Update Saturday, Nov. 25 - Dec. 1, 2017
Film Review: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is a lavish romp
This image shows Daisy Ridley in a scene
from “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Nicola Dove/Twentieth Century
Fox via AP)
(AP) - Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the
Orient Express “ is a visual feast, bursting with movie stars,
glamour and production value so high, you might just exit the
theater experiencing some time-warp whiplash. Certainly no studio
would make a straightforward, classical whodunit with a budget the
size of a modest superhero pic (and no superheroes to speak of)
nowadays, you think. What year is this anyway?
But against all
odds and logic, here we have, in the waning days of 2017, a
perfectly decent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel with the
likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench
and Branagh himself lighting up the big screen and chewing the
decadent scenery like old-fashioned stars.
the lead, Hercule Poirot, a dandy Belgian detective with a
gloriously over-the-top mustache who can only see the world as it
should be. Imperfections, he says, stand out, whether it’s two
soft-boiled eggs that are of different sizes or, you know, the kind
of incongruities that make it immediately obvious to him who has
committed a crime. This is all laid out quite neatly in a lively
opening sequence at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where he
theatrically solves a theft in front of a crowd of locals on the
verge of rioting.
him aboard the Orient Express, which should really have its own
credit in the film, where he meets an odd group of strangers — a
sultry widow (Pfeiffer), a secretive governess (Daisy Ridley), the
doctor whom she pretends to not know (Leslie Odom Jr.), a
gangster-like art dealer (Depp), his valet (Derek Jacobi) and his
bookkeeper (Josh Gad), a princess (Dench) and her maid (Olivia
Coleman), a religious zealot (Cruz), a volatile dancer (Sergei
Polunin) and his sick wife (Lucy Boynton), a German professor
(Willem Dafoe) and a count (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). And then one of
them dies — there’s at least a chance someone reading doesn’t yet
know who — and everyone remaining becomes a suspect.
Got all that?
It’s more than a little overwhelming to keep track of who’s who in
this bunch and quite a few get the short shrift. But it’s still fun
enough to see Depp hamming it up with a thick New York accent,
Pfeiffer vamping around the train’s hallways and Branagh careening
between giddy parody and self-seriousness as a man who delights in a
well-constructed pastry and a good turn-of-phrase from Charles
Dickens but can’t seem to comprehend moral ambiguity in the
the movie loses its steam right when the intrigue is supposed to be
taking over. The discovery process isn’t nearly as fun or engaging
as it should be, and despite the energetic start, the film becomes a
bit of a slog waiting for the big answer (for those who already know
it, either from the source material, Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film or any
of the other adaptations, this might be even more tedious).
certainly steals scenes as Poirot, but the director might have taken
some more time to ensure that all of his characters were given as
loving a treatment as his own, or the setting, which is truly quite
splendid to behold and even makes up for some of the deficiencies of
As odd as it
might sound, it is somewhat refreshing to sit in a theater and watch
a grand scale production that’s not set in space or predetermined by
the pages in a comic book. Then it goes and mucks it all up by
leaving the door conspicuously open for a sequel.
“Murder on the
Orient Express,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 by the
Motion Picture Association of America for “for violence and thematic
elements.” Running time: 114 minutes. Two and a half stars out of
Leonardo da Vinci’s Christ painting sells for record $450M
Security guards open a door to reveal
Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci at Christie’s in New York. (AP
Karen Matthews & Tom McElroy
(AP) — A painting of Christ by the
Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci sold for a record $450 million
(380 million euros) at auction last week, smashing previous records
for artworks sold at auction or privately.
“Salvator Mundi,” Latin for “Savior of the World,” is one of fewer
than 20 paintings by Leonardo known to exist and the only one in
private hands. It was sold by Christie’s auction house, which
didn’t immediately identify the buyer.
Mundi’ is a painting of the most iconic figure in the world by the
most important artist of all time,” said Loic Gouzer, co-chairman of
post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s. “The opportunity to
bring this masterpiece to the market is an honor that comes around
once in a lifetime.”
price paid for a work of art at auction had been $179 million (152
million euros), for Pablo Picasso’s painting “Women of Algiers
(Version O)” in May 2015, also at Christie’s in New York. The
highest known sale price for any artwork had been $300 million (253
million euros), for Willem de Kooning’s painting “Interchange,” sold
privately in September 2015 by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge
fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.
26-inch-tall (66-centimeter-tall) Leonardo painting dates from
around 1500 and shows Christ dressed in Renaissance-style robes, his
right hand raised in blessing as his left hand holds a crystal
Its path from
Leonardo’s workshop to the auction block at Christie’s was not
smooth. Once owned by King Charles I of England, it disappeared
from view until 1900, when it resurfaced and was acquired by a
British collector. At that time it was attributed to a Leonardo
disciple, rather than to the master himself.
was sold again in 1958 and then was acquired in 2005, badly damaged
and partly painted over, by a consortium of art dealers who paid
less than $10,000 (8,445 euros). The art dealers restored the
painting and documented its authenticity as a work by Leonardo.
was sold last week by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who
bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million (108 million euros) in a
private sale that became the subject of a continuing lawsuit.
UK Scrabble group bans star player for breaking tile rule
Competitors take part in the World
Scrabble Championships in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
— The Association of British Scrabble
players banned one of its star players for three years after an
independent investigation concluded that he had broken rules in the
popular word game.
has authored books on Scrabble and contributed game coverage to
The Times newspaper, which first reported his ban from
competition. The London-based newspaper says it will no longer use
him as a contributor.
member for the association, Elie Dangoor, said that three
independent witnesses saw Simmons put a hand with freshly drawn
letter tiles back into a bag to draw more tiles — contrary to the
conclusion had been that he had been cheating,” Dangoor told The
There were four
instances dating back to 2016, and the committee conducted an
independent probe which was concluded a few weeks ago. The matter
came to larger public attention only recently, and was discussed
during the World English Language Scrabble Players Association
the Times he denied cheating, and that he had suffered the
same “untimely bad luck from the bag as anyone else.”
that Simmons had been “a huge part of the game’s development” and
that there was “great disappointment,” as he is a liked and
respected part of the Scrabble community. But action had to be
“There’s no one
person bigger than the game,” Dangoor said.
Update Saturday, Nov. 18 - Nov. 24, 2017
Film Review: ‘Victoria & Abdul’ illuminates only half the title
Judi Dench (left) and Ali Fazal
appear in a scene from “Victoria and Abdul.” (Peter
Mountain/Focus Features via AP)
(AP) - Stop us if this sounds familiar: A
tall, dark, bearded servant of rough breeding comes from far away to
suddenly charm a grumpy, widowed Queen Victoria and thus upend
Britain’s royal court at the turn of the 20th century.
perhaps thinking of the film “Mrs. Brown,” starring Judi Dench as
the monarch and Bill Connolly as her Scottish underling, John
Brown? Well, hold on. A new movie has come along exactly 20 years
later with an eerily similar plot. Either Victoria was a creature
of habit in her attachments or her filmmakers are.
Connolly with Ali Fazal and you get “Victoria & Abdul,” a film about
the then-most powerful woman on earth’s second unusually intimate
relationship with a commoner. In this case, a Muslim from India in
Dench is back as the monarch, two decades after she played Victoria
and earned an Oscar nomination for it. It’s a privilege to watch
her revisit the crusty, we-are-not-amused queen, who is now in the
twilight of her life. Dench is riveting, unsentimental, impatient
and gloriously brittle. Sometimes all she does is offer an
irritated sigh, speaking volumes. “Everyone I loved has died and I
just go on and on,” she cries.
Dench is well
supported — the cast includes the marvelous Eddie Izzard, the late
Tim Pigott-Smith and the imperious Michael Gambon — and the pomp and
highly choreographed English ceremonialism is captured beautifully
by director Stephen Frears, who knows a thing or two about royalty,
having directed Helen Mirren in “The Queen.” Much of this film is
composed of stuffy royal banquets with hundreds of servants
scurrying about or soaring landscapes with hundreds of servants
one major problem: The man at the center, Abdul Karim. He remains a
blank canvas, his motives unexplored, his interior or domestic life
uncaptured. He is called “the brown John Brown” and offers no
riposte. The title of the film promises us two people but we only
screenwriter Lee Hall (“War Horse,” 3Billy Elliot”) meant to leave
him a cypher, allowing the English to try to define him, but that’s
being generous. It’s hard to leave this film and not think that
Spike Lee’s concept of “magical Negroes” needs to be expanded for
other people of color.
The movie is
based on journalist Shrabani Basu’s book “Victoria & Abdul: The True
Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant,” which told of Victoria’s
close friendship with an Indian servant sent to the court with the
sole task of offering a gift of a ceremonial coin. The filmmakers
have taken factual liberties — the film is “based on real events...
mostly,” which is very cute but meaningless.
smiles a lot, seems absolutely enchanted by English weather and, at
their second meeting, without provocation, prostrates himself to
kiss Victoria’s feet. Why? He thought it would “cheer her up.”
What does Karim
think of colonialism, of English state-sponsored brutality toward
his people? We never know. “It is my humble privilege to serve Her
Majesty,” he says. Later, he puts on his best Forrest Gump to tell
the queen that “Life is like a carpet.” He means that all kinds of
things are woven into our fabric but he really comes off as no more
than a doormat. (At least Connolly got to show some grit as the
queen’s previously adored servant — “Are you deaf as well as
stupid?” he told the Prince of Wales in one scene.)
the film, Karim has moved permanently to England and become the
queen’s spiritual adviser, startling the court with his outsized
influence. She will have none of it, siding always with her strong,
silent, Indian beefcake. That also sounds familiar: Check out “The
Green Mile” or “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” which also feature
non-white characters with mystical powers employed entirely for the
benefit of white leads.
knew in 2017 they couldn’t ignore the horrors of empire so it’s left
to actor Adeel Akhtar, who plays Karim’s more radicalized companion,
to carry the flag of nationalism and anti-colonialism. It’s a pity
we never know what his friend, who has the queen under his
seem to be looking backward these days on their legacy in India.
“Victoria & Abdul” comes out only a few months after “Viceroy’s
House,” which explored how India and Pakistan were carved from the
former British Empire in 1947. In that case, England’s Lord
Mountbatten came off as honest, loving and decent. In “Victoria &
Abdul,” the Empress of India comes off honest, loving and decent.
In neither film do Indians tell their story or any story without a
gauzy English filter. That seems deaf as well as stupid.
Abdul,” a Focus Features release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion
Picture Association of America for “some thematic elements and
language” Running time: 111 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Karin Dor, would-be assassin in
‘You Only Live Twice,’ dies
German actress Karin Dor is shown in this
April 1967 file photo. (dpa via AP)
Berlin (AP) — German actress Karin Dor, who played
an assassin sent by James Bond’s nemesis Blofeld to kill the British
agent in 1967’s “You Only Live Twice,” died last week. She was 79.
German news agency
dpa, citing a Munich theater where Dor had worked for a long time,
reported that she died Monday, November 6 in a care home.
Dor played in
dozens of films, TV productions and theater plays during a career that
began in her German homeland when she was 17.
Aside from would-be
Bond assassin Helga Brandt — who ended up being fed to piranhas — Dor
also played in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1969 thriller “Topaz,” and the U.S.
crime series “Ironside” and “The FBI.”
Dor was married
three times, most recently to American stuntman and actor George
Robotham, who died in 2007.
Iron Maiden singer writes about
bullying, cancer and flying
British musician Bruce Dickinson is shown in
this Sept. 1, 2015 file photo. (AP Photo/Bruce Barton)
New York (AP) —
Bruce Dickinson used to think that writing an autobiography should come
at the end of his career. A bout with throat cancer changed his mind.
After his recovery,
the Iron Maiden frontman began writing his life story, filling up a
stack of legal pads in longhand. Now the fruit of his labor has led to
the recently released, “What Does This Button Do?”
The 59-year old
rocker recalls turning down an offer to do a book 10 years ago, saying
“I’m not really done yet.” After being diagnosed with cancer, “I
thought there’s an outside possibility I might be done sooner than I
In the book,
Dickinson covers the rise of Iron Maiden, his love of fencing, his
difficult upbringing, the creation of albums and becoming a licensed
airline pilot. He ends the book with his victory over cancer.
“When I got all
clear of that, then the question got revisited, and I went, ‘You know
what, this is a really good end point for a book.’ Not that I’m
planning on going anywhere else and checking out, but this is kind of
the beginning of the rest of my life,” Dickinson said.
And while Dickinson
conveniently excludes the dirt on his personal relationships and barely
touches on band politics, he does reveal some personal demons,
especially in a passage that chronicles being bullied as a child. Those
bad experiences at boarding school had a lasting effect on him.
“A really nasty
bullying experience, whatever, it never leaves you,” he says. “It
leaves a permanent mark on your insides and that manifests in different
people in different ways. With me, it makes me very angry. I get
really cross, you know. If I see somebody else being bullied, it makes
me really angry. So it’s a bit like Hulk. You don’t want to see me
when I’m angry.”
Christopher Plummer to replace
Kevin Spacey in Getty film
This combination photo shows Kevin Spacey
(left) and Christopher Plummer. (AP Photo)
Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle
Los Angeles (AP)
- In a wholly unprecedented move, Kevin
Spacey is being cut from Ridley Scott’s finished film “All the Money in
the World” and replaced by Christopher Plummer just over one month
before it’s supposed to hit theaters.
People close to the
production who were not authorized to speak publicly said last week that
Plummer is commencing reshoots immediately in the role of J. Paul
Getty. All of Spacey’s scenes will be reshot. Co-stars Mark Wahlberg
and Michelle Williams are expected to participate.
Scott, who is known
to be an efficient director, is intending to keep the film’s Dec. 22
The film was
originally set to have its world premiere at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles
on Nov. 16 but was pulled earlier this month amid the sexual harassment
reports surrounding Spacey, who has also been fired from “House of
Cards” and dropped by his talent agency and publicist.
“All the Money in
the World” was primed for a plush awards season release from distributor
Sony Pictures Entertainment and its advertising campaign, which
prominently features Spacey, has been public for about a month already.
But its plans have been in question since Spacey’s reputation has
diminished with harassment allegations growing daily.
The film chronicles
the events surrounding the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III
and his mother’s attempt to convince J. Paul Getty, his billionaire
grandfather, to pay the ransom.
Plummer was reportedly Scott’s first choice for the role of J. Paul
Getty, but the director was pressured into casting a bigger name.
Plummer is probably best known for “The Sound of Music.” He won his
first Oscar in 2012 for the film “Beginners.”
One of the people
close to the production said that Scott’s plan caught Sony by surprise,
but the studio is supporting the switch.
Sean Combs ‘just joking’ on name change
from Diddy to Love
Sean Combs. (Photo by Chris
New York (AP) -
Sean Combs says he was only joking when he announced this month that he
had changed his nickname from Diddy to Love, as in Brother Love.
The rapper and
producer took to Twitter and Instagram to set the record straight after
he says he learned “you cannot play around with the internet.” He says
Love is one of his “alter egos.” Combs’ other nicknames over the years
include Puff Daddy, Puffy, P. Diddy and Diddy. He now says he’ll answer
to any of those names and also Love.
That’s the opposite
of what he said in a video posted on his 48th birthday last week. He
told fans in that message that was going by “Love, a.k.a. Brother Love”
and wouldn’t answer to anything else.
It lives! This nightmare machine
writes bone-chilling tales
Co-creator of a fiction-writing ‘chatbot,’
Massachusetts Institute of Technology postdoctoral associate Pinar Yanardag
sits for a photograph in front of a graphic from the home page of the site
called “Shelley.” (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
(AP) - Don’t throw away your Stephen King
collection just yet. But the Master of the Macabre might want to keep an
eye out behind him, because scientists have just unleashed a nightmare
machine on a mission to churn out its own bone-chilling tales.
MIT researchers have
applied the electrodes and brought to life a new fiction-writing bot they
call Shelley — after “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley. To keep the bot
busy — no wandering the countryside terrorizing villagers! — the team gave
it a crash course in the horror genre, forcing it to read 140,000 stories
published by amateur writers on a popular online forum.
artificial neural network is generating its own stories, posting opening
lines on Twitter, then taking turns with humans in collaborative
“She’s creating really
interesting and weird stories that have never really existed in the horror
genre,” said Pinar Yanardag, a postdoctoral researcher at the MIT Media
Lab. One strange tale, for instance, involved a pregnant man who woke up in
The lab’s experiment,
launched in time for Halloween, follows a similar project to create scary
images last year. But can all that deep-learning technology and powerful
computation truly turn out terrifying tales? Let’s just say the experiment
is still in progress.
King, the world’s most
famous living horror writer, has said it can take him “months and even
years” to get a novel’s opening paragraph right. Shelley takes a couple of
seconds — and the results can be a little awkward.
“The doll came at me
with a syringe,” the bot posted on Twitter. “Its blood shot out of its
mouth, and it began to uncover itself. It was then that it began to dance.”
Shelley’s sentences are
inspired by the hive mind it’s learned from: a crew of horror hobbyists who
participate in Reddit’s “r/nosleep” forum. Machine-learning algorithms are
fueled by big troves of data, and these amateur writers have produced about
700 megabytes of home-grown horror over the past decade. The researchers
didn’t train Shelley in the genre’s classics, both for copyright reasons and
because there just aren’t enough of them.
“If you look at all the
literature by Lovecraft or Stephen King or Edgar Allan Poe, it would be just
a few megabytes,” said MIT research scientist Manuel Cebrian. “We would
still not have enough data.”
Yanardag and Cebrian
are themselves aspiring horror fiction writers. While readers might not be
buying Shelley-produced books anytime soon, the system learns from the
feedback it gets, and might help nudge a human writer into thinking more
“You tend to get
stuck,” Cebrian said. “This kind of technology helps you write the next
paragraph so you don’t get so-called writer’s block.”
Update Saturday, Nov. 11 - Nov. 17, 2017
Film Review: Good intentions go up in smoke in ‘Only the Brave’
This image shows Miles Teller (left) and Josh
Brolin in a scene from “Only the Brave.” (Richard Foreman Jr./Sony Pictures
Los Angeles (AP) -
Firefighters must be our last real superheroes. They run toward stuff
that’s on fire, for heaven’s sake. There are the few public servants — not
cops, politicians or doctors — as beloved or who have managed to stay
What they surely don’t
need is the old fashioned Hollywood god-making treatment, but that’s exactly
what they’ve gotten in “Only the Brave,” an attempt to honor a group of
wildland firefighters that is overwrought when it needs to be honest and
quiet. It wants to put capes on men who don’t need them.
The film, directed with
a sure hand by Joseph Kosinski, centers on the 20-strong Granite Mountain
Hotshots and their journey from a local Arizona firefighting team to an
elite force at the front lines of the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013, one of the
United States’ deadliest wildfires. (It’s “based on true events.”)
The spine of the story
is the relationship between crusty local fire chief Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin,
extra crusty) and an ex-junkie recruit hoping to straighten out his life
(Miles Teller, very good).
There’s some gentle
hazing for the newcomer from veterans sporting a frightening amount of
mustaches, plenty of heavy metal on the soundtrack (Metallica, AC/DC) and
spectacular scenes of nature engulfed in flames. The last few moments are
handled with poignancy and beautiful horror, but the wind-up to that point
is sadly lacking.
Mostly that’s because
the film, written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, is burning up with
cliches and laughable dialogue. There are insane moments, like Brolin
staring at a distant wildfire and saying meaningfully, “What are you doing?
What are you up to?” like he’s a wildfire whisperer. Or Andie MacDowell, a
wife of a fire honcho, telling another firefighter’s spouse: “It’s not easy
sharing your man with a fire.” (Someone also actually says “I’ll probably be
home for dinner,” a clear clue he won’t.)
Jennifer Connelly plays
the veterinarian wife of Brolin’s character and she adds a complex mix to
the testosterone-heavy film. But she’s also made magical in a baffling
scene in which she approaches an abandoned and abused horse and just using
her soft-eyed empathy gets it to instantly adore her. “You’re safe,” she
says, stroking its head. “You’re safe now. I promise.” Then the horse
meekly gets on its knees so Connelly can gently bathe it with soft wipes of
a sponge. (This is pure horse manure.)
Instead of really
bringing us into the real lives and motivations of the crew members, no
matter how messy, we’re left with yee-haw action sequences or self-serving
reputation burnishing. It’s like it was written specifically for a bunch of
artistic Hollywood actors who always wanted to be in scenes where they could
be cowboys or test pilots. (“Mount up. This is game time,” is actual
dialogue. Another: “If this isn’t the greatest job in the world, I don’t
know what is.”)
The apex of this
silliness comes when Brolin pauses dramatically to tell a story about when
he was a young man fighting a blaze and saw a bear on fire rush past him.
“It was the most beautiful and terrible thing I’ve ever seen,” he says,
deeply. Then, for reasons that confound, the filmmakers force us to WATCH a
clearly CGI-created bear on fire rush through a forest. Subtle, huh?
The film comes out when
real wildfire firefighters have been battling massive blazes in Northern
California’s wine country, putting a spotlight on the men and women putting
their lives on the line under horrific conditions to save homes and souls.
This film makes such firefighters into cartoons, which ill serves their
“Only the Brave,” a
Sony Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of
America for “thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug
material.” Running time: 133 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Beyonce to play Nala in Disney’s ‘The Lion King’
Beyonce Knowles-Carter. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Los Angeles (AP) -
Beyonce Knowles-Carter is joining the cast of “The Lion King” to voice to
role of Nala.
The Walt Disney Studios revealed the
main cast for its upcoming live-action and CG adaptation of its 1994
animated classic last week and confirmed the months old rumor that the pop
superstar would be lending her voice to the project.
Some had been previously announced for
the film including Donald Glover as Simba and James Earl Jones as Mufasa.
Other cast members include Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Alfre Woodard as
Sarabi, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, Billy Eichner as Timon and Keegan-Michael Key
as a hyena.
Jon Favreau, who brought Disney’s CG
and live-action adaptation of “The Jungle Book” to life, is set to direct.
The film is slated for a July 19, 2019
MGM returns to film distribution
with Annapurna partnership
This image shows Daniel Craig in a scene from the James
Bond film, “Spectre.” (Jonathan Olley/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia
Pictures/EON Productions via AP)
New York (AP) -
The storied movie studio MGM is getting back into distribution, teaming with
Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures in a joint venture that could have
ramifications for the next James Bond film.
Annapurna last week announced a partnership to distribute films in the
United States. The move signals growing ambitions for MGM, which was once
one of Hollywood’s premier brands. After financial struggles, the Beverly
Hills, California-based studio, founded in 1924, emerged from bankruptcy
protection in 2000 and has since released its films through larger studios.
“The time has come for
MGM to regain control of its own destiny and return to U.S. theatrical
distribution,” Gary Barber, MGM chief executive and chairman, said in a
MGM remains the home of
James Bond, but neither MGM nor Annapurna said if the next Bond movie,
planned for 2019, is a part of their new deal. MGM’s pact with Sony
Pictures on the franchise expired in 2015. Worldwide distribution rights
for the 25th Bond film, MGM said, would be announced “at a later date.”
MGM and Annapurna said
they will together release about 15 films a year, including six to eight by
MGM. Each company retains creative control over their individual projects.
Annapurna, which has recently begun marketing and distributing its own
titles, will handle campaigns for all MGM titles.
The first movie MGM
will release under the agreement will be Eli Roth’s “Death Wish,” a remake
of the 1974 revenge thriller, in March next year. Also on the docket are a
musical of 1983’s “Valley Girl,” the Rocky saga sequel “Creed 2,” and a
female-led remake of 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” titled “Nasty Women.”
Since its founding in
2012, Annapurna has become an Academy Awards regular thanks to films like
“American Hustle,” ‘’Zero Dark Thirty” and “Her.” Its recent forays into
distribution, however, have been less successful. None of its three
releases this year — Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit,” Angela Robinson’s
“Professor Marston & the Wonder Woman” and Mike White’s “Brad’s Status” —
have performed well at the box office.
Forbes: Michael Jackson top
earning dead celebrity with $75M
Pop icon Michael Jackson is shown in this March
5, 2009 file photo. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan)
New York (AP) -
Michael Jackson died eight years ago, but he’s still generating millions of
Jackson is atop the
Forbes list of top-earning dead celebrities for the fifth straight year,
with $75 million. Forbes says Jackson’s earnings are boosted by a new
greatest hits album, a Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show and a stake in the
EMI music publishing catalog.
Two other singers join
Jackson in the top five. Elvis Presley comes in fourth with $35 million and
Bob Marley ranks fifth with $23 million.
Golf legend Arnold
Palmer is the second-highest earner. He brought in $40 million in part
through sales of Arizona lemonade and ice tea beverage made in his name.
Palmer is followed by
Charles Schulz, the creator of the “Peanuts” franchise whose estate made $38
Update Saturday, Nov. 4 - Nov. 10, 2017
Film Review: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ takes the god to funny heights
This image shows (from left) the Hulk, Chris
Hemsworth as Thor, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Tom Hiddleston as Loki in
a scene from “Thor: Ragnarok.” (Marvel Studios via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - In the
stand-alone films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Thor always seemed to get
the short end of the stick. The Thor films were never as popular as Iron
Man, and didn’t gain steam like Captain America. They were perhaps a little
too serious and a little too dull — none of which was the fault of star
Chris Hemsworth, whose performances in the role have been so seamless and
charming that he almost doesn’t get enough credit.
But “Thor: Ragnarok” has been touted as
a different take on the God of Thunder. Marvel Studios and The Walt Disney
Co. signed up a voice-y director in New Zealand’s Taika Waititi, whose
riotous vampire mockumentary “What We Do In The Shadows” displayed a unique
comedic sensibility. They took away Thor’s hammer, gave him a haircut,
added some Led Zeppelin and told the set designer the more neon rainbows the
The results are pretty decent, though
perhaps not the total departure that had been hyped.
The bones of the story are preposterous
as ever. It turns out Thor has a long lost older sister, Hela (Cate
Blanchett), who his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, who appears to have shot
for about two hours) locked away because she was so dangerous. An event
happens that releases Hela to the world. She’s really strong, like stronger
than Thor strong, and really angry and basically punches Thor into another
dimension and she heads off to Asgard to take the throne.
The movie literally splits in two at
this point. Poor Blanchett, who has gone full vamp as Hela, is good as
always but how lame it must be to be in the “fun” Thor movie and have to
play one of the most blandly written villains ever. While she’s off waging
her deathly serious takeover, Thor gets to join an irreverent comedy
sideshow on the planet Sakaar — a sort of wasteland at the end of the
universe run by a Grade-A weirdo who calls himself Grandmaster, played,
fittingly, by Jeff Goldblum.
It’s this section that is pretty
amusing and where Waititi’s irreverence really gets to shine with pratfalls
and witty writing. It’s no surprise that this is right up Goldblum’s alley,
but the real delight is Hemsworth who knows just how to subvert the Thor
character without turning him into a total mockery. He’s a real comedic
talent, which audiences got a taste of in “Ghostbusters.” And Tessa
Thompson is fantastic as Valkyrie, a hard drinkin’ fighter with a secret
past she’d rather forget.
I imagine “Thor: Ragnarok” is one that
might improve on subsequent viewings, when you have a chance to relax with
the jokes divorced from the pressure of juggling the silly/serious plot.
But it’s a fairly flawed movie on the whole with egregious tonal shifts.
Some of the gags go on too long with the Hulk with too little payoff and
sometimes it seems as though there’s a mandate that every 25 minutes there
will be a big fight no matter what. One particular army of the dead
sequence seemed like it could have been lifted from a “Pirates of the
Caribbean” movie — which is not the most flattering comparison.
While Waititi’s energy and wit is
apparent in the film, it still feels as though he had to operate from the
same Marvel “base flavor” and was allowed on occasion to sprinkle a few of
his own original toppings on.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is the most fun of the
Thor movies by a long shot, but it is still very much a Thor movie for
better or worse.
“Thor,” a Walt Disney Studios release,
is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense
sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.”
Running time: 130 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Ludacris promises ‘a lot of tears’ on YouTube music series
Rap star Ludacris is shown in this May 22, 2016
(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
New York (AP) —
Ludacris is hoping the new music competition series he’s hosting on YouTube
will take an aspiring artist and “catapult them to superstardom.”
The “Money Maker”
rapper is host of “Best.Cover.Ever,” which pairs budding musicians with
established stars for a shot at performing a duet on the online giant. The
10-episode series debuts Nov. 20.
The series stars Demi
Lovato, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Jason Derulo, Charlie Puth, the Backstreet
Boys, Flo Rida, Nicky Jam, DNCE and Bebe Rexha.
During each roughly
30-minute episode, the music stars pick two artists who best covered one of
their songs from hundreds of video submissions and invite them to Los
Angeles for a chance to sing with their idol.
“I can just say there
are a lot of tears involved,” said Ludacris. “I think some of the best
moments are the ones where you don’t realize how hard people have been
working and how hard they’ve been struggling to make ends meet to continue
on with their dreams.”
The season kicked off
this summer with calls for covers by the 10 music acts. Fans were asked to
submit their videos of such songs as Lovato’s “Confident,” Perry’s
“Firework,” Urban’s “Somewhere in My Car,” DNCE’s “Toothbrush” and Derulo’s
It’s an opportunity
Ludacris said he would have adored when he was first starting out. “I
remember when I was a kid, I always loved LL Cool J. It would have been a
dream come true if I could have sung ‘I’m Bad’ or one of his songs with him
and get noticed,” he said.
“A lot of these kids
are struggling and they’re working so hard to build a fan base. This is not
only an opportunity to live out one of their dreams with their favorite
artists, but to continue to try to catapult them to superstardom and give
them that little boost that they need.”
The online series is
the second Ludacris has hosted. He also is the host of the “Fear Factor”
revival on MTV, which has been booked for a second season.
“You know what? I’m
just crossing a lot of things off of the bucket list,” he said. “There are
certain things that I’ve always wanted to do and I just love taking
advantage of all aspects of entertainment.”
Late Fats Domino mined New
Orleans roots in pioneering music
Legendary rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Fats Domino is
shown in this Dec. 20, 2013 file photo. Domino died Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017
aged 89. (AP Photo/Doug Parker)
Stacey Plaisance and Janet Mcconnaughey
New Orleans (AP) - Fats Domino
didn’t look like a typical teen idol. He stood 5-feet-5 and weighed more
than 200 pounds, with a wide, boyish smile and a haircut as flat as an album
But Domino sold more than 110 million
records, with hits including “Blueberry Hill,” ‘’Ain’t That a Shame” and
other standards of rock ‘n’ roll.
The amiable rock ‘n’ roll pioneer whose
steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music, even
as it honored the grand, good-humored tradition of the Crescent City, died
last week of natural causes at the age of 89.
Domino’s dynamic performance style and
warm vocals drew crowds for five decades. One of his show-stopping stunts
was playing the piano while standing, throwing his body against it with the
beat of the music and bumping the grand piano across the stage. He kept
performing long after his last hit, a 1968 remake of the Beatles’ “Lady
Madonna” that featured his pumping piano riff. He said he stopped making
records after that because he refused efforts to change his style, saying
“it just wouldn’t be me.”
Domino’s 1956 version of “Blueberry
Hill” was selected for the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Recording
Registry of historic sound recordings worthy of preservation. The
preservation board noted that Domino insisted on performing the song despite
his producer’s doubts, and that Domino’s “New Orleans roots are evident in
the Creole inflected cadences that add richness and depth to the
He was one of the first 10 honorees
named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Rolling Stone Record Guide
likened him to Benjamin Franklin, the beloved old man of a revolutionary
Domino became a global star but stayed
true to his hometown, where his fate was initially unknown after Hurricane
Katrina struck in August 2005. It turned out that he and his family had
been rescued by boat from his home, where he lost three pianos and dozens of
gold and platinum records, along with other memorabilia.
Many wondered if he would ever return
to the stage. Scheduled to perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage
Festival in 2006, he simply tipped his hat to thousands of cheering fans.
His friend Haydee Ellis said then that Domino was “OK, but he doesn’t feel
up to performing.”
But in May 2007, he was back,
performing at Tipitina’s music club in New Orleans. Fans cheered — and some
cried — as Domino played “I’m Walkin’,” ‘’Ain’t That a Shame,” ‘’Shake,
Rattle and Roll,” ‘’Blueberry Hill” and a host of other hits.
That performance was a highlight during
several rough years. After losing their home and almost all their
belongings to the floods, his wife of more than 50 years, Rosemary, died in
Domino moved to the New Orleans suburb
of Harvey after the storm but would often visit his publishing house, an
extension of his old home in the Lower 9th Ward, inspiring many with his
determination to stay in the city he loved.
“Fats embodies everything good about
New Orleans,” his friend David Lind said in a 2008 interview. “ He’s warm,
fun-loving, spiritual, creative and humble. You don’t get more New Orleans
New book heralds early days of Fleetwood Mac
Mick Fleetwood poses with a copy of his book “Love That
Burns - A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One: 1967-1974” during an
interview in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
London (AP) — Mick Fleetwood was
16 when he left school, told his parents he wanted to pursue a career in
rock ‘n’ roll, and went to London in search of gigs.
A common tale, true, but this one has a
happy ending. Fleetwood fell in with some talented blues enthusiasts, paid
(barely) his dues, and soared to stardom with the first incarnation of
Fleetwood Mac — and then into the rock ‘n’ roll stratosphere with the
second, more pop-oriented version of the band.
“School was not a good thing for me,”
said Fleetwood, dressed in classic British style, complete with a pocket
watch on a chain.
“I had a learning disability, no doubt,
and no one understood what those things were. I was sort of drowning at
school academically. My parents were like, ‘Go and do it.’ They were
picking up on the fact that I had found something. They saw the one thing
that I loved with a passion was teaching myself how to play drums at home,”
he said. “So they sent me off with a little drum kit to London and the
whole thing unfolded.”
Fleetwood didn’t really have to rebel,
though rebellion was in the air, and he had the good fortune to make friends
early with Peter Green, the supremely talented guitarist whose blues sound
shaped the band’s early years.
Green receives the lion’s share of the
credit, and the dedication, in Fleetwood’s memoir of the band’s formative
period “Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One:
1967-1974.” It has been published in a limited signed edition by Genesis
At 70, Fleetwood is anxious to
acknowledge his debt to Green, who left the band in 1970.
Fleetwood and bassist John McVie were
later joined by Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham for a
new lineup that hit the jackpot with “Rumours,” one of the best-selling
albums of all time.
Fleetwood said the band’s very name
reflects Green’s self-effacing approach.
“Peter was asked why did he call the
band Fleetwood Mac. He said, ‘Well, you know I thought maybe I’d move on at
some point and I wanted Mick and John to have a band.’ End of story,
explaining how generous he was.”
The photos and text of “Love That
Burns” are really the celebration of an era, capturing the explosion of
British music at a time when bands like The Who and The Beatles were vying
for the top spots on the charts — and competing with semi-forgotten bands
like Freddie and the Dreamers, who actually got top billing over the Rolling
Stones on at least one concert poster.
Once Fleetwood Mac made its name as a
blues band, the group was able to go to Chicago’s famous Chess Studios to
record with some of the great American bluesmen, including a few of the
pioneers who had helped perfect the driving Chicago sound.
Fleetwood remembers — with relief —
that the longhaired crew of young Brits was able to at least play in the
same room as Buddy Guy and Willie Dixon without sounding foolish.
“These are major, major players for
anyone who knows anything about blues,” Fleetwood says. “Having that take
place, I don’t know what they must have really thought with us funny little
English kids walking into their world ... I feel good about it to this day
that we held our own dignity even with these guys.”
He said the whole experience was “like
going to their church and not just being in the congregation but actually
doing our version of preaching with them.”
While some fans swear the early
Fleetwood Mac was better than the later, far more commercial version,
Fleetwood knows the group is identified more with its string of hits,
including Bill Clinton’s favorite song, “Don’t Stop,” which earned the band
a headlining gig at his inaugural celebration.
This is one reason the book focuses on
the first band. Fleetwood doesn’t want it to be forgotten.
“Even as we were doing it (the book),
we realized that the band was 50 years old,” he said. “So it’s really about
drawing a line in the sand to say that this happened and what caused this.
And it’s generally fair to say, especially in the United States, this
section of the formation of Fleetwood Mac is not really known about.”
Prince exhibition in London
dubbed ‘miniature Paisley Park’
An employee shows the ‘Orange Cloud Guitar’
once played by artist Prince, at the ‘My Name is Prince’ exhibition at
the O2 Arena in London, Thursday, Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
London (AP) -
Guitars, paisley-patterned outfits and high-heeled shoes are going on
display at a London exhibition devoted to the late music star Prince.
The “My Name is
Prince” show features musical instruments, jewelry, handwritten song
lyrics and hundreds of other artifacts from the collection of Prince,
who died in April 2016 aged 57.
sister, Tyka Nelson, called the show a “miniature Paisley Park,” in
reference to the Minnesota estate where Prince lived and worked.
Marchese said that the items had been chosen from among 128 guitars,
8,000 pieces of clothing and 2,000 pairs of shoes at Paisley Park. She
said the show was a chance for fans “to say thank you” and goodbye to
the genre-defying “Purple Rain” songwriter, whose sudden death from an
accidental overdose of painkillers shocked the music world.
Nelson said her
brother would have wanted his belongings on display.
“He wanted a museum
and for it to be out there,” she said. “People say ‘is it too soon?’
and I’m like, ‘No, it’s not soon enough.’
“He kept all of
this stuff all of these years, every itty bitty piece of this stuff for
them, for us — for you guys to come out and see it.”
The show opened
last week at London’s O2 Arena, where the musician performed for 21
nights in 2007. It runs until Jan. 7.
New film claims to have solved Jim Thompson mystery
American businessman Jim Thompson views a Buddha
statue in Bangkok in this November 1966 file photo. (AP Photo)
Bangkok (AP) - A new
documentary is set to stir fresh debate over one of Asia’s most enduring
mysteries: What happened to Jim Thompson, Thailand’s legendary silk
The former American intelligence
officer turned textile tycoon went for a walk in the Malaysian jungle 50
years ago and never returned. Despite a massive search, no trace of
Thompson was ever found. One of the most prominent Westerners in Asia
had simply vanished.
Theories abound: He was killed by a
tiger; he got lost and perished in deep forest; he disappeared himself
as part of a political intrigue. Those behind the documentary say they
have new evidence that Thompson was killed.
Their film, “Who Killed Jim
Thompson,” premiered Oct. 20 at the Eugene International Film Festival
in the U.S. state of Oregon.
“There’s been all sorts of theories
and mostly silly theories, but I’m hoping that this will put some
closure to, you know, the whole story,” said Barry Broman, the film’s
The filmmakers, from Adventure Film
Productions, said they got their break out of the blue: An old contact
approached them with a tale of a death-bed confession. They eventually
found a second source whose information dove-tailed with the first.
Their conclusion: Thompson was
slain by rebels from the Communist Party of Malaya who grew suspicious
after he arrived in the jungle and began requesting a meeting with the
party’s secretary-general, at the time Malaysia’s most-wanted man.
Rather than vacationing, the filmmakers said, Thompson was on what
turned out to be a final, fatal mission.
Broman, who has decades of Asia
experience as a photographer, U.S. marine and diplomat, said the
conclusion is unequivocal: “Jim was never going to be found. He was
The filmmakers acknowledged the
murder theory’s not new, but they believe their version is more
While some of the film’s
conclusions are plausible based on what is known about Thompson’s life,
there is nothing definitive given that it relies on second-hand
information from relatives of those allegedly involved and leaves many
During World War II, Thompson was a
highly decorated operative with the Office of Strategic Services, the
forerunner of the CIA. After the war, he was stationed in Thailand with
the OSS and chose to make his home there after turning businessman and
founding his silk firm in 1948.
Thompson helped revive the Thai
silk industry and his company has since grown into one of Thailand’s
flag-ship luxury brands. His former Bangkok home, once the site of
legendary parties, is now a museum filled with his fabulous collection
of Asian art and antiques. Both have become must-see attractions for
the millions of tourists who visit Thailand each year.
The company declined to comment on
the new claims about the fate of its founder.
Thompson had a $1.5 million a year
business by 1967, when the Vietnam War was in full swing with Thailand
playing an essential role, hosting bases from which the U.S. Air Force
bombed communist-controlled areas of Indochina.
Thompson decamped in March of that
year to Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, a hill station dotted with tea
plantations that was once popular with British colonists, for some rest
and relaxation with Singaporean friends at their Tudor-style Moonlight
Cottage vacation home.
On March 26, Easter Sunday, as his
hosts were taking a rest, they heard their guest from Bangkok leave the
house, presumably to take a stroll in the area’s crisp fresh air.
Not a trace of Thompson was found
after that. Hundreds of people were involved in the initial sweep to
find him: soldiers, police, professional jungle trackers, native
tribespeople. When no clues were unearthed, psychics and medicine men
joined the fruitless quest.
“I still have questions. I’d like
to have a couple of more sources,” Broman acknowledged. He hopes
bringing the story to the screen may jog some memories, and perhaps
someone, somewhere will be struck by a realization along the lines of,
“say, didn’t Grandpa talk about that?”