Film Review: ‘Rogue One’ is a dark, exhilarating blast
shows Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso in a scene from, “Rogue One: A Star Wars
Story.” (Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm Ltd. via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - “Rogue One: A Star
Wars Story “ seemed suspicious on paper, like any film saddled with the
dreaded “spinoff” label. For a while all the odds looked stacked against it
too — reshoots, script changes and a director in Gareth Edwards whose last
blockbuster “Godzilla” had visual flair but no humanity, not to mention the
fact that the film would be asking us to learn a dozen new characters with
strange names, none of which were Skywalker or Solo. And of course as with
any franchise there’s that ever-present knowledge that, in some ways, this
is another line-item on a corporate profit sheet.
As it turns out, those should-be
liabilities were only assets in the end. “Rogue One” is a bold and stirring
adventure film that will have both fans and casual observers spellbound. It
is easily the most exciting blockbuster in recent memory this side of “Mad
Max: Fury Road,” and that includes “The Force Awakens,” which now looks lazy
and bloated with sentimentality and fan service in comparison to the
subversive ingenuity of “Rogue One.”
How refreshing it is to have a truly
contained film that doesn’t have any objective beyond the story at hand.
There is nothing to advance, nothing to tease, no “maybe we’ll find answers
in the next movie in 2 years” here. It is just allowed to be what it is,
which is an intense and visually engrossing powder keg of a film.
It’s a simple idea, really: Who are the
rebels who stole the plans for the Death Star? That pivotal action kicked
off the original “Star Wars” and it’s pretty inherently dramatic.
Loosely, “Rogue One” is rooted around
the plight of Jyn Erso, whose father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is a
scientist who once worked for the Empire. He gets drawn back in by the
ambitious Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to help finish the Death Star,
leaving Jyn, played by Beau and Dolly Gadsdon as a young girl, and Felicity
Jones as an adult, to survive on her own. Jyn is sort of raised by a rebel
extremist in Saw Gerrera (an over-the-top Forest Whitaker), but much of this
is left both unseen and unexplained.
What we know is she’s a child of war,
and an almost apathetic one at that, until she’s rescued from imprisonment
by a group of rebels hoping her familial connections might help with their
efforts against the Empire. There she’s put together with a deadpan droid
K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk) and a spy, Cassian (Diego Luna), who’s given a secret
mission within the mission. Eventually they meet the blind Jedi Chirrut
(Donnie Yen), his decidedly more practical companion Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang)
and the conflicted pilot (Riz Ahmed), forming a motley crew of unlikely
The real feat of “Rogue One” is that
Edwards and screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy create a world with
actual stakes, making the audience feel for and worry about characters we’ve
just met. It doesn’t rely on decades old nostalgia, although there is a bit
of that too in mostly unobtrusive ways. There’s also some CGI that veers
pretty dramatically into the uncanny valley. But like the somewhat slow and
disjointed beginning, eventually it all just washes over you, especially as
the riveting action kicks in, taking you from the trenches to space and back
again. The only downside of the thrilling battles in the third act is that
it means less time with the leads — especially Jones, Luna and Mendelsohn,
whose performances make up for the script’s occasional deficiencies.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is one
of the best Star Wars films ever made. Only time will tell if it will
surpass “The Empire Strikes Back” as the franchise standard bearer. There’s
a compelling case to be made.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” a Walt
Disney Studios release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of
America for “extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.” Running
time: 133 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
Paris exhibition reveals secret agents’ tricks
of a Czech agent used to disguise as a nun is displayed as part of the
‘Secret Wars’ exhibition at Invalides Museum, in Paris, Monday, Dec. 12. (AP
spy gadgets and weapons of secret agents, most of which have never been
shown in public before, are displayed at the exhibition in Paris, (AP
Paris (AP) -
Lipstick pistols, poison pens, explosive rats — a new Paris exhibit reveals
real-life spy gadgets and tells the story of how secret agents around the
world were recruited, trained and equipped during clandestine missions from
World War I to the end of the Cold War.
“Secret Wars,” which
opened last month at Les Invalides, offers a chance to relive the days
before espionage went online, displaying about 400 objects, devices and
archives from French, British, American and German collections, most of
which have never been shown before.
Far from James Bond’s
glamorous life, it tells the story of men and women who put their lives at
risk to gather intelligence and carry out clandestine operations,
misinformation and destabilization missions.
Visitors can discover
the spies’ disguise kits, including wigs and fake mustaches, and their
equipment, like miniature cameras and discreet audio recorders.
They can also see rare
documents, such as the first mention of Adolf Hitler in French files in
1923: “not an idiot but a very skilled demagogue,” the agent wrote.
Spies also used various
techniques of camouflage for objects, from a letterbox in a tree branch to a
pistol looking like lipstick.
A dead rat stuffed with
explosives could be placed by a saboteur in a coal pile in the boiler of a
locomotive — so when the rat goes into the fire, the engine explodes.
Since the creation of
permanent intelligence services at the end of the 19th century, scientific
and technological progress enabled experts to make spy devices and weapons
ever smaller, more silent and less visible.
umbrella,” actually invented by the Soviet secret services, was aiming at
discreetly injecting poison in the body of a victim, causing death within
pieces are the famous Enigma machine, which was used to code communications
of the Germans through a complex encryption process during World War II, and
a real submarine used by the French secret agents in the 1970.
Various excerpts of spy
films illustrate the fantasy and myth about the job.
But the exhibition also
shows the risks of a life in the shadow.
During times of war,
agents could be considered as war prisoners and face trial —and potentially
a death sentence. Some agents wore rings hiding cyanide pills they could
swallow in case of arrest and torture — in order not to speak.
“In peacetime, it’s
even more simple. They have no status at all,” Francois Lagrange, one of
the exhibit’s curators, told The Associated Press.
The exhibit ends with
secrets revealed and errors exposed in scandals making newspapers’
headlines. “At first, when some elements concerning that kind of (secret)
operations are revealed, it means it’s a failure,” Lagrange said.
Yet the greatest
successes of the services long remain secret. Some agents write their
memories around 40 or 50 years later.
“And that’s only at
that moment than we can start making the balance between what went wrong and
what went well. And even later, you’ll get the archives —classification of
top secret documents can last from 50 to 100 years,” Lagrange said. “We
must wait for a long time to get confirmation of what really happened.”
Patti Smith explains Dylan
lyric flub in candid essay
Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 file photo, US singer Patti Smith performs “A Hard
Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” by absent 2016 Nobel literature laureate Bob Dylan
during the 2016 Nobel prize award ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall in
Sweden. (AP Photo)
Los Angeles (AP) - Patti Smith
says that when she stumbled over the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song during the
Nobel Prize ceremony earlier this month, it was because she was overwhelmed
with nerves by the enormity of the experience, not because she forgot the
words to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
Smith writes in an essay published by
the New Yorker that after loving the song since she was a teenager
and rehearsing it incessantly in the months and days leading up to the
ceremony, its lyrics “were now a part of me.”
“I hadn’t forgotten the words that were
now a part of me,” she writes. “I was simply unable to draw them out.”
The singer-songwriter explains that she
had chosen one of her own songs when she was invited in September to perform
at the Nobel ceremony in honor of the eventual literature laureate. But
when Dylan was announced as the recipient, she chose one of her longtime
favorites from his catalog.
Smith writes that on the morning of the
ceremony, “I thought of my mother, who bought me my first Dylan album when I
was barely sixteen.”
“It occurred to me then that, although
I did not live in the time of Arthur Rimbaud, I existed in the time of Bob
Dylan,” Smith writes. “I also thought of my husband and remembered
performing the song together, picturing his hands forming the chords.”
Smith suddenly stopped singing during
her performance at Stockholm’s Concert Hall on Dec. 10 and asked the
orchestra to begin again. “I apologize. I’m sorry, I’m so nervous,” Smith
said at the time.
She says guests at the ceremony
received her kindly and told her that her performance “seemed a metaphor for
our own struggles.” She says the experience made her “come to terms with
the truer nature of my duty.”
“Why do we commit our work? Why do we
perform?” she writes. “It is above all for the entertainment and
transformation of the people. It is all for them. The song asked for
nothing. The creator of the song asked for nothing. So why should I ask
Elton John launching competition to make videos for 70s hits
New York (AP) — Elton John is
giving filmmakers a chance to create music videos for his 1970s hits that
were released before music videos were popular.
The English singer announced last week,
in celebration of his 50th anniversary with songwriting partner Bernie
Taupin, that he’s launching a competition with YouTube for aspiring video
creators to make music videos for “Rocket Man,” ‘’Tiny Dancer” and “Bennie
and the Jets.”
Entries for “Elton John: The Cut” open
Jan. 9, 2017. The competition closes on Jan. 23 and creators must be at
John, Taupin, a panel of YouTube
creators and industry players will pick three winners, and music videos will
premiere next summer. Winners will also receive $10,000 from YouTube.
Pulse Films will help the filmmakers with production.
Myanmar town wants the secret out:
George Orwell slept here
George Orwell scholar Nyo Ko Naing points to a portrait of a former British
colonial official inside a planned museum to be dedicated to the famous
British author in Katha, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Aung Naing Soe)
Aung Naing Soe
Katha, Myanmar (AP)
— In the 1990s, Nyo Ko Naing noticed that the
handful of foreign tourists who made it to his remote hometown were carrying
their own maps and looked like they were searching for something. Someone,
it turns out, by the name of George Orwell.
Katha was Eric Blair’s
last posting in the Imperial Police before he sailed back to England in
1927, adopted the nom de plume Orwell and launched a writing career that
would produce powerful novels and commentary. Seven years after leaving the
sleepy town on the Irrawaddy River, he immortalized it as the setting of his
first novel, the vehemently anti-colonial “Burmese Days,” though he called
it not Katha but “Kyauktada.”
The British Club, where
much of the novel’s scheming, fighting, drinking and sweating takes place,
still stands, as do other sites mentioned including a tennis court, a pagoda
and a prison. A house believed to have been Orwell’s home in Katha remains
Nyo Ko Naing, a graphic
designer and cartoonist, didn’t know much about “Burmese Days” at first, but
soon grasped how important it was to the future of the town.
He has since become the
town’s preservationist, in-house historian, amateur Orwell scholar and
literary tour guide, keen to market Katha as a tourist destination. He’s
helping to renovate the 19th-century house of the former British
commissioner for use as a museum that is expected to open next year.
“It is not easy to get
attention from the world,” the 45-year-old said in a recent interview. “So
it’s like Katha won the lottery.”
has grown in Myanmar since a half-century of military rule ended in 2011,
though numbers remain small. Nyo Ko Naing estimates that Katha sees 300 to
400 such visitors per month.
In 2012, he founded the
Katha Heritage Trust and mounted a campaign through the media to save the
commissioner’s house from a local businessman who wanted to turn the
property into a skating rink.
The first floor is now
full of archival photos, including one of Orwell as a young policeman, and
several portraits of the writer painted recently by local artists.
materials for the museum right now, such as photos, data and other heritage
of Katha. And we’re also renovating that house by maintaining its own
original style. That’s why it takes time,” he said.
“Now we have spent 4
million kyats (US$3,000) and some tourists have donated,” he added. “We
will renovate more whenever we get money.”
The museum will also
focus on Katha’s history, with information about nearby battles during World
War II and other aspects of the area deemed significant.
Nyo Ko Naing hopes
Orwell will be a magnet for foreign tourists who will linger for other
attractions, such as Katha’s traditional elephant camps, which the
government is exploring turning into eco-tourism destinations amid a
wide-ranging ban on logging.
A 12-hour train ride
from Mandalay, Katha is a small, idyllic town in the Sagaing region. The
atmosphere is as tranquil as the flowing Irrawaddy. As the sun sets,
visitors and families stroll along the promenade as mountains darken in the
In the past five years,
Myanmar has been rapidly modernizing, and Katha is no exception. There are
shiny new bank branches and new hotels. Mobile phone shops proliferate.
Many colonial buildings have been left alone, giving the place a timeless
feel, though many structures are dilapidated.
Both the tennis court
and the prison are still in use. The British Club is now a local business
The Hotel Katha, which
opened last year, has seized on the Orwell connection. Built to resemble a
red-brick colonial home, it offers brochures at the front desk with maps
guiding visitors to key sites from the novel. Guests can read copies of
“Burmese Days” and Orwell’s essays in the lobby or dine at the Kyauktada
Cafe & Restaurant. Meeting rooms are named “Flory,” ‘’Elizabeth,” and
“Macgregor,” after three of the book’s characters.
“I want visitors to
feel like they are in the book,” said the owner, Bran Aung, in a phone
interview. “I want to add more about Orwell. I am still collecting.”
Best known for “1984”
and “Animal Farm,” Orwell is also admired for his condemnation of
colonialism in “Burmese Days,” depicting the British denizens of Kyauktada
largely as racist exploiters. Yet the novel was more read and celebrated
abroad than in Burma.
Censorship was lifted
in 2012. A year later, Maung Myint Kywe won the government’s most
prestigious literary award for his Burmese translation of “Burmese Days.”
“He told me that his
translation had been sleeping in the hands of the publisher for more than 30
years,” Thurein Win, who has translated Orwell’s essays, wrote in an email
interview. Maung Myint Kywe died in 2014.
Orwell wrote darkly
about British and Burmese alike. “Some Burmese don’t like him for his
provocative words, but others love his writing,” Thurein Win said.
Nyo Ko Naing’s most
impressive Orwellian work may be tracking down the author’s house, which he
had previously confused with the commissioner’s. He used a colonial-era map
to pinpoint the residence as a two-story teak home on the main road, not far
from the Katha Hotel.
In a twist that might
amuse Orwell, it is still occupied by a police officer.
“My colleagues said
that the house you are going to stay in belongs to the English writer George
Orwell,” said Police Chief Myint Aung, who was recently transferred to
Katha. He didn’t know anything about the writer, but he is embracing the
Although the home isn’t
officially open to tourists, he lets curious visitors poke around, and he
has allowed the trust to hang a banner on the porch explaining some basic
“The town of George
Orwell is lovely as well as interesting,” the sign says.
‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land’ separate
from award season pack
shows Ryan Gosling (right) and Emma Stone in a scene from, “La La Land.”
(Dale Robinette/Lionsgate via AP)
New York (AP) -
In Hollywood’s early but rapidly solidifying awards season, two films —
radically different in tone and tune — have separated themselves from the
pack: “Moonlight” and “La La Land.”
Jenkins’ lyrical coming-of-age tale, added to its already hefty haul earlier
this month, taking best picture from the Los Angeles Film Critics
Association. The group also gave best director to Jenkins, best supporting
actor to Mahershala Ali and best cinematography to James Laxton.
is shown in a scene from the film, “Moonlight.”
(David Bornfriend/A24 via AP)
Those three awards
mirrored the picks by the LAFAA’s East Coast corollary, the New York Film
Critics Circle. But the New York critics ultimately chose Damien Chazelle’s
“La La Land” as the year’s best film, whereas the LA critics had “La La
Land” — a colorful ode to the group’s hometown — as runner-up for best
picture and best director.
Which film will have
the edge in the coming weeks — when the more crucial industry groups begin
ringing in with their awards — is an open question. “Moonlight,” which also
triumphed at the Gotham Awards, is perhaps the year’s most critically
celebrated film. Across three chapters, it follows a boy growing up black,
gay and poor in Miami.
But “La La Land,”
starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is only just hitting theaters. It has
widely been seen as the best-picture front-runner since winning the audience
award at the Toronto International Film Festival. While “Moonlight” is
bracingly intimate, the song-and-dance “La La Land” is a starry,
“La La Land” is also
likely to dominate in sheer number of nominations, thanks to its lead
performances, high-level of craft and original songs. It was honored by the
LA critics for the musical work of Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin
The only film that has
rivaled either in the early awards is Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the
Sea.” The National Board of Review bestowed its top award on the New
England drama, and the film’s star, Casey Affleck, has been the most common
pick so far. (The LA critics, however, went with Adam Driver for Jim
And despite a crowded
best-actress field, including Stone for “La La Land” and Natalie Portman for
“Jackie,” the early favorite has been French actress Isabelle Huppert, star
of both “Elle” and “Things to Come.” She was the choice of the LA and New
York critics, as well as the Gotham Independent Film Awards.
Other films have been
singled out elsewhere. The British Film Independent Awards gave four awards
to Andrea Arnold’s road-trip odyssey “American Honey,” including best film.
(It also chose “Moonlight” as its best international independent film.)
A lot could still
change, but the Feb. 26 Oscars are increasingly coming into view. They
finally have their host, in Jimmy Kimmel, and in “La La Land” and
“Moonlight,” the night’s finalists might already be decided, too.
Film Review: The beauty and tragedy of ‘The Light Between Oceans’
shows Alicia Vikander in a scene from, “The Light Between Oceans.” (Davi
Russo/Dreamworks II via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
There is no misfortune too shattering for Derek Cianfrance it seems. The
writer and director of “Blue Valentine,” ‘’The Place Beyond the Pines” and
now, an adaptation of the M.L. Stedman novel “The Light Between Oceans “
confidently strides into stories of little hope and painful circumstance,
using pretty actors and even prettier settings to create sweeping milieus of
But where the
dissolving marriage in “Blue Valentine” was so tangibly real that it felt as
raw as a breakup, “The Light Between Oceans” crashes into the shores of its
own strange story, pummeling the audience with Big Feelings that never quite
cut through. Perhaps it’s because it follows the characters down a morally
murky path of increasingly poor choices where only one is given any depth
after the original sin. But we’ll get to that later.
“The Light Between
Oceans” starts out as a handsome love story in a handsome place, even if
dread looms in the angry seas and winds enveloping this picturesque seaside
town. Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender, looking rugged and war-weary) has
just returned from service in World War I and takes a position as the
caretaker of a lighthouse on a small island off the coast of Australia.
He’s warned that the last man in the job went a little crazy out there on
his own, and everyone seems to think that it’s just not a good idea to live
on that island without a wife.
In any event, the stoic
Tom finds a woman soon enough in Isabel (a luminous Alicia Vikander), who is
forward and spirited enough to suggest a date with the shy newcomer. They
fall fast and beautifully in love and take off for life on the island
together, enraptured of one another in a newlywed daze.
Then Isabel starts to
have problems carrying a child to term. She loses one early on, and then
another quite a bit later in pregnancy. The second is the blow that
threatens to destroy them, until they spot a rowboat drifting in the
waters. Inside, there’s a dead man and a wailing infant girl. You know
where this is going.
After one night with
the child, Isabel is a goner. She’s fallen in love with this gift and like
a stubborn child will not let go despite Tom’s pleas (What about adoption?
My professional obligation to log everything? The social contract to not
steal babies?). But Tom, seeing the spark return to Isabel’s haunted eyes,
And they start raising
the little one as their own, sinking deeper into the lie until Tom realizes
that the mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz), lives heartbroken on the mainland.
The human factor makes Tom’s moral compass spin and it’s here that the story
really starts to lose itself quite simply because the other half of this
equation is reduced to a one-note cliché.
As a mother, Isabel is
no longer an individual, a sexual being or even a supportive partner. She
is just a gooey mess of motherly emotions and insanity. It’s a shame, too.
How often is the devastation of multiples miscarriages and stillbirths, an
experience that so many women have, actually represented? Once the child
arrives, it’s no longer Isabel’s story. Tom gets to be the protector of his
childlike wife and the martyr for their choices. By the third act, I’m
certain we’re not supposed to be annoyed with everyone (actually, Isabel’s
parents are OK).
“The Light Between
Oceans” is stunning to see, and the performances are of the highest caliber,
but it’s all packaged in a story that just doesn’t earn its stay, or our
“The Light Between
Oceans,” a Walt Disney Studios release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture
Association of America for “thematic material and some sexual content.”
Running time: 132 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Guitarist/singer Greg Lake of Emerson,
Lake and Palmer dies at 69
30, 1972 file photo shows (from left) Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, and, Carl
Palmer of the rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer. (AP Photo)
London (AP) -
Musician Greg Lake co-founded both King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer
— bands that helped define the sprawling, influential but often-maligned
genre known as progressive rock.
Lake, who died of
cancer last week at 69, was instrumental in bringing classical influences,
epic length, mythic scope and 1970s excess into rock ‘n’ roll, winning
millions of fans before punk swept in and spoiled the party.
Born in the southern
English seaside town of Poole in 1947, Lake founded King Crimson with
guitarist Robert Fripp in the late 1960s. The band pioneered the ambitious
genre that came to be known as progressive rock.
He went on to form ELP
with keyboardist Keith Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer. With Lake as
vocalist and guitarist, ELP impressed crowds at the 1970 Isle of Wight
Festival, in a lineup that also featured Jimi Hendrix and The Who.
The band released six
platinum-selling albums characterized by songs of epic length, classical
influence and ornate imagery, and toured with elaborate light shows and
One album was a live
interpretation of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an
Exhibition.” It reached the top 10 in both Britain and the United States, a
feat that seems astonishing now. Another, “Tarkus,” contains a 20-minute
track telling the story of the titular creature, a mythic armadillo-tank.
Emerson, Lake and
Palmer’s 1973 album “Brain Salad Surgery” included a nearly 30-minute
composition called “Karn Evil 9” that featured a Moog synthesizer and the
eerie, carnival-like lyric: “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never
They filled stadiums
and sold records by the millions, but ELP and other prog-rock bands such as
Yes and the Moody Blues suffered a backlash with the arrival of punk in the
mid-to-late 1970s. They were ridiculed as the embodiment of pomposity and
self-indulgence that rock supposedly eschewed.
ELP broke up in 1979,
reunited in 1991, later disbanded again and reunited for a 2010 tour.
Emerson died in March
from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Santa Monica, California.
Palmer, the group’s
sole survivor, said “Greg’s soaring voice and skill as a musician will be
remembered by all who knew his music.”
“Having lost Keith this
year as well has made this particularly hard for all of us,” Palmer said.
“As Greg sang at the end of ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’, ‘death is life.’
His music can now live forever in the hearts of all who loved him.”
Film Review: Set sail with the spirited, familiar ‘Moana’
This image shows the character Moana, voiced by Auli’i
Cravalho, in a scene from the animated film, “Moana.” (Disney via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
Stop me if this sounds familiar: A Disney animation film about a bright and
spirited young woman who feels stifled by outmoded expectations and dreams
of exploring beyond the confines of her home. It’s the premise of “Moana ,”
but it’s also that of “The Little Mermaid,” ‘’Beauty and the Beast,”
‘’Mulan,” ‘’Brave” and scores of other animated films about teenage girls.
It’s not a bad one by
any means, and an understandably captivating foundation for children
especially, but “Moana” is, like so many recent films, dressed up as
something wholly new and bold and corrective against all the sins of fairy
tales past. There’s an entire scene where Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) fights
back against the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) for calling her a “princess”
with such fervor that the ultimate effect isn’t “hooray” but more “who
cares?” What is so wrong with being a princess versus being the daughter of
a chief who will eventually lead the island? It’s just semantics.
It’s distracting from
both the real virtues of “Moana,” of which there are many, and also fairly
dismissive of the mere “princesses” who came before who basically accomplish
the same things. In fact, the only real advancement lately is the recent
excising of a love interest — but I imagine that has more to do with modern
audiences wincing at the idea of a 16-year-old heroine getting married than
actual progress in developing more complex female characters.
But perhaps that, too,
is just getting bogged down in semantics in another way and deflecting from
the very wonderful and joyous “Moana,” a classic Disney pic to the core,
bursting with stunning visuals, good hearted humor, adventure and some truly
catchy songs from “Hamilton” maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Move over, “Let
it Go,” there is something really grand and even superior about the swelling
rally cry of “How Far I’ll Go.”)
On Moana’s island,
everything looks like a dream — saturated colors and lush landscapes
surrounded by an ocean, the lifelike waters of which are a technical and
artistic marvel. But Moana’s people distrust the ocean and outsiders and
keep themselves isolated from the rest of the world. Moana, however, is
drawn to the sea, and the sea, a character in its own right, is likewise
drawn to her. She has been selected as its chosen one. Thus, when things
on the idyllic island start to decay, it’s Moana, encouraged by her quirky
grandmother Tala (Rachel House), who takes the initiative to sail away to
try to return the stolen heart to the fabled island of Te Fiti and save her
She journeys first to
get the help of Maui, a cocky showoff who has his own agenda that doesn’t
involve taking orders from a pushy teen, and then across the ocean where
Moana, Maui and a dimwitted chicken encounter all kinds of obstacles,
including a band of hostile coconuts (a terrific gag), a glam rock hermit
crab (Jemaine Clement) at the bottom of the ocean and a vindictive lava
The fable of “Moana” is
sweet, often funny, spiritual and epic, although Johnson’s reliable charisma
gets lost under the animation and the writing. Moana, however, is an
excellent character with spirit, doubts, drive and a heck of a voice. She
is a perfect addition to the roster of modern Disney heroines and one whom
young girls will admire for years to come, princess or not.
“Moana,” a Walt Disney
Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America
for “peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements.” Running time:
113 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Zemeckis hopes glamour, intrigue
will draw ‘Allied’ audience
Brad Pitt and French actress Marion Cotillard pose for photographers during
a photocall for the premiere of new film ‘Allied’ in Madrid, Spain Tuesday
Nov. 22. (AP Photo/Abraham Caro Marin)
Los Angeles (AP) — In a world of
franchises, reboots and comic-book films, the original espionage thriller
“Allied” is a comparatively bold gamble for a studio. Glamorous, serious,
and classically made (with a healthy dose of CGI), “Allied,” from director
Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight, looks to harken back to a
bygone Hollywood of David Lean epics and sweeping romances between
larger-than-life movie stars.
In “Allied,” the would-be Bogart and
Bergman are Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, who slip into sumptuous period
costumes and settings to tell the story of a pair of WWII-era spies, in
Casablanca and then in England, who fall in love amid the turmoil of war.
Their happy existence is put into doubt, however, when Max’s (Pitt)
superiors inform him that they suspect Marianne (Cotillard), now his wife
and the mother of his child, is a double agent.
“It’s rare that we can still do movies
like this one — very deep love stories with original subjects and surprising
stories,” Cotillard said. “It is this very entertaining movie with very
strong and powerful feelings and real questions about love and war.”
Zemeckis was pleased that his leads
looked natural and of the time in the clothes.
“Sometimes you put period costumes on
contemporary actors and they look like they are dressed up,” Zemeckis said.
“But they were able to carry those costumes in a way that looks absolutely
The costumes, by Zemeckis and Steven
Spielberg favorite Joanna Johnston, proved essential for the characters
too. Cotillard calls her wares “another layer of the skin.” She was also
delighted to be sporting garments similar to her childhood idols like Ingrid
Bergman and Katharine Hepburn.
“I would watch actresses in glamorous
movies and it was part of my dream to be an actress,” she said.
On set, Cotillard also became a de
facto teacher for Pitt, who had to master a French-Canadian accent for his
“It was a lot of stress for him, a lot
of stress,” she said. “He was working every day. I helped him by being
very honest. That’s the only way you can be pushed to your best. I was
very impressed by his dedication.”
Pitt, who is going through a divorce
from Angelina Jolie Pitt, was not made available for interviews in Los
Angeles. The intrigue of one of the most high profile celebrity divorces in
recent years also became unexpectedly linked to the film when rumors
circulated that he’d had an affair with Cotillard.
It wasn’t helped when Paramount dropped
the first trailer for the film just a few hours after news broke of the
Pitt/Jolie divorce, seemingly suggesting a “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” in WWII
angle. Zemeckis insists was a coincidence and not a salacious way to drum
up excitement, although he laughs that he knows no one believes that.
However the speculation spun so out of
control that Cotillard, pregnant with her second child with longtime partner
Guillaume Canet, resorted to issuing a statement to the press denying the
Cotillard shrugged off a question about
what that experience was like for her to go through.
“I had nothing to deal with,
seriously,” she said . “I said everything I had to say about it. I’m not
the one who is in the very complicated situation.”
The film which cost a reported $85
million to produce turned out to be a bigger visual effects endeavor than
Zemeckis originally planned. They didn’t have the budget to build
everything and, thus they compromised by building a little and using digital
set extensions to create the very specific wartime locations in the script.
Zemeckis is no stranger to pushing
boundaries in filmmaking, and knows full well how devastating it is when it
doesn’t connect with audiences. Last year his ambitious “The Walk” made
only $10.1 million domestically against a $35 million budget.
“It was horrible,” Zemeckis said of the
response. “I think it’s my best movie. It’s disappointing when people
don’t want to see it.”
He’s not optimistic, either, about the
future of the medium when audiences just don’t seem to be interested.
“I just don’t know what the future of
movies is going to be. It’s starting to look more and more like, ‘We’re
done making movies now,’ if people don’t go. It’s a business,” he said.
“All that filmmakers can do is try to do the best work that they can, but if
we’re in a situation where the audience is ambivalent and doesn’t care, you
can’t force people to go to a movie. Nothing lasts forever.”
Cotillard is a little more positive.
“I’m pretty sure people will still want
to be surprised,” she said.
Hans Zimmer channels his inner rock star for upcoming tour
(Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Santa Monica, Calif. (AP) -
Celebrated composer Hans Zimmer is hitting the road again with his
career-spanning concert tour, which he describes as a little bit cinematic
and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.
“People came thinking it’s going to be
sort of a bit stodgy. ... It’s going to be the pretentious composer sitting
at his big, black, grand piano,” the Oscar winner said of his tour, “Hans
Zimmer Revealed,” which kicked off in Europe earlier this year.
“It’s a very, very different way of
presenting music,” Zimmer said in a recent interview at his recording studio
in Santa Monica. “I come from rock ‘n’ roll so I had to sort of go back to
my humble beginnings.”
So Zimmer enlisted Pink Floyd’s
lighting designer Marc Brickman to set the mood for the energetic show.
He looked to his favorite concert-going
experiences, ranging from David Bowie at London’s Earls Court in the 1970s
to taking his 10-year-old son to his first concert — by The Rolling Stones.
“You’re supposed to aim for something
that people will remember for the rest of their lives and all the good shows
I saw did exactly that,” he said.
Zimmer also leaned on friends Pharrell
Williams and The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr to help him overcome stage
“Those two were pretty much the main
offenders going, ‘You can’t hide behind that. You got to go out there. You
have to go and do it.’ And so they sort of set the tone and they were sort
of my mentors and teachers in this,” he said of Williams and Brickman, whom
he worked with on “The Amazing Spider Man 2” score.
Audiences can expect classic renditions
and a few fresh reboots of some of Zimmer’s most popular film scores,
including “Gladiator,” ‘’The Lion King,” ‘’Pirates of the Caribbean” and
“The Dark Knight Trilogy.”
“When you play ‘Lion King,’ you
suddenly realize that that was part of so many people’s growing-up music. A
lot of it has been the soundtrack to their lives. Some of it we’re fairly
radical about,” Zimmer said. “There’s an energy that comes even with some
of the pieces I didn’t realize. I didn’t realize that ‘Pirates’ is
basically an all-out rock ‘n’ roll onslaught.”
After his successful run across Europe,
Zimmer announced his first U.S. performances. He’ll stop in Los Angeles,
San Francisco and Las Vegas in April before visiting Australia and New
Zealand and finishing with 21 more European shows.
Andrew Sachs, Manuel in ‘Fawlty Towers,’ dies at 86
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 file photo, the cast of TV comedy series Fawlty
Towers, from left, Prunella Scales, John Cleese, Connie Booth and Andrew
Sachs reunite to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the show. Comic actor
Sachs died Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. He was 86. (AP Photo/ Edmond Terakopian)
London (AP) -
Comic actor Andrew Sachs, known primarily for his role as the
well-intentioned but somewhat dim character of Manuel in the 1970s comedy
“Fawlty Towers,” died last week. He was 86 and had been suffering from
Actor John Cleese, who
played alongside Sachs in the TV show, led tributes to the German-born
British actor, who made the role of the bumbling Spanish waiter with the
massive moustache all his own.
His son, John Sachs,
says his father was not interested in being a celebrity or seeking the
limelight. What he loved was the craft of acting.
“He stuck that big
moustache on because he didn’t want to be recognized,” John Sachs told The
Born Andreas Siegfried
Sachs in Berlin on April 7, 1930, his family moved to England when he was
eight to escape the Nazi persecution of Jews.
Though he performed in
a number of television shows in the 1960s, he shot to fame in 1975 with
“Fawlty Towers,” about a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay.
The program centers around owner Basil Fawlty, played by Cleese, whose
acidic wit and rude behavior offers the irreverent backdrop to efforts to
run a hotel visited by eccentric guests.
Even though only 12
episodes were made, it was voted number one in the British Film Institute’s
100 Greatest Television Programs in 2000.
In the program, Sachs
plays the lovable waiter Manuel who struggles with his English and whose
trademark “Que?” led to some of the program’s most humorous exchanges.
“There’s a certain
Charlie Chaplainesque talent that he had,” his son said, noting that
Manuel’s limited language skills made movements and athleticism all the more
important. “He brought that to Manuel.”
In one episode, “Basil
The Rat,” Manuel keeps a pet rat, which he mistakes for a Siberian hamster.
Basil catches him.
Manuel: “I say to man
in shop, ‘Is rat.’ He say, ‘No, no, no. Is a special kind of hamster. Is
filigree Siberian hamster.’ Only one in shop. He make special price, only
Basil: “Have you ever
heard of the bubonic plague, Manuel? It was very popular here at one time.
A lot of pedigree hamsters came over on ships from Siberia.”
Later in the same
program, as Basil tries to reassure him with a slap on the back, Sachs
offers the line that was often associated with Manuel.
“Don’t hit me! Always
you hit me!” he said.
At a reunion of cast
members in 2009, Sachs spoke fondly of his memories of the show. He said
some politically incorrect material may prompt complaints from viewers now.
Even so, he hoped “we
can always get away with good comedy.”
Cleese, the co-creator
of the program, told the BBC that acting with Sachs was “like playing tennis
with someone who is exactly as good as you are.”
“Sometimes he wins and
sometimes you win but somehow there’s a rapport and it comes from the very
deepest part of ourselves,” he said. “You can work on it, but in our case
we never had to work on it, it all happened so easily.”
In 2008, Sachs found
himself at the center of a controversy when comedian Russell Brand and TV
presenter Jonathan Ross left lewd messages on his answering machine and
joked on air about Sachs’ granddaughter.
Viewers protested to
the BBC, which was forced to apologize.
“It certainly upped my
profile,” Sachs said after the incident that became known as ‘Sachsgate.’
“In some ways, that’s very nice. What it’s done for my personal life is
less admirable, but quite independent of that it’s put my name in the papers
A quiet and insular
person, Sachs’ family kept both his illness and death quiet until after
services were concluded. He is survived by wife Melody, three children and
Carrie Fisher reveals ‘Star Wars’ affair with Harrison Ford
Fisher (left) and Harrison Ford kiss at the Comic-Con International in San
Diego, Calif. in this July 10, 2015, file photo. (Photo by Richard
Los Angeles (AP) - Carrie Fisher
has revealed that Princess Leia’s romance with Han Solo in “Star Wars”
extended off-screen, as well.
Fisher told People magazine that
she enjoyed an “intense” affair with co-star Harrison Ford during the
filming of the 1977 blockbuster.
Fisher was 19 and Ford was 33 and
married at the time of what she says was a three-month affair. The actress
told People, “It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and
Harrison during the weekend.” She says the romance ended when shooting on
the film did.
Fisher writes about the fling in her
new book “The Princess Diarist,” which recounts her experiences on the “Star
Wars” set. She says that she gave Ford a heads-up about the book and he
received a draft.
A representative for Ford didn’t
immediately respond to a request for comment.
Film Review: A superhero CPA in Ben Affleck’s ‘The Accountant’
appears in a scene from “The Accountant.”
(Chuck Zlotnick/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
The bean counter cometh!
In Gavin O’Connor’s
“The Accountant,” starring Ben Affleck, the paper-pushing CPA — roughly the
exact opposite of Schwarzenegger or Stallone — gets his shot at action hero
stardom. If we pull out our calculators, we can deduce that the odds of
this are slim. Carrying the one and rounding up, you might even conclude
that it’s a patently ridiculous premise.
Just imagine the
tagline possibilities. “The only thing he knows better than the tax code is
his moral code!” ‘’Don’t write him off!” ‘’He’s the Price Waterhouse
But “The Accountant”
has much grander goals of implausibility. The film comes from a script by
Bill Dubuque (“The Judge”) that, come tax season, may well be at serious
risk of an audit. It’s about a secretive, autistic accountant for prominent
criminals who’s a muscular, military-grade hit man by hobby, plagued by his
father’s relentlessly militaristic parenting, who becomes embroiled in a
robotic prostheses company’s bid to go public. You know, THAT old story.
To cite the words
exclaimed by John Lithgow’s CEO at a climactic moment that’s both bloodbath
and family reunion: “What IS this?”
What “The Accountant”
is is one of the more unlikely movies to repeat the phrase “Just the
Renoir.” Christian Wolff (Affleck) is on the surface a small-town
accountant outside Chicago who spends his days at his bland shopping center
office and his nights in an airstream trailer parked inside a storage unit.
There he punishes himself with a bar he painfully rolls over his shins and
stares quietly at an original Pollack nailed to the ceiling. (His Renoir is
deemed more expendable.)
He has amassed the
hidden fortune as an accountant for hire to drug cartels, money launderers
and the mafia. His liaisons are set up by an unseen operative who
communicates with Wolff only by phone. When it comes time to sift through
documents, Wolff — like a pianist preparing for Beethoven — blows on his
finger tips and dives in. He is, one client swears, “almost supernatural”
in his ability to run numbers and smell out who’s cooking the books.
“My boy’s wicked
smart,” another Affleck bragged of Matt Damon’s mathematician in “Good Will
Hunting.” Whereas Damon went on to play an assassin with amnesia in the
Bourne films, Affleck’s equally lethal mercenary is distinct for his place
on the spectrum.
Filling the movie are
flashbacks to Wolff’s childhood, when his army father (Robert C. Treveiler)
refused to accept his autistic son’s differences. Instead, he raises him
and his brother like soldiers, training them with specialists. It’s a
quirky method of parenting sure to spawn a best-seller: less homework, more
pentjak silat (the Indonesian fighting style).
The origin story —
complete with a bizarre but formative stint in prison with a cameo from
Jeffrey Tambor — plays like a superhero’s. Many of the characters, too,
feel straight out of a comic book: J.K. Simmons’ Treasury Department
investigator, Jon Bernthal’s over-inflated enforcer, Anna Kendrick’s
accounting clerk, the movie’s lone smiler.
number-crunching CPA is no less severe than his Batman. The actor plays him
deliberately flat, with an unrelentingly even voice and a dispassionate,
anti-social blankness. As was the case in “Batman v Superman,” he’s better
than the overcooked soup he’s swimming in.
There are legitimate
objections to be raised about a film like “The Accountant” treating the
autistic like savants. But there are genuine gestures here about accepting
the gifts of people with autism, and it’s worth noting how unusual such
territory is for a Hollywood thriller — something O’Connor (“Warrior,”
‘’Pride and Glory”) knows how to firmly construct.
“The Accountant” is, if
nothing else, singular in lending an action-movie cliche an absurdly
peculiar and elaborate backstory. “I like incongruity,” Wolff says in one
scene. “The Accountant” does, too, but maybe a bit too much.
“The Accountant,” a
Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of
America for “strong violence and language throughout.” Running time: 128
minutes. Two stars out of four.
From the dead: HG Wells ghost story published for first time
Author H. G.
Wells is shown in this Nov. 8, 1937, file photo.
New York (AP) —
Here’s an odd story, from long ago: A man by the name of Meredith has
converted a room in his house to a cluttered, dirty study. Meredith has a
taste for Scotch whisky and one day asks a visiting friend, the story’s
narrator, if he doesn’t notice something odd about the ceiling.
“Don’t you see it?” he
“The — thing. The
“I shook my head and
looked at him.”
“All right then,” he
said abruptly. “Don’t see it!”
This brief hybrid of
ghost tale and detective story is called “The Haunted Ceiling” and its
author is H.G. Wells, later known for such science-fiction classics as “The
Invisible Man” and “The Time Machine.” He apparently wrote “The Haunted
Ceiling” in the mid-1890s, when he was around 30, and left it unseen by
others. It debuted last month, more than a century later.
“The atmosphere of this
story was vintage Wells in that his stories always had the theme of an
individual who is completely alone and is struggling to understand something
mysterious,” said Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand Magazine,
a literary quarterly in which “The Haunted Ceiling” appears.
“At times, you’ll
finish the story questioning whether you’ve read something either
psychological or macabre.”
Gulli says he found
“The Haunted Ceiling” after contacting the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign and asking for materials from the school’s Wells archive.
After looking through over 3,000 pages of manuscripts, he came upon the
story and realized it was unpublished. “The Haunted Ceiling” is so obscure
that two Wells scholars, Patrick Parrinder and Michael Sherborne, said they
had never seen it before. Judging from the style and content, they guessed
it dated to around 1895, when ghost stories were popular and Wells was both
prolific and in need of money.
“So the puzzle is, why
was this one either never sold, or if sold never published?” says Parrinder,
whose books include “Shadows of the Future: H.G. Wells, Science Fiction, and
Wells was a versatile
writer and completed some notable paranormal tales. In “The Story of the
Inexperienced Ghost,” a man relates an occult encounter, becomes more and
more agitated, collapses and dies, the narrator observing that “whether he
did indeed pass there by that poor ghost’s incantation, or whether he was
stricken suddenly by apoplexy in the midst of an idle tale — as the
coroner’s jury would have us believe — is no matter for my judging.”
Sherborne does not
consider “The Haunted Ceiling” a masterpiece, but praised the way “Wells
focuses the tale through a skeptical narrator, an active personality who
looks likely to provide the passive victim with a reassuring solution, only
for a supernatural element to be reintroduced after all at the end.”
“It’s not one of Wells’
very best stories,” he added, “but it is a skillfully assembled anecdote
which would, I think, be very effective as a self-contained magazine item.”
Experts disagree on authenticity of new Van Gogh sketches
historian and Van Gogh specialist Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov poses with the
book “Vincent Van Gogh The lost Arles Sketchbook”. (AP Photo/Christophe
Paris (AP) —
Art experts are disagreeing as to whether a book of previously
unpublished drawings reported to be by Dutch master Vincent Van Gogh is
authentic or fake.
The book, “The Lost
Arles Sketchbook,” collated by eminent Canadian art historian Bogomila
Welsh-Ovcharov, is being published internationally after reportedly
being found in the southern French city of Arles near a hotel where Van
Gogh used to stay.
the sketches appeared in an account book belonging to Mr. and Mrs.
Ginoux, owners of the “Cafe de la Gare,” to whom Van Gogh gave numerous
“I started to look
through all the drawings and each one had his fingerprint,” she said,
calling it an “OMG moment”.
According to the
University of Toronto website, Welsh-Ovcharov has taught art history for
25 years and has created several Van Gogh exhibitions, including one at
the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum Director Axel Ruger says its experts have
been aware of these drawings since 2008 and after examination they have
repeatedly concluded that the previously-unknown sketches are complete
The museum said the
drawings don’t reflect Van Gogh’s development at the time. He says the
drawings use original brownish ink when Van Gogh used only black or
purple ink that only later appeared brown because of age.
The museum also
said its experts deemed the drawing style “monotonous, clumsy, and
spiritless” with basic topographic errors.
‘Mozart 225’ contains all of his music in 200-CD box set
London (AP) -
What measures 11 inches square and 7 inches high, weighs 21½ pounds and
takes 10 days and nights to play?
Answer: A new box
set jam-packed with 200 CDs that contains every note composed by
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in his short 35 years of life.
Just in time for
the 225th anniversary of the composer’s death on Dec. 5, Decca and
Deutsche Grammophon have combined forces to issue this compilation,
mind-boggling in its thoroughness and admirable in its scholarly depth.
There are other “Complete Mozart” sets on the market, but this one has
fair claim to boast that it’s “completer” than the rest.
Talk about your
embarrassment of riches! Chronologically, the compilation starts with
Mozart’s first known compositions, two fragmentary Andantes in C major
for harpsichord lasting 17 seconds and 14 seconds respectively, written
in 1761 when he was 5 years old. It ends with his Requiem, left
unfinished at his death in 1791.
In between are not
just all 27 piano concertos, 41 symphonies, every opera, song and
sonata, but many alternate versions, fragments, arrangements of music by
Handel and Bach and even works whose authorship is in dispute.
historical interest is the world premiere recording of a recently
discovered “lost song” that Mozart apparently composed in collaboration
with Antonio Salieri. Written in 1785, Mozart’s contribution to “Per la
ricuperata salute di Ofelia” (“For the recovered health of Ophelia”)
consists of just two stanzas lasting under a minute and a half. But the
elegantly simple tune is instantly recognizable as the work of the
Among the extras
packed into the sturdy box are five collector’s prints of Mozart
autograph scores, the last-known portrait and a letter to his father.
There are also two hardcover books — a new biography of the composer and
a work-by-work commentary — plus a booklet presenting the numbering of
the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation’s forthcoming new edition of the
Kochel catalog of Mozart’s works.
There is so much
material here it would take weeks or months to survey thoroughly. And
the suggested retail price tag of around US$480 means a significant
financial commitment. Definitely not for the casual listener, but for
serious Mozart lovers it’s a treasure trove.