Tuesday, September 19, 2017

News Briefs

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  • Tuesday, Sep. 19, 2017
Film academy president welcomes new members at private party
This combination photo shows, top row from left, Zoe Kravitz, Amy Poehler, Kate McKinnon, Maya Rudolph and Leslie Jones, second row from left, Riz Ahmed, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Justin Timberlake and Jon Hamm, and bottom row from left, Chris Hemsworth, Elle Fanning, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dwayne Johnson and Terry Crews. (AP Photo/File)
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- 

The president of the film academy says being a member isn't just about getting all those free DVD screeners during Oscar season.

John Bailey says the real benefit of belonging to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is being connected to the past and future of filmmaking.

Bailey made the remarks at a private reception Monday for the organization's newest members at the academy's headquarters in Beverly Hills, California. The group invited its largest class in history — 774 people — to join its ranks in June.

Academy chief Dawn Hudson said the new membership class reflects a "re-envisioning of the academy as a truly international institution." The group has been working in recent years to diversify its historically white, male membership.

  • Tuesday, Sep. 19, 2017
Nielsen says 11.4 million watch Emmy Awards
Bruce Miller, from left, Margaret Atwood, and Elisabeth Moss accept the award for outstanding drama series for "The Handmaid's Tale" at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

The Nielsen company estimated that 11.4 million people watched Sunday's presentation of the Emmy Awards, roughly equivalent to last year's show honoring the year's best in television.

Stephen Colbert hosted Sunday's show for CBS. It competed with pro football and the beginning of Ken Burns' lengthy documentary on the Vietnam War. Last year's audience of 11.3 million people was the lowest ever for the Emmy Awards.

The Emmys featured a surprise appearance by former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and a heavy concentration on Trump jokes and remarks. Hulu's "The Handmaids Tale" won the Emmy for best drama, while HBO's "Veep" was named best comedy.

  • Monday, Sep. 18, 2017
Cambodia selects Angelina Jolie film as Oscar submission
In this Sept. 11, 2017 photo, Angelina Jolie, left, director/co-writer of the film "First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers," and co-writer/human rights activist Loung Ung pose for a portrait during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Angelina Jolie's "First They Killed My Father" has been named Cambodia's foreign-language submission to the Academy Awards.

The Cambodia Oscar Selection Committee announced the choice Monday, calling Jolie's Cambodian genocide drama "cathartic" and hailing it for bringing back memories "often best forgotten."

Jolie directed the adaptation of Loung Ung's memoir about her childhood during the Khmer Rouge's bloody reign. She shot it in Cambodia with a local cast.

Jolie, whose eldest son, Maddox, was born in Cambodia, has been a citizen of Cambodia since 2005. In an interview with The Associated Press, Jolie said she made the film to "help a country to speak."

Jolie's 2011 Bosnian War drama, "In the Land of Blood and Honey," was also nominated for best foreign-language film by the Golden Globes.


  • Thursday, Sep. 14, 2017
Comedy Central keeps Noah at "Daily Show" through 2022
In this May 1, 2017 file photo, Trevor Noah attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)

In a strong vote of confidence for its late-night cornerstone, Comedy Central said Thursday it has agreed to a contract extension that will keep Trevor Noah as host of "The Daily Show" through 2022.

The network also said Noah would produce and host specials comedically wrapping up each year, starting in a few months.

The little-known South African comic was a leap of faith for Comedy Central when he was selected to succeed Jon Stewart at "The Daily Show" two years ago. He started slowly but has made inroads both critically and commercially.

His show has averaged 1.57 million viewers so far this quarter, up 28 percent from the same period a year ago, according to the Nielsen company. That's not at Stewart's level, but Noah is the most popular late-night comic among viewers aged 18-to-34, and he's a particular hit among people who stream highlights online.

"It's very satisfying to see our belief in him come to fruition," said Kent Alterman, Comedy Central president.

Comedy Central is now trying to replicate what it had in its glory days of Stewart and Stephen Colbert, with another alum of "The Daily Show," Jordan Klepper, beginning a new program in the time slot after Noah on Sept. 25.

"When we set out to replace Jon Stewart, we knew that would be an impossible task," Alterman said. "If the goal was to find a younger version of Jon Stewart, that was a fool's errand."

Still, many viewers came with the expectation that Noah's show would be satisfying in the same way that Stewart was, and that Noah would come into the job fully formed, he said. Instead, it took time. Viewers saw Noah approach what was going on in the United States from the perspective of an outsider, but during last year's campaign "people felt this transition where he was talking about what was happening to us, instead of what was happening to you," Alterman said.

Video clips of Noah have been streamed some 2.2 billion times since he took over, the network said. That's increasingly the way younger viewers experience late-night comedy.

Noah quipped that it's exciting to know he's under contract for five more years, "or until Kim Jong Un annihilates us all, whichever one comes first."

  • Thursday, Sep. 14, 2017
"A Fantastic Woman" could lead to trans history at Oscars
In this Sept. 9, 2017 photo, Chilean trans actress Daniela Vega, a cast member in the film "A Fantastic Woman," poses for a portrait at the The Adelaide Hotel during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

A transgender Chilean actress has turned in one of the most buzzed-about performances of the year and some are hoping she could be the first trans actor to land an Oscar nomination.

Daniela Vega, 28, stars in Sebastian Lelio's "A Fantastic Woman." She plays Marina, a transgender woman whose partner (Francisco Reyes) dies, after which Marina is subjected to harsh treatment by the family of her deceased lover and by police investing the death.

Chile has selected the film as its Academy Awards submission this year. But the bigger spotlight may be on whether Vega's breakout performance — one of stirring strength and compassion — could make Oscar history. Reviewing the movie at its Berlin Film Festival premiere, Variety called her performance "a multi-layered, emotionally polymorphous feat of acting," that deserves "so much more than political praise."

While several transgender musicians have been Oscar-nominated, no trans performer has ever earned an acting nod.

"It's too early to talk about that, to think about it. I have lots of festivals to attend, lots of dresses to wear," Vega said with a grin in an interview. "The Oscars are a little bit beyond the timeline I'm thinking about right now. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Vega and "A Fantastic Woman" will not have an easy road to the Oscars. Performances in foreign-language films rarely break into the acting categories, and this year, like most, the field of potential contenders boasts plenty of heavyweight, bigger-name performers like Meryl Streep ("The Post") and Jessica Chastain ("Molly's Game").

But Vega has two things going for her: the depth of her performance and the possibility of a long-awaited Oscar landmark. Such a result could have great meaning for a trans community that President Donald Trump recently banned from entering the military.

"If we broaden our gaze, it will be more interesting, more beautiful. If we can make more diverse colors, people, stories, it will be interesting," said Vega. "Uniforms are for the military and the police, not for our thinking."

Hollywood has far from shied away from telling transgender stories, but the industry has come under increasing criticism for not casting them in high-profile parts. Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry") and Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club") have taken home awards, and movies like 2015's "The Danish Girl," with Eddie Redmayne, and 2005's "Transamerica," with Felicity Huffman, have garnered nominations.

While those films and the Amazon series "Transparent" have been widely applauded, pressure has mounted urging producers to cast trans actors for trans parts. Progress has instead come in smaller, offbeat productions like Sean Baker's "Tangerine," the much-lauded 2015 film Baker shot with iPhones. It starred a pair of transgender performers, Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. Taylor last year won an Independent Spirit Award for her performance.

"There is very beautiful transgender talent," Taylor said, accepting the supporting actress award. "You better get out there and put it in your movie."

Transgender people have been nominated in other Oscar categories. The composer Angela Morley received two nods, for 1974's "The Little Prince" and 1976's "The Slipper and the Rose."

Most recently, singer Anohni, formerly known as Antony of Antony and the Johnsons, became the first transgendered performer ever nominated. She collaborated with J. Ralph on the nominated song "Manta Ray" for the documentary "Racing Extinction." But when the category's other nominees — Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, the Weeknd — were given performing slots during the 2016 broadcast, Anohni was not, and she opted to boycott the ceremony.

In a fiery essay announcing her refusal to attend, Anohni declared: "They are going to try to convince us that they have our best interests at heart by waving flags for identity politics and fake moral issues."

Whether Vega — and Oscar voters — can change history won't be decided for months. Sony Picture Classics, which has guided performers to dozens of Academy Award nominations, will release the film on Nov. 17. For now, Vega is soaking up her moment.

"It's like living a dream," said Vega. "It's like a film in a film."

  • Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2017
VES names the 70 most influential VFX films of all time
A scene from "Ex Machina" (photo courtesy of A24)

The Visual Effects Society (VES) has released its definitive VES 70: The Most Influential Visual Effects Films of All Time.  The original VES member-chosen VES 50 list was created in 2007, marking one decade since the organization’s inception.  In commemoration of the VES’ milestone 20th anniversary, the global membership--now almost triple the size of the membership first polled--added films from 2015 and earlier to the prestigious VFX honor roll.  The goal of the two polls was to result in 50 and 20 films respectively, but each poll had ties for the final slots, thus the list includes 72 total films.
“The VES 70 represents films that have had a significant, lasting impact on the practice and appreciation of visual effects as an integral element of cinematic expression and storytelling,” said Mike Chambers, VES board chair.  “We see this as an important opportunity for our members, leading visual effects practitioners worldwide, to pay homage to our heritage and help shape the future of the global visual effects community. In keeping with our mission to recognize and advance outstanding art and innovation in the VFX field, the VES 70 now forms a part of our legacy that we can pass down to future generations of filmmakers as a valuable point of reference.” 
Films included in the VES 70 span from the early 1900’s to 2015.  The earliest entry on the list is A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune), the seminal 1902 French silent film directed by Georges Méliès, whose iconic image exemplifies the VES’ legacy--past, present and future. The most current entries are Academy Award winner for Best Visual Effects, Ex Machina, and the critically acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road, both from 2015.  The ballot, voted on by VES members in Summer 2017, was limited to features from 2015 and earlier, to help ensure that the candidates have had a lasting impact and that voting was not unduly influenced by the most recent VES Award winners.
The VES 70: The Most Influential Visual Effects Films of All Time is presented in alphabetical order (the newly added films are noted in bold italics).
300 (2007)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

The Abyss (1989)

Alien (1979)

Aliens (1986)

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Apollo 13 (1995)

Avatar (2009)

Babe (1995)

Back to the Future (1985)

Blade Runner (1982)

Citizen Kane (1941)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1958)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

District 9 (2009)

E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Ex Machina (2015)

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

The Fifth Element (1997)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Godzilla (1954)

Gravity (2013)

Inception (2010)

Independence Day (1996)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Jaws (1975)

Jurassic Park (1993)

King Kong (1933)

King Kong (2005)

Life of Pi (2012)

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

The Lost World (1925)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mary Poppins (1964)

The Mask (1994)

The Matrix (1999)

Metropolis (1927)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Return of the Jedi (1983)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Sin City (2005)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Star Wars (1977)

Starship Troopers (1997)

Superman: The Movie (1978)

The Ten Commandments (1956)

The Terminator (1984)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

The Thing (1982)

Titanic (1997)

Total Recall (1990)

Toy Story (1995)

Tron (1982)

Transformers (2007)

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

The War of the Worlds (1953)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

What Dreams May Come (1998)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

  • Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2017
Study finds Asian-American characters "tokens" on TV
In this image released by ABC, Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu appear in a scene from the new comedy series "Fresh Off the Boat." (AP Photo/ABC, Nicole Wilder)

TV's Asian-American characters are so frequently slighted that even programs set in the biggest, most diverse cities leave them out of the picture, a new study found.

For "Tokens on the Small Screen," professors and scholars at six California universities looked at 242 broadcast, cable and digital platform shows that aired during the 2015-16 season and tallied the numbers, screen time and portrayals of characters of Asian or Pacific Islander descent among 2,000 TV characters.

The report released Tuesday, a follow-up to broadcast TV studies done in 2005 and 2006, found increasing opportunities for Asian-American actors but concluded they are still underrepresented and "their characters remain marginalized and tokenized on screen."

There was a sense of optimism with the emergence of ABC's "Fresh Off the Boat" and "Dr. Ken" and Netflix's "Master of None," all starring and focused on Asian-Americans, said Nancy Wong Yuen, a Biola University associate professor and one of the study's authors.

"It felt like, 'Oh, we're finally making it,'" Yuen said in an interview. "But even ("Dr. Ken" star) Ken Jeong said, "Of this many shows, we only have three?'"

The cancellations of Jeong's sitcom and the Netflix historical drama "Marco Polo," which featured a hefty number of Asian characters, showed how tenuous the hold on representation is, the study said.

A third (34.5 percent) of all Asian or Asian-American characters were found to be on just 11 shows — with the 14 characters on "Marco Polo" alone making up 10 percent of the total — which sets up a "risk of greater decimation when networks decide to cancel even one show," according to the report.

The concentration of characters on a few shows also means that many viewers never see an Asian-American on screen, which the study says "effectively erases" them from a large part of the TV landscape.

There are 155 shows that lack a single Asian-American character, including 63 of broadcast and basic cable series and 74 percent of premium cable shows, the study found.

The exclusion is startling on shows set in urban areas. Among all New York-based shows, which has an Asian-American population of 13 percent, 70 percent of shows lacked a single series regular of that ethnicity. More than 50 percent of shows set in Los Angeles, with a population that's 14 percent Asian, lacked any such characters.

Other study findings:

— Among all series regulars, white characters represent 69.5 percent; African-Americans 14 percent; Latinos, 5.9 percent, and Asian and Pacific Islanders were 4.3 percent. Their numbers among the U.S. populations: white, 61.3 percent; black, 13.3 percent; Latino, 17.8 percent, Asian-Americans, 5.9 percent.

— Four Pacific Islanders were found to be series regulars, including Dwyane Johnson of "Ballers"; Uli Latukefu of "Marco Polo"; Keisha Castle-Hughes of "Roadies," and Cliff Curtis of "Fear the Walking Dead." That represents 0.2 percent, or half of their slice of the U.S. population, the report said.

— Eighty-seven percent of Asian-American series regulars are on screen for less than half an episode, with white series regulars on screen three times longer than their Asian-American counterparts.

Besides Biola, the study included participants from California State University, Fullerton; University of California, Los Angeles; Thomas Jefferson School of Law; San Jose State University, and the University of San Francisco.

  • Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2017
"Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" gets 3-season renewal
This image released by HBO shows John Oliver, host of "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver." HBO says it has renewed the show for three additional seasons. (Eric Liebowitz/HBO via AP)

"Last Week Tonight" is going to last a few years longer. HBO says it has renewed "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" for three additional seasons. This would carry it through at least 2020, with 30 shows presented each season.

The show takes a satirical look at the past week's news, politics and other happenings, as well as addressing broader issues. It debuted in 2014 and is in its fourth season.

This year it is nominated for eight prime-time Emmy Awards.

In a statement, HBO programming president Casey Bloys spoke of Oliver's "extraordinary genius for rich and intelligent commentary."

Oliver responded, "I firmly disagree with everything Casey just said."

"Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" airs Sundays at 11 p.m. Eastern.

  • Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2017
J.J. Abrams to write and direct "Star Wars: Episode IX"
In this March 2, 2017 file photo, director-producer J.J. Abrams poses for a portrait to promote "The Play That Goes Wrong" at the Lyceum Theatre in New York. Abrams is returning to “Star Wars,” and will replace Colin Trevorrow as writer and director of “Episode IX.” Disney announced Abrams return on Tuesday, Sept. 12. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP, File)

J.J. Abrams is returning to "Star Wars," and will replace Colin Trevorrow as writer and director of "Episode IX."

Disney announced Abrams return on Tuesday a week after news broke of Trevorrow's departure. After several high-profile exits by previous "Star Wars" directors, Lucasfilm is turning to the filmmaker who helped resurrect the franchise in the first place. Abrams will co-write the film with screenwriter Chris Terrio, who won an Oscar for adapting "Argo," and also co-wrote "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."

As the director of "The Force Awakens," Abrams rebooted "Star Wars" to largely glowing reviews from fans and more than $2 billion in box office. Abrams had said that would be his only film for the franchise, but he's now been pulled back in.

Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy said that Abrams "delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for" on "The Force Awakens" and added "I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy."

This move also means Abrams will be the only director aside from "Star Wars" creator George Lucas to direct more than one "Star Wars" film.

"Star Wars: Episode IX" is expected to hit theaters in May of 2019. It is the final installment in the new "main" Star Wars trilogy that began with Abrams' "The Force Awakens" in 2015 and will continue this December with director Rian Johnson's "The Last Jedi."

Production on "Episode IX" was supposed to begin early next year. It's unclear at this point whether or not the shift will impact that or the release date.

Lucasfilm has had a number of public fallouts with "Star Wars" directors over the past few years.

Earlier this year the young Han Solo spinoff film parted ways with director Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and swiftly replaced them with Ron Howard deep into production. In 2015, the company fired director Josh Trank from work on another Star Wars spinoff. And extensive reshoots on "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" led to widespread speculation that director Gareth Edwards had been unofficially sidelined by Tony Gilroy.

News of Abrams' return was greeted warmly by fans on social media Tuesday. He hasn't directed or committing to directing another project since "The Force Awakens," and instead had been focused on producing.

"I'm very much enjoying taking a moment. Since I've done the show 'Felicity,' I've gone from project to project. So it's been 20 years since I haven't been prepping, casting, shooting, editing something," Abrams told The Associated Press in March.

That moment, however brief, is over. For Abrams, it's time to go back to the Millennium Falcon and that galaxy far, far away.

  • Monday, Sep. 11, 2017
Liam Neeson says his days as an action hero are over
In this Sept. 13, 2016 file photo, actor Liam Neeson appears at the premiere of the film "Hunt For The Wilderpeople" in London. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP, File)

Special set of skills or not, Liam Neeson says he's finished making thrillers.

In an interview, Neeson said that he plans to stop even though it's hard to turn down the lucrative offers he gets thanks to his box-office success in the three "Taken" films, as well as other thrillers. Neeson believes he's simply getting too old to be an action hero.

"The thrillers, that was all a pure accident," said Neeson. "They're still throwing serious money at me to do that stuff. I'm like, 'Guy's I'm sixty-f---ing-five.' Audiences are eventually going to go, 'Come on.'"

Neeson still has two upcoming revenge thrillers he's already shot: "Hard Powder," in which he plays a snowplow driver who faces off with drug dealers, and "The Commuter," with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed Neeson in "Unknown," ''Non-Stop" and "Run All Night."

But, Neeson said, those will be his last.

"I've shot one that's going to come out in January sometime. There might be another. That's it," said Neeson. "But not 'Taken,' none of that franchise stuff."

Instead, Neeson has turned back to dramatic work. His Watergate drama "Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House" was to premiere Monday evening at the Toronto International Film Festival. In it, he plays the high-ranking FBI official who was the Washington Post's "Deep Throat" source in the scandal.

Neeson has also lined up to co-star in "Widows," by "Twelve Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen. In December, he starred in Martin Scorsese's spiritual epic "Silence."

Neeson was always surprised by the unlikely turn his career took beginning with 2009's "Taken." He thought the film, he once said, would go straight to video. The three "Taken" films have grossed $929.5 million worldwide.