Monday Dec 22, 2014

British singer Joe Cocker dies of lung cancer

NEW YORK (AP) — British singer Joe Cocker, whose had hits that included "You Are So Beautiful" and "Up Where We Belong," and a contortionist style of performance memorably parodied by John Belushi on "Saturday Night Live," has died. He was 70. His London-based agent,...
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TV

British singer Joe Cocker dies of lung cancer
Monday Dec 22, 2014
British singer Joe Cocker dies of lung cancer

NEW YORK (AP) — British singer Joe Cocker, whose had hits that included "You Are So Beautiful" and "Up Where We Belong," and a contortionist style of performance memorably parodied by John Belushi on "Saturday Night Live," has died. He was 70. His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, said Cocker died Monday of lung cancer in Colorado, where he has lived for the past two decades. Cocker, a song interpreter more than a songwriter, first became known through his hit cover of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends," and a characteristically manic performance at the first Woodstock festival in 1969. His raucous "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" tour of 1970 produced a film and a recording that went gold. He had a top 10 hit in 1975 on the aching ballad "You Are So Beautiful," with his voice cracking on the final emotional note and won his first Grammy Award in 1983 for his "Up Where We Belong" duet with Jennifer Warnes, which was the theme of the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." Cocker, who received an Order of the British Empire in 2011 for his contribution to music, released 40 albums and continued to tour after the hits dried up. He was known for an intense, twitchy stage presence where his arms would flail and face contort as he wrung notes from his raspy voice. When he performed on "Saturday Night Live" in 1976, Belushi parodied him onstage, exaggerating his movements by flipping to the ground. It was a clip seen as widely as Cocker's own performances. Years later, Cocker told The Associated Press' Mary Campbell that he was playing an imaginary piano and air guitar while singing — the elements that contributed to this unique style. "That was the frustration of not being able to play, really," he said. Cocker moved to Crawford, Colorado, a town of fewer than 500 people, in the early 1990s. He and his wife, Pam, ran a children's educational foundation — the Cocker Kids Foundation — that raised funds for the town and schools, and ran the Mad Dog Cafe for several years in town, said Tom Wills, publisher of The North Fork Merchant Herald, a local community newspaper. Wills said Cocker bought about 40 acres of property and built a hillside mansion — which he called Mad Dog Ranch — when he moved to Colorado. A group of Cocker's friends gathered Monday at community radio station KVNF to play Cocker's songs. "He had a long battle with cancer. We're trying to do a little tribute for him," said Bob Pennetta, a real estate agent and board member of the Cocker Kids Foundation. ___ Colleen Slevin and Jim Anderson in Denver contributed to this story. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Sarah Jessica Parker could return to HBO in 'Divorce'
Monday Dec 22, 2014
Sarah Jessica Parker could return to HBO in 'Divorce'

Ten years after the end of "Sex and the City," the actress known for playing Carrie Bradshaw could return to HBO in a new series.Though "Divorce" is still awaiting the official green light from HBO, the network is said to be finalizing deals. Sarah Jessica Parker is on track to produce and star in the half-hour comedy pilot, playing a woman whose friends influence her and lead her to seek a divorce. While she is still somewhat unsure of her decision, her husband discovers she is having an affair and takes matters into his own hands. No additional casting details have been announced. Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

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.

Movies

Sarah Jessica Parker could return to HBO in 'Divorce'
Monday Dec 22, 2014
Sarah Jessica Parker could return to HBO in 'Divorce'

Ten years after the end of "Sex and the City," the actress known for playing Carrie Bradshaw could return to HBO in a new series.Though "Divorce" is still awaiting the official green light from HBO, the network is said to be finalizing deals. Sarah Jessica Parker is on track to produce and star in the half-hour comedy pilot, playing a woman whose friends influence her and lead her to seek a divorce. While she is still somewhat unsure of her decision, her husband discovers she is having an affair and takes matters into his own hands. No additional casting details have been announced. Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

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.

Events

British singer Joe Cocker dies of lung cancer
Monday Dec 22, 2014
British singer Joe Cocker dies of lung cancer

NEW YORK (AP) — British singer Joe Cocker, whose had hits that included "You Are So Beautiful" and "Up Where We Belong," and a contortionist style of performance memorably parodied by John Belushi on "Saturday Night Live," has died. He was 70. His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, said Cocker died Monday of lung cancer in Colorado, where he has lived for the past two decades. Cocker, a song interpreter more than a songwriter, first became known through his hit cover of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends," and a characteristically manic performance at the first Woodstock festival in 1969. His raucous "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" tour of 1970 produced a film and a recording that went gold. He had a top 10 hit in 1975 on the aching ballad "You Are So Beautiful," with his voice cracking on the final emotional note and won his first Grammy Award in 1983 for his "Up Where We Belong" duet with Jennifer Warnes, which was the theme of the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." Cocker, who received an Order of the British Empire in 2011 for his contribution to music, released 40 albums and continued to tour after the hits dried up. He was known for an intense, twitchy stage presence where his arms would flail and face contort as he wrung notes from his raspy voice. When he performed on "Saturday Night Live" in 1976, Belushi parodied him onstage, exaggerating his movements by flipping to the ground. It was a clip seen as widely as Cocker's own performances. Years later, Cocker told The Associated Press' Mary Campbell that he was playing an imaginary piano and air guitar while singing — the elements that contributed to this unique style. "That was the frustration of not being able to play, really," he said. Cocker moved to Crawford, Colorado, a town of fewer than 500 people, in the early 1990s. He and his wife, Pam, ran a children's educational foundation — the Cocker Kids Foundation — that raised funds for the town and schools, and ran the Mad Dog Cafe for several years in town, said Tom Wills, publisher of The North Fork Merchant Herald, a local community newspaper. Wills said Cocker bought about 40 acres of property and built a hillside mansion — which he called Mad Dog Ranch — when he moved to Colorado. A group of Cocker's friends gathered Monday at community radio station KVNF to play Cocker's songs. "He had a long battle with cancer. We're trying to do a little tribute for him," said Bob Pennetta, a real estate agent and board member of the Cocker Kids Foundation. ___ Colleen Slevin and Jim Anderson in Denver contributed to this story. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Renee Fleming to make Broadway debut in 'Living on Love'
Monday Dec 22, 2014
Renee Fleming to make Broadway debut in 'Living on Love'

NEW YORK (AP) — Opera star Renee Fleming will make her Broadway debut this spring, playing — what else? — an opera star. The four-time Grammy Award-winning soprano will star in the comedy "Living on Love" at the Longacre Theatre beginning April 1. "I've spent my life singing tragic characters, so to be able to make people laugh is an extraordinary joy," said Fleming. The comedy was written by two-time Tony Award winner Joe DiPietro ("Memphis"), adapted from "Peccadillo" by Garson Kanin ("Born Yesterday") and directed by three-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall. Marshall and DiPietro worked together on Broadway's "Nice Work If You Can Get It." The play was seen this summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. In it, Fleming plays an opera diva whose conductor-husband starts to fall for a woman hired to ghostwrite his long-delayed autobiography. She retaliates by hiring her own ghostwriter, but also gets romantically attached. Fleming never anticipated making her Broadway debut because opera singers are trained very differently than Broadway belters and so never had it on her bucket list. "I would have assumed that my only road to Broadway would have been in a musical. And I knew that I couldn't sing eight shows a week — we're trained in such a different way. Like weightlifters, we need those two days off," said Fleming. "So it wasn't on my list of things to do. Sometimes the most interesting things come out of the blue, in love and in life." Fleming, who has performed around the world and serenaded Queen Elizabeth and President Barack Obama, this year became the first opera singer to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. She received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the government gives to artists, in 2012. Before she tackles the comedy, Fleming is practicing her waltzing skills to be ready to perform "The Merry Widow" with The Metropolitan Opera, directed by Broadway's Susan Stroman with five-time Tony Award nominee Kelli O'Hara. "In one, four-month period, to be acting while dancing and singing is definitely a test," Fleming said. Though she'll sing a little in the play — she added some improvised a cappella singing to keep her voice fresh — Fleming is concentrating on her acting skills, "Learning how to sing well takes a lifetime of effort. Then putting the singing aside is another whole thing," she said. "But we want to remain challenged in life, I think. And I'm certainly finding a way to do it." ____ Online: http://www.reneefleming.com Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Actress Billie Whitelaw, 82, dies
Monday Dec 22, 2014
Actress Billie Whitelaw, 82, dies

LONDON (AP) — British actress Billie Whitelaw, who collaborated closely with Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and appeared on stage and screen for decades, has died in a London nursing home at age 82. Denville Hall general manager Charlotte Schram said Whitelaw died Sunday. "It's a great loss. She was a wonderful person," Schram said. Whitelaw was well known for her roles in a number of films, including "The Omen" and most recently "Hot Fuzz," and for her regular work with Beckett, who once described her as the "perfect actress." Their association began with her appearance in Beckett's "Play" in 1964. Her work in Beckett's "Not I" inspired the playwright to produce a piece specially for her, "Footfalls." She also appeared in his "Happy Days" and "Rockaby." Whitelaw first appeared on radio when she was 11 and made her stage debut in 1950. She made more than 50 movies, including Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy" in 1972, and worked with a number of film greats, including Albert Finney in "Charlie Bubbles." She joined the National Theatre Company in the early 1960s, playing a number of lead roles, and continued playing major roles on stage for several more decades. Her son Mathew Muller said, "She had an incredible career — but first and foremost she was my mum, and that's who I will miss." He said she had helped him recover from meningitis when he was 5 and that he had spent much time with her in the last year of her life, when she was ill. She spent the last four years of her life in Denville Hall, a care home used by many retired actors. Whitelaw won several acting awards, including a British Academy Award for best supporting actress. She told the Independent newspaper in a 1997 interview that she was not frightened of death: "Oh, no. Death's not one of those things that frighten the life out of me," she said, adding that getting on stage with the curtain about the rise was much more daunting. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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.