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Update May 2018

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May 26, 2018 - June 1, 2018

Film Review: A scoundrel is born in Star Wars spinoff ‘Solo’

This image released by Lucasfilm shows Alden Ehrenreich and Joonas Suotamo in a scene from “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” (Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - If there’s one takeaway from “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” it’s that our favorite scoundrel had been through a lot before he ever met up with Luke, Obi-Wan and Leia.

Sure, he’d talked up his Kessel Run time and out-maneuvering Imperial ships, but this film contains at least three epic set-pieces, involving a job atop a high-speed train careening around a snowy mountain, a fiery space showdown with a squid-like super monster and an explosion-filled shootout, that are so spectacular that they have the effect of making what Han ends up going through in “Episode IV” and beyond seem suspiciously tame by comparison. Bigger, louder, and more, more, more seem to be the guiding principles of the film and while on their own they might make a pleasurable romp, it’s dubious as to whether or not these pre-Skywalker adventures have really added anything of value to the character. There’s an argument to be made that it might even undermine his hero’s arc in the first film.

It’s the overriding issue with “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which had baggage from the get-go. Unlike a character from a book or a play, Han Solo didn’t exist outside of Harrison Ford, and the two are now linked by over 40 years of goodwill and nostalgia. Although no character is so precious that they can’t break from the actor who made them memorable — even Indiana Jones had two younger versions of himself — it’s still not an enviable position to be in. You’re at a disadvantage before you start.

The man who took the job, Alden Ehrenreich, does not look or sound like Ford, and it’s difficult to adjust at the beginning. You can’t help but scrutinize every gesture, every smirk, every aside as you try to get used to him. Eventually you do, and the talented Ehrenreich wins you over with his execution, capturing Han’s spirit, his sarcasm, egotism and charm with apparent ease.

Co-written by Star Wars royalty Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan Kasdan, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” introduces Han on his home planet of Corellia, where he serves under a local mob boss and dreams of fleeing, becoming a pilot and owning a ship.

The early scenes are incredibly dark, literally. Shot by cinematographer Bradford Young, it’s an interesting aesthetic choice, likely meant to lend a vintage vibe, but also distracting as though you’re watching a worn VHS copy of “Episode IV,” where faces are only clear in extreme close-up and even then it’s still through a thick layer of fog and gauze (it clears up eventually).

Young Han is scrappy and overconfident and makes things up as he goes along, unafraid to lie or trust his gut. It’s how he ends up not only getting out, but escaping military service and hooking up with a band of outlaws led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who functions as mentor and possible cautionary tale for the impressionable Han.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to live with a price on your head?” Beckett asks. It’s one of the many unsubtle references to things to come, and a fallback refrain in “Solo” where some of the most memorable and pleasing moments are winking references to future memorable lines.

They’ll soon meet up with the man Beckett is working for, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), and encounter Han’s old friend from Corellia, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) before taking off on a dangerous smuggling mission.

There’s a lot for fans to digest as the film speeds through a check-list of Han’s origin components, like how he meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and how he comes across the Millennium Falcon. There are other key elements that probably are best left to the experience.

And that experience, in director Ron Howard’s very capable hands, is a largely enjoyable one. You can’t help but wonder what the end result would have been if Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were fired deep into production, had gotten to see their project through to the end, or what it would have been like had Howard been involved since the beginning, but there are no obvious cracks or seams.

“Solo” is a straightforward piece of pulpy entertainment with some very agreeable performances from Ehrenreich and Glover, who seems to be having the most fun of all the actors in playing up Lando’s suave demeanor, and fun classic Western flourishes, despite the excessively big action sequences.

The best moments in “Solo” are the simpler ones: The romance, the friendships, the clashing egos. Perhaps a lesson for the inevitable sequel.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story,” A Walt Disney Studios release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of sci-fi action/violence.” Running time: 135 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

‘Shoplifters’ wins Palme d’Or, grand prize to Spike Lee

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda holds the Palme d’Or for the film ‘Shoplifters’ following the awards ceremony at the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 19. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

Jake Coyle and Thomas Adamson

Cannes, France (AP) - A tumultuous Cannes Film Festival concluded last weekend with the Palme d’Or awarded to Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters,” a tender portrait of a poor, impoverished family.

At the closing ceremony for the 71st edition of the French Riviera extravaganza, the Cate Blanchett-led jury selected one of the festival’s most acclaimed entries, one hailed as a modest masterpiece from a veteran filmmaker renowned for his delicate touch. “Shoplifters” is about a small-time thief who takes a young girl home to his family; after seeing scars from abuse, they decide to keep her and raise her as their own.

While many speculated that the Cate Blanchett-led jury might award only the second Palme d’Or to a film directed by a woman, the most likely contender — Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” — was instead given Cannes’ jury prize. The film drew a rousing standing ovation at its premiere but less enthusiastic critic reviews for its tale of a 12-year-old boy living in poverty who sues his parents for bringing him into such a cruel world.

Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlans­man,” the highest profile American film in competition at Cannes, was awarded the grand prize. The film ignited the festival with its true tale of a black police detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Lee connected the film to modern day with real footage from last year’s violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I take this on the behalf of the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, New York,” said Lee, accepting his award.

Best actress went to Samal Yeslyamova for Kazakh writer-director Sergey Dvortsevoy’s “Ayka.” Taking best actor was Marcello Fonte for Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” an award presented by fellow Italian actor Roberto Benigni.

The prize for best screenplay was split between Italian writer-director Alice Rohrwacher’s time-warped fable about a poor farm boy in rural Italy “Happy as Lazzaro” and Nader Saeivar and Jafar Panahi’s script for “Three Faces.”

A “Palme d’Or Speciale,” a special first-time award, was given to 87-year-old French filmmaking legend Jean-Luc Godard for “continually striving to define and refine what cinema can be,” said Blanchett.

Photos of Kurt Cobain’s death scene will not be made public

Kurt Cobain in 1993.
(AP Photo/Robert Sorbo)

Seattle (AP) — The Washington State Court of Appeals has ruled that photographs from the scene of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s death will not be released publicly.

The court ruled that the photographs are exempt from Washington State’s Public Records Act and releasing the photos would “violate the Cobain family’s due process rights under the 14th Amendment.”

Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, and his daughter who was a toddler at the time of his death, Frances Bean Cobain, filed testimonies to keep the photos from being made public.

The ruling comes after Seattle journalist Richard Lee appealed the case’s dismissal. Lee has pursued the release of 55 photos in an attempt to prove Cobain did not die from suicide in 1994, but rather was killed.

Singing the blues: Study of pop music finds rise in sadness

Musician Sam Smith poses for a portrait in New York in this Nov. 2, 2017 file photo. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

Mark Kennedy

New York (AP) — A study of hundreds of thousands of popular songs over the past three decades has found a downward sonic trend in happiness and an increase in sadness, as the chirpy band Wham! gave way to the moody Sam Smith.

For the report in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers at the University of California at Irvine looked at 500,000 songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015, and categorized them according to their mood.

“‘Happiness’ is going down, ‘brightness’ is going down, ‘sadness’ is going up, and at the same time, the songs are becoming more ‘danceable’ and more ‘party-like,’” co-author Natalia L. Komarova told The Associated Press.

Of course, the researchers emphasize that a gradual decrease in the average “happiness” index does not mean that all successful songs in 1985 were happy and all successful songs in 2015 were sad. They were looking for average trends in the acoustic properties of the music and the moods describing the sounds.

Some songs with a low happiness index in 2014 include “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith, “Whispers” by Passenger and “Unmissable” by Gorgon City. Some from 1985 with a high happiness index include “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen, “Would I Lie to You?” by the Eurythmics, and “Freedom” by Wham!

“The public seems to prefer happier songs, even though more and more unhappy songs are being released each year,” the researchers wrote. They also found the most successful genres of music were dance and pop, as well as a “clear downward trend” in the success of rock, starting in the early 2000s.

The overall mood shifts in the songs’ musical features mirror other studies that have examined lyric changes over the years. They have found the use of positive emotions has declined and indicators of loneliness and social isolation have increased.

“So it looks like, while the overall mood is becoming less happy, people seem to want to forget it all and dance,” emailed Komarova, who wrote the report with Myra Interiano, Kamyar Kazemi, LijiaWang, Jienian Yang and Zhaoxia Yu.

The researchers also found that the “maleness” of songs — the frequency of male singers in popular music — has decreased over the last 30 years. “Successful songs are characterized by a larger percentage of female artists compared to all songs,” they write.

That finding comes at a time when the music industry is wrestling with the issue of gender inequality, and men overwhelmingly dominate the ranks of artists and songwriters.

May 19, 2018 - May 25, 2018

Film Review: Plenty to love in film about Borg versus McEnroe

This image shows Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe (left) and Sverrir Gudnason as Bjorn Borg in a scene from the film “Borg vs McEnroe.” (Neon via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - Let’s begin this review of “Borg Vs. McEnroe” with a huge spoiler alert. The final score of the 1980 Wimbledon men’s final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, which takes up the climactic last third of the movie, was 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6. It’s not a secret, really. And, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

This fabulous, moody film isn’t your typical jock flick where bitter rivals compete to a crowning, sweaty end. There isn’t a real victor in “Borg Vs. McEnroe “ and the points don’t prove anything. It’s less a tennis movie than a meditation on the personal costs of chasing excellence.

Borg and McEnroe, seeded 1-2 at the start of the tournament, played tense, taut tennis for almost four hours, creating one of Wimbledon’s finest moments. The curly-haired youngster, chasing his first Wimbledon crown, was trying to prevent Borg from winning his fifth straight championship.

Shia LaBeouf plays McEnroe and Sverrir Gudnason plays Borg and they’re both fantastic, nailing the tiny things like the way McEnroe twirled his racket or Borg’s hunched stance. But this film also requires both actors to reveal deep pools of inner turmoil and they somehow manage it with just a glance or a quiet moment. Borg and McEnroe rarely interact at all.

The Wimbledon final was framed as a battle between opposites. Borg was the quiet, efficient Swede, while McEnroe was the brash, swearing Yank (“You cannot be serious!” he was prone to scream at umpires.) It was a match between the stiletto and the sledgehammer, the gentleman against the rebel, the Ice-Borg versus the Superbrat.

But Ronnie Sandahl’s script and Janus Metz’ direction take us behind the stereotypes to reveal portraits of two men who actually have much in common in their loneliness and yearning. They love to win so much it hurts. Before matches, they seem to be silently awaiting their own executions.

Single-mindedness gnaws at their souls, destroying friendships and tormenting them. “Nobody will remember that I won Wimbledon four times in a row. Just that I lost the fifth time,” Borg says in anguish before the final. For his part, McEnroe lashes out at the puzzled press: “None of you understand it because none of you do it.”

In its athletic duel between an agent of cool and a hothead, the film is a lot like “Rush” but only with fuzzy balls instead of race cars. In many ways, it’s more like “I, Tonya,” in its impressionistic darkness. “Borg Vs. McEnroe” says it is “inspired by true events” which gives it plenty of wriggle room when it comes to the truth.

We learn that Borg was not always a controlled, cool customer. He was a firebrand like McEnroe but had the petulance trained out of him by a coach (a superb Stellan Skarsgard) who told him to put his rage and panic into every stroke. We learn that McEnroe idolized Borg, putting his poster on his wall and wearing a headband in emulation of the older man.

On the road to the 1980 final, the filmmakers give us flashbacks to each man’s childhood for insights. (The filmmakers get extra credit for casting Borg’s real-life son as a young Borg, who we see spending hours methodically smashing balls against a garage door.)

It also shows how people in these two men’s orbit — girlfriends, coaches and even fellow competitors — walk on eggshells around them, fearful of setting them off. To be the best in the world takes everything and leaves you slightly unhinged. Someone tells McEnroe: “It’s life and death for you. The others don’t feel the same. They’re not like you.”

Once the final Wimbledon match has been won — we’re not going to say who prevailed, we’re not totally awful — the two men happen to share a private moment in a public place that is touching and cathartic.

At one point, the camera during this exchange steps further away and we can no longer hear what these two champions are saying to each other. That’s fitting somehow: Only they — and anyone else who has been in their tennis shoes — can really understand.

“Borg Vs. McEnroe,” a Neon release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language throughout and some nudity.” Running time: 107 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

Netta Barzilai wins 2018 Eurovision Song Contest for Israel

Netta from Israel celebrates after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 12. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Barry Hatton

Lisbon, Portugal (AP) — Netta Barzilai is sassy, she’s fun and she can sing — and now the Israeli has won the Eurovision Song Contest with a catchy techno dance tune about women’s empowerment.

The 25-year-old pre-competition favorite beat out competition from 42 other countries’ performers last Saturday to claim the music extravaganza’s annual crown at the Grand Final with her song “Toy.”

There was a strong field of contestants at this year’s event in Lisbon, Portugal, which was watched by an estimated 200 million people.  The votes coming in live from the capitals of participating countries delivered a tense finale, with Israel gripped in a tight, five-way race with Cyprus, Austria, Sweden and Germany.

Barzilai eventually racked up 529 points, compared with 436 for runner-up Cyprus with “Fuego” by Eleni Foureira, and 342 for third-place Austria with Cesar Sampson’s “Nobody But You.”

The contest largely shed its traditional hallmarks of glitz and glitter in favor of a more restrained and tasteful tone in Lisbon, which was hosting the event because it won last year with Salvador Sobral’s sober and subdued ballad “Amar pelos Dois.”

Sobral criticized “Toy” as “horrible music,” insisting the focus should be on the music and not the spectacle.  But Barzilai, with her Asian-themed show in red and yellow and her dancers doing funky chicken moves, was unrepentant.

“I’m happy people chose something different.  It’s refreshing,” she said.  “I believe authenticity (shows) through.”

Her win — Israel’s fourth and first since 1998 — means her country hosts next year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

“Next time in Jersualem!” Barzilai shouted to the audience as she picked up her award.

The international contest began as a competition between European countries, but its huge popularity has led to the inclusion of Israel and Australia among the performers.

Barzilai, known more usually as Netta, has a witty and endearing personality.  Before the Grand Final, her song had already racked up more than 20 million views on Eurovision’s YouTube channel.

In “Toy,” Netta makes funny noises, including a clucking sound like a chicken and barely decipherable words, and uses a looping machine and synthesizer.

The lyrics say, “I’m not your toy, You stupid boy, I’ll take you down.”

Portugal came last, with 39 points.

Fans caught their breath when a protester ran onto the stage and snatched away the microphone of the United Kingdom’s contestant SuRie.

The man got hold of the microphone but was quickly tackled by security and taken away while SuRie stood by.  The British singer kept her composure and picked up her song where she left off.

The event is organized by the European Broadcasting Union, an alliance of public service broadcasters.  In each participating country, a jury and viewers award between one and a maximum 12 points to their favorite songs.  Those votes are combined to give each country a single score.

Past winners have rarely become household names but there have been exceptions, including Swedish pop group ABBA and Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias.

Glenn Frey’s family keeps legacy alive with tour, box set

In this May 4, 2018 photo, Deacon Frey, son of the late Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey (left) and his mother Cindy Frey pose for a portrait at the Dog House Recording Studio in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP)

Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) — Glenn Frey, co-founder of the Eagles and one of pop’s most successful songwriters, passed away two years ago but his family is keeping his legacy alive in a resilient way.

Deacon Frey, his 24-year-old son, is on road with the Eagles in his father’s shoes, and Taylor Frey, Glenn Frey’s daughter, is working as a road manager on the tour.

Cindy Frey, his widow and executor of his estate, admits the first few shows of the tour, which started earlier this month in Vancouver, Canada, were tough.

“It’s hard to get beyond the sad part of, the longing of missing Glenn. But in a deep sort of weird way, it’s a way of healing and living through grief for our family Frey said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“It’s a family reunion for all of us and we’re all doing it together. I don’t know that there’d be anything else we could do that’d make us move through our grief in this way. As painful as it is at times, it’s also deeply healing and comforting. It sort of makes us feel closer.”

“Like, somehow we’re holding him even closer in some sort of strange weird way,” she continued.

Glenn Frey died in 2016 at the age of 67. Cindy Frey said she wants people to remember the diversity of her husband’s sound — including his work with the Eagles, solo music and his love for multiple genres, including R&B and soul.

The box set “Above the Clouds: The Collection” was released last Friday and showcases the many sides of the musician. Over three CDs and a DVD, the set includes his hit songs, classic songs he covered and the pre-Eagles music he wrote with JD Souther.

“I think that he was really brave as a solo artist. I don’t think the record companies always thought his choices were always the things that were going to sell the most records, but he wanted to make records that meant something to him; that he could tell a story about himself. I think this sort of tells that story,” Cindy Frey said.

Frey formed the Eagles in Los Angeles in the early 1970s with Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. They mastered the mix of rock ‘n’ roll and country music, and the band’s hits — including “Hotel California” and “Take It Easy,” both co-written by Frey — became part of the soundtrack of that decade. They broke up in 1980, coming back together 14 years later with Frey and Henley being the only remaining original members.

Deacon Frey said filling in for his father on the road is both “really scary and really exciting.”

“Well I definitely practice more than I have for other shows I’ve done... It definitely takes more work. It’s definitely a larger scale operation and the standard is a lot higher for performance,” said Deacon, who plays the guitar and sings as well.

For Cindy Frey, watching her son onstage, like she once watched her husband, is “emotional in so many ways.”

“As a mother, I couldn’t be more proud of Deacon and his performance and his talent,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing — not just for our family — but for the fans to be able to see the music continue on and have another generation, another iteration of what it means. It’s incredible.”

Most excellent news: ‘Bill and Ted’ reuniting for sequel

This combination photo shows actors Keanu Reeves (left) and Alex Winter. (AP Photo)

Cannes, France (AP) — Party on dudes: Almost three decades later, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” is getting a new sequel.

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter will reprise their roles as Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston Esq. in a third “Bill & Ted” adventure and the first in 27 years. The project was announced last week at the Cannes Film Festival, with MGM’s Orion Pictures set to release the film, titled “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” in the U.S.

The script is by original creators Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. Dean Parisot will direct.

It will be the third installment in the franchise that began with 1989’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and followed up with 1991’s “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

May 12, 2018 - May 18, 2018

Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place’ is intoxicatingly creepy

This image shows actor-director John Krasinski im a scene from “A Quiet Place,” with Noah Jupe. (Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures via AP)

Jocelyn Noveck

Los Angeles (AP) - Let’s start with a popcorn warning. If you’re bringing your usual tub of multiplex popcorn into “A Quiet Place,” just be aware that you’ll be hearing every single crunch.

That’s because much of John Krasinski’s ingeniously creepy new film, in which he stars alongside his real-life better half, Emily Blunt, takes place in virtual silence. This is a movie about a world where noise gets you killed. In fact, if you ate popcorn IN the movie, you’d quickly be dead. Unless you were standing by a waterfall. More on that in a minute.

Krasinski, in his third feature outing as director, has a lot going for him here: An inventive premise (was it dreamed up by some vengeful librarian?), a terrific cast featuring two extremely effective child actors, and the always superb Blunt, who can register fear, joy, love and anxiety in one scene without needing to utter a word. He takes all this and runs with it, producing a taut, goose-pimply thriller that earns its jump-out-of-your-seat moments and only occasionally strains its own logic — and then, who really cares? It’s a monster flick!

We begin on “Day 89.” But what exactly happened 89 days ago? Our first clue is that there’s nobody in the streets of the desolate town where the Abbott family — Lee, Evelyn and three young kids — makes a precarious shopping trip. The family has ventured on foot from their farmhouse to search an abandoned store for badly needed medicine. The next clue is all the “Missing” posters on the streets. What happened to all these folks? The most obvious clue is that the family cannot speak, or make a sound. They communicate in sign language, and walk barefoot on soft sand and dirt so even their feet won’t give them away.

An early, shocking tragedy makes it clear what they’re up against: evil, hungry monsters who consume anyone who catches their attention with sound. Soon, that fateful Day 89 skips ahead to Day 472. The monsters still rule, and now Evelyn (Blunt) is pregnant. As the family goes about its soundless daily routines — cooking meals silently, eschewing the washer-dryer for hand washing, playing board games with soft pieces, dancing to music on headphones — one wonders how they’ll possibly bring a baby into the world without making noise.

Krasinski and fellow screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck are cleverly tapping into universal parental angst here. First, childbirth, already pretty darned painful and stressful, is made even more difficult — you can’t even scream! And how on Earth can you keep a newborn from crying? More broadly, there’s the constant fear for Lee and Evelyn that any daily task can lead to an errant noise, and quickly, death.  What’s worse than feeling like you can’t protect your child? “There’s nothing to be scared of,” Lee (Krasinski) tells young son Marcus reassuringly at one point, as they leave the house. “Of course there is,” the boy replies, correctly.

Basically the only place where one can talk freely, in this world, is next to the roaring waterfall where Lee takes Marcus (an appealingly sensitive Noah Jupe) one day. Because the waterfall is louder than they are, they can holler with abandon. They’ve left older sister Regan at home to help Mom. Despite her obvious smarts and instincts, Regan is technically at even greater risk from the evil creatures, because she is deaf and can’t hear them even if they’re right behind her. To survive, she will need to be more resourceful than anyone else in the family. (Regan is embodied with warmth and poignancy by young deaf actress Millicent Simmonds).

Remember we said this movie earned its jump-out-of-your-seat moments? There’s one in particular, involving Blunt, that is applause-worthy, and you’ll know it when you see it. There’s also a terrifying sequence in a grain silo, reminiscent of the movie “Witness,” and an errant nail sticking out of a wooden plank is used quite (ouch) effectively.

“A Quiet Place” may not have the weighty social meaning or piercing comedy of another recent high-profile horror thriller, “Get Out.” But like that movie it is smart, it moves fast, it has a hugely satisfying ending — and it deserves to attract a much broader audience than the usual horror film devotees.

But just watch out for that popcorn. Crunch too loud, and you’re a goner.

“A Quiet Place,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for terror and some bloody images.” Running time: 90 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Abu Dhabi’s Warner Bros. indoor amusement park opens in July

Media representatives arrive at the entrance hall of the Warner Bros. World amusement park in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, April 18. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Jon Gambrell

Abu Dhabi, UAE (AP) — Abu Dhabi will open a $1 billion indoor Warner Bros. amusement park this July, the latest offering in a crowded market in the United Arab Emirates where one marquee park already faces serious financial problems.

The Warner Bros. World park, built by the Abu Dhabi government-owned Miral Asset Management, encompasses 153,290 square meters on Yas Island, a leisure destination for the Emirati capital.

Officials say the draw of the Warner Bros. brand, encompassing cartoons and comic books, will help them overcome the challenges faced by other theme parks in the Emirates, including a Dubai park that lost $300 million last year.

“This is history, a hundred year’s history, when we talk about Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman,” said Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, the chairman of both Miral and Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism.  “It’s something we grew up with, our parents grew up with and our children will grow up with.  In this theme park, you will be part of their world.”

The large park looks like a big-box department store from the outside, though its bright yellow paint and massive stencils of Tweety bird and other characters give it away.  Inside, the park is separated into Bedrock of “The Flintstones’” fame, Superman’s Metropolis, Batman’s Gotham City, Cartoon Junction and Yosemite Sam’s Dynamite Gulch. Only two of the park’s 29 rides have height restrictions.

The park, opening July 25, will sell tickets from 290 dirhams ($79) for adults and 230 dirhams ($63) for children.

New song by Chris Cornell on collection of Cash’s writings

In this combination photo, Johnny Cash (left) performs at a benefit concert in Central Park in New York on May 23, 1993, and Chris Cornell (right) plays guitar during a portrait session at The Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, Calif., on July 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Joe Tabacca, File)

New York (AP) — It’s inevitable that a new recording by Chris Cornell would take on an added poignancy following his suicide last year. Yet there’s an extra chill that comes in listening to his contribution to a recently-released collection of Johnny Cash’s writings set to music.

In taking on a Cash poem called, “You Never Knew My Mind,” Cornell adds “really” after “never” a few times for emphasis. At one point he sings, “you did not see me well enough to recognize the signs.”

The former Soundgarden singer may not seem like an obvious choice to participate in the project, but Cash’s son John Carter Cash recalled meeting Cornell with his father backstage at a show in Seattle in the early 1990s. Johnny Cash later interpreted Cornell’s song, “Rusty Cage,” among the series of recordings that ended his career on a creative high note.

Cornell eagerly agreed to participate when John Carter Cash reached out to him for the “Johnny Cash: Forever Words” project.

“Chris connected deeply with my father’s words, and his finished version of ‘You Never Knew My Mind’ tied his own life experience to my father’s on an honest level,” Cash said.

Cash and collaborator Steve Berkowitz worked on a book of Johnny Cash’s words last year. The country legend left much behind, besides the songs he wrote and recorded prior to his death in 2003. Some were poems, some were song lyrics. Cash and Berkowitz thought there was more than a book; they were curious about how some of the writing would sound if put to music by some prominent artists, and they set about trying to make matches.

Old Cash friend Kris Kristofferson, accompanied by Willie Nelson on guitar, sings one of Cash’s last poems to open the disc. “The songs I sang will still be sung,” Cash predicted, correctly, in the lyrics.

John Carter Cash’s half-sisters, Rosanne Cash and Carlene Carter, both offer material. Kacey Musgraves and her husband, Ruston Kelly, sing a love poem that Johnny Cash wrote to his wife June. Elvis Costello, Jewel, John Mellencamp and the Jayhawks are also featured. With “The Captain’s Daughter,” Alison Krauss makes her first recording with Union Station in six years.

Cash approached the artists with specific writings and, if they wanted to participate, gave them the freedom to interpret the material as they wanted. Participants share co-writing credits with the late legend.

“I think he’d be proud of it,” Rosanne Cash said. “I am.”

‘Gotti,’ with John Travolta, will premiere at Cannes


This image shows John Travolta as John Gotti from the mobster biopic “Gotti.” (Vertical Entertainment via AP)

New York (AP) - The delayed mobster biopic “Gotti,” starring John Travolta, will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Film producers told The Associated Press that “Gotti” will premiere out of competition at Cannes at a special gala screening at the Palais des Festivals on May 15. The Cannes Film Festival began on May 8.

“Gotti” depicts the rise and fall of the notorious Gambino family crime boss John V. Gotti. It’s directed by Kevin Connolly.

The movie was supposed to open in December.  But just 10 days before its release, distributor Lionsgate sold the film back to its production company. Vertical Entertainment stepped in with a wider release plan set for June 15. Ticketing service MoviePass also invested in the film.

In a statement, Travolta thanked Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux for selecting “Gotti.”

May 5, 2018 - May 11, 2018

Film Review: In ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ Marvel goes nuclear

This image released by Marvel Studios shows, from left, Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt and Pom Klementieff in a scene from “Avengers: Infinity War.” (Marvel Studios via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - After 10 years of lean, threadbare, Lilliputian tales, Marvel Studios has, thank heavens, finally decided to go big.

The scale of “Avengers: Infinity War,” of course, isn’t a departure for Marvel. It’s an apotheosis. But is it possible to supersize what is already colossal? “Infinity War,” which brings together more than 30 significant characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and enough spandex to clothe a small nation, is a little like launching an invasion after the war was already won. Despite assured dominance, Marvel has gone nuclear.

“Infinity” is an interesting word for the Marvel machine, which sets much of its development pipeline a decade in advance. Never-ending is indeed how the superhero era of blockbusterdom sometimes feels, both to its fans and its critics. Even Steven Spielberg, who once said superheroes will eventually go the way of the western, recently signed on to produce a DC Comics film.

But the title refers to the six “infinity stones” scattered around the universe, each conveying a power of sorcery, like the time-warping one held by Doctor Strange. They are dearly sought by Thanos, the indestructible Titan warlord, who rules over much of space but would like all of it. With all the McGuffins — er, stones — he can, with the snap of his fingers, wipe away half of the universe’s beings: a rapture to cull an overgrown herd, he envisions.

And it’s, in part, the lure of finality that has made “Infinity War,” directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (veterans of two “Captain America” movies), one of the year’s most salivated-over movies. The preamble has been one long tease — we have seen fleeting glimpses of Thanos (Josh Brolin) since Barack Obama’s first term — leading up to a battle royal that could mean the demise of some of Marvel’s most famous faces.

It can be hard to know who or what to root for. Arguably the best quality — and most vital asset — of the Marvel canon is its star-making (or at least star-expanding) power. On the one hand, Chris Pratt’s performance as Star-Lord in “The Guardians of the Galaxy” has been terrific and turned him into a household name. On the other hand, we’ve hardly seen Robert Downey Jr. outside of the Iron Man suit in the last decade. It took 18 months to shoot both parts of “Infinity War” back-to-back (the sequel is due out next summer), putting a stranglehold on some of our best movie stars, like Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Mackie. Faint cries can be heard on the street of: “Let our Ruffalo go!”

And it’s really the simple pleasure of seeing so many good actors together that makes “Infinity War” — an “Ocean’s Eleven” in hyper drive — work. The screenplay, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, spreads the heroes around in improvised groups that create some funny dynamics. The Guardians, who inject most of the life to “Infinity War,” swoon for Hemsworth’s one-eyed Thor. “He’s like a pirate had a baby with an angel,” says Dave Bautista’s Drax. Many don’t know each other, or the parameters of their shared “cinematic universe.” ‘’There’s an Ant-Man AND a Spider-Man?” remarks Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk.

The level playing field is a chance to rebalance the Marvel pecking order, most recently upended by Chadwick Boseman and “Black Panther.” Neither Chris Evans’ Captain “Cap” America nor Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, for example, make much of an impact on “Infinity War.” But Zoe Saldana, as the green-skinned Gamora, strides to the fore, as does Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch. “Infinity War” rarely, surprisingly feels as overstuffed as such a superhero smorgasbord ought to, a testament to the filmmakers’ adept plate-spinning skills.

That may be because “Infinity War” doesn’t really belong to the superheroes. This is Brolin’s film. Already an actor who can appear chiseled from granite, his Thanos is an imposing boulder of a villain, with weary eyes and lined creases running down his massive chin. He and his adoptive daughter, Gamora, are the only characters with much of a story in “Infinity War.” He’s the immovable object around which the gaggle of superheroes orbits.

There may be some hint of overpopulation anxiety in Thanos’ ambition and in the Russos’ frighteningly overcrowded film. Its saviors repeatedly contemplate sacrifice. Previous “Avengers” chapters and the Russos’ “Captain America: Civil War” expended some effort considering the Avengers’ place in society and whether they should be controlled by the state. But this movie, a sensory onslaught, has little room for political subtext.

Still, I doubt such gestures of allegory are anyone’s favorite part of the Marvel movies. Most come for the action, the quips and the characters, and I suspect “Infinity War” will deliver for most — particularly thanks to the Guardians. In such a bruisingly long showdown, the action sequences — never the strongpoint of the Russos, who cut their teeth on comic ensemble like “Arrested Development” and “Community” — grow monotonous, and the interludes amid the rubble more infrequent. But if “Infinity War” is a lavish reunion tour propelled by star power, the Russos are sure to plays the hits.

The movie’s ending — just one of the spoilers that divulging here would bring Thanos’ fist down upon me — will be the major talking point. But for me, its power only lasts as long as a commercial break with an easy-to-see-through “to be continued.” Who lives and who dies? It’s hard to fret too much with an eternity of sequels and spinoffs lined up.

“Avengers: Infinity War,” a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.” Running time: 149 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

Springsteen ‘Born to Run’ manuscript heads to summer auction

New York (AP) — Bruce Springsteen’s songwriting scrawl is born to make bucks.

Sotheby’s said it will auction a handwritten working manuscript of “Born to Run” in June.

The presale estimate for the single sheet of notebook paper with 30 lines of writing is $200,000 to $300,000.

It will be offered in a books and manuscripts online auction from June 18 to June 28. It also will be exhibited in New York during that period. It’s being sold by an unidentified American collector.

Sotheby’s says many of the lines in this 1974 version are “apparently unpublished and unrecorded,” though the chorus is “nearly perfected.”

The artist tried out phrases, set off in parenthesis, with notes in the margin. His penmanship is adorned with curly-topped T’s.

Eric Idle looks at the bright side of (his own) life

Eric Idle is shown in this April 26, 2011, file photo.
(AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

New York (AP) — Eric Idle is writing a memoir, and Monty Python fans can guess the title: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

“We used to be babe magnets.  Now we’re fridge magnets,” Idle says.  “I thought it was time to tell my tale before I suffer from Hamnesia, which is what happens to elderly actors.”

Publishers Crown Archetype told The Associated Press that Idle’s book is coming out in October.  Idle is calling the publication a “Sortabiography.”  Crown is calling Idle “A legend in his own lunchtime.”

“With anecdotes sprinkled throughout that involve close friends and luminaries such as Mick Jagger, Steve Martin, Paul Simon, Mike Nichols and many more — let alone the Pythons themselves — Idle captures a time of tremendous creative output with equal hilarity and heart,” according to Crown.

Idle’s previous books include “The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America” and the novel “The Road to Mars.”

Here we go again: ABBA records first new songs in 35 years

Swedish pop group Abba (from left) Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Faltskog and Bjorn Ulvaeus are shown in this Feb. 9, 1974 file photo. (Olle Lindeborg/TT NEWS AGENCY via AP)

London (AP) — Mamma Mia! The members of ABBA announced last week that they have recorded new material for the first time in 35 years.

The Swedish pop supergroup said they had recorded two new songs, including one titled “I Still Have Faith in You.”

The news was announced in an Instagram statement from Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog.

ABBA won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo” and had a sequin-spangled string of hits including “Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance on Me” before splitting up in 1982.

The band’s statement said the members reunited to plan a virtual tour featuring digital avatars, and decided to go back into the studio.

ABBA said “it was like time had stood still and that we had only been away on a short holiday. An extremely joyous experience!”

“I Still Have Faith In You” is due to be performed by the group’s holograms in a December TV special broadcast by the BBC and NBC. There was no word on when the second track will be released.

Ulvaeus revealed earlier last month that digitally created virtual band members — “Abbatars” — would perform in a television show in 2018, followed by a tour in 2019 or 2020.

The band members have performed together just once since the 1980s, at a private party in 2016, and have long said they will never tour live together again.

April 28, 2018 - May 4, 2018

Film Review: Johnson survives the rubble that is ‘Rampage’

This image released by Warner Bros. shows Dwayne Johnson in a scene from “Rampage.” (Dwayne Johnson via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - Usually paired with smaller companions like Kevin Hart or Moana, Dwayne Johnson is for once the diminutive one in “Rampage,” a hopelessly bland and bizarrely self-serious monster movie.

Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye in Brad Petyon’s adaption of a classic 1986 arcade game.  Naturally, Okoye has some covert military history but — like so many highly trained international commandos — he’s now working at the San Diego Zoo.  His time is especially focused on a hulking albino gorilla named George.  They are pals, Davis and George, who fist-bump and play pranks on one another.

The two are actually a winning pair, but “Rampage,” unfortunately, isn’t the Rock-and-monkey buddy comedy (“The Guerrilla and the Gorilla”?) we might crave.  “Rampage” is professional-looking, thanks to the well-integrated effects artistry of Weta Digital.  We have become spoiled, perhaps, by affecting computer-generated primates thanks to the “Planet of the Apes” franchise.  But George (played with motion capture by Jason Liles) still holds his own in the monkey-movie kingdom.

And Johnson, so recently in the jungle for “Jumanji,” remains a truly indefatigable movie star capable of carrying even the most half-baked of premises with colossal charisma.  “Rampage” would surely sink a less sturdy action star, yet even here the wayward mishmash of monster-movie tropes only seem to ping off him like bullets deflected by Superman.

The objective of the original 8-bit video game was to, while controlling one of three giant monsters (a gorilla, dinosaur or werewolf), reduce a city to rubble.  Naturally, a story of such pathos and originality brought Hollywood rushing with a check for millions.

What the film’s writers — Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel — have come up with from this skeletal concept is something overly elaborate and curiously humorless. The film opens ominously in space, where a genetic experiment has created a giant mutated rat that chews up the space station’s crew, but not before an escape pod with three samples shoots back to Earth.

The canisters of serum land alongside an alligator in the Florida Everglades, a wolf in Wyoming and at George’s habitat in San Diego.  Each quickly swells massively while simultaneously becoming increasingly aggressive. (With a slightly different trajectory, we might have gotten a more unpredictable mutant trio like maybe a cockatoo, a koala and Keith Olbermann.  Now that would be interesting.)

The company behind the trials tries to quietly recapture the lab results.  Malin Akerman, the fine actress of “Billions,” plays its ruthless chief executive, alongside her more clueless brother, played by Jake Lacy.  Meanwhile, a consortium of military and government agencies try and fail to capture or kill the beasts as they converge on Chicago.  Naomie Harris plays a genetic engineer.

But the only performance really of note in “Rampage” is by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays an agent for an unnamed government agency with wild-eyed, cowboy abandon.  The scenery might be digital, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to chew it all.

As a product that reunites the director and star of “San Andreas” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” ‘’Rampage” is similarly forgettable popcorn fare that, in almost every scene feels like a knockoff of something else.  And it should be funny.  Movies about giant mutant animals that flock to the Windy City really ought to be funny.  Morgan seems to be the only one to realize that in monster camp like this, go big or go home.

“Rampage,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language and crude gestures.” Running time: 107 minutes.  One and a half stars out of four.

Auction of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s personal items earns $909,000


Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor is shown in this July 14, 1955, file photo.
(AP Photo)

Los Angeles (AP) — Costumes, memorabilia and other items owned by late actress Zsa Zsa Gabor have sold at auction for more than $900,000.

Heritage Auctions says that a Margaret Keane portrait of the actress was sold for $45,000, making it the top seller at last week’s auction.  Overall, the auction, held online and at the actress’ former mansion, earned $909,209.

A diamond and gold necklace with Gabor’s catchphrase “dah-ling” sold for $20,000.

Also up for sale was a Steinway grand piano prominently used in the Liberace HBO movie “Behind the Candelabra,” which sold for nearly $24,000.

Among the hundreds of items sold were Gabor’s scripts, costumes, and photographs of her with stars including Johnny Carson, Cloris Leachman and Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Gabor died in December 2016 at the age of 99.

‘Full Metal Jacket’ actor R. Lee Ermey dies at 74

In this May 15, 2006, file photo, actor and retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey takes a break for a smoke outside New River Air Station’s Staff NCO club in Jacksonville, N.C. (Randy Davey/The Jacksonville Daily News via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) — R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine who made a career in Hollywood playing hard-nosed military men like Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” died last week from pneumonia-related complications. He was 74.

The Kansas native was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his memorable performance in “Full Metal Jacket,” in which he immortalized lines such as: “What is your major malfunction?”

Born Ronald Lee Ermey in 1944, Ermey served 11 years in the Marine Corps and spent 14 months in Vietnam and then in Okinawa, Japan, where he became staff sergeant.  His first film credit was as a helicopter pilot in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” which was quickly followed by a part in “The Boys in Company C” as a drill instructor.

He raked in more than 60 credits in film and television across his long career in the industry, often playing authority figures in everything from “Se7en” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake.

The part he would become most well-known for, in “Full Metal Jacket,” wasn’t even originally his.  Ermey had been brought on as a technical consultant for the 1987 film, but he had his eyes on the role of the brutal gunnery sergeant and filmed his own audition tape of him yelling out insults while tennis balls flew at him.  An impressed Kubrick gave him the role.

Kubrick told Rolling Stone that 50 percent of Ermey’s dialogue in the film was his own.

“In the course of hiring the marine recruits, we interviewed hundreds of guys.  We lined them all up and did an improvisation of the first meeting with the drill instructor.  They didn’t know what he was going to say, and we could see how they reacted.  Lee came up with, I don’t know, 150 pages of insults,” Kubrick said.

According to Kubrick, Ermey also had a terrible car accident one night in the middle of production and was out for four and half months with broken ribs.

Ermey would also go on to voice the little green army man Sarge in the “Toy Story” films.  He also played track and field coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman in “Prefontaine,” General Kramer in “Toy Soldiers” and Mayor Tilman in “Mississippi Burning.”

Ermey also hosted the History Channel series “Mail Call” and “Lock N’ Load with R. Lee Ermey” and was a board member for the National Rifle Association, as well as a spokesman for Glock.

“He will be greatly missed by all of us,” his manager Bill Rogin said.  “It is a terrible loss that nobody was prepared for.”

Rogin says that while his characters were often hard and principled, the real Ermey was a family man and a kind and gentle soul who supported the men and women who serve.

Bon Jovi, Nina Simone, Moody Blues make it into Rock Hall

Richie Sambora (left) and Jon Bon Jovi perform during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Saturday, April 14, Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Mesfin Fekadu

Cleveland (AP) — Bon Jovi reunited onstage with former members on April 14 for a powerful performance celebrating their admission into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the late icon Nina Simone was welcomed to the prestigious music club with show-stopping performances from Lauryn Hill and Andra Day.

After an hour-long performance by the band, frontman Jon Boni Jovi gave a lengthy speech onstage, saying he had been writing the speech for years.

“Some days I write the ‘Thank you’ speech, sometimes I write the ‘(Expletive) you’ speech,” he said. “In the end, it’s all about time.  It took a lot of people to get us here tonight.”

Richie Sambora, who left the New Jersey band in 2013, and Alec John Such, who left in 1994, embraced their former bandmates with a hug after each one spoke onstage to accept the honor.  They performance included crowd favorites like “Livin’ on a Prayer,” ‘’You Give Love a Bad Name” and “It’s My Life.”

They were inducted by Howard Stern, who provided many laughs to the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, where the Rock Hall is based.

Simone, who died in 2003, was welcomed into the Rock Hall in a groundbreaking way from performers who she has deeply inspired, from Hill to Mary J. Blige.

Hill was exceptional, stretching her voice as wide as possible, and singing in French, in honor of Simone’s music.  Hill earned a standing ovation from the audience.

Simone was a leader in pushing for civil rights and influenced everyone from Aretha Franklin to Alicia Keys.  Her brother, Sam Waymon, accepted the honor on his sister’s behalf.

The 33rd annual Rock Hall ceremony kicked off with a tribute to Tom Petty, who died in October at age 66.  The Killers earned a loud applause from the audience when they started performing “American Girl,” then transitioning to “Free Fallin’.”

Later in the event, Ann Wilson of Heart and Jerry Cantrell honored Chris Cornell with a commanding rendition of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” Cornell hanged himself in a Detroit hotel hours after a Soundgarden concert there last May.

The Cars and four first-time nominees, including Simone, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, make up the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class.

Rock Hall voters have recently opened their hearts to progressive rockers, which benefited “Nights in White Satin” singers The Moody Blues, the last act to be inducted this year.

Wilson of Heart said the English rockers “are and have always been a kick ass rock band.”

Another English band, Dire Straits, were inducted at the event, but it was without leader Mark Knopfler, or his brother David Knopfler.  Onstage, guitarist John Illsley said of Mark’s absence: “I’ll assure you it’s a personal thing.  Let’s just leave it at that.”

Illsley thanked the entire band and described the group as “a collective, a brotherhood.” The band did not perform after speaking.

Brandon Flowers of the Killers, who has covered The Cars’ songs at his shows, was ecstatic and energetic as he inducted the band into the Rock Hall, even getting on his knee to hand the members their award as they walked onstage.

The Cars, founded in Boston in 1976 and known for combining New Wave and classic rock sounds, were inducted this year after being nominated twice before.



Back to Main Page

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

A scoundrel is born in Star Wars spinoff ‘Solo’

‘Shoplifters’ wins Palme d’Or, grand prize to Spike Lee

Photos of Kurt Cobain’s death scene will not be made public

Singing the blues: Study of pop music finds rise in sadness

Plenty to love in film about Borg versus McEnroe

Netta Barzilai wins 2018 Eurovision Song Contest for Israel

Glenn Frey’s family keeps legacy alive with tour, box set

Most excellent news: ‘Bill and Ted’ reuniting for sequel

Film Review: Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place’ is intoxicatingly creepy

Abu Dhabi’s Warner Bros. indoor amusement park opens in July

New song by Chris Cornell on collection of Cash’s writings

‘Gotti,’ with John Travolta, will premiere at Cannes

Film Review: In ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ Marvel goes nuclear

Springsteen ‘Born to Run’ manuscript heads to summer auction

Eric Idle looks at the bright side of (his own) life

Here we go again: ABBA records first new songs in 35 years

Johnson survives the rubble that is ‘Rampage’

Auction of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s personal items earns $909,000

‘Full Metal Jacket’ actor R. Lee Ermey dies at 74

Bon Jovi, Nina Simone, Moody Blues make it into Rock Hall

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