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Update February 2018

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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
Arts - Entertainment - Film Review World

Saturday, February 24, 2018 - March 2, 2018

Film Review: ‘Black Panther’ is dazzling grand-scale filmmaking

This image released by Disney shows Chadwick Boseman in a scene from Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther.” (Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios-Disney via AP)

Jake Coyle

New York (AP) - The supposedly cosmically vast Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it’s called, spans planets peppered throughout the galaxy, but Ryan Coogler’s Earth-bound “Black Panther,” glittering and galvanizing, stands worlds apart.

For those of us who have sometimes felt pummeled by the parade of previous Marvel movies, the sheer richness of Coogler’s film is almost disorienting.  Can superhero films, so often a dull mash of effects, be this dazzlingly colorful?  Are genuine cultural connections allowed in modern-day comic book blockbuster-making?  Is a $20 billion refund in order?

Unlike many of its more hollow predecessors, “Black Panther” has real, honest-to-goodness stakes.  As the most earnest and big-budget attempt yet of a black superhero film, “Black Panther” is assured of being an overdue cinematic landmark.  But it’s also simply ravishing, grand-scale filmmaking.

There are familiar Marvel beats here.  Just as he did in the surprisingly sensational Rocky reboot “Creed,” Coogler hasn’t reinvented the genre so much as electrified it with a new perspective and a rare talent for marrying naturalistic character development with spectacle muscle.

“Tell them who you are” is the encouragement shouted at the title character, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) prince of the African nation Wakanda.  But it could just as well serve as the overarching rally cry of a film that for many symbolizes a big-screen affirmation of African-American identity.  “Black Panther” stands for everything that’s been missing from Marvel’s — and Hollywood’s — universe.

Coogler opens with exposition on Wakanda, a mighty African country that appears from the outside, as one Westerner sneers, as “Third World.”  But hidden from sight is a shimmering, technologically advanced metropolis whose stealthy growth has been fueled by vibranium, a cosmic mineral deposited deep in its mountains by a meteorite thousands of years earlier.  Vibranium makes up the suit that T’Challa dons as Black Panther, and its power is much guarded.  An early flashback, to 1992 Oakland, California, shows one Wakandan’s failed efforts to smuggle Vibranium in order to empower struggling African-Americans.

When the king of Wakanda dies, T’Challa returns home to take the throne, where he finds the country’s five tribes — each with their own distinct color and attire — are beginning to bubble with discord.  W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) of the Border Tribe, in particular, would like to see the historically isolationist Wakanda give more in foreign aid and to refugees.

The issue is brought to the fore by an unknown Wakandan exile, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), an American-made soldier who aspires to take Wakanda’s power to rebalance black power around the globe.  “The world’s gonna start over and this time we’re on top,” he vows in the film’s climactic moments.

But his mission isn’t initially so clear, as he and a band of rogues, led by Andy Serkis’ black-market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue, begin causing havoc for T’Challa.  Boseman’s Panther is a politician at heart who’s virtually always flanked by a trio of powerful women: Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, part of Wakanda’s all-female special forces, the Dora Milaje; the special forces leader Okoye (Danai Gurira); and his younger sister Shuri (a terrific Letitia Wright, who supplies most of the film’s comic moments).

There are the expected special effects set-pieces and a very Bond-like trip to a South Korean casino.  But the conflict at the heart of “Black Panther” is between separate factions of an African diaspora in a mythological realm filled with colonizers and racists who curse the Wakandan as “savages.”  It’s powerful myth-making not just for its obvious timeliness but for the film’s sincere grappling with heritage and destiny.

The traditional-meets-futuristic costumes and jewelry, by Ruth E. Carter, are ravishingly detailed.  T’Challa’s mystical visit to his ancestors is gloriously rendered on a twilight plain beneath a pink-hued sky and the glowing eyes of panthers in a tree.  And most of all, Jordan’s bitter, wounded warrior is uncommonly tender.  He is a “villain” only in quotes; his means are extreme but his cause is just.

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther first appeared in 1966.  But the character has sparked the imaginations of many since, including the filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, the author Ta-Nehisi Coates and Wesley Snipes, who labored for years to adapt the comic into a movie.  (Ironically it was Snipes’ 1998 superhero film “Blade” that kicked off Marvel’s box-office success.)

It’s easy to lament how long it took to bring “Black Panther” to the big screen.  But at least the wait was worth it.

“Black Panther,” a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.” Running time: 134 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

Judas Priest guitarist Tipton won’t tour due to Parkinson’s


In this Oct. 24, 2015 file photo, Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest performs in San Bernardino, Calif. (Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)

Wayne Parry

London (AP) - Parkinson’s disease has forced legendary guitarist Glenn Tipton to drop out of the upcoming Judas Priest tour.

The British rockers say Tipton is stepping down from touring due to the ailment, which began to afflict him a decade ago.  In a statement the band said Tipton can still play some of their less-challenging songs, but he insisted that a replacement be named for the tour.

Tipton will be replaced on the band’s “Firepower” tour by Andy Sneap, a veteran heavy metal producer, and the guitarist for the British band Hell.

“I want everyone to know that it’s vital that the Judas Priest tour go ahead, and that I am not leaving the band; it’s simply that my role has changed,” Tipton said.  “I don’t rule out the chance to go on stage ... when I feel able to blast out some Priest!  So at some point in the not too distant future, I’m really looking forward to seeing all of our wonderful metal maniacs once again.”

The band’s tour begins March 13 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  Their biggest hits include “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,’ “Living After Midnight” and “Breaking The Law.”

Tipton was the lone remaining original member of Judas Priest’s twin-lead guitar attack that powered solos on tracks including “Electric Eye” and “Hell Bent For Leather.”  Guitarist Richie Faulkner replaced the other founding guitarist, K.K. Downing, in 2011.

Tipton’s bandmates Rob Halford (vocals), Ian Hill (bass), Scott Travis (drums) and Faulkner called Tipton “a true metal hero.”

“We are not surprised by Glenn’s insistence that we complete the ‘Firepower’ tour and thank Andy for joining us to make Glenn’s wishes become real,” they said.  “We have been privileged to witness Glenn’s determination and steadfast commitment over the years, showing his passion and self-belief through the writing, recording and performing sessions with Priest.”

Last month, Neil Diamond announced his retirement from touring, also citing Parkinson’s.

Metallica, Afghan ensemble win 2018 Polar Music Prize

Lars Ulrich of Metallica.
(Photo/Wikipedia commons)

Copenhagen (AP) - American heavy metal band Metallica and Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music have won the 2018 Polar Music Prizes, a Swedish award.

It is the first time a heavy metal band gets an award given each year for significant achievements in music.

The award panel said Metallica had “through virtuoso ensemble playing and its use of extremely accelerated tempos” taken rock music “to places it had never been before.”  It said the Afghan ensemble “revives Afghan music, and shows you can transform lives through music.”

Drummer Lars Ulrich, who co-founded Metallica, said getting the prize “puts us in very distinguished company.”

They have been invited to receive their awards, including a cash prize of 1 million kronor ($124,000) each, on June 14 from members of the Swedish royal family in Stockholm.

‘Peter Rabbit’ team apologizes for making light of allergies

This image released by Columbia Pictures shows Peter Rabbit, voiced by James Corden, in a scene from “Peter Rabbit”. (Columbia Pictures/Sony via AP)

Los Angeles (AP) — “Peter Rabbit” filmmakers and the studio behind it are apologizing for insensitively depicting a character’s allergy in the film that has prompted backlash online.

Sony Pictures said in a joint statement with the filmmakers that “food allergies and are a serious issue” and the film “should not have made light” of a character being allergic to blackberries “even in a cartoonish, slapstick way.”

In “Peter Rabbit”, the character of Mr. McGregor is allergic to blackberries.  The rabbits fling the fruit at him in a scene and he is forced to use an EpiPen.

The charity group Kids with Food Allergies posted a warning about the scene on its Facebook page prompting some on Twitter to start using the hashtag #boycottpeterrabbit.  The group said that allergy jokes are harmful to their community and that making light of the condition “encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously.”

Kenneth Mendez, the president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, wrote an open letter to the studio asking for the opportunity to educate the company and the film’s cast on the realities of food allergies and urged the studio to “examine your portrayal of bullying in your films geared toward a young audience.”

The studio and filmmakers say that they, “Sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”

February 17, 2018 - February 23, 2018

Film Review: ‘Downsizing,’ a big-picture film about little people

In this image Matt Damon appears in a scene from “Downsizing.” (Paramount Pictures via AP)

Jocelyn Noveck

Los Angeles (AP) - It’s hard to say what’s better about the first half of Alexander Payne’s wonderfully weird — or is it weirdly wonderful? — “Downsizing”: the audacity of its premise, or the delicious skill with which Payne executes that premise, detail by comically ingenious detail.

The fact that the film shifts discernibly in the second half, going places and tackling ideas one wouldn’t necessarily expect, will surely disappoint some and please others.  But there’s no doubt about one thing: the director’s considerable talent is on full display here.  Let him keep shifting; we’ll keep watching.

As we’ve seen in films like “Nebraska,” ‘’About Schmidt” and others, Payne likes to make movies about what some might call small people: ordinary folks in unremarkable places, struggling to make things work.  In “Downsizing,” he’s made a movie about really small people.  As in, five inches tall.

We begin with a groundbreaking discovery.  A renowned Norwegian scientist has figured out how humans can reduce their footprint and save Earth from overpopulation. It’s called downsizing, and it’s irreversible — but if enough people do it, it could save humanity.  Paul Safranek (an excellent Matt Damon in the ultimate Everyman role), an occupational therapist at an Omaha meat company, watches on television with astonishment.

Shift to 10 years later.  Downsizing is catching on.  Entire communities have sprouted up around the world.  Paul and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), childless and still living in the house where Paul grew up, attend a school reunion.  Suddenly, Paul’s now-five inch friend, Dave (Jason Sudeikis), and his wife are wheeled in.  “Dave?  He never struck me as the kind of guy who’d go get small!,” Paul marvels.  Later, Dave, perched on a cracker box on the kitchen counter, explains the best thing about going small: the economic benefits.  At that size, you can live in total luxury for a fraction of the price.  Forget the planet, Dave says — “downsizing is about saving yourself.”

Paul and Audrey go visit Leisureland, a top-notch downsized community, and a saleswoman explains how they’d suddenly be multi-millionaires, able to afford a mansion with a pool and tennis court.  (In a hilarious cameo, small people Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern demonstrate the good life — and the cheap price of tiny diamond jewelry.)  Soon, Paul and Audrey decide to take the plunge.  They put their wedding rings in a keepsake box, and head off.

At the facility, the couple are separated into gender-specific downsizing areas, where they’ll be shrunk to .0364 per cent of their original body volume.  First, body hair must be shaven off, for obvious reasons.  Dental technicians remove gold tooth fillings, or else heads will explode.  Workers go down the assembly line after mass reduction is completed, scooping up miniature people with spatulas like fresh-baked cookies.

When Paul awakes, he’ll be greeted by a surprise we won’t reveal.  Suffice it to say that a year later, things aren’t going well.  Then he meets his neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz), a Serbian playboy who has a shady trade business and throws noisy parties with his wealthy friend, Konrad, who notes that being small is great because you’re instantly rich — unless you’re poor, “and then you’re just small.”

It is through Dusan that Paul meets someone who will change his life — not to mention change the tone and direction of the rest of the film.  Her name is Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau, in a terrific breakout performance), a Vietnamese dissident who was downsized against her will and arrived in America in a TV box.  She survives by cleaning houses, and lives in a slum — yes, there are slums in downsized communities, too — behind a big wall.

The last part of the film takes the group to the idyllic fjords of Norway, where the original downsized community still exists.  It is here where the issue of climate change and the earth’s sustainability take centre stage.  Revealing any more would spoil the surprise.

Except to say that Paul, through his new friends, learns more than he expected about making a difference in the world — and what it means to be big or small.

Spoiler alert: It might not be about size.

“Downsizing,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use.” Running time: 135 minutes.  Three stars out of four.

Brush up on your Klingon for a new vacation hotspot

‘Klingon ambassadors’ hold a presentation of Klingon culture at a theater in Stockholm, Saturday, Feb. 3. (AP Photo/David Keyton)

David Keyton

Stockholm (AP) — In search of a new and different vacation spot, with great food and cultural delights?  Look no further.

A theater in Stockholm is playing host to a Klingon delegation seeking to promote tourism to Qo’nos (pronounced “Kronos”), the home planet of the ruthless yet honorable race of warriors from the cult TV franchise “Star Trek.”

The event shows off the best of the race’s culture, including opera, martial arts and culinary delights such as Gagh — a delicacy of well-seasoned live worms — and blood wine.

Along with a stage presentation — offered four times a week in English and Klingon — the lobby of the Turteatern has displays offering vacation packages to Qo’nos, extolling the merits of Klingon culinary tours (“the best kept secret of the Beta Quadrant”), and seeking to attract students to courses at the military academy (“find your inner warrior in outer space”).

Star Trek fans were out in force earlier this month for the show’s premiere, eager for first contact with Klingons.  “I think it was a really good show,” said Urban Andersson, chairman of the Stockholm Trekkers association, dressed in his Star Fleet uniform.

Many fans were relieved to see that the visitors from Qo’nos resembled the Klingons from the 1990s “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” rather than from “Star Trek: Discovery,” the latest installment produced by CBS.

“They are exactly the way I expected them to be,” said Snoret Linden, dressed as a Star Fleet ‘Trill,’ a humanoid species from the planet Trill.

It was a point stressed by the Klingons themselves, who had a message for Quentin Tarantino, director of the upcoming “Star Trek” movie.

“We have seen Discovery.  We do not approve of this malicious portrayal of Klingons,” said Ambassador Ban’Shee of the House of Duras.

“Treat our race honorably in your upcoming picture and we will let you lick our feet.  Fail, and pray for mercy.”

The show runs until the end of March.

Director Ridley Scott to be honored by British film academy


Film director Ridley Scott.
(Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

London (AP) - “Blade Runner” director Ridley Scott is to receive the British Academy Film Awards’ highest honor.

The academy announced earlier this month that the 80-year-old filmmaker will collect the BAFTA Fellowship at the British academy awards ceremony.

Scott’s films include “Alien,” ‘’Thelma and Louise” and “Gladiator.”

His latest release is kidnap drama “All the Money in the World,” which underwent last-minute reshoots to replace Kevin Spacey after allegations of sexual misconduct.

Scott said it was “very gratifying” to be honored for his body of work.

The fellowship is awarded to one person a year for “outstanding and exceptional contribution to film, games or television.” Previous recipients include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Elizabeth Taylor and Judi Dench.

The awards ceremony takes place Feb. 18 at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Lady Gaga cancels European tour dates due to ‘severe pain’

Lady Gaga. (AP Photo)

London (AP) — Lady Gaga has canceled 10 concerts in Europe because of severe pain, the tour’s promoter said.

Live Nation said the musician is “suffering from severe pain that has materially impacted her ability to perform live.”

In a statement posted on social media, Lady Gaga said she was “devastated” to disappoint her fans.  She said her medical team “is supporting the decision for me to recover at home.”

The singer had been due to play this month at London’s O2 Arena as part of her Joanne World Tour. The other canceled concerts were in Manchester; Zurich; Cologne, Germany; Stockholm; Copenhagen, Denmark; Berlin and two shows in Paris.

Lady Gaga previously postponed her European shows in September after being hospitalized in Rio de Janeiro suffering from “severe physical pain.”

In her statement, Gaga apologized to fans in Europe and Rio, saying “I love you, but this is beyond my control.”

She resumed the tour in North America in November and in January played several dates in Europe.

The 31-year old singer-songwriter, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, has spoken about suffering from fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition.

Lady Gaga has been open about her physical and mental health struggles, saying in September she has been “searching for years to get to the bottom of them.”

Paul Simon announces his upcoming tour will be his last

Musician Paul Simon is shown in this Sept. 22, 2016 file photo.
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Mark Kennedy

New York (AP) — Only a few days after Elton John announced he will retire from touring in three years, another venerable music figure is throwing in the touring towel — Paul Simon.

Simon, 76, took to social media last week to say his upcoming tour will be his last, citing the personal toll of touring and the death of his lead guitarist, Vincent N’guini.

“I feel the travel and time away from my wife and family takes a toll that detracts from the joy of playing,” he wrote.  Retiring from the road “feels a little unsettling, a touch exhilarating, and something of a relief.”

His “Homeward Bound — The Farewell Tour” kicks off in May in Vancouver, Canada, and will take him across North America and Europe.  His last date is July 15 in London with James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt as special guests.

Simon’s best-known songs include “The Sound of Silence,” ‘’Mrs. Robinson,” ‘’Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.”

Paul Simon is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, both as a member of Simon & Garfunkel and as a solo artist.  The singer-songwriter said he will still do the “occasional performance” after his last tour.

Late last month, the 70-year-old Elton John said his upcoming would tour would be his last, saying he wanted to spend time with his family.  His “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour will end in 2021.

Update Saturday, February 10, 2018 - February 16, 2018

Film Review: Forward motion of ‘Maze Runner’ stalls in 3rd entry


This image shows (foreground from left) Dylan O’Brien, Giancarlo Esposito and Rosa Salazar in a scene from “Maze Runner: The Death Cure.” (Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Jake Coyle

New York (AP) — Moviegoers who come late to the “Maze Runner” franchise, which now numbers three, will doubtless have one very reasonable question: Where, pray tell, are all the mazes I was promised?

Alas, the maze of “Maze Runner” — referred to as “the Glade” by the few dozen teenagers who were mysteriously dropped into it — has been in the rearview since the first 2014 installment, a modestly budgeted YA adaption and a bit of a “Hunger Games” knockoff. But what the two sequels, first “Maze Runner: Scorch Trials” and now “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” have lacked in labyrinths, they have made up for in running.

Literal running but also a genuinely kinetic forward movement. The “Maze Runner” films, which have all been directed by former visual effects supervisor Wes Ball, move better than the average dystopia.  So many fantasies bog themselves down with backstory and world-explaining, but the chief pleasure of the “Maze Runner” films is that the characters are perpetually grasping their predicament right along with the audience.

And like the previous chapters, “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” picks up right in medias res.  Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his close-knit crew of escapees-turned-rebel fighters (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Rosa Salazar, Barry Pepper) speed after a train on a desolate plain, hop aboard, and when security guards for the nefarious organization called WCKD (short for World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department, and pronounced “wicked”) start swarming, they outwit them, and, somehow, fly away with a train car full of kids.

They are among the few left on Earth immune to a virus that turns all into zombies.  In “Maze Runner,” they escaped the enormous concrete maze they were plopped into with their memories erased.  By “Scorch Trials,” they realized the institution that sheltered them (WCKD, under the command of an icy scientist played by Patricia Clarkson and a severe commander played by Aidan Gillen) wasn’t to be trusted.  They broke out and joined with a band of resistance fighters.  In “The Death Cure,” they try to free the remaining lab rats, including their pal Minho (Ki Hong Lee), who are housed in the last remaining city, a walled-in cluster of skyscrapers.

The “Maze Runner” trilogy has essentially skipped from high school (the Glade) to college (WCKD) and finally into the urban workplace.  Just one with, you know, zombies and poor health care options.  But these are very sincere movies about the fellowship of friends trying to survive together and figure out just who they can trust.  There is a drinking game’s worth of moments where a character vows not leave their buddy behind.

“The Death Cure” is the biggest budgeted, most bloated and longest running entry for the franchise.  It maintains the movies’ quick pace before stalling in an overlong finale.  It should be a mutually understood condition that if you’re going to name your movie “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” you’ve got to turn in a cut under two hours.

Think too much about the plot and it will surely spoil the fun of “The Death Cure.”  WCKD may be an imperfect organization, but then again, the fate of the human race hangs in the balance.  WCKD’s chief motivation is to study the blood of the immune so that an antidote can be discovered.  Literally millions of lives would be saved if only a millennial listened.

But if the “Maze Runner” films have chronicled major stages of young adulthood, they have graduated a few along the way.  O’Brien has shouldered the films well, even as much of their enjoyment derives from the scattered ensemble of characters actors (Giancarlo Esposito, Will Poulter, Walton Goggins).  But Ball’s command of the camera and his ability to hurtle his character through science-fiction realms has visibly grown through the three movies.  For too long “The Death Cure” stays in one place; it’s best when on the move.  And now, it’s probably time for Ball to move on, too.

“The Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements.” Running time: 142 minutes.  Two stars out of four.

Jam-packed Super Bowl show fails to dazzle

Justin Timberlake performs during halftime of the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots Sunday, Feb. 4, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

David Bauder

New York (AP) - Justin Timberlake ended his Super Bowl halftime show last Sunday with no unintentionally exposed body parts.

Still, the singer made reference to the infamous 2004 Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction,” the incident where he raised a ruckus by yanking off part of Janet Jackson’s costume and freeing her bare breast.

Timberlake played “Rock Your Body,” the same song he performed with Jackson 14 years ago that resulted in “nipplegate.”  This time, though, Timberlake omitted the lyric that proclaims “bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song.”

It may have been the only thing left out of the halftime show, where Timberlake seemed intent upon involving everyone in the stadium except the Eagles and Patriots.  He appeared to try every idea thrown at him in production meetings.

One may have worked well — opening his set in the bowels of the stadium in what was made to seem like a small club — if the performance hadn’t rendered his new single “Filthy” unintelligible.

Timberlake climbed steps out into the stadium, down a runway to a stage while singing “Rock Your Body.”  He was constantly surrounded by dancers, enthusiastic musicians and jumping audience members, so much so that it made the star of the show seem small.

He danced on the NFL’s midfield logo, brought out a marching band dressed in tuxedos, gave audience members giant reflecting mirrors, played at a gleaming white piano, had two elaborate stage sets and even climbed into the audience to take “selfies” with a young fan.

Sitting at the piano, he performed a “duet” with the Twin Cities’ late star, Prince, whose image was projected on a giant scrim beside Timberlake.  It was a touching tribute, particularly when cameras outside the stadium caught Prince’s insignia in lights, although the song choice of “I Would Die For U” felt unnecessarily macabre.

Timberlake was at his best in his breezy hits “Sexyback” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” which emphasized his appeal as an adept song-and-dance man.  It was why the NFL brought him back despite the history with Jackson.  In fact, a backlash had grown recently among people who wondered why Jackson seems to be forever punished for the “wardrobe malfunction” while Timberlake skated by.

Perhaps that left him feeling that he had to try too hard to get back into the public’s graces.

He wasn’t the only performer at the Super Bowl.  Leslie Odom Jr. performed “America the Beautiful” before the game and Pink sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” perhaps the most anticipated version of the national anthem in Super Bowl history.

After a season where a political controversy was caused by some NFL players who protested against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem, cameras watched to see if the Super Bowl would be used as a protest venue.  But none of the players took part in any demonstration.

Pink took a throat lozenge out from her mouth before singing.  She seemed to sing to a pre-recorded track, since the performance had an orchestra accompaniment and there wasn’t one on the field.

Viva Forever? Ex-Spice Girls meet up amid reunion rumors

In this Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012 file photo, British band ‘The Spice Girls’ perform during the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

London (AP) - All five former members of the Spice Girls have met up amid rumors of a plan to reunite the girl-power group.

Photos posted by several group members on social media showed Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham, Melanie “Sporty Spice” Chisholm, Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton, Melanie “Scary Spice” Brown and Geri “Ginger Spice” Horner.

They had been seen earlier last week arriving at Horner’s home north of London, along with former manager Simon Fuller.

The Sun newspaper reported the quintet is considering several projects, including a TV talent show, though not a live tour.

The Spice Girls were a 1990s phenomenon, with hits including “Wannabe.”  They split in 2000 and last reunited at the 2012 London Olympics.

Now the group’s highest-profile member is Beckham, a fashion designer married to former soccer star David Beckham.

Helen Mirren talks ‘Winchester’ film, impact of gun deaths

Actress Helen Mirren is shown in this Nov. 11, 2017 file photo. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Mike Cidoni Lennox

Los Angeles (AP) - Helen Mirren says her new film “Winchester” isn’t a horror flick, but rather a ghost story with foreign roots and a distinct American element — the psychological impact of gun deaths.

Mirren plays the real-life Sarah Winchester, a 19th-century heiress who inherited a massive fortune from her husband’s creation of the Winchester repeating rifle shortly after the Civil War.  In the film, Winchester believes she is haunted by those killed by the firearm, which allowed for more rapid firing than previous rifles.

“It’s a ghost story, hopefully in the tradition, the very grand tradition, of Japanese ghost stories, ghost films,” Mirren said in a recent interview.  “You know, the Japanese love ghost stories and have great belief in the power of the ancestor spirits, of the ancestors, as many cultures do.”

Part of the film was shot at Winchester’s mansion in San Jose, California, where she moved after the death of her husband in 1881.  Now known as the “Winchester Mystery House,” it is a popular tourist attraction and has more than 160 rooms, 10 thousand windows, two thousand doors and forty staircases.

According the lore around Winchester’s life, she ordered constant construction on the home to try to confuse the ghosts she believed were haunting her.

“There are many theories why she did this,” Mirren said.  “And one of the theories that we explore in the film was that she was trying to placate the ghosts of the people who’d been killed by the Winchester rifle.  She felt their deaths very strongly.  She felt responsible.  She felt the weight of their deaths upon them.  And she was trying, in her own way, to placate their spirits.”

Despite “Winchester’s” themes, Mirren, 72, said the film isn’t trying to make any broad statements about gun ownership in America.

“What I like about it and I think ... about America is that it doesn’t deal with whether you can carry guns or not.  That’s kind of not the issue,” she said.  “The issue is more putting the question mark or the weight of moral decision upon the people who make a fortune from making arms — whether they’re guns, bombs, grenades ... or whatever it is.  It puts a moral decision upon the people who make huge fortunes from making them.”

Update Saturday, February 3, 2018 - February 9, 2018

Film Review: Hemsworth leads a solid wartime film in ‘12 Strong’

This image shows Chris Hemsworth (center) in a scene from “12 Strong.” (David James/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - In the days and months following the Sept. 11 attacks, a small U.S. Special Forces unit led an offensive against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  They worked in harsh conditions alongside a local warlord and his men, an uneasy alliance at best, and, even with all the technology and money of the U.S. military, executed the successful mission largely on horseback.

The operation — Task Force Dagger — was classified for years and explored later in Doug Stanton’s 2009 book “Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan.”  It provides the basis for “12 Strong,” a long-in-the-works adaptation from producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“Black Hawk Down”) and director Nicolai Fuglsig, a Danish photojournalist who has shot the war in Kosovo, a Levi’s short film, and a Coca-Cola spot in his eclectic career.

Films about U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have a somewhat dicey track record.  They can veer from too sentimental to too macho and bloviating depending on who’s in front of and behind the camera.  But “12 Strong” is, while perhaps not the deepest entry, a very solid movie with an engaging story, script and cast led by Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth.

Only slightly camouflaged behind a modern haircut and some manicured stubble, Hemsworth is Capt. Mitch Nelson, who is on leave with his young daughter and wife (played by his real-life spouse Elsa Pataky) but springs into action at the sight of the World Trade Center falling on the news.  He raises his hand to assemble a team and get over to Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Before that happens, however, we must sit through another obligatory farewell-to-the-families sequence to remind us that many of these guys have wives and children to get back to — some of whom are withholding sex as incentive for a quick homecoming and others who couldn’t be any crueler to a member of their family whom they very well might never see again. (There must be a way to make these scenes feel less rote.)

It’s when the men get to the Middle East that the film becomes truly gripping, thanks to an ominous score, a hair-raising helicopter ride that rivals moments in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” and the inherent tension of a mission that, as Nelson puts it, has no playbook.  Their task is to meet up with Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum (an excellent Navid Negahban) who may be equally motivated to fight the Taliban if properly persuaded.

Dostum and Nelson form a tenuous bond that is tested throughout the film, as they trade the shield of modern technology for horses and mules to cross the treacherous landscape (New Mexico plays Afghanistan here). The action sequences are riveting, if a little numbing at times, and their evolving mission is engaging throughout.

What separates “12 Strong” from the pack, however, is its ability to introduce and stay with a band of brothers worth caring about. In addition to Hemsworth, they are played by Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Austin Stowell, Ben O’Toole, Austin Hebert, Kenneth Miller, Kenny Sheard and Jack Kesy. The dialogue (Ted Tally and Peter Craig have screenplay credits) is more crackling than standard wartime action pic fare, and actors like Hemsworth, Shannon and Pena make it their own too.

Politics and consequences, both before and after this mission, are of little interest to the filmmakers beyond wistful musings of Dostum, who makes passing comments about how Afghanistan is the “graveyard of many empires” and how the U.S. forces will be cowards if they leave and enemies if they stay.

But stirring and solid, “12 Strong” is the kind of film that might make you think twice about January releases, and spotlights a riveting story in our recent history that many Americans might not know.

“12 Strong,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “war violence and language throughout.” Running time: 130 minutes.  Two and a half stars out of four.

Diamond says he has Parkinson’s, retires from touring


Neil Diamond is shown performing on NBC’s “Today” show in New York in this Oct. 20, 2014 file photo. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

New York (AP) — Neil Diamond is retiring from touring after he says he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Days shy of his 77th birthday, the rock legend canceled his tour dates in Australia and New Zealand for March.  He was on his 50th anniversary tour.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer offered his “sincerest apologies” to those who planned to go to his shows and says he plans to still write, record and work on other projects “for a long time to come.”

Diamond’s numerous hits include “Sweet Caroline,” ‘’America,” ‘’Love on the Rocks” and “Hello Again.”

Diamond turned 77 on January 24 and was due to receive a lifetime achievement award at last Sunday’s Grammy awards.

Bruno Mars crashes rap’s big party at the Grammys

Bruno Mars poses in the press room with his awards at the 60th annual Grammy Awards ceremony in New York, Sunday, Jan. 28. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

David Bauder

New York (AP) — The Grammy Awards seemed poised to make this a triumphant year for rap at music’s showcase event — until Bruno Mars crashed the party.

The song-and-dance man from Hawaii won all six awards he was nominated for last Sunday night, including the three most prestigious Grammys for song (“That’s What I Like”), record (“24K Magic”) and album of the year.  His music also dominated the rhythm and blues categories.

The Grammys also saw Kendrick Lamar win five awards, Jay-Z go home empty-handed, some memorable performances by the likes of Lamar, Kesha, Mars and Logic, an odd oversight of singer Lorde and a surprise cameo from Hillary Clinton.

In accepting a trophy for the album “24K Magic,” Mars recalled when he was 15 and singing shows for tourists.  He’d perform hits written by Babyface, Teddy Riley and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and loved looking down from the stage to see people from all over the world who had never met dancing together and toasting one another.

“All I ever wanted to do with this album was that,” he said. “These songs were written with nothing but joy.”

Mars has won 11 Grammys in his career.

His success, however, instantly became a target for second-guessers, similar to people befuddled last year when Adele won album of the year over Beyonce.  Social media filled with commentary about whether Lamar’s hard-hitting disc “DAMN” was more deserving.  One meme that spread on Twitter showed Houston Rocket James Harden rolling his eyes in supposed “reaction” to the news.

Beyond being a critical favorite, Lamar seemed primed to be the evening’s star.  He opened the Grammys with a hard-hitting medley that depicted black dancers falling to the floor to symbolize being shot, and won the night’s first televised award.  His work swept the rap categories, the prime factor in the night’s most-nominated artist, Jay-Z, winning nothing.

Lamar paid tribute to Jay-Z and other forebears in accepting a Grammy.

“I thought it was about the accolades and the cars and the clothes,” he said.  “But it really is about expressing yourself and putting that paint on the canvas for the world to evolve for the next listener, the next generation after that.  Hip-hop has done that for me.”

Clinton’s appearance was the punchline for a skit where host James Corden pretended to cast celebrities for what he thought would be a sure-fire Grammy contender for spoken world performance next year, reading from Michael Wolff’s best-seller about the Trump administration, “Fire and Fury.”  Cher, John Legend and Snoop Dogg left him frustrated, but then Clinton lowered a copy of the opened book in front of her face to reveal herself.

The attempt at humor wasn’t a hit with everyone: President Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tweeted that the skit ruined the show for her.

Most of the show’s political references — to topics like gun violence, immigration reform and women’s rights — were carefully scripted.

Kesha was joined by Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, Andra Day and others in a performance of her Grammy-nominated song “Praying,” which is about fighting back from abuse.  Singer Janelle Monae introduced Kesha and tied the appearance to the current flood of women speaking up about sexual misconduct. 

“We come in peace but we mean business.  To those who would dare try to silence us, we offer two words: Time’s Up,” Monae said.  “It’s not just going on in Hollywood.  It’s not just going on in Washington.  It’s here in our industry, too.”

The show also featured a somber performance of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” by country artists Maren, Eric Church and the Osborne Brothers.  All were on the bill for the Las Vegas show in October that was torn apart by a mass shooter.

Social media was curious about the seeming snub of album of the year nominee Lorde.  She wasn’t among the night’s performers, even as classic rockers Sting and U2 made multiple appearances.

“It’s hard to have a balanced show and have everybody involved,” Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said backstage.  “Every year’s different.  We can’t have a performance from every nominee.”

The Grammys were also a clear example of rock ‘n’ roll’s decline as a creative force.  No rock awards were given during the televised portion of the Grammys.  Sting sang a 30-year-old hit and the majority of rock’s references were about artists who had died like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Tom Petty.

The Rolling Stones, once judged rock’s kingpins, won the third Grammy of their career — for best traditional blues recording.

Alessia Cara won the Grammy for best new artist, and remembered the time when she would “win” Grammys in her dreams while singing in the shower.

Chris Stapleton won three Grammys in country categories.  Other multiple winners included Ed Sheeran, CeCe Winans, Justin Hurwitz and Jason Isbell.

The late Leonard Cohen won a Grammy for his performance of “You Want it Darker.” Actress Carrie Fisher and sound engineer Tom Coyne were other posthumous winners.

‘Hobbit’ director Peter Jackson making WWI documentary

New Zealand film director Peter Jackson.
(AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) - “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson is going from Middle Earth to the Western Front, transforming grainy black-and-white footage of World War I into 3-D color for a new documentary film.

Jackson’s movie, announced last week, is among dozens of artworks commissioned by British cultural bodies to commemorate 100 years since the final year of the 1914-18 war.

The New Zealand-based director of “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” series has restored film from the Imperial War Museum using cutting-edge digital technology and hand coloring, pairing it with archive audio recollections from veterans of the conflict.

He said the aim is to close the 100-year time gap and show “what it was like to fight in the war.”

“We all know what First World War footage looks like,” Jackson said.  “It’s sped-up, it’s fast, like Charlie Chaplin, grainy, jumpy, scratchy, and it immediately blocks you from actually connecting with the events on screen.

“But the results we have got are absolutely unbelievable.  They are way beyond what I expected.

“This footage looks like it was shot in the last week or two, with high definition cameras.”

The film will premiere during the London Film Festival in October before being broadcast on BBC television.  Every school in the U.K. will also receive a copy.

The film is part of the government-backed 14-18 Now project, which has presented works by more than 200 artists over four years to remember a conflict in which 20 million people died.

Other works premiering this year include a large-scale performance piece by South African artist William Kentridge about African porters who served in the war; processions to mark the 100th anniversary of some British women winning the right to vote; and a performance celebrating wartime homing pigeons that includes birds fitted with LED lights.

“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle — who helmed the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony — will create a mass-participation work to be performed on the anniversary of the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice that ended the war.



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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

‘Black Panther’ is dazzling grand-scale filmmaking

Judas Priest guitarist Tipton won’t tour due to Parkinson’s

Metallica, Afghan ensemble win 2018 Polar Music Prize

‘Peter Rabbit’ team apologizes for making light of allergies

‘Downsizing,’ a big-picture film about little people

Brush up on your Klingon for a new vacation hotspot

Director Ridley Scott to be honored by British film academy

Lady Gaga cancels European tour dates due to ‘severe pain’

Paul Simon announces his upcoming tour will be his last

Forward motion of ‘Maze Runner’ stalls in 3rd entry

Jam-packed Super Bowl show fails to dazzle

Viva Forever? Ex-Spice Girls meet up amid reunion rumors

Helen Mirren talks ‘Winchester’ film, impact of gun deaths

Hemsworth leads a solid wartime film in ‘12 Strong’

Diamond says he has Parkinson’s, retires from touring

Bruno Mars crashes rap’s big party at the Grammys

‘Hobbit’ director Peter Jackson making WWI documentary

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