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Update December 2017

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Arts - Entertainment - Film Review World

Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 - Jan. 5, 2018

Film Review: Children’s book ‘Ferdinand’ jumps to screen nicely


This image shows a scene from the animated film, “Ferdinand.” (Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - This holiday season, there’s all manner of conflict at your local movie theater — Jedis battling in the stars, Winston Churchill warring in Europe and Olympic athletes dueling on ice. And then there’s that 2,000-pound bull that refuses to fight.

“Ferdinand “ is a first-rate animated tale adapted from the beloved 1936 children’s book about a pacifist Spanish bull who just loves to sit around and sniff flowers.  It’s often dark, sometimes whacky, but true to the heart of the book and beautifully brought to life in modern Spain.

Carlos Saldanha, the director of “Rio” and “Ice Age” movies, and screenwriters Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland faced a daunting task turning a spare 66-page book by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson into more than 100 minutes of film.

But they’ve largely succeeded, while adding more serious issues along the way, including animal rights, rigged economic systems, nature versus nurture, cowardice, and the importance of looking out for each other.  Not bad for a kid’s flick, huh?  It also plunges another sword in the sport of bull fighting.

At its core, “Ferdinand” is an anti-bullying statement that stars a bull.  In a neat twist, that bull who refuses to fight is voiced by professional wrestler John Cena, a man who makes his living with violence.

Ferdinand is bred to fight but won’t.  His dad and peers at a bull fighting ranch all want to go into the ring and take on a matador.  “Is it OK if it’s not my dream?” the young Ferdinand asks.  No, he’s told.  “You’re either a fighter or you’re meat.”

After his father disappears, our bullish conscientious objector manages to escape and ends up in a peaceful flower farm, lovingly taken care of by a young girl.  Good for Ferdinand, but bad for the filmmakers, who have more than another hour more to fill.

Enter a cavalcade of strange and bewildering creatures: three crafty hedgehogs, three condescending Lipizzaner horses and an unhinged goat called Lupe.  Kate McKinnon voices the goat and her performance is Robin Williams-in-”Aladdin” level work.  A film that was overly dark suddenly gets an infusion of silliness and comic genius.

We take a few detours — there’s a brilliant dance competition between break-dancing bulls and the prancing horses; an unorthodox running of the bulls, this time with the animals chased by bad guys through the streets on Segways; and an utterly wonderful interpretation of a bull in a china shop.

Ferdinand is the only bull to realize that the entire bullfighting game is fixed and tries to convince his peers to flee (the voice actors include a very good Peyton Manning — yes, that Peyton Manning — as a bull prone to vomiting, and a hysterical David Tennant as a very hairy Scottish bull.)

Ferdinand rescues some of his pals from the “chop shop” — note: seeing this with your kids may become uncomfortable if you promised hamburgers afterward — then sacrifices himself for the good of the group and ends up facing the meanest matador in all of Spain in the ring in Madrid. Will he finally fight?  Will he die for his convictions?

There are a few weird notes.  It’s a little strange to hear the Ferdinand we grew up with under a Spanish cork tree now have a SoCal surfer accent, saying he’s “stoked,” ‘’hold that thought” and “this is some next level stuff.”  He also does that weird thing where he talks to fellow animals but is mute when it comes to communicating with humans.

And the musical choices are a little odd.  Nick Jonas offers the new soaring ballad “Home” and the Colombian artist Juanes delivers with “Lay Your Head On Me.”  But did we really need the unearthing of the 20-year-old “Macarena”?  And Pitbull’s overexposed “Freedom” makes little sense here unless it’s because of the pun on his name.  It would have been nice to have a more Spanish-heavy soundtrack.

Still, for all its problems, this is a film with world-class animation, revealing everything from astonishingly rich crowd scenes to rusty details on an old pail.  The animators have managed to make wet fur feel tactile and show the headlights of cars bouncing off other cars.

So for the overall message of the film — “Live your own life” — plus the rich animation and the completely looney McKinnon, we have one word: Ole!

“Ferdinand,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “rude humor, action and some thematic elements.” Running time: 107 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Lady Gaga achieves ‘dream’ with Las Vegas residency

Lady Gaga is shown performing in this Oct. 21, 2017 file photo.
 (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Las Vegas (AP) - Lady Gaga will join the list of superstars with regularly scheduled shows in Las Vegas in 2018, when she kicks off a two-year residency in December.

Gaga in a statement last week said it has been her “life-long dream” to perform in Las Vegas.  She said she is humbled to be joining a historical line-up of performers that include Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

The announcement came at the end of a successful year for the superstar that included a stunning Super Bowl performance and a sold-out tour.

MGM Resorts International did not immediately announce performance dates at Park Theater.

The 5,300-seat venue is located at the Park MGM casino-resort, formerly known as the Monte Carlo. It hosted the residencies of Cher and Ricky Martin.

Saturday, Dec. 23 - Dec. 29, 2017

Film Review: ‘The Last Jedi’ a welcome disturbance in the Force

This image shows Gwendoline Christie as Capt. Phasma in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” (Lucasfilm via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - A welcome disturbance in the Force, Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” is, by wide measure, the trippiest, scrappiest and most rule-breaking “Star Wars” adventure yet.

Not the exercise in nostalgia that was J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens,” Johnson’s Episode VIII takes George Lucas’ space opera in new, often thrilling, and sometimes erratic directions while finding the truest expression yet of the saga’s underlying ethos of camaraderie in resistance to oppression.  Though there are countless familiar broad strokes — rebel escapes, Jedi soul-searching, daddy issues — “The Last Jedi” has discovered some new moves yet, in the galaxy far, far away.

As the second installment in this third “Star Wars” trilogy, “The Last Jedi” is like the inverted corollary of “The Empire Strike Back” (long the super fan’s favorite).  While it is, like its part-two predecessor, often murky and weird, Johnson’s frequently comic film distinguishes itself by upending the traditional power dynamics of heroes and bit players in the Star Wars galaxy.

Here, the odds-defying daredevil flyboy (Oscar Isaac as Resistance pilot Poe Dameron) is an impetuous chauvinist, at odds with a female commander (a purple-haired Laura Dern).  “Get your head out of your cockpit,” admonishes Leia (the late Carrie Fisher, to whom the film is dedicated).  The master-apprentice relationship — previously Yoda instructing young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a swampy remote planet — is now tilted more toward Rey, the young Jedi (Daisy Ridley), sent to stir a monkish Skywalker from a windswept, Porg-infested isle.  And instead of a Tauntaun’s guts being spilled, there are even moments of animal rights reflections creeping into the galaxy.  About to bite into his rotisserie dinner, Chewbacca, with a sad groan, is struck by pangs of doubt.

Abrams’s finest touch in his zippy and nimble reboot was in his diverse casting — in particular Ridley and John Boyega, as Finn, the Stormtrooper turned good guy.  But Johnson, who also wrote the film, has gone further to shake up the familiar roles and rhythms of Star Wars.  Scattershot and loose-limbed, “The Last Jedi” doesn’t worship at its own altar, often undercutting its own grandiosity.

Those breaks of form — formerly mostly reserved for a smirking Harrison Ford — will throw some diehards.  Especially in the surreal isolated scenes of Rey and Luke — where Luke, with a thick gray mane and a hermit’s foul-manner is seen drinking a creature’s breast milk and pole-vaulting from rock to rock — “The Last Jedi” teeters on the edge of camp.

It’s not surprising that Johnson, the director of the twisty time-traveling noir “Looper,” has made a movie full of clever inversions.  What’s jarring is that he’s made a “Star Wars” film that tries to not take itself too seriously, while simultaneously making it more emotional.

Yet before its considerable payoff, “The Last Jedi” feels lost and grasping for its purpose.  Unlike the earlier films, the less tactile “The Last Jedi” isn’t much for world building, and its sense of place isn’t as firm.  As an intergalactic travelogue, it’s a disappointment.

There are exceptions, though, especially the chambers of the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, adding to his gallery of grotesques).  Soaked in an otherworldly crimson red, Snoke’s lair looks like something out of Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Johnson also lacks what Lucas and Abrams alike recognized as the franchise’s most potent weapon: Ford.  As the prairie boy turned knight, Hamill has never been the saga’s heart-and-soul.  While Luke gets his big moment, “The Last Jedi” doesn’t do him any favors, plopping him on a pitiless jagged rock away from the action and a backstory filled with regret.

As Fisher’s final “Star Wars” film, it’s a shame she isn’t more front-and-center.  (The next film was to be hers, the way Ford and now Hamill have had theirs.)  But she makes her scenes count.

Though Isaac has been fashioned as the heir-apparent to the bemused Ford, Boyega is the actor I’ve left both episode VII and VIII wanting more of.  The downside in a story that spins its characters around the galaxy is that the new generation of Star Wars protagonists hasn’t had time for the small gestures that would shape their characters — close-ups that their forerunners were afforded.  Even after two films, Rey is more of an unstoppable sprite than a fleshed-out person.

But “The Last Jedi,” as if with a wind against its back, gathers momentum.  By breaking down some of the old mythology, Johnson has staked out new territory.  For the first time in a long time, a “Star Wars” film feels forward-moving.

Much of that sense of progress comes in the character of Rose Tico (a superlative Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker who’s thrust into a pivotal role in the rebellion. It’s she who voices the film’s abiding message, one that — as the first “Star Wars” film of the Trump era — has affecting resonance.  The Resistance will win, she says, “not fighting what we hate” but “saving what we love.”

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of sci-fi action and violence.” Running time: 152 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Rock Hall 2018 class: Nina Simone, Bon Jovi, the Moody Blues

Guitarist Justin Hayward, left, and bassist John Lodge of The Moody Blues are shown performing in this Aug. 20, 2009, file photo. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) — Iconic singer Nina Simone and New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi lead the 2018 class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, which includes four first-time nominees.

The Cars, as well as first-time contenders Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, are also part of the 2018 class announced last week.  They will be inducted on April 14, in Cleveland, Ohio.

The six inductees were chosen from a group of 19 nominees, including Radiohead, who were expected to enter in the Rock Hall in their first year of eligibility, but didn’t make it.

Tharpe, a pioneering guitarist who performed gospel music and was known to some as “the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll,” will be inducted with the “Award for Early Influence.”  She died in 1973.  The other five acts will be inducted as performers.

ABBA exhibit explores band’s 1970s rise

Bjorn Ulvaeus, former band member of the group ABBA, poses for photographers in a recreation of the Brighton hotel suite where the group celebrated their 1974 Eurovision Song Contest Victory. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

London (AP) — ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus says a new London exhibition about the Swedish pop group took him right back to the 1970s — and he realized some things haven’t changed.

The Abba: Super Troupers exhibit includes reconstructions of the hotel room in England where band members stayed after winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo,” a ’70s recording studio and a typically drab British living room of the era.

Ulvaeus said that a television set in the exhibit “showed footage from 1973-74, how the Brits were hesitant about Europe back then, in the very same way as they are now, which is really sad, I think.”

He said Britain’s departure from the European Union was “like losing — not losing a friend because you’re still there — but somehow you don’t want to be in the team, and I think that’s sad.”

The exhibition at London’s Southbank Centre features items from the ABBA museum in Stockholm and private archives, including costumes, handwritten notes, photos and musical instruments.

It sets the rise of the spangly Swedish superstars “against the shifting socio-economic and political conditions of the time” — a period when Britain was beset by strikes, power shortages and financial crisis.

At a preview of the show, Ulvaeus said it brought back old memories.  But he said the four members of ABBA would never reunite for live concerts, because it “would be such hassle.”

“It would be enormous.  And it would take such... you cannot imagine the tension and the attention from everyone,” he said.

“So it would be like robbing yourself of, perhaps, two or three years out of your life when I could be paddling on my surf ski in the archipelago of Stockholm instead.”

The exhibition runs to April 29.  Fittingly, the nearest train and subway station is Waterloo.

Saturday, Dec. 16 - Dec. 22, 2017

Film Review: In ‘Wonder,’ a sweetly sincere message movie

This image shows Jacob Tremblay, right, and Julia Roberts in a scene from “Wonder.” (Dale Robinette/Lionsgate Films)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - Based on R.J. Palacio’s 2012 YA novel, “Wonder” is about a 10-year-old boy, Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay, with heavy makeup), with mandibulofacial dysostosis or Treacher Collins Syndrome.  His parents (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson) have homeschooled him up until now but believe it’s time for him to enter 5th grade and middle school — a lion’s den if ever there was one, especially for a gentle, socially isolated boy with facial deformities despite 27 healing surgeries.

They, along with his older sister Via (an excellent Izabela Vidovic), live (where else?) in brownstone Brooklyn, the epicenter of inspirational tales about precocious pre-teens.  Auggie is comfortable around the neighborhood in his astronaut helmet (Halloween is his favorite holiday because of its costume-covered anonymity) but the prospect of school petrifies him.  His first experiences aren’t reassuring, either.  A legitimate science whiz and self-declared “Star Wars” fan, he’s nicknamed “Barf Hideous.”  Later, rumors spread that just touching him will spread the plague.

The movies, a superficial medium by nature, often put irregular appearances under a harsh microscope.  Seldom do we see stories like Auggie’s given a close-up.  But when they have, the results have often been moving and memorable — like David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” and Peter Bogdanovich’s “Mask.”

“Wonder” adds to that lineage but it’s not entirely focused on Auggie’s tribulations.  As the film progresses, it begins to abruptly shift perspectives, reconsidering the point of view of various characters in Auggie’s orbit.

After we first experience Auggie’s joys and hardships at school, we see the encounters from the other side.  After Auggie’s first friend (Noah Jupe) betrays him when he thinks Auggie is out of earshot, we get his story.  After Via feels overshadowed by her brother, we follow her own struggles in losing a now too-cool friend.  She joins the drama club.  And we get the backstory of the school bully (Bryce Gheisar), too, revealing parents from whom he learned his behavior.

The result is a clear and straightforward message movie, soaked in empathy.  It tenderly evokes both the crushing pain of being shunned and the saving grace of a much-needed friend — for Auggie and for everyone.  It’s a sincere and valuable lesson in putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

“Wonder,” a Lionsgate release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 113 minutes. Three stars out of four.

New Jimi Hendrix album with unreleased songs coming in March

Jimi Hendrix is shown performing in this 1970 file photo.
(AP Photo)

Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) - Unreleased songs recorded by Jimi Hendrix between 1968 and 1970 will be released next year.

Experience Hendrix and Legacy Recordings announced last week that they will release Hendrix’s “Both Sides of the Sky” on March 9, 2018. The 13-track album includes 10 songs that have never been released.

Hendrix died in 1970 at age 27.  The new album is the third volume in a trilogy from the guitar hero’s archive.  “Valleys of Neptune” was released in 2010, followed by “People, Hell and Angels,” in 2013.

Eddie Kramer, who worked as recording engineer on every Hendrix album made during the artist’s life, said in an interview that 1969 was “a very experimental year” for Hendrix, and that he was blown away as he worked on the new album.

“The first thing is you put the tape on and you listen to it and the hairs just stand up right on the back of your neck, it’s an incredible thing,” said Kramer.

Many of the album’s tracks were recorded by Band of Gypsys, Hendrix’s trio with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox.  Stephen Stills appears on two songs: “$20 Fine” and “Woodstock.”

“It sounds like Crosby, Stills & Nash except it’s on acid, you know,” Kramer, laughing, said of “$20 Fine.”

Johnny Winter appears on “Things I Used to Do”; original Jimi Hendrix Experience members Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding are featured on “Hear My Train A Comin’’’; and Lonnie Youngblood is on “Georgia Blues.”

Kramer produced the album alongside John McDermott and Janie Hendrix, the legend’s sister and president of Experience Hendrix.  Kramer said though “Both Sides of the Sky” is the last of the trilogy, someone could find new Hendrix music in an attic or a basement, which could be re-worked.

He also said they have live footage of Hendrix, some just audio and some in video, which they plan to release.

“It was amazing just to watch him in the studio or live. The brain kicks off the thought process — it goes through his brain through his heart and through his hands and onto the guitar, and it’s a seamless process,” Kramer said. “It’s like a lead guitar and a rhythm guitar at the same time, and it’s scary. There’s never been another Jimi Hendrix, at least in my mind.”

Saturday, Dec. 9 - Dec. 15, 2017

Film Review: Not even Wonder Woman can save ‘Justice League’

This image shows Ezra Miller (from left) Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot in a scene from “Justice League.” (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - It’s hard not to feel a little bad for the DC Comics films at this point.

They have the unenviable task of having to form an identity in the shadows of the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which are usually good and rarely unwatchable, and the continued glow of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, which are seeming more and more like transcendent anomalies as we get deeper into this never-ending cycle of super humans crowding our multiplexes.  DC got off to a rocky start and then Patty Jenkins went and made a very good “Wonder Woman.”

And yet somehow it is no surprise that “Justice League” tips the balances back in the wrong direction.  Although marginally better than “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” director Zack Snyder’s latest is still a profound mess of maudlin muscles, incoherent action and jaw-droppingly awful CGI.  It is big, loud, awful to look at and oh-so-dumb.

With Superman (Henry Cavill) dead, and the world facing yet another devastating threat (yawn) this time at the hands of some ancient creature named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and his army of giant alien mosquitoes, which look like Saturday morning Power Rangers villains, Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) go in search of some new recruits: Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), a quippy “kid” who’s excited to join the team; Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) who talks like a surfer bro and looks like a Nordic bodybuilder with ombre locks and fishermen’s knits; And Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who is still in the sulky “why me” phase of his superhero career.

There are some good moments, thanks in large part to the addition of Miller, whose quick, self-deprecating humor (likely the result of Joss Whedon’s script and reshoot work) and general liveliness steals scenes away from his brawnier and moodier counterparts.

But everything else about “Justice League” feels labored, from a preposterous underwater battle that comes out of nowhere and the camaraderie between the superheroes that never clicks into place, to Batman’s lumbering gait (does the batsuit weigh 300 pounds?) and Superman’s mouth which looks a It’s likely because the production had to digitally remove Cavill’s “Mission: Impossible 6” mustache for re-shoots. After experiencing this unnaturally altered face on the big screen, it seems like the worst possible compromise.

And never has it been so obvious that the character of Wonder Woman is now being presented through a man’s eyes. Snyder chooses on multiple occasions to let the shot linger on Gadot’s figure, whether panning up her legs unnecessarily to get to a normal scene of dialogue or making sure that the camera is there to capture the moment when her skirt flies up in an action sequence. It is, quite frankly, gross and a wildly disappointing departure from what Patty Jenkins was able to accomplish with the character earlier this year.

There’s even an attempt to humanize the potential destruction with a random impoverished Eastern European family struggling to defend their homestead. The story focuses in on the family’s young daughter, who, in braided pigtails picks up a can of bug spray as a defense. You’d think that this might come back and provide an opportunity for her to a) see and be inspired by Wonder Woman in action or b) at least get saved by her. It would be so obvious. But they don’t even meet.

It’s just a tiny example of how “Justice League” feels like a bunch of disconnected moments with no governing theory behind it other than the fact that this movie has to come at this time to introduce audiences to characters whose stand-alone movies have already been promised to shareholders.

It’s not too late to re-think this whole thing and start over. Just keep Gadot around, please.

“Justice League,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of sci-fi violence and action.” Running time: 121 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

Jay-Z leads Grammy noms with 8 as rap, R&B take center stage


R&B artist Jay-Z.
(Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) - Jay-Z is the leader of the 2018 Grammy Award nominations in a year where the top four categories are heavily dominated by rap and R&B artists, giving the often overlooked genres a strong chance of winning big.

The Recording Academy announced last week that Jay-Z is nominated for eight honors, including album, song, and record of the year.  Bruno Mars is also nominated for the big three, while Kendrick Lamar — who earned seven nominations — and Childish Gambino are also up for major awards.

No rock or country acts were nominated in the top four categories.  The rap- and R&B-heavy nominations, which include numerous black and Latino artists, come after the Grammys were criticized earlier this year when some felt Beyonce’s multi-genre “Lemonade” album should have won album of the year over Adele’s “25.”  Adele also expressed that Beyonce should have received the prize.

Albums and songs eligible in the 84 categories at the 60th annual Grammys had to be released between Oct. 1, 2016 and Sept. 30, 2017. This year is the first year the Grammys used online voting for its main awards show.

Artifacts from King Tut’s tomb set for international tour

In this Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, file photo, tourists look at the tomb of King Tut as it is displayed in a glass case at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Los Angeles (AP) - Artifacts from King Tut’s tomb are going on tour next year to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the discovery of the Egyptian pharaoh’s resting place.

The California Science Center says the exhibit, “KING TUT: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh,” will go on view at the Los Angeles museum in March for 10 months before heading to Europe in January 2019 as part of a 10-city international tour.

The museum says the exhibition represents the largest collection of artifacts and gold from Tutankhamun’s tomb ever to go on public display outside of Egypt.  It says 40 percent of the items are leaving Egypt for the first and last time before going on permanent display at a new museum being built near the Giza Pyramids in Egypt.

King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922, more than 3,000 years after his death.

Lenin impersonator ekes out a living on edge of Red Square

Lenin impersonator Sergei Soloviev waits for tourists in Red Square, Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Moscow (AP) - Visitors are forbidden to photograph Vladimir Lenin’s mummified body in the mausoleum on Red Square — but nearby, Sergei Soloviev is happy to offer an alternative.

On most days, the man who bears a close resemblance to the Bolshevik leader hangs out near the entrance to the square waiting to pose for tourists for a small fee.  With his mustache, goatee and a flat black cap covering his bald head, Soloviev’s resemblance is strong even if his face lacks the beady intensity of the real Lenin’s.

He’s usually in the shadows of the ornate red-brick State Historical Museum, on a pedestrian walkway between Red Square and the adjacent Manezh Square, one of the most tourist-dense parts of Moscow.  There’s often a man who impersonates Josef Stalin with him, along with one or two other Lenin doppelgangers.

Soloviev speaks with pride about how those others were impressed when he first showed up in 2000.

“One of the other Lenins said ‘Oh look, here comes my competition,’” he said.

How does a person become a Lenin impersonator?

Soloviev says that in 1999 he began to feel like Lenin and started growing the goatee and mustache.  When he went to his job as a metalworker at a car shop, his boss said “Shave!  We have a dress code ... we don’t need a Lenin.”

He eventually lost the job, noticed other impersonators and went to work.

Soloviev attracts a lot of looks, but many of them don’t go further and pay his requested 100 rubles (US$1.75) for a photo.

He complains that many Chinese tourists, for whom Moscow is an increasingly popular destination, come with tour operators who tell them the Soviet impersonators will try to rip them off.  This offends both his honor and his sense of what he’s worth.

“Can’t you give 100 rubles for Lenin?” he asks.

Fagen sues late Steely Dan partner over band’s name, music

In this July 4, 2009 file photo, Walter Becker, left, and Donald Fagen, of the U.S. group Steely Dan perform at the 43nd Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott)

Los Angeles (AP) — Donald Fagen of Steely Dan is suing the estate of his late band mate, Walter Becker, over ownership of the band’s name and music.

Fagen’s attorneys filed papers last week in Los Angeles claiming that when Becker died in September, his estate was obligated to honor an agreement between the men stipulating that if one should die or otherwise leave the band, the other would buy back his “shares” in the group.

Becker’s representatives are calling the suit “unwarranted and frivolous.”  They said that the 45-year-old agreement was not in effect when he died.

“In our view, Mr. Fagen is unfairly trying to deprive Walter’s family of the fruits of their joint labors,” the estate said in a statement, adding that it had been working toward a compromise with Fagen’s lawyers.

Fagen’s attorney Skip Miller said that “the agreement at the heart of the suit is as valid as the day it was signed.”

“Mr. Fagen believes Mr. Becker’s estate is entitled to receive all normal royalties on the songs they wrote together,” he said. “But this case is about the future of the band, and we will vigorously defend the contract.”

Update Saturday, Dec. 2 - Dec. 8, 2017

Film Review: As moving as it is colorful, ‘Coco’ a joy for all

In this image released by Disney-Pixar, character Hector, voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal (left) and Miguel, voiced by Anthony Gonzalez, appear in a scene from the animated film, “Coco.” (Disney-Pixar via AP)

Sandy Cohen

Los Angeles (AP) - At first, Disney-Pixar’s latest, “Coco,” sounds a lot like the 2014 Fox film “The Book of Life.”

Both are animated features steeped in the aesthetics and customs of Day of the Dead: the Mexican tradition of creating elaborate altars, painted skulls and paths of marigolds to welcome the spirits of dead loved ones for a temporary visit to the world of the living. And both films focus on a young boy who follows his musical dreams at the risk of disappointing his family.

So it seemed like familiar territory, which made it all the more unexpected to find myself transported into a fabulously colorful, slightly psychedelic and entirely magical world where I was so wrapped up in the story about families connecting across generations that the tears on my cheek took me by surprise.

Pixar has always had a knack for tugging at the heartstrings of grown-ups while delighting younger viewers with good-natured characters and eye-popping visuals. Those elements are also at work here, but not since “Up” has an animated film delved so deeply into the web of relationships woven on the way to old age, nor has Pixar ever looked so closely at a specific cultural tradition.

The result is a rich experience for any audience: a story of family and culture, death and transcendence, all set to vibrant Latin music — including a new song by Oscar winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (“Frozen”) — and awash in the brilliant colors and dazzling designs the imaginative talents at Disney and Pixar are known for.

“Coco” centers on Miguel (newcomer Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old with the heart of a musician born into a family of shoemakers who’ve banned music for generations. His great-great-grandfather was a guitarist who left his great-great-grandmother alone to raise their young daughter, Coco, and the Riveras forbade all music after that.

By the time Miguel comes along, Coco is the elderly matriarch of the family: a kind-faced collection of wrinkles who sits quietly in her room all day. Miguel feels disconnected from his family history and resentful that it would prevent him from being like his idol: Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), Mexico’s most beloved musician.

As Miguel’s family prepares for the Dia de Muertos holiday, stacking a colorful altar with food, flowers and family photos, he defiantly takes off in pursuit of music, hoping to compete in a neighborhood showcase that would confirm his talents. But his attempts to procure a guitar accidentally lead him across the golden bridge into the realm of the dead.

In this otherworldly place, Miguel uncovers a mystery, connects with a quirky guy named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), and meets generations of relatives he’s only known through old photos. He encounters magical alebrijes, fantastical spirit animals that help guide the lost. And he realizes that his musical dream could be more meaningful than he thought — especially for Mama Coco — but he’ll need his family’s support to return to the land of the living.

With “Coco” (which is a bit of a misnomer, since it’s really Miguel’s journey), director Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”) and screenwriter/co-director Adrian Molina have crafted a timeless and beautiful tale that’s classically Pixar: playful, inventive and profound. It’s a universal story of love and belonging set in a kaleidoscopic world of brilliant apparitions and lively, well-dressed skeletons.

The animation is exceptional: Realistic elements, like Mama Coco’s gnarled, arthritic hands, look absolutely lifelike, while the spirit world is populated by buildings and bodies that defy gravity.

Like the multicolored, flying tiger-dragon that swoops through Miguel’s adventure into the land of spirits, “Coco” is a thrilling and joyous vision, a celebration of life and the loving tradition of the Day of the Dead.

“Coco,” a Disney-Pixar release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic elements.” Running time: 109 minutes. Four stars out of four.

Forbes names Beyonce music’s highest-earning woman


U.S. singer Beyonce. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

New York (AP) - Forbes has crowned Beyonce as the highest paid woman in music.

The magazine says the singer earned $105 million over a yearlong period stretching from June 2016 to June of this year. Beyonce’s earnings were boosted by her “Formation” world tour last year, which Forbes says grossed $250 million.

Runner-up Adele also enjoyed a successful year on the road. Her tour helped contribute to $69 million in earnings.

Taylor Swift, Celine Dion and Jennifer Lopez complete the top five highest female earners in the business.

Dolly Parton is a surprising sixth. Forbes says the 71-year-old brought in $37 million with the help of 63 shows during the yearlong period.

Seventies teen idol David Cassidy dead at 67

This April 1972 file photo shows singer and teen idol David Cassidy. (AP Photo)

Hillel Italie

New York (AP) — David Cassidy, the teen and pre-teen idol who starred in the 1970s sitcom “The Partridge Family” and sold millions of records as the musical group’s lead singer, died last week at age 67.

Cassidy, who announced earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with dementia, died Tuesday, November 21 in a Fort Lauderdale hospital after suffering from organ failure.

“The Partridge Family” aired from 1970-74 and was a fictional variation of the ’60s performers the Cowsills, intended at first as a vehicle for Shirley Jones, the Oscar winning actress and Cassidy’s stepmother. Jones played Shirley Partridge, a widow with five children with whom she formed a popular act that traveled on a psychedelic bus.  The cast also featured Cassidy as eldest son and family heartthrob Keith Partridge; Susan Dey, later of “L.A. Law” fame, as sibling Laurie Partridge and Danny Bonaduce as sibling Danny Partridge.

It was an era for singing families — the Osmonds, the Jacksons. “The Partridge Family” never cracked the top 10 in TV ratings but the recordings under their name, mostly featuring Cassidy, Jones and session players, produced real-life musical hits and made Cassidy a real-life musical superstar. The Partridges’ best known song, “I Think I Love You,” spent three weeks on top of the U.S. Billboard chart at a time when other hit singles included James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “The Tears of a Clown.”  The group also reached the top 10 with “I’ll Meet You Halfway” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want to be Wanted” and Cassidy had a solo hit with “Cherish.”

“In two years, David Cassidy has swept hurricane-like into the pre-pubescent lives of millions of American girls,” Rolling Stone magazine noted in 1972. “Leaving: six and a half million long-playing albums and singles; 44 television programs; David Cassidy lunch boxes; David Cassidy bubble gum; David Cassidy coloring books and David Cassidy pens; not to mention several millions of teen magazines, wall stickers, love beads, posters and photo albums.”

Cassidy’s appeal faded after the show went off the air, although he continued to tour, record and act over the next 40 years, his albums including “Romance” and the awkwardly titled “Didn’t You Used To Be?” He had a hit with “I Write the Songs” before Barry Manilow’s chart-topping version and success overseas with “The Last Kiss,” featuring backing vocals from Cassidy admirer George Michael. He made occasional stage and television appearances, including an Emmy-nominated performance on “Police Story.”

German police retrieve 100 stolen John Lennon items


A pair of John Lennon’s glasses are displayed at the police headquarters in Berlin, Tuesday, Nov. 21. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Diaries of John Lennon from the years 1975, 1979 and 1980 were some of the items recovered by German police. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Kirsten Grieshaber

Berlin (AP) — German police have recovered around 100 items that belonged to late Beatles star John Lennon that were stolen from his widow in New York, including three diaries, two pairs of his signature metal-rimmed glasses, a cigarette case and a handwritten music score.

The retrieved possessions were displayed last week at Berlin police headquarters.

“This was a spectacular, unusual criminal case,” police spokesman Winfrid Wenzel told reporters.

German authorities first became aware of the items, stolen from Yoko Ono at her New York home in 2006, when a bankruptcy administrator for the Berlin auction house Auctionata contacted them in July. The administrator had found the memorabilia in the company’s storage.

Police confiscated the items from the auctioneers and last week arrested a suspect and raided his Berlin home and cars. They said another suspect, who is living in Turkey, is currently “not available,” but they would try to get him extradited to Germany.

During their investigation, police officers and prosecutors also flew to New York, where they met Ono to have her verify the stolen goods’ authenticity.

“She was very emotional and we noticed clearly how much these things mean to her and how happy she would be to have them back,” prosecutor Susann Wettley said of the moment they showed Ono some of the recovered items and pictures of some others.

Wettley said that Ono’s former driver, who is now living in Turkey, is one of the suspects. He has a previous conviction in New York related to the stolen items, she said.

The other suspect, who was arrested in Berlin on Monday, was identified as a 58-year-old German businessman of Turkish origin. During the search of his car, police said they found additional belongings of Lennon in a briefcase hidden under the spare tire in the trunk. Neither suspect’s name was released because of German privacy rules.

Police are still checking confiscated computer files and business contracts to better understand how exactly the stolen goods ended up at the auction house in Berlin and if the auctioneers were aware that they bought stolen goods from the two suspects. They said the items have been in possession of Auctionata since 2014, but were never available for sale online.

The trove of Lennon memorabilia also includes a recording of a Beatles concert from 1965, a school exercise book from 1952, contract documents for the copyright of Lennon’s “I’m the Greatest” song and handwritten scores for “Woman” and “Just like starting over.”

There are also three of Lennon’s leather-bound diaries, from 1975, 1979 and 1980. The last entry was made by Lennon on the morning of Dec. 8, 1980, a few hours before he was killed, Wettley said.

It included a note on the famous photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz that same day showing a naked Lennon embracing his wife.

It wasn’t immediately clear when Ono will get all the items back.



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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Children’s book ‘Ferdinand’ jumps to screen nicely

Lady Gaga achieves ‘dream’ with Las Vegas residency

‘The Last Jedi’ a welcome disturbance in the Force

Rock Hall 2018 class: Nina Simone, Bon Jovi, the Moody Blues

ABBA exhibit explores band’s 1970s rise

In ‘Wonder,’ a sweetly sincere message movie

New Jimi Hendrix album with unreleased songs coming in March

Film Review: Not even Wonder Woman can save ‘Justice League’

Jay-Z leads Grammy noms with 8 as rap, R&B take center stage

Artifacts from King Tut’s tomb set for international tour

Lenin impersonator ekes out a living on edge of Red Square

Fagen sues late Steely Dan partner over band’s name, music

Film Review: As moving as it is colorful, ‘Coco’ a joy for all

Forbes names Beyonce music’s highest-earning woman

Seventies teen idol David Cassidy dead at 67

German police retrieve 100 stolen John Lennon items

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