Monday Dec 22, 2014

Iraq TV show makes 'terrorists' confront victims

BAGHDAD (AP) — Haider Ali Motar was convicted of terrorism charges about a month ago for helping to carry out a string of Baghdad car bombings on behalf of the Islamic State extremist group. Now, the 21-year old is a reluctant cast member in a popular reality TV show....
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TV

Iraq TV show makes 'terrorists' confront victims
Monday Dec 22, 2014
Iraq TV show makes 'terrorists' confront victims

BAGHDAD (AP) — Haider Ali Motar was convicted of terrorism charges about a month ago for helping to carry out a string of Baghdad car bombings on behalf of the Islamic State extremist group. Now, the 21-year old is a reluctant cast member in a popular reality TV show. "In the Grip of the Law," brings convicted terrorists face-to-face with victims in surreal encounters and celebrates the country's beleaguered security forces. The show, produced by state-run Iraqiyya TV, is among dozens of programs, cartoons and musical public service announcements aimed at shoring up support for the troops after their humiliating defeat last summer at the hands of the Islamic State group, which now controls about a third of the country. On a chilly, overcast day last week, the crew arrived at the scene of one of the attacks for which Motar was convicted, with a heavily armed escort in eight military pick-up trucks and Humvees. Passing cars clogged the road to watch the drama unfold, but were quickly shooed away by soldiers. After being pulled from an armored vehicle, a shackled Motar found himself face-to-face with the seething relatives of the victims of the attack. "Give him to me — I'll tear him to pieces," one of the relatives roared from behind a barbed wire barrier. A cameraman pinned a microphone on Motar's bright yellow prison jumpsuit as he stood alongside a busy Baghdad highway looking bewildered by his surroundings. "Say something," the cameraman said to him. "What am I supposed to say?" a visibly panicked Motar asked. "It's a mic check! Just count: 1,2,3,4..." Once the cameras were rolling, the show's host Ahmed Hassan quizzed the still-shackled prisoner. When Motar was confronted by one of the victims, a young man in a wheelchair who lost his father in one of the attacks, the convict began weeping, as the cameras rolled. Iraq has seen near-daily car bombs and other attacks for more than a decade, both before and after the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops at the end of 2011. But the central message of the show, the filming of which began last year, is that the security forces will bring perpetrators to justice. "We wanted to produce a program that offers clear and conclusive evidence, with the complete story, presented and shown to Iraqi audiences," Hassan told The Associated Press. "Through surveillance videos, we show how the accused parked the car, how he blew it up, how he carries out an assassination." The episodes often detail the trail of evidence that led security forces to make the arrest. Police allow the camera crew to film the evidence — explosive belts, bomb-making equipment or fingerprints and other DNA samples. "We show our audiences the pictures, along with hard evidence, to leave no doubts that this person is a criminal and paying for his crimes," Hassan said. All of the alleged terrorists are shown confessing to their crimes in one-on-one interviews. Hassan said the episodes are only filmed after the men have confessed to a judge, insisting it is "impossible" that any of them are innocent. "The court first takes a preliminary testimony and then they require a legal confession in front of a judge," Hassan explained. "After obtaining the security and legal permission, we are then allowed to film those terrorists." Human rights groups have long expressed concern over the airing of confessions by prisoners, many of whom have been held incommunicado in secret facilities. "The justice system is so flawed and the rights of detainees, especially those accused of terrorism (but not only) are so routinely violated that it is virtually impossible to be confident that they would be able to speak freely," Donatella Rovera, of Amnesty International, said in an email. "In recent months, which I have spent in Iraq, virtually every family I have met who has a relative detained has complained that they do not have access to them, and the same is true for lawyers." In a September statement, Amnesty cited longstanding concerns about the Iraqi justice system, "where many accused of terrorism have been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms and even to death on the basis of 'confessions" extracted under torture." Such concerns are rarely if ever aired on Iraqi TV, where wall-to-wall programming exalts the security forces. Singers embedded with the troops sing nationalist songs during commercial breaks. In another popular program, called "The Quick Response," a traveling correspondent interviews soldiers, aiming to put a human face on the struggle against the extremists. Iraqi forces backed by Shiite and Kurdish militias, as well as U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, have clawed back some territory following the army's route last summer, when commanders disappeared, calls for reinforcements went unanswered and many soldiers stripped off their uniforms and fled. But around a third of the country — including its second largest city, Mosul — remains under the firm control of militants, and nearly every day brings new bombings in and around the capital. Back at the makeshift barricade set up for "In the Grip of the Law," security officials insist they are nevertheless sending a message of deterrence. "Many of these terrorists feel a lot of remorse when they see the victims," said the senior intelligence officer overseeing the shoot, who declined to be named since he often works undercover. "When people see that, it makes them think twice about crossing the law." ___ Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Cairo contributed to this report. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Strictly unusual: offbeat stories from 2014
Sunday Dec 21, 2014
Strictly unusual: offbeat stories from 2014

Some of the stranger stories from the year just ending:- In January, a Japanese lingerie company said it had produced a bra -- the "True Love Tester" -- they claim will only unhook when the wearer is really in love. - In February, a California couple out walking their dog struck it rich by unearthing a horde of buried gold coins, worth more than $10 million according to experts. It is believed to be the most valuable treasure trove ever discovered in the US. - In March, a Danish travel company claimed it could boost Denmark's dwindling birth rates by sending more couples to romantic cities like Paris, in an advertising campaign titled "Do it for Denmark!" - In April, a message in a bottle tossed in the sea in Germany 101 years ago, believed to be the world's oldest, was presented to the sender's granddaughter. - In May, six police officers in Rio de Janeiro were arrested on charges of stopping trucks carrying women's underwear, stealing their panties and bras and extorting money from their drivers. - In June, an 89-year-old World War II veteran ran away from his care home on southern England's coast to join the D-Day commemorations in northern France, wearing his medals under his coat. - In July, South Korea's top Buddhist organisation held an experimental "prayer competition" in downtown Seoul, featuring rapping nuns and singing monks in a bid to attract new, younger followers. - In August, a restaurant in Kunshan in China electrified customers by using more than a dozen robots to greet customers, cook and deliver food. - In September a goldfish called George underwent "high risk" brain surgery in Melbourne, Australia. The owner of the 10-year-old fish decided to have it operated on rather than having it put to sleep. - In October, a former poultry and mushroom farmer was crowned Miss Uganda following a major rebranding of the annual beauty pageant, which saw the glamour of the catwalk ditched for tests of milking cows and working with goats and sheep. - In November, a 91-year-old Polish woman surprised morgue workers in eastern Poland when she started moving, 11 hours after being declared dead at home. "Once we got her home, she said she was freezing and asked for a hot cup of tea," her niece said. - In December, an amorous Dutchman became a home-wrecker when the crane that was lowering him into his girlfriend's garden for a marriage proposal plunged through the neighbour's roof. She said yes, nonetheless. bur/jmy-wai/shn Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

Can TV spinoff reignite 'Breaking Bad' tourism?
Sunday Dec 21, 2014
Can TV spinoff reignite 'Breaking Bad' tourism?

It's been 15 months since the finale of "Breaking Bad," and tourism linked to the hit television series is flagging slightly -- but it could be reignited by a new spinoff series."Better Call Saul," based on teacher-turned-druglord Walter White's lawyer, is due to air starting in February, and locals in New Mexico are hopeful it will be as successful as the original series. "They can't get enough of the show because it's gone, so what's the next best thing to do? Go to the city where it was filmed," said Frank Sandoval of Breaking Bad RV Tours, which takes fans to filming locations for the cult TV show. "'Breaking Bad' is going to be around a long time, especially with... 'Better Call Saul,' that's going to keep it alive," Sandoval, an actor who had a small part in the series, told AFP. Since the series launched in 2008, Albuquerque has become something of a mecca for fans of the AMC series, which follows the transformation of White (played by Bryan Cranston) from a chemistry teacher into a methamphetamine kingpin. The show's success has had a significant economic impact on the region. But after five seasons and 62 episodes, worldwide acclaim and 16 Emmy awards, the series came to a climax in September last year. The series has ended, but the famous RV from "Breaking Bad" is still alive and kicking. At least a replica of it is. This one isn't a meth lab, it's a tourist bus. Fans pay $75 for the Breaking Bad RV tour. One couple came all the way from New York to visit the shooting locations. "I was obsessed with the show for a while. So now I'm in front of Walt's house, that's where the magic happened. It's amazing," said fan Ryan Todd. Sandoval is not alone in having built a business on the success of the hit series. A local candy shop makes sweets that look just like the blue meth that White, aka Heisenberg, cooks on the show. Debby Ball, owner of the "The Candy Lady" boutique, said she is realistic about prospects for "Breaking Bad" tourism. "Of course it's going to slow down, but we'll always have the die-hard fans that couldn't get here. This is the first year after the show ended, and we had a huge number of European tourists." Thanks to the worldwide success of "Breaking Bad" and to a 30 percent tax break for movie studios, many more productions have made their way to New Mexico. A recent study claims the industry has created as many as 15,000 jobs in the state. The new "Avengers" movie, a multimillion-dollar blockbuster, was also shot here recently. "You have productions that can come in and spend -- literally some very large productions -- in about nine months, spend close to a hundred million dollars," said New Mexico Film Office director Nick Maniatis. "So that's money going into our economy." "Breaking Bad" really put New Mexico on the map, for TV and movie producers. "It brought the sense that big productions, television production can be done in our state... our (film and TV) crew is as good as it gets. They can go up against LA or New York any time, any day of the week," Maniatis said. "They brought a cachet to the state that's fantastic." Although he may miss the series, Maniatis said he prefers to look to the future. "I just feel lucky... these guys did a great job so were all very lucky that it had the kind of impact that it had," he said. "We'll always have 'Breaking Bad.'" But he added: "I'm moving on to 'Better Call Saul.'" Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

Manu Bennett joins MTV's 'Shannara'
Saturday Dec 20, 2014
Manu Bennett joins MTV's 'Shannara'

The Kiwi actor, who plays Slade Wilson on the CW's "Arrow" and Crixus on the Starz series "Spartacus," will play a druid in the fantasy series adapted from the books by Terry Brooks."Shannara" is set in the year 4100, several centuries after the nuclear holocaust that destroyed our current civilization, on a world divided into Four Lands shared by the humans, the trolls, the dwarves, the gnomes and the elves. The protagonist is Wil Ohmsford, a half-elf, half-human descendent of the Shannara clan, a lineage with magical powers that have the potential to change the world.  Manu Bennett will play the world's last druid, Allanon, who guides the young protagonist in his quest to save the Four Lands. Consisting of 10 episodes, the first season will be adapted from the second in the series of over 20 books. Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

Protesters in contempt of court for anti-whaling campaign
Saturday Dec 20, 2014
Protesters in contempt of court for anti-whaling campaign

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers were found in contempt of court Friday for continuing their relentless campaign to disrupt the annual whale hunt off the waters of Antarctica. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a commissioner to determine how much Paul Watson and members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society he founded owe Japanese whalers for lawyer fees, damage to their ships and for violating the court order to stop their dangerous protests. The Japanese whalers are demanding $2 million in addition to their attorney fees and damage and cost to their ships for warding off the protests. The environmentalists' exploits have been documented on the long-running Animal Planet reality TV series "Whale Wars." Sea Shepherd said in a statement it is disappointed with the ruling and considering its legal options. "We are considering our legal options at this time, including the possibility of an appeal," it said. In 2012, the court ordered Sea Shepherd to stay at least 500 feet from Japanese whalers and to halt dangerous activities like attempting to ram the whalers and throwing smoke bombs and bottles of acid at their ships. The crews of Sea Shepherd ships also drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders, launch flares with hooks, and point high-powered lasers at the whalers to annoy crew members. The Japanese whalers filed a lawsuit in Seattle in 2011 seeking a court order halting the Sea Shepherd's campaign. The 9th Circuit in December 2012 ordered the Sea Shepherd's to stop harassing the Japanese fleet and for the group's four ships to stay at least 500 feet from the whalers. Watson then transferred all of Sea Shepherd's U.S. assets to foreign entities controlled by the group. Sea Shepherd has organizations in Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Watson also stepped down from the board of directors of Sea Shepherd organizations in the U.S. and Australia. Sea Shepherd Australia took over management of "operation zero tolerance," the group's annual harassment campaign of the whalers in the Southern Ocean. Watson also resigned as captain of the Sea Shepherd's flagship the "Steve Irwin," but remained aboard as an "observer." In February 2013, the 9th Circuit appointed a commissioner to investigate whether Watson and members of the Sea Shepherd should be held in contempt. The commissioner concluded on Jan. 31 that the Sea Shepherd wasn't in violation of the court order because the harassment campaign was being managed outside the United States. The same month, the group's "Steve Irwin" vessel with Watson aboard collided with a Japanese whaler. On Friday, a three-judge panel rejected the commissioner's findings. The 9th Circuit ruled that the transfer of assets and control of the Sea Shepherd to Australia and other countries didn't change its 2012 order to the group to cease its dangerous activities. Contrary to the commissioner's conclusions, the 9th Circuit said Watson and the Sea Shepherd's U.S. affiliate could be found liable for aiding and abetting the organization's foreign offices to violate the court's injunction. "Sea Shepherd U.S. is liable because it intentionally furnished cash payments, and a vessel and equipment worth millions of dollars, to individuals and entities it knew would likely violate the injunction," Judge Milan Smith wrote for the unanimous panel. The court ordered the case sent back to the commissioner to determine how much the whalers are owed. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Movies

N. Korean cinema: Kidnappings and evil Americans
Monday Dec 22, 2014
N. Korean cinema: Kidnappings and evil Americans

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea hates the currently scrapped Hollywood film that revolves around the assassination of its beloved leader, but the country has had a long love affair with cinema — of its own particular styling. In the six decades since North Korea began to cultivate its own film industry, a South Korean director and his movie star wife have been kidnapped, a Godzilla-inspired monster movie has bombed at the box office in the South, American defectors have hammed it up in anti-U.S. propaganda films — and there has even been a foray into "girl power" cinema with the more recent "Comrade Kim Goes Flying." The U.S. blames North Korea for the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures, which produced "The Interview," and also for threats of terror attacks against U.S. movie theaters. Sony canceled the movie's release. North Korea has denied a role in the hacking, but also praised it as a "righteous deed." Pyongyang began building its cinema industry in the 1950s as a wing of a propaganda machine meant to glorify the country's late founder, Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. The elder Kim once declared movies to be the most important tool to educate the masses, according to archive material maintained by the South Korean government. North Korean moviemakers have since dabbled with science fiction, action and romantic comedy, but they're mostly expected to stoke public animosity against rivals Washington and Seoul, and to portray the Kim family as a fearless bastion against evil foreign imperialists. North Korea's progress in filmmaking technology has been slow, especially when compared to a South Korean film industry that's the envy of Asia. The country's relative isolation means North Korean filmmakers rarely get the opportunity to work with foreign artists. A notable exception was "Comrade Kim Goes Flying," a romantic comedy from 2012 about a young female coal miner who dreams of becoming a trapeze artist. The movie was co-produced with Western partners. The 1980s were a heyday for North Korean movies. The current leader's father, Kim Jong Il, was an ardent movie buff and ensured generous funding for filmmakers. When Kim soured on the quality of films produced by his countrymen, he ordered the abduction of South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his then-wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, in 1978, Shin said after he escaped the North in 1986. Shin shook the North Korean movie scene with his entertainment-focused works. They included 1984's "Love, Love, My Love," responsible for the first on-screen kiss in North Korean films, and "Runaway," an action film released the same year that included an exploding train, according to a South Korean government website. Shin and Choi managed to escape during a business trip to Vienna in 1986, a year after Shin completed "Pulgasari," a science-fiction film inspired by Japan's iconic "Godzilla" series. Pulgasari, which features an actor waddling around in a padded monster suit, flopped when it was released in South Korea in 2000 during a period of warmer relations between the rivals. North Korea has long shown American characters in its movies as villains, sometimes played by North Koreans in makeup, but also by actual Americans who defected to the North in the 1960s. Four such Americans appeared together as evil capitalists and military officials in "Nameless Heroes," a 20-part propaganda film series filmed from 1979 to 1981, according to the South Korean government website. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

'Hobbit' goes out on top with $90.6 million 5-day debut
Sunday Dec 21, 2014
'Hobbit' goes out on top with $90.6 million 5-day debut

NEW YORK (AP) — While Hollywood continued to wrestle with the fallout of the Sony hacking scandal, the weekend box office offered the solace of a moviegoing truism: Hobbits sell. Peter Jackson's final installment of his six J.R.R. Tolkien adventures, "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," debuted with $56.2 million over the weekend and $90.6 million since opening Wednesday, according to studio estimates Sunday. For an industry reeling from the cancellation of "The Interview" and terrorist threats against moviegoers, Middle-earth provided reliable refuge. Aided by popularity on Imax screens, "The Battle of the Five Armies" dominated the pre-Christmas frame with a five-day haul similar to the franchise's previous entry, "The Desolation of Smaug," even if its actual debut weekend was notably less than both prior "Hobbit" movies. In its second week of release overseas, Warner Bros.' "Five Armies" added $105.5 million to bring its two-week global total past $350 million. Jeff Goldstein, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., said the healthy weekend of moviegoing was a welcome respite after an "upsetting and so disturbing" week. "Not only did we do business in places that I would expect, like the West Coast, we did business everywhere in the country," Goldstein said. "We didn't see that on the prior two 'Hobbit's." Another final installment in a trilogy, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," opened in a distant second place. The Fox comedy, which features Robin Williams' final performance, took in $17.3 million, well off the pace of previous franchise entries. The franchise's previous debut was $54.2 million for 2009's "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." Sony Pictures, which on Wednesday shelved the Dec. 25 release of the North Korea satire "The Interview" following hacker threats of violence against theaters showing the film, unveiled its other holiday option. The studio's "Annie" remake, starring Quvenzhane Wallis as the titular orphan, opened with $16.3 million. "It was nice shot in the arm," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony, who declined to discuss issues related to "The Interview." ''We're focused on 'Annie,'" he said. Last week's top film, Ridley Scott's Moses epic, "Exodus: Gods and Kings," tumbled to fourth place with $8.1 million in its second week. The Fox release slid a dramatic 67 percent. Heading into one of Hollywood's most lucrative weekends of the year, the Christmas box office will be without its top comedy option in "The Interview," directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The film had been expected to take in about $25-30 million. With one major release now out of the mix, that will leave more room for the Disney musical "Into the Woods," Angelina Jolie's World War II tale "Unbroken" and "The Hobbit." "There's a huge opportunity there," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "There's enough product out there to give it a very satisfying, Christmas holiday leading into the new year. Yeah, we are down one film, but it's a nice mix of films out there." On Sunday, David Boies, a lawyer for Sony, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "The Interview" ''will be released." The studio has been criticized by many, including President Barack Obama, for dropping the film following data leaks and intimidations from hackers the FBI has said came from North Korea. "How it's going to be distributed, I don't think anybody knows quite yet," Boies said. ___ Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday. 1. "The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies," $56.2 million ($105.5 million international). 2. "Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb," $17.3 million ($10.8 million international). 3. "Annie," $16.3 million ($1 million international). 4. "Exodus: Gods and Kings," $8.1 million ($7.6 million international). 5. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1," $7.8 million. ($9.3 million international). 6. "Wild," $4.2 million. 7. "Top Five," $3.6 million. 8. "Big Hero 6," $3.6 million ($11.5 million international). 9. "Penguins of Madagascar," $3.5 million ($16.5 million international). 10. "P.K.," $3.5 million ($22.1 million international). ___ Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to Rentrak: 1. "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," $105.5 million. 2. "Gone With the Bullets," $36 million. 3. "P.K.," $22.1 million. 4. "Penguins of Madagascar," $16.5 million. 5. "Big Hero 6," $11.5 million. 6. "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," $10.8 million. 7. "Paddington," $10 million. 8.(tie) "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1," $9.3 million. 8.(tie) "International Market," $9.3 million. 10. "Exodus: Gods and Kings," $7.6 million. ___ Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by 21st Century Fox; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC. ___ Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Young Oscar-tipped director's Hollywood dream comes true
Sunday Dec 21, 2014
Young Oscar-tipped director's Hollywood dream comes true

Writer-director Damien Chazelle is only 29, but he is already living his dream of the Hollywood big-time.His second feature "Whiplash" -- about the stormy relationship between a bullying teacher and his jazz drumming student -- swept up trophies at Sundance, Deauville and elsewhere, and is tipped for glory in Tinseltown's looming awards season. It won a nomination for best supporting actor for J.K. Simmons at the Golden Globes, which take place next month. Chazelle told AFP about his adventures making the film, winning awards and schmoozing everyone up to and including the Oscar-bestowing Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Q: How is the Oscars and awards season campaign going? A: "The path really began in Sundance nearly a year ago (the film won two prizes there). We made the film in six months, from preparation to post-production (with filming done in a super-fast 19 days). So we spent more time talking about it than actually making it! I am working with Sony Pictures, they are people who really know how to make this kind of film work. And now, from December to January, it's (Hollywood) awards season. It's important to meet members of the Academy at special screenings, question and answer sessions. But if people don't like your film, you can't do anything!" Q. What do you think of Sony Picture's decision to cancel the release of "The Interview"? A: "They didn't have any choice. But it's dangerous that this can change the prospects for a film. It can lead to some degree of self-censorship by filmmakers. If there is something good to come out of it, it's maybe that (studios) will understand that they need more computer security, which is more important than people thought." Q: Can you talk about your next film, "La La Land," about Los Angeles? A: "It's a musical comedy with Miles Teller -- who has the main role in 'Whiplash.' I tried for a long time to persuade people to make this film, since 2010, and now it's going to be made thanks to 'Whiplash.' When I was at university I made a musical comedy as my end-of-course thesis, and I wanted to make another one. For me, to make a real musical comedy here in Hollywood is a dream." "It takes place in Los Angeles. It's two artists who are trying to find their way and who fall in love. As in 'Whiplash,' it's a story about the difficulty of finding a balance between life and art. It's very personal. In 'Whiplash' there was a lot of me and my own experiences. It's the same thing in 'La La Land.' I am very nostalgic for the golden age of cinema and musical comedies -- Jacques Demy, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly... It was the last generation who danced to jazz, just before rock. The 1930s to the 1960s is an era which means a lot to me, not only cinematically but musically." Q: Did your father, a scientist, understand your artistic dreams more than those of the character in "Whiplash"? A: "I was lucky to have a very encouraging family, who understand what I wanted to do. Well, they didn't really have a choice because I knew when I was very young that I wanted to make films, as soon as I saw my first movie. My father is a mathematician, but he's also a big fan of jazz and blues. For him, America is the land of music." Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

Holiday gifts for 'Guardians of the Galaxy' fans
Saturday Dec 20, 2014
Holiday gifts for 'Guardians of the Galaxy' fans

The blockbuster of the summer, James Gunn's adaptation of Marvel's eponymous comic, was recently launched on DVD and Blu-ray. But if you're buying for a fan who already snapped up a copy of "Guardians of the Galaxy," here is a selection of related gifts to put a smile on their face this Christmas.- Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy: The Art of the Movie Art Book For die-hard fans, this 336-page tome will provide hours of geeky entertainment. In addition to concept art and stills from the movie, the book provides photographs from the set and in-depth interviews with the cast and crew. Available on Amazon for $49.99, the book should help tide fans over until the sequel opens in 2016. - Awesome Mix Tape Vol. 1 and Original Soundtrack Deluxe Vinyl Editions Since the feature grooves to a retro soundtrack of 70s disco and pop, Marvel decided to release Star-Lord's famous "Awesome Mix Tape Vol. 1" as well as the original soundtrack on vinyl. The Guardians of the Galaxy Deluxe Vinyl Edition includes tracks from The Jackson 5, Blue Swede, David Bowie and The Runaways, in addition to the film's original score, and is available for $19.90 on Amazon. Some lucky fans even got their hands on a limited cassette edition of Star-Lord's famous compilation, which was released in late November by Marvel. - Dancing Groot Bobble Action Figure Just days after the movie's release, the internet went crazy for a video of Groot -- in his reduced potted-plant state at the end of the film -- dancing to Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." Marvel quickly responded to the craze, teaming with Funko Pop to launch a 3.5-inch replica of the character. While the figure doesn't actually dance, it does wave its adorable bobble head and is available on Amazon for $10.99. - The Milano Spaceship Rescue Lego Set Like so many movies, cartoons and video games, "Guardians of the Galaxy" has inspired new toys from Lego. The Milano Spaceship Rescue set comes with all the bricks needed to make the protagonist's ship, in addition to minifigures of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Ronan and Sakaaran with their respective accessories and weapons. Available from the Lego website for $74.99. Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

Sarah Gadon models the Jaeger LeCoultre Rendez-Vous line
Saturday Dec 20, 2014
Sarah Gadon models the Jaeger LeCoultre Rendez-Vous line

The Swiss watchmaker took to social networks to reveal its latest promotional images. Actress Sarah Gadon poses in watches from the iconic Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous collection.In the new photographs shot by Eric Guillemain, the Canadian actress seen in "Cosmopolis" poses on the streets of New York wearing some of the most emblematic models from the Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous line. Elegant and refined, Gadon wears a series of dresses, each more feminine than the last. On her wrist, she wears the Rendez-Vous Night and Day in rose gold or the same model in white gold. The Rendez-Vous collection incorporates all the innovative achievements reached by the luxury watchmaker through the years, from moonphase calendars to exquisite tourbillon movements. In terms of design, the watches in the line emphasize rounded edges and refined, feminine details in diamonds, rose gold and white gold. Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

Events

How do you joke about the Sony hacking? A little carefully
Sunday Dec 21, 2014
How do you joke about the Sony hacking? A little carefully

How do you joke about the Sony hacking story? After all, it was an attempt at comedy that launched this whole sobering mess. If you're Chris Rock, you joke about it cleverly but carefully. Promoting his new movie "Top Five" this week, he noted an added bonus: "My movie's very Korean-friendly. There are no jokes about North Korea in 'Top Five.' If you're Korean, go out and see 'Top Five.' You will enjoy it." Given that the fallout over an unabashedly silly movie — "The Interview," which Sony shelved last week after a stunning cyberattack by hackers the U.S. has linked to North Korea — has escalated into a serious global situation, one would think comedy writers might be a wee bit skittish just now. But they ARE in the business of satire, and this is one of the biggest entertainment stories in years. And so, NBC's "Saturday Night Live" didn't wait long to bring up the scandal — in fact, it didn't wait one second. The show opened with Mike Myers returning as Dr. Evil from the "Austin Powers" movies, taking jabs at Sony, North Korea AND Hollywood. Oh, and Republicans, and "The Interview" actor James Franco's Oscar-hosting skills. "There's already a GOP," Myers said, referring to the hackers who call themselves Guardians of Peace, "and they're already an evil organization." Referring to hackers' threats of terrorism over the movie, he said that wasn't necessary: "It's easy to kill a movie. Just move it to January." As for Franco, whose character in the film is tasked with assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he noted: "The man singlehandedly almost killed the Oscars!" Later, though, the show played with the idea that maybe it's all a little soon. Comic Bobby Moynihan appeared as Kim Jong Un on "Weekend Update," declaring he wasn't afraid. But then red target marks appeared on his torso, and he reversed course: "I'm Seth Rogen, everybody!" he said, trying to quickly mimic Rogen, a star and director of the film, before skedaddling off the set. All in jest, but there probably IS a sense of "Is it too soon?" out there, says Janice Min, a veteran entertainment industry observer who oversees The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard. "I would say we're in an unprecedented era of fear right now," she says, referring to the chilling cyberattack that saw thousands of Sony emails — some deeply embarrassing — and other materials posted online. Things escalated dramatically when hackers then threatened violence against moviegoers, leading theater chains to pull out and Sony to cancel the Christmas opening. "There's often a sense of schadenfreude in Hollywood, if something happens to a movie or an executive," Min says. "But in this case the fear is so palpable, people are thinking, what if this were me?" Even in campaigns for the upcoming awards season in Hollywood, Min notes, "every publicist in town will be coaching their stars on what to say and what not to say, or what to post on Twitter — everything will be very measured." And so naturally, she adds, there may be a chilling effect on comedy — one that might affect the sharpness of the jokes, for example, at the Golden Globes or the Oscars. "I'm going to venture that at least until the issues are resolved, everyone's too scared, and you don't want to be the one making that North Korea joke because you don't want to be a target yourself," Min says. Given the magnitude of the events, of course, it's hard to imagine they won't be referenced at the awards shows, especially the early ones. "It's the elephant in the room," says Tim Gray, awards editor for Variety. "You can't pretend it didn't happen." But just how "safe" the subject may feel will depend on developments in the swift-moving story, which could, at this rate, change many times before sharp-tongued hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler take the stage at the Jan. 11 Globes, where the humor is generally more raucous — and boozy — than at the Feb. 22 Oscars. (Producers for both the Globes and the Oscars declined interview requests about plans for the shows.) Glenn Schwartz, a longtime Hollywood publicist specializing in comedy, notes that awards shows are a combination of the funny and the serious, so he expects to see references to the Sony hack pop up both ways. "There will be some jokes in a monologue, and one or two activist actors using it as a platform to talk about censorship," he predicts. But Schwartz adds: "This is really uncharted territory. Nobody wants to be responsible for making it worse." And that, he says, is a shame: "Comedy has been offending people for years. That's what's great about it." The censorship issue is a hot-button topic in Hollywood; George Clooney, in an interview with the trade site Deadline, urged Sony to "do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I'm not going to be told we can't see the movie." President Barack Obama subsequently said he felt Sony had made a mistake in shelving the film. Jimmy Kimmel, in a serious tweet, called Sony's decision an "un-American act of cowardice." Filmmaker Judd Apatow said it was "disgraceful" that theaters weren't showing the film. Two other North Korea-themed films have suffered collateral damage: "Team America," which was set to show as a replacement at a handful of theaters, was pulled, and a Steve Carell project in development was shelved. On late-night shows, Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Seth Myers have all poked fairly innocuous fun. Letterman on Friday joked that North Pole emails had been hacked. He displayed one from Blitzen, the reindeer, asking to take Hanukkah off. It was marked with a big red "HACKED" sign. Kimmel quipped last week that if the North Koreans were going to stop a movie being shown, "Why couldn't it be 'Love Actually,' which my wife and her friends have in our living room every Christmas?" And Fallon chose to lightly lampoon the U.S. government, noting that when Amy Pascal of Sony apologized for some embarrassing emailed jokes involving President Obama, the president replied: "Don't worry. I secretly read those emails months ago." Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Can TV spinoff reignite 'Breaking Bad' tourism?
Sunday Dec 21, 2014
Can TV spinoff reignite 'Breaking Bad' tourism?

It's been 15 months since the finale of "Breaking Bad," and tourism linked to the hit television series is flagging slightly -- but it could be reignited by a new spinoff series."Better Call Saul," based on teacher-turned-druglord Walter White's lawyer, is due to air starting in February, and locals in New Mexico are hopeful it will be as successful as the original series. "They can't get enough of the show because it's gone, so what's the next best thing to do? Go to the city where it was filmed," said Frank Sandoval of Breaking Bad RV Tours, which takes fans to filming locations for the cult TV show. "'Breaking Bad' is going to be around a long time, especially with... 'Better Call Saul,' that's going to keep it alive," Sandoval, an actor who had a small part in the series, told AFP. Since the series launched in 2008, Albuquerque has become something of a mecca for fans of the AMC series, which follows the transformation of White (played by Bryan Cranston) from a chemistry teacher into a methamphetamine kingpin. The show's success has had a significant economic impact on the region. But after five seasons and 62 episodes, worldwide acclaim and 16 Emmy awards, the series came to a climax in September last year. The series has ended, but the famous RV from "Breaking Bad" is still alive and kicking. At least a replica of it is. This one isn't a meth lab, it's a tourist bus. Fans pay $75 for the Breaking Bad RV tour. One couple came all the way from New York to visit the shooting locations. "I was obsessed with the show for a while. So now I'm in front of Walt's house, that's where the magic happened. It's amazing," said fan Ryan Todd. Sandoval is not alone in having built a business on the success of the hit series. A local candy shop makes sweets that look just like the blue meth that White, aka Heisenberg, cooks on the show. Debby Ball, owner of the "The Candy Lady" boutique, said she is realistic about prospects for "Breaking Bad" tourism. "Of course it's going to slow down, but we'll always have the die-hard fans that couldn't get here. This is the first year after the show ended, and we had a huge number of European tourists." Thanks to the worldwide success of "Breaking Bad" and to a 30 percent tax break for movie studios, many more productions have made their way to New Mexico. A recent study claims the industry has created as many as 15,000 jobs in the state. The new "Avengers" movie, a multimillion-dollar blockbuster, was also shot here recently. "You have productions that can come in and spend -- literally some very large productions -- in about nine months, spend close to a hundred million dollars," said New Mexico Film Office director Nick Maniatis. "So that's money going into our economy." "Breaking Bad" really put New Mexico on the map, for TV and movie producers. "It brought the sense that big productions, television production can be done in our state... our (film and TV) crew is as good as it gets. They can go up against LA or New York any time, any day of the week," Maniatis said. "They brought a cachet to the state that's fantastic." Although he may miss the series, Maniatis said he prefers to look to the future. "I just feel lucky... these guys did a great job so were all very lucky that it had the kind of impact that it had," he said. "We'll always have 'Breaking Bad.'" But he added: "I'm moving on to 'Better Call Saul.'" Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

Young Oscar-tipped director's Hollywood dream comes true
Sunday Dec 21, 2014
Young Oscar-tipped director's Hollywood dream comes true

Writer-director Damien Chazelle is only 29, but he is already living his dream of the Hollywood big-time.His second feature "Whiplash" -- about the stormy relationship between a bullying teacher and his jazz drumming student -- swept up trophies at Sundance, Deauville and elsewhere, and is tipped for glory in Tinseltown's looming awards season. It won a nomination for best supporting actor for J.K. Simmons at the Golden Globes, which take place next month. Chazelle told AFP about his adventures making the film, winning awards and schmoozing everyone up to and including the Oscar-bestowing Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Q: How is the Oscars and awards season campaign going? A: "The path really began in Sundance nearly a year ago (the film won two prizes there). We made the film in six months, from preparation to post-production (with filming done in a super-fast 19 days). So we spent more time talking about it than actually making it! I am working with Sony Pictures, they are people who really know how to make this kind of film work. And now, from December to January, it's (Hollywood) awards season. It's important to meet members of the Academy at special screenings, question and answer sessions. But if people don't like your film, you can't do anything!" Q. What do you think of Sony Picture's decision to cancel the release of "The Interview"? A: "They didn't have any choice. But it's dangerous that this can change the prospects for a film. It can lead to some degree of self-censorship by filmmakers. If there is something good to come out of it, it's maybe that (studios) will understand that they need more computer security, which is more important than people thought." Q: Can you talk about your next film, "La La Land," about Los Angeles? A: "It's a musical comedy with Miles Teller -- who has the main role in 'Whiplash.' I tried for a long time to persuade people to make this film, since 2010, and now it's going to be made thanks to 'Whiplash.' When I was at university I made a musical comedy as my end-of-course thesis, and I wanted to make another one. For me, to make a real musical comedy here in Hollywood is a dream." "It takes place in Los Angeles. It's two artists who are trying to find their way and who fall in love. As in 'Whiplash,' it's a story about the difficulty of finding a balance between life and art. It's very personal. In 'Whiplash' there was a lot of me and my own experiences. It's the same thing in 'La La Land.' I am very nostalgic for the golden age of cinema and musical comedies -- Jacques Demy, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly... It was the last generation who danced to jazz, just before rock. The 1930s to the 1960s is an era which means a lot to me, not only cinematically but musically." Q: Did your father, a scientist, understand your artistic dreams more than those of the character in "Whiplash"? A: "I was lucky to have a very encouraging family, who understand what I wanted to do. Well, they didn't really have a choice because I knew when I was very young that I wanted to make films, as soon as I saw my first movie. My father is a mathematician, but he's also a big fan of jazz and blues. For him, America is the land of music." Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

9 films advance in Oscars shortlist for best foreign film
Friday Dec 19, 2014
9 films advance in Oscars shortlist for best foreign film

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The list of contenders for best foreign film got a bit smaller Friday as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the nine features that will advance to the next round of voting. Included are Ruben Ostlund's patriarchy-skewering avalanche film "Force Majeure" from Sweden, Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan," about a property dispute in a small Russian costal town, and Pawel Pawlikowski's Polish drama "Ida," about a young woman with dreams of being a nun who discovers some dark secrets in her family's past. All recently received Golden Globe nominations, too. Damian Szifron's black ensemble comedy "Wild Tales," from Argentina, also made the shortlist, as did Estonia's "Tangerines," the Golden Globe-nominated film about a man caring for a wounded soldier. Other films on the shortlist include Abderrahmane Sissako's "Timbuktu," the first Mauritanian film ever submitted, Georgia's "Corn Island," the Netherlands' "Accused," and Venezuela's "The Liberator." Missing from the list were a few high profile films, such as the drama "Two Days, One Night," from the Dardennes brothers. Star Marion Cotillard has been singled out for her performance as a young mother in a desperate situation in a number of recent critics' awards. Eighty three countries submitted films for consideration. Xavier Dolan's critically beloved coming-of-age drama "Mommy" also failed to make the cut. Of the 83 countries who submitted entries, six were chosen by a committee of several hundred Academy members based in Los Angeles who were tasked with screening the original submissions. Three additional features were then added by the Academy's Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee. The five final nominees will be selected from this group of films and announced, along with the other Academy Award nominees, live on Jan. 15. Winners will be presented at the 87th Academy Awards on Feb. 22. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

The AP's top 10 movies of the year
Friday Dec 19, 2014
The AP's top 10 movies of the year

The top 10 films of 2014, according to AP Film Writer Jake Coyle: 1. "Ida" — Where did this perfect little gem come from? Its director, Pawel Pawlikowski, wasn't previously a major name in international cinema. Yet at a time when most filmmakers can't keep their movies under two hours, Pawlikowksi plunges into Polish history and back again in less than 90 minutes. Yes, an austere, black-and-white Polish film doesn't sound like the most appetizing stuff. But it's a hauntingly beautiful film, and thanks to the tremendous Agata Kulesza, there's humor here, too. 2. "Boyhood" — One of the most memorable parts of film in 2014 was seeing the movies play with time, capturing it in elapse ("Boyhood"), bending its particles ("Interstellar") and wryly gazing at its courses across centuries (Jim Jarmusch's excellent "Only Lovers Left Alive"). Richard Linklater's 12-years-in-the-making "Boyhood" is a landmark, for sure. But for a much-lauded masterpiece, it's incredibly humble, warm and humanistic. 3. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" — Wes Anderson's heroes are, like him, devotees of brilliant escapes: the beachside oasis of "Moonrise Kingdom," the play land of Rushmore Academy, the pre-war elegance of this film's Eastern European resort. Dreams are inevitably punctured by outside forces, and a new, compromised life must be found — some melancholy combination of fantasy and reality. Usually, Bill Murray's there somewhere. 4. "Mr. Turner" and "Birdman" — In a year rich with colorful portraits of artists (the obsessive, rigorous drummer of "Whiplash," the arrogant, oblivious author of "Listen Up Philip") these two most stood out: "Birdman" for its blisteringly kinetic flow and the raging ego of Michael Keaton's actor; and the masterful "Mr. Turner" for its total lack of pretention and Timothy Spall's gruff, grunting painter. 5. "Interstellar" — Admittedly, I'm a sucker when it comes to stories about dads and daughters. Many critics poked holes in the imperfectly stitched cosmic fabric of Christopher Nolan's space epic, but I found the time-traveling epic — science fiction build on science fact — grandly moving. So I'm a sentimentalist who digs space. Sue me. 6. "Inherent Vice" — Obviously, I'm also an easy mark for a glorious mess. Paul Thomas Anderson's adaption of Thomas Pynchon is probably a noble failure in an impossible task. But there's no movie I'm keener to return to, to again feel its electric songs and its scruffy sadness. 7. "The Immigrant" — A number of films in 2014 weren't shy about their Big American Themes. Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" was the most mesmerizing; JC Chandor's "A Most Violent Year" the most atmospheric; and Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" the tautest. But James Gray's period Ellis Island tale was the most majestic. The film's powerful last shot is an absolute knock out. 8. "Under the Skin" — Equal parts beautiful and terrifying in its alien mystery, Jonathan Glazer's extraterrestrial shocker (with Scarlett Johansson as the other-worldly being that touches down in, of all places, Glasgow) made for a searing cinematic experience of sound and imagery. 9. "Leviathan" — There's a stout Russian muscularity to Andrey Zvyagintsev's bleak, Job-like tale of corruption in a coastal Russian town. A framed portrait of Vladimir Putin above the police chief looms large. 10. "Starred Up" — Four walls, a father and a son, plus a whole lot of violent rage. The ingredients of this British prison drama are simple, but its force is ferocious. In one of the more remarkable father-son dramas you'll see (a young punk gets locked up in the same facility as his dad), Jack O'Connell (the star of Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken") dramatically arrives. But the movie's also a reminder that there's no more riveting actor in movies than Ben Mendelsohn, who plays the father. Also just as good: "Two Days, One Night," ''The Babadook," ''Selma," ''Ernest & Celestine," ''Locke," ''Citizenfour," ''Stranger By the Lake," ''Dear White People," ''Timbuktu," ''The Trip to Italy" and "Neighbors." ___ The top 10 films of 2014, according to AP National Writer Jocelyn Noveck: 1. "Boyhood" — This movie just pulsates with the feeling that it's something utterly unique — something rare and exciting. It's not just that director Richard Linklater managed to shoot it over 12 years, creating an astonishingly fluid view of a boy's life; It's how the film makes us FEEL. By the end, we know Mason (the sensitive Ellar Coltrane) so well, it feels wrong to leave him. Shouldn't he be coming home with us? 2. "Birdman" — Absolutely bracing in its verve and inventiveness, Alejandro G. Inarritu's meditation on fame, relevance and self-worth is a marvel. Michael Keaton is raw and vulnerable as an aging actor trying to exorcise his superhero past; Edward Norton is superb as a charismatic jerk. The cherry on top: Emmanuel Lubezki's stunningly seamless camera work. 3. "Selma" — Talk about a movie that comes just when the country needs it. A beautifully restrained performance by David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. anchors this stirring account of events surrounding the famous march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery. Director Ava DuVernay is equally adept at depicting intimate moments — like a testy Oval Office exchange between LBJ and George Wallace — as she is conveying the sweep of a historic movement. 4. "Ida" — Pawel Pawlikowski's film is pure, austere, and powerful — exactly how one might describe its young star, Agata Trzebuchowska, who plays an orphaned novice about to take her vows when she learns she has an aunt, her only living relative. Ida's subsequent journey, in which she explores Poland's dark wartime past to discover both who she is and who she wants to be, is mesmerizing. 5. "Mr. Turner" — Timothy Spall studied painting, drawing, even Greek and Roman architecture — all to play the great landscape painter J.M.W. Turner. And it shows: The wonderfully gruff Spall doesn't seem to act in this movie as much as inhabit it, messily and fully. Mike Leigh's gorgeously detailed biopic doesn't fall into typical formula — and the visuals do Turner proud. 6. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" — Wes Anderson, we surrender — to your whimsy and singular imagination. This movie is a visual delight; it's also a madcap caper and, a layer deeper, a more serious look at a dying way of life in Europe. Mostly, it's a perfect vehicle for Ralph Fiennes, as a wonderfully pompous concierge, to display his lesser-known comic skills. 7. "Whiplash" — None of us would ever want to be in a classroom with the abusively demanding jazz instructor played by J.K. Simmons — it's hard enough to be in the movie theater. But boy, Simmons grabs the role by the throat, thrillingly. Miles Teller is excellent, too, as the driven student who accepts this abuse, all to be a jazz drummer. 8. "The Theory of Everything," ''The Imitation Game" — Both are biopics that feel somewhat formulaic, but both feature lead performances that must be seen. Eddie Redmayne is remarkably effective as Stephen Hawking, eventually using only his eyes and a crooked smile to express what's inside a blazing mind. Benedict Cumberbatch's nervous energy is perfect for the role of Alan Turing, the mathematician who cracked the Germans' Enigma code. 9. "Foxcatcher" — Grim and unrelenting but expertly rendered, this real-life tale of the Olympic wrestling Schultz brothers and benefactor John DuPont is worth seeing both for the shocking story and the acting. Steve Carell makes a striking physical transformation, but it's his reedy voice that'll really creep you out. Mark Ruffalo, the more nurturing brother, and Channing Tatum, the more troubled, are just as compelling. 10. "Still Alice," ''Get on Up" — Two more films to mention because of stellar central performances: As an early-onset Alzheimer's patient, Julianne Moore is sensitive, warm, heartbreaking — and deserves all the awards buzz she's getting. In "Get On Up," Chadwick Boseman is truly galvanizing as James Brown — and deserves way more buzz than HE'S getting. Honorable mentions: "Only Lovers Left Alive," ''Locke," ''Interstellar," ''American Sniper," ''Into the Woods." Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.