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Update July, 2019


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Film Review: In latest ‘Annabelle,’ a babysitting gig goes awry

This image shows a scene from the horror film, “Annabelle Comes Home.” (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - What a spell for sentient toys. A week after the child-crafted plaything Forky found life in “Toy Story 4” and Chucky was reborn in “Child’s Play,” the evil vintage doll of the “Conjuring” spinoff series “Annabelle” is back, too, in “Annabelle Comes Home.” Surely, a tea party must be in the offing.

If movie theaters are starting to feel as cluttered as a kid’s play room, that pileup is nothing compared to the growing collection of movies from the extended Conjuring-verse. There have been eight films in the franchise in the last six years, with offshoots for “The Nun” and “The Curse of La Llorona.” Demonic forces turn out to be like Russian dolls. Open one up and out tumbles a trilogy.

Almost as a rule, the “Conjuring” movies are slavishly devoted to horror clichés, and it can feel like they’re simply going down a list: Creaking doors, check. Possessed playthings, check. Lots of crosses, check. How about a ghoulish bride? You got it. They collectively worship at the altar of William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” aping both its Catholic hokum and title font. These are proudly old-school movies composed of simple frights and legit craft.

They are also, for better or worse, almost comforting horror movies, safely sealed in a trope-filled movie world that doesn’t, like Jordan Peele’s films, claw at our own. That’s especially true of screenwriter-turned-director Gary Dauberman’s “Annabelle Comes Home,” which echoes as much with sincerity as it does screaming. It’s less scary than spooky, and you almost feel as though if these movies keep going, eventually Scooby and the gang are going to solve one of these mysteries.

But for now we still have the central demonologists of the movies, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). They have a calming presence over the whole ordeal. So versed are they in the supernatural that they don’t bat an eye when the clocks start speeding backward or the cemetery dead appear in their headlights.

That’s more or less how “Annabelle Comes Home” begins. The Warrens are driving home when it dawns on them that the doll they’ve just acquired — which got not one but two origin stories in “Annabelle” and “Annabelle Creation” — is a kind of beacon for evil. When they get to their Connecticut split-level, they put Annabelle behind glass in their locked room of artifacts, a collection of so much haunted stuff that it’s blessed weekly by a priest.

But for much of “Annabelle Comes Home,” Ed and Lorraine are out of town, leaving their 10-year-old daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the hands of her teenage baby sitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Judy is a sweet young kid who has inherited some her mother’s spirit senses but, due to her parents’ reputation, is shunned by many of her classmates.

She and Mary Ellen are having a fine time together, but trouble comes in the form of Mary Ellen’s friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife), who shows up uninvited and mischievously curious about the Warrens’ work. She’s also hiding her own grief, having recently lost her father in a car accident. Yearning for some connection to what’s beyond the grave, she’s drawn intractably to the locked room and, naturally, to Annabelle.

You can pretty much guess how things go from there. Pandora’s box gets opened and the three girls suddenly find themselves in a haunted house teeming with all manner of terrors. Dauberman, making his directing debut after scripting the previous “Annabelle” films and the hit Stephen King adaptation “It,” patiently lets things unspool, soaking up the night’s dim and foggy atmosphere and the ’70s wallpaper while steadily increasing the number of jump scares.

What makes “Annabelle Comes Home” rise above its well-trod narrative are the actresses and Dauberman’s sensitive attention to each of them. Grace, in particular, is a standout with an obvious maturity beyond her years. And Sarife artfully combines a teenager’s rebelliousness with heartache.

It’s never much in doubt how things will turn out. The evil will, once again, be “contained.” That’s what makes “Annabelle Comes Home” and some of its “Conjuring” ilk oddly soothing. “All the evil in here reminds me of all the good out there,” Lorraine says of the Warrens’ room of artifacts. But she’s also articulating the underlying heart and ethos of these horror films. I’m not so sure. Out here, it takes more than a display case and a prayer to lock evil away.

“Annabelle Comes Home,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for horror violence and terror. Running time: 120 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.


Japanese collector returns ancient artifacts to Cambodia

Sopheng Cheang

Phnom Penh (AP) — Millennium-old Cambodian artifacts displayed in a Japanese collector’s home for two decades have been returned to the Southeast Asian country’s National Museum.

The 85 artifacts are mostly small bronze items and include statues of Buddha and the Hindu god Shiva, plus jars, ceramics and jewelry. Cambodia’s Culture Ministry says some items were older than the Angkor era, which began about 800 A.D. Others date from the Angkor era or just after it ended in the late 14th century.

Cambodia has made intense efforts to recover artifacts looted during its civil war in the 1970s.

Prak Sonnara, secretary of state for the Culture and Fine Art Ministry, praised the Japanese collector for voluntarily returning the artifacts. He said her actions set a good sample for other countries and collectors to follow.

The collector, Fumiko Takakuwa, told reporters after the handover ceremony that she and her husband had bought the items in Japan and liked to collect and display them in their home. But she knew they were originally from Cambodia and that is why she returned them.

“My husband has said before he passed away that those artifacts have to be returned back to Cambodia, and today I am happy that I did,” Takakuwa said.

Prak Sonnara said the 85 items were believed to have been stolen from Cambodia’s temples during the war, when intense looting occurred and valuables were smuggled through neighboring Thailand.


Fans mourn Joćo Gilberto at Rio de Janeiro funeral

In this June 18, 2004 file photo, Brazilian composer Joao Gilberto performs at Carnegie Hall, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Anna Jean Kaiser

Rio de Janeiro (AP) — Fans from around the world honored bossa nova pioneer Joćo Gilberto last week, filing past his coffin at his funeral in Rio de Janeiro.

A small string orchestra and choir performed one of Gilberto’s most famazous songs, “Chega de saudade” as his body was displayed in an open casket at the entry of Rio’s Municipal Theater.

Dozens of friends and family joined in and sang along, including Gilberto’s daughter Bebel Gilberto, also a singer, who smiled and cried while turning to hug and kiss her younger sister Luisa.

“He will stay alive inside us, he will not die, his music will not disappear,” said funeral attendee Jader Cruz, a 77-year-old from Rio de Janeiro who’s been listening to Gilberto’s music since he was 16. “He left a mark with that strength he had, that sweetness and love he put while playing, that is unforgettable.”

The 88-year-old Gilberto, a two-time Grammy winner, died of natural causes in his home in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, July 13.

A fusion of samba and jazz, bossa nova emerged in the late 1950s and gained a worldwide following in the 1960s, pioneered by Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, who composed the iconic The Girl From Ipanema that was performed by Gilberto and others. His wife Astrud Gilberto made her vocal debut in the song.

Self-taught, Gilberto said he discovered music at age 14 when he held a guitar in his hands for the first time. With his unique playing style and modern jazz influences, he created the beat that defined bossa nova, helping launch the genre with his song “Bim-Bom.”

By 1961, Gilberto had finished the albums that would make bossa nova known around the world: “Chega de Saudade,” ‘’Love, A Smile and A Flower,” and “Joao Gilberto.” His 1964 album Getz/Gilberto with U.S. saxophonist Stan Getz sold millions of copies.


Film Review: 'Spider-Man' swings again with a successful sequel

This image shows (from left) Tom Holland and Jacky Gyllenhaal in a scene from "Spider-Man: Far From Home." (Jay Maidment/Columbia Pictures/Sony via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - Peter Parker might be forgiven for craving a vacation as "Spider-Man: Far From Home" begins. After an emotional and strenuous last few movies with the Avengers, a break sounds nice. "I didn't think I had to save the world this summer," he complains.

But, you know the drill: With great power comes great responsibility. So it's just a matter of time before Parker's European school trip is interrupted by mayhem that requires a webslinger. We're just glad the filmmakers didn't also take a vacation as well.

In this ambitious and ultimately successful sequel to "Spider-Man: Homecoming," Parker trades New York's Coney Island and the Staten Island ferry for such iconic cities as Venice, Berlin, London and Prague. Seeing him swing from ancient bell towers instead of Manhattan skyscrapers is weirdly thrilling.

The first half of "Spider-Man: Far From Home " could stand alone — Parker juggles trying to romance the tough-but-vulnerable MJ (the always welcome Zendaya) while also fighting giant monsters beside a ragtag group of superheroes. Perhaps it's a little underwhelming, but it's solid. Just stick around: Things get positively bizarre in the second half as the film shifts up a few gears, turning into a kind of commentary on filmmaking illusion itself. It goes from sunny pop to acid jazz, from "Saved By the Bell" to "The Matrix."

Speaking of school, viewers who haven't yet seen "Avengers: Endgame" have some homework to do before watching Tom Holland pull on the red-and-blue suit this time. "Far From Home" takes place immediately after the meta-conclusion of all 22 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and assumes you know what happened. Plus, it might be a school night, but don't even think about leaving the theater before catching the two post-film codas.

Director Jon Watts returns, adding to the great work he did in the first film, and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, who helped write "Homecoming," make their own homecoming. So does Jon Favreau playing Happy Hogan, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May and Jacob Batalon as Parker's best pal, who this time ditches the nerdiness to show off a man-of-the-world Ned.

Borrowed from elsewhere in the Marvel Universe are Cobie Smulders as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill and a snarling Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Spider-Man gets to play this time with a pair of high-tech eyeglasses that are an advanced tactical intelligence system, much like he interacted last time with his suit's computer, Karen. (Alas, no cameo this time from Stan Lee, the Marvel icon who died in 2018).

Jake Gyllenhaal, who has proven to be an actor of tremendous range, is a newcomer to the superhero genre but proves a comfortable fit despite being asked to wear one of Marvel's oddest costumes. As Mysterio, he dons a huge cape, Roman Empire breastplate, giant gauntlets and a big glass bubble over his face like an upside-down goldfish bowl. But as Will Smith might say, Gyllenhaal makes this look good.

Credit to him and costume designer Anna B. Sheppard, who has concocted four Spider-Man suits, including a "stealth" one that gets him the nickname Night Monkey in Europe. And the trippy visual effects that stun in the second half connect not to the first film but to "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" — a huge complement since that one was animated.

But let's be honest: The thing keeping this together is Holland. He is utterly endearing as a goofy, insecure now-16-year-old hero with a cracked cellphone and who often makes things worse, apologizing along the way. Holland's aw-shucks naiveté is a 1950-ish throwback even though he is firmly in 2019 — taking selfies while in the air and having to be reminded to not text and swing at the same time. He is indeed a Spidey for Generation Z and its fitting that he hits the reset button for Marvel.

"Spider-Man: Far From Home," a Sony Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for "sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments." Running time: 127 minutes. Three stars out of four.


Film Review: In the joyous 'Toy Story 4,' the toys evolve too

 

This image shows a scene from the movie "Toy Story 4." (Disney/Pixar via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - It's futile to ask "why more" in the movie business, but it's hard not to go in a little suspicious of a fourth "Toy Story." The trilogy was so perfect.

What more could we ask of Woody and Buzz? What more did we as an audience need? If we got another, would it live up to the unbridled joy and emotional satisfaction of the first three? And if it was bad, would it tarnish the others?

Sure it might sound a little dramatic to get this emotionally invested in the legacy of an animated series about anthropomorphic toys, but Pixar and Disney did this to themselves by creating something so precious and lasting. But I'm delighted to report that the fears were unwarranted. "Toy Story 4 " is a blast and it's great to be back with the gang.

It took a herculean effort behind the scenes to get here too, nine years after "Toy Story 3" left many of us sobbing in our seats. Ousted Pixar head John Lasseter, who directed the first two, was supposed to direct and the screenplay switched hands three years into development (which helps explain why eight writers get "story by" credits). Eventually the project was handed over to animator, sometimes voice actor and first time feature director Josh Cooley to bring it home.

None of that disorder is apparent on the screen, however. A flashback tells us what happened to Bo Peep (Annie Potts) all those years ago, and reminds us where we left off: With Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and the rest of the toys being passed on to a new kid, Bonnie, as their beloved Andy heads off to college.

But it turns out Andy's talk with Bonnie about his favorite toy Woody didn't have much of an impact on the fickle 5-year-old. At playtime she prefers Jessie and often leaves Woody in the closet with the rest of the toys she's outgrown. "Remember house," a forlorn chair (Carol Burnett) says wistfully, as they all notice Woody has picked up his first dust bunny.

This sends him into a panic spiral as he grasps for anything that will make him essential to Bonnie's life. When she decides that a deranged arts and crafts project made of a spork she calls Forky is her new favorite toy, Woody becomes his protector. Tony Hale provides the perfect voice for this insane but charming addition who keeps trying to jump in the trash. (It's his destiny as a disposable utensil after all!)

Indeed, "Toy Story 4" introduces a whole batch of fun new characters, like the Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), the 50s antique and all around head case Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her creepy "Vincent" henchmen. There's also Combat Carl (Carl Weathers), Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key). And pay close attention and you might also spot Melephant Brooks (Mel Brooks) and Carl Reineroceros (Carl Reiner) too.

A family RV trip takes all the toys to a new location, where Woody encounters Bo Peep for the first time in almost a decade. She relishes her freedom as a lost toy and leads a happy, rag-tag existence wandering around and meeting new kids everywhere. It's enough to make even the most loyal toy question his purpose. And they go on some enormously fun and inventive adventures trying to get Forky back to Bonnie. The signature "Toy Story" wit and irreverence might not be quite as sharp as it was before, but there are enough truly inspired moments to keep you smiling as you savor the unexpected fun. Cooley and the writers even brilliantly play on some kid-friendly horror movie tropes, adding a fresh dimension to this journey.

If there is a complaint, it's that Woody and Bo's quest takes us away from most of the original toys for a large part of the movie, although Buzz still finds a way to be part of it. Although it doesn't exactly reach the emotional heights of the previous films, the conclusion is still effective and well executed.

Let this be a lesson to all franchise cynics: Sometimes more is actually good. Woody needed some closure he couldn't even comprehend. And, it turns out, so did we.

"Toy Story 4," a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 100 minutes. Three stars out of four.


Thailand to host Bangkok ASEAN Film Festival 2019

Award winning Philippine movie ‘Balangiga: Howling Wilderness’ will be one of the many international offerings at the ASEAN Film Festival 2019, being held from July 3-8 in Bangkok.

Bangkok - Culture Minister Weera Rojphotjanarat said her ASEAN counterparts have resolved at their eighth meeting in Yokyakarta, Indonesia to designate the year 2019 as ASEAN Cultural Year.

As part of the promotion, the Thai Ministry of Culture and the National Federation of Motion Pictures and Content Associations, plus private sectors, will jointly present the Bangkok ASEAN Film Festival 2019 from July 3-8, 2019, at the SF World Cinema, Central World and Paragon Cineplex, Siam Paragon shopping complex.

The films have been selected by the embassies of ASEAN member countries for screening at the festival. The event will feature 30 movies from 13 countries including China, Korea and Japan.

The festival will open with the screening of “Memories of My Body” from Indonesia. Ten contesting films and three valuable films – Ai Tui from Thailand, Moon Over from Malaysia, Malaya from Singapore and Genghis Khan from the Philippines, along with 16 other films will be screened at the festival.

Three awards will be presented at the event – Best ASEAN Film, a Jury Prize and a Special Mention. There will be subtitles in Thai and English. Admission is free. (NNT)


Unheard song from Queen frontman Freddie Mercury released

In this July 20, 1986 file photo, Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury performs, in Germany. (AP Photo/Marco Arndt)

New York (AP) — Universal Music has unveiled a previously unheard and unreleased song by the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.

The record label announced the track "Time Waits for No One," which was originally recorded in 1986 for the concept album of the musical "Time" with musician Dave Clark.

A video to accompany the song was also released and includes unseen performance footage of Mercury. It was recorded in April 1986 at London's Dominion Theatre.

Mercury died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991 at 45. He was the subject of the uber-successful film "Bohemian Rhapsody," which won actor Rami Malek an Academy Award.

The film also won Oscars for best sound editing, best sound mixing and best film editing.

 
 


UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

In latest ‘Annabelle,’ a babysitting gig goes awry

Japanese collector returns ancient artifacts to Cambodia

Fans mourn Joćo Gilberto at Rio de Janeiro funeral


'Spider-Man' swings again with a successful sequel


In the joyous 'Toy Story 4,' the toys evolve too

Thailand to host Bangkok ASEAN Film Festival 2019

Unheard song from Queen frontman Freddie Mercury released