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Update October 2017

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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
Arts - Entertainment - Film Review World

Update Saturday, Oct. 21 - Oct. 27, 2017

Film Review: Jolie imbues Cambodia drama with skill, intelligence

This image shows Sareum Srey Moch in a scene from “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.” (Roland Neveu/Netflix via AP)

 Jocelyn Noveck

Los Angeles (AP) - By now, there should be no debating that Angelina Jolie is a talented director, capable of handling the most challenging subject matter with assurance and sensitivity.  Those who continue to denigrate her skills because she’s also a movie star and tabloid fixture are running out of ammunition.

There also should be no debating the value of a major film being made about the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge — a film shot in Cambodia, and in the Khmer language, to boot.  Or that without Jolie’s commitment and clout, “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers” would never have been made.

This story of a young girl’s experiences under the murderous regime, based on the memoir by Loung Ung, is close to Jolie for many reasons: She’s had a strong connection to the country since she filmed a movie there in 2000.  She adopted her eldest son there (Maddox is listed as an executive producer), started a foundation there, even received citizenship there, and is a friend of the author.  All this means that she is extremely familiar with Cambodia and its story, and this is both the movie’s great strength and its occasional weakness.

Why weakness?  Because the film presupposes a knowledge of the history that many in a broad mainstream audience — particularly young people — likely lack.  And that distance from the story blunts its power somewhat.  Simply put, a little more guidance at the right places — we don’t want to call it hand-holding — might have been in order.

There’s another storytelling challenge here.  Jolie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ung, is aiming to tell the story through the eyes of a child, aged 5 to 9.  As Jolie herself has said, “a child experiences more than she talks.”  It’s true that there’s not a lot of dialogue here, and that for the movie’s two-plus hours, we’re learning — and growing — along with Loung.  There may be moments where we’re impatient for answers, but the film asks that we wait, and learn them when and if Loung does.

We begin with a brief preface, a montage set to the Rolling Stones’ perhaps overused “Sympathy for the Devil,” referring to the unofficial U.S. bombing of Cambodia and President Richard Nixon’s 1971 remark that “what we are doing is helping the Cambodians help themselves.”  We then see a child’s face reflected in the TV screen.  This is Loung (Sreymoch Sareum), and now her eyes will be ours.

The family is well off; Loung’s father is in the military police.  But it is 1975, and everything is changing.  The Khmer Rouge has captured Phnom Penh, beginning a four-year regime under which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians will die from starvation, disease or execution.  The family is forced to leave the city. “Can we take our New Year’s dresses?” Loung asks.

The family treks to the countryside, trying desperately to hide the father’s association with the toppled regime.  (Loung’s father and mother are played movingly by Kompheak Phoeung and the beautiful Socheata Sveng.)  Loung is quickly disabused of the notion that the family is only going to leave home for a few days.  They, and their compatriots, will now be in the service of the Khmer Rouge, and its Maoist plan to eliminate the elite and transform the country into an agrarian utopia.

They arrive at a rural camp, where food is virtually nonexistent.  They must build their own homes.  It’s not long before the family will be split apart, and the title will come true — although this development, like much of the terrible violence that transpired, is shown only briefly in a dream sequence.  (Another dream sequence shows Loung faced with a table of luscious sweets, trying to eat it all.)  We will follow Loung as she is gradually separated from everyone and finds herself training to be a child soldier.

That training will help Loung survive one of the most devastating moments of the film, caught in the middle of a minefield.  And suddenly a little girl knows what all the others do not, which is that the ground underneath can kill you.

As we know from the book, Loung was eventually reunited with some of her siblings, and the sequence at the end, with the adult family at a memorial, is very moving.  This is a story that has not been told enough.  Jolie’s effort — minor flaws and all — will ensure that many more people understand it.

“First They Killed My Father,” a Netflix release, is unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America.  Running time: 136 minutes.  Three stars out of four.

Ayutthaya ruins to be promoted as night-time tourist destination

Ayutthaya’s famous archeological ruins will be illuminated at night-time in a new scheme set to be unveiled in early 2018. (Photo/TAT)

The city of Ayutthaya is planning to install special lighting systems at all its major ancient sites to attract tourists to visit at night-time.

Director of the Ayutthaya Historical Park, Sukanya Baonert, said a budget of more than 300 million baht has been allocated to make Thailand’s ancient capital city come to life after dusk.

As the city has long been famous among both local and foreign tourists, Sukanya said that the plan has been approved to help assure travellers that they can continue enjoying Thailand’s history through visits to numerous archaeological sites without having to worry about their safety, even at night.

She said that money will also be spent on the improving the landscape of all the ruins in the park.

The plan is expected to help stimulate the economy of Ayutthaya province, which receives more than 70 million baht in tourism revenue each year, added Sukanya.

The project is due to get underway at 15 sites in Ayutthaya in early 2018. (NNT)

What haunted houses tell us about ourselves and our past

The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia took in its first inmate in 1829, closed in 1971 and reopened as a museum in 1994. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Beth J. Harpaz

New York (AP) - Haunted houses tell us a lot of stories.  But those stories are not just about ghosts.

Colin Dickey, the author of “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places,” went around the United States visiting haunted houses to see if they “could tell us something about who we are as a people, or how we understand the past.”

Dickey said ghost stories help us “talk about things in the past we might not otherwise have confronted.”  It might be a place with a violent or brutal history like a prison or asylum, or a just an old building with creaky stairs and dark hallways where someone’s life took a tragic turn due to the death of a child or an unrequited love.

Examples of places with a disturbing past that bill themselves as haunted attractions include the LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans, where slaves were treated with extraordinary brutality, or Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, an abandoned prison.  Dickey describes Eastern State as “a broken-down castle with stone crenellated towers” where “it’s easy to imagine” a history of “atrocities and violence.”

“Ghost stories in many ways are a way for us to approach our own history,” Dickey said, “and our own history is complicated.”

Dickey also noticed that haunted stories sometimes revolve around women who never married or who were widowed young.  Sometimes these women were viewed as having been frozen in time, living out their lives in a decaying house.  But he says the facts often tell a different story, suggesting that these individuals may have been viewed as odd or even spooky because their lives as single women didn’t fit cultural norms for marriage and childrearing.

The Winchester Mystery House, a 161-room mansion in San Jose, California, which Dickey visited often growing up, is a good example.  Sarah Winchester’s father-in-law developed the Winchester rifle, so she and her husband were wealthy heirs.  Their only child died in infancy, and Sarah’s husband died soon after.  Dickey says stories often paint her as having lived out her life in perpetual grief, haunted by the ghosts of everyone who’d ever been killed by a Winchester rifle, and “building this labyrinth to keep them at bay”.

But Dickey says the truth differs from the legend.  “She got on with her life as a widow, but all things considered, a relatively happy widow,” he said.  The ghost stories came about, he speculates, because “a woman living alone happily just doesn’t fit in our culture.”

Dickey also points out that the haunted house industry has become important as a way to raise money to preserve old buildings.  Many historic sites have embraced haunted tours as a fun way to engage visitors who will gladly pay for a ghost tour, but who might not sign up to learn about 19th century customs or antiques.

Take for example the Merchant’s House Museum on East Fourth Street in Manhattan.  The 1830s row house was home to the family of Seabury Tredwell.  Five of the eight Tredwell children never married.  Seven people died in the house, the last of them Gertrude Tredwell in the 1930s.  For decades, Merchant’s House staff members were warned against repeating ghost stories, according to spokeswoman Emily Hill-Wright.  But in the last 10 or 15 years, the museum has embraced the opportunity to use ghost stories as a wonderful way to bring in new audiences.

“People will come in because they hear that we’re haunted,” said Hill-Wright.  “Once we get them inside, they realize what a special place this is”.

Leonardo painting up for auction with $100 million estimate

Security guards open a door to reveal “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci during a news conference at Christie’s in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New York (AP) - The last Leonardo da Vinci painting in private hands is going to auction in New York next month — with a pre-sale estimate of around US$100 million.

Christie’s announced last week that the depiction of Jesus, titled “Salvator Mundi,” will be offered Nov. 15.

“The Salvator Mundi is the Holy Grail of Old Master paintings,” declared Christie’s specialist Alan Wintermute.  “It seemed just a tantalizingly unobtainable dream until now.  To see a fully finished, late masterpiece by Leonardo, made at the peak of his genius, appear for sale in 2017 is as close as I’ve come to an art world miracle.”

The work, dating from around 1500, is one of fewer than 20 known paintings by Leonardo.  It was first recorded in the royal collection of King Charles I in the early 1600s, then changed hands, dropped out of sight and was later acquired “as a work by Leonardo’s follower,” Christie’s said. “Christ’s face and hair were overpainted.”

It was sold for 45 British pounds in 1958, Christie’s said.

It disappeared again for nearly half a century; it was believed that the work had been destroyed until it was rediscovered in 2005.  It took six years to authenticate it.

Christie’s said it decided to highlight the Leonardo at a sale of post-war and contemporary art because “this work and artist transcend all collecting categories.”

The seller is identified only as a “private European collection.”

Andy Warhol’s 1986 painting “Sixty Last Suppers” — based on Leonardo’s Renaissance “Last Supper” masterpiece — also will be featured.  Its estimate is around $50 million.

Warhol’s “monumental canvas poignantly illustrates the themes of religion and loss that were so instrumental to his work,” the auction house said.

The work was executed a year before the artist’s death.

“In the early 1980s, religious iconography would feature more prominently in Warhol’s art as he began to confront his mortality,” Christie’s said.  “‘Sixty Last Suppers’ marked the culmination of a process of acceptance: the final image of communion and forgiveness.”

Public performances planned for Royal Cremation

Traditional Thai dance and masked dance theatre will feature at the Royal Cremation Ceremony of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. (Photo/Wikipedia commons)

The Fine Arts Department is preparing three stages at Sanam Luang ceremonial ground to organize public performances for the Royal Cremation Ceremony of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Various forms of art and entertainment at the ceremony, called “Ok Phra Men,” in the Royal Cremation are an age-old tradition.  They are intended to pay a final tribute and farewell to the former monarch.  The programs are also meant for the general public and to mark the ending of an official mourning period at the same time.  In the Rattanakosin period, public performances took place for the first time during the Royal Cremation of Somdet Phra Pathom Borommahachanok, the father of King Rama I, in 1796. 

Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat said that the Ministry of Culture had been assigned to organize the various entertainments, which will start at 6:00 p.m. on the Royal Cremation Day, 26 October, and run through 6:00 a.m. on the following day.  More than 3,000 performers will join the shows.  National artists will also take part in the programs. 

The khon masked drama will be performed in front of Phra Thinang Songtham, or the Royal Merit-Making Pavilion, near the Royal Crematorium.  There will be 300 performers.  Khon is a classical masked dance derived from Indian temple rituals and dances and draws its story line from the Ramakian, the Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana.

As for public performances, they will be shown on three stages, located in the northern part of Sanam Luang.  Stage One features nang yai, or great shadow play, and the khon masked drama, based on the Ramakian.  The khon performances begin with the reincarnation of Lord Rama, up to the final episode of the Ramakian.  There will be 1,420 performers.

Stage Two features hun luang and hun krabok, which are puppet shows.  They will include the Story of Mahajanaka, Inao (a romance with a Javanese background), and Manora (the southern traditional performing arts).  There will be 422 performers.

Stage Three features orchestras playing songs composed by His Majesty King Bhumibol and other songs in honor of the late King.  They will be performed by several bands from such agencies as the Government Public Relations Department, the Royal Thai Police, and Chulalongkorn University.

There will also be a ballet performance inspired by the story of Manora.  Singers, musicians, and performers will come from A.S. (Ambara Sathan) Friday Band and Sahai Pattana Band, as well as other bands from many agencies and institutes.  There will be 942 musicians, singers, performers, and other relevant personnel.

Update Saturday October 14 - October 20, 2017

Film Review: Gorgeous ‘2049’ breaks the ‘Blade Runner’ spell


This image shows a scene from “Blade Runner 2049.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - “We’re all just looking out for something real,” says Robin Wright’s police captain in “Blade Runner 2049.”

Wright, an icy, steely actress seemingly born for the world of “Blade Runner,” is speaking to her replicant detective whose name is his serial number: KDC-3-7 — or “K,” for short (Ryan Gosling).  But it’s a line that resonates beyond the robotic reality of “Blade Runner.”  What contemporary moviegoer won’t nod with understanding?

Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi neo-noir original extracted the frightful premise of Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” — the horror of not knowing if you’re real or not — and overlaid it across an eerie and mesmerizing sci-fi void.  Its slick surfaces and the radically atmospheric synthesizer score by Vangelis — not to mention Daryl Hannah’s hair and some serious shoulder pads — made “Blade Runner” an electric portrait of ’80s soullessness.  Its futuristic grandeur came with a cynical shrug.

Denis Villeneuve’s impressively crafted and deeply respectful sequel, set 30 years later, has — more than most of its rebooting ilk — carefully preserved much of the original’s DNA.  The photography, by Roger Deakins, is resolutely gorgeous, filled with stark perpendicular lines, glowing orange hazes and yellow pools of reflected light.  Gosling, a worthy heir to Harrison Ford, shares his predecessor’s inclination for both restraint and a smirk.

But while “Blade Runner 2049” is always something to look at, an overly elaborate script and some other bad habits common to today’s sequel machinery — such as glaring product placement — have broken the “Blade Runner” spell.

It may be too harsh to grade “2049” against the original, especially when so many copycats have since diluted its dystopian wonder.  Yet while “2049” still stands out from the pack, it lacks the mystery of the original. (Or at least the director’s cut.  The 1982 film was itself a replicant with too many versions to keep straight.)  This latest updated model, less punk-rock in attitude, wants to connect the dots and illuminate backgrounds that stayed dark the first time around.

There are hints, one fears watching “2049,” of a “cinematic universe” scaffolding being erected.  Scott is a producer this time around, but he had his hands in the film’s development, along with “Blade Runner” scribe Hampton Fancher (who co-writes here with Michael Green).  Scott instead went off to make “Alien: Covenant” but there seems to be some growing connective tissue between the franchises.  Certainly there’s much of the same tiresome creation mythology and Christ-imagery, along with the throat-clearing monologues about angels and demons (here delivered by Jared Leto’s crazy-eyed AI visionary).

The larger apparatus detracts from what is, at heart, a detective story — and a fairly good one, at that.  Like Ford’s Rick Deckard, K is a Blade Runner seeking out-modeled replicants to “retire.”  But whereas Deckard’s identity was — depending on whom you ask — up for grabs, K is definitely a replicant.  He undergoes “baseline” questioning after each mission to establish that he hasn’t started feeling emotions.  (In this quiz, the correct answer to “How does it feel like to hold a baby in your arms?” is “Interlinked.”)

Gosling has little about him that suggests android, unless future scientists are planning to work extremely hard on a “charmingly bemused” setting.  I personally prefer his more alive and loose-limbed L.A. detective from “The Nice Guys,” but Gosling’s nature plays into the movie.  We’re convinced K is more, especially after, while on a mission, he stumbles on to the remains of a replicant woman who apparently died in child birth.

As Wright’s character puts it, replicant reproduction would “break the world.”  Humans would no longer hold dominion over their cheap, disposable work force; a rebellion would spark.  If “Blade Runner” was the nightmare of being soulless, “2049” is the dream of being real, with a leather jacket-clad Pinocchio in a flying car.  The search for the child from 20 years earlier sends K in strange places.

Questions of authenticity are elsewhere, too.  K’s lone companion is a digital woman named Joi (Ana de Armas), a holographic product advertised to be “whatever is your fancy.”  He comes to believe in their relationship, only to look crestfallen at the billboard advertising Joi.  K is reminded again and again that any feeling of uniqueness is imaginary, or a marketing gimmick.

It’s a question Villeneuve’s movie asks itself, too.  A hologram of Elvis plays while a fistfight careens through a Vegas lounge.  The late-arriving Harrison Ford is there in the flesh, but he’s coming off a “Star Wars” franchise that reanimated actors, including a dead one, in younger digital facsimiles.  “Blade Runner 2049” quietly ponders its own existence amid today’s blockbusters: Can a replicant movie be real?

There is much to like here, but “2049,” like “Alien: Covenant,” feels too enraptured with its own headiness.  Even Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” makes a cameo.  Maybe “Blade Runner” wore its complexities on its sleeve, too.  But it’s hard not to agree with the old blade runner who turns up late in the film and tells K: “I had your job once.  It was simpler then.”

“Blade Runner 2049,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “violence, some sexuality, nudity and language.”  Running time: 163 minutes.  Two and a half stars out of four.

Chiang Rai artist unveils coal portrait of HM the late King

This image shows part of Chiang Rai artist Suwit Jaipom’s coal on canvas tribute to His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Bangkok (NNT) – A Chiang Rai artist has expressed his loyalty and appreciation of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej through a coal portrait.

Suwit Jaipom, a teacher of art, has created a portrait of His Majesty the late King using only coal on a canvas measuring 2.2 meters high by over 20 meters in length.

Suwit remarked that throughout his life as an artist he has always favored drawing impressions of King Rama 9 and often traced coins and bank notes as a child while he was honing his skills.  His studies of the beloved monarch also allowed him to learn about the royal works and achievements as well as the philosophies of His Majesty the late King.  To date, he has drawn over 500 works of art depicting the monarch.

The latest portrait is to be devoted to the Royal Cremation Ceremony later this month and is entitled “In Becoming a King of Kings”.  Famed artist Chalermchai Kositpipat advised Suwit to divide the picture into two with one incorporating elements of His Majesty’s history and the other his royal works.

The piece is currently on display at CentralWorld in Bangkok.

Tyrese calls Dwayne Johnson ‘a clown’ for ‘Fast’ spinoff

In this April 1, 2015, file photo, Dwayne Johnson (left) and Tyrese Gibson arrive at the premiere of “Furious 7” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)

Los Angeles (AP) - Tyrese is calling out his “Fast & Furious” franchise co-star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for breaking up the cast amid reports of a spinoff film starring Johnson.

Tyrese posted a picture of the cast last week on Instagram and wrote in the caption that he thinks Johnson “had a problem cause he wasn’t the ONLY ONE on the movie poster.” Calling Johnson “a clown,” Tyrese says Johnson didn’t have to accept the solo role. He also said Johnson and franchise producer Hiram Garcia “broke up the #FastFamily.”

The Hollywood Reporter said that a 2019 “Fast” film is intended to be a spinoff starring Johnson and Jason Statham.

Tyrese has starred in five “Fast” films, while Johnson has starred in four.

Johnson’s representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

French president inaugurates major Picasso exhibition

France’s President Emmanuel Macron visits the “Picasso 1932: Erotic Year” exhibition at the Picasso museum in Paris, Sunday, Oct. 8. (Ian Langsdon/pool photo via AP)

Sylvie Corbet

Paris (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has inaugurated a major Picasso exhibition in Paris, focusing on one key year in the Spanish master’s art and life.

After visiting the show for an hour and a half with his wife Brigitte, Macron said he likes in Picasso’s paintings a “great sensuality” and at the same time a “political meaning” especially in the years leading up to World War II.

The “Picasso 1932. Erotic Year” show displays many portraits of Picasso mistress Marie-Therese Walter, including a famous masterpiece, “The Dream,” and a “Girl Before a Mirror,” a treasure of the Museum of Modern Art in New York that rarely travels.

Macron, an art and literature lover, enjoyed the visit in the presence of members of Picasso’s family, including Maya Widmaier-Picasso, the daughter the master had with Walter.

The exhibition displays colorful, surreal paintings inspired by Picasso’s young lover, but also many documents, archives and photos.

Macron noted Picasso could “live up to three or four lives at the same time,” sharing his time between his wife, Olga Khokhlova, and his mistress, “which wasn’t going without some kind of violence for everyone.”

Macron said he has a very strong personal memory of discovering Picasso’s paintings for the first time in a museum in his hometown of Amiens in northern France, at the age of 12 or 13.

“I can tell you that for the young teenager I was ... this was an event.  I do remember it very well. I was moved, hit,” he told reporters.

Macron said that it would be “great” if a Picasso painting could be displayed at the Elysee presidential palace.

“I would like, indeed, open the Elysee to modern, contemporary painters and other artists.  This is a project,” he said.

The curator of the exhibition, Laurence Madeline, said that 1932 was “decisive” for Picasso who turned 51 that year — “an important moment in the middle of his existence, and the year of his first retrospective including 30 years of artwork since his youth.”

The exhibition “Picasso 1932. Erotic Year” at the Picasso National Museum in Paris runs from Oct. 10 to Feb. 11.

It is then scheduled to open at the Tate Modern in London, which co-organized the show, from March 8 to Sept. 9.

Kate Winslet boards James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ universe

British actress Kate Winslet.
(Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP)

Los Angeles (AP) - It’s a titanic reunion — Kate Winslet is joining the “Avatar” franchise, reuniting the actress with “Titanic” director James Cameron.

A spokesperson for 20th Century Fox confirmed the news last week after it was first reported by the online trade publication Deadline.

According to Deadline, Winslet will be playing a character named Ronal, but no word yet on just how many of the films she’ll be part of.  Cameron said that they had been looking to work together again for 20 years.

Four “Avatar” sequels are planned to be released in December of 2020, 2021, 2024 and 2025.

Update Saturday October 7 - October 13, 2017

Film Review: ‘Kingsman’ sequel lacks punch and vibe of first film


This image shows (from left) Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, and Pedro Pascal in “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” (Giles Keyte/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - In the first film about a secret spy group known as Kingsman, we learned they are well-dressed, courtly and perfectly groomed.  But by the second film, there’s a decidedly ungentlemanly whiff about them — of desperation.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” comes three years after the first leg in the Matthew Vaughn-directed franchise — and it bodes poorly for the expected third.  This sequel is an overlong, labored affair that lacks the fizz of its predecessor.  Even an insane cameo by Elton John — in his full feather and rhinestone glory — can’t save it.

For anyone needing a refresher, the Kingsman movies are based on a series of comic books by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons that centers on British upper crust spies who combine a fondness for bespoke tailoring with the lethality of James Bond.  They hang out in a Saville Row tailor shop, sip tea, are fitted for 007-like gadgets and save the world in secret.

The first film introduced the working class Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as a potential recruit who is championed by Kingsman leader Colin Firth, despite the younger man’s crudeness and ill-breeding.  He proved his mettle by foiling a diabolical plan hatched by a billionaire internet entrepreneur played by Samuel L. Jackson, whose weird lisp outlasted its welcome.

The charm of the first film was the way it straddled the line between celebrating spy movies and mocking them.  It had a winking, self-aware humor.  Plus, the action sequences were absolutely stunning, with cameras doing 360-degree turns, cool slo-mos and acrobatic fight choreography.  The humor has worn off by the second, even if the camerawork is still spectacular.  The music is very good, too, from the use of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” to making John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” into a stirring anthem.

In the sequel, the Kingsman headquarters is under attack and survivors are forced to flee to their distant American cousins — Statesman, a similar spy agency hidden in a Kentucky whiskey brewery.  Firth is back and sorely missed as the Kingsman leader.  The trouble is we watched him die in the first film and having him resurrected seems weak.

The solid Egerton and the always excellent Mark Strong are back as Kingsmen, and Julianne Moore takes over from Jackson as the evil mastermind, a drug kingpin with a love for old-fashioned diners.  She proves deliciously campy in her controlled ferocity.  Cross her and you’ll end up in a meat grinder.  Your successor will likely munch on you in a hamburger, yum.

On the Yankee side, Channing Tatum has obviously been cynically added for pure eye candy appeal and he misses most of the movie, anyway.  A subdued Halle Berry seems to be in another project entirely, one quiet and introspective.

Jeff Bridges, as the leader of the American team, may have signed on simply to be able to sample the free bourbon.  Pedro Pascal, in a cowboy hat and mustache, plays his part as a misogynistic spy like he’s a member of “Anchorman.”  Speaking of casting, why are there so many dogs in this film? Like, WAY too many dogs — puppies, old dogs, stuffed and even robotic.

If the first film drew its magic from a “My Fair Lady”-like attempt by Firth to prove breeding doesn’t determine gallantness, the sequel lacks a central idea.  The British-American divide in spy styles is soon abandoned and a sometimes overly heavy debate over the war on drugs drags the film in a darker direction.

Elton John adds some much-needed light as a hostage forced to entertain his captors, who use two ferocious robot dogs called Bennie and Jet (get it?).  His “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” gets used perfectly — during a cool fight sequence.

But overall this sequel suffers from sequel-itis — a big-budget movie that rushes from Italian mountains to Cambodian rain forests but has lost the spark of its predecessor.  The best moments are actually when it pays homage to the first film.  The worst are when it takes itself too seriously, the trap of the very spy films it was designed to mock.

But let’s be gentlemanly: For a film series that cherishes the proverb “manners maketh man,” let’s just say “rotten luck, old sport.  Better luck next time.”

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” a Twentieth Century Fox release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for violence and language.”  Running time: 141 minutes.  Two stars out of four.

Tom Petty, down-to-earth rock superstar, dies at 66

In this June 17, 2008 file photo, Tom Petty performs with The Heartbreakers at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

 Hillel Italie

Los Angeles (AP) - Tom Petty, an old-fashioned rock superstar and everyman who drew upon the Byrds, the Beatles and other bands he worshipped as a boy and produced new classics such as “Free Fallin,’ “Refugee” and “American Girl,” died on Monday a day after he suffered cardiac arrest.  He was 66.

Petty and his longtime band the Heartbreakers had recently completed a 40th anniversary tour, one he hinted would be their last.

“I’m thinking it may be the last trip around the country,” Petty told Rolling Stone last year.  “We’re all on the backside of our 60s.  I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road.  This tour will take me away for four months.  With a little kid, that’s a lot of time.”

Usually backed by the Heartbreakers, Petty broke through in the 1970s and went on to sell more than 80 million records.  The Gainesville, Florida, native with the shaggy blond hair and gaunt features was loved for his melodic hard rock, nasally vocals and down-to-earth style.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted Petty and the Heartbreakers in 2002, praised them as “durable, resourceful, hard-working, likeable and unpretentious.”

“I’m shocked and saddened by the news of Tom’s passing, he’s such a huge part of our musical history, there’ll never be another like him.” Eric Clapton wrote in a statement.

“It is so rare to find someone who commands such universal respect in the business.  He was a rock n roll lifer with music in his blood.  This man delivered a wealth of great songs to his fans and to the world and that is something to celebrate.” — rocker Alice Cooper commented on Twitter.

Petty’s albums included “Damn the Torpedoes,” ‘’Hard Promises” and “Full Moon Fever,” although his first No. 1 did not come until 2014 and “Hypnotic Eye.”  As a songwriter, he focused often on daily struggles and the will to overcome them, most memorably on “Refugee,” ‘’Even the Losers” and “I Won’t Back Down.”

“It’s sort of the classic theme of a lot of the work I’ve done,” he told The Associated Press in 1989.  “I think faith is very important just to get through life.  I think it’s really important that you believe in yourself, first of all.  It’s a very hard to thing to come by.  But when you get it, it’s invaluable.”

Petty was both a musician and obsessive fan, one who met his childhood heroes and lived out the fantasies of countless young rock lovers.  He befriended Byrds leader Roger McGuinn and became close to George Harrison, who performed on “I Won’t Back Down” and joined Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne in the impromptu super group the Traveling Wilburys.  Petty inducted Harrison into the Rock Hall in 2004; two years earlier Dylan’s son Jakob inducted Petty.  In the 1980s, Petty and the Heartbreakers supported Bob Dylan on a nationwide tour.

He would speak of being consumed by rock music since childhood, to the point where his father, whom Petty would later say beat him savagely, thought he was “mental.” 

By his early 20s, Petty had formed the group Mudcrutch with fellow Gainesville natives and future Heartbreakers (guitarist) Mike Campbell and (keyboardist) Benmont Tench.  They soon broke up, but reunited in Los Angeles as the Heartbreakers, joined by bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch.  Their eponymous debut album came out in 1976 and they soon built a wide following, fitting easily into the New Wave sounds of the time.

‘I hope I live up to the hype’: Jason Mraz to go to Broadway


Jason Mraz. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Mark Kennedy

New York (AP) - When he was still a teenager, Jason Mraz considered musical theater as a career option but feared he’d end up frustrated and as a waiter.  Now the singer-songwriter is ready to make that jump and he’s picked an appropriately titled show — “Waitress.”

The two-time Grammy Award-winning troubadour whose hits include “I’m Yours” and “I Won’t Give Up” will make his Broadway debut in the hit musical starting Nov. 3.

“It’s classy, it’s classic, it’s whimsical, it’s kitsch, it’s funny, its scandalous — it’s got a little bit for everyone,” said Mraz.  “I love that I get out of my routine and try on a new routine that requires me to show up in a different way.”

“Waitress,” the musical adaptation of the 2007 film with songs by pop star Sara Bareilles, tells the story of Jenna, a waitress and pie maker trapped in a small-town diner and a loveless marriage.

Mraz will play Dr. Pomatter, a gynecologist and Jenna’s love interest.  He’ll have several duets with actress Betsy Wolfe, including the steamy “Bad Idea,” the adorable “It Only Takes a Taste” and the aching “You Matter to Me.”  Mraz has already recorded “Bad Idea” and “You Matter To Me” with Bareilles on her Top 10 album “What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress.”

“I love Sara, I love the music, I love the story, I think Dr. Pomatter is a very likable guy even though he’s somewhat scandalous in the plot.  He’s a likable character and his songs are so enjoyable,” said Mraz.

Bareilles reached out to Mraz to personally ask him to take the part.  He took a day to think it over.  “I think Jason’s personality just lends itself to this character,” she said.  “He’s incredibly charismatic and incredibly sweet and soulful.  He’s also really funny and really smart.”

The Virginia-born singer who briefly attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy before focusing on his own music said he weighed a career in musicals but feared he’d be auditioning for the rest of his life.

“That scared me and I thought, ‘I’m going to be a waiter. I’m going to be a waiter for the rest of my life.’  So at 18, I decided, ‘I’m going to write my own music and essentially write my own life musical,” he said.

“I said, in the back of my mind, ‘Maybe in my 40s or 50s, when I’m older and I have life experience, there might be more parts available for me.  And, sure enough, two months after I turned 40, my phone rang and I got an invitation to come to New York.” He laughed: “The universe is cashing in the rain check.”

Mraz joins other stars from pop and rock to join Broadway shows, including Panic! at the Disco’s singer Brendon Urie in “Kinky Boots,” Josh Groban in “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” Sting in “The Last Ship,” Carly Rae Jepsen in “Cinderella” and Bareilles herself, who has played Jenna.

“I hope I live up to the hype,” said Mraz.



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