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Arts - Entertainment - Film Review World
 

October 27, 2018 - November 2, 2018

Film Review: Chazelle’s ‘First Man’ is at once intimate and grand

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ryan Gosling in a scene from “First Man.” (Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures via AP)

Jocelyn Noveck

Los Angeles (AP) - Nearly a half-century has passed since the majestic moment when Neil Armstrong stepped carefully onto the lunar landscape, left foot first, taking that giant leap for mankind.

Whether you were alive then and glued to the TV, or relived it later through that iconic, grainy NASA footage, what you probably remember is just that: The majesty.

You’re probably not thinking much about the deafening noise, the claustrophobia, the terror of blasting off in a rickety sardine can that could fail at any moment for any of a thousand reasons. Or the fact that Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could have ended up stranded, left to die on the moon; President Richard Nixon had a speech ready for that dark scenario.

You will, though, be thinking of these things as you watch “First Man,” the latest installment in director Damien Chazelle’s meteoric career — and sorry for the space pun, but it’s entirely apt. An intimate character study that somehow becomes grand just when it needs to, “First Man,” based on the book by James R. Hansen with a script by Josh Singer, is a worthy successor not only to Chazelle’s “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” but to the astronaut films that precede it, like “Apollo 13” and especially “The Right Stuff.”

It’s also, amazingly, the first feature film about Armstrong. Chazelle’s partner here is Ryan Gosling, who dials down his obvious star wattage to give an internalized, fully committed performance as the “reluctant hero,” as Armstrong’s own family described him.

Gosling’s task here is not merely to give dimension to a mythical American hero. He also has to play a man who famously kept his emotions in check. That may not be an asset for a movie character, but sure was an asset for the first human to set foot on another world.

And that’s because this stuff was, well, terrifying! We begin in 1961, during Armstrong’s test pilot days. Taking a hypersonic X-15 up for a spin, he’s suddenly in trouble; he can’t get back down. “Neil, you’re bouncing off the atmosphere,” comes the rather concerned voice from below.

He makes it back, though, barely breaking a sweat. As for us, we’re irretrievably rattled.

From the heavens we go to a small home office, where Armstrong is on the phone, trying to find help for his toddler daughter, ill with cancer. His grief over her fate will remain a theme of the film until the end. But it remains unspoken, even to his stoic wife, Janet, played here with subtlety and grit by the wonderful Claire Foy.

Seeking a fresh start, Armstrong becomes an astronaut in NASA’s Gemini program. On Gemini 8, he successfully docks his spacecraft with another before suffering a harrowing in-flight emergency.

The split-second that separates giddy success from terrifying failure, the tiny, claustrophobic spaces, the flimsy materials, the shaking, the roaring, the positively ancient-looking technology — Chazelle illustrates all of this, indelibly.  And we’re forced to wonder: How did they ever make it into space even once?

On the ground, meanwhile, we see what it’s like to be a loved one. During Gemini, Janet explodes at Armstrong’s boss, Deke Slayton (an excellent Kyle Chandler): “You’re a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood! You don’t have ANYTHING under control.”

Then there’s the devastating launch-pad testing disaster that killed Armstrong’s fellow astronauts, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White. Hearing the news on the phone, Armstrong clutches a wine glass so tightly, he breaks it and gashes his hand. But if he has qualms about going forward, he doesn’t show it.

One of the more chilling scenes is a brief look at NASA bosses reviewing the speech Nixon will give if the men can’t get off the moon, and what he’ll say to the “soon-to-be widows.”

And then, the mission. That famous walk to the launchpad, the astronauts waving, the applause. You hold your breath imagining how Chazelle will pull off the landing itself. With a granite quarry in Georgia standing in for the moonscape, it’s as grand and beautiful as you’d want. And yet it’s not a mere recreation of what we’ve seen before.

There’s been a distracting controversy over whether Chazelle “ignores” the precise moment when astronauts planted a flag. It’s silly for many reasons, but especially because this isn’t a movie about symbols, or myths.

It’s about men — especially one man. After the grandeur of the moon landing, an event that still boggles the mind, the movie ends on a note of extreme quiet: just two people staring at each other.

“First Man,” a Universal Studios release, has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.” Running time: 141 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.


Getting better: Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ named top album in UK

The Beatles, from left: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison are shown in this Oct. 26, 1965 file photo. (AP Photo)

London (AP) — The Beatles’ psychedelic masterwork “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” has been named the most popular British album in history.

The Official Charts Company said that the band’s 1967 classic is Britain’s favorite album based on physical sales, downloads and streams in the U.K.

The album found the four mates from Liverpool at their most experimental and inventive and includes favorites like “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “A Day in the Life.”

The band by then had stopped touring and were focusing their efforts on studio work under the guidance of producer George Martin.

The album came ahead of Adele’s “21,” which finished second, and the 1995 Oasis album “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?”


Film with Fan Bingbing, Bruce Willis canceled after tax case

In this May 24, 2017, file photo, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing poses for photographers at the Cannes Film Festival in southern France. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Beijing (AP) — The director of “Air Strike,” featuring Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, says the film’s release has been canceled in the wake of her disappearance and conviction on tax evasion charges.

The World War II thriller, also starring Bruce Willis and Adrien Brody, was to have been released Oct. 26.

However, director Xiao Feng posted on his Weibo miniblog that it was “time to let go” after eight years of work on the film.

Chinese tax authorities this month ordered Fan 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.

State media said Fan evaded taxes by using two separate contracts for her work on “Air Strike.”

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 for 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.”


October 13, 2018 - October 19, 2018

Film Review: ‘A Star Is Born’ is dizzyingly wonderful

This image shows Lady Gaga (left) and Bradley Cooper in a scene from “A Star is Born.” (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

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 screen.

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 inquiry.

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

Tomasz 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)

Monika Scislowska

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 composer’s intentions.

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 romantic composer.

“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.”

Because different 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” about.

The next Chopin contest on historical instruments will be in 2023.

“This competition 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

This cover 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 November 16.

The first track from both projects is titled “When Bad Does Good.” Vicky Cornell says it came from her husband’s archives.

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 artist.”

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)

Gillian Wong

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.

Her disappearance 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

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ingrid Bisu in a scene from “The Nun.” (Justin Lubin/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Jake Coyle

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

 

U.S. film 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. 14, 2020.

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 Bond adventure.”


Jefferson Airplane’s Kaukonen is still on embryonic journey

In this 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)

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 emphatically.

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 Journey.”

“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

In this 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)

Pat Graham

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 positive.

Allergies: Penicillin.

Useful information for the paramedics — in case his jump on Sept. 16, 2016, didn’t go as planned.

Braun’s successful 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 interview.

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 for Knievel.

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 to Knievel.

“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, uncomfortable friend.”

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 do.”

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 recounted.

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.

“Having the 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.”
 


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Film Review: Chazelle’s ‘First Man’ is at once intimate and grand

Getting better: Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ named top album in UK

Film with Fan Bingbing, Bruce Willis canceled after tax case


‘A Star Is Born’ is dizzyingly wonderful

Chopin contest winner praises old pianos

Unreleased Chris Cornell songs to be released in November

China orders actress Fan Bingbing to pay massive tax fine


In ‘The Nun,’ what evil lurks beneath a habit

Fukunaga to direct next James Bond film for release in 2020

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