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Update November 2016


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Update November 26, 2016

Film Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts’ promising, not yet Potter-magical

 

Eddie Redmayne is shown in a scene from the film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. via AP)

Jocelyn Noveck

Los Angeles (AP) - Who’s up for a little escapism at the multiplex?

J.K. Rowling, embarking on her new, post-Potter blockbuster franchise with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” has said herself that her screenplay, which she began several years ago, was informed by world events — particularly, she noted, a rise in populism around the globe.

And so there’s definitely some darkness in “Fantastic Beasts,” despite its being a family film, complete with the sweetest little beasts (and bigger ones) imaginable — expect to see your kid melt forthwith over the lovable jewelry-imbibing Niffler (It’s stunning how many carats he can consume without gaining weight.)

But there’s also a refreshingly light tone competing with the sinister themes, thanks especially to two exceedingly appealing supporting characters headed for a sweet confection of a romance.

But first, the title: Harry Potter fans will know that “Fantastic Beasts” was a required text for Harry and his Hogwarts mates.  That little book has now become the seed of a franchise — there are FOUR films to come — based on its author, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a wizard Magizoologist with a mop haircut, a bashful grin, and one fabulous briefcase.

Why is this briefcase so great?  Well, it’s magic, like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag.  But while Mary basically pulled out room furnishings, Scamander has not only a menagerie of fantastical creatures, but seemingly a whole mini-planet in there to house them.

We start with Scamander just off the boat in 1926 New York, a few years before the Great Depression.  Director David Yates, of the last four Potter films, has clearly spared no expense in creating this Jazz Age Big Apple, from the grand skyscrapers and period automobiles to Colleen Atwood’s delicious costumes, to of course the endlessly inventive CGI beasts.

It’s not the best time for a young wizard and his pets to be arriving.  Magical folk have gone undercover.  Among the No-Majs (that’s American for Muggles, or humans), zealots from the Second Salemers (as in Salem Witch Trials) are looking to destroy wizards and witches.

So the wizards’ governing body, MACUSA, is suppressing all magical beasts, lest they expose the wizards.  It’s particularly inconvenient when Newt’s creatures are accidentally set loose across the city.

It becomes a race against time for Newt and three companions to rescue them and save the city from an undefined, sinister force.  These companions are Tina (Katherine Waterston), an ambitious but well-meaning MACUSA investigator; Jacob (Dan Fogler), an amiable, portly No-Maj baker who gets caught up in it all; and Queenie, Tina’s mind-reading, sweetly sensitive sister (Alison Sudol).

Also in the mix: Percival Graves (Colin Farrell, in an undefined role), the mysterious director of MACUSA, and zealot Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). And there’s one more big star — bigger than all — who makes a late appearance. (We won’t spoil it here — feel free to Google.)

It’s all entertaining, lovely, expertly done.  Why then does it feel as if something’s missing?  Perhaps it’s our inescapable urge to compare it to the Potter phenomenon.

Or perhaps it’s that Harry was, well, a kid, who we watched grow up.  “Fantastic Beasts” is obviously more of an adult story.  Redmayne is charming, though less commanding than in some other roles.  He has nice charisma with the winsomely earnest Waterston.  But the real chemistry is between Fogler and Sudol, an unlikely couple eyeing each other coyly across the Wizard/No-Maj chasm.

Then there are the beasts — not just Niffler, but Bowtruckle, Erumpent, Murtlaf and Mooncalf, to name a few.  Here, Rowling delivers as only she can.  “I don’t think I’m dreaming,” Jacob says.  “I ain’t got the brains to make this up.”

Other than Rowling, who really does?

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some fantasy action violence.”  Running time: 133 minutes.  Three stars out of four.


Is high-frame rate the next failed Hollywood gimmick?

This image shows a scene from the film “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” set to be screened at 120 fps at only a handful of specially equipped theaters worldwide. (Mary Cybulski/Sony-TriStar Pictures via AP)

Jake Coyle

New York (AP) — It’s starting to look a lot like the Fifties at the movies.

That was when theaters, alarmed by the rise of television and newly freed from the ownership of Hollywood studios, trotted out a wave of gimmicks to freshen up the moviegoing experience.  Ballyhooed advancements like “Smell-O-Vision” and 3-D raged briefly before —at least for a time — receding into camp.

But many of those gimmicks have been reborn for a more high-tech age with new media anxieties.  Now it’s cable dramas and streaming networks that are stoking fears that a mere movie isn’t enough to draw audiences out of their homes.

For this new era, there aren’t brilliant showmen like William Castle who put electric buzzers in the seats for 1959’s “The Tingler” and guaranteed $1,000 for any moviegoer who died of fright while watching 1958’s “Macabre.”

Instead, it’s many of the industry’s top filmmakers who are pushing new theatrical experiences.  The latest purported cinematic savior is high-frame rate, an innovation without quite as catchy a name as 1959’s scented “AromaRama.”  Instead of the traditional 24 frames a second, HFR is composed of many more images per second, lending greater clarity.  But so far, the reviews are dismal.

First, Peter Jackson made his “Hobbit” trilogy in 48 frames-per-second, though poor reviews led it to be largely phased out by the final installment.  Now, Ang Lee has doubled-down on the format, and then some.  His “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” was made with 120 frames per second.  Critics have, in kind, amped up their doubts about the technology’s promise, claiming its hyper-real effect appears artificial or, worse, like a telenovela.

Whether high frame rate will go the way of “Smell-O-Vision” remains to be seen.  “Billy Lynn” will only be screened at 120 fps at two specially equipped theaters in North America, and maybe half-a-dozen worldwide.  Lee has urged patience.  James Cameron, who led the 3-D resurrection, has pledged to make his “Avatar” sequels in a HFR format.

But high-frame rate is just one of the big-screen innovations making this decade look like a digitized sequel of the ’50s.  Here are some of the gimmicks that have returned, in mutated forms, like creatures from a black lagoon:

3-D: The golden era of 3-D, ushered in by 1952’s “Bwana Devil,” lasted less than two years.  But the phase propelled by Cameron’s “Avatar” and embraced by the likes of Lee, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, has already lasted a decade.  It’s now a regular, if divisive component of moviegoing: a cherished part of the theatrical spectacle to some, a loathsome surcharge on already higher priced movie tickets to others.  Though audience interest for 3-D has at times waned, its grip on theaters seems assured.  Cameron hopes to release “Avatar 2” in glasses-free 3-D.

Cinerama: The panoramic widescreen format, projected onto a curved and arced screen, first debuted with 1952’s “This Is Cinerama.”  It and other screen-stretching formats such as Ultra Panavision 70, brought widescreen majesty to films like “How the West Was Won” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  Cinerama was closely followed by CinemaScope, the anamorphic lens advertised as “the modern miracle you see without glasses,” and the less successful Circle-Vision 360 — something like a forerunner to today’s IMAX screens.  CinemaScope, big and beautiful, remains a cherished choice for many filmmakers.  Damien Chazelle’s upcoming, glowingly nostalgic “La La Land” — an early Oscar favorite and an implicit argument for the glory of movies - is the latest to bring back CinemaScope.

Sensurround: The 1974 film “Earthquake” launched Sensurround which used low bass sounds to create a rumbling, vibrating effect.  (Moviegoers in next-door theaters sometimes complained of the tremors from “Earthquake” while watching other releases that year, like “The Godfather Part II.”)  Other efforts to transfer sensations on the screen to people in the seats have followed.  So-called “4-D,” long a theme park attraction, adds an amusement park ride effect to theaters with moving seats, smells and weather effects like fog and rain.  A South Korean company has opened “4DX” rooms around the world, playing Hollywood blockbusters.  Some of them — and William Castle would appreciate this — even tingle.


Mott the Dog: Motorhead ‘On Parole’ - 4 stars

Early Motorhead (from left) Larry Wallis, Lucas Fox and Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister.

These were the first recordings made by the trio to soon emerge as Motorhead.  They are not however what you might imagine from the group if you only know them from the album ‘Overkill’ onwards.

They were at this stage a band in the embryonic stage and consisted of Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, formerly of Hawkwind who had lost his place as bass guitarist of the space rockers for his extreme rock’n’roll lifestyle and becoming the most famous member of the band; Larry Wallis, who was at the time in two bands, Motorhead and The Pink Fairies (soon to raise loyalty issues); and Lucas Fox who did not even make it past the recording of this album as his studio drumming was considered not good enough and was over-dubbed by Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor before the album even got handed into United Artists Records in 1976.

Two producers were used during the recording of the sessions - Dave Edmunds had a go first but was really more interested in getting his own solo career off the ground and so production duties were taken over by Fritz Fryer.

The results are excellent, as Dave Thompson of Allmusic put it: “The music is devastating, steeped in Blues, drenched in booze, the highest octane pub rock of all.  No matter how well you think you know Motorhead, this is still nothing like you would be expecting.  A true rocker’s sonic symphony, this is Wagner with whiplash.”

Although it’s still Lemmy’s band, the songwriting and singing is shared out between the individual group members.  There are also three tracks brought over from Lemmy’s Hawkwind days: “Motorhead”, the last song written by Lemmy in his old band (although on this version there are no sonic Hawkwind keyboards, electronics or violin solos), and straight ahead rocked up versions of “The Watcher” and “Lost Johnny”.

The Pink Fairies’ “City Kids” was dragged out and given a good kicking too, as was the 1963 Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown single “Leaving Here” which is rocked up so much as to be almost unrecognizable from the original.  Larry Wallis had a few good tracks up his sleeve and combined with the stunning axe work he displays here who knows what could have been if he had decided to stay with the band.  The classic Motorhead track “Iron Horse/Born to Lose” is also given its first airing on this album as a slow heavy rock song.

Of course United Recording Artists took one listen to the album and were so horrified they buried it deep in their vaults, dug a bunker for themselves and basically hid from the band until they could sell their contract on to Chiswick Records, who then allowed the band (with ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke on lead guitar) to virtually re-record the album and put it out under the band’s own name.

Motorhead then moved onto Bronze Records and fame and fortune with a new, heavier rock’n’roll sound, at which time United Artists put their collective heads back above the parapets and realized they may have missed something, resulting in them releasing this album as “On Parole”.  Of course it’s still a great album, but by 1979 things had moved on and the band had disowned it.  So next time United Artists, stick to your guns.

Note: On the re-released album you get four of the tracks produced by Dave Edmunds tagged on at the end.  Seems like the swap to Fritz Fryer was a good one!

Track Listing:

Motorhead

On Parole

Vibrator

Iron Horse/Born to Lose

City Kids

The Watcher

Leaving Here

Lost Johnny

Fools

Bonus Tracks:

(Produced by Dave Edmunds)

On Parole

City Kids

Motorhead

Leaving Here

Motorhead:

Ian (Lemmy) Kilmister, bass guitar and vocals

Larry Wallis, guitar and vocals

Phil (Philthy Animal) Taylor, drums

Lucas Fox, drums on ‘Lost Johnny’


Now you can visit the Rolling Stones’ 1962 apartment

The Rolling Stones (from left) Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts attend the opening night party for “Exhibitionism” at Industria on Tuesday, Nov. 15, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) - When Mick Jagger was coming up with ideas for an exhibition highlighting The Rolling Stones’ five-decade long career, he wanted to re-create the mood of the band in its early years.

So, he had a team re-create the first London apartment he and his band mates shared in 1962, complete with dirty dishes, beer bottles and blues records placed throughout the flat.

“That was the weirdest thing really. ... The building is still there — it’s not a building that’s been knocked down or anything, it’s right around the corner from where I actually live now,” Jagger said.  “It’s very redolent of the space ... and it smells like it and feels like it.

“I just remembered how it really was,” he added.

“There were a lot of places like that in the early ’60s ... you wouldn’t want to live there now,” Charlie Watts said.

The Stones also re-created their recording studio, complete with original instruments, for “Exhibitionism — The Rolling Stones,” the band’s exhibit that debuted at Industria in New York City this month after launching in London earlier in the year.  It includes colorful tour outfits, Jagger’s lyric book, Keith Richards’ 1963 diary, Watts’ toy drum kit and various photographs, from posters to magazine covers.

“None of it made me cry particularly.  Some of it made me laugh,” Jagger said of the memorabilia.

The exhibit runs in New York through March 12, 2017.  Some of the pieces are works by Andy Warhol, Alexander McQueen and John Pasche, who designed the Stones’ iconic tongue logo.

“It’s like bumping into memories everywhere you look for me,” Richards said.  “You turn the corner (and say), ‘Oh, that’s where I left it.  Whether it’s a guitar or a piece of clothing, everything sort of rings a bell somewhere.”

Ronnie Wood, who joined the group in 1975, said he enjoyed seeing the “little motifs” throughout the exhibit, and added that one of his favorite memories was joining the band for his first public performance — on his birthday.

“I had to learn the entire Stones back catalog to get ready to go onstage on June 1, my birthday, for my first public show with them,” he said, smiling.

Of his highlights, Richards said, laughing: “I can pick out a few lows but we won’t bother with them, but otherwise, it’s been pretty much a high all the time.”

The Stones will release a new album of blues cover songs called “Blue & Lonesome” on Dec. 2.  When asked what his future goals are for the band, Watts said: “Staying alive I think is the biggest thing at the moment, or getting up in the morning.”


Update November 19, 2016

Film Review: Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon in ‘Inferno’

Tom Hanks (left) and Felicity Jones are shown in a scene from, “Inferno.” (Jonathan Prime/Sony Pictures via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - “Inferno” is the third Robert Langdon film, with Tom Hanks reprising the role of the Harvard “symbology” professor whose parlor trick is solving elaborate criminal plots by deciphering great works of art.  If his exploits are to continue (and there is good reason to fear they might), I hope he’ll eventually be confronted with a puzzle that brings him face to face with a Rothko, leaving him utterly bereft of clues.

The first two Langdon movies (also directed by Ron Howard) were cold, soggy soups of conspiracy that served up a very poor man’s Indiana Jones, minus the fun but plus a dubious haircut.  The filmmakers have skipped one book in the series, perhaps wisely since Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” enlists Freemasons as its conspiracy-du-jour, following escapades with the Catholic church and self-flagellating albino monks in “The Da Vinci Code” and the Illuminati in “Angels & Demons.”

“Inferno,” a better, more simplified thriller than those films, trades less on the ancient mysteries of a shadowy organization than the familiar arch villainy of a megalomaniac — and a good one, at that.  The reliably intense Ben Foster plays Bertrand Zobrist, a billionaire who, fearful that overpopulation will destroy humanity, wants to trim the herd by half with a virus that will unleash a modern-day plague.

Langdon’s role in the scheme isn’t clear.  The film begins with him waking up in a Florence hospital, his recent memory wiped clean by a head wound and his mind haunted by apocalyptic visions.  It’s that classic hangover with little to jog the noggin other than a mysterious bio-tube from the night before.

When a pursuer turns up and starts shooting, Langdon and the doctor on hand, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), flee and begin piecing together Zobrist’s plot, one concocted with heavy shades of Dante and Botticelli’s Map of Hell painting.  They chase the virus while trailed by the World Health Organization (Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy) and a clandestine security firm (Irrfan Khan exquisitely plays its gentlemanly leader).  Langdon and Brooks dash through the Palazzo Vecchio, the Boboli Gardens and other starred attractions in Brown’s Florence guide book.

The opportunity to see Hanks traversing European capitals has been enough to make the Langdon films blockbusters.  Along the way, Langdon — a bit of a drip — has not given Hanks much to work with.  But slavishness to Brown’s text has finally given way in David Koepp’s script to an apparent understanding that the books don’t deserve such regard, or at least that few care anymore.

The benefit is that “Inferno” isn’t a burning heap of hogwash, like “The Da Vinci Code” was.  It’s a lot more like a tweed-jacket version of Bond or Bourne or most any other thriller out there.  But if Langdon is distinguished from the other globe-trotting saviors by his PhD, why aren’t his movies smarter?

“Inferno,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality.” Running time: 121 minutes. Two stars out of four.


Hells Bells: Bad Company ‘live’ at the 02 in London

Bad Company in concert.

Helen Westby

This gig had been eagerly anticipated for months, not just by myself, but every person who had bought a ticket for Bad Company’s “Swan Song Tour”.

Support band for the night were RSO, or in other words Bon Jovi’s world renowned ex-guitarist Richie Sambora and his newest squeeze Orianthi.  These guys have been linked together both musically and romantically for a few years now and are currently working on an album together, so that should be interesting.

I was fortunate (or maybe unfortunate?) to catch a performance by the duo at the Islington 02 Academy back in June 2014.  On that occasion I was left more than a little disappointed by the performance; Richie was not in good form, in fact he appeared to slur his words and lose all sense of coordination.

Given that previous experience, I wasn’t expecting much from his set at the 02, so was pleasantly surprised that he seemed slightly better prepared this time round.  I can’t say it was a mind blowing performance, but certainly more than adequate.  His vocals were a million times better than at the Islington show, but again, he really didn’t seem to find that ‘je ne sais quoi’ so prevalent in his Bon Jovi days.

The couples opening number was a cover of U2’s “When Love Comes to Town”, a slightly odd choice I thought, but then the rest of their set list was a rather eclectic mix too.  Song choice aside though, Richie tried to engage the half-filled arena with some cheesy banter, and to give him his dues, he really worked his butt off to please everyone.  There’s never been any doubt about his superior stage presence, let’s face it, being at the forefront of one of the most prevalent rock bands of the last few decades, he had to have mastered his stage craft by now, but there was something lacking.

Orianthi does seem to have steered him in the right direction though, so good on her.  She has proved a very competent guitarist in her own right, and looked every bit the stunning rock goddess on this occasion.  There’s still a large amount needed to get them completely on track but hopefully the pair will keep touring and eventually gel better in future.

RSO out of the way it was on to the act that everyone was really there to see, Bad Company.  The classic line-up was here, consisting of Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke, complemented perfectly with the addition of Howard Leese (guitars) and Todd Ronning (bass).

Paul Rodgers, personifies the true English gentleman of rock, no gimmicks or frills, he just powers through his harmonious vocals in style, perfection itself!  No way would you guess how many years he’s been around, and to be honest, who cares?  Clearly age has no barriers when it comes to Rodgers looks or voice.  Let’s face it, few other lead singers of that era can boast the range and clarity of the performances he still puts out.  Not only that, he can also still twirl a mike stand like a 20 something!

Kirke too has aged gracefully, and here he put on a really powerful performance.  His kit poised on a sparkling drum riser, he towered above his bandmates, a very fitting position.  Ralphs on the other hand hasn’t been quite so blessed, but saying that, for someone in his early 70’s, he still braved his way through some apparent physical discomfort, and it definitely wouldn’t have been Bad Company without him.  (Note: a few days after this concert some sad news filtered through that Mick Ralphs had suffered a stroke and was hospitalised.  We all wish him a full and very speedy recovery.)

The bonus of positioning Rodgers piano right next to Kirke proved an inspirational move at the London gig, and added to the powerful and monumental sound.  The rhythm section will always be an integral part in the classic sound of Bad Company and Free numbers, especially with such classics as “Feel like Making Love”, “Run with the Pack” and “Can’t Get Enough”, so the addition of Todd Ronning on bass was an excellent idea.

All in all there was absolutely nothing to criticize about the whole performance at the O2.  The sound system was phenomenal and the band members gave their all, which was clear to see by everyone there.  Even the set-list had been carefully thought out, mixing and matching powerful, unforgettable tracks with slightly toned down ones.  This concert will live with me for many years to come, and I was gutted when it ended.

Being called the Swan Song Tour, it would have appeared this could be the final tour for the current line-up, but Rodgers did more than hint it was not the end.  A lot depends of course on the health of Mick Ralphs, but here’s hoping for his full recovery and that there’ll be more performances like this one to come from the band, because I’ll be first in line for a ticket!

Set List:

1, Live for the Music

2, Gone, Gone, Gone

3, Feel Like Makin’ Love

4, Electricland

5, Burnin’ Sky

6, Run with the Pack

7, Ready for Love

8, Crazy Circles

9, Troubleshooter

10, Movin’ On

11, Shooting Star

12, Can’t Get Enough

13, Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy

Encore:

14, Bad Company

15, Seagull


Tributes pour in for singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is shown performing in this May 13, 2006, file photo. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Los Angeles (AP) — Leonard Cohen, the baritone-voiced Canadian singer-songwriter who seamlessly blended spirituality and sexuality in songs like “Hallelujah,” ‘’Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire,” died last week at age 82.

Cohen, also renowned as a poet, novelist and aspiring Zen monk, blended folk music with a darker, sexual edge that won him fans around the world and among fellow musicians like Bob Dylan and R.E.M.

He remained wildly popular into his 80s, when his deep voice plunged to seriously gravelly depths.  He toured as recently as earlier this year and released a new album, “You Want it Darker,” just last month.  Adam Cohen said his father died with the knowledge that he’d made one of his greatest records.

Cohen’s “Hallelujah” went from cult hit to modern standard, now an unending staple on movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, reality shows and high school choir concerts.

Cohen, who once said he got into music because he couldn’t make a living as a poet, rose to prominence during the folk music revival of the 1960s.  During those years, he traveled the folk circuit with younger artists like Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and others.

His contemporary Kris Kristofferson once said that he wanted the opening lines to Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” on his tombstone.

They would be a perfect epitaph for Cohen himself: “Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.”

It was Dylan who first recognized the potential of 1984’s “Hallelujah, performing it twice in concert during the mid-1980s, once in Cohen’s native Canada.

It had gone unnoticed when it came out on an independent-label album that had been rejected by Cohen’s label.  He had filled a notebook with some 80 verses before recording the song, which he said despite its religious references to David, Bathseba and Samson was an attempt to give a nonreligious context to hallelujah, an expression of praise.

“When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius,” Dylan said.  “Even the counterpoint lines — they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs.  As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music.”


Robert Vaughn, suave ‘Man from UNCLE’ star, dies at 83

Actor Robert Vaughn is shown portraying superspy Napoleon Solo in this undated press photo for television’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” series. (AP Photo, File)

Frazier Moore

New York (AP) — Robert Vaughn, the debonair, Oscar-nominated actor whose many film roles were eclipsed by his hugely popular turn in television’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” died last week at age 83.  Vaughn passed away Friday, Nov. 11 after a brief battle with acute leukemia.

“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was an immediate hit, particularly with young people, when it debuted in 1964.  It was part of an avalanche of secret agent shows (“I Spy,” ‘’Mission: Impossible,” ‘’Secret Agent”), spoofs (“Get Smart”), books (“The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”) and even songs (“Secret Agent Man”) inspired by the James Bond films.

Vaughn’s urbane superspy Napoleon Solo teamed with Scottish actor David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin, a soft-spoken, Russian-born agent.

The pair, who had put aside Cold War differences for a greater good, worked together each week for the mysterious U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) in combatting the international crime syndicate THRUSH.

“Girls age 9 to 12 liked David McCallum because he was so sweet,” Vaughn said in a 2005 interview in England.  “But the old ladies and the 13- to 16-year-olds liked me because I was so detached.”

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” aired until early 1968, when sagging ratings brought it to an end.  Vaughn and McCallum reunited in 1983 for a TV movie, “The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in which the super spies were lured out of retirement to save the world once more.

McCallum said he was “utterly devastated” after learning of Vaughn’s death.

“Robert and I worked together for many years and losing him is like losing a part of me,” he said in a written statement.

In recent years, Vaughn had starred for eight seasons on the British crime-caper series “Hustle,” playing Albert Stroller, the lone Yank in a band of London-based con artists. “Hustle” also aired in the U.S.

“I imagined that Napoleon Solo had retired from U.N.C.L.E., whatever U.N.C.L.E. was,” Vaughn recalled in 2006.  “What could he do now to use his talents and to supplement his government pension?  I imagined Stroller as Napoleon Solo, The Later Years.”

Before “U.N.C.L.E.” Vaughn made his mark in movies, earning an Oscar nomination in 1959 for his supporting role in “The Young Philadelphians,” in which he played a wounded war veteran accused of murder.

The following year, he turned in a memorable performance as a gunfighter who had lost his nerve in “The Magnificent Seven.”

Making that movie, Vaughn recalled in 2005, had presented the cast with a vexing problem: no script.

“We had to improvise everything,” he said.  “I had to go to the costume department myself and choose the black vest and the black hat.”

Vaughn was drawn to politics in several of the TV roles he chose.  He portrayed Harry S. Truman in “The Man from Independence,” Woodrow Wilson in “Backstairs at the White House” and a presidential aide in the 12-hour “Washington: Behind Closed Doors,” for which he won an Emmy.

He also toured in a one-man play “F.D.R.” about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s battles with polio.

Vaughn remained active in movies in later years, usually in character roles.  Among his films: “The Venetian Affair,” ‘’The Bridge at Remagen,” ‘’Julius Caesar” (the 1970 British version starring Charlton Heston), “The Towering Inferno,” ‘’S.O.B.,” ‘’Superman III” and “Delta Force.”

Long among Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors, Vaughn married actress Linda Staab in 1974.

“The breaks all fell my way,” said Vaughn in 2006.

But was he really as cool as he appeared to his adoring audience?

“Not according to my wife,” Vaughn chuckled.  “She’s married to the guy who doesn’t take the garbage out on Tuesday evenings, the guy she battles with to get me out of my jumpsuit and running shoes.  She doesn’t allow me in public unless I wear a tie and a coat.”


Johnny Depp joins ‘Fantastic Beasts’ sequel

Los Angeles (AP) — Johnny Depp is about to enter a world of magic.  The actor is set to be part of “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” in a secretive role according to a Warner Bros. representative.

Depp will appear in a cameo in the first film, which opens on Nov. 18, and have a bigger role alongside star Eddie Redmayne in the sequel in 2018.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is based on Rowling’s book of the same name and set 60 years earlier than Harry Potter in 1926 New York.  There are five films planned in the Warner Bros. franchise.

Depp is no stranger to franchises, having led both the live-action “Alice” films and “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” both for Disney.


Update November 12, 2016

Film Review: ‘Doctor Strange’ dazzles with mind-bending visuals

 

This image released by Disney shows Benedict Cumberbatch in a scene from Marvel’s “Doctor Strange.” (Disney/Marvel via AP)

Sandy Cohen

Los Angeles (AP) - No affinity for superheroes or familiarity with Marvel mythology is required to enjoy the visual spectacle that is “Doctor Strange.”  Being open to mysticism and the possibility of parallel dimensions might help, though.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character in this origin story, where plot is secondary to dazzling special effects that invert gravity, reverse time and twist buildings like blocks in a Rubik’s Cube.  It’s worth it to watch the film in 3-D, and on an IMAX screen if possible (as this critic did), for an immersive, almost psychedelic experience.  Two spectacular action sequences in the third act are enough to justify the ticket price.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a brilliant, arrogant neurosurgeon.  He’s a know-it-all about medicine and music; a materialist with an expansive apartment and a drawer full of designer watches.  His commuter car is a Lamborghini, and he’s speeding around curves in it when he’s distracted by a text and flies off a cliff.  He awakens from surgery to finds his hands shattered and held together with a series of metal pins.

Despondent because he can’t work, Strange travels to Nepal, where he believes a healer may have cured someone from complete paralysis.  He ends up at a palace where he meets the mysterious Mordor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), warriors who introduce him to magical powers and mystical realms.  As a scientist, Strange dismisses their teachings (“I do not believe in fairytales about chakras”), but desperation — and a bizarre trip down a third-eye wormhole — make him a believer.

Meanwhile, one of the Ancient One’s former students (Mads Mikkelsen, always an excellent villain) has gone rogue, using the mystical teachings to connect with dark forces.  He and his minions believe they’ll receive eternal life if they destroy the sanctums of the Ancient One’s power, which are conveniently located in New York, London and Hong Kong — all dynamic settings for destruction and mind-bending magic.

Each of the city sequences look great, but the New York scenes are truly phenomenal.  In the hands of director Scott Derrickson and the special-effects artists who worked on “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the Big Apple becomes mesmerizingly Escher-esque: a disjointed, gravity-ignorant collection of streets and buildings.

While some of the magical elements may be far out (a levitating cape, for example), the Ancient One’s messages are grounded in contemporary pop psychology and spirituality.  She says things like, “We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them,” and “Silence your ego and your power will rise.”  Coming from a bald Tilda Swinton, it sounds more insightful than preachy.

The film addresses such sweeping concepts as death and time, but only to define the characters’ motives.  Some of the messages may be worth contemplating, but “Doctor Strange” is not a message movie.  It is a visual delight, where the spiritual notion that not all can be explained by science allows for an “Inception”-like unraveling of reality.

Be sure to stay through the credits for two delicious Marvel “Easter eggs.”  One involves a massive, self-refilling beer and the other teases a possible “Strange” future.

“Doctor Strange,” a Walt Disney Studios release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence.”  Running time: 115 minutes.  Three stars out of four.


Iggy Pop: Jarmusch was first, only choice for Stooges doc

In this May 20, 2016 file photo, director Jim Jarmusch, left and singer Iggy Pop, pose at the screening of the film “Gimme Danger,” at the 69th international film festival, Cannes, southern France. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

Jeff Karoub

Birmingham, Mich. (AP) — In 1969, Jim Jarmusch got his hands on The Stooges’ self-titled debut album, and the 16-year-old future filmmaker from Ohio was hooked.

“We were partly plotting our escape from Akron in the future and we were investigating whatever stuff we could get our hands on that was a little outside,” said Jarmusch, seated in a Detroit-area hotel suite next to Iggy Pop, frontman of both the band and Jarmusch’s new documentary of the group called “Gimme Danger.”  ‘’We were Midwestern ... and suddenly that was like, wow, this is our stuff: This is working-class, wild-ass primal music.  Yeah, that had a big effect.”

The attraction never wavered, so Jarmusch said he eagerly accepted Pop’s invitation four decades later to make a film about the band.  While technically it qualifies as a documentary, Jarmusch prefers terms like “celebration” and “investigation of context and influences.”  Or, as he declares early in the film, “We are ... interrogating Jim Osterberg about the Stooges — the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band ever.”

Whatever it’s called, it’s a compelling story about Osterberg — who became Iggy Pop — and his band that included late brothers Ron and Scott Asheton and James Williamson.  The film chronicles the band’s rise from the outskirts of Detroit to dissolution amid drugs and commercial indifference — but not before releasing sonic blasts that would inspire hordes of fans and bands, including the Sex Pistols, Ramones, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Then, there’s The Stooges’ resurrection in the 2000s, when Pop says they reunified to “finish up the job” with new music, triumphant tours and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The singer, who grew up near the college town of Ann Arbor, had long thought the story of his pioneering, proto-punk band, The Stooges, deserved to be told on film.  But he “didn’t ask two people to do the damn movie, I asked one person.”

“(Jarmusch) knew all about the group and he had been coming to our shows anyway for no reason except to come to the show.  He’s his own person, artistically,” said the 69-year-old Pop, dressed all in black save for some colorful sandals.  “I thought, well, this would be a great opportunity, it would elevate the group to have someone of this stature see whatever they see and share that with people.  And I knew he had the ability.”

Pop, who in person and on film candidly discusses his earlier appetite for drugs and the band’s propensity for self-sabotage, said he was still “shocked” to see “Gimme Danger” start with the 1970s demise and then move backward and forward from there.  But he welcomed the “unique” approach of Jarmusch, which included animation, handwritten text and less-than-precise editing in an effort to “be true to The Stooges,” according to the filmmaker.

Jarmusch calls it an “emotional decision” to structure the film the way he did, because hindsight offers the chance to view The Stooges’ early failure far differently.  He calls the first three albums — “The Stooges,” ‘’Fun House,” and “Raw Power” — “a classic gift to rock ‘n’ roll music” featuring songs like “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” ‘’Search and Destroy” and “T.V. Eye.”

“They had made those three things and now they’re 23, 24 years old going home to their moms because they’re rejected by the world,” said Jarmusch, as Pop laughs heartily alongside him.  “I made my first feature film, ‘Permanent Vacation,’ when I was 26 years old.  These guys had already made these three records and gone home. ... Let’s just start with what they did and how they were treated by the world.”

The comment leads to an easy, brotherly back-and-forth between filmmaker and subject.  “To be fair to the world,” Pop says, Jarmusch took the time to get a “proper education.”  The New York filmmaker of “Broken Flowers” and “Only Lovers Left Alive” admits he “wouldn’t have been ready,” but praises The Stooges for their early gusto: “You just went for it.”

Pop allows that he could have been “more sensible” and “should have taken some music lessons, some singing lessons.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Jarmusch said.


Hells Bells: UFO land centre-stage in St. Albans

Helen Westby

The UK leg of the current tour by British rockers UFO only took in a few dates this year, which was unfortunate as I’m sure they would have sold out many more venues off the back of their latest album “A Conspiracy of Stars.”

Phil Mogg, Andy Parker, Paul Raymond, Vinnie Moore and Rob De Luca all put in amazingly fresh and full on performances during the gig I attended at the Alban Arena in St. Albans on October 25, they just didn’t put a foot wrong!  As regular UFO concert going fans have grown accustomed to, it was a mixture of the band’s classic anthems with a sprinkling of newer material.

At curtain up, four members of the group initially bounded onto the stage, minus Phil, who ambled on at a more leisurely pace.  I think everyone at this point was a tad worried, as Phil’s newly shaved head, which amplified the spotlight and almost drowned out his facial features, coupled with a slightly hunched gait, meant that for a moment he looked his age.  However, as soon as he said “Hi” to the audience and broke straight into “Ain’t No Baby”, any fears were soon diminished.  No, there definitely was nothing wrong, as he belted out the song in his usual pitch perfect way.  What followed was a perfectly executed performance from everyone, and even the crowd were in good voice!

One of the things I (and I’m sure a lot of other UFO fans) admire so much about Moggy, is the infectious typically British humour and banter that pours from him in such a natural unscripted way.  The rapport he creates with this intimate exchange with the audience is almost unique.  So refreshing and uplifting to hear, rather than the boring lack-lustre song introductions you get from so many of the younger bands these days.  I received a very unexpected short but sweet personal dedication!  Even then his tongue in cheek approach came to the fore when he muddled up my surname, only to correct it a few seconds later much to the amusement of the gathered masses.

Mogg’s vocal ability has definitely not suffered over time, clear and at full throttle he masters every note with no gimmicks or embellishments needed.  Not always perfect, but totally natural and the way it should be.

UFO, despite the change in line-ups over the years, have always geared towards the guitarist taking centre stage.  This night was no exception.  Moore’s spectacular renditions of Schenker’s classic riffs and solos were performed to perfection, adding his own flair to the mix but somehow staying true to the original sound, no easy feat for even the most experienced axe-man.  You have to bear in mind that Moore is from the neo-classical school of shred, but his unique tone creates a perfect complimentary match to the harder edged rock sound of UFO.

Paul Raymond is the man behind the keys, synths and rhythm guitars, but equally adept at taking charge on lead guitar as need be.  This, as well as superb backing vocals and harmonies, show what an amazing all-rounder he is, an integral part of the band.  The stand-out performance from Raymond at this gig had to be “Love to Love”, where he really proved a powerhouse with his haunting melodies, truly majestic.

Andy Parker has been a regular stalwart over the years, and still continues to hammer out the percussive backbone of UFO, which drives the music.  Then not forgetting bassist De Luca who had the dubious task of filling the boots of the long missing Pete Way.  Not an envious undertaking it has to be said but he did a lot more than just play stand-in, he’s proved a worthy replacement in the way he commands his instrument and provides some truly memorable melodic bass lines and rhythmic rumble.

The band were rock solid on the night - the UFO machine warming up and gathering speed with every song.  Personal highlights for me were “Love to Love”, “Cherry”, “Rock Bottom” “Lights Out” and of course “Doctor Doctor”.  The band members were really fired up by the closing stages of the encore, but alas it was the end of the night.  Come on guys, more dates around the world needed!

Set-list:

1. Ain’t No Baby

2. We Belong to the Night

3. Fight Night

4. Run Boy Run

5. Lights Out

6. Venus

7. Only You Can Rock Me

8. Burn Your House Down

9. Cherry

10. Love to Love

11. Messiah of Love

12. Makin’ Moves

13. Rock Bottom

Encore:

14. Doctor Doctor

15. Shoot Shoot


ABBA members to launch ‘new digital experience’ next year

 

The four members of Swedish pop group ABBA, from left, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad are shown together in this March 14, 1980 file photo. (AP Photo/Tsugufumi Matsumoto)

New York (AP) - The members of ABBA are reuniting for a “new digital experience” next year.

The iconic Swedish pop band made the announcement recently but didn’t offer much in the way of details.  They said they are teaming up with Universal Music Group and entertainment mogul Simon Fuller (“American Idol,” Spice Girls) to “create an original entertainment experience ... that will enable a new generation of fans to see, hear, and feel ABBA in a way previously unimagined.”

“We are exploring a new technological world that will allow us to create new forms of entertainment and content we couldn’t have previously imagined,” Fuller said in a statement.

ABBA’s Benny Andersson described the virtual experience as “a time machine that captures the essence of who we were …and are.  We’re inspired by the limitless possibilities of what the future holds and love being a part of creating something new and dramatic here.”

ABBA includes Andersson, Agnetha Faltskog, Bjoern Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.  The group formed in Stockholm in 1972 and after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 the quartet went on to become one of the best selling pop music acts in history.  They last performed together 35 years ago.  The four members made a rare joint appearance in January for the opening of a Stockholm restaurant inspired by the “Mamma Mia!” musical.

Lyngstad said fans around the world always ask about a reunion, and said: “So I hope this new ABBA creation will excite them as much as it excites me.”


Nepal’s most popular Buddhist nun is a musical rock star

Buddhist nun and musician Ani Choying Drolma performs during a concert in Mumbai, India, Oct. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Binaj Gurubacharya

Kathmandu, Nepal (AP) — There is one Buddhist nun everyone in Nepal knows by name — not because she’s a religious icon and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, nor for her work running a girl’s school and a hospital for kidney patients.

Ani Choying Drolma is famous as one of the country’s biggest pop stars.

With more than 12 albums of melodious Nepali tunes and Tibetan hymns that highlight themes of peace and harmony, the songstress in saffron robes has won hearts across the Himalayan nation and abroad.

“I am totally against the conservative, conventional idea of a Buddhist nun,” the 45-year-old nun said.  Some people “think a Buddhist nun should be someone who does not come out in the media so much, who is isolated ... always in a monastery, always shy.  But I don’t believe in that.”

Neither do her fans, who greet her with a roar of applause whenever she walks out on stage, and fall silent as she closes her eyes to sing.

“Every time I get frustrated with life or get angry, I just listen to Ani’s music and I calm down,” said one fan, Sunil Tuladhar.  “She is my music goddess.”

But with a career deviating sharply from what conservatives in Nepal believe to be the proper path of a Buddhist, she’s caught criticism as well.  One Buddhist monk at the famed Swayambhu Shrine questioned how she can reconcile the simple life of a religious ascetic with the fame and wealth she’s amassed over her two-decade musical career.

“How can a nun be making money by selling her voice, living a luxurious life and yet claim she is a nun?” Surya Shakya asked.

Despite her fame, Drolma looks every bit the typical Nepalese Buddhist nun, with her hair shaved short and an ever-present smile.  She travels the world giving concerts in countries including the United States, Brazil, China and India.

Popular composer Nhyoo Bajracharya, who has worked with Drolma, describes her music as a fusion of traditional Tibetan and Nepali styles.  “They are religious songs, slow rock with flavors of blues and jazz combined,” he said.

But Drolma believes her singing goes beyond delivering a catchy tune.  Her 2004 hit “Phoolko Aankhama,” which means “Eyes of the Flower” in the Nepali language, features lyrics that touch on religious teachings: “May my heart always be pure/May my words be always word of wisdom/May the sole of my feet never kill an insect.”

Her singing offers listeners a way to practice meditation and “is about invoking a spiritual quality,” she said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.  “That is what I rejoice in.”

She refused to say how much money she has earned from album sales and concerts, but said she donates much of it to education charities through her Nun’s Welfare Foundation and runs a kidney hospital.

Still, compared with most Nepalese living in this impoverished mountain nation, Drolma lives like a rock star — with a luxury car and a new home in an upscale neighborhood of the capital of Kathmandu.

“It is a very conservative point of view thinking that a nun should be poor and wearing rags.  That’s a wrong attitude,” she said.  “My concerts make very good money, my CD sales make very good money, and I think that helps me to afford such a comfortable life.”

Drolma said she was 13 when her mother allowed her to join the Nagi Gompa nunnery to escape from an abusive father.  She also dreaded getting married, as she would likely have been forced to do as it was the custom in Nepal at the time.

“I had the impression that getting married was the worst thing to do in life,” she said.

At the nunnery, just north of Kathmandu, she learned to chant the Buddhist scriptures.  But while most recited the lines quickly, she stood out — chanting melodiously and drawing the other nuns’ admiration.

In 1994, American musician Steve Tibbetts visited the nunnery and, being impressed with her voice, recorded her singing.  He returned after receiving interest from U.S. record companies, and recorded Drolma’s first album, “Cho,” released in 1997.

The album royalties and performance fees that came after left Drolma a bit stunned.  Most Nepalese have humble lives, with a quarter of the country’s 28 million people living in poverty and heavily reliant on subsistence farming and remittances from family members working abroad.

“The question was, what do I do with the money?” she said.  “I realized that this money can help me fulfill my dream, so that is how I started the school.”

She set up an educational foundation and opened the Arya Tara school, on a mountainside just south of Kathmandu.  The boarding school offers about 80 girls, aged about 5 to 18, free lessons in Buddhist scripture as well as math, science and computer skills.  The foundation also covers the cost of sending the girls to college.

The students, similarly clad in saffron robes, giggle and smile when talking about Drolma.

“Ani is more than my mother.  My mother gave me birth, but Ani raised me, gave me education, took care of me and is the only reason that I have reached this far,” said 17-year-old Dolma Lhamu, who is now enrolled in college.

Drolma is similarly adored at the kidney hospital she runs in Kathmandu, where hundreds of patients receive free dialysis twice a week.

She said it’s her work at the hospital and school that keep her singing and accepting invitations to perform.  For the critics who question her globe-trotting lifestyle or high income, she has little patience.

“People in society will have different opinions,” she said.  “I try my best to see how I can improve my attitude toward life, toward people and toward the world, and to find ways to make the best use of my life.

“I am famous today, but tomorrow people will not know me.  It fades away.  That is the reality,” she said.


Explorer claims he’s located famous pirate ship’s treasure

Undersea explorer Barry Clifford stands next to a display case containing silver coins recovered from the wreckage of the pirate ship Whydah Gally, at the Whydah Pirate Museum, in Yarmouth, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Philip Marcelo

Yarmouth, Mass. (AP) - The undersea explorer who discovered the Whydah Gally, the first authenticated pirate shipwreck in North America, believes he’s found where the ship’s legendary treasure lies after more than 30 years of poking around the murky waters off Cape Cod.

Barry Clifford told the Associated Press his expedition recently located a large metallic mass that he’s convinced represents most if not all of the 400,000 coins and other riches believed to be contained on the ship.

Archaeologist Chris Macort holds a bronze wheel wax seal recovered from the wreckage of the pirate ship Whydah Gally. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

“We think we might be at the end of the rainbow,” Clifford said in the recently opened Whydah Pirate Museum on Cape Cod, where many of the expedition’s finds are now showcased.

Maritime archaeologists and historians say they’re intrigued but remain skeptical, mostly because he’s been disproved on other finds.

“Barry Clifford’s many claims can be very exciting, if they can be verified with photographs or scientific proof,” said Paul Johnston, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. who specializes in shipwrecks.  “Until then, it’s just talk.”

The former slave ship, commanded by the English pirate Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy, went down in stormy seas off Wellfleet, Massachusetts, in 1717, killing all but a handful of the nearly 150-person crew.  It’s believed the heavily laden ship sunk quickly, leaving the ill-gotten riches from over 50 ships at the bottom of the ocean.

But Victor Mastone, chief archaeologist for the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources, which oversees shipwrecks and other undersea finds, suggests the pirates could have simply been lying.

“Did they brag more than they should have?  Who knows?” he said.  “We know what the pirates said they had.”

Clifford dismissed Johnston and others as longtime opponents who have refused to treat his team’s work seriously.

“Why would they be bragging to the judge about how much treasure they stole?  They were hanged,” he said, referring to the fate that befell the surviving pirates of the Whydah.

The 71-year-old explorer hopes to start investigating the suspected riches in the next few weeks, but stressed the recovery process will take time.  Once the mass is located and raised, his team will need to gently break it down using electrolysis and small hand tools.

“For me, it’d be great to get it all finished, but it isn’t going to get done in my lifetime,” Clifford said.  “Archaeology doesn’t happen quickly, if you’re doing it correctly.”

Since his 1984 discovery, Clifford and his team have returned nearly every year to the wreck, over which he has special rights.

They’ve already reclaimed some 200,000 artifacts, including thousands of silver Spanish coins, hundreds of pieces and fragments of rare African gold jewelry, dozens of cannons, various colonial-era objects and other prizes.

A new find at the wreck that made him famous would be a coup for Clifford, who has been dealt major setbacks on other recent expeditions.

In 2014, he claimed to have found the wreck of the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus’ flagship from his first voyage to the Americas in 1492, off the coast of Haiti, only to have researchers from UNESCO conclude it was more likely a ship from a later era because of the presence of bronze and copper fasteners.

Then last year, Clifford claimed to have located the infamous Scottish pirate Captain William Kidd’s Adventure Galley off the coast of Madagascar.  UNESCO again threw cold water on the pronouncement, concluding an over 100-pound silver ingot Clifford produced as proof of his find was actually 95 percent lead.

Ulrike Guérin, an underwater heritage specialist at UNESCO, declined to comment on Clifford’s latest claim but says the Haiti and Madagascar experiences highlight how the explorer’s work lacks the “necessary scientific approach.”


Update November 5, 2016

Film Review: ‘Jack Reacher’ sequel not as good as 2012 original

 

Tom Cruise is shown in a scene from, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.” (Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions via AP)

Sandy Cohen

Los Angeles (AP) - It’s not the acting or the action that makes “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” inferior to the original 2012 hit.  It’s the story.

The first film, “Jack Reacher,” established the title character as a brilliant, brutal loner dedicated to justice.  He’s a former military officer turned drifter, unfettered by emotional ties, motivated purely by exacting righteousness.

What makes an archetypal character like this fun to watch is an unpredictable story, where the audience and protagonist together uncover the mystery.  The 2012 film achieved this beautifully, packing action into a compelling thriller that developed the villains as much as the hero.

In “Never Go Back,” the bad guys are one-dimensional caricatures and the lone wolf is driven by protecting a teenager whom he insists from the start isn’t his daughter.  This leaves the film riding on its action sequences and the charm of its central characters, played by Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulders.  And while they’re incredibly appealing, they can’t do more than the story allows.

Cruise, who has made himself this generation’s ultimate action star, is perfect as Jack Reacher.  He’s steely, strong and almost accidentally handsome.  The ageless actor does most of his own stunts and effectively uses his eyes to convey his character’s guarded sensitivity.

Smulders, who’s played a small role in the “Avengers” films, proves herself an action star and leading lady as Susan Turner, an Army major who has taken over Reacher’s post in the military police force.  Turner is investigating the murders of two soldiers in Afghanistan when she’s removed from her office and jailed on espionage charges.

Reacher comes to her aid, but another official warns him off, taunting him with a pending paternity lawsuit that claims Reacher fathered a now 15-year-old girl.  Reacher denies it, but goes after the girl (Danika Yarosh) anyway.  Suddenly, he’ll do anything to protect her.

This contrivance undoes the suspension of disbelief.  Nothing about Reacher’s character suggests he’s yearning for fatherhood, and yet she becomes his main motivation.

“Never Go Back” is based on Lee Child’s 18th Reacher novel.  The 2012 film was adapted from a much earlier work in the series, so perhaps Reacher’s desire to be a dad is covered in the volumes in between.

The teenager is the pawn in this story as Reacher and Turner try to uncover corruption high in the military ranks.  They find that beyond a cover-up of the soldiers’ murders, crooked officials may be supplying weapons to insurgents in the Middle East.  The villain appears to be a white guy in a suit with an American flag pin on his lapel, but he isn’t named and doesn’t speak until the film’s third act.

Meanwhile, a trenchcoated heavy (Patrick Heusinger) is tailing Reacher, Turner and the teen.  He’s the catalyst for the chases and fight scenes, which director Edward Zwick cuts together so quickly, their grace is hard to appreciate.

Still, there are some breathtaking action sequences, including a chase through New Orleans’ French Quarter that sees Reacher scaling wrought-iron balconies above a bustling Halloween parade on Bourbon Street.

Smulders handles her share of the action and holds her own with Cruise, which is great to see.  Turner may be female, but her character’s depth and strength matches Reacher’s.  With Smulders and Yarosh on camera almost as much as Cruise, “Never Go Back” doubles the number of key women from the 2012 film.  If only the story was as good.

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements.”  Running time: 118 minutes.  Two stars out of four.


Mott the Dog: Scorpions sling Singapore a golden performance

Scorpions’ Klaus Meine gives his all at the Suntec arena in Singapore, Oct. 21, 2016.

Mark Taylor

Six years ago the Scorpions announced their farewell to the world, however the end is still nowhere in sight with the Hannover based band who were formed by guitarist Rudolf Schenker way back in 1965, now celebrating their 50th anniversary, although the first studio album ‘Lonesome Crow’ was released back in 1972 just as heavy metal was laying down its earliest foundations.

Since then the Scorpions have became a global household brand, conquering every continent on the planet with their deadly sting of multi-million selling albums full of power ballads and the very best in textbook heavy metal.

Rudolf Schenker (left) and Matthias Jabs out front and rockin’.

For a population of just five and a half million it’s amazing to see how popular the Scorpions are in multi- ethnic Singapore, with 7,000 fans selling out the sixth floor Suntec International Convention Hall, situated on the top floor of a grand multi-storey shopping complex.

With an encyclopedia of tunes to chose from you could be forgiven for thinking that the Scorpions would stick to a greatest hits set at this stage in their long established career, but this show was by no means a nostalgia trip as the German band remain as relevant as ever and this night performed four songs from their most recent album ‘Return To Forever’, which was released last year.

Ex-Motorhead drummer Mikkey Dee has made a seamless switch to the Scorpions.

That message was clear in the opening statement of ‘Going Out With A Bang’ from that album followed by the more popular ‘Make It Real’, which had the Singaporean flag emblazoned on the visual screen backdrop, and the crunchy riff of ‘The Zoo’ which saw all arms raised in a unified clap-along.

At 68 years old it’s understandable why the Scorpions’ stalwarts are thinking about their retirement but an athletic Rudolf Schenker has more energy than most men half his age and Klaus Meine’s unique voice is in fine fettle and can still hit all the high notes.

Rudolf Schenker plays to the crowd in Singapore.

‘Coast To Coast’ is one of the most captivating instrumentals you’ll ever hear in a live setting, with Schenker and Matthias Jabs out front giving their all while bassist Pawel Maciwoda and Klaus Meine, adding guitar too, stand to their side to give the band the appearance of the proud Four Horsemen.  A spectacular sight!

With so much to cram in, most of their early 70's output was reduced to a medley at this concert.  A further collection of acoustics saw the Singapore crowd faithfully sing along to ‘Always Somewhere’ and ‘Send Me An Angel’, their voices further raised on the symbolic anthem of ‘Winds Of Change’, a single that sold an amazing 14 million copies worldwide.

For those who think the Scorpions are just a ballads band, you couldn’t be further from the truth as the remainder of the show turned ultra heavy with the belting ‘Rock N Roll Band’ and the explosive ‘Dynamite’ that got my head banging a good ‘un.

After 23 years service with Motorhead new drummer Mikkey Dee has settled in with the Scorpions as if he has been there for years, giving the Scorps a new injection of brutality.  His time with Motorhead wasn’t forgotten as a tribute to Lemmy came with a colossal version of ‘Overkill’ that saw a projection of Marshall amps and portraits of the iconic hero, which brought an emotional tear to the eyes of many.  A most fitting tribute.

The Scorpions soak up the applause.

The Scorpions are the masters of how to use a stage, making maximum use of their area with every band member shaping themselves in choreographed moves like true professionals.

The rocket ride of ‘Blackout’ saw more madcap facial expressions from Schenker, ‘No One Like You’ hit the roof, with Matthias Jabs looking the real guitar god along with Schenker and ‘Big City Nights’ was the perfect anthem for this colourful bustling city.

The power ballad ‘Still Loving You’ was the first encore, with the evening getting a knockout ending with the simplicity of the mighty ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’, which blew the roof off the Suntec.

The Scorpions are still very much at the top of their game.

(Photos courtesy Aloysius Lim & Alvin Ho - LAMC Productions).


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Film Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts’ promising, not yet Potter-magical

Is high-frame rate the next failed Hollywood gimmick?

Mott the Dog: Motorhead ‘On Parole’ - 4 stars

Now you can visit the Rolling Stones’ 1962 apartment


Film Review: Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon in ‘Inferno’

Hells Bells: Bad Company ‘live’ at the 02 in London

Tributes pour in for singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen

Robert Vaughn, suave ‘Man from UNCLE’ star, dies at 83

Johnny Depp joins ‘Fantastic Beasts’ sequel


Film Review: ‘Doctor Strange’ dazzles with mind-bending visuals

Iggy Pop: Jarmusch was first, only choice for Stooges doc

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