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Update June 2017


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Update June 24, 2017

Film Review: In ‘The Mummy,’ Tom Cruise dances with the undead

 

Annabelle Wallis (left) and Tom Cruise are shown in a scene from “The Mummy.” (Chiabella James/Universal Pictures via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - Of all the CGI-ed supernatural forces slung in Alex Kurtzman’s “The Mummy” (and, believe me, there are a lot), none can compete with the spectral spectacle of Tom Cruise, at 54.

He and his abs are almost creepily ageless.  So it’s almost fitting that in one of the typically bonkers scenes in “The Mummy,” Cruise awakes naked and unscathed alongside cadavers in a morgue, where he bewilderedly removes the tag attached to his toe.  Indefatigable and un-killable, Cruise really is the undead.  He’s like the anti-Steve Buscemi.

Yet Cruise and “The Mummy” — the opening salvo in Universal’s bid to birth its “Dark Universe” monster movie franchise — are a poor fit, and not the good kind, like “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”  There’s plenty of standard, cocky Tom Cruise leading man stuff here: running, swimming, daredevil airplane acrobatics, more running.  But his relentless forward momentum is sapped by the convoluted monster mishmash that engulfs “The Mummy,” a movie conceived and plotted like the monster version of Marvel.  Increasingly, Cruise — like big-budget movies, themselves — is running in circles.

He plays Nick Morton, a roguish Army sergeant who plunders antiquities from Iraq with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson).  In a remote village they, along with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), unearth a giant Egyptian tomb bathed in mercury.  In it lies the Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who was mummified alive (imagine that wrapping job) after trying to unleash the evil Egyptian god of Set while killing her Pharaoh father, his second wife and the newborn baby that would deny her the throne.  Naturally, she’s going to get loose.

Hers and other backstories are shown as “The Mummy” stumbles out of its grave, vainly trying to organize the story around two burial sites (the other is in London), the strange visions that begin plaguing Morton, and a quixotic (or merely capitalistic) gambit to stitch together a unifying principle for the Dark Universe.  Mysterious apocalyptic happenings (a swarm of crows, a horde of rats, occasional ghouls) prompt a series of helter-skelter chase scenes that eventually lead Morton and Halsey to Prodigium, a stealth organization led by the dapper Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) that controls monstrous outbreaks, including those of its schizophrenic leader.

Prodigium would seem to be the connecting tissue for Universal’s shared universe, with plans for “Frankenstein,” ‘’The Invisible Man,” ‘’The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and more in the works.  Much of “The Mummy” hinges on Boutella’s vengeful and vaguely misogynistic monster (she for some reason needs a man — Morton, it turns out — to really do damage).  But much of the film endeavors to set up the characters — maybe even famous phantoms — to come.

What the supposed value of having these movies “share” a universe is, I’m not sure.  Movies aren’t sandboxes and the only time I remember enjoying a character connect films was Michael Keaton’s Ray Nicolette popping up in the Elmore Leonard adaptations “Out of Sight” and “Jackie Brown.”

Where these films could be fun, though, is seeing a talented star play a big, theatrical character that would honor the ghosts of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.  Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp are already lined up, so who knows?  But the desperate need to graft them into a larger comic-book-like “world” — and a thinly conceived one, at that — suggests there won’t be much room for any actor to breathe.

For now we’re cursed with “The Mummy,” a messy and muddled product lacking even the carefree spirit of the Brendan Fraser “Mummy” trilogy.  There are moments of humor in the script by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman, but Cruise isn’t the one (maybe Chris Pratt?) to pull off aloofly referring to the mummy as “the chick in the box.”

Almost to the degree that he was in “The Edge of Tomorrow,” Cruise is put through the ringer.  A spiraling cargo plane spins him like laundry.  He careens through a double-decker bus.  His rib cage is yanked.  Cruise remains, as ever, eminently game.  But he, like us moviegoers, might have to starting wondering: What god have we angered?

“The Mummy,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.” Running time: 110 minutes.  One and a half stars out of four.


Monterey Pop gave rise to today’s blockbuster rock festivals

Lou Adler is shown in this June 26, 2008 file photo.
(AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Beth Harris

Los Angeles (AP) - Before Burning Man and Bonnaroo, Coachella and Lollapalooza, Glastonbury and Governors Island, there was Monterey Pop.

Fifty years ago, the three-day concert south of San Francisco became the centerpiece of the “Summer of Love” and paved the way for today’s popular festivals.  The Monterey International Pop Festival created the template for giving emerging artists exposure alongside blockbuster bands while showcasing different genres of music in outdoor settings.

John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas came up with the idea for three days of music with proceeds going to charitable causes.  He brought in Grammy-winning record producer Lou Adler, promoter Alan Pariser and publicist Derek Taylor, who worked with the Beatles.

The festival was planned in just seven weeks with the goal of validating rock music as an art form in the same way that jazz and folk were regarded in 1967.

“The focus was the music and how to present it in the best possible way,” Adler said recently at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.  “The byproduct of that was the feeling that took place in Monterey — love and flowers.”

Jimi Hendrix performs at the Monterey Pop Festival in Monterey, Calif., June 18, 1967. (Monterey Herald via AP)

rganizers sought out the best musicians, sound and lighting systems and food “lift the level of what rock ‘n’ roll should be,” Adler said.

They signed on Jefferson Airplane, The Who, the Grateful Dead, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Simon & Garfunkel, Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, and The Mamas & the Papas.

“We sort of had our pick,” Adler recalled, noting no one booked acts that far out at the time.

It was Shankar’s introduction to an American audience, and the Indian sitar player was the only one who got paid, Adler said.  He received $3,000, while the others had their flights and hotels comped.

“Everybody just wanted to play, and that’s why they signed on,” Adler said.

Adler’s favorite performance was by soul singer Otis Redding, who died six months later in a plane crash.

Redding was backed by Booker T. and the MGs.  Bandleader Booker T. Jones was 22 and “an innocent guy” at the time, he recalled.  Jones and his band were escorted to the show by the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.  “I remember the music impressing me,” he said. “We’d only been doing R&B.  I learned to love rock ‘n’ roll during that time.”

Backstage, the era’s peace and love vibe didn’t extend to Hendrix and Pete Townshend of The Who.  Both were known for destroying guitars and amplifiers.

Adler recalled that neither wanted the other to perform first, so Phillips flipped a coin.  The Who won.

“Hendrix jumped up on a table and said, ‘OK, you little (expletive),” Adler recalled.  “‘No matter what you do, I’ll do something that burns you.’”

Aware that The Who planned an explosive finale, Hendrix capped his set with a version of “Wild Thing,” kneeling over his guitar and setting it on fire before smashing it repeatedly and tossing the remains into the crowd.

Not all the biggest names of the day played Monterey.  The list of cancellations and no shows was equally impressive, including the Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards couldn’t get work visas because of drug arrests), the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Kinks and Bob Dylan.

Fifty years later, Adler is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, having worked with some of music’s biggest names.  Today, the white-haired, beret-wearing 83-year-old is best known as Jack Nicholson’s seatmate at Los Angeles Lakers games.

He regularly attends Coachella in the Southern California desert, still imbued with the easygoing spirit of Monterey.

“I couldn’t have asked for more,” Adler said. “We’re still talking about it.”


Yoko Ono, a co-producer on ‘Imagine,’ gets writing credit

New York (AP) — Yoko Ono, who was previously credited as a co-producer on John Lennon’s “Imagine,” will earn a co-writing credit on the 1971 song.

David Israelite, the president and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association, said at an event last week that Ono would earn the co-writing recognition on the song 48 years after its release.

“Imagine” received the Centennial Song Award at the annual event by the organization.  Israelite told Variety that the process of officially getting Ono the credit is underway.

Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Imagine” at No. 3 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004.


Update June 17, 2017

Film Review: Even The Rock’s biceps can’t lift up ‘Baywatch’

This image shows (from left) Dwayne Johnson as Mitch Buchannon, Ilfenesh Hadera as Stephanie Holden and Kelly Rohrbach as CJ Parker in a scene from “Baywatch.” (Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures via AP)

Jocelyn Noveck

Los Angeles (AP) - Of this, dear moviegoer, rest assured: Dwayne Johnson’s biceps still ripple and glisten in the sunlight.  So do his triceps, pecs, abs, delts, quads, lats and the other 600 or so muscles of the human body.

And that charismatic, multi-million dollar grin?  Still there, too.

But the dude isn’t a magician.  And only a true magician could find a way to make something light and fun and fresh out of the unwieldy, derivative and mostly unfunny endeavor that is “Baywatch.”

Now, maybe the filmmakers weren’t thinking light and fun and fresh.  They opted to make an R-rated film, upping the raunch factor of the ’90s TV series starring David Hasselhoff and a slo-mo running Pamela Anderson.  But the R rating doesn’t mean they’ve gone all dark and deep; it just seems to mean lots of raunchy language, humping gags and extended crotch shots.  That last category includes a centerpiece scene in which our two leading men, Johnson and Zac Efron, play around with a penis on a corpse in a morgue.  Yes, that’s actually what they do.

Let’s try to wipe that image out of our brains now, shall we?  “Baywatch,” directed by Seth Gordon, begins by establishing the heart and brawn of our main guy, Mitch Buchannon, leader of the Baywatch squad and hometown hero.  We see him hurtling into the water to save a kitesurfer from certain death.  Running along the beach, he ducks into a basketball game to expertly block a shot.  He passes an adoring beachgoer building an elaborate sand sculpture of him.

But his PR-obsessed boss needs to embellish the Baywatch brand, so he brings in a new guy — Matt Brody (Efron), a gold-medal Olympic swimmer who has a bit of an attitude problem (any resemblance to Ryan Lochte, including mouth grill, is totally intentional.)  It seems that after a night of drinking at the Olympics, Brody vomited in the pool and ruined his team’s chance to win the relay.

He may not be a team player, but he IS ripped, and so, after Brody shows up on his motorcycle looking all James Dean, shirts come off and we get our obligatory macho competition, which includes lifting two refrigerators at once.  “This has nothing to do with saving people!” complains Brody.  Mitch grunts back: “This is Baywatch!”

In any case, Brody joins the squad, which includes sexy blonde CJ (Kelly Rohrbach, running slowly), ambitious Summer (Alexandra Daddario), Mitch’s co-leader Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), and Ronnie (Jon Bass), chubby and awkward, in the young Jonah Hill role.

Now, if you never saw the TV show, a key point of the plot — though plot is definitely NOT key — is that these lifeguards don’t just save kids in deep waters.  They’re also crime-solvers.  So when a city councilman ends up dead in a boat fire, they figure out pretty fast that he was murdered.

But why?  Could this have anything to do with villainous Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), a club owner whose ambitions for Emerald Bay include some very sinister side activities?  And can the squad manage to solve the case and stay alive?

It eventually gets wearisome, despite the best efforts of Efron and especially Johnson, who can enliven any scene.  His disdainful mocking of Efron’s character is one of the more amusing themes, especially the nicknames he uses: “Hey, One Direction.” ‘’Yo, ‘N Sync.”  Best of all: “High School Musical.”

But darned if that quick reference to Efron’s breakout franchise doesn’t make you all nostalgic for some old-fashioned entertainment that didn’t rely on F-bombs, crude anatomical references, or toying with a corpse. (Sorry to bring that up again, but, UGH.)

Or maybe just some old episodes of “Baywatch.”  In one meta reference, a skeptical Brody tells the squad that their crime-busting plans sound like “a really entertaining but far-fetched TV show.”

That doesn’t sound so bad, in retrospect.

“Baywatch,” a Paramount release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity.”  Running time: 116 minutes.  One and a half stars out of four.


Tom Cruise reveals ‘Top Gun 2’ to start filming soon

Tom Cruise.
(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Sydney (AP) - The Danger Zone may have gotten old and dusty, but Tom Cruise says he’s about to fly back in.

The 54-year-old actor says the long-discussed sequel to “Top Gun” is a sure thing and should start shooting soon.

Cruise made the announcement in response to questions from anchors on the Australian morning news show “Sunrise” recently.

The actor said filming will likely begin within the next year.  He added, “It’s definitely happening.”

Cruise has said in similar interviews that the film was in development and a strong possibility, but has not offered such clear confirmation.

The 1986 Reagan-era flyboy epic propelled Cruise to superstar status.

Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the original, had been dropping hints too.  He posted a picture of himself and Cruise last month at the 31st anniversary of the original’s release.


Earth, Wind & Fire take to the road with hits - and sadness

Verdine White (from left), Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson of Earth, Wind and Fire perform at the Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala in Beverly Hills, Calif., Feb. 14, 2016. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Mark Kennedy

New York (AP) — Earth, Wind & Fire goes on the road this summer with some classic hits, a new touring partner and lingering heartache.

The hits include “September,” ‘’Shining Star” and “Boogie Wonderland,” while they’ll share the stage with the band Chic, featuring Nile Rodgers.  The sadness comes from the loss last year of their founder Maurice White.

“We’re still healing,” said drummer Ralph Johnson, one of three original members still playing the band’s infectious hooks.  “I think the way we’ve dealt with it has been to do the music.”

Concertgoers can expect a teary memorial to White amid the disco grooves and horn-driven funk.  The band has always honored its missing member — White stopped touring in 1995 — but this time the section has a final kiss to it.

“It’s not something you get over.  Maurice will always be part of us.  We cut our teeth on Earth, Wind and Fire.  He was our mentor, our leader, our Elvis, our John Lennon, all in one guy,” said White’s brother, Verdine.

Earth, Wind & Fire and Chic embark on their Live Nation tour July 12 in Oakland, California.  Each night, after unleashing a top-heavy string of hits, Earth, Wind & Fire get serious during the White tribute.  It comes during the song “That’s the Way of the World,” when a video memorial of Maurice White plays.  He died at 74 last year after suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Johnson and Verdine White — joined by fellow original member, singer Philip Bailey — said they try to avoid looking at each other during the show’s memorial part for fear that tears will fall.  Many fans stop to pull out cellphones and capture the moment.

“Everything is fun, fun, fun, fun.  Then we get to that section and that’s when the show gets heart.  All we see is just phones,” said White.  “It’s heavy.  It’s deep.  It’s beautiful, though.”

Earth, Wind & Fire was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, played the 2005 Super Bowl halftime show and has six Grammys.

Each generation seems to rediscover the band, in part because popular culture can’t get enough of its bouncy vibe.  Last year, in one November weekend, the band had three songs in the world’s top two movies — “Trolls” and “Doctor Strange.”

“I think people will always be enamored with bands that can really play — live performance.  You can’t beat that,” Johnson said.  “There’s something you get from a live performance you can’t get from a record or a CD.  The experience is very different.”

How long will they keep at it?  Until the boogie wonderland stops.

“Maurice wanted a band that could play all genres of music and a band that would not be standing still onstage.  We’re always in motion, there’s always something going on,” said Johnson.

“We’re just carrying on the vision.  This is the legacy.  The three of us — Verdine, Philip and myself — we’re carrying on for as long, as I tell people, we put butts in the seats.”


Roger Waters on veterans, touring and his new, solo album

Roger Waters.
(Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

John Carucci

New York (AP) - Roger Waters isn’t sure how much longer he will tour, or if his current one will be his last.  But there’s one thing the former Pink Floyd co-founder is sure of — if you’re a veteran, there’s a place for you at his shows.

Waters, whose father was killed in World War II, holds a special place in his heart for those who served.  That’s why for every performance, he allocates a block of tickets for vets.

“When I started touring with ‘The Wall,’ I just started inviting veterans in every town we go to, and I’ll do that on this tour, as well.  We’ll reserve a certain number of places in the auditorium for veterans if they want to come,” Waters said.

Veterans can grab a ticket to his shows through a variety of veteran’s groups, including the Wounded Warrior Project, VetTix and MusiCorps.

Recently, the outspoken 73-year old rocker sat down with The Associated Press to talk about veterans, his latest solo album — titled “Is This the Life We Really Want?” — and his political leanings.

AP: Your support for veterans has been relentless.  Why?

Waters: Maybe it has something to with my father.  It has partly to do with Bob and Lee Woodruff.  They have a foundation because he was a journalist who got half of his head blown off and survived.  They have a thing called Stand Up for Heroes every year to raise money for veterans, and they asked if I would perform.

AP: But it didn’t stop there.

Waters: I had an idea, which was to put together a band of wounded men.  So I went to Walter Reed (National Military Medical Center), and I met a guy there called Arthur Bloom, who ran a program, and we made a band.  We performed for a couple of years doing that and these men became my brothers, and I’m close friends still with a lot to them.  And so the connections that I made through playing music with them informed my desire to get to know more of them.

AP: The album seems inspired by the dire overtones of our current world.  Is it about fear?

Waters: Yeah, it’s fear of the fact that everything is running away from us and nobody is the child who says, “But the emperor is not wearing any clothes.”

AP: Tell us about the tour?

Waters: The show is called “Us and Them,” which is the title of a song from “Dark Side of the Moon,” which is from 1973, or ’74, but it’s extremely appropriate and apposite today.  That song means just as much today as it did in 1973.  And these new songs off this album are essentially about our dilemma as human beings as to whether we can find ways to accommodate each other’s needs, and to discover our potential for empathy for others.

AP: You have always been outspoken when it comes to politics, and have been attacked on your support of a boycott of Israel.  Some have called you anti-Semitic because of it.  Are you?

Waters: I’ve got nothing against Israel, and I’ve certainly not got anything against Jewish people or Judaism.  But I am fundamentally opposed to people being subjugated and not having rights under the law.  So I’ve finished my little speech, but people have suggested that I’m anti-Semitic, which I am clearly not... I will go to my grave defending the rights of ordinary people, under a law, under a common law.

AP: How much longer can you do tour?

Waters: Probably, not much longer.  This might well be the last one.  If it goes on for a couple of years I may well be done.  We’ll see.  You never say never.  I try and stay fit.  I am fit, otherwise I couldn’t do it.  So we’ll see.

AP: Is it possible that any time before you call it quits, you and former Floyd guitarist David Gilmour will do a set of shows?

Waters: I think it’s very unlikely.


Singer Phil Collins cancels show after hotel room fall

Phil Collins.

London (AP) — Singer Phil Collins was rushed to the hospital last week after a fall in his London hotel room left him with a severe gash near his eye that required stitches.

His management said in a statement that concerts planned for London’s Royal Albert Hall have been postponed until November.

The 66-year-old former Genesis star, who suffers from a gait abnormality after a back operation, tripped over a chair in the middle of the night.

He was given stitches for the cut on his head and was kept under observation for 24 hours.

Collins was expected to continue his comeback tour in Cologne, Germany, before performing at British Summer Time Hyde Park on June 30.


Update June 10, 2017

Film Review: ‘Wonder Woman’ film and star live up to the name

Gal Gadot is shown in a scene from “Wonder Woman”. (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - “Wonder Woman “ has been the subject of so much superfluous fuss, it’d be easy to forget that behind all of the hand-wringing and both symbolic and real pressure to succeed there’s actually a movie meant to entertain.

Yet, like the heroine at its center, “Wonder Woman” the movie rises with powerful grace above the noise.  It’s not perfect, but it’s often good, sometimes great and exceptionally re-watchable.

Director Patty Jenkins’ film is so threaded with sincerity and goodness it’s a wonder how it got past the pugnacious minds responsible for what’s come before.  “Wonder Woman” evokes not only the spirit of Richard Donner’s “Superman,” but also Joe Johnston’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” while still being its own thing.  Just look to the image of Gal Gadot confidently striding out alone onto an unwinnable battlefield with only a shield, a sword and a mission — and prevailing.  It’s enough to give you goosebumps.

“Wonder Woman” is structured as a coming-of-age story about how Diana, the Amazonian princess, becomes Wonder Woman.  It’s framed, clumsily, as an over two hour flashback provoked by a note from Bruce Wayne.  Of all the stupid interconnected universe things!

Thankfully, Jenkins transitions quickly into the actual story about a naive idealist who comes to accept the complexities of mankind.  From a tender age, Diana, living on the achingly idyllic island of Themyscira, dreams of being a warrior.  Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) disapproves, although she inexplicably withholds the real reason.

It’s no wonder Diana aspires to fight.  She’s been told that their sole purpose is to keep the peace and destroy Ares, the god of war.  Also, and not insignificantly, the warriors led by General Antiope (Robin Wright), are some of the fiercest babes ever to grace the screen.  They fly around with swords and shields, bedecked in armored mini dresses and wedged gladiator sandals that allow them to leap 50 feet in the air.

Young Diana trains in secret, and then with reluctant permission, until an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands on the island and tells the Amazons about the “war to end all wars.”  Diana concludes World War I must be Ares’ doing and decides, impetuously and like so many arrogant superheroes before her, that she’s ready for battle.

In London and at the battlefront, Diana gets a crash course in humanity, from the ills (sexism, alcoholism, colonialism, racism, apathy) to the good (babies, snow, ice cream).  It’s all very simplistic, but Gadot’s serious and unapologetic curiosity sells the dubious premise that a woman so versed in so many things from Socrates to the “pleasures of the flesh” could be this unaware of human flaws.  Perhaps they only teach the good stuff in Themyscira.  But that’s what Trevor is there for — to help this otherworldly crusader acclimate.

Pine plays Trevor as a spiritual cousin to Indiana Jones (he even gets to goof around with an accent that immediately evokes the “tapestries” bit from “The Last Crusade”).  He’s on his own mission, to stop the comically evil Germans General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) from prolonging the war, but it’s never a question that this is Diana’s show.

Jenkins keeps the look and feel of the film classical, as it breezes through a strong second act.  But, being a DC film, “Wonder Woman” can’t help but devolve into a blurry, concrete-busting third act that feels dispiritingly like all the rest, not to mention a baffling reveal that negates most of Diana’s growth.  It’s not enough to negate the good, though, and much of that is Gadot’s doing.

She is the perfect Wonder Woman — a true blue hero who’s as believable in her bafflement of women’s fashions and social mores as she is dead-lifting a tank and swatting away machine gun fire with only her arm cuff.

I never cared about Wonder Woman before.  Now I do.

“Wonder Woman,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.”  Running time: 141 minutes. Three stars out of four.


Liverpool fetes ‘Sgt. Pepper’ with help from its friends

Cars drive past a billboard showing the late Beatles manager Britain Epstein, created by artist Jeremy Deller as part of the “Sgt. Pepper at 50” festival, in Liverpool, England.. (AP Photo/Jill Lawless)

Jill Lawless

Liverpool, England (AP) — It was 50 years ago that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

The band is long gone, but the music of The Beatles still reverberates — and nowhere more loudly than in Liverpool, where the 50th birthday of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is the spark for a citywide festival.

The album, released in the U.S. on June 2, 1967 — just after its British debut — was a psychedelic landmark whose influences ranged from rock to raga to English music hall.  For many critics and fans, it’s the Fab Four’s finest achievement.

Half a century on, Liverpool has asked 13 artists to respond to the album’s 13 tracks, for a “Sgt. Pepper at 50” festival that runs through June 16.  The artists come from Britain, the U.S., France, India and Australia, and their works range over theater, dance, public art, puppetry, film, fireworks and music.

The festival is endorsed by surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, who have both sent messages of support.

Claire McColgan, director of public body Culture Liverpool, said the festival aims “to take something that is so iconic, that is so known throughout the world, and give a whole contemporary, fresh interpretation of it.”

“These four boys from this city never left here,” she said.  “Their songs tell a story of this place.”

“Sgt. Pepper” was partly the product of The Beatles’ frustration with fame.  Exhausted by touring, they played their last live concert in August 1966 and devoted their energies and creativity to the studio.  Working with producer George Martin at London’s Abbey Road Studios, they made a multilayered, technologically innovative album that was never intended to be played live.

Half a century on, “Sgt. Pepper”-inspired artworks are springing up across Liverpool.  A dockside grain silo sports a colorful pop-art mural by American artist Judy Chicago.  Roadside billboards, the work of Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, proclaim “Brian Epstein died for you.”

There are concerts of Indian classical music — a major influence on George Harrison — and a film set on a city bus route inspired by “A Day in the Life.”  Meter maid “Lovely Rita” is the starting point for an “outlandish procession” through the streets by cabaret artist Meow Meow, clad in a fabulous dress made from parking tickets.

To say Liverpool is proud of The Beatles is an understatement.  The group is a cross between guardian spirit and major industry, one that has helped the port city rebuild after the decline of its once-thriving docks.  Today there are Magical Mystery bus tours, a Beatles museum and even a Beatles-themed hotel.

Director Julia Samuels of youth theater company 20 Stories High said that for younger Liverpool residents, the band is “part of their subconscious.”

Her colleague Keith Saha compared it to the way Liverpudlians are either “red or blue” — a supporter of Liverpool soccer club or its rival Everton.

“Everyone’s got their favorite Beatle,” he said.  “Everyone’s got their favorite album.

“The good thing about Liverpool is we haven’t Disneyfied The Beatles, and that’s what’s really important about this festival.”


Grande returns to Manchester to honour victims with benefit

Crowds cheer at the One Love Manchester tribute concert in Manchester, Sunday, June 4. The event raised more than £10 million for those affected by the bombing in Manchester on May 22. (Dave Hogan via AP)

Hilary Fox & Mesfin Fekadu

Manchester, England (AP) — Ariana Grande paid tribute to the city of Manchester last Sunday with an energetic, all-star concert that raised millions for victims of a suicide bombing that tore through her last performance in the city nearly three weeks ago.

Grande was emotional and teary-eyed throughout the One Love Manchester concert, which the British Red Cross said raised more than £10 million for the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund, created for those affected by the attack at Grande’s May 22 show.

Ariana Grande (left) and Miley Cyrus perform at the One Love Manchester tribute concert in Manchester, north western England, Sunday, June 4. (Dave Hogan via AP)

She closed the three-hour-plus event with a cover of “Over the Rainbow,” crying onstage at the song’s end as the audience cheered her on.

“Manchester, I love you with all of my heart,” Grande said before the performance, and just after singing “One Last Time” with Miley Cyrus, Pharrell and more of the show’s performers standing behind her in solidarity.

Grande enlisted some of music’s biggest names for the benefit concert, including Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Liam Gallagher.

Gallagher, formerly of Oasis, earned loud cheers from the audience as he emerged in his home town in surprise form.  He sang and offered encouraging words to the crowd, who held inspirational signs in their hands.

One of the most powerful moments was when the Parrs Wood High School Choir performed Grande’s “My Everything” with the singer.  The 23-year-old pop star held the young lead performer’s hand, both with tears in their eyes, as the rest of the singers joined in.

Perry also left a mark with her resilient performance: She sang a stripped down version of her hit, “Part of Me.”  Backed by two singers and a guitarist, she delivered the song wearing all white, singing, “Throw your sticks and your stones, throw your bombs and your blows, but you’re not gonna break my soul.”

“I encourage you to choose love even when it’s difficult.  Let no one take that away from you,” she said.

Bieber shared similar words onstage, even coming close to crying when he spoke about God and those who died at Grande’s show.

“(God) loves you and he’s here for you.  I wanna take this moment to honor the people that were lost, that were taken,” he said.  “To the families, we love you so much. ... Everybody say, ‘We honor you, and we love you.’”

Coldplay were also a crowd favorite, performing well-known songs like “Viva La Vida” and “Fix You.”

Grande performed throughout the show, singing her hits from “Side to Side” to “Break Free.”  She even collaborated with others onstage: She sang Fergie’s verse on the Black Eyed Peas hit, “Where Is the Love?” along with the group; she performed a duet with Cyrus; and she sang her debut song, “The Way,” with rapper Mac Miller.

Cyrus said she was “so honored to be at this incredible event” and performed “Happy” alongside Pharrell, who also sang “Get Lucky.”

“I don’t feel or smell or hear or see any fear in this building.  All we feel here tonight is love, resilience, positivity,” Williams said.

Take That, who are from Manchester, followed with fun energy that the crowd danced to.

“Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this,” singer Gary Barlow said.  “We want everyone to stand strong.”

Robbie Williams also performed, changing some of his lyrics of “Strong” to honor the Manchester victims.

“Manchester we’re strong ... we’re still singing our song,” he sang with the audience of 50,000.

The Manchester concert came the day after attackers targeted the heart of London, killing seven people.  Authorities have said the attack started with a van plowing into pedestrians and then involved three men using large knives to attack people in bars and restaurants at a nearby market.

The One Love Manchester concert aired across the globe.  Other performers included Little Mix, Niall Horan, Imogen Heap and Victoria Monet.


For Shakira, music takes backseat to motherhood

Colombian singer Shakira.
(Photo by Victoria WIll/Invision/AP)

 Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) - Shakira may be a Grammy-winning, multiplatinum singer, but these days she’s calling music a hobby.

Singing has taken a back seat to motherhood for the 40-year-old Colombian sensation, who has two sons, ages 4 and 2.

“For years I spent my life pressing pause on those things that are now my priority, like having a family.  I pressed pause on that.  Now, I hit play,” Shakira said with a laugh.  “I formed a family, and it’s the most wonderful thing, the most important thing to me.  And before, I used to be the center of my whole world and the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega of my whole world, and now my kids and my family are that one priority.”

Shakira said it was difficult to approach making new music after spending so much time with her family.  When she started working in the recording studio, she said she dealt with writer’s block and didn’t want to be away from her children.

“I was in front of this white canvas and sort of panicking, and I was, at the same time, conflicted because I didn’t want to stop spending time with my kids, but I also wanted to attend to my own needs as a creator, as an artist, as a producer,” she said.

She decided to release music in her own way and at her own pace.  Instead of putting out a full album, she released songs when she wanted without announcing when an album would finally come.

“It completely changed my game and it incentivized me to make more music and not take this whole project as a whole body of work, but just concentrate all of my energy on each song and take and do all of the efforts but one song at a time ... instead of looking at this project like a big Everest mountain that I had to climb,” she said.  “I began to see it as a ... fun road trip.”

“It was more fun than any of my previous albums because before I had many demands (and) requests by others,” she added.

Before she released her 11th album, “El Dorado,” last month, Shakira dropped four singles, including “La Bicicleta” with Carlos Vives — which won song and record of the year at last year’s Latin Grammys — and “Chantaje,” a No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot Latin songs chart with fellow Colombian singer Maluma.

Another single, “Me Enamore,” features her partner, soccer player Gerard Pique, in the music video.  The album, mainly in Spanish with some English songs, includes pop, reggaeton, bachata, vallenato and funk sounds.  Shakira co-wrote all of the tracks and said they are very personal.

“When I played ‘Me Enamore’ for (Gerard), he really liked it. ... He looks at me with those eyes like, ‘Oh,’ like really appreciating the fact that I almost paid a homage to that moment in our lives when we met each other and the turning point in our lives when everything changed for both of us,” recalled Shakira, who also said new songs like “Amarillo” and “Coconut Tree” are about her and her lover.

They have been together since 2011 and live in Barcelona, Spain.

“These songs are very personal songs, but you know, I have no other way to make music.  It’s the only way I know.  It’s (a) catharsis for me ... otherwise I would have to pay too many shrinks and they’re expensive,” she said with a laugh.


Southern rocker Gregg Allman laid to rest near Highway 41

 Jeff Martin

Macon, Ga. (AP) — Southern rocker Gregg Allman was laid to rest last Saturday near his older brother Duane in the same cemetery where they used to write songs among the tombstones, not far from US Highway 41.

Thousands of fans lined the streets of Macon to honor Allman, who was carried into Rose Hill Cemetery as a bagpiper played a somber tune.  Family and friends, including musicians who played in The Allman Brothers Band over the years, gathered next to his grave and on a nearby hillside shaded by huge oak trees.  Towards the end, a freight train rolled in and stopped alongside the cemetery, reminding some mourners of Allman’s lyrics to “Melissa.”

Along the funeral route, many shared memories of concerts, and some blared the band’s songs from their cars and trucks.  One carried a sign saying “You made our soul shine. We’ll miss you brother Gregg.”

The funeral service was private, with room for only about 100 people inside the small chapel. Allman’s ex-wife Cher and his band mates, including the drummer Jaimoe and guitarist Dickey Betts, who wrote and sang “Ramblin Man,” also attended.

Allman, who blazed a trail for many southern rock groups, died May 27 at the age of 69 of suspected liver cancer.


Update June 3, 2017

Film Review: Fifth ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ flick fights bloat

Johnny Depp portrays Jack Sparrow in a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” (Peter Mountain/Disney via AP)

Mark Kennedy

Los Angeles (AP) - The opening scene of the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” is a fitting metaphor for where we stand in this long franchise: A creaky old galleon is unceremoniously yanked up from the ocean depths and the only things aboard are cranky old ghosts.

A weary, battered fifth chapter — “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” — lumbers into theaters this summer high on CGI tricks but with a hopelessly muddled plot and recurring characters basically running on fumes.

Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow, as is Geoffrey Rush as a well-bearded Barbossa, looking a lot like the Cowardly Lion, and his faithful capuchin monkey.  Newcomers include Golshifteh Farahani as a pretty cool, punky witch, and Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites, who play young star-crossed lovers with serious daddy issues, adding vitality and maybe future franchise possibilities.

The bad guy this time is Javier Bardem as a ghost ship captain and he proves to be an extraordinary actor because he comes across as a very believable ghost ship captain.  His full-throttled, single-minded fury recalls Ricardo Montalban in “The Wrath of Khan.”

The film also features the returns of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley — but in tiny cameos only — as the lovers Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann.  They missed the fourth installment because they were smart.

Directors Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning have been given the keys to the kingdom and they’ve thrown everything at it — a half-dozen big sea battles, a shotgun wedding, a joint execution, underwater sword fights and even a Beatle.  Look carefully and you’ll find Sir Paul McCartney doing a cameo in a jail. (For those of you keeping score at home, this movie now co-stars one monkey and one Beatle.)

Fans of this Pirates franchise have had to wait six long years for this offering, ever since “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” in 2011.  That was the one about the fountain of youth.  It took over from the third, bloated edition, “At World’s End,” which seemed to be about a global chase for a magical navigation chart and some hot pirate-on-pirate fighting.

This fifth edition is all about a hunt for the Trident of Poseidon, which can break curses.  But it’s also about Bardem and his ghost crew busting out of the Devil’s Triangle to hunt pirates, as well as Barbossa protecting his pirate empire, and the two young lovers fulfilling their destinies.  Keep up: There’s a test at the end.  Just kidding.

At the center of all this madness is Depp, whose Sparrow is now down-on-his-luck and abandoned by his crew.  He’s always drunk, apparently has stuffed cotton balls into his mouth and is deeply unfunny. (He keeps muttering about being a bed wetter.)  Depp didn’t just phone this in; he snail-mailed in his performance.

The story writers — Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio — have not only overstuffed the script, they’ve dumbed everything down (they think “horology” is a hysterically dirty word) and there’s hardly a quiet moment in the entire two-hour movie.  Plus, not to get too historical about a movie that deals with ghost pirates, but are they certain seamen in the eighteenth century greeted each other with “How’s it going?”

You can’t beat the special effects, though, especially the way the ghosts are rendered, with parts missing from their bodies. The ghost sharks and ghost birds — OK, stay with us — are pretty awesome, too.  And the ghost Depp is really spooky.  Wait, that’s just regular Depp, failing to make an impression.  Our bad.

After this fifth episode, you’ll wish Disney would just declare the franchise dead and tell no more tales.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” a Walt Disney Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some suggestive content and adventure violence.”  Running time: 128 minutes.  One star out of four.


Bangkok gears up for 15th Asia Guitar Festival

Thu Le from Vietnam.

South-East Asia’s finest assembly of international guitar players, makers and enthusiasts will assemble from June 8-11 at The Sukosol hotel in Bangkok for the fifteenth Asia International Guitar Festival & Competition, the only event of its kind in the region.

This year’s agenda includes master classes, guitar exhibits, competitions and concerts by acclaimed musicians hailing from around the world.   A varied program sees four days of activities, each day culminating in a concert by one or more celebrated guitar maestros.  The event will also feature a guitar competition open to all, with the winner receiving a free guitar, case, string sets, certificate and performance rights at four prestigious events.

The full list of internationally-acclaimed guests includes: Gérard Abiton (France), Antoine Moriniere (France), Admir Doci (Albania), Takeo Sato (Germany), Masahiro Masuda (Japan), Padet Netpakdee (Thailand), Thu Le (Vietnam), Seoul Guitar Quartet (South Korea), Chinnawat Themkumkwun (Thailand), Leon Koudelak (Czech Republic), Woratep Rattana-umpawan (Thailand), Pongpat Pongpradit (Thailand), Worrapat Yansupap (Thailand), Pongpat Pong­pradit (Thailand), Mitsuo Yoshimoto (Japan), and Sung Ho Chang (South Korea).

International luthiers attending include: Yuichi Imai (Japan), Kazuo Sato (Germany), Young Seo (Korea), Hanief Palopo (Indonesia), Narongsak Vises­nut (Thailand), Wiroon Song-Bundit (Thailand)

All the concerts will be performed in The Sukosol’s Kamolmart room.  Evening concert tickets are Bht 600 for adults and Bht 400 for students (with valid I.D.), inclusive of coffee break.   Afternoon concert tickets cost Bht 300 for all audience members, excluding coffee break.  Observers of master classes and competitions pay Bht 200.

For further details including a full festival programme, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Asia-International-Guitar-Festival-and-Competition-Bangkok or call 02 247 0123, ext 1916-1918.


Rolling Stones heading back on the road, this time in Europe

Mick Jagger will be leading the Rolling Stones on a European tour in 2017. (AP Photo)

London (AP) - The Rolling Stones are going back on the road, this time staying a bit closer to home with a European tour.

The rock stalwarts have announced they will play 13 gigs in nine countries starting in September.

The European sojourn will include stadium performances in France, Germany and Spain.  It’s been dubbed the Stones - No Filter tour.

It will kick off in Hamburg September 9 and include a first ever major music gig in the medieval Italian city of Lucca.

Singer Mick Jagger said he was “so excited to be touring Europe this autumn and returning to some familiar places and some we’ve never done before.”

The tour follows last year’s jaunt through South America, which included a first-ever performance in Cuba.


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

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Film Review: ‘Wonder Woman’ film and star live up to the name

Liverpool fetes ‘Sgt. Pepper’ with help from its friends

Grande returns to Manchester to honour victims with benefit

For Shakira, music takes backseat to motherhood

Southern rocker Gregg Allman laid to rest near Highway 41


Film Review: Fifth ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ flick fights bloat

Bangkok gears up for 15th Asia Guitar Festival

Rolling Stones heading back on the road, this time in Europe

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