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Update January 2019

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Arts - Entertainment - Film Review World

Film Review: The underwhelming rollercoaster of ‘Glass’

This image shows Samuel L. Jackson in a scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass.” (Jessica Kourkounis/Universal Pictures via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, or Mr. Glass, as he prefers to be called, was by far the most compelling part of M. Night Shyamalan’s slow-burn comic book send-up “Unbreakable.” A brilliant, tortured manipulator and superhero enthusiast suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta (i.e. brittle bone disease), Glass is that kind of charismatic supervillain that you can’t get enough of.

Nineteen years is certainly a long time to wait for more Mr. Glass. But Shyamalan, even after naming this long-gestating film after Jackson’s character, decides to withhold him from the audience even longer. Yes, he makes Mr. Glass a highly sedated vegetable who gets to do little more than blink and intensely stare at the camera for what feels like more than half of the movie.

It’s one of the many ways in which “Glass,” which seems to delight in building up anticipation only to pull the rug out from under you, manages to both frustrate and underwhelm. I’m sure it’s some kind of meta-commentary on the futility of serialized storytelling, the contrivances and deification of comic book culture and easily malleable audience expectations, but in execution it mostly feels like a tub full of half-baked ideas that never really coalesce into something exciting, meaningful or all that memorable.

“Glass” definitely doesn’t care to help if you haven’t seen “Unbreakable” or “Split,” either. It just dives right in with little exposition. We see Bruce Willis’s David Dunn taking a couple of teen pranksters to task. Then it jumps to James McAvoy’s multiple personalities, who’ve decided to take four teenage cheerleaders hostage because they’re “impure” and “need to be punished.”

David, who is working alongside his now-grown son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark, the same actor from “Unbreakable,” which is actually a nice touch), has been trying to find the missing cheerleaders. Joseph warns him to be careful, because David has also been branded a public nuisance for all of his would-be good deeds that have left criminals and victims injured and looking for someone to sue. If you’re thinking, wait, isn’t this sort of the plot of “Incredibles,” just wait because it even brushes up against some “Incredibles 2” themes, intentionally or not.

David and the “Horde” (the term used to describe the collective of all of McAvoy’s personalities, which range from a 9-year-old boy and an older British woman, to a terrifying flesh-eating creature called “The Beast”) meet and low-budget fight a bit, but are interrupted by the authorities and Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Ellie Staple who take them to the psychiatric hospital where Price is.

Dr. Staple explains with oozing condescension that she specializes in treating those afflicted by delusions of grandeur — aka, those who think they have superpowers. She says their abilities and their weaknesses are all in the mind, and can be explained away by science and childhood traumas. This little group therapy session in a bubblegum pink room is one of the more compelling parts, and it seems like the film is gleefully destroying the superhero origin story myth, sending its main characters into a spiral of doubt.

But don’t get too attached to this, or any other path Shyamalan seems to be taking us down, because he will change course, backtrack and laugh at you for getting too committed to one narrative (while really going all in on some questionable ones, like having the Horde’s sole surviving captive from “Split,” Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), come back as a sort of Stockholm Syndrome empathy machine to worry about him).

Mr. Glass does emerge from his vegetative state, eventually, and kicks the movie into gear as only Jackson can do. McAvoy is once again giving his all to all the characters, and watching him shift between them is still enjoyable, but perhaps not worth all the screen time it gets. Willis barely gets anything to do at all. But for all the hype behind these three characters meeting, and the years it took to get it off the ground, “Glass” is one big anti-climax.

“Glass,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language.” Running time: 129 minutes. Two stars out of four.

‘Game of Thrones’ final season to debut on April 14

Actress Sophie Turner is shown in this Jan. 29, 2017, file photo. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

New York (AP) — “Game of Thrones” fans, get ready.

HBO has announced that the eighth and final season will begin on April 14. In a one minute and 44 second teaser released last week, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) are seen in the crypts of Winterfell.

Fans have eagerly awaited the six-episode finale of the show since Season 7 of the popular HBO show ended in August 2017.

The fantasy series based on the George R.R. Martin novels has been one of HBO’s most successful shows.

HBO isn’t getting out of the “Game of Thrones” business. A prequel created by Martin and writer-producer Jane Goldman is underway, with Naomi Watts set to star, and other spinoffs are possible.

Star of the upcoming “The Sopranos” prequel reveals details


Alessandro Nivola.
(Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

John Carucci

New York (AP) — The star of the upcoming “The Sopranos” prequel, Alessandro Nivola, says a young Tony Soprano will be a part of the film — but had good reason to be careful about how much else he revealed about “The Many Saints of Newark.”

“I guess I got to be kind of discreet about it, so David Chase doesn’t kill me,” Nivola said. “I’m playing Dickie Moltisanti, who is the central character in the movie, and he is Christopher Moltisanti’s dad.”

Christopher Moltisanti, who was played by Michael Imperioli in the series, was a protege of Tony Soprano, the New Jersey mob boss portrayed by James Gandolfini.

Though the elder Moltisanti never appeared in the series, he is often mentioned as part of Christopher’s backstory. The father was gunned down when Christopher was young and Nivola said the film will explore the interlocking history of Dickie Moltisanti and Soprano.

“Tony will be a character in the film, and as was mentioned throughout ‘The Sopranos’ series, my character was an important person in his life, and it examines that relationship as well,” Nivola said.

The film begins in 1967 with the backdrop of the race riots that tore through Newark, New Jersey. Nivola said racial tension is “a big part of the story.”

Nivola cited “weird coincidences” that told him this role was meant for him, including the fact that his real-life neighbor is Tim Van Patten, who directed many episodes of “The Sopranos.”

Another coincidence connects his own family to the show: An episode in the second season shows Soprano visiting Naples, Italy, and in one of the scenes, just over Gandolfini’s shoulder, is seen a sculpture — made by Nivola’s grandfather, the artist Costantino Nivola. “So it was meant to be or something,” Alessandro Nivola said.

Chase will produce “The Many Saints of Newark” and has written the script with “The Sopranos” writer Lawrence Konner. Alan Taylor, who helmed episodes of “The Sopranos,” ‘’Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones,” will direct. “The Many Saints of Newark” begins shooting in April.

Street singer gives voice to Venezuela’s growing diaspora

In this Jan. 12, 2019 photo, Venezuelan singer Reymar Perdomo performs with fellow Venezuelan and guitarist Omar Rumbos at a fair on the beach of San Bartolo, Peru. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Manuel Rueda and Cesar Barreto

Lima, Peru (AP) — A year ago, Venezuelan migrant Reymar Perdomo was singing for spare change on jammed buses, struggling to make ends meet while building a new life in Peru’s capital.

But her life took a turn when she wrote a heartfelt reggae song about leaving her homeland that went viral on the internet and has brought tears to hundreds in the Venezuelan diaspora that has spread around the globe. Now Perdomo combines her street performances with appearances at concerts and on TV programs, and her song has become the unofficial anthem of Venezuelans who have fled their country’s economic implosion.

“This song gives me goosebumps” said Junior Barrios, a Venezuelan migrant who listened to Perdomo perform her song “Me Fui” — Spanish for “I Left” — recently at a busy plaza in Lima. “Leaving your home from one day to the next day isn’t easy, and this just makes a whole bunch of emotions surface at once.”

“Me Fui” is Perdomo’s retelling of how she left Venezuela reluctantly with her “head full of doubts,” pushed by her mother, who insisted there was no other way for her to make something of her life in a country racked by food shortages and hyperinflation.

The song, which the 30-year-old plays with a ukulele after her guitar broke while busking, talks about how she was robbed and faced other hardships as she had to cross four countries to reach Peru, pressing on while “speaking softly and crying along much of the way.”

“I had lots of mixed feelings about having to leave Venezuela, and felt a lot of pain. And I just needed to express that in order to move on with life,” Perdomo said in an interview after performing on the streets of Lima’s wealthy Miraflores district.

Her nostalgic song has had more than 2 million views on YouTube thanks to a passer-by who recorded Perdomo singing and posted the video online. It’s also gotten a wave of attention on radio and television, helping Perdomo get noticed by famous pop artists around South America who have asked her to be the opening act at their concerts. She has also produced a slicker version that has had 1.3 million views on its own.

In December, Perdomo was invited to Colombia by a popular satirist and Youtuber who had her sing on a bus, surprising her by bringing along Latin Grammy winner Carlos Vives and Andres Cepeda.

Perdomo said she almost fainted as Vives, who was wearing a hat and fake moustache, threw his disguise away and started to sing the chorus of her song.

“That happened exactly a year to the date after I left Venezuela” Perdomo said. “And for me to be there, performing with one of my favorite singers, singing my song, just felt like proof that God exists.”

Perdomo used to be a music teacher at a public school in the rural state of Guarico and once participated in a televised talent show. Although she says she never voted for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, as a public employee she was required to sing at pro-government rallies, something a few online critics have held against her.

Though becoming something of a symbol of the Venezuelan exodus, she still struggles to get by.

Her mother, brother, sister-in-law and year-old nephew have joined her in Peru and all share a small rented apartment in one of the city’s working class districts. Only Perdomo’s brother has found a permanent job, working as a bouncer at a nightclub, so the street performer works long days to help sustain her family.

Still, social media fame is opening new doors.

Perdomo says that Vives has invited her to perform on a regular basis at his nightclub in Bogota and that she is speaking with organizations in Colombia about the possibility of recording an album focused on the plight of migrants.

These opportunities have her thinking about moving yet again — this time to Colombia’s capital.

“This has been a tough year, but it has also been amazing” Perdomo said. “I think that to help people and do what you love, you don’t need a lot of money. You just need to believe in yourself and be willing to work real hard.”

Film Review: ‘Green Book’ is sure to put a smile on your face

This image shows Viggo Mortensen (left) and Mahershala Ali in a scene from “Green Book.” (Patti Perret/Universal Pictures via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) – If there is a big studio movie that’s more generally crowd-pleasing than “Green Book “ this season, I have yet to find it. In this landscape of challenging, provocative, edgy films, Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali and, of all people, director Peter Farrelly have come along with a movie about friendship that goes down so easy that it’s almost suspect, as though it were flung out of 1996 and gifted to our weary 2018 brains.

Based on a true story, “Green Book” recounts a 1962 road trip when a Bronx bred Italian-American Frank Anthony Vallelonga, also known as Tony Lip (Mortensen), was hired to drive a renowned black pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), to all of his concert engagements across the Deep South.

The two men are obviously mismatched — what would anyone have to learn if they weren’t? Tony is a working-class bruiser and world class eater with a wife (Linda Cardellini), two sons, a limited vocabulary, institutional racism, but a generally good heart. Dr. Shirley is a wealthy, erudite dandy, a master of his art, a snob and a loner. He also knows he needs reliable protection on this journey to a segregated south, asks around and finds this Copacabana bouncer Tony Lip is the one for the job despite the prejudices.

The constructs will feel familiar and well-worn and surprises are few on this journey toward acceptance and friendship, but the pleasure of this film is in the larger than life characters created by the two leads and their perfectly askew chemistry. Mortensen is almost unrecognizable as Tony, packing extra pounds and an astute comedic sensibility. He knows just how far to push his caricature without making it cartoonish. When Dr. Shirley says to make sure that there’s a Steinway piano at every concert venue, Tony scribbles down “STAINWAY” on a sheet of paper. His doltishness is endearing, not annoying.

And Ali, so memorable and heart-wrenching in “Moonlight,” puts his own stamp on a character who feels alienated from his own race and those he’s performing for. Although a considerably more staid role than Tony, Ali also manages to have his own fun with Dr. Shirley’s seemingly incurable snobbery, wincing at Tony’s lack of decorum, or care.

In fact, this film allows everyone to play against their Hollywood-prescribed “type,” from the actors to the director, who is perhaps the most surprising revelation of them all.

The Farrelly name conjures up a very specific kind of movie: The big, bawdy comedy that he and his brother made their own and, later, failed to keep fresh. If anything, the charm and success of “Green Book” makes a heck of a case for giving directors more room to work outside of the genres or styles that they became famous for.

There is certainly a more serious story to be told out of this road trip, and about Dr. Shirley’s extraordinary life. “Green Book,” taken from the title of the guide Tony has to use to find the establishments and hotels where people of color are welcome at throughout the South, scratches at the surface of the horrors and indignities Dr. Shirley faced while being a “guest of honor.” Those range from being asked to use an outdoor toilet to being denied the right to dine in the place he’s about to perform. This film chooses a different route, and is in turn funny, heart-warming, illuminating and a joy to watch.

“Green Book,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic content, language including racial eapithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material.” Running time: 130 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

Tia Fuller, fierce woman in jazz, takes shot at 1st Grammy

This Jan. 6, 2019 photo shows saxophonist Tia Fuller posing in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Brian Ach/Invision/AP)

Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) — Saxophonist Tia Fuller was crying in bed. And praising God.

She’d just received the news that she was nominated for her first-ever Grammy Award — but it’s not just any nomination: Her inclusion in the best jazz instrumental album category is a historic moment for women because they have rarely been nominated for the coveted award throughout the Grammys’ 61-year history.

And if Fuller wins, she becomes just the second women to take home the prize.

“I feel really blessed. Anytime I think extensively about being in the category and (anything) Grammy-wise, I start tearing up,” said Fuller, this time smiling ear-to-ear with light tears of joy in her eyes. “It’s really a dream come true. I’m realizing that dreams can become reality and everything is tangible.”

Her nominated album, “Diamond Cut,” is a smooth and striking collection that has brought the skilled performer, who once played with Ray Charles during her college years and toured with Beyonce, to the next level. The album, her fifth, was produced by another woman making critical waves in jazz, Terri Lyne Carrington. The drummer, who came to national prominence decades ago in “The Arsenio Hall Show” band, became the first female to win best jazz instrumental album at the 2014 Grammys.

Carrington describes the win as bittersweet because of the “many great female instrumentalists that weren’t nominated ever, so that was really disheartening.”

It’s one of the reasons Carrington, a three-time Grammy winner, is excited for Fuller’s success and has been a mentor to the artist.

“I feel like this record is showing her growth and her evolution,” Carrington said. “If nothing else, I believe that she’s really motivated to keep pushing herself and keep evolving into all that she can be.”

“Diamond Cut” is Fuller’s first album in six years. She’s been busy as a professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music since 2013, and that decision to move to Boston to fulfill a lifetime dream came at a crossroads: In the same 24-hour period that Fuller was offered the teaching position, Beyonce asked Fuller to perform again with the band.

“That was the year I think they were doing the Super Bowl and she was going back out on tour,” recalled Fuller, who performed with Beyonce from 2006 to 2010.

“While I was on tour with her something came over me and spoke, ‘You have to move in faith and not fear. Don’t be afraid of what may not happen, or get attached to the artificial result of, ‘I’m playing with Beyonce,’” she said. “So the reason why that I ended up not going back is because I realized that it was time for me to move on.”

Now, in between the teaching and playing — she’s also busy dress shopping for her big day at the Grammys, taking place Feb. 10 in Los Angeles.

“I actually reached out to one of Beyonce’s stylists and he responded, so he’s going to help and connect me with some of his designers,” she said. “I’m trying to find a healthy mix between making a statement and me being me.”

With blockbuster effects, Peter Jackson brings WWI to life

This image shows a scene from the WWI documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old,” directed by Peter Jackson. (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

Jake Coyle

New York (AP) — Peter Jackson has used digital wizardry to conjure J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and King Kong’s 1930s New York, but he has now — in perhaps his most acclaimed film — employed all his technical powers to bring to life the Western Front of the first World War.

Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old” is the 57-year-old filmmaker’s first documentary. Commissioned by Britain’s Imperial War Museum to coincide with the centenary of the Armistice, Jackson assembled the film from more than 100 hours of footage from the front and 600 hours of audio interviews conducted in the 1960s with surviving British soldiers.

In the course of the five-year project, Jackson restored the heavily damaged, grainy footage, colorized it, stabilized the frame rates (many were only 13 frames per second, and could vary based upon how fast the cameraman was cranking) and transferred the film into 3-D. Along with adding battle sound effects, he even employed expert lip readers to recreate the unheard dialogue.

With the kind of technology usually employed on a big-budget spectacle, the fog of time lifted from the footage, revealing the soldiers anew.

“The people on the film became human beings again. Their humanity jumps out at you,” Jackson said in an interview. “Their faces and the subtle way they move and their expressions, you just realize you’re seeing you’re seeing these people for the first time in 100 years.”

“They Shall Not Grow Old,” which takes its name from the Laurence Binyon poem “For the Fallen,” has already played in the U.K., where it earned Jackson the best reviews of his career. “The effect is electrifying,” wrote the Guardian. “The faces are unforgettable.”

For Jackson, it’s the culmination of a passion project, one undertaken in part as a tribute to the New Zealand filmmaker’s grandfather, who fought in the war. The first three years of the project, edited at Jackson’s post-production facility, Park Road Post, weren’t spent cutting anything together but sifting through the material and cleaning it up.

Startled by the clearness of the restoration, Jackson opted to impress as little as possible on the film. The only narration is that of the soldiers recounting their experiences; even dates and locations of battles have been withheld to capture the view of the war from those in the trenches. “They only saw what was right in front of their eyes,” says Jackson.

The recollections of the British soldiers are surprisingly pragmatic and straightforward, lacking any sense of regret or self-pity. “They didn’t want that and they didn’t expect that,” says Jackson. “I don’t think they would really approve of the way we think of the first World War now.”

But the director is also quick to point out that the 120 men interviewed don’t reflect a universal story of the war. These are survivors, many of whom went on to have families and productive lives, looking back decades later. “If we had interviews from the millions of soldiers that were killed, they would tell a different story,” says Jackson.

Clarity has always been elusive in WWI, a war with puzzling beginnings and staggering loss of life that nevertheless became overshadowed in the popular imagination by World War II. But the simple, unclouded lucidity of “They Shall Not Grow Old” offers a small window into the Great War. Jackson hopes it inspires young people to learn about WWI and archivists around the world to make similar restorations of historical film.

“There Shall Not Grow Old” is, in some ways, a characteristically Jackson film, with the notable exception that he wasn’t there to shoot any of it. Not that he minded.

“I don’t actually like being on set, particularly. I always regard that as being an arduous chore,” he says. “So in a way I was quite happy to skip over the shooting part of it. The boys on the Western Front a hundred years ago did all the hard work filming it, and I was able to go straight to the part I like the most.”

Film Review: Too much Spider-Man? Not in the Spider-Verse

This image shows a scene from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” (Sony Pictures Animation via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” gleefully scrambles the notion there can be only one friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and offers the exciting idea that he can be anyone. He can be a girl, he can be a middle-aged dude with a paunch and he can even be a cartoon pig.

It’s hard to underestimate what this means, but this film does what comics and graphic novels have long experimented with, but this time makes the leap to the big screen. It literally opens up a universe of possibilities. “Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask,” we are told.

The result is a film that’s fantastically fresh, both visually and narratively, trippy and post-modern at the same time and packed with intriguing storytelling tools, humor, empathy and action, while also true to its roots — still telling the story of a young man learning to accept the responsibility of fighting for what’s right.

Our main hero here is one plucked from a spin-off from the main Spider-Man comic book universe: Miles Morales, a half-African-American, half-Puerto Rican teen from Brooklyn who has a Chance the Rapper poster on his wall. He looks and acts nothing like previous Peter Parker types — Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland — and that’s great. Hey, if Cate Blanchett can play Bob Dylan in a movie, why not offer us a new look on Spidey?

Produced by Phillip Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo behind the acclaimed “The Lego Movie,” this Spider-Man saga pops with outstanding animation, constantly changing its styles. At times, it can be hyper-real, then surreal. It includes anime, slo-mo, color distortion, Pop art, hand-drawn elements, CG animation and even tweaks its own origins by adding dialogue in little panels.

The animators place their story in a wonderfully gritty New York, complete with screeching, graffiti-streaked subway cars and charmless pedestrians. One quibble: Their ability to have things in the foreground appear in sharp relief while objects in the background bleed away makes it seem as if you’re watching a 3D film without those weird glasses.

Our hero Miles (Shameik Moore) is trying to navigate life between his cop dad (Brian Tyree Henry) and his cooler uncle (Mahershala Ali). After being bitten by a radioactive spider, he witnesses the death of Spider-Man. But Miles soon learns there are many other Spider-People, freed from their realities by the hulking Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who has built a nuclear collider that allows access to alternative universes.

“New Girl” star Jake Johnson voices a flabbier and depressed Peter Parker who wears sweat pants and is going through a divorce to Mary Jane. There’s a fedora-wearing, black-and-white Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) who has been teleported from battling Nazis. There’s also a cool-girl Spider-Gwen played by Hailee Steinfeld, and Kimiko Glenn voices an anime schoolgirl from the future. And there’s Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) who is rooted in Saturday morning kiddie cartoons, including the use of a dropping anvil.

This odd family unites to take down Kingpin and return to their universes, winking forever at themselves and the viewer, not a little like the “Deadpool.” Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman — Rothman and Phil Lord wrote the story — also ground the tale with a great soundtrack that includes Elliphant, Run-DMC, The Notorious B.I.G., James Brown and Nicki Minaj.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG for “for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements and mild language.” Running time: 117 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show vocalist Ray Sawyer dies at 81


Ray Sawyer of the rock band Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show.

Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP) — Guitarist and vocalist Ray Sawyer of the rock band Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show died last week at the age of 81.

Wearing a black eyepatch, Sawyer was the face of the band as they produced several hits in the 1970s.

His agent, Mark Lyman, said Sawyer died in his sleep Monday, December 31 in Daytona Beach, Florida, after a brief illness. Lyman declined to give a cause of death out of respect for his family’s privacy.

Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show’s hits included “Sylvia’s Mother,” ‘’When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman,” and “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone.’”

Sawyer wore a patch over his right eye after suffering an injury from a car accident as a young man.

Lyman says Sawyer toured up until two years ago.

Presley’s ‘Comeback Special’ still relevant, 50 years later

Elvis Presley is shown in this Aug. 1969 file photo. (AP Photo)

Adrian Sainz

Memphis, Tenn. (AP) — Elvis Presley wanted an honest answer. Steve Binder gave him one.

Presley was meeting Binder for the first time in Binder’s office in Los Angeles in 1968. A music and television producer, Binder had been asked to put together an NBC television special featuring Presley, who had become more of a movie actor than a rock ‘n’ roll singer in the 1960s when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were dominating the rock world.

Presley and Binder talked for about an hour about music and established a rapport, Binder recalls. Then Presley popped the question: “What do you think of my career?”

“I was young and brash in those days,” Binder told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I said, ‘I think it’s in the toilet.’”

According to Binder, Presley said: “Well finally, somebody’s talking straight to me.”

That meeting became a meaningful step in the creation of the one-hour TV show “Singer Presents...Elvis,” better known today as the ’68 Comeback Special. Aired on Dec. 3, 1968, the program was a rapturous return for the 33-year-old Presley, whose music had mostly stuck to soundtrack songs from his often pulpy, saccharine films. It was sponsored by Singer, the sewing machine company.

Relaxed at some points, energetic during others — and always inspired — a still-handsome Presley sounds strong and soulful. He appears genuine: He sweats, his black hair gets messed up.

The finale features an emotional Presley singing “If I Can Dream,” a moving piece written for the show that served as a response to the tumult of 1968, when the Vietnam War served as the backdrop for the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

Presley returned to prominence. He began performing for sold-out crowds in Las Vegas and produced “From Elvis in Memphis,” an album that included “Suspicious Minds” and “In the Ghetto.”

Presley’s career would slow down. He divorced his wife, Priscilla, and began abusing prescription drugs. He died of a heart attack on Aug. 16, 1977, in Memphis.

Still, his popularity has remained high. Graceland, the tourist attraction built around his former Memphis home, draws 500,000 visitors a year. HBO recently released a documentary, “Elvis Presley: The Searcher.” And his image and voice are regularly used in films, TV shows and commercials.

Much has been said about the importance of the ’68 Comeback Special to Presley’s career. In a 2008 Los Angeles Times article, writer Robert Lloyd calls it a “moment of change.”

“He regains his voice,” Lloyd writes.

Television had been an early friend to Presley. He made groundbreaking appearances on variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan and Milton Berle. Later, however, they became sources of embarrassment. Binder says Presley complained that hosts openly made fun of him.

Presley’s return to TV required a leap of faith. Binder says Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, wanted a Christmas-themed special but Blinder would have no part of it. The typically hard-nosed Parker eventually relented and the special included only a small reference to the holiday, with “Blue Christmas.”

Musical director Billy Goldenberg said he had to find a path to Presley’s “subconscious character, the things that were going on that he didn’t say, but did.”

Goldenberg also wanted to “bring Elvis into the 1960s” and make him “valid.”

NBC’s investment was validated. The special became its top-rated show of the year and has grown in stature since. A box set released in late November includes a Blu-ray version of the program, and Binder has written a book about the show.

A show he never thought would endure.

“Nothing is dated. That show could have been shot yesterday,” Binder said. “I had no idea it would ever be seen again.”

Uffizi urges Germany to return painting stolen by Nazis

Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi Gallery, poses as he holds onto a copy of a still-life “Vase of Flowers”, by Dutch artist Jan van Huysum, inside the Uffizi gallery, in Florence, Italy. (Uffizi Gallery press office via AP)

Colleen Barry

Milan (AP) — The director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is urging Germany to return a Dutch masterpiece stolen by Nazi troops during World War II, dramatizing its absence by hanging a black and white photo of the work with the label “Stolen” in three languages.

Eike Schmidt said in a New Year’s appeal that the still-life “Vase of Flowers” by Dutch artist Jan van Huysum is in the hands of a German family who hasn’t returned it despite numerous appeals. Instead, intermediaries for the family have demanded payment for its return to Italy.

“The painting is already the inalienable property of the Italian State, and thus cannot be ‘bought,’” Schmidt said.

The oil painting had been hanging as part of the Pitti Palace collection in Florence from 1824 until the outbreak of World War II. It was moved for safety during the war but was stolen by retreating German troops. It didn’t surface again until Germany’s reunification in 1991, when the offers to sell it back to Italy began.

“This story is preventing the wounds inflicted by World War II and the horrors of Nazism from healing,” said Schmidt, who is German. “Germany should not apply the statute of limitations to works of art stolen during the war, and it should take measures to ensure that those works are restored to their legitimate owners.”

He called it Germany’s “moral duty” to return the artwork, adding, “I trust that the German government will do so at the earliest opportunity, naturally along with every other work of art stolen by the Nazi Wehrmacht.”

Germany has returned 16,000 objects to Holocaust survivors and their families under a 20-year-old international agreement on returning art looted by the Nazis. But Schmidt said the so-called Washington Principles apply only to public collections, not private ones..


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