the rails in “The General.” (See also: Burt Lancaster
in “The Train,” and Denzel Washington in “Unstoppable.”) “The Commuter”
isn’t in that class, but there are worse tickets to punch, especially in
January. Such a woeful time of year for new releases warrants repeating
the old warning: If you see something, say something.
“The Commuter,” a
Lionsgate release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of
America for “some intense action/violence, and language.” Running time:
104 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Scrap of flag from Nelson’s
HMS Victory sells for $408,000
Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018 file photo, Sotheby’s employees adjust a frame with
a fragment of the Union Flag, which flew from HMS Victory at the Battle of
Trafalgar, in London. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
London (AP) — Sotheby’s auction house says a fragment of
the red, white and blue “Victory Jack” flag that flew from Adm. Horatio
Nelson’s flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar has sold for 297,000 pounds
The fragment, which
measures several feet (about a meter) on each side, had been expected to
fetch between 80,000 pounds and 100,000 pounds.
The British naval hero
was fatally shot aboard HMS Victory as he led the British fleet against
France and Spain in the 1805 battle. Sailors at Nelson’s funeral reportedly
tore scraps from the flag to keep as mementoes.
The fragment was part
of an auction last week that also included Nelson’s grog chest and
decanters, along with several love letters to his mistress, Lady Emma
Autopsy: Tom Petty died of accidental drug overdose
Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008 file photo, Tom Petty performs in Glendale, Ariz. (AP
Photo/David J. Phillip)
Nekesa Mumbi Moody
New York (AP) -
Tom Petty died last year because of an accidental drug overdose that his
family said occurred on the same day he found out his hip was broken after
performing dozens of shows with a less serious injury.
His wife and daughter
released the results of Petty’s autopsy via a statement last week on his
Facebook page, moments before coroner’s officials in Los Angeles released
their findings and the rocker’s full autopsy report. Dana and Adria Petty
say they got the results from the coroner’s office earlier in the day that
the overdose was due to a variety of medications.
The coroner’s findings
showed Petty had a mix of prescription painkillers, sedatives and an
antidepressant. Among the medications found in his system were fentanyl and
oxycodone. An accidental overdose of fentanyl was also determined to have
killed Prince in April 2016.
Petty suffered from
emphysema, a fractured hip and knee problems that caused him pain, the
family said, but he was still committed to touring.
He had just wrapped up
a tour a few days before he died in October at age 66.
“On the day he died he
was informed his hip had graduated to a full on break and it is our feeling
that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his over use of
medication,” his family’s statement said, adding that he performed more than
50 concerts with a fractured hip.
The family said Petty
had been prescribed various pain medications for his multitude of issues,
including fentanyl patches, and “we feel confident that this was, as the
coroner found, an unfortunate accident.”
They added: “As a
family we recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid
crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion and we hope
in some way this report can save lives. Many people who overdose begin with
a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly
nature of these medications.”
U.S. government figures
released in December showed that for the first time, the powerful painkiller
fentanyl and its close opioid cousins played a bigger role in the deaths
than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing prescription pain pills and
Petty was a rock
superstar with the persona of an everyman who drew upon the Byrds, Beatles
and other bands he worshipped as a boy in Gainesville, Florida. He produced
classics that include “Free Fallin’,” ‘’Refugee” and “American Girl.” He
and his longtime band the Heartbreakers had recently completed a
40th-anniversary tour, one he hinted would be their last.
The shaggy-haired blond
rose to success in the 1970s and went on to sell more than 80 million
records. He was loved for his melodic hard rock, nasally vocals and
down-to-earth style. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted Petty
and the Heartbreakers in 2002, praised them as “durable, resourceful,
hard-working, likable and unpretentious.”
British actor Peter Wyngarde dies
in London hospital aged 90
This Jan. 4,
1973 photo shows British actor Peter Wyngarde.
(PA, File via AP)
London (AP) —
Longtime British television and stage star Peter Wyngarde, best known for
his role as the detective Jason King in the 1970s, died last week. He was
His manager Thomas
Bowington said the actor died Monday, Jan 15 in Chelsea and Westminster
hospital in London after an illness that lasted several months.
“His mind was razor
sharp until the end,” Bowington told The Associated Press. “He entertained
that whole hospital. He was funny until the end.”
The stylish Wyngarde
and the characters he portrayed have been cited by the creators of the
“Austin Powers” films as one of the inspirations for the fictional 1960s spy
with a flair for flashy outfits and a taste for carousing.
Wyngarde was best known
for his sleuthing role in the popular “Department S” television series but
played numerous other parts, appearing in shows and movies including “The
Avengers, “The Saint,” ‘’Flash Gordon” and others.
His manager said
Wyngarde had not retired from performing and that plans for further stage
work and personal appearances had been cut short by his death.
“He was a mentor on
everything you can think of, from sports cars to how to make a good cup of
tea and how to do a tie and shirt,” Bowington said.
Wyngarde’s father was a
diplomat. The actor was born in France and educated in several countries
before starting his career in Britain.
Update January 20, 2018 - January 26, 2018
Film Review: Palme d’Or winner ‘The Square’ is a charming satire
shows Terry Notary (center) in a scene from “The Square.” (Magnolia Pictures
Los Angeles (AP) - Swedish
filmmaker Ruben Ostlund’s last film, “Force Majeure,” began with the rumble
of an alpine avalanche and the wallop of a shattered self-image. When a
swelling white tide appears headed straight for an outdoor cafe, a panicked
father flees with his iPhone, but not his children or wife. Their respect
for him is undone in a cloud of snow.
In Ostlund’s follow-up, the Palme
d’Or-winning “The Square,” an upper-class, highly placed man is again
humbled by a latent cowardice, but one that reveals itself in more subtle
and daily acts of fraudulence.
Claes Bang stars as Christian, the
handsome and suave chief curator of a Stockholm contemporary art museum. In
the early scenes, we see him trying to explain a pompous museum description
to an American journalist (Elisabeth Moss) and rehearsing remarks for a
museum event that he will later pretend are off-the-cuff. He’s a smooth
operator with the practiced air of privilege.
That the high-minded contemporary art
world would have something a touch fake about it is far from a new idea.
But Ostlund, in his fifth feature, has more expansive satire in mind. The
title of “The Square” refers to an exhibit the museum is preparing in a city
courtyard in which a square is laid into the cobblestone street. “The
Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring,” reads the description. “Within
its boundaries, we all share equal rights and obligations.”
Outside of the square, not so much.
Throughout the film, Christian and others who espouse such enlightened
ideals of community are seen failing to live up to them — and often not even
trying to. “The Square” is a consistently clever odyssey of modern-day
hypocrisy that rambles and hiccups but seldom lacks Ostlund’s charming but
clinical satirical touch. It’s as entertaining as it is damning.
The central thread of the film begins
with Christian’s phone, wallet and even cuff links being stolen in a
sidewalk setup where a woman feigns to need help from her attacking
boyfriend. Christian and another bystander rush to her aid, but while
basking in his good deed, he realizes he’s been fleeced. Christian and a
younger museum employee (Christopher Laesso) are able to track the phone to
a low-income housing project where, in a lark that turns grave, Christian —
unsure of which tenant to approach — disperses print-outs demanding the
return of his things to every apartment.
The scheme has unwitting fallout for
one furious little boy (Elijandro Edouard). Meanwhile, Christian spends an
awkward night with the journalist, Anne, that includes both an unexplained
chimpanzee walking around her apartment and a tense post-coital debate when
Anne offers to discard the used prophylactic, rousing Christian’s
suspicions. He later comes under fire for an ill-conceived marketing
campaign for “The Square” that threatens his high perch.
“The Square” is populated by reminders
of our more primitive impulses. In one terrific scene, a man with Tourette
syndrome interrupts a well-attended conversation with a highfalutin
conceptual artist (Dominic West). In the film’s centerpiece, a muscular
performance artist posing as a gorilla (Terry Notary of “The Planet of the
Apes”) runs amok at a fancy fundraising dinner. He stalks the well-dressed
attendees until an air of real fear sets in. Only after the performer has
thoroughly harassed one woman does anyone dare to protest; once a single man
stands up, dozens follow. Compassion runs in herds.
There’s less balance to “The Square”
than there was to “Force Majeure.” Its tight early scenes (one favorite: a
sea of commuters breezing past the entreaty to “save a life today” with
answers like “not right now”) give way to increasingly overwrought set
pieces (like the dinner scene) that are eye-catching but implausible and,
besides, lose the narrative. I’d also quibble with the very late entry of
Christian’s children who turn up in the film’s final third to observe,
impressionably, their father in his downfall.
But “The Square,” where the enlightened
and well-heeled are always gliding past beggars, remains a potent satire.
The key, I think, is the exceptional Bang, a tall and dapper Danish actor
who could legitimately play James Bond. He plays Christian with just the
right cocktail of vulnerability and arrogance. That he’s so easy to see
through makes him, in a funny way, almost loveable.
“The Square,” a Magnolia Pictures
release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for
“language, some strong sexual content and brief violence.” Running time:
145 minutes. In Swedish and English with English subtitles. Three stars out
Update January 13, 2018 - January 19, 2018
Film Review: Jackman’s a great ‘Showman.’
The movie? Not so much
shows Hugh Jackman in a scene from “The Greatest Showman.” (Niko
Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - “Don’t fight
it,” goes the opening song of “The Greatest Showman,” sung by Hugh Jackman.
“It’s coming for you, running at ya.”
Well, that’s for damn sure. “The
Greatest Showman” is a one hour-and-45 minute onslaught on the senses — all
peppy, fizzy ballads and frantic energy, earnest sentiments and impossibly
good intentions. It’s begging for love, like a puppy serenading us with pop
It’s exhausting, and messy. And that’s
too bad, because Jackman really IS one of the great showmen of our time.
Give the man a stage and a song, and it’s near impossible not to love him.
The movie? Not so much.
Jackman plays P.T. Barnum, the
19th-century businessman and politician — but a showman above all — who
founded the Barnum & Bailey circus. He did a lot more than that; the
movie’s publicity notes call him “America’s original pop-culture
OK, but they weren’t singing
21st-century pop ballads back then, and one of the movie’s biggest problems
is its almost desperate determination to contemporize everything for a young
audience. It’s not so much the casting of Zac Efron and Zendaya as young
lovers; it’s that they and the others are given upbeat pop songs and
self-empowering anthems that would perhaps sound great (if generic) on their
own, but simply feel jarring when sung by 19th-century characters in period
dress. It’s all the more frustrating given that the songs come from
talented duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the lyrics for “La La
Land” and the terrific score for Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen.”
The film is a debut feature from
director Michael Gracey, known for his work on commercials and music videos,
and that’s telling, because it often feels like a collection of slickly
produced music videos, loosely tied together with a plot we’re not supposed
to care too much about.
It does start off with a bang — that
opening number set at the circus, with Jackman in a top hat and long red
coat, wielding a cane and recalling the stylish emcee in “Pippin.” Then we
go into flashback, meeting the young Barnum as a poor boy, a tailor’s son.
He meets the angelic girl of his dreams in a fancy mansion, and resolves to
marry her. “A million dreams is all it’s gonna take,” he sings.
The song continues as the youngsters
segue into adulthood: “A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.”
Their early years together are short on cash, long on, um, dreams. Wife
Charity — Michelle Williams, given little to do but always genuine and
touching — insists she doesn’t regret leaving her wealthy past.
Barnum loses his first job, and comes
up with the idea of a museum of oddities. The first version is a bust.
Then one of his little daughters tells him: “You need something alive.”
Light bulb! Barnum realizes his
oddities need to be human: General Tom Thumb, the Bearded Lady, the Siamese
twins. “They’re laughing anyway,” he tells one of them, “so why not get
paid?” The place is a hit, and suddenly Barnum’s very wealthy.
But he needs something more:
Acceptance, among the snobby elites. He convinces a young, patrician
playwright, Philip (Efron) to join him in the business. They seal the deal
in an energetic number set in a barroom, “The Other Side,” which reminds us
of those “High School Musical” days and how we’ve rather missed Efron
singing and dancing. Soon Philip will be falling in love with a beautiful,
soft-spoken acrobat (Zendaya), and their mixed-race romance — scandalous
back in the day — will produce the sweet yet also generic “Rewrite the
Stars,” performed with the help of aerial acrobatics.
Then there’s a subplot with the Swedish
soprano Jenny Lind — inspired by fact but veering into the fictional.
Barnum goes to Europe to persuade Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) to tour America;
the high-stakes enterprise, he reasons, will finally get him embraced by
If there’s an eleven-o’clock number,
it’s got to be “This Is Me,” ably sung by Broadway belter Keala Settle, a
motivational anthem that seems meant to stop the show but sounds too
familiar to really stir the spirits. “I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown
them out,” the bearded lady sings, and alas, it’s an apt description of what
this movie seems to be doing: Drowning us in pizazz and feel-good emotion,
but not making us think, or learn. In the end, not much is happening under
that circus tent.
“The Greatest Showman,” a 20th Century
Fox release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for
thematic elements including a brawl.” Running time: 105 minutes. Two stars
out of four.
Ed Sheeran helps music industry hit a high note in 2017
(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
New York (AP) - Ed Sheeran’s
album “Divide” was the most popular album of 2017, helping the music
industry enjoy a growth spurt during the year, according to Nielsen Music.
Sheeran’s blockbuster album sold 2.764
million equivalent album units, which takes into account traditional album
sales, downloads and streaming tracks. Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” was next
and Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” was in No. 3.
In terms of only album sales, Swift’s
“Reputation” was No. 1, with 1.9 million in sales; Sheeran’s “Divide” was
No. 2 with 1.1 million in sales and Lamar’s “DAMN.” was No. 3 with 910,000
Nielsen Music reports overall
consumption of albums and songs grew 12.5 percent over 2016. A 59 percent
increase in on-demand audio streams offset declines in track and album
Vinyl album sales increased for the
12th consecutive year to reach a record 14.3M units. The biggest song of
the year, in terms of total activity was the version of “Despacito” by Luis
Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber.
Polka, Ponzi and prison:
Jack Black stars in new biopic
In a Jan.
22, 2017 photo, Jan Lewandowski (right), better known as Jan Lewan, embraces
actor and comedian Jack Black at the premiere of “The Polka King” at the
Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (John Koterba via AP)
New York (AP) - Jan Lewandowski
built a “polka empire” from his base in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, only to
watch it crumble after his arrest on fraud charges.
Lewandowski’s rise and fall is played
for laughs in “The Polka King,” starring Jack Black as the flamboyant Polish
emigre who attracted legions of polka fans — and fleeced some of them as he
tried desperately to keep his business enterprises afloat. The movie comedy
premieres this month on Netflix.
Now living quietly in Florida, the
76-year-old is thrilled about Black’s portrayal, warts and all. Lewandowski
said he spent hours with the actor and comedian, telling him his life’s
story and working with him on his Polish accent.
“I heard myself when he was talking,”
Lewandowski said by phone from West Palm Beach. “I’m telling you, in
moments, I’m wondering if it’s me or him. ... Jack Black portrayed me in a
The Grammy-nominated bandleader and
crooner better known as Jan Lewan served five years in prison after pleading
guilty to bilking investors.
An exuberant performer costumed in
sequins, Lewandowski and his polka band were popular on the festival
circuit throughout the 1980s and ’90s. They played scores of shows a year
from Florida to New York, enjoying a long run at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic
City. Critical acclaim came by way of a 1995 Grammy nomination for best
polka album for “Jan Lewan and His Orchestra.”
Lewandowski, who defected from
communist Poland in the 1970s and became a U.S. citizen, branched out with a
travel business that took fans on tours of Poland and other countries; a
gift shop and mail-order catalog; and his own TV and radio shows.
To fund his ventures, he began selling
promissory notes to his ardent fans, many of them elderly, using money from
new investors to pay off old investors to whom he had promised huge
returns. It was a classic Ponzi scheme.
Lewandowski said he didn’t set out to
cheat anybody. But he acknowledges he hurt people who had placed their
trust in him.
“I don’t hide. I did wrong,” he said.
Prosecutors said he defrauded about 400
investors in more than 20 states. A federal judge who sentenced him to
prison called his conduct “despicable.”
More than eight years after his
release, Lewandowski is retired and doesn’t perform much anymore. He lives
off Social Security and gives the occasional piano lesson, barely making a
dent in his court-ordered restitution of nearly $5 million — a judgment he
has little chance of satisfying.
“The Polka King,” based on a 2009
documentary about Lewandowski, could boost his profile if not fatten his
wallet. (He said he wasn’t a paid consultant, though the producers took care
of his travel expenses.) Lewandowski said he’s in talks with an Atlantic
City casino, which he declined to name, about a reunion concert with his
“I’d be able to pay a little bit more
in restitution,” he said. “I want to perform.”
Some of his victims aren’t exactly
thrilled about a comeback or the movie.
Eleanore Ciuba, 87, of Galloway, New
Jersey, and her late husband lost tens of thousands of dollars to
Lewandowski. She has never forgiven him, calling the disgraced bandleader a
“dirty rotten b***ard” who doesn’t deserve the attention.
“I don’t know who would be interested
in that kind of a movie, to tell you the truth, about dealing and stealing
from people,” said Ciuba, who recalls getting a single, tiny restitution
Lewandowski said he’s sorry for the
people who lost money. Ever upbeat, he shrugs off his critics.
“They don’t want to see me happy,” he
said, “but I am happy right now.”
And he’s hoping “The Polka King” will
give the genre itself a boost.
“The ones who care about the polka are
old, and they’re not dancing anymore,” he said. “Now we need a younger
Update Saturday, Jan. 6 - Jan. 12, 2018
Film Review: ‘Jumanji’ sequel serves up stars, good hearted fun
This image shows (from left) Karen Gillan,
Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in a scene from “Jumanji: Welcome to the
Jungle.” (Frank Masi/Sony Pictures via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - More than two
decades after Robin Williams conquered that pesky board game, “Jumanji” has
been resurrected with more and glossier stars (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart
and Jack Black), a comedy director and a “modern” twist. The result,
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ,” is a very sweet, and generally
entertaining body swap lark with some nice messages about being, and
believing in, yourself.
Why it had to be “Jumanji” is the
head-scratcher. Even speaking as someone who was 12 when the first one came
out, and genuinely enjoyed the Joe Johnston-directed adventure and the
fantasy of being swept up in a board game come to life, the idea that a
die-hard “Jumanji” fanbase exists, or that the “brand” is so rock-solid that
it needs a reboot, seems dubious at best.
There are pointless sequels everywhere
of course, and questioning the purpose for their existence is a fruitless
exercise. The only reason I bring it up here is because Jake Kasdan’s
“Welcome to the Jungle” spends a fair amount of genuinely unnecessary time
straining to justify how it is connected to “Jumanji” including a whole
prologue establishing how it had evolved into a video game by 1996.
The concept here is that when you’re
transported into the game, you are suddenly a character in the game, in
body, voice and skillset but with your earthbound personality pretty much
intact. This is how a group of mismatched teens sharing the same detention,
including the nerdy, shy Spencer (Alex Wolff), the football player Fridge
(Ser’Darius Blain), the superficial popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman)
and the too-smart for gym class Martha (Morgan Turner), transform into
avatars played by Dwayne Johnson (Spencer), Kevin Hart (Fridge), Jack Black
(Bethany) and Karen Gillan (Martha).
It’s a role reversal for everyone — the
nerdy girl is hot now (and scantily clad), the hot girl is a soft, middle
aged man, the skinny guy is The Rock and the big football player is now tiny
and wimpy — and they all have to go through the stages of learning to accept
their new bodies, talents and shortcomings.
There is of course a lot of easy comedy
in these situations — Spencer admiring his new muscles and Bethany getting
used to her new anatomy among them. And all the main actors/avatars are
kind of great at imitating the facial expressions of their teenage
counterparts, especially Johnson and Black.
How can you argue with a bunch of movie
stars acting goofy and hawking a “believe in yourself” message? There are
some odd beats and choices, especially around Gillan’s Martha, who is
costumed in nearly nothing (surely as a send up of what female characters
usually wear in video games, but however meta it might have been intended to
be, it is still literally her costume). There’s also a plot line that
hinges on her learning how to flirt from Bethany (because they all decide
that flirting with the bad guy security guards is the only way they can get
past them). Maybe it’s all in good fun, or maybe one of the four credited
screenwriters could have been a woman.
But “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”
probably doesn’t warrant that much scrutiny. Its surface pleasures are
strong enough for a fun holiday afternoon at the movies.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” a
Sony Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of
America for “adventure action, suggestive content and some language.”
Running time: 119 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Branagh teases return of
old friends in ‘Death on the Nile’
director Kenneth Branagh.
(Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
Kenneth Branagh is teasing the return of “old friends” in his planned sequel
to “Murder on the Orient Express.”
Branagh is expected to
both direct and reprise his role as the fancifully mustachioed lead
character Detective Hercule Poirot in “Death on the Nile,” another mystery
based on an Agatha Christie novel, which screenwriter Michael Green will
return to adapt.
Branagh says he’s
excited to gather an ensemble cast that could possibly include bringing back
some “old friends” to explore “primal human emotions” like “obsessive love
and jealousy and sex” that make for a “very dangerous atmosphere.”
The tense whodunit
“Murder on the Orient Express” featured an all-star cast including Johnny
Depp, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz and Michelle Pfeiffer. It was
a global hit after its release in early November. Branagh says he was glad
to see audiences responding to his quirky portrayal of Poirot and looks
forward to seeing how that will evolve in the sequel.
“One of the things that
I liked — really loved doing here that the audience responded to was that
Hercule Poirot, for all his intellectual power, got dragged into it, got
dragged into feeling it. And I think it’s a hell of a trip, that trip down
the Nile. So I think it would be great to see how he, how his heart,
responds to that kind of intensity,” he said.
Christie’s 1937 novel,
“Death on the Nile,” was previously adapted into a 1978 film starring Peter
Ustinov, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow and Maggie Smith.
With a wealth of source
material to draw from, Branagh also endorses the idea of a
Poirot-slash-Christie “cinematic universe” — the popular term for a series
of interlocking films that bring various characters together.
“I think there are
possibilities, aren’t there? With 66 books and short stories and plays, she
often brings people together in her own books actually, so innately — she
enjoyed that,” he says. “You feel as though there is a world — just like
with Dickens, there’s a complete world that she’s created — certain kinds of
characters who live in her world — that I think has real possibilities.”
However, Branagh says
he hasn’t exactly floated that idea with any of the brass at 20th Century
“I bet they’ve been
thinking about it though,” he says.
“Murder on the Orient
Express” will be released on home video in the coming months. “Death on the
Nile” is in the early stages of pre-production.
Marquis de Sade text named French treasure, auction canceled
The original manuscript of “The 120 Days of
Sodom or the School of Libertinage,” by French writer Marquis de Sade is
shown on display at an auction house in Paris, Tuesday, Dec. 19. (AP
Paris (AP) - An original
manuscript for the Marquis de Sade’s “The 120 Days of Sodom” was
withdrawn from a Paris auction after the French government declared it a
“national treasure” and banned its export.
Auction house Aguttes said the
French culture ministry granted the most valuable lots in the December
20 auction the rare treasure classification and proposed buying them.
Following the ministry’s decision,
a court receiver allowed Aguttes to withdraw the top lots from the
auction list and to negotiate their eventual sales directly with the
In addition to the Sade’s 1785
explicit text, the withdrawn lots included the 1924 manuscript for the
first “Surrealist Manifesto” by French writer Andre Breton. The lots
had a combined value estimated in the multimillion-dollar range.
De Sade is known for his libertine
writings on sex.
Never say never: Shania Twain finds new voice after illness
singer Shania Twain.
(Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
New York (AP) -
After becoming a global icon and one of the world’s best-selling singers
of all-time, Shania Twain had to utter the scariest five words a
vocalist would ever hear: “I may never sing again.”
The queen of
country pop contracted Lyme’s disease, which crippled her most prized
instrument — her voice — and she thought her singing career was over.
“It can kill you.
And if it doesn’t kill you, it can give you a seriously degenerated
quality of life for the rest of your life,” she said in a recent
It didn’t kill
Twain, but the process of finding her voice again was gruesome and
trying: “I sounded like a dying cow for a long time before I was able to
really make any sounds that were pleasing at all.”
But Twain, who has
persevered since her career launched in 1993, was ready to do the work
to rebuild her voice, and life. She trained with coaches and worked
extensively on her vocals, comparing the experience to an athlete
recovering from a major injury.
Twain tested out
her voice in various ways in the 15 years in between her last album,
2002’s “Up!,” and her newest effort, “Now”: She sang duets with Lionel
Richie and Michael Buble for their own albums; she completed a residency
in Las Vegas; and launched a successful U.S. tour, reconnecting with the
fans that helped her sell more than 90 million albums worldwide.
triumphant,” Twain said. “I just feel like I’ve climbed this huge
mountain and I made it to the top. ...And, you know, coming from a time
when I really thought I would never record an album again, that I would
never tour again, that I would never sing professionally again.
“And now here I am
with a whole album,” she continued, “it’s like a small miracle really
for me personally.”
“Now” is probably
Twain’s most personal album to date. She wrote all 16 songs alone — a
rarity in today’s music world — and she spilled her feelings and
emotions in the songs, even crying and breaking down in the studio
throughout the process. Though she is one of the most celebrated
musicians in history and she’s found a lifetime success in performing,
her life hasn’t been easy.
Twain, who had a
rough childhood in Canada, grew up poor and around abuse. Her parents
died in a car crash and she took on the role of caring for her three
younger siblings. She moved to Nashville, but the country star with pop
flavor had trouble settling into the new town. She eventually married
producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, and they co-wrote some of her most
successful songs, but they later divorced.
Her latest album’s
lead single, the fun and breezy “Life’s About to Get Good” peaked at No.
33 on Billboard’s Hot country songs chart, and despite having an album
that sold more than 20 million units in the U.S. and two others sell
more than 10 million each, Twain and her label aren’t feeling pressure.
“The industry has
changed so much. ...It’s like comparing apples and oranges now,” Twain
said of selling albums today compared to the 1990s and early 2000s.
“It’s just different and the tallying is coming from such a broad
spectrum, so I’m not feeling that pressure just because it just doesn’t
even exist anymore. The pressure for me is really more, ‘Will I write
music that relates to my fans? Will they relate to what I have to say?’
now. I think differently now. I’ve evolved. That’s why I call the
album ‘Now,’” she said. “This is me now.”