Update September 30, 2017
Film Review: Jennifer Lawrence stuns in
the audacious ‘mother!’
This image shows Jennifer Lawrence in a
scene from “mother!” (Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures and Protozoa
Pictures via AP)
(AP) - Women give, men take and the Old
Testament crashes into modern anxiety in director Darren Aronofsky’s
“mother!” It is an audacious, bold and fascinating fever dream of a
film. It’s allegory for, well, everything (the environment,
marriage, art, spirituality, you name it!), that will challenge,
distress and edify anyone who chooses to submit themselves to this
creation for two hours.
Aronofsky endeavors, “mother!” is a film that doesn’t fit neatly
into one genre. It starts out as one thing, a sort of psychological
thriller and chamber drama about a couple living in a stately and
remote home, and devolves gradually and then very suddenly into
jaw-dropping chaos that almost seems to be testing the viewer. How
much of Jennifer Lawrence’s suffering can you take before covering
your eyes? Or storming out of the theater? “Mother!” will get
under your skin, that’s a guarantee.
This film begs
for a viewing unencumbered by lengthy summarization. It’s not that
it defies explanation, what happens is fairly straightforward as far
as nightmare logic is concerned. But the less you know the better.
The setting is
a grand Victorian home, plopped down in the middle of a field
surrounded by trees. There lives a married couple (Lawrence and
Javier Bardem), and it is peaceful and bright. It is an Eden
dressed in Restoration Hardware linens that Lawrence’s character
(who is credited as “Mother” but never called that) has rebuilt for
her husband (credited as Him) from wall to wall after a devastating
fire burned it to the ground. She is earthy and quiet and perches
her head to the wall to listen to the beating heart of the home in
order to find the right shade of yellow for the space.
And then one
night, a strange man (Ed Harris) comes to the door. Bardem’s
character, a famous poet suffering from extreme writer’s block,
invites him in, and the paradise Mother has so painstakingly created
begins to crumble. The next day, the man’s wife (a wickedly funny
Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up too. Mother, while trying to be polite
and a good hostess and still continue restoring her house, is also
understandably bewildered by the sudden changes and her own
husband’s apparent disinterest in her objections to these strangers
occupying their home.
For all the
stress and anxiety that “mother!” will inspire in viewers, this
section is really quite funny, human and relatable as Mother
grapples with her absent husband and rude houseguests who drink
their liquor and break their valuables and ask invasive questions
about why she doesn’t yet have children.
It is a host’s
worst nightmare, and it only gets worse for poor Mother — the only
sane person around who of course is predestined to be driven crazy
by everyone else. Aronofsky has a special appreciation for
hyperbolic depictions of female madness and suffering, whether it’s
an aging woman looking to lose a few pounds in “Requiem for a
Dream,” a ballerina striving for perfection in “Black Swan,” or a
wife just looking to make an impeccable home for the person she
loves in “mother!”
It is a tense
and exciting film — one of Aronofsky’s best — and Lawrence has never
been better. Hers is a truly stunning and elevated performance full
of beauty, empathy and rage at her own powerlessness and the greed
and apathy spiraling out of control around her.
demands to be seen more than once, and afterward discussed and
dissected. I’d also recommend taking a look at the credits to see
the names of the other characters who come into their lives.
My heart has
not stopped its anxious pounding, nor my head from spinning since
seeing this film.
Mother, may I
have a Xanax?
Paramount Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture
Association of America for “strong disturbing violent content, some
sexuality, nudity and language.” Running time: 121 minutes. Three
and a half stars out of four.
Spy museum’s newest: ax used on Trotsky, parts of Powers’ U2
H. Keith Melton holds an Enigma
Machine used in World War II to encode messages. (AP
(AP) — H. Keith Melton spent 40 years
looking for the ice-climbing ax used in the bloody assassination of
Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. It had been sitting under a bed
in Mexico City for decades.
Much easier was
acquiring a mangled, basketball-size chunk of Gary Powers’ U2 spy
plane shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. It was a gift from a
The items are
part of the world’s largest private collection of spy artifacts.
Melton, a wealthy businessman from Boca Raton, Florida, is donating
all of it to the International Spy Museum in Washington.
silver dollar with a hole for a hidden suicide pin is one of
Melton’s donations to the International Spy Museum from his
collection of spy objects. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
More than 5,000
items Melton amassed during four decades of crisscrossing the globe
will be the cornerstone of a new, larger facility slated to open
next year in the U.S. capital.
It is a
“magnificent gesture,” gushed Peter Earnest, the museum’s founding
director, crediting Melton’s donation with tripling the museum’s
current holdings of roughly 2,000 items.
victory flag that CIA-backed Cuban exiles never flew after the
botched Bay of Pigs invasion in 1960.
13-foot-long World War II spy submarine known as the “Sleeping
And there are
escape-and-evasion devices, codes and cipher machines along with the
disguises, secret writings, listening devices, clandestine radios,
spy cameras and uniforms and clothes of the most famous spooks every
employed by CIA, KGB, FBI and Britain’s MI6.
“It took nine
people 17 days to pack the collection in an assembly line,” Melton
told The Associated Press in an interview this month. “I had to
breathe deeply several times as I saw all of the gadgets being
packed up and leaving.”
founding member of the museum’s board, said professional appraisers
estimated his collection at more than $20 million. He said he’s
paid “foolish” prices for some items and, at times, acquired things
that he later learned were fakes.
“To me, the
goal is not to see how many widgets I can get. It’s what can I
learn. I love research. Every artifact I have is part of a
detective search,” he said. “You travel into strange places in the
world and sometimes pay too much money, but you end up fascinated
with the variety of things that you see.”
ads around the world seeking spy articles. He was in Germany in
1989 after the Berlin Wall came down and traveled to Moscow in early
1992 after the Soviet Union collapsed. In both instances, he made
contacts that helped him find items from the defunct East German
ministry for state security and the Soviet KGB.
Among them: a
World War II-era electro-mechanical cipher machine with Japanese
characters that the Germans produced to share with their Asian
ally. The war ended before the Enigma machine, which looks like a
special typewriter in a wooden box, could be sent to Japan. A U.S.
soldier found a stack of the machines in a boat in France and took
one home with him to Long Island, New York.
“He kept it in
his closet for 50 years,” Melton said.
Another item is
a silver dollar concealing what appeared to be a tiny straight pin.
It was one of five suicide needles filled with shellfish toxin that
U.S. intelligence services made around the 1960s so American spies
could kill themselves on an operation gone awry.
biggest coup — the item he looked for the longest — is the ice ax
that killed Trotsky at his compound outside Mexico City in 1940.
The assassin was Ramon Mercader, a communist and suspected agent of
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin who was jailed for years in Mexico.
A man who
operated a teaching museum within the Mexican police checked out the
ax from a police property room in the 1940s. He then got it in the
1960s as a retirement present.
“He gave it to
his daughter and it had been under her bed until 2008,” Melton
said. “She pulled it out. I made three trips to Mexico City and we
were able to prove that it was the right ax.”
The 11 sisters of Siervas are a rock band like ‘nun’ other
Members of “Siervas,” a Peruvian-based rock
‘n’ roll band comprised entirely of Catholic nuns rehearse a day ahead
of their performance at the Christ Cathedral campus in Garden Grove,
Calif. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Calif. (AP) — Eleven nuns take the stage
wearing traditional black-and white habits but are anything but old
school as they belt out songs to the ringing of electric guitar and a
rock ‘n’ roll beat.
Known as “Siervas,”
the band was born in a Peruvian convent three years ago and now travels
far and wide to perform.
Of all the
extraordinary things about Siervas the most remarkable may be they are
not just a novelty. They have a genuine international following.
Their songs of love
and faith have earned over a million YouTube views, led to the release
of two CDs and now they are waiting to see if they are among the
honorees in the Latin Grammy nominations.
traveled to Southern California and drew 4,000 people when they
headlined a Spanish-language Catholic music festival.
calling our office saying we want to see these nuns, when are they
singing?” said Ryan Lilyengren, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese
of Orange, which organized the event. “They’re sharing their message in
a way people are willing to hear it.”
The nuns, who come
from eight countries and range in age from 20s to 40s, insist they
aren’t rock stars. But they certainly act the part when on stage
performing to the electric guitar, steady drumbeat and catchy lyrics,
uniformly smiling as silver crosses dangle from their necks.
Their name Siervas
— Spanish for “the servants” — comes from the convent where the band was
formed and still lives.
At first, they
composed and played music together as a hobby after spending days
praying with incarcerated women and the poor in Peruvian shantytowns.
When Siervas had
enough original music they compiled a CD. That led to a concert
performance that attracted local media attention in Peru and then
invitations to perform in nearby Colombia and Ecuador. Interest
skyrocketed on the internet and the group released a second CD.
Now, they rehearse
together twice a week, melding upbeat lyrics with Latin pop and rock.
Each nun also practices daily on her own, honing skills on instruments
ranging from cello to electric guitar.
A YouTube video of
the group standing on a rooftop helipad overlooking Lima, Peru, and
belting out their song “Confía en Dios” — or “Trust in God” — has more
than 1 million views.
popularity comes at a time when the Catholic Church and other religious
organizations are seeking to draw younger people. Sister Andrea Garcia,
47, remembers listening to Michael Jackson when she was a college
student. She thought she’d pursue a career in biology, but found faith
“We think this
music, or this genre, resonates with young people today,” said Garcia, a
composer and vocalist from Argentina. “Our goal is that through the
melodies, our lyrics will reach people.”
Update September 23, 2017
Film Review: ‘American Assassin’ introduces a new action hero
Dylan O’Brien is shown in a scene from
“American Assassin.” (Christian Black/Lionsgate via AP)
Los Angeles (AP)
- Mitch Rapp is an action hero in the vein of
Jack Ryan or John McClane: an impossibly tough and determined everyday
guy out to save the world.
brings a youthful freshness to that archetype in “American Assassin,”
his first leading-man role and the first big-screen adaptation of Vince
Flynn’s series of Rapp novels. The character is scrappy and outspoken,
rebellious and single-minded, and a skilled wielder of all manner of
But Rapp is first
seen onscreen as a starry-eyed lover in Ibiza about to propose to his
girlfriend. Their idyllic moment is ruined when terrorists storm the
beach and Rapp’s fiancée ends up among the dead.
Flash forward 18
months and Rapp is a bearded recluse in Rhode Island, where he’s been
studying Arabic, mastering firearms and practicing martial arts. He
plans to take out the terror kingpin responsible for the Ibiza attack.
But his clandestine training catches the eye of a CIA recruiter (Sanaa
Lathan), who brings Rapp in as a counterterrorism operative.
From there, the
story jumps around multiple international destinations as Rapp undergoes
advanced training with the humorless Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) and
onto a mission to recover a heap of stolen plutonium. Iranian forces
intend to make a nuclear weapon to attack Israel. But an American
mercenary and former student of Hurley’s known as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch)
is also involved, and he has his own ideas about how the plutonium
should be used.
complicating the story are the various double-agents involved and an
apparently complex yet unexplained history between Ghost and Hurley.
But no matter: O’Brien is wonderful to watch, a convincing action star
with perfectly tousled hair. He brings a sensitivity to Rapp that
balances his brutality, making him easy to root for, even if he doesn’t
always follow the rules.
Keaton’s Hurley is
practically forgettable until a staggering scene near the film’s end
that shows just how crazy his character is.
As often happens
with these international thrillers, plot holes are compensated for with
action and spectacular settings. “American Assassin” takes viewers to
Italy, Romania, Poland, Libya and Turkey, along with various locations
in the U.S.
But Rapp is an
interesting guy, and “American Assassin” is his origin story.
Unfortunately, in setting up for a sequel, the film’s ending goes too
far, essentially trading Rapp’s newly established gravitas for superhero
Assassin,” a CBS Films/Lionsgate release, is rated R for “strong
violence throughout, some torture, language and brief nudity.” Running
time: 111 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Angelina Jolie film
as Oscar submission
New York (AP) -
Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father” has been named Cambodia’s
foreign-language submission to the Academy Awards.
The Cambodia Oscar
Selection Committee announced the choice last week, calling Jolie’s
Cambodian genocide drama “cathartic” and hailing it for bringing back
memories “often best forgotten.”
Jolie directed the
adaptation of Loung Ung’s memoir about her childhood during the Khmer
Rouge’s bloody reign. She shot it in Cambodia with a local cast.
Jolie, whose eldest
son, Maddox, was born in Cambodia, has been a citizen of Cambodia since
2005. In an interview with The Associated Press, Jolie said she made
the film to “help a country to speak.”
Bosnian War drama, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” was also nominated
for best foreign-language film by the Golden Globes.
Russia seeks to calm tensions
over czar love affair film
Polish actress Michalina Olszanska plays the
role of Matilda Kshesinskaya in Alexei Uchitel’s movie “Matilda”. (Rock
Films Studio via AP)
Moscow (AP) —
Top Russian officials have sought to downplay the “hysteria” surrounding
a new film depicting the love affair between Russia’s last czar and a
ballerina, amid arson attacks and threats against cinemas.
Vladimir Medinsky wrote on Twitter that “Matilda” was just “an ordinary
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that pressure on
cinemas was “unacceptable” and he condemned the “unpleasant form” debate
about the film had taken.
The movie — which
is yet to be released — has sparked harsh criticism from hard-line
nationalists and some Orthodox believers in Russia. Although most
people accept that the affair happened, they maintain its depiction in
the movie has been distorted and that the portrayal is vulgar.
Nicholas II was
murdered by the Bolsheviks and canonized by the Orthodox Church in 2000.
comments to the TASS news agency, Medinsky said that “there is nothing
(in the film) insulting either the memory of Nicholas II or the history
of the Russian monarchy.”
He called on
Russians to “observe the law, common sense and have respect for each
other” and urged law enforcement agencies to protect cinemas and
cinema chain announced that it had contacted police about threats it had
received over “Matilda” and would not show the movie because of safety
The film’s director
Alexei Uchitel has said the audiences who have attended pre-release
viewings of the movie have reacted positively, and has called on the
state to ensure the safety of cinemagoers.
Matilda is set to
be released in Russia on Oct. 26.
Liam Neeson says his days
as an action hero are over
Irish actor Liam Neeson. (Photo by Vianney Le
Toronto (AP) —
Special set of skills or not, Liam Neeson says he’s finished making
In an interview, Neeson
said that he plans to stop even though it’s hard to turn down the lucrative
offers he gets thanks to his box-office success in the three “Taken” films,
as well as other thrillers. Neeson believes he’s simply getting too old to
be an action hero.
“The thrillers, that
was all a pure accident,” said Neeson. “They’re still throwing serious
money at me to do that stuff. I’m like, ‘Guy’s I’m sixty-*******-five.’
Audiences are eventually going to go, ‘Come on.’”
Neeson still has two
upcoming revenge thrillers he’s already shot: “Hard Powder,” in which he
plays a snowplow driver who faces off with drug dealers, and “The Commuter,”
with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed Neeson in “Unknown,”
‘’Non-Stop” and “Run All Night.”
But, Neeson said, those
will be his last.
“I’ve shot one that’s
going to come out in January sometime. There might be another. That’s it,”
said Neeson. “But not ‘Taken,’ none of that franchise stuff.”
Instead, Neeson has
turned back to dramatic work. His Watergate drama “Mark Felt: The Man Who
Brought Down the White House” premiered last week at the Toronto
International Film Festival. In it, he plays the high-ranking FBI official
who was the Washington Post’s “Deep Throat” source in the scandal.
Neeson has also lined
up to co-star in “Widows,” by “Twelve Years a Slave” director Steve
McQueen. In December, he starred in Martin Scorsese’s spiritual epic
Neeson was always
surprised by the unlikely turn his career took beginning with 2009’s
“Taken.” He thought the film, he once said, would go straight to video.
The three “Taken” films have grossed $929.5 million worldwide.
Lady Gaga postpones European leg of world tour
appears during a press conference for “Gaga: Five Foot Two” at the Toronto
International Film Festival, in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 8. (Chris Young/The
Canadian Press via AP)
London (AP) -
Lady Gaga has postponed her world tour’s European leg until next year
because of ongoing health problems, the tour’s promoter said earlier this
The six-week part of
the Joanne World Tour was set to kick off in Barcelona on Sept. 21 and end
on Oct. 28 in Germany. Lady Gaga was also due to perform in Switzerland,
Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Britain, Denmark and Sweden.
“Lady Gaga is suffering
from severe physical pain that has impacted her ability to perform,” tour
promoter Live Nation said. “She remains under the care of expert medical
professionals who recommended the postponement.”
The promoter said the
31-year-old singer-songwriter “plans to spend the next seven weeks
proactively working with her doctors to heal from this and past traumas that
still affect her daily life, and result in severe physical pain in her
Lady Gaga, whose hits
include “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face,” also pulled out of a performance
last week in Brazil after being hospitalized with “severe physical pain.”
Earlier this month, Lady Gaga postponed a Montreal concert.
Lady Gaga said on
Instagram that’s she been honest about her “physical and mental health
struggles” and has been “searching for years to get to the bottom of them.”
“As I get stronger and
when I feel ready, I will tell my story in more depth, and plan to take this
on strongly so I can not only raise awareness, but expand research for
others who suffer as I do, so I can help make a difference,” she wrote.
Update September 16, 2017
Film Review: A few good scares can’t hold ‘It’ together
shows Bill Skarsgard in a scene from “It.”
(Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
Here’s the good news: Pennywise is as creepy as ever in the new “It.”
Thanks to a bigger budget and some improved special effects some 27 years
later he really gets the chance to spook the kids of Derry, Maine.
Bill Skarsgard (Son of
Stellan, brother of Alexander) has infused Stephen King’s killer clown with
a pathological menace that’s more reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s Joker than
Tim Curry’s goofily sadistic take on the character in the 1990s miniseries
adaptation. It helps that he’s gotten an upgraded makeup job and a more
antiquated (and scarier) costume of 17th century ruffs and muted whites.
His teeth are bigger, his hair is less cartoonish, his eyes are more yellow
and his mobility has become terrifyingly kinetic.
Indeed, the new “It”
goes all-out with the horror in Part One of the story, which is focused on
the plight of a group of children in the 1980s who are haunted and hunted by
a clown only they can see. Things that the miniseries only alluded to are
depicted with merciless glee. Did you want to see a gang of bullies cutting
a kid’s stomach? “It” has that. Or witness a father looking lustily at his
pre-teen daughter? “It” has that too.
The bad news is that
“It” still doesn’t add up to much.
Directed by Andy
Muschietti, “It” is a deeply hateful film with the pretenses of being an
edgy throwback genre mashup, a la “Stranger Things.” One of the “Stranger
Things” kids even has a part in “It”: Finn Wolfhard plays the jokester
Richie. The other kids just look like they might have been part of the
Netflix series — Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, Sophia Lillis as Beverly, Chosen
Jacobs as Mike, Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie, Wyatt Oleff as Stanley and
Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben.
But unlike, say,
“Stranger Things,” or horror films that lull you in with familiar
circumstances before introducing the insane, there is nothing remotely
relatable or realistic about this setting. This makes it especially hard to
connect or engage with the tormented kids. Both the parents and bullies are
like fun-home distortions of recognizably cruel humans.
With three credited
screenwriters (Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman and Cary Fukunaga, who was
originally set to direct) the story is an unforgivable mess. Instead of
building tension and suspense, “It” just jumps from scene to scares with no
connection or coherence to thread them together other than the mere fact
that they’ve been placed on top of one-another, like toys mixed up from
And yet “It” does have
a few tricks up its Victorian ruff. The largely unknown kids of the losers
club are good, with standout performances from Lieberher (“Midnight
Special”), Taylor and Lillis with her perfectly ’80s Kerri Green-vibe. And
there are a few guaranteed jump-out-of-your-seat moments, including the
flawlessly rendered opening with Georgie, the toy boat and the sewer that
has continued to haunt generations of kids who either read King’s book or
caught the now cheesy looking miniseries on TV too young.
With the R-rating, you
do have to wonder who this “It” is really for — the now-grown kids of the
’80s and ’90s who were traumatized the first time around and can’t get
enough of their own nostalgia? Or is it just a dare for the under-17 crowd,
who are more likely to forgive the story flaws and just submit to the
Like so many movies
now, “It” is an intentionally incomplete tale — a story-setting teaser for
what’s to come in Part Two. Maybe by the time that comes out the kids who
snuck in to this “It” will be old enough to harbor their own wistfulness for
the first time they saw Pennywise. And then there’s the scarier thought:
Will the cycle just continue until we’re all floating endlessly in our own
“It,” a Warner Bros.
release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for
“violence/horror, bloody images, and for language.” Running time: 135
minutes. Two stars out of four.
Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha goes
home with ‘Viceroy’s House’
House” was directed by Gurinder Chadha (centre) and stars Hugh Bonneville
(left), who plays Lord Mountbatten in the film, and Gillian Anderson
(right), who plays his wife. (AP Photo/file)
New York (AP) — Gurinder Chadha
hoped her new film would be very personal, one that explored her family’s
South Asian history. But when it was done, it turned out to be the story of
a few more people — millions, actually.
“Viceroy’s House” explores how India
and Pakistan were carved from the former British Empire in 1947, triggering
one of the modern world’s bloodiest chapters in which scores of Hindus and
Muslims fled their homes.
“Very few people know what actually
happened in the last days of the British Raj and very few people know that
it was the biggest forced migration in human history — 14 million people
became refugees overnight. And some of those were my family,” said Chadha.
To tell this complex, emotional story,
the “Bend It Like Beckham” director and co-writer came up with an
interesting recipe: Onto the epic sweep of history she built both a “Romeo
and Juliet” love story and a “Downton Abbey”-style split between gentry and
The movie traces the negotiations
between Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, and the country’s
political leaders Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohandas Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah,
while interweaving the stories of Indians downstairs who are butlers and
servants. There’s also a love story between a Hindu valet and a Muslim
“This was my opportunity to make a
great British costume drama,” said Chadha. “By going this way, hopefully,
the audience feels very comfortable in watching a period drama, and then
gradually I shift the emotional center of the film in a way that I want you
to feel what it was like for ordinary people at that time.”
“Viceroy’s House” stars Hugh Bonneville
as the viceroy — making that “Downton Abbey” connection clear — as well as
Gillian Anderson as his wife, Huma Qureshi as the translator, Michael Gambon
as the viceroy’s lieutenant and South Carolina-born Manish Dayal as the
“What really informed me throughout the
process was Gurinder. She is a force of nature and she connected to this
story in such a visceral way. It was deeply personal for her,” said Dayal.
Chadha’s grandparents lived through the
tumultuous events and ended up on the Pakistani side of the border. She
consulted family members, historians, Mountbatten’s daughter, key aides and
butlers. She tried to be as accurate as possible, finding the same tailor
who outfitted the imperial uniforms for the British and cheering on Neeraj
Kabi, who plays Gandhi, as he went on a crash diet of goat curd to better
embody the Indian icon.
“I wanted to tell my story, my history,
from my perspective, because I’d always been told the British Empire version
of history. And here I had the opportunity to tell my version as a British
Indian woman,” said Chadha. “We don’t get to tell our own history in our
own words and we certainly don’t ever get to challenge the history of
Though the violence of partition left
as many as 2 million dead, there are few clear villains in the film. That
was intentional by Chadha, a former BBC reporter who says she still looks
“I didn’t necessarily want to make an
angry film,” she said. “If I made an angry film, I would be putting the
blame on somebody and then we could all go, ‘Oh, OK.’ I felt like I wanted
us all to take some responsibility for what happens in these situations.”
Even so, the film has gotten a chilly
reception in Pakistan, where it was banned over its portrayal of Jinnah.
Chadha, whose fellow screenwriters include her husband, Paul Mayeda Berges,
and Moira Buffini — was ready for a backlash.
“There was a point when I thought, ‘Oh
my goodness. How many people can I really upset here because I am taking on
the British Empire version of history, I’m exploring how Britain and
Pakistan and India came together in ’47 to create these two countries and
I’m dealing with one of the biggest, tumultuous, sad events in all our
collective history.’ Obviously I knew that there was going to be trouble at
some point. There just has to be.”
Becker toiled in relative anonymity — but not to musicians
In this Oct.
29, 1977, file photo, Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan,
sit in Los Angeles. Becker passed away Sunday, Sept. 3. He was 67. (AP
New York (AP) -
Virtually unnoticed and certainly not harassed, Walter Becker and his
partner in the rock band Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, sat in a booth having
lunch in a crowded restaurant near the airport in Maui toward the end of
tourist season in 1997.
You couldn’t imagine
Mick Jagger doing the same thing. Or David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Paul
Simon or any other peer. Becker, who died at age 67 last week, and Fagen
had the gift of relative anonymity in a field where celebrity can do
Yet anyone who listened
to FM rock radio in the 1970s and early 1980s knew their work well. “Deacon
Blues,” ‘’Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” ‘’Peg,” ‘’Reelin’ in the Years,”
‘’Hey Nineteen” ‘’Do it Again,” ‘’Black Friday” — it was a formidable canon
in a relatively short time.
The music was airtight
and erudite, informed by jazz and the senses of humor the two men shared
since the day Fagen, hearing Becker playing blues guitar in a student lounge
in upstate New York’s Bard College (“My Old School”) decided he had to
introduce himself. They famously “borrowed” their band’s name from a sex
toy in William S. Burroughs’ novel “Naked Lunch.”
Becker and Fagen
weren’t deterred from their musical vision even during an era, the late
1970s, when youthful rebellion made people who couldn’t play instruments
“On the one hand, their
music is warm and beautiful,” Moby said as he inducted Steely Dan into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. “On the other hand, their music is
quite foreign. And that’s what makes them so wonderful and so unsettling.”
Becker’s fluid guitar
runs snaked around Fagen’s vocals when Steely Dan performed “Black Friday”
at that induction ceremony. While he wrote the songs with Fagen, Becker
rarely sang. He wasn’t a frontman.
During Steely Dan’s
creative peak, you couldn’t hear Becker and Fagen perform their songs live.
Fed up with being the opening act to heavy metal bands, they swore off
concert performances following a July 4, 1974, show to concentrate on the
studio. They weren’t heard from again onstage until 1993.
“Basically, we were
traveling around in close company with people who were really having a good
time and partying and we weren’t,” Becker said in a 2000 interview with The
Associated Press. “It was also a total drain from the creative process of
writing songs and making records, which we needed to keep going at a certain
pace just to have enough money to live.”
When Becker and Fagen
resumed their partnership after more than a decade apart in the early 1990s,
it was less as a creative force than a performing unit with the two men and
the best musicians they could hire. While the 2000 album “Two Against
Nature” unexpectedly won a Grammy Award for album of the year, a 2003
follow-up was the last collection of original music they released.
So while the world is
deprived of any new Steely Dan music with Becker’s input, it’s not certain
there would have been any anyway. Their old music will live on, though. If
the Eagles can push on as a touring unit without Glenn Frey, certainly
Steely Dan can do the same without Becker. It already did so this summer
for concerts in New York and Los Angeles, where Fagen explained his old
friend was recovering from a procedure. He promised in the wake of
Becker’s death to continue.
“I intend to keep the
music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band,”
Fagen wrote at the end of a tribute to Becker.
Film Review: ‘The Emoji Movie’ may be meh, but it’s not evil
This image shows Gene, voiced by T.J. Miller, in
Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s “The Emoji Movie.” (Sony
Pictures Animation via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - There are five
stages of grief in preparing to watch “The Emoji Movie.” The first is
denial that this actually exists. The second is anger that now even
storytelling has been reduced to those reductive blobs. The third is
bargaining that, hey, they made “The Lego Movie” work against all odds so
maybe some smart folks actually pulled this off. The fourth is depression
that all movie ideas are just doomed to confuse “brands” for “ideas.” And
the fifth is acceptance that, yes, of course that’s where we’re headed so
let’s pull up a seat and make the most of it.
The good news is “The Emoji Movie,”
co-written and directed by Tony Leondis, is not evil. The bad news is it’s
just mediocre, or in emoji parlance, simply “meh.”
It does not come close to achieving the
joy and wonder of, say, “Toy Story,” 3Inside Out” or “The Lego Movie”
although it appears to borrow heavily from all in its central conceit that
anthropomorphized emojis have families and ambitions but also exist solely
to serve a particular smart phone owner. “The Emoji Movie” takes us into
the world of Alex’s phone — he’s an awkward high school freshman who is
stressed out about what to text the girl he has a crush on. His friend
advises him that “words are stupid” so he goes for a good old emoji.
Little does he know in the emoji app
it’s Gene’s first day of work. Gene (T.J. Miller) is supposed to be the
“meh” symbol, but the excitable yellow blob alternates between all emotions
and can’t stick to the one he’s supposed to have, like his parents Mary Meh
(Jennifer Coolidge) and Mel Meh (Steven Wright), who deadpan lines like “I’m
so mad at you right now.” Also, should we be thinking about the
implications of aging and procreating emojis? Probably not, but it’s still
a particularly weird and uncomfortable idea.
Anyway, Gene is basically the
“Divergent” emoji, but there’s no choosing in this town and when he screws
up his first time at bat, the sinister Smiler (Maya Rudolph) decides he’s a
malfunction and must be deleted. Suddenly Gene is on the run, and hooks up
with the past his prime Hi-5 (James Corden) and a hacker emoji Jailbreak
(Anna Faris) to try to get into the cloud where they might fix him.
If you’re worried about whether or not
this is some big smartphone advertisement, it only kind of is. There’s a
whole journey through the Spotify app, and they have to get through a dance
competition in the Just Dance app to get where they’re going, and there is a
line that seems to have been written by marketing folks about how illegal
malware can’t get into the protected DropBox app. Oh and while it’s not
mentioned, the Sony-owned Crackle app is always on Alex’s home screen.
Gene might not be much, but Jailbreak
is actually a decently conceived character — perhaps because she’s not
constrained to being an emoji. It’s actually kind of a metaphor for the
movie which shines when it just runs with an idea and not brand-service.
Parents might not learn anything about
their kids’ habits on smartphones, and kids won’t get a better understanding
of how their smartphone works. But it’s pretty inoffensive on the whole.
It doesn’t dare go to the depths that a Pixar rendering might, or lean very
far into meta-cleverness. Instead it stays surface level and in that way
feels very, very young. It’s about being yourself and the importance of
friends and, heck, it’s only 86 minutes long.
Also, the poop jokes are minimal.
“The Emoji Movie,” a Columbia Pictures
release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “rude
humor.” Running time: 86 minutes. Two mehs out of four.
Ed Skrein pulls out of ‘Hellboy’ film after backlash
British actor Ed Skrein.
(Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
New York (AP) -
British actor Ed Skrein has withdrawn from the upcoming “Hellboy” reboot
after his casting sparked outcries of whitewashing.
In a lengthy post on
his social media channels, Skrein said he accepted the role of Ben Daimio
unaware of its Asian heritage. The character Skrein was to play, Ben
Daimio, is Japanese-American in the “Hellboy” comics the films are based
on. Critics said Skrein’s casting was just the latest instance of an Asian
or Asian-American role being handed to a white actor.
“It is clear that
representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance
for people and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying
tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voices in the arts,” wrote
Skrein. “I feel it is important to honour and respect that. Therefore I
have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately.”
The backlash followed
previous controversies including the castings of Emma Stone as a
half-Hawaiian, half-Chinese Air Force pilot in Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha” and
Scarlett Johansson as the cyborg protagonist in the Japanese anime remake
“Ghost in the Shell.” Netflix’s release, the Japanese manga adaptation
“Death Note” has also drawn criticism for transferring a Japanese story to
Seattle without any Asian actors.
Producers of “Hellboy:
Rise of the Blood Queen” said they fully supported Skrein’s “unselfish
“It was not our intent
to be insensitive to issues of authenticity and ethnicity, and we will look
to recast the part with an actor more consistent with the character in the
source material,” said Larry Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Lionsgate and Millennium
Films in a joint statement.
American holds onto Air Guitar World Championship title
American Matt “Airistotle” Burns performs during
the final of the Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland, Friday,
Aug. 25. (Eeva Rihel/Lehtikuva via AP)
Copenhagen, Denmark (AP) - Matt “Airistotle”
Burns is the best when it comes to pretend playing guitar.
The American successfully defended his title at the
22nd Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland recently after
competing in the finals against 15 contestants from South Korea, Pakistan,
Sweden, Britain, Canada and other countries.
Burns, of Staten Island, New York, finished ahead of
runners-up Patrick “Ehrwolf” Culek of Germany and Alexander “The Jinja
Assassin” of Australia, who tied for second place. Japan’s 15-year-old
Show-Show placed third.
A heavy metal version of “I Will Survive” helped Burns
romp away with a score of 35.4. Culek and Roberts each scored 34.6 points,
The Air Guitar World Championships started off as a
joke, but has grown into an annual celebration of guitar-miming
chordeographers that draws people to Finland from around the world.
Steamroller crushes late author Terry Pratchett’s hard drive
Pratchett’s hard drive containing unpublished works was crushed by a
steamroller as per his will.
London (AP) - The manager of Terry Pratchett’s estate
says he’s honored the late fantasy author’s wishes by destroying a hard
drive containing his unpublished works with a steamroller.
Rob Wilkins posted a
picture of himself near a steamroller and tweeted: “About to fulfill my
obligation to Terry.” He followed up with an image of a broken hard drive
and wrote: “There goes the browsing history...”
The hard drive was
crushed by a vintage steamroller named Lord Jericho.
What is left of the
object will go on display at England’s Salisbury Museum in September, as
part of the exhibition, “Terry Pratchett: HisWorld.”
Pratchett, one of
Britain’s best-loved authors who created the “Discworld” series and wrote
some 70 books, died in 2015 at the age of 66. He suffered from early onset
Film Review: ‘Hitman’s Bodyguard’ a fun,action-packed escape
image shows Samuel L. Jackson (left) and Ryan Reynolds in “The Hitman’s
Bodyguard.” (Jack English/Lionsgate via AP)
Los Angeles (AP)
- There’s not a whole lot that’s new about
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” Its mismatched-pals premise is the stuff of
classic buddy comedies. Stars Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson play
their typical character types: Reynolds the handsome do-gooder; Jackson
the unflappable badass whose favorite word is an expletive. And like
many movie heroes past, they’re tasked with taking down a brutal
Yet that kind of
familiar framework is what makes this action-packed mashup of gun
battles, car chases, fist fights and international intrigue such a
delight: Leave reality’s chaos at the door, and lose yourself in a world
where the bad guys get what’s coming to them and Sam Jackson
spontaneously breaks into song. (He actually sings three times in this
film — once in Italian! With nuns! Plus his own, original F-word-laden
And did I mention
there’s a love-story subplot?
Michael Bryce, a well-manicured, tightly wound, type-A personality who
works in “executive protection,” providing high-end, high-stakes
bodyguard services for society’s unsavories. His career and polished
image take a nosedive after a weapons dealer he was protecting is killed
by a sniper. Bryce blames his Interpol detective ex-girlfriend, Amelia
(Elodie Yung), for the deadly mistake, believing she leaked information
to her law-enforcement colleagues.
A couple years
later, Amelia is tapped to transport notorious hit-man Darius Kincaid
(Jackson) to the International Criminal Court, where he’s to be the sole
witness testifying against murderous Belarusian dictator Vladislav
Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, always perfect). Dukhovich deploys his
bottomless army of goons to take out their convoy and ultimately
eliminate Kincaid, who promised his testimony in exchange for the
release of his wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), from jail.
desperate, Amelia turns to Bryce for help, promising to help restore his
career if he can get Kincaid to The Hague safely. Thus begins the
odd-couple pairing of Reynolds and Jackson and premise for various
physical and verbal throw-downs, with the bad guys and each other.
When Bryce says
he’s there to keep Kincaid out of harm’s way, Kincaid replies, “I am
And he proves it,
taking out baddies even while handcuffed and outracing a fleet of
armored cars while whipping a speedboat through Amsterdam’s canals.
Jackson soars in roles like these, and his performance is as bulletproof
as Kincaid is rumored to be. The 68-year-old is as thrilling an action
star as any decades younger. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn he does
his own stunts, and insisted on manning that speedboat himself.
is also the story’s wise elder, giving Bryce romance advice as they
dodge Dukhovich’s thugs.
Reynolds works his
comic and superhero action chops and Hayek is at her fieriest as a
barmaid unafraid to cut a guy’s carotid with a broken bottle.
Hughes (“The Expendables 3”) keeps the action grounded in the story’s
narrative without compromising the excitement. The movie is loud, with
several explosions that could shake a nervous viewer from his or her
seat, but the chases are epic, especially the speedboat scene, during
which Reynolds’ character kept pace on a motorcycle.
O’Connor mitigates the serious matter in his story — the trial of a
tyrant for war crimes against his own people — with brisk banter and
thrilling fight sequences, along with a touch of sweetness as it becomes
clear that both Bryce and Kincaid are motivated by love.
If only movies
could make that universal.
Bodyguard,” a Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture
Association of America for “strong violence and language throughout.”
Running time: 118 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Mark Wahlberg tops Forbes list of highest-paid actors
(Photo by Rob Grabowski/Invision/AP)
New York (AP) - “Transformers: The Last Knight”
star Mark Wahlberg has outmuscled Dwayne Johnson to become Hollywood’s
highest-paid actor in the past year with a transforming income of $68
million, according to Forbes magazine.
The former rapper known as Marky
Mark beat out “Baywatch” star Johnson, with $65 million, and Johnson’s
“The Fate of the Furious” co-star Vin Diesel, worth $54.5 million.
The rest of the top five, released
last week, includes Adam Sandler, flush with a Netflix deal, at No. 4
with $50.5 million and Jackie Chan with $49 million.
The top 10 actors banked a
cumulative $488.5 million — nearly three times the $172.5 million
combined total of the 10 top-earning women.
All the data is from between June
1, 2016, and June 1, 2017, before fees and taxes.