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Update August 2017

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Update August 12, 2017

Film Review: ‘Cars 3’ steers a welcome if imperfect gender shift

This image shows Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson (right) and Cruz Ramirez, voiced by Cristela Alonzo in a scene from “Cars 3.” (Disney-Pixar via AP)

Jake Coyle

New York (AP) - Three films in, it’s time to ask some hard questions about the world of “Cars.”

What are their interiors like?  Brains and a heart or plush leather seating and cup holders?  Do they pay life or car insurance?  And where, good God, have all the people gone?  Are they, as I fear, hidden away in the trunks?

While the cycle of life and death is movingly detailed in most every Pixar movie, particularly in the “Toy Story” series, the aluminum-thin world of “Cars” has always been the exception.  The movies and their windshield-eyed cars have none of the existential soul of “Inside Out” or “Finding Nemo.”  They’re fun enough — and still dazzlingly animated — but they’re Pixar on cruise control.

Yet kids — boys especially — love them, and so Pixar keeps making them, even while reproduction, itself, remains a foggy issue in “Cars”-land.  Thankfully, after the wayward European trip of the scattershot “Cars 2,” there’s more under the hood of “Cars 3.”  But despite all the colorful shine, this is still the used-car lot of Pixar’s high-octane fleet.  Lacking the magic of Pixar’s more tender touchstones, “Cars 3” mostly makes you pine for the halcyon summers of “Ratatouille” or “WALL-E,” an era that unfortunately continues to recede in the rearview.

Previous “Cars” director and Pixar chief John Lasseter cedes the directing to veteran Pixar storyboard artist Brian Fee for “Cars 3,” which finds an aging Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) getting outraced by a new pack of metrics-optimized young racers like the arrogant Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer).  With retirement suddenly looming after a bad crash, McQueen endeavors to train his way back to the top, ala “Rocky III.”

This is, at first, a fairly unpleasant ride.  The movie is almost as loud as a NASCAR race; Wilson’s McQueen — a confident winner, not a humble underdog — remains the most uninteresting of Pixar protagonists; and the whole thing, like previous installments, is nauseatingly male, without a female racecar in sight. (The first “Cars” film, while full of charming Route 66 nostalgia, sunk low enough to have twin girl cars “flash” McQueen with their high-beams.)

But redemption is belatedly, imperfectly at hand. After McQueen’s old sponsor, Rust-eze is bought by a tasteful billionaire named Sterling (Nathan Fillion), he’s assigned a trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who works him out like a motivation-shouting spin-class instructor.

This, at first, begs an eye roll from wiper to wiper. Cruz is blandly yellow, over-eager and named like a celebrity baby.  But as “Cars 3” chugs along, her story fuses with McQueen’s and eventually speeds away.  Her latent, untapped racing dreams emerge just as McQueen is making peace with getting older.

Pixar, a high-tech digital animator predicated on old-school storytelling, has long made calibrating progress with tradition its grand mission.  Think of WALL-E and the newer, iPhone-like model, Eve; the threat of Buzz Lightyear to a rootin’-tootin’ cowboy; or the fear Riley experiences moving from rural Minnesota to San Francisco.

Now it’s Lightning McQueen’s turn to face a new chapter in life. “Cars 3” is at its best, narratively and visually, when the story brings McQueen to a long forgotten dirt track in what appears to be the Smokey Mountains.  There, he encounters a handful of old veteran racing legends (Chris Cooper, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Junior Johnson, Margo Martindale) who school McQueen not just on racing but on the joys of mentorship.  They are old friends of Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), whose posthumous Obi-wan-like presence still steers McQueen.

“Cars” (2006) was Newman’s last movie, and one of the best things about this sequel is hearing the actor’s majestically gravelly voice again.  His words from the original are called back numerous times, and they lend a gravity these movies otherwise lack.

Still, I’m not sold on Cruz’s story line, which ultimately depends less on her own drive than the permission of the males around her.  And even while rooting for her, I wished she was a more dynamic character, defined by more than her insecurity.

Yet the left-hand, gender-flipping turn that “Cars 3” takes is the most welcome and surprising twist yet in the “Cars” movies. Pixar, as ever, has some moves left and fuel in the tank.

“Cars 3,” a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 109 minutes.  Two stars out of four.

Vanity Fair stands by Angelina Jolie cover story

Angelina Jolie. (AP Photo)

Los Angeles (AP) — Vanity Fair is standing by its description of the casting process used for Angelina Jolie’s forthcoming Netflix film, “First They Killed My Father.”

The magazine wrote in a statement that it has reviewed transcripts and audio recordings from interviews with Jolie that were used to produce its September cover story about the actress.

The article described a “game” used to find the child star of Jolie’s film about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  It said casting directors presented money to impoverished children only to take it away from them as an acting exercise.

Jolie said last week that the suggestion that real money was taken from children during the auditions is “false and upsetting.”  She also said parents and guardians were present throughout the audition process.

“First They Killed My Father” is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.  Jolie co-wrote and directed the adaptation of Loung Ung’s 2000 memoir about growing up under the brutal reign of Pol Pot.

Robert Hardy, Cornelius Fudge in ‘Harry Potter’, dies at 91


Robert Hardy, star of All Creatures Great and Small and the Harry Potter films is shown in this Oct. 29, 2015 file photo. (Nick Ansell/PA File via AP)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — Robert Hardy, a veteran British stage and screen actor who played Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge in the “Harry Potter” movies, died last week.  He was 91.

His family said Hardy died August 3 after “a tremendous life: a giant career in theater, television and film spanning more than 70 years.”

Born in 1925, Hardy served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and studied at Oxford University, where he became friends with another aspiring actor, Richard Burton.

He began his career after the war in Shakespearean roles onstage in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Between 1978 and 1990, Hardy played the eccentric veterinarian Siegfried Farnon in “All Creatures Great and Small,” a popular TV series based on James Herriot’s books about rural life in the Yorkshire Dales.

Hardy played British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in at least half a dozen films and TV series, including the miniseries “Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years” and “War and Remembrance.”  He also played U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill’s wartime ally, in both British and French TV series.

In a statement, Hardy’s family said he was also “a meticulous linguist, a fine artist, a lover of music and a champion of literature, as well a highly respected historian, and a leading specialist on the longbow.”

They said he was part of the team that raised the Tudor warship the Mary Rose, which sank off England’s south coast in 1545.

“Gruff, elegant, twinkly and always dignified, he is celebrated by all who knew him and loved him, and everyone who enjoyed his work,” the family said.

Jenna Coleman: Casting a female ‘Doctor Who’ is ‘genius’

Actress Jenna Coleman. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP) — Jenna Coleman, a former “Doctor Who” companion, says casting a female as the lead of the long-running sci-fi series is “genius.”

“Oh, I love it,” the actress said during a recent Television Critics Association panel about her Masterpiece series, “Victoria.”

Last month, Jodie Whittaker was announced as the 13th official incarnation of the galaxy-hopping Time Lord who travels in a time machine shaped like an old-fashioned British police telephone booth.

Coleman added that she thinks Whittaker is “brilliant and lovely” and she “can’t wait to hear” Whittaker’s voice as the character.

“It’s very exciting times,” she said.

On the BBC’s “Doctor Who,” the main character can regenerate into new bodies, allowing for endless recasting possibilities.

Coleman played a “Doctor Who” companion from 2012 to 2015.

Update August 5, 2017

Film Review: In ‘Atomic Blonde,’ Theron heats up the Cold War


This image shows Charlize Theron in a scene from “Atomic Blonde.” (Jonathan Prime/Focus Features via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - People don’t usually move very fast in Cold War thrillers.  Mostly, the only time anyone runs is right before they get shot in the back.  Most of the “action” happens in a film cabinet, down a back alley or with a silencer.  The classic Cold War tale — which is to say a John le Carre one — is characterized by a deathly stillness: grave faces meeting under gray clouds.

This is not quite so in “Atomic Blonde,” a post-war thriller set in the final moments of the Cold War (1989 Berlin) starring Charlize Theron as the MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton.  She’s not your traditional European operator.  Let’s just say that if Theron’s Broughton turned up in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” the old boys would’ve soiled their trench coats.

Broughton is black and blue at the opening of David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde,” and the first thought is that Theron must be licking her wounds from playing Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”  If that film didn’t prove that Theron is today’s most badass action star, “Atomic Blonde” — while not anywhere near the kinetic explosion of “Fury Road” — will certainly make it official.

The bruises turn out to be from the story she soon relates.  Broughton spends the movie in a testy interrogation with her MI6 boss (Toby Jones) and a CIA chief (John Goodman).  The mission she recounts is her dispatching to West Berlin to assist the station chief there, David Percival (a zany James McAvoy), in recovering a missing list with the names of every British asset — something the Russians are rather keen to obtain.

So far, that might sound somewhat le Carre-like.  But it’s not minutes after being picked up from the airport that Lorraine finds herself jabbing an assailant with her heel, pushing him out of a moving car, and forcing the driver into flipping the car over.

Leitch is a veteran stuntman who co-directed the action hit “John Wick,” in which Keanu Reeves wrecks endless vengeance on those who killed his dog.  The backdrop is more lavish in “Atomic Blonde,” but the hand-to-hand combat is no less primary.  Whereas another spy thriller might gradually go deeper into its complex networks of allegiances, “Atomic Blonde,” based on Antony Johnston’s graphic novel “The Coldest City,” stays on the surface, keeps the body count increasing and the ’80s score blaring.

And, man, does it blare.  The soundtrack, especially early in the film, is bludgeoningly prominent.  The combination of violence with ’80s pop hits is, to Leitch, an inexhaustible cleverness.  So if you want to see someone fatally beaten with a skateboard to the tune of Nena’s “99 Luftballons” or a stabbing set to ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,” you have finally found your film.

“Atomic Blonde” is largely a vacant, hyper-stylistic romp that trades on the thick Cold War atmosphere of far better films (not to mention “The Americans”).  It’s all dagger, no cloak.  But it has two things going for it.

One is Leitch’s facility with an action scene.  The film, technically speaking, gets off to a rough start when a body is sent flying by a ramming car in the kind of blatantly unrealistic CGI fling that ruins movies.  But he later goes for a much more bravura scene in a seemingly uncut sequence in which Broughton takes on a number of assailants on a stairwell in a fight that eventually spills out into the streets.

It’s easy to see that Leitch is aiming for a more acrobatic version of the famous corridor scene from Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy.”  And there’s no doubt it will have some fans cheering for its audacious seamlessness.  But the virtuosity on display is spoiled by its own showoff-y self-awareness.  The sequence, a hermetic burst of filmmaking finesse, has nothing to do with the rest of film; it’s just a calling card for a filmmakers’ highlight reel.

But the other asset of “Atomic Blonde” is altogether more formidable.  Theron doesn’t so much as dominate “Atomic Blonde” as steadily subjugate every other soul in the film — and those in the audience — into her complete command.  Like her more timid le Carre forebearers, there’s no pleasure in her victories.  There’s only ruthless survival in a grim game.

She is most definitely atomic, but I’d try to do better than calling her a blonde.

“Atomic Blonde,” a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.”  Running time: 114 minutes.  Two stars out of four.

Dead heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio to tour as hologram

Ronnie James Dio. (AP Photo)

New York (AP) - Late heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio is set to tour again in hologram form.

Rolling Stone reports the “Dio Returns” world tour kicks off in Helsinki on Nov. 30.  Dio’s widow, Wendy, says the hologram “gives the fans that saw Ronnie perform an opportunity to see him again and new fans that never got to see him a chance to see him for the first time.”

Dio died of stomach cancer in 2010 at the age of 67.

In addition to his self-titled band, Dio fronted Black Sabbath for a time.

Dio isn’t the first dead performer to return to the stage as a hologram.  Holograms of Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur and Eazy-E have been showcased in recent years.

Last duet: Kenny, Dolly announce final performance together


Kenny Rogers (left) and Dolly Parton are shown in this combination photo. (Photos by Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP)

Kristin M. Hall

Nashville, Tenn. (AP) - Two of country music’s biggest stars, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, whose onstage chemistry spawned hit duets like “Islands in the Stream” and “Real Love,” will be making their final performance together this year.

Rogers, who is retiring from touring, says his final performance with Parton will be part of an all-star farewell show to be held at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 25.  The two have been performing together for more than 30 years since “Islands in the Stream,” written by the Bee Gees, became a pop crossover platinum hit in 1983.

Other performers for the farewell show are Little Big Town, Flaming Lips, Idina Menzel, Elle King, Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss, with more names to be announced.

Rogers, 78, said it’s been more than a decade since he performed with Parton for a CMT special.

“I think we owe it to her to let her go on with her career, but we owe it to me to do it one more time, and we’re going to do that,” Rogers said after the press conference.

In his 60-year career, Rogers has had several successful duet partners, including Dottie West, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton and Linda Davis, but Parton’s star power made their collaborations a tour de force.

“We can go three years without talking to each other and when we get together, it’s like we were together yesterday,” Rogers said.  “We both feel that comfort.”

“Performing with Kenny for the last time ever on October 25 is going to be emotional for both of us, but it’s also going to be very special,” Parton said in a statement.  “Even though Kenny may be retiring, as he fades from the stage, our love for each other will never fade away.”

The actor, singer and photographer with hits like “The Gambler,” ‘’Lady” and “Lucille,” announced in 2015 he would do a final farewell tour before retiring to spend more time with his family.

Rogers said he and Parton would definitely sing “Islands in the Stream,” but beyond that, he wasn’t sure yet.

“Whether we do something else, I don’t know,” Rogers said.  “That would require a rehearsal and I don’t know that Dolly or I, either one, are up for that.”



Back to Main Page

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Film Review: ‘Cars 3’ steers a welcome if imperfect gender shift

Vanity Fair stands by Angelina Jolie cover story

Robert Hardy, Cornelius Fudge in ‘Harry Potter’, dies at 91

Jenna Coleman: Casting a female ‘Doctor Who’ is ‘genius’

Film Review: In ‘Atomic Blonde,’ Theron heats up the Cold War

Dead heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio to tour as hologram

Last duet: Kenny, Dolly announce final performance together

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