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Update June 2018

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June 23, 2018 - June 29, 2018

Film Review : By-the-numbers ‘Ocean’s 8' covers familiar territory

This image released by Warner Bros. shows Sarah Paulson (from left) Sandra Bullock and Rihanna in a scene from “Ocean’s 8.” (Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” remake is a hard movie to live up to. Its starry charm was backed by a breezy and deceptively dense script full of memorable characters, dizzyingly complex logistics and lively filmmaking that Soderbergh himself couldn’t even recreate in the two sequels. But it is undeniable that even the near-perfect “Eleven” was missing something pretty major: Women. You know, besides Julia Roberts, that blackjack dealer and the one exotic dancer.

So why not, 17 years later, fix that egregious oversight by gathering up a few Oscar and Emmy winners and nominees, a Grammy-winner and a buzzy comedienne to keep that Ocean’s franchise going and acknowledge the other half of the human population? If only “Ocean’s 8 “ was as a fresh and smart as that first one. (Hint: It’s not for lack of star charisma or talent.)

Sandra Bullock anchors the cast as Debbie Ocean, the never-before-mentioned sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, who has taken up the family business to varying degrees of success (we meet her in a parole hearing) and prefers to work without “hims.” ‘’Hers,” she later explains, can go unnoticed.

And indeed, Debbie uses what could be a handicap very much to her advantage in a rollicking shoplifting spree at Bergdorf’s. It helps, of course, when you look like Sandra Bullock and you happen to have left jail in full hair, makeup and cocktail dress. But it’s still quite a bit of fun seeing her act the part of a wealthy and entitled shopper who tries to demand a refund for the items she’s literally just pinched from their shelves. 90 percent of her method is simply looking like she belongs and taking advantage of the privileges that affords her.

Don’t expect this level of class or gender commentary from the rest of the film, however. “Ocean’s 8" suffers from a bit of tonal whiplash. Half the time it seems to be veering into grotesque “Sex and the City” worship of brands and celebrity.

Debbie’s plan is to steal a $150 million diamond necklace. In order to do so, she and her assembled team of savants have to first infiltrate the orbit of a vapid celeb, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), and convince her to wear said necklace to the Met Gala, where they’ll steal it and divide the earnings accordingly (a cool $16.5 million each).

The team includes Lou (Cate Blanchett), who dresses like a glam rocker and spends her time watering down well vodka for profit; Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), a kooky past-her-prime fashion designer desperate for a comeback; a jeweler in a rut, Amita (Mindy Kaling); Nine Ball (Rihanna), a hacker in dreadlocks; Constance (Awkwafina), a pickpocket; and Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a suburban mom who can’t quite quit her white collar crime ways.

While Blanchett and Bullock are predictably solid in their roles and get at least a few memorable moments of worthy banter, it’s Hathaway who really steals the film with a wickedly on-point satiric turn a spoiled star. It is Hathaway’s Miranda Priestly moment, and could have only been made better had she gone full-meta and played a character named “Anne Hathaway.”

The celebrity skewering is first-rate, but, for the most part, if you’ve seen Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” you’ve basically seen “Ocean’s 8" too. Director and co-writer Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”) follows familiar story beats and attempts, unsuccessfully, to ape Soderbergh’s filmmaking style. And his glimpse inside the Met Gala makes that famously glamorous event look awfully pedestrian.

It also doesn’t help that the stakes never seem all that real in “Ocean’s 8,”and when they do finally get an adversary, in a detective played by James Corden, it’s more for laughs.

There was a danger to “Ocean’s Eleven” and a thrill in seeing that team succeed. Here, none of the women seem to have any fallibility at all, and you never find yourself doubting whether or not they can pull it off. Perhaps there is something subversive to the idea that all Debbie has to do is social shame two security guys from entering a women’s restroom, but we’re there for a something more elaborate too.

That’s kind of the overall problem of “Ocean’s 8.” It’s all predicated on the fact that women are often underestimated. But in making that point, it’s also somehow underestimated the audience who still should be entitled to a smart, fun heist, no matter who is pulling it off.

“Ocean’s 8,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language, drug use, and some suggestive content.” Running time: 110 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

‘Star Wars’ Chewbacca actor fights for Venezuelan children

This May 29, 2018 photo shows Elisa Arguello (left) dressed in a Princess Leia costume posing with actor Peter Mayhew in Houston Texas as they launch the Chewbacca Challenge Coin, a fundraising campaign for underprivileged children in Venezuela. (Elisa Arguello via AP)

Manuel Rueda

Bogota, Colombia (AP) — He fought in epic battles against the galactic empire. Now an actor who portrayed “Star Wars” legend Chewbacca is fighting for Venezuela’s poor with an online fundraising campaign whose proceeds will benefit a charity feeding underprivileged children in the crisis-wracked South American nation.

Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in five “Star Wars” movies, has so far raised more than $10,000 through the sale of commemorative coins showing the Wookiee warrior’s hairy legs and a bullet belt slung around a map of Venezuela.

The 74-year-old actor, who is retired, said that the idea emerged after he met Elisa Arguello, a Venezuelan actress and “Star Wars” fan who migrated three years ago to the Dallas-Fort Worth area where Mayhew also resides.

“We follow her on Facebook, and were aware of the deteriorating situation in Venezuela,” Mayhew told The Associated Press. “It had been bothering us for a while and one night, my wife Angie picked up the phone and asked Elisa if there was any way we could get involved. She started crying and said yes.”

The copper coins are being sold online for $10 by the Peter Mayhew Foundation. But proceeds will go to a small Texas charity called “Ponte en sus zapatos,” which is Spanish for “Put yourself in their shoes.” The charity has been working in Venezuela for over a year and says it feeds 100 needy children every day and donates supplies like diapers and baby formula to a hospital that treats children with cancer.

Hospitals in Venezuela often cannot provide patients with the most basic supplies due to widespread shortages and five-digit inflation.

“This campaign has made us cry with gratitude,” says Antonieta Galvez, a Dallas-based businesswoman originally from Venezuela who runs the charity. Galvez said that with just $3, her partners in Venezuela are able to make lunch for 100 children.

Arguello says that more than 1,500 coins have been sold since the campaign started in late May, and a handmade Chewbacca mask went for $1,100 in an online auction.

The commemorative coins have been mostly bought by members of the 501st legion, a “Star Wars” fan club that has dozens of chapters, or “garrisons,” around the world. Its Texas chapter, the Star Garrison, has more than 500 active members, and Mayhew hosts some events for the group at his home.

The fan club also supports local charities, and members sometimes dress in galactic costumes and visit hospitalized children to cheer them up.

“There is a lot of solidarity in the legion,” said Arguello, who regularly attends comic conventions dressed as Princess Leia or a Storm Trooper. As a lifelong fan of the space saga, she said that meeting Mayhew was a dream come true.

“Wookiees are fierce creatures,” the 36-year-old Venezuelan joked. “But they have a big heart.”

Lucasfilm Ltd., which owns the Chewbacca trademark, is not participating in the campaign, which doesn’t directly mention the Star Wars character.

Mayhew was initially picked to play Chewbacca because of his outstanding height. The British-born actor, who became a U.S. citizen some years ago, stands at over 7 feet tall, the result of a genetic disorder known as Marfan syndrome.

But his towering height, which made him a shoo-in for the cult role of Chewie, has also been the source of endless health complications.

Mayhew has suffered from respiratory problems and has difficulty walking. He attends comic conventions in a seated scooter but rarely provides media interviews due to speech limitations. He answered questions to the AP via e-mail.

Still, these problems have not stopped the gentle giant from contributing to a number of charitable causes and fighting for kids in a land far, far away.

“Everyone seems to know something about Venezuela right now, but too many just don’t realize how bad things have become,” Mayhew said. “Chewbacca will not leave hungry children unfed. If he has the power to help.”

Doors biographer Jerry Hopkins dead at 82

Author Jerry Hopkins is shown in a family photo from the early 2000s. (Photo/Facebook/Jerry Hopkins)

New York (AP) — Jerry Hopkins, a prolific music journalist who co-wrote a million-selling biography of the Doors that Oliver Stone adapted into a feature film, died earlier this month at age 82. Hopkins died of heart failure June 3 in Bangkok, his longtime residence.

Hopkins was an early contributor to Rolling Stone who interviewed Jim Morrison and developed a special affinity for the Doors. “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” written by Hopkins and Danny Sugarman, was published in 1980 and was the basis for Stone’s “The Doors.” The movie came out in 1991 and starred Val Kilmer as Morrison.

Hopkins also wrote books about Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and other rock stars. Books on his adopted country included “Thailand Confidential” and “Bangkok Babylon.”

Russia’s Gulag museum: Prisoner data secretly destroyed

Visitors look at an exposition at the Gulag history museum in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Nataliya Vasilyeva

Moscow (AP) - A museum studying Soviet prison camps said it has discovered a secret Russian order in 2014 instructing officials to destroy data on prisoners — a move it said “could have catastrophic consequences for studying the history of the camps.”

Up to 17 million people were sent to the Gulag, the notorious Soviet prison camp system, in the 1930s and 1940s, and at least 5 million of them were convicted on false testimony. The prison population in the sprawling labor camps peaked at 2 million people.

Case files of the Gulag prisoners were often destroyed but their personal data was kept on registration cards, which are still held by police and intelligence officials.

Moscow’s Gulag History Museum said it has discovered a classified 2014 order that instructed Russian officials to destroy the registration cards of prisoners who had reached the age of 80 — which now would include almost all of them.

The museum’s achieve expert, Alexander Makeyev, told the Interfax agency they discovered that the cards had been destroyed in one region, the remote Magadan in the Far East, home to some of the Soviet Union’s biggest, deadly prison camps.

Repressions perpetrated under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin left a profound scar on the Russian nation, destroying lives and displacing millions. But in recent years, under President Vladimir Putin, Russian officials have made efforts to play down Stalin’s terror, hailing the Soviet leader for building a new economy and helping the Soviet Union win World War II.

The Gulag History Museum said it has appealed to the Russian presidential human rights council to look into the classified order.

The report has caused an outrage in the Russian historical community and beyond.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democrat Party, said on his social media account that historical “archives should be opened to public, not destroyed” and that Russians should be able to know the truth about their past.

June 16, 2018 - June 22, 2018

Film Review: ‘Jurassic World 2’ leans on nostalgia, contrivances

This image released by Universal Pictures shows a scene from “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” (Universal Pictures via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - Here’s the good news: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom “ is more fun than “Jurassic World.” It’s not exactly a high bar, but still a welcome surprise. In the hands of a new director, J.A. Bayona, with Chris Pratt’s high-wattage charisma on full blast and a fair amount of self-aware humor intact, there are certainly worse ways to spend a couple hours in the air-conditioned multiplex this summer.

Mind you, this movie is pretty ridiculous and the script (from Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly) is not very clever — I found myself rolling my eyes almost as frequently as I found myself smiling with genuine delight. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” will not stand up to rigorous scrutiny, and yet, it’s kind of an enjoyable, preposterous and thrilling ride that ticks through nostalgia beats like a shopping list.

It’s a little sad how in this era of industrial franchise filmmaking a three year gap between films actually feels like quite a bit of time — or maybe it’s just a testament to how grueling the past few years have been — but, hey, it did at least seem like the right time to check in with those dinosaurs again, although I worry that our emotional investment in Owen’s connection with a velociraptor has been vastly overestimated.

After a very solid, and scary, beginning, with pouring rain and genuine suspense as some scientists venture back into the defunct Jurassic World to retrieve a dinosaur bone, a helpful newscaster orients the audience with a whole lot of exposition: It’s been three years since Jurassic World closed; $800 million in damages have been paid out; and, most importantly, a dormant volcano has come back to life on the island and is about to cause an “extinction level event” that will wipe out all the remaining dinosaurs.

The question of whether or not to let the dinos go extinct again has become a national debate and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is leading the charge to try to save the animals. As a not-so-subtle nod to that other national debate about Claire’s choice of footwear  in “Jurassic World,” our first shot of her is her feet in sky high heels (the hiking boots she wears later for all the action get their own loving close-up too).

Essentially, and this is where the contrivances start, a wealthy, dying man, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who is somehow connected to John Hammond, and his associate Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) pitch Claire on an expedition to stage their own Noah’s Ark with the dinos and transport as many species as possible to a sanctuary island. They need her to tap into the park’s security system, and also to convince Owen (Pratt) to come along and get close to the raptor Blue, his old pal who has become so anthropomorphized it’s actually surprising she doesn’t just start talking.

There are some more new characters added too: A skittish computer guy, Franklin (Justice Smith), and a doctor Zia (Daniella Pineda), who come along on the journey for some comedic relief; a mercenary military guy (Ted Levine); and a cute dino-obsessed girl, Masie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon).

Perhaps the most unexpected thing about “Fallen Kingdom” is that the “escape from the volcano” plot is just the first set-piece. It’s all a precursor to the dinos coming to the mainland.

If you’re thinking, “I’ve seen this movie before,” just wait, it get so much more derivative than you would ever imagine possible. Bayona, who also directed “The Impossible” and “A Monster Calls,” is good enough to pull it off. It’s the main reason why “Fallen Kingdom” is entertaining despite itself, but it is a shameless strategy that can only work so many times. Also, can we retire the “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” joke at this point?

Life finds a way, and so do franchises that make ungodly amounts of money. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” gets away with its unoriginality for the most part, but this franchise’s desperation is starting to show. It’s time to evolve or go extinct.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.” Running time: 128 minutes.  Two and a half stars out of four.

Comedian Chris Farley’s family suing bike-maker Trek

Comedian Chris Farley is shown in this Sept. 18, 1990, file photo. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Madison, Wis. (AP) - The family of late comedian and film star Chris Farley has filed a federal lawsuit against Trek Bicycle for naming its fat-tired bikes Farley, saying the Wisconsin-based bike company misappropriated Farley’s name and traded on his “fat guy” brand of comedy.

Chris Farley was born and raised in Madison, about 30 miles from Waterloo, where Trek is based.

Make Him Smile, a company founded and run by Farley’s family to protect his publicity and property rights, said damages could exceed $10 million. Trek said any damages sought were purely speculative.

Farley graduated from high school in Madison and Marquette University in Milwaukee before going on to star on Saturday Night Live and in several hit movies, including “Tommy Boy” and “Black Sheep.”  He weighed about 400 pounds (180 kilograms), the lawsuit states, having “spent his entire career building, then capitalizing on, his unique brand of ‘fat guy’ humor and acting style.”

The lawsuit alleges Trek chose the name Farley “to immediately associate defendant Trek’s fat bikes with one of their favorite ‘fat’ and ‘loud’ comedians,” and the company’s executives knew what they were doing when they made the decision.

Living statues festival wows Romania’s capital


In this Thursday, May 24, photograph, a child offers ice-cream to artists of Ukraine’s Artel Myth theatre at the Living Statues International Festival, in Bucharest, Romania. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

An artist of Romania’s Masca theatre has make-up applied to his face before performing at the Living Statues International Festival, in Bucharest. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Vadim Ghirda

Bucharest (AP) — Wait, did that statue really move?

It may have been the question many people asked while taking a walk in Bucharest last month during the International Living Statues Festival.

Artists from eight countries embodied 64 statues in the old quarter of the Romanian capital, in popular parks and in the garden of the spectacular Filipescu-Cesianu residence, built in 1892 in the Belle Epoque period.

Actors of the Romanian Masca Theatre, the festival’s organizer, brought to life Parisian street vendors from the 17th and 18th centuries in performances seen by an estimated 30,000 people.

Bucharest is one of several Eastern European cities known as the “Paris of the East” because of its French-inspired architecture and gardens.

Children, some very young, were the most visibly fascinated spectators.

The characters’ vividly colored outfits, some inspired by the famous Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s iconic Endless Column, were the main attraction. While the high-pitched screaming involved in some performances scared a few, others enjoyed the interaction and even offered to share their ice cream with the actors.

The living statues from Britain, Germany, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Ukraine engaged in sudden moments of interaction with the public, often startling the spectators.

“We hope to enhance the Romanian public’s abilities to truly understand and appreciate this art form, regarded in the past as a mere occupation associated with amateurs or even begging,” Masca Theatre director Mihai Malaimare told The Associated Press, describing the event as “the largest European festival of the genre.”

June 9, 2018 - June 15, 2018

Film Review: Wes Anderson doesn’t stray with ‘Isle of Dogs’

This image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures shows the character Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston in a scene from “Isle of Dogs.” (Fox Searchlight via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - There is an out-of-body melancholy that sets in about three quarters of the way through Wes Anderson’s ninth feature “Isle of Dogs.”

Yes, you will be inexplicably wrapped up in the drama of a gang of sickly stop-motion animated dogs who have been exiled to a trash island and are determined to get back to a life of cozy domesticity, enchanted by its artistry and trying your best to suppress your laughter so you don’t miss a beat.

But you also start to realize that it will soon be over and you’ll have to go back to your day bereft of that wit, imagery and storytelling, essentially nursing an acute case of Wes Anderson wistfulness. A small price to pay for 101 minutes of joy, I guess.

With story help from Anderson mainstays Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman and new addition Kunichi Nomura, Anderson writes a fable of sorts set 20 years in the future, when canine flu has infected an entire population of dogs, causing manic behavior, weight loss and adorable sneezing. It’s also sparked an anti-dog mania in Japan that has left some searching for a cure and others eager to just rid the country of the problem. The leader, Mayor Kobayashi (Nomura) and his ghoulish henchmen Major-Domo (Akira Takayama) respond in turn by exiling all dogs to a trash island and rejecting any possibility of a scientific solution to the disease.

The humans, however, are decidedly the supporting cast members in “Isle of Dogs,” which more than a few people have already pointed out sounds a heck of a lot like “I Love Dogs.” On the island, the once pampered set of house pets have all gone (somewhat) wild, fighting over maggot-infested scraps and dreaming of the days of doggie treats, baths and plush pillows to sleep on. They’ve self-divided into little survivalist troupes and whisper to one another about rumors of cannibal dogs on the other side of the island.

The group we follow is led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), a stray among house pets, and made up of Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), King (Bob Balaban) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). And their world is upended when a boy they refer to as “the little pilot,” Atari (Koyu Rankin), crashes on the island.

“Are we eating him or is this a rescue?” one dog asks the gang as they look at Atari’s burning wreckage.

“Not sure yet,” another responds.

Anderson has used similar constructions before, but it’s the perfect encapsulation of his humor — precise, straight-forward and a little dark. “Isle of Dogs” is positively littered with his signature banter, and it as quick and wry as ever, without a single hair out of place.

And speaking of hair, the look of “Isle of Dogs” is just otherworldly — vibrant, purposeful and jam-packed with details that will make you want to watch it over and over. Very young kids might beware, there is one gnarly scene involving a kidney operation, not to mention the fact that Atari spends the entire film with a piece of scrap metal in his skull.

You may just want to do a quick refresher on the voice actors before sitting down for a showing too, otherwise you might go just a little mad trying to place where you’ve heard that voice before. There’s Scarlett Johansson as a pristine show dog, Nutmeg, Greta Gerwig as a young freckled girl leading the pro-dog movement, Frances McDormand as an interpreter. “Isle of Dogs” also features the vocal stylings of Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Fisher Stevens, Liev Schreiber, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham and Courtney B. Vance, as the narrator, too. Oh, and Angelica Huston has a credit as “mute poodle.”

That Anderson can still excitingly tell a new story within the structure of his unique visual language that we’ve gotten to know so well is just a testament to his incandescent genius. We don’t deserve Wes Anderson, but we should be eternally grateful he doesn’t seem to mind.

“Isle of Dogs,” a Fox Searchlight release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for, “thematic elements and some violent imagery.” Running time: 101 minutes. Four stars out of four.

Daniel Craig to return as 007 in 2019, Danny Boyle at helm

Actor Daniel Craig is shown in this April 9, 2018, file photo.
(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Los Angeles (AP) — Daniel Craig is back as Bond, the spy series’ producers have confirmed, in a Danny Boyle-directed film due for release in 2019.

Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli of EON Productions announced last week that production on the 25th official James Bond thriller will begin in December at London’s Pinewood Studios.

Craig will reprise his role as 007 and Oscar-winner Boyle (“Trainspotting,” ‘’Slumdog Millionaire”) will direct from a screenplay by Boyle’s frequent collaborator John Hodge.

Confirmation of Craig’s fifth Bond film followed speculation that the 50-year-old actor was about to hand in his license to kill. He said in 2015 that he would rather “slash my wrists” than return to the role — but later backtracked on those remarks, made just after he finished filming his fourth Bond film, “Spectre.”

Boyle has directed Craig as Bond once before, in a 007-themed segment for the opening of the 2012 London Olympics.

EON said that after more than a decade at Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures will release the next installment of the superspy franchise internationally. MGM will handle the U.S. release.

Sony’s Bond contract expired in 2015 and many of the major studios competed for the chance to distribute the profitable franchise.

As per tradition Bond 25 will open a bit earlier in the U.K., on Oct. 25, 2019, than in the U.S., where it will debut on Nov. 8, 2019.

Iglesias loves his fans, but misses family ‘like crazy’

Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias performs on stage in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 27. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Caron Creighton

Tel Aviv, Israel (AP) — Pop star Enrique Iglesias misses his newborn twins “like crazy.” But he says performing for his fans is the next best thing to being home.

While the Spanish singer has traditionally kept his personal life private, he and his wife, former tennis player Anna Kournikova, took to social media recently to share some rare photos and videos of themselves and their children. He said he wanted to open up to his fans because they have given him so much.

“I don’t mind sharing part of my life with them,” he told The Associated Press. “I always have, in a way, through my music.”

Iglesias performed to nearly 50,000 fans in Tel Aviv at the end of last month. The crowd cheered when Iglesias took to the stage, starting with his song “I’m a Freak,” accompanied by a show of lasers. Devoted fans wore T-shirts proclaiming their love for the 43-year-old pop star, and held signs declaring him the “sexiest father alive.”

“I miss my family like crazy,” said Iglesias. “But I love doing what I do, which is being on stage and just being surrounded by my fans. Those are the two things I love most in my life.”

It was Iglesias’ fourth performance in Israel. Artists, including Iglesias, often come under pressure from a grassroots pro-Palestinian boycott movement not to perform in Israel. But Iglesias said he never had second thoughts about coming to the country.

“I’ve sang in so many countries around the world during conflicts, my music is not about politics,” he said. “If my fans ask me to go to a place and there is demand, I will be there no matter what.”

Iglesias’ most recent single, ‘Move to Miami’ was released in May. Iglesias has been performing around Europe and South America, and came to Israel following a performance in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

No stairway to basement heaven just yet for British singer

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page speaks out during a planning permission meeting at Kensington Town Hall, in London, Tuesday May 29. (David Mirzoeff/PA via AP)

London (AP) — There will be no stairway to basement heaven just yet for British singer Robbie Williams.

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, Williams’ next-door neighbor, has persuaded local authorities to postpone a decision on the pop star’s plan for an underground gym and swimming pool.

Page and the former member of boy band Take That have been battling for years over Williams’ plans to extend his home in the affluent Holland Park area of west London.

Page doesn’t have a whole lotta love for the project, saying building work could damage his own 19th-century Gothic-revival mansion, Tower House.

The interior of the turreted red-brick building by architect William Burgess features ornate tiling, plasterwork and stained glass, which Page says could be damaged by vibrations from construction work.

The pioneering heavy-rock guitarist has said he only plays acoustic guitars at home in order to protect the house, which he bought in 1972 from the actor Richard Harris.

In a letter to Kensington and Chelsea Council, Williams said the planned construction work “will result in absolute minimal impact” to neighboring properties.

At a meeting last week, the council’s planning committee decided not to grant Williams planning permission until it received further legal assurances.

Page said he was “really pleased at the outcome” and the council’s consideration for the house.

“I’m only the custodian to pass it on to the next person in the same way I bought it from Richard Harris,” he said.

Sylvester Stallone making biopic about boxer Jack Johnson

In this May 24, 2018 photo, President Donald Trump (left) and heavyweight boxer Lennox Lewis (right) watch as Sylvester Stallone gestures in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

New York (AP) — Days after the presidential pardon of Jack Johnson, Sylvester Stallone has announced plans for a biopic on the first African-American heavyweight champion.

Stallone said that his newly launched Balboa Productions will start with a film about Johnson. Last week, Stallone stood next to President Donald Trump in the Oval Office as he signed a rare posthumous pardon to Johnson, who served 10 months in prison in what Trump called “a racially-motivated injustice.”

In this 1932 file photo, boxer Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight champion, poses in New York City. (AP Photo)

Trump has said Stallone was instrumental in bringing Johnson’s story to his attention.

Stallone’s production company said the film will be fast-tracked with Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures.

Stallone has said Johnson was the basis for the character Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” films. The 71-year-old actor is currently in production on “Creed II” with MGM.

June 2, 2018 - June 8, 2018

Film Review: Insane as ever, ‘Deadpool 2’ doesn’t disappoint


This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Ryan Reynolds in a scene from “Deadpool 2.” (Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - At a recent screening of “Deadpool 2,” the audience didn’t get up when the end credits came up, patiently sitting through the scrolling names of visual effects supervisors and lighting specialists. Real “Deadpool” fans know to stick around until the ushers toss them out.

That’s because the filmmakers aren’t content with containing their sprawling, anarchic and subversive hero in any conventional box. No, in the world of Deadpool, even the boring end credits are studded with jokes and teases.

So hold onto your seats as Ryan Reynolds once more dons the red suit and katana swords for this saucy, overstuffed and very entertaining sequel to the 2016 massive hit “Deadpool,” which became the second-highest grossing R-rated film in the U.S. after “The Passion of the Christ.” How do we know that? Deadpool happily brags about it in the new film, continuing his breaking-the-fourth-wall humor.

Just some of the other things that get derided this time are “Yentl,” ‘’Frozen,” ‘’Stranger Things,” Wolverine, Jared Kushner, cultural appropriation, Brad Pitt, the Norwegian band A-ha, “Basic Instinct,” ‘’Robocop,” fanny packs, “Say Anything,” dubstep, “Sharknado” and Reynolds himself, who mocks his disastrous earlier decision to play Green Lantern.

“Deadpool 2” is as gruesome and violent as the first, but perhaps the biggest victim is the very concept of superhero movies. Our anti-hero adores mocking the moral clarity, earnestness and predictable stunts of his distant cousins. And, as a Marvel property, he especially delights in lampooning D.C. Comics. “So dark,” Deadpool says to another superhero. “Are you sure you’re not from the DC Universe?”

In this film, which reunites the original writing team of Rhett Reese and Paul Warnick, we begin by finding our unkillable mercenary in the same domestic bliss where we left him. But if “Deadpool” was an origin story, “Deadpool 2” is a quest tale and our hero this time encounters the time traveling soldier Cable (Josh Brolin), a motley crew of mutants he calls X-Force — “Isn’t that a little derivative?” someone asks snarkily — and various superheroes and mutants, all set to a lively soundtrack that includes Air Supply, Peter Gabriel, “Annie” and an original song with filthy lyrics. If something can be oddly sweet while heads are being decapitated, it’s this film.

Some favorites from the first film are back — some only briefly — such as housemate Leslie Uggams, girlfriend Morena Baccarin and cab driver Karan Soni. The new characters don’t have time to make much of an impression, except for Zazie Beetz from “Atlanta” who has a great turn as Domino, a strong, sardonic superhero who relies on luck. (Someone please write her own film.)

Deadpool, of course, helps us along the film’s convoluted plot with such post-modern cracks as “Big CGI fight coming up!” or the put-down, “That’s just lazy writing” or, after a cool sequence, “Tell me they got that in slow motion.” Director David Leitch replaces Tim Miller but there’s been no noticeable change in tone or corrosion in the franchise’s terrific special effects. If anything, the surprising success of the original has resulted in more money and more insane sequences, like a chase sequence with a truck convoy and a bizarre scene when Deadpool’s legs regrow after he is cut in half, giving him baby limbs for a time.

Reynolds is once again at his arch and nihilist best here, while acting and jumping in so much facial prosthetics that it makes him look like he’s inside melted cheese — or, as the first movie put it, an avocado that had relations with an older avocado.

To really appreciate “Deadpool 2” you have to have seen the original and probably every other Marvel superhero film, too. And be up on pop culture, from Cher to Broadway musicals. (It’s a good thing there’s no quiz at the end.) Speaking of ends, don’t embarrass yourself by getting up to leave when it seems to be over. And get ready to happily sit through “Deadpool 3,” too.

“Deadpool 2,” 20th Century Fox release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material.” Running time: 119 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Michael Jackson estate slams ABC TV special on his last days

Michael Jackson is shown in this March 5, 2009 file photo.
(AP Photo/Joel Ryan)

Andrew Dalton

Los Angeles (AP) — The estate of Michael Jackson is objecting to an ABC TV special on the end of the King of Pop’s life, calling it a crass attempt to exploit Jackson without respect for his legacy or children.

The estate said in a statement that “The Last Days of Michael Jackson” is not sponsored or approved by Jackson’s heirs, and violates their intellectual property rights — an assertion ABC denies.

“We believe the special to be another crass and unauthorized attempt to exploit the life, music and image of Michael Jackson without respect for Michael’s legacy, intellectual property rights or his children,” the estate’s statement says.

But the network said the documentary is a legitimate work of journalism on a newsworthy subject.

“ABC News’ documentary explores the life, career and legacy of Michael Jackson, who remains of great interest to people worldwide,” ABC said in a statement.

Producers said the two-hour documentary, aired last week, aimed to reveal new information on Jackson and focus on his apparent decline in the run-up to his death at 50 on June 25, 2009.

Jackson’s estate said ABC was using a copyrighted silhouette and photo to promote the special, but it stopped after demands from Jackson attorneys. The estate said it believed other intellectual property was used without permission, including music, photos and artwork.

“It is particularly disheartening that Disney, a company known to strongly believe in protecting its own IP rights, would choose to ignore these rights belonging to the Estate,” the statement said. ABC is owned by Disney.

ABC responded that the “program does not infringe on his estate’s rights, but as a courtesy, we removed a specific image from the promotional material.”

An autopsy determined that Jackson died of acute propofol intoxication. The superstar had been taking the prescription anesthetic as a sleep aid during preparations for a series of comeback concerts called “This Is It.”

Former cardiologist Conrad Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson a fatal dose of the drug. He served two years in jail for causing Jackson’s death. Murray’s conviction was upheld in 2014.

A farewell to the road for Paul Simon

Paul Simon is shown performing in Vancouver, British Columbia, May 16, 2018. (Jimmy Jeong/The Canadian Press via AP)

David Bauder

New York (AP) — Farewell tours don’t always mean farewell, but are a ripe time for appreciation and appraisal. Paul Simon’s concerts and a new biography offer the opportunity for both.

Simon’s “Homeward Bound” tour began last month in Vancouver and takes him across North America, to Europe and an eventual conclusion with three dates back home in New York City.

Simon, who’s 76, isn’t retiring. He has an album due out this fall and promises he’ll still occasionally appear on stage. Since he started writing songs as a teenager, it’s hard to imagine that impulse shutting off forever. He’s done with the idea of long concert tours, though, so if you want to see him perform, this is probably it.

The death of his lead guitarist and friend, Vincent N’guini, last December influenced his decision to step away, Simon said in a statement when the tour was announced. (He has declined interview requests).

“Mostly, though, I feel the travel and time away from my wife and family takes a toll that detracts from the joy of playing,” he said.

The set list from the tour’s opener in Vancouver indicates that he’s exploring the breadth of his career — from Simon & Garfunkel favorites like “Mrs. Robinson” and “America” to touchstones from “Graceland” and recent fare “Dazzling Blue” and “Rewrite.” With a 16-piece band, he often searches for new ways to tell familiar stories.

“He was far more a curious musician than a self-congratulatory, self-repeating pop star,” wrote Jon Pareles of The New York Times in his review of opening night.

Simon’s musical restlessness sets him apart from many peers, said Robert Hilburn, author of the just-released book “Paul Simon: The Life.” Simon was interviewed by Hilburn for the book. Many of Simon’s contemporaries aren’t interested in pushing boundaries or have fans who resist if they do. Simon’s last few albums have been adventurous, earning him critical and commercial success.

Many people forget that Simon spent years as a mediocre writer searching for pop hits until his breakthrough song, “The Sound of Silence,” Hilburn said.

“Once he became this great songwriter, he realized right away that you’re always in jeopardy,” he said. “There are always these distractions and temptations. He had this determination and intelligence to know that music is the most important thing — that you could never master it and never take it for granted.”

Hilburn believes that the desire to stretch himself musically was the biggest factor in Simon’s break with partner Art Garfunkel in 1970, not the famous prickly relationship between the childhood chums. “If he hadn’t left Simon & Garfunkel, he’d have burned out like all the others,” Hilburn said.

The two are more distant than ever after an unpleasant end to the “Old Friends” tour in 2012, and Garfunkel declined requests to be interviewed for Hilburn’s biography. So it would be wise not to expect another reunion soon.

For the book, Hilburn pressed Simon to reveal details of the 2014 incident where Simon and his wife, Edie Brickell, were arrested on disorderly conduct charges for a fight at their Connecticut home. Without setting the record straight, it would remain a defining image of their marriage, he argued. Simon refused; instead, a photo of him and Brickell later renewing their vows at their Montauk, New York, home is in the book, standing as Simon’s testimony to the endurance of their relationship.

Even though two of his three wives — Brickell and Carrie Fisher — were celebrities in their own right when they were married, Simon has generally been reluctant to feed the media machine. Hilburn believes that has cost him popularity through the years. Instead, people know Simon through his songs, and they’re likely to be remembered long after he’s gone, he said.

In fact, that legacy drives the album he’s been working on for release this fall. He records again some of the compositions he’s particularly proud of that were lost along the way in terms of public attention. One song on the Vancouver playlist, “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War,” is a likely target.

Even though Hilburn was the first biographer that Simon cooperated with, they had their clashes. Hilburn wrote that he feared the project was close to breaking down. But ultimately he said Simon kept his word that Hilburn would be the final arbiter of what was written, and gradually opened up.

“With all of the success he’s had, he still loves it when people love the music,” Hilburn said. “He wants people to love the music, not necessarily to like him. But I think if they got to know him, they will get to like him.”



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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

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Wes Anderson doesn’t stray with ‘Isle of Dogs’

Daniel Craig to return as 007 in 2019, Danny Boyle at helm

Iglesias loves his fans, but misses family ‘like crazy’

No stairway to basement heaven just yet for British singer

Sylvester Stallone making biopic about boxer Jack Johnson

Insane as ever, ‘Deadpool 2’ doesn’t disappoint

Michael Jackson estate slams ABC TV special on his last days

A farewell to the road for Paul Simon

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