October 13, 2018 - October 19, 2018
Film Review: ‘A Star Is Born’ is dizzyingly wonderful
shows Lady Gaga (left) and Bradley Cooper in a scene from “A Star is Born.”
(Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
It’s hard not to go into “A Star Is Born” without a lot of prejudgments.
Even if you haven’t seen the other three versions, the mere fact that they
exist, and with such formidable talent, is enough to make anyone scoff at
the fact that Hollywood keeps dusting off this well-worn story about fame
and love and addiction. And then you throw in the fact that it was made by a
first-time director, who also happens to be a movie star, no less, and the
whole thing seems even more dubious. Leave that all at the door, though,
because “A Star Is Born,” is simply terrific — a big-scale cinematic delight
that will have the masses singing, swooning and sobbing along with it.
It’s quite a feat from
Bradley Cooper, who directed, co-wrote, produced and stars in the film.
Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a massively popular singer-songwriter whose path
intersects with an unknown and overlooked talent named Ally (a magnificent
Lady Gaga) and the two become entangled as his star fades and hers rises.
When the film starts,
Jackson is at the height of his fame, the type of fame where grocery store
cashiers take photos of you without asking, where you can send a private jet
to usher a girl you just met to your concert and where you can be an
alcoholic teetering on the edge because you’re talented and charismatic and
you make too many people too much money and, besides, you’re basically
functioning aside from the tinnitus.
Cooper puts the viewer
right with Jackson as he takes the stage at a big festival. His routine, you
imagine, doesn’t alter that much: Pop the pills. Drink the drink. Take the
hat off. Play. Sing. Exit stage left to drink some more. Only this night, he
ends up somewhere a little off his regular path, at a drag bar where Ally,
in full Edith Piaf costume, wakes him out of his ambling stupor with “La Vie
En Rose.” And with a star-making close-up of Ally, Jackson, and the
audience, falls in love.
Cooper and Gaga have
incredible chemistry, the kind that makes you believe that two strangers
would know in a night that they’re made for each other. Before you know it,
he’s asking her to come up on stage with him to sing her song, “Shallow,”
which someone films, puts on YouTube and creates a viral sensation.
The first hour of “A
Star Is Born” is downright electrifying — funny, exciting, sexy and wholly
lived-in. Characters you just met feel like old friends, from the drag
queens at the club to Ally’s father (Andrew Dice Clay) and his fellow
drivers. Sam Elliott, as Jackson’s brother, might only have 15 minutes of
screen time, but it’s enough to break your heart (and probably earn him some
awards love too). “A Star Is Born” is that rare film that makes you actually
feel part of a world, and not just like an observer on the other side of a
But like all good
things, the engine of that first hour only gets the film so far, and the
second half has its shortcomings. Cooper rushes through an enormous amount
of story to wrap things up in a reasonable runtime. While he does accomplish
this, it comes at the expense of Ally as a character who goes from earthy
singer-songwriter to a Katy Perry-like pop diva in an instant without much
This film wears its
thesis on its sleeve and is trying to make a point about being an artist
with “something to say” and making use of the time when people are
listening. Jackson values authenticity above all else, but we never get to
learn what Ally wants out of her career — all we know is that Jackson, and
presumably Cooper, disapprove of the artifice.
But the actors and the
filmmaking hold up “A Star Is Born” where the story cannot. Gaga is a gifted
actress, natural, vulnerable and strong as she goes toe-to-toe with Cooper
in what might be his best performance — the man truly disappears into
Jackson Maine. And as a director, well, he is the real deal and, with this
sort of introduction, definitely far from the shallow now.
“A Star Is Born,” a
Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of
America for “language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance
abuse.” Running time: 135 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
Chopin contest winner praises old pianos
Ritter, the Polish pianist who won the world’s 1st Frederic Chopin
competition on pianos from the romantic era, poses for a photo in Warsaw,
Poland, Friday, Sept. 21. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Warsaw, Poland (AP)
— The winner of the world’s 1st Chopin
competition on historic pianos says the search for the original sound
restores the appeal of classical music and helps artists understand the
Tomasz Ritter of Poland
was named the best of 30 young pianists at the 1st International Chopin
Competition on Period Instruments last month.
The 23-year-old student
from the Moscow State Conservatory earned top notes from the international
jury in all three stages of the contest, despite fighting severe pain in his
arms and shoulders that hit two weeks before the competition and forced him
to go on painkillers and seek out physical therapy.
One of the pianos he
played on was a 1842 French-made soft-sounding Pleyel, Frederic Chopin’s
favorite brand. He described its sound as “soft, long-lasting and singing.”
Ritter’s eyes lit up as
he explained that historic pianos, which are smaller and more delicate than
modern ones, require a light touch but render a nuanced sound and melody
that better reflects the notes written by Poland’s best loved 19th-century
“You cannot use force,
so you cannot produce a strong fortissimo, it does not sound well,” Ritter
said. “But their advantage is that in the pianissimo (soft sections) and in
the dark (parts of music), they are very interesting, they have a very wide
gamut of colors.”
sections on historic keyboards have different sounds, piano players can
easier understand the composer’s intentions.
“These instruments help
you read the composer’s text,” said Ritter, who has studied piano since the
age of 7, including historical pianos and harpsicord.
Chopin was born in 1810
in Zelazowa Wola near Warsaw, to a Polish mother and a French father. He
received his music education in Warsaw and started composing and giving
concerts there. At 20 he left Poland and settled in Paris, then Europe’s
center of art and music. He composed chiefly for the piano and much of his
work was inspired by Poland’s music, such as the polonaise and the mazurka
dances. His works require great skills that should serve a singing rendition
of the music, Ritter said.
Ritter, a native of
Lublin in eastern Poland, said his physical pain and discomfort vanished as
he concentrated on stage and “heard nothing, saw nothing and felt nothing
else” than his own performance.
His musicality was
revealed when, as a small child, he would burst into tears on hearing some
minor-key, sad-sounding Christmas carols, which were subsequently banned
from the family’s repertory, Ritter said.
As a result of the win,
Ritter’s calendar has filled up. Upcoming performances include Brussels in
November and Tokyo and Osaka next June, places that he is “very happy”
The next Chopin contest
on historical instruments will be in 2023.
departs from set habits, from stereotypes,” Ritter said.
“We all need something
new and alluring. Something that we have lost today.”
Unreleased Chris Cornell songs
to be released in November
image released by UMe shows the self titled album from Chris Cornell. The
album will be released on November 16. (UMe via AP)
New York (AP) —
New Chris Cornell music is being released more than a year after his death.
Cornell’s widow Vicky is behind the new
album “Chris Cornell,” as well as a four-disc box set. Both will be released
The first track from both projects is
titled “When Bad Does Good.” Vicky Cornell says it came from her husband’s
The box set will contain 11 unreleased
tracks. Both projects will include his solo work as well as music made with
Audioslave, Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog.
Vicky Cornell says the album is for his
fans and she wanted to remind people of all different aspects of him — “the
friend, husband and father, the risk taker and innovator, the poet and
Cornell died in May 2017 at 52 and his
death was ruled a suicide.
China orders actress Fan Bingbing to pay massive tax fine
In this May
24, 2017, file photo, Fan Bingbing poses for photographers as she arrives
for the screening of the film The Beguiled at the 70th international film
festival, Cannes, southern France. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Beijing (AP) —
Chinese tax authorities have ordered “X-Men” star Fan Bingbing and companies
she represents to pay taxes and penalties totaling $130 million, ending
speculation over the fate of one of the country’s highest-profile
entertainers three months after she disappeared from public view.
Of the total amount,
Fan is being personally fined around $70 million for tax evasion, according
to an announcement made last week by China’s official Xinhua News Agency,
citing tax authorities.
Fan would not be
investigated for criminal responsibility for tax evasion as long as the
taxes, fines and late fees amounting to nearly 900 million yuan ($130
million) are paid on time, the report said.
The announcement gave
no indication of Fan’s whereabouts but indicated her agent is being held by
police for allegedly obstructing the investigation.
Fan has starred in
dozens of movies and TV series in China and is best known internationally
for her role as Blink in 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” a cameo in the
Chinese version of “Iron Man 3,” and star turns on the red carpet at Cannes
as recently as May. Before her disappearance, she had been booked to star
with Penelope Cruz in the Hollywood film “355.” She has a role in the
upcoming Bruce Willis-Adrien Brody feature “Air Strike.”
Fan posted an apology
on her official account on the social media site Weibo.com saying that she
accepts the tax authorities’ decision and would “try my best to overcome all
difficulties and raise funds to pay back taxes and fines.”
“I am unworthy of the
trust of the society and let down the fans who love me,” she wrote in her
first update of her Weibo.com microblog since June 2.
A man surnamed Liang,
who identified himself as a staff member of Fan’s studio when reached by
phone, refused to comment on the announcement or on Fan’s location.
coincided with a crackdown by the authorities on high salaries for actors
that can eat up much of the cost of a production. In June, regulators capped
star pay at 40 percent of a TV show’s entire production budget and 70
percent of the total paid to all the actors in a film.
Chinese state media
said the investigation served as a warning to anyone working in the
country’s arts and entertainment. A separate Xinhua report said the
penalties issued to Fan would promote the “sustainable and healthy
development of the film and television industry and raise social awareness
on paying taxes according to the law.”
Hu Xijin, editor of the
Global Times tabloid known for its nationalist pro-Communist Party
opinions, said, “Fan’s case must be shaking the performing arts world.”
People who try to evade
taxes now will have to cough them up sooner or later, Hu wrote on his social
media page. “The bigger the brand, the more likely you are to attract
scrutiny. Just suffer this financial loss to be spared greater disaster,
moreover these are ill-gotten gains.”
The Xinhua report said
Fan evaded 7.3 million yuan in taxes by using a secret contract worth 20
million yuan that she signed for starring in the Chinese film “Unbreakable
Spirit.” She instead paid taxes on a contract for only 10 million yuan, it
said. The example refers to a reportedly common entertainment industry
practice in which actors have a public contract stating an official salary
and a private contract detailing actual, much higher pay.
A talk show host, Cui
Yongyuan, said in May that Fan had such an arrangement, which allegedly
facilitates tax evasion, and revealed details that sparked a public outcry.
Cui later apologized.
October 6, 2018 - October 12, 2018
Film Review: In ‘The Nun,’ what evil lurks beneath a habit
released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ingrid Bisu in a scene from “The
Nun.” (Justin Lubin/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
As frightening as the “The Nun” is, it doesn’t hold a candle to today’s
real-life horrors in the Catholic Church.
But while a new
generation of filmmakers has breathed new life into horror by embedding it
with frightful and salient social commentary, the “The Conjuring” franchise
— of which “The Nun” is a spinoff and the fifth installment — isn’t about
anything so real. It’s about exhuming classic horror archetypes — creaky old
houses and creepy old dolls — with (mostly) old-school effects. And what’s
more old school than a mean ol’ nun?
Set in 1952, “The Nun”
is the origin story of Valak (Bonnie Aarons), a demonic nun who first turned
up in “Conjuring 2,” as the pursuit of Vera Farmiga’s paranormal expert.
This time, our protagonist is Sister Irene (played by Vera’s younger sister
Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate who, just before her vows, is dispatched by the
Vatican, along with Father Burke (Demian Bichir), an expert in unexplained
phenomena (or as he says, “miracle hunting”), to a remote Romanian abbey
where a young nun has just hung herself.
The decaying, overgrown
abbey and its adjoining covenant are suitably eerie. The place, handsomely
crafted by production designer Jennifer Spence, has the feel of a
horror-movie set, complete with a foggy cemetery, and the action that
follows has the almost comforting pattern of surprises and scares that’s to
be expected. Entering the gothic world of “The Nun,” built so sturdily on
horror movie clichés, is to slide into a darkly fantastical realm that’s
practically cozy it’s so familiar.
Crypts will turn into
traps, apparitions will flicker in the mirrors and ancient Christian dogma
will be used for all its sinister power. Certainly, anyone who goes anywhere
at any time clutching a lantern will run into trouble.
But what distinguishes
“The Nun” is its silky, sumptuous shadows. Directed by British filmmaker
Corin Hardy (“The Hallows”) and shot by Maxime Alexander (who was also
cinematographer on the “Conjuring” spinoff “Annabelle: Creation,” ‘’The Nun”
shrouds itself so much in darkness that it at times verges on becoming a
nightmarish abstraction. You almost lose sense of what exactly is going on,
as Sister Irene falls into a labyrinthine abyss.
The spell, of course,
gets broken as the demands of plot and franchise return. And “The Nun” has
little to offer beyond: Beware of spooky Romanian abbeys. But for a moment
or two, it hangs suspended in a luxurious gloom, the kind that these days
passes for a welcome escape.
“The Nun,” a Warner
Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for
terror, violence, and disturbing/bloody images. Running time: 96 minutes.
Three stars out of four.
Fukunaga to direct next James Bond film for release in 2020
director Cary Jogi Fukunaga.
(AP Photo/Christian Alminana)
London (AP) —
American filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga is replacing Danny Boyle as director
of the next James Bond movie, producers have announced.
Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and
star Daniel Craig said the still-untitled Bond 25 will start filming at
London’s Pinewood Studios on March 4 next year, and will be released on Feb.
Release was delayed from the planned
November 2019 after “Slumdog Millionaire” director Boyle left the project in
August over what producers said were creative differences.
Fukunaga won an Emmy Award for the
first season of TV series “True Detective” and wrote and directed gritty war
movie “Beasts of No Nation,” starring Idris Elba — often named as a
potential successor to Craig as the suave superspy.
The new film will be Craig’s fifth, and
likely last, performance as 007.
Fukunaga, 41, is the first American
director in the series, which began in 1962 with “Dr. No.”
Wilson and Broccoli said Fukunaga’s
“versatility and innovation make him an excellent choice for our next James
Jefferson Airplane’s Kaukonen is still on embryonic journey
Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 photo, Jorma Kaukonen poses for a photo as his
Hot Tuna bandmates do a sound check before a gig at the El Rey Theatre
in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/John Rogers)
Los Angeles (AP)
— Long before he wrote and recorded the
Jefferson Airplane classic “Embryonic Journey,” Jorma Kaukonen was on a
decades-long journey of discovery of his own.
From shy, sometimes
bullied upper-class son of a globe-trotting U.S. diplomat in
post-colonial Pakistan, Kaukonen would evolve into a hard-drinking,
hell-raising teenager racing his motorcycle through the streets of the
Philippines in the mid-1950s.
Then it was on to a
Jesuit university to study Aristotelian logic and other lofty subjects
when not playing lead guitar for the Jefferson Airplane, a band he
co-founded with Marty Balin, Jack Casady and others and that helped
bring psychedelic sounds to the forefront of music.
Oh, and in his
spare time Kaukonen would co-found another iconic band, Hot Tuna, which
is still recording and touring 48 years later.
“It’s really funny,
it’s hard to rate one’s own life” the 77-year-old guitarist says,
smiling broadly as he reflects on how an embassy brat turned
intellectual academic seemed to morph so easily into a rock star in
1967’s Summer of Love San Francisco.
“But all things
considered, I have had a pretty interesting life,” adds the friendly
self-effacing Kaukonen as he relaxes in a deserted VIP section of
Hollywood’s El Rey Theatre hours before taking the stage for that
night’s sold-out Hot Tuna show.
He lays out much of
that life in the just-published memoir “Been So Long: My Life & Music”
(St. Martin’s Press). A quick, engaging read at 288 pages, his prose is
followed by the lyrics to dozens of songs he’s composed over the past 50
years as well as a five-song CD tucked in between the final two pages.
It’s a book that’s
been generally well received, although Kaukonen acknowledges some have
complained it doesn’t contain enough Jefferson Airplane photos or
anecdotes along the lines of, “What’s Grace Slick really like?”
Slick, one of the
band’s principal vocalists, wrote the book’s forward, which somewhat
answers that question. But raising it seems to annoy Kaukonen slightly.
“The Airplane is a
huge part of my life. I don’t trivialize it on any level. But it was A
PART of my life and it has to fit into the scheme of things,” he says
Then, regaining the
jovial attitude Slick says she remembers him best for, he adds impishly,
“If they continue to complain, I go, ‘Write your own book.’”
What “Been So Long”
clearly describes is a love affair with the guitar that began when a
14-year-old persuaded his father, Jorma Sr., to buy him a Gibson
Sunburst J-45 acoustic and then pretty much never put it down.
Eventually he would
start writing songs, and although Kaukonen maintains he’s not a prolific
musician his body of work would argue otherwise: Six classic Jefferson
Airplane albums in the 1960s and early ’70s followed by nearly two dozen
Hot Tuna albums and more than a dozen solo projects.
“It’s kind of like
learning the guitar,” he says when pressed on the dichotomy. “You start
out learning how to play and maybe you get a song or two and you get to
do an open mike. And then pretty soon you have enough for a set, and if
you keep adding you have a show. And if you live long enough you have a
body of work.”
By the time
Jefferson Airplane’s breakthrough album, “Surrealistic Pillow,” was
released in 1967 Kaukonen had earned his degree in sociology from Santa
Clara University and his finger-picking style was now creating
electric-guitar sounds pretty much unheard of in rock music.
The album was
anchored by soaring vocals from Slick and Balin, Kaukonen’s transcendent
guitar passages and Casady’s thundering bass lines on songs like White
Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.” And, in the middle, was a brief but
achingly beautiful acoustic-guitar instrumental called “Embryonic
“I thought he was
out of his mind,” Kaukonen says of his reaction when record producer
Rick Jarrard heard him playing it during a break and insisted it go on
the album. It remains a fan favorite to this day, and Kaukonen adds, “I
owe him a big debt of gratitude.”
By 1970 he and
Casady, a friend since childhood, had begun to tire of the Airplane’s
more rigid musical structure and formed Hot Tuna, an ever-changing
ensemble dedicated to a range of music from blues to jazz to Americana.
After they complete a tour this fall that’s taking them across the
country they plan another album.
“One of the things
people occasionally ask me is if I think about retiring, and my sort of
off-the-cuff answer is, ‘Why,” Kaukonen jokes. “So I’ll have more time
to play the guitar?”
“The reality of the
situation is that I still really love to do it. I love playing for an
audience. And for me to keep my playing at a level that pleases me I
need to perform.”
Dwayne Johnson backs film honoring Knievel jump
Sept. 1, 2016, file photo, stuntman Eddie Braun sits in the cockpit of
the “Evel Spirit”, a steam-powered rocket, at the team’s shop in Twin
Falls, Idaho. (Drew Nash/The Times-News via AP)
Los Angeles (AP)
- Before climbing into the cockpit of his
steam-powered rocket and blasting off across the Snake River Canyon,
daredevil Eddie Braun scribbled two things on his bare chest in marker.
Blood type: O
for the paramedics — in case his jump on Sept. 16, 2016, didn’t go as
launch in an endeavor that nearly killed his idol, Evel Knievel, more
than four decades earlier, serves as the backdrop for his new
documentary titled “Stuntman.” The nearly 90-minute film is backed by
Seven Bucks Productions, which is co-founded by movie star Dwayne
Johnson. The biography also features Braun’s life as a Hollywood
stuntman, where he’s been a stunt double for actors such as Charlie
Sheen and crashed vehicles in more explosive ways than he can count.
About that jump to
honor Knievel: Scariest thing he’s done. He even saw odds on his jump in
Las Vegas — 3-to-1 against him making it across.
“Despite the odds,
I was quite confident I could pull it off,” Braun said in a phone
A lifelong Knievel
fan — he had a Knievel-themed lunch box as a kid — Braun named his
rocket “Evel Spirit.” It was nearly identical to the model Knievel used
for his failed canyon attempt on Sept. 8, 1974. Braun’s purpose was to
finish what Knievel started and prove he could’ve made it had his
parachute not prematurely deployed. Joining the undertaking were
Knievel’s eldest son, Kelly, who was present the day of the crash, and
rocket designer Scott Truax, whose dad constructed the original rocket
On his attempt,
Braun’s rocket traveled about 2,900 feet into the air and went
approximately a mile — easily covering the canyon near Twin Falls,
Idaho. Braun deployed the giant red, white and blue parachute — homage
“This scared the
hell out of me. But because I’ve been terrified doing stunts, I learned
it’s OK be afraid,” Braun said. “There was a familiarity, when I put the
helmet on, because I’ve done that hundreds of times. It was like an old,
He became a
stuntman at 17 years old and has performed countless stunt scenes,
proudly proclaiming: “I’m the face you never see, but you see what I
His stunt work
ranges from TV series such as “The Fall Guy” and “The Dukes of Hazzard”
to movies like Clint Eastwood’s action film “The Rookie.” Braun actually
suffered a compound leg fracture in a crash while darting in and out of
traffic during a motorcycle scene. Eastwood was one of the first ones to
arrive at his side.
“I was like,
‘Clint, Is my foot still there?’ He looked down at me and said, ‘It’s
still there. But I don’t think you’ll make the wrap party,’” Braun
A good portion of
Braun’s documentary features footage of his lead-up to the
Knievel-tribute jump, an idea initially hatched in the kitchen of Sheen.
Braun and producer Steven Golebiowski were chatting about Knievel and
what a moment it would be for Braun’s career to finish the jump —
successfully. Golebiowski instantly liked the idea and director Kurt
Mattila later got involved, with the trio forming Driven Pictures.
Guitarist Slash of Guns N’ Roses got involved by recording Elton John’s
“Rocket Man” for the project. Johnson embraced the venture as well,
along with his business partner and executive producer Dany Garcia.
opportunity to showcase Eddie’s career and this often overlooked line of
work is an honor for us,” said Johnson, whose movies includes “Jumanji:
Welcome to the Jungle” and “The Game Plan.”