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Update September 2018


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September 22, 2018 - September 28, 2018

Film Review: ‘The Predator’ outstays its welcome on Earth

This image released by 20th Century Fox shows a scene from “The Predator.” (Kimberley French/20th Century Fox via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - Predators are personal for Shane Black. He was hacked apart by one of the fearsome alien hunters in the first “Predator” movie 31 years ago and now returns to sit in the director’s chair for the latest saga in the franchise.

Ready for some payback, Shane? More importantly, will you oversee the destruction of Predators or will you accidentally kill off the series, once and for all? The answer is a little of both.

Only a definite article in the title separates the new “The Predator” from the 1987 debut “Predator” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and clearly Black is trying to capture the spirit of the testosterone-fueled original with this one led by a decorated sniper played by Boyd Holbrook. Both flicks share a welcome winking humor. If anyone asks “Everything OK back there?” you can be certain it’s not.

The first film featured cartoonishly masculine soldiers in the jungle of Central America tracking and being tracked by a huge and technologically advanced beast with dreadlocks, a face full of mandibles and the ability to both go invisible and humiliate arrogant prey. It echoed the horror of Vietnam and was a clever combination of “Rambo” and “Alien” with humor that would make a locker room blush. (Black played the bespectacled Hawkins and was an early casualty.)

Black has returned — with co-writer Fred Dekker — for another loud soldier-versus-Predator slice in an American forest — well, actually, thanks, Canada! — but with some twists. Although the filmmakers boast about a much-improved alien, the only noticeable update is the addition of their tracking canines — that’s right, “space dogs,” as one character jokes. And this time the soldiers are all suffering from PTSD, along with other problems triggered by Tourette’s syndrome, suicidal tendencies and opioid addiction. Viewers get plenty of decapitations, lynchings, head shots and bowels cut open.

Black’s filmmaking is old-school, grounded in ’80s humor, reveling at its over-the-topness and often gleefully thumbing its nose at political correctness. That might be refreshing, but it also can lead to questionable decisions. Like, is it necessary to set one of the battles — complete with assault weapons and explosions — in an elementary school?

And is it wise to portray hurting soldiers this way? They’ve nicknamed themselves “The Loonies” and they are a foul-mouthed, messy wild bunch who met in group therapy. They’re portrayed by Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera, who all deliver a strange brew of toilet humor, classic misogyny and aching vulnerability, but laughing at broken men and mental illness quickly grows uncomfortable. To make matters even worse, another character has Asperger’s syndrome, which is cynically used as a plot point. Professional psychologists are not going to like this film.

One change is the addition of some estrogen in the form of Olivia Munn, who plays not just a scientist but a huge one — “I heard you basically wrote the book on evolutionary biology,” she’s told by a guy in a white lab coat. In a matter of hours, she’s gone from literally shooting herself in the foot to blasting an assault weapon with aplomb. She actually manages to make the dialogue work, as does a thrilling Sterling K. Brown, whose CIA honcho positively swaggers with flashes of pitch-dark humor. He steals the film from the ostensible hero, Holbrook, who fails to sparkle.

One welcome cameo is by Jake Busey, who plays a research scientist who studies Predators. It’s an inside joke: He’s the son of Gary Busey, who played a government scientist in “Predator 2” — so Black is keeping the part in the family. Plot-wise, to be honest, not much has changed either — a ragtag group of soldiers face off against an alien hunter. Hardcore fans will welcome the franchise’s return but neutral observers may question why this was committed to celluloid.

“What am I looking at?” Munn’s character asks about some data shown to her, but might as well be addressing the film’s audience.

“It’s exactly what you think it is,” a scientist responds.

The film created headlines after Munn flagged 20th Century Fox that a minor actor was a registered sex offender, meaning a real predator was in the mix. His scenes were soon cut, but, weirdly, she faced a backlash . If there’s ever a hero here, it’s Munn: On film, as in real life, she’s challenged the all-boys’ network.

But Black, who wrote “The Last Action Hero” and several “Lethal Weapon” films, flounders, seeing his gifts as a director tested. Scenes are poorly knitted together, especially toward the end. Time and tempo break down, as if the film were snapping apart at the seams.

Ideas are offered — might Predator DNA be mixed with those of a human? Why do Predators keep coming back to Earth? — but quickly abandoned. Some characters die in underwhelming ways, as if the film stock ran out. At the end, Black somewhat arrogantly offers a clear springboard to a sequel. Whether anyone cares for it remains to be seen.

“The Predator,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “strong bloody violence, language throughout and crude sexual references.” Running time: 108 minutes. One star out of four.


Poland’s Tomasz Ritter wins Chopin contest on period pianos

Aleksandra Swigut (right) applauds Tomasz Ritter (left) of Poland who is declared the winner of the 1st Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Sept. 13. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Monika Scislowska

Warsaw, Poland (AP) — Tomasz Ritter of Poland was announced the winner last week of the world’s first Frederic Chopin piano competition performed on instruments from the composer’s era.

Japan’s Naruhiko Kawaguci and Poland’s Aleksandar Swigut both won second place. Third place went to Krzysztof Ksiazek of Poland. Dmitry Ablogin of Russia and France’s Antoine de Grolee won honorable mentions.

The announcement Sept. 13 by the 11-member international jury came after each of the six finalists played a Chopin concerto accompanied by the Amsterdam-based Orchestra of the 18th Century with conductor Grzegorz Nowak.

The competition’s sponsors, the National Frederic Chopin Institute and Poland’s state Radio and Television, want to encourage young pianists to explore the original sound of music written by Poland’s best-loved composer and by his contemporaries.

Ritter played on an 1842 Pleyel piano, Swigut on an 1837 Erard, Kawaguci on an 1842 Pleyel and Ksiazek on an 1849 Erard. One of their characteristics is a softer sound than that of modern-era pianos.

One of the jury members, Janusz Olejniczak, told The Associated Press that historical instruments require a different playing technique but also broaden the pianist’s skills and approach to music.

The winner of the 1st Chopin Competition on Period Instruments collects a 15,000-euro prize as well as concert and recording offers. Second prize is 10,000 euros and third is 5,000 euros.

Special prizes from the orchestra went to Ksiazek and Swigut. The orchestra’s musicians specialize in 18th and early 19th century music and play on period instruments.

Chopin was born in 1810 in Zelazowa Wola near Warsaw, to a Polish mother and a French father. He received his music education in Warsaw and started composing and giving concerts there. He left Poland at age 20 and settled in Paris, Europe’s center of art and music at the time. He composed mostly for the piano and much of his work was inspired by Poland’s music, such as the polonaise and the mazurka dances.

The competition was part of Poland’s celebrations of 100 years of regained independence. The next one is to be held in 2023.


Eurovision says Tel Aviv will host 2019 song contest

Aron Heller

Jerusalem (AP) — The Eurovision Song Contest has announced that next year’s competition will be held in Tel Aviv, clearing up some of the political controversy surrounding Israel’s hosting of the 2019 competition.

The Israeli government had initially insisted on holding the popular event in Jerusalem. But following a backlash over the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and a subsequent fear of boycotts it dropped the demand to host the world’s largest live music event. The Eurovision said it chose Tel Aviv, Israel’s cultural and commercial epicenter, over Jerusalem and the southern city of Eilat because of its “creative and compelling bid.”

Israel won the Eurovision this year with a flashy pop tune called “Toy” by the charismatic, previously unknown singer Netta Barzilai, who dazzled viewers with her feminist lyrics, unconventional appearance and signature chicken dance. Her victory earned Israel the right to host next year’s contest.

The Eurovision says its semifinals will be held in Tel Aviv on May 14 and 16 followed by the Grand Final on May 18.

The Eurovision has previously provided Israel with some cultural touchstones.

“Hallelujah” became the country’s unofficial national song after it won the contest for Israel when it hosted the event in the late 1970s, and Dana International became a national hero and global transgender icon when she won with “Diva” in 1998.


Beating King of Pop, The Eagles have No.1 album of all-time

In this Jan. 15, 2014, file photo, Don Henley (left) and Glenn Frey of The Eagles perform at the Forum in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)

Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) — The Eagles’ greatest hits album has moonwalked past Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to become history’s best-selling album of all-time in the U.S.

The Recording Industry Association of America told The Associated Press that the Eagles’ album — “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975” — is now certified 38x platinum, which means sales and streams of the album have reached 38 million copies.

The album was released in 1976 and pushes Jackson’s “Thriller,” which is 33x platinum, to second place.

RIAA also said that the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” released in 1977, is now 26x platinum and makes it the third best-selling album of all-time.

The last time RIAA tallied sales for the Eagles’ greatest hits album was in 2006, when it said it was 29x platinum. Sales and streams for “Thriller” were last updated last year.

“We are grateful for our families, our management, our crew, the people at radio and, most of all, the loyal fans who have stuck with us through the ups and downs of 46 years. It’s been quite a ride,” Eagles’ Don Henley said in a statement.

RIAA’s platinum status was once equivalent to selling one million albums or songs, but in 2013 the company began incorporating streaming from YouTube, Spotify and other digital music services to determine certification for albums and songs.

Now 1,500 streams of an album is equivalent to an album sale. Also, 10 song downloads = 1 album sale.

The Eagles, who formed in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, mastered the mix of rock ‘n’ roll and country music, and the band’s hits — including “Hotel California” and “Take It Easy — became part of the soundtrack of that decade. They broke up in 1980, coming back together 14 years later with Henley and Glenn Frey being the only remaining original members. Frey died in 2016, but the Grammy-winning band remains on tour.

The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2016.


September 15, 2018 - September 21, 2018

Film Review: Wahlberg and Berg’s ‘Mile 22’ is a dizzying assault

This cover image shows Mark Wahlberg in a scene from “Mile 22.” (STXfilms via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - Mark Wahlberg’s “Mile 22 “ character James Silva has a tick where he snaps a yellow rubber bracelet against his wrist. He does this many, many times throughout this all-out assault of a movie, which seems to have been shot and edited with the singular purpose of leaving the audience confused and disoriented at every turn. This restless camera can’t even hold still during a simple scene of dialogue, changing focus every two seconds — eyes, off-center face, hands, blood pressure monitor, and on and on.

That snapping sound is actually one of the more orienting things. Ah yes, you think, it’s Silva calming his mind, which is apparently quicker than most people’s resulting in both extreme intelligence and extreme anger, or so we’re told in a similarly frenetic opening credits sequence with a lot of voiceovers. His mother gave him the bracelet so that he could snap it as a reminder to pause. While that’s nice for Silva, it’s also incredibly annoying for the audience.

On a broad scale, this movie is about counterterrorism efforts and trying to predict the unpredictable. There’s a nuclear substance at large which, if released into the atmosphere, would be like “Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined” and all you need is “a kid with an envelope” on a street corner to release it. A man, Li Noor (the incredible martial arts stuntman Iko Uwais) comes to a U.S. Embassy saying he has the locations of the missing substance but will only give them up in exchange for asylum. So Silva and his paramilitary CIA unit, including Lauren Cohan, Ronda Rousey and Carlo Alban, all quit their jobs and become “ghosts” to take on the extremely dangerous operation of transporting Li 22 miles to a plane that will get him to the U.S. Overwatch is a “higher form of patriotism,” John Malkovich’s director-type opines to no one in particular.

“Mile 22” is one of the more disappointing collaborations between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who also made “Lone Survivor” (a similar assault), the self-aggrandizing “Patriots Day,” and the quite thrilling and underappreciated “Deepwater Horizon.” ‘’Mile 22" is the first that wasn’t ripped from the headlines. It’s a clear attempt at a franchise, and while this shadowy unit of operatives seems as fair game as any, Silva is a horrifyingly bad character, poorly developed and with no redeemable qualities who only ever seems to be shouting insults at all of his co-workers. They never seem all that fazed by it though. Is Silva just a maniac they tolerate? Did they all realize he’s all bark and no bite? Doesn’t that undermine his character from the get-go?

This is all too bad, because there are genuinely interesting elements about this film, like how at least 50 percent of the humans here, from intelligence officers, to code breakers, to ambassadors, are women. Not that that should be notable, but it is. Also Uwais has one truly stunning action sequence involving a gurney that is not to be missed. But the rest of the action is so obscured you’re not even sure who or what you’re watching most of the time. The only time it slows down is to show some of the most gruesome ways to kill someone that have been committed to screen this year (like how about dragging someone’s neck across the jagged edges of a shattered car window over and over? That one got one of the biggest groans I’ve ever heard from an audience).

The script has a few surprises in store, but it’s all too little too late even at a brisk 90 minutes. For a movie so excited to tell a story about the CIA’s “most highly-prized and least understood unit,” it sure doesn’t do much to ensure you leave any more informed than you were when you sat down.

“Mile 22,” an STX Entertainment release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of American for “strong violence and language throughout.” Running time: 90 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.


Burt Reynolds dead at 82

 

This Oct. 7, 1978 file photo shows in Burt Reynolds at the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

By John Rogers, Associated Press

Burt Reynolds, the handsome film and television star known for his acclaimed performances in “Deliverance” and “Boogie Nights,” commercial hits such as “Smokey and the Bandit” and for an active off-screen love life which included relationships with Loni Anderson and Sally Field, has died at age 82.

His death was confirmed Thursday by his agent Todd Eisner. In a statement, his niece, Nancy Lee Hess, called his death “totally unexpected,” although she acknowledged he had health issues.

“He was tough. Anyone who breaks their tail bone on a river and finishes the movie is tough. And that’s who he was. My uncle was looking forward to working with Quentin Tarantino, and the amazing cast that was assembled,” she said, referring to the upcoming film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

Hess noted her uncle’s kindness and generosity, and thanked “all of his amazing fans who have always supported and cheered him on, through all of the hills and valleys of his life and career.”

The mustachioed, smirking Reynolds inspired a wide range of responses over his long, erratic career: critical acclaim and critical scorn, popular success and box office bombs. Reynolds made scores of movies, ranging from lightweight fare such as the hits “The Cannonball Run” and “Smokey and the Bandit” to more serious films like “The Longest Yard” and “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.”

He received some of the film world’s highest and lowest honors. He was nominated for an Oscar for “Boogie Nights,” the Paul Thomas Anderson film about the pornography industry; won an Emmy for the TV series “Evening Shade,” and was praised for his starring role in “Deliverance.”

But he also was a frequent nominee for the Razzie, the tongue-in-cheek award for Hollywood’s worst performance, and his personal life provided ongoing drama, particularly after an acrimonious divorce from Anderson in 1995. He had a troubled marriage to Judy Carne, a romance with Dinah Shore and a relationship with Field damaged by his acknowledged jealousy of her success.

Through it all he presented a genial persona, often the first to make fun of his own conflicted image.

“My career is not like a regular chart, mine looks like a heart attack,” he told The Associated Press in 2001. “I’ve done over 100 films, and I’m the only actor who has been canned by all three networks. I epitomize longevity.”

Reynolds was candid about his flops, his regrets and about his many famous friends. He would call posing nude for Cosmopolitan one of his biggest mistakes because it undermined the respect he had gained for “Deliverance.” He revered Spencer Tracy as an early mentor and came to know Johnny Carson, Clint Eastwood, Frank Sinatra and many others.

“Burt Reynolds was one of my heroes,” tweeted Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He was a trailblazer. He showed the way to transition from being an athlete to being the highest paid actor, and he always inspired me. He also had a great sense of humor - check out his Tonight Show clips. My thoughts are with his family.”

Born in Lansing, Michigan and raised in Florida, he was an all-Southern Conference running back at Florida State University in the 1950s. Reynolds appeared headed to the NFL until a knee injury and an automobile accident ended his chances. He dropped out of college and drifted to New York, where he worked as a dockhand, dance-hall bouncer, bodyguard and dish washer before returning to Florida in 1957 and enrolling in acting classes at Palm Beach Junior College.

He won the Florida Drama Award in 1958 for his performance in the role John Garfield made famous in “Outward Bound.” He was subsequently discovered by a talent agent at New York’s Hyde Park Playhouse.

Early theater roles included performances in “Mister Roberts” and “Look: We’ve Come Through.”

After moving to Hollywood, he found work as a stuntman, including one job that consisted of flying through a glass window. As a star, he often performed his own stunts, and he played a stuntman in the 1978 film “Hooper,” one of his better reviewed films.

Because of his dark features, he was cast frequently as an Indian early in his career, including the title role in the 1967 spaghetti western “Navajo Joe.” He also played Iroquois Indian detective John Hawk in the short-lived 1966 TV series “Hawk.”

In the 1960s he made dozens of guest-star appearances on such TV shows as “Bonanza,” ‘’The Twilight Zone” and “Perry Mason.” His first film role came in 1961’s “Angel Baby,” and he followed it with numerous other mediocre movies, the kind, he liked to joke, that were shown in airplanes and prisons.

He did become famous enough to make frequent appearances on “The Tonight Show,” leading to his most cherished film role and to his greatest folly.

In the early 1970s, director John Boorman was impressed by how confidently Reynolds handled himself when subbing for Carson as host of “The Tonight Show.” Boorman thought he might be right for a film adaptation of James Dickey’s novel “Deliverance.”

Reynolds starred as Lewis Medlock, the intrepid leader of an ill-fated whitewater canoe trip. When he and three other Atlanta businessmen are ambushed by violent backwoodsmen, Reynolds must guide the group to safety.

“Deliverance” was an Oscar nominee for best picture and no film made him prouder. In his 2015 memoir “But Enough About Me,” he wrote that “Deliverance” would be his choice could he put one of his movies in a time capsule.

“It proved I could act,” he wrote.

But soon after filming was completed, he made a decision he never stopped regretting. While appearing on “The Tonight Show” with Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, he agreed to her invitation, offered during a commercial break, to be the first male centerfold for her magazine.

“I was flattered and intrigued,” Reynolds wrote in his memoir.  The April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan quickly sold more than 1 million copies, but turned his life into a “carnival.” The centerfold would appear on T-shirts, panties and other merchandise and Reynolds began receiving obscene fan mail. Reynolds’ performance in “Deliverance” was snubbed by the movie academy.

“It was a total fiasco,” he wrote. “I thought people would be able to separate the fun-loving side of me from the serious actor, but I was wrong.”

He did remain an A-list movie star, starring in such films as “Shamus,” ‘’The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and three popular “Smokey and the Bandit” comedies, with co-stars including Field and Jackie Gleason.

Reynolds also directed a few of the films he starred in, including “Gator,” ‘’Sharky’s Machine” and “Stick,” and made cameo appearances in the Hollywood spoof “The Player” and Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask).”

One of his first encounters with the tabloids came in 1973 with the mysterious death of Sarah Miles’ manager during filming of “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.” Reynolds testified during a highly publicized inquest; the death was eventually ruled a suicide.

His romance with Shore, 20 years his senior, brought intense media scrutiny. The two met when Reynolds made a surprise appearance on her talk show, bursting out of a closet on the set.

In the 1980s, his career was nearly destroyed when false rumors surfaced that he was infected with the AIDS virus, in the height of hysteria over the disease. He had injured his jaw making the 1984 comedy “City Heat” with Clint Eastwood. Barely able to eat, he lost 50 pounds and suddenly looked ill and emaciated.

“For two years I couldn’t get a job,” he told the AP in 1990. “I had to take five physicals to get a job. I had to take the pictures that were offered to me. I did action pictures because I was trying to prove that I was well.”

Reynolds later said that at the same time he became addicted to the prescription sleep-aid Halcion for several years.

He eventually regained his health, and in 1988 he married Anderson. The actress, one of the stars of the sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati,” had met him on a talk show.

The marriage was often ugly, the breakup even uglier. The couple divorced in 1995, and their breakup was an embarrassing public spectacle, with the pair exchanging insults in print interviews and on television shows. Reynolds finally paid her a $2 million settlement and a vacation home to settle the divorce.

“There was pain. There was some abuse,” Anderson told the AP in 1995. There was drug addiction, on his part. There was always me trying to save it and feeling very empowered that I thought I could. And there was great love on my part.”

Reynolds rebounded once again, this time with the role of porn movie impresario Jack Horner in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights,” which brought him some of his best reviews even though he felt ambivalent about his character and felt limited rapport with the director.

He won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor and received an Oscar nomination.  Convinced he would win, he was devastated when the Oscar went to Robin Williams for “Good Will Hunting.”

“I once said that I’d rather have a Heisman Trophy than an Oscar,” he wrote in his memoir. “I lied.”

Reynolds had previously won a Golden Globe in 1992 for “Evening Shade,” in which he played Wood Newton, a former professional football player who returns to his Arkansas hometown to coach the high school team. He also received an Emmy for the role in 1991.

He was back in the tabloids again in 2005 after he appeared in a remake of “The Longest Yard,” which starred Adam Sandler in Reynolds’ old role as an imprisoned former football star. Reynolds costarred as the warden, the role Eddie Albert had in the original film.

At a premiere in New York, a studio publicist admitted he hadn’t seen either movie, and Reynolds responded by slapping him across the face. He joked later that it was just a “love tap.”

Burton Leon Reynolds was born on Feb. 11, 1936, the son of a police chief who looked down on his son’s ambitions to become an actor. After several years in California, he returned in 1969 to Florida, where he had gone to college. He bought eight acres of waterfront property in the wealthy community of Jupiter and spent most of the rest of his life there, devoting much of his later years to his only son, Quinton, whom he had adopted with Anderson.

He opened the Burt Reynolds Jupiter Theatre and a Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum, where he displayed his memorabilia and sometimes lectured to drama students.

Associated Press writers Hillel Italie and the late Bob Thomas contributed to this report.


September 8, 2018 - September 14, 2018

Film Review: Denzel Washington kills in ‘The Equalizer 2’

This image shows Denzel Washington in a scene from “Equalizer 2.” (Glen Wilson/Sony, Columbia Pictures via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - You won’t usually find Denzel Washington in a movie sequel. He just doesn’t do them. Something about not wanting to repeat himself. So there must be something special indeed for him to break his own rule for “The Equalizer 2.”

Fans of the first film will instantly know why Washington is drawn to the character of Robert McCall, a quiet middle-aged retired special-ops agent who fiercely believes in justice, likes to help others and dispenses the occasional lethal judgement for those deserving.

“We all have to pay for our sins,” he tells a group of very bad guys in the new, highly satisfying edition, before vowing to hunt each one dead. His only regret? He can kill them only once.

“The Equalizer 2 “ reconnects many of the people behind the 2014 debut alongside the always-vital Washington — Antoine Fuqua returns to direct, as does writer Richard Wenk, and actors Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo.

McCall first appeared in the mid-1980s on TV with Edward Woodward playing him as a bit of an English dandy. In the film series, Washington plays McCall as a tad obsessive-compulsive, but not consistently. He’s the kind of guy who brings his own tea bag to a restaurant in a neatly folded napkin and arranges the cutlery just so. But, when prompted, his vision suddenly becomes hyper-clear and he meticulously pre-plans every step in taking down a room of thugs, often without a gun. He’s like Monk crossed with Sherlock Holmes.

In the first film, a hooker with a heart of gold pulls McCall out of retirement when she is badly beaten by her pimp. By the end, McCall has blown up most of Boston’s waterfront, exposed a nest of corrupt local cops and systematically executed every member of a Russian gang, even going to Moscow to finish the job.

The second film takes place sometime later, with McCall now a Lyft driver, selectively helping people he encounters. He’s kind to old people (a Holocaust survivor, for extra depth) and little kids, who adore him. He mentors a troubled teen (Ashton Sanders), hoping to steer him away from drug dealing and toward art school. Few people could pull off this cheesy sainthood like Washington, oozing charisma and self-assured masculinity.

When a group of smarmy, cocky Wall Street types abuse an intern during a coke-fueled party, Washington drives her to the hospital and then returns to wreak vengeance, slicing one dude with his own luxury credit card and then taunting his bleeding victims with “I expect a five-star rating.” It takes him a scant 29 seconds to destroy the room full of rich snobs; he times it, naturally.

The film somewhat confusingly toggles through various initial threads before landing on the main one — someone crucial to McCall’s murky past is murdered in Brussels and that reveals a barrel of bad government apples. The film thus strays far from its roots as a vehicle for McCall to be the avenging angel for a needy stranger. But we get to see McCall solve the crime from his Boston apartment by putting himself in the crime scene like an episode of “Crossing Jordan” and then avenge the death. Oh, there’s also a hurricane crashing up the East coast, timed for the climax, a little over the top if we’re being honest.

Fuqua is a lyrical director who directed Washington to an Oscar in “Training Day.” He’s not afraid to spend time in the still darkness with McCall and likes to focus on small moody elements, like rain hitting the gutters. But he can also deliver red meat: A sequence in which McCall fights off a passenger in the back seat of his car is a mini-masterpiece of taut, sinewy direction.

Wenk also has written some juicy dialogue for Washington, including a monologue about individual responsibility he delivers to the young artist in a project stairwell that the actor bites into with obvious relish. (It’s only somewhat marred by the cliche of him putting a gun muzzle to his own temple and goading the younger man to pull the trigger. “Five pounds of pressure is all it takes!” he says.)

“The Equalizer” is a guilty pleasure for anyone who enjoys that old-school, blue-collar American chivalric hero with a dark past. The one who was in “The Quiet Man” and behind the mask in Batman. He’s the kind of guy who cauterizes his own wounds, never permits collateral damage when he’s on a killing spree, wears a knit polo to a showdown with four heavily armed tactical fighters, and reads great books of literature to honor his beloved dead wife.

He’s cool, with moral clarity and he’s three moves ahead of everyone. No wonder he’s such a welcome sight in 2018 America and no wonder Washington wanted another go-around.

“The Equalizer 2,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “brutal violence throughout, language and some drug content.” Running time: 120 minutes. Three stars out of four.


Peter Jackson’s WWI film to premiere at London Film Festival

Film director Peter Jackson.

London (AP) — “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson’s new film — a documentary that transforms grainy footage from World War I into color — has a title and a world premiere date at the London Film Festival in October.

The festival said that “They Shall Not Grow Old” will be screened in London and at cinemas across Britain on Oct. 16, less than a month before the centenary of the war’s end.

The Academy Award-winning director restored film from the Imperial War Museum using cutting-edge digital technology and hand coloring, pairing it with archive audio recollections from veterans of the conflict.

Jackson said he wanted “to reach through the fog of time and pull these men into the modern world, so they can regain their humanity once more.”

The film is part of the U.K. government-backed 14-18 Now project, which has presented works by more than 200 artists over four years to remember a conflict in which 20 million people died.

“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle — who helmed the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony — will create a mass-participation work to be performed on the anniversary of the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice that ended the war.

The London Film Festival opens Oct. 10 with Steve McQueen’s heist thriller “Widows,” and closes Oct. 21 with John S. Baird’s Laurel and Hardy biopic “Stan And Ollie.”


More than 50 years into career, Rod Stewart not slowing down

Rod Stewart poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Aug. 8, in New York to promote his tour and upcoming album, “Blood Red Roses.” (Photo by Drew Gurian/Invision/AP)

John Carucci

New York (AP) — More than fifty years into his career, Rod Stewart shows no sign of slowing down.

When he’s not on tour, he’s busy at home chasing his two young sons, Aiden and Alastair, around the yard. And on Sept. 28, he will release his 30th studio album, “Blood Red Roses.”

While known for writing sultry songs — from “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” to “You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)” — Stewart’s also not afraid to tackle social issues. In 1976, he broke new ground with “The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II),” about his friend who was killed because of his sexual identity.

Stewart dismisses the idea of being courageous writing the first mainstream pop song to deal with gay bashing.

“It was a true story and it’s much easier to write about the truth,” Stewart said about the iconic song.

The 73-year old crooner gets serious again with his new album’s first single, “Didn’t I,” which deals with teenage substance abuse from the parent’s perspective.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the Grammy-winning singer discussed his longevity in the music business, what he thinks of the #MeToo movement and maintaining his signature hairstyle.

AP: That hair is just amazing. How do you keep it up?

Stewart: It’s pretty good, isn’t it? I don’t know. I think I’ve just been lucky, you know, with the hair. It gets a lot of manipulation, you know, because I always have to keep it (up). When I’m doing a show, I have to go and dry it. ...I cut it every two weeks. No, but other than that I just think I’m lucky.

AP: You move pretty well onstage for a guy in his seventies...

Stewart: Soccer has always been a passion of mine. You know, I played it, read about it, watched it all my life, and I still play a little bit. And I do work out a lot, I must admit. And that keeps me fit for onstage. How long can I go on? That’s the million-dollar question. You know, I enjoy it. I get excited about it, and as long as that exists, I think I can carry on for another three weeks (laughs).

AP: You’ve always been a fan of the ladies, do you consider yourself a sex symbol?

Stewart: Sex symbol? Now I hate that word. ..I never purposely went out to attract the opposite sex. I mean, it just comes with the music, you know, the music is very sensuous and vibrant. So, if I do something suggestive onstage it’s merely by accident.

AP: The industry has changed. Is it no longer sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll?

Stewart: Obviously, I’m not, you know, sweet 16 anymore, and there are things I have to preserve, namely my voice. I really have to look after that. So, as I said, I was never really a druggy-type person because I played football and I was always getting up in the morning playing football and so that side hasn’t changed a great deal for me.

AP: But things are changing, especially with the #MeToo movement.

Stewart: Well that’s true. There were a lot of women throwing themselves at us in the ’70s and ’80s, and they were good old times, really great times. But, you know, the #MeToo movement is long overdue. But I must admit I’ve never had trouble, you know, entertaining women. I’ve always enjoyed the chase, actually. I’d never thrown myself on any woman. You know, I enjoyed romance and then the chase.

AP: Do you ever look back and go, “Wow, what a career?”

Stewart: Every day. Every day. I never take it for granted. I really don’t. You know, it’s just the best job in the world. I know that’s an old cliche, but it really is.


September 1, 2018 - September 7, 2018

Film Review: In ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ a delightful new fairy tale

This image shows Constance Wu (left) and Awkwafina in a scene from the film “Crazy Rich Asians.” (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - There are two glittering parades running in tandem through Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians,” a glitzy and delightful adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 bestseller. One is the blinged-out, designer-label, crazy-rich opulence often characteristic of rom-coms yet extreme enough here to make even Carrie Bradshaw or Christian Grey blush. The other, and far more arresting pageant, is of the film’s Asian cast of various nationalities who, one after another, shame Hollywood’s regular disinterest in them by being so effortlessly dazzling.

The result is a totally winning confection: a frothy fairy tale, trivial and weighty at once, that simultaneously uses tried-and-true romantic comedy convention while riotously bursting free of movie-business formula. “Crazy Rich Asians” has much of the same DNA as a host of princess tales like “Cinderella,” but it is a radical departure, too.

Chu’s film is the first contemporary-set studio film centered on an all-Asian and Asian-American cast in 25 years, following Wayne Wang’s 1993 adaptation of Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club.” Further, studies have shown that less than 5 percent of the most popular movies in North America last year even featured a speaking character of Asian descent. Movies like this, to everyone’s loss, almost never come along.

“Crazy Rich Asians” would still be an important film even if it understandably sagged with such history on its shoulders. And it’s not perfect. Like rom-coms before it, it has a blatantly superficial side, so drowning in the accoutrements of high-society Singapore that it conflates materialism with matrimony. (There is a wedding set in a church transformed into a lily pond and a bachelor party on a cargo ship anchored in international waters.) And some could reasonably quibble that Chu’s film has blind spots of its own, omitting South and Southeastern Asians for a tale entirely focused on Chinese and Chinese-American characters.

But it’s not for “Crazy Rich Asians” to single-handedly make up for all the studio movies that have been missing for the last 25 years. And thanks largely to its energetic ensemble, led by Constance Wu and Henry Golding, Chu’s film is a charming romp, full of heart and heartening breakout stars.

Wu plays Rachel Chu, an economics professor at New York University whose Singapore-born businessman boyfriend Nick Young (Golding) suggests a trip to the Far East. “Like Queens?” she replies over dinner in Manhattan. But his proposal is that they fly back to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and to meet his family. It’s only as they are boarding the airplane and are led to an entire bedroom suite that Rachel realizes her long-term boyfriend is filthy, stinking rich.

“We’re comfortable,” he says, a phrasing Rachel immediately recognizes as “exactly what a super-rich person would say.” Once they arrive in Singapore, it gradually dawns on Rachel that she’s on the cusp of marrying into one of Asia’s wealthiest real-estate empires. Young is the princely heir of the family business, which he has temporarily fled but is still expected to soon takeover.

For Rachel, it’s like stepping into a fantasy and a nightmare. She has unwittingly landed one of Asia’s most sought-after bachelors, drawing the jealous, ever-watchful eyes of all around her, along with the piercing glare of Nick’s mother, the fiercely Old-World matriarch Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). In their palatial estate, Rachel — a self-made woman raised by a working-class single-parent — feels acutely like an unworthy outsider. Eleanor sneers at her “American” aspirations of “happiness” and following her “passion,” a collision with her stout beliefs of spousal sacrifice.

That “Crazy Rich Asians” is a rom-com where the mothers are its most vital co-stars is one of the movie’s best attributes. Though some of the satirical edges of Kwan’s book have been smoothed down, it remains a love story more about immigrant identity and Chinese heritage than romance. Its climactic moments are found not in a wedding aisle or in some impossibly lavish setting, but over a mahjong table and on an airplane, in coach.

But what most makes “Crazy Rich Asians” such a pleasure is its spectacular ensemble of performers so often unseen on American movie screens. There is Wu, the “Fresh Off the Boat” star, who glides with grace and comic timing through the film; the British-Malaysian newcomer Golding, who already has the sheen of a leading man for years to come; the scene-stealing Awkwafina, as Rachel’s college pal; the wry Nico Santos, as Nick’s cousin; Jimmy O. Yang, of “Silicon Valley” as a loose cannon relative; and the reliably hysterical (and a little underused here) Ken Jeong as Awkwafina’s father.

Some are already well known, some are totally new, but they collectively make an overwhelming impression: Hollywood, this is what you’ve been missing.

“Crazy Rich Asians,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some suggestive content and language. Running time: 121 minutes. Three stars out of four.


Danny Boyle departs James Bond over ‘creative differences’

 

Film director Danny Boyle. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

New York (AP) — The next James Bond movie has lost its director.

Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, along with star Daniel Craig, announced last week that Danny Boyle has exited the project over “creative differences.” Boyle, the director of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Trainspotting,” earlier this year confirmed that he would direct the 25th 007 film. Boyle and his regular collaborator John Hodge were working on the script.

Production on the film, often referred to as “Bond 25,” was to begin in December. The movie is to be Craig’s fifth outing as James Bond, though endless speculation on his successor has been ongoing. Most recently, Idris Elba alluded to rumors of his casting by tweeting “Elba. Idris Elba.”

The 25th Bond film is scheduled for U.S. release on Nov. 8 next year.


Diamond won’t let Parkinson’s slow him down, talks new DVD

Neil Diamond performs in Beverly Hills, California in this Feb. 11, 2017 file photo. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) — Neil Diamond may have retired from the road due to Parkinson’s disease, but he said he’s working hard to get back onstage.

“Well, I’m doing pretty well. I’m active. I take my meds. I do my workouts. I’m in pretty good shape. I’m feeling good. I want to stay productive. I still have my voice. I just can’t do the traveling that I once did, but I have my wife there supporting me (and) friends,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“It does have its challenges, but I’m feeling good and I feel very positive about. I’m feeling better every day,” he added. “Just dealing with it as best I can, and just keep the music coming.”

The 77-year-old canceled planned concerts when he announced he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in January. Still, fans will be able to see the icon perform with “Hot August Night Ill,” a live concert CD/DVD released in August that chronicles his return to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 2012.

The two-hour-plus performance featuring 33 songs celebrated the 40th anniversary of his original “Hot August Night” live album, also recorded at the Greek in August 1972. He performed 10 shows at the venue that month.

“It brings back memories — very deep, loving and warm memories,” he said of his performance. “Playing there and doing music relating to the audience, it was special. It’s a special experience for me.”

He said he re-watched the 2012 footage recently as it was edited for the new release, and he calls it “one of the best live performances that I’ve done and I’m proud of it.”

“I love the chemistry with the audience and myself. That’s part of the thrill of the whole thing. There’s a little magic involved in it,” he said. “I’m just going to keep on keeping on, and that’s about it.”

“The thing I love most about live performing is that it’s very much in the moment. It’s just something that you really can’t describe,” he continued. “You just have to be there and let the moment happen. Let yourself connect with the audience. Let that relationship with the audience express itself. It’s a powerful tool.”

Diamond is one of music’s best-selling singers with a number of hit songs, from “Sweet Caroline” to “America” to “Love on the Rocks.”

He’s given one-song performances since his Parkinson’s diagnosis, including at the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June and last month for firefighters battling a blaze near his Colorado home.

He said he’s not sure he can perform more than one song at the moment, but added: “The only way I could find out is to actually do it.”

“But I think I can and I will give it a try at some point,” he added. “I’m glad to still be around. The fact that I’m still singing well is a bonus and I hope to continue doing it, but in a format that I can handle.”


Madonna’s rambling Aretha Franklin tribute earns backlash

Madonna poses in the press room at the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Monday, Aug. 20, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Leanne Italie

New York (AP) - The backlash was swift for Madonna’s rambling, egocentric tribute to Aretha Franklin at the MTV Video Music Awards last week, with media and Queen-of-Soul fans wondering why she got the gig in the first place.

Dressed in flowing black with grandiose flourishes of African jewelry, Madonna’s send-off came before she presented the video of the year award to Camila Cabello. She spoke at length about her own start in the business and her own career before thanking Franklin for “empowering all of us. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.”

Cabello then collected the biggest award of the night for her “Havana” video with a bow to Madonna, dedicating the trophy to, you guessed it, Madonna.

There was a short video of early Franklin that played before Madonna said that the icon who died August 16 “changed the course of my life,” and Franklin’s “Respect” played as the night’s closing credits rolled. But there was no live musical performance honoring the legend.

Some accused Madonna, in her spiky silver headpiece, heavy necklaces and beaded bracelets, of cultural appropriation. Far more accused her of making the show’s only tribute to Franklin all about herself.

“I’m so lost,” radio host Charlamagne Tha God tweeted. “I thought Madonna was supposed to be paying homage to Aretha but all I heard was her paying homage to herself.”

After describing her teen exit from Detroit to make her name in show business, Madonna said at one point, “So, you are probably all wondering why I am telling you this story.”

Why, yes. Before she got to the point (she sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” acapella at an audition of yore), Madonna meandered through references to Paris, poverty, guitar lessons and finally her backside hanging out at a VMAs show after breaking a stiletto.

“Does Madonna know Madonna didn’t die?” ESPN’s Katie Nolan tweeted.

Marc Snetiker of Entertainment Weekly described the speech on Twitter as “Madonna presents an Aretha Franklin tribute by Madonna featuring Madonna with Madonna and Madonna as ‘Madonna’.”

The response was not unlike that from some fans of Prince when Madonna donned a “Purple Rain” suit to honor him soon after his death, at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards.
 


Weekly Update
 

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Film Review: ‘The Predator’ outstays its welcome on Earth

Poland’s Tomasz Ritter wins Chopin contest on period pianos

Eurovision says Tel Aviv will host 2019 song contest

Beating King of Pop, The Eagles have No.1 album of all-time


Wahlberg and Berg’s ‘Mile 22’ is a dizzying assault

Burt Reynolds dead at 82


Denzel Washington kills in ‘The Equalizer 2’

Peter Jackson’s WWI film to premiere at London Film Festival

More than 50 years into career, Rod Stewart not slowing down


In ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ a delightful new fairy tale

Danny Boyle departs James Bond over ‘creative differences’

Diamond won’t let Parkinson’s slow him down, talks new DVD

Madonna’s rambling Aretha Franklin tribute earns backlash



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