Arts and entertainment
When the music stops: Afghan ‘happy place’ falls silent
A few years after the Taliban were ousted in 2001, and with Afghanistan still in ruins, Ahmad Sarmast left his home in Melbourne, Australia, on a mission: to revive music in the country of his birth. The school he founded was a unique experiment in inclusiveness for the war-ravaged nation — with orphans and street kids in the student body, it sought to bring a measure of joy back to Kabul. The Taliban had notoriously banned music. Last week, he watched in horror from his home in Melbourne images of the Taliban taking over the Afghan capital, capping a lightning offensive that restored the religious militia to power and stunned the world. Sarmat’s two mobile phones haven’t stopped ringing since. Many of the calls are from panicked students asking him what happens next. Will the school be closed? Would the Taliban outlaw music again? Are their treasured instruments safe? Read:Afghan woman gives birth on US evacuation flight “I’m heartbroken,” Sarmast told The Associated Press. “It was so unexpected and so unpredictable that it was like an explosion, and everyone was caught by surprise,” he said of the Taliban takeover. Sarmast had left Kabul on July 12 for his summer holiday, never imagining that just few weeks later the whole project and everything he’d worked for the past 20 years would be endangered. He’s terrified for his 350 students and 90 faculty, many of whom have already gone into hiding. Reports of Taliban searching for adversaries door-to-door have fanned their worries. “We are all very, very fearful about the future of music, we are very fearful about our girls, about our faculty,” he said. Sarmast, who spoke in a Zoom interview, requested that additional details about the students and school not be published, because he did not want to endanger them. In a sign of what the future holds, radio and TV stations stopped broadcasting music, except for Islamic songs — though it was not clear if the change in programming was a result of Taliban edicts or an effort by the stations to avoid potential problems with the insurgents. Sarmast, 58, the son of a famous Afghan composer and conductor, had sought asylum in Australia in the 90s, a time of civil war in Afghanistan. In 1996, the Taliban swept into power. The ultra-religious movement banned music as sinful, with the sole exception being some religious vocal pieces. Cassette tapes were ripped apart and strung from trees. But after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Islamists, Sarmast dreamed of renewal. After obtaining a doctorate in musicology, he returned to Afghanistan and in 2010 founded the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Read:7 Afghans killed in chaos at Kabul airport Donations from foreign governments and private sponsors soon poured in. The World Bank gave a cash grant of 2 million U.S. dollars. Almost 5 tons of musical equipment — violins, pianos, guitars and oboes — were trucked in, a gift from the German government and the German Society of Music Merchants. Students learned to play traditional Afghan string instruments like the rubab, sitar and sarod. The tabla drum was among the favorites. “It was such an amazing school, everything was perfect,” said Elham Fanous, 24, who was the first student to graduate from the music institute in 2014, after spending seven years at the school. “It changed my life and I really owe it to them,” he said of the school, which he describes as Afghanistan’s LaGuardia, a public high school in New York specialized in teaching music and arts. A visitor once called it “Afghanistan’s happy place.” “I cannot believe this is happening,” Fanous added, speaking from New York, where he recently received his master’s degree in piano from the Manhattan School of Music. He was also the first student from Afghanistan to be admitted to a U.S. university music program. The institute’s musicians traveled all over the world to represent their country, presenting a different face for a place known in the West only for war and extremism. Fanous himself performed at concerts in Poland, Italy and Germany. In 2013, the institute’s youth orchestra embarked on its first U.S. tour, appearing at the Kennedy Center and selling out Carnegie Hall. Members of the orchestra included a girl who not long before had sold chewing gum on the streets of Kabul. An all-female orchestra called Zohra, named after a goddess of music in Persian literature, was set up in 2015. In 2014, Sarmast was attending a concert in the auditorium of a French-run high school in Kabul when a huge bomb went off. He partially lost hearing in one ear and has had numerous operations to remove shrapnel from the back of his head since. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, accusing him in a statement of corrupting Afghanistan’s youth. That only increased his determination, and he continued to split his time between running the school in Kabul, and Australia, where his family lives. Read: Afghanistan situation remains extremely fluid: UN Today, he aches when he thinks of the melodies once echoing down the school corridors and the lives of boys and girls now being upended. “We’re all shattered, because my kids, they’ve been dreaming. They had huge dreams to be on the biggest stage of the world,” Sarmast said. “All my students had been dreaming of a peaceful Afghanistan. But that peaceful Afghanistan is fading away.” Still, he hangs on to hope, believing young Afghans will resist. He is also counting on the international artistic community to put up a fight for the Afghans’ right to music. “I’m still hopeful that my kids will be allowed to go back to the school and continue and to enjoy from learning and playing music,” he said.
‘Titane’ wins top Cannes honor, 2nd ever for female director
Julia Ducournau’s “Titane,” a wild body-horror thriller featuring sex with a car and a surprisingly tender heart, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, making Ducournau just the second female filmmaker to win the festival’s top honor in its 74 year history. The win on Saturday was mistakenly announced by jury president Spike Lee at the top of the closing ceremony, broadcast in France on Canal+, unleashing a few moments of confusion. Ducournau, a French filmmaker, didn’t come to the stage to accept the award until the formal announcement at the end of the ceremony. But the early hint didn’t diminish from her emotional response. “I’m sorry, I keep shaking my head,” said Ducournau, catching her breath. “Is this real? I don’t know why I’m speaking English right now because I’m French. This evening has been so perfect because it was not perfect.” Read Best Comedy Movies of All Time: Humour in Films through Century After several false starts, Lee implored Sharon Stone to make the Palme d’Or announcement, explaining: “She’s not going to mess it up.” The problems started earlier when Lee was asked to say which prize would be awarded first. Instead, he announced the evening’s final prize, as fellow juror Mati Diop plunged her head into her hands and others rushed to stop him. Lee, himself, spent several moments with his head in his hands before apologizing profusely for taking a lot of the suspense out of the evening. “I have no excuses,” Lee told reporters afterward. “I messed up. I’m a big sports fan. It’s like the guy at the end of the game who misses the free throw.” Read Rehana Maryam Noor is one of the most powerful films from South Asia: Anurag Kashyap “I messed up,” he added. “As simple as that.” Ducournau’s win was a long-awaited triumph. The only previous female filmmaker to win Cannes’ top honor — among the most prestigious awards in cinema — was Jane Campion for “The Piano” in 1993. In recent years, frustration at Cannes’ gender parity has grown, including in 2018, when 82 women — including Agnes Varda, Cate Blanchett and Salma Hayek — protested gender inequality on the Cannes red carpet. Their number signified the movies by female directors selected to compete for the Palme d’Or — 82 compared to 1,645 films directed by men. This year, four out of 24 films up for the Palme were directed by women. In 2019, another genre film — Bong Joon-Ho’s “Parasite” — took the Palme before going on to win best picture at the Academy Awards, too. That choice was said to be unanimous by the jury led by Alejandro González Iñárritu, but the award for “Titane” — an extremely violent film — this year’s jury said came out of a democratic process of conversation and debate. Juror Maggie Gyllenhaal said they didn’t agree unanimously on anything. Read ‘Rehana Maryam Noor’ Review: The Bangladeshi movie screened in 74th Cannes Film Festival “The world is passion,” said Lee. “Everyone was passionate about a particular film they wanted and we worked it out.” In “Titane,” which like “Parasite” will be distributed in the U.S. by Neon, Agathe Rousselle plays a serial killer who flees home. As a child, a car accident leaves her with a titanium plate in her head and a strange bond with automobiles. In possibly the most-talked-about scene at the festival, she’s impregnated by a Cadillac. Lee called it a singular experience. “This is the first film ever where a Cadillac impregnates a woman,” said Lee, who said he wanted to ask Ducournau what year the car was. “That’s genius and craziness together. Those two things often match up.” Read Azmeri Haque Badhon: Starring the Title Role of 'Rehana Maryam Noor' Film Premiered in 74th Cannes On stage, Ducournau thanked the jury “for letting the monsters in.” Afterward, she acknowledged to reporters her place in history, but also said she “can’t be boiled down to just being a woman.” “Quite frankly, I hope that the prize I received has nothing to do with being a woman,” said Ducournau. “As I’m the second woman to receive this prize, I thought a lot about Jane Campion and how she felt when she won.” More women will come after her, Ducournau said. “There will be a third, there will be a fourth, there will be a fifth.” Read Dilip Kumar: Life History, Success Story of the Legendary Indian Film Star Cannes’ closing ceremony capped 12 days of red-carpet premieres, regular COVID-19 testing for many attendees and the first major film festival to be held since the pandemic began in almost its usual form. With smaller crowds and mandated mask-wearing in theaters, Cannes pushed forward with an ambitious slate of global cinema. Last year’s festival was completely canceled by the pandemic. The slate, assembled as a way to help stir movies after a year where movies shrank to smaller screens and red carpets grew cobwebs, was widely considered to be strong, and featured many leading international filmmakers. The awards were spread out widely. The grand prize was split between Asghar Farhadi’s Iranian drama “A Hero” and Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s “Compartment No. 6.” Read Abdullah Mohammad Saad: The Director of ‘Rehana Maryam Noor’ Best director was awarded to Leos Carax for “Annette,” the fantastical musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard that opened the festival. The award was accepted by the musical duo Sparks, Ron and Russell Mael, who wrote the script and music for the film. Jurors also split the jury prize. That was awarded to both Nadav Lapid’s “Ahed’s Knee,” an impassioned drama about creative freedom in modern Isreal; and to Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasthakul’s “Memoria,” a meditative film starring Tilda Swinton. Caleb Landry Jones took home the best actor prize for his performance as an Australian mass killer in the fact-based “Nitram” by Justin Kurzel. Renate Reinsve won best actress for Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World.” Best screenplay went to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car,” a Haruki Murakami adaptation he penned with Takamasa Oe. Read Asia in Cannes: Spotlight on Asian Movies in 74th Cannes Film Festival The Croatian coming-of-age drama “Murina,” by Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, took the Camera d’Or award, a non-jury prize, for best first feature. Kusijanović was absent from the ceremony after giving birth a day earlier. Lee was the first Black jury president at Cannes. His fellow jury members were: Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Song Kang-ho, Tahar Rahim, Mati Diop, Jessica Hausner, Kleber Mendonça Filho and Mylène Farmer. Read Best Movies Preview: The Anticipation on the Run for Cannes Film Festival 2021
Spike Lee, ‘Annette’ kick off 74th Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes Film Festival rolled out the red carpet for the first time in more than two years on Tuesday, launching the French Riviera spectacular with the premiere of Leos Carax’s “Annette,” the introduction of Spike Lee’s jury, and with high hopes for shrugging off a punishing pandemic year for cinema. The 74th Cannes opened Tuesday with as much glitz as it could summon, led by “Annette,” a fantastical musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard and scored by the musical duo Sparks. The opening ceremony also returned last year’s Palme d’Or winner, Bong Joon Ho (for “Parasite”) and Jodie Foster, who first came to Cannes as a 13-year-old with Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” for an honorary Palme. The occasion drew a wide spectrum of film luminaries back to Cannes to celebrate the festival, canceled last year due to the COVID-19 virus. Pedro Almodovar, Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren and Bella Hadid walked the red carpet, which was again lined with tuxedoed photographers and surrounded by eager onlookers. “So it feels good to go out,” said Foster in French. Read:Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar dies “Vivre la France!” declared Lee. The festival was officially declared open by Bong, Almodovar, Foster and Lee, in a mix of Korean, Spanish, French and English. Over the next 10 days, the Cannes Film Festival will try to resuscitate global cinema on a grand scale. Cannes has pushed ahead in much its usual form, with splashy red-carpet displays and a lineup of many of the world’s most revered filmmakers, including Asghar Farhadi, Wes Anderson, Mia Hansen-Love and Paul Verhoeven. Festivalgoers are tested every 48 hours, seated shoulder to shoulder and masked for screenings. Lee, who is heading the jury that will decide this year’s Palme, arrived earlier in the day wearing a “1619” baseball hat and trying to keep a low profile. “I’m not trying to be a hog,” he said to reporters, urging them to ask his fellow jurors questions. But Lee’s presence was hard to ignore. His face as Mars Blackmon from his 1986 feature film debut “She’s Gotta Have It” (which premiered at Cannes) adorns this year’s poster at the festival central hub, the Palais des Festivals. Lee is the first Black person to ever lead Cannes’ prestigious jury. In his first comments, in response to a question from Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, Lee spoke about how little has changed since 1989′s “Do the Right Thing” — which made a controversial debut at Cannes. “When you see brother Eric Garner, when you see king George Floyd murdered, lynched, I think of Ray (Radio) Raheem,” Lee said, referring to the “Do the Right Thing” character. After 30-plus years, you’d “think and hope,” Lee said, “that Black people would have stopped being hunted down like animals.” Much of the talk on Tuesday at Cannes centered on injustice and survival. That the festival was even happening, after last year’s edition was canceled, was a surprise to some. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who’ll see the 24 films in competition for the Palme as a member of the jury over the next 12 days, said it will be her first time in a movie theater in 15 months. When “Parasite” actor Song Kang Ho was invited to be a juror, he said, “I thought: Will there really be a festival?” “The fact that we’re here today, it’s really a miracle,” said Song. Read:Bollywood actor Fatima behind Aamir Khan's divorce? Still, much of the usual pomp is toned down this year. There’s a relative dearth of promotion up and down Cannes’ oceanfront promenade, the Croisette, and Hollywood has less of a role than in years past. Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho (“Bacurau”), a juror, added that in some parts of the world, cinema is under siege. In President Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, he said, the national cinematheque has been closed and its staff dismantled. “This is a very clear demonstration of contempt for cinema and for culture,” said Filho, who noted the tragedy of Brazil reaching 500,000 dead from COVID-19 when, he said, many thousands could have been saved by a stronger governmental response. That conversation was prompted in part by a Georgian journalist who asked jury members about resistance. Russia invaded the former Soviet republic in 2008. “The world is run by gangsters,” said Lee, listing former U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro and Russian President Vladimir Putin. In that context, the regular topics of concern at Cannes were perhaps dwarfed. But the jurors made passionate cases for the future of movies — and a more inclusive future. This year’s competition lineup includes a Cannes-high four female filmmakers, but they still make up a fraction of the 24 filmmakers vying for the Palme. Read:Asia in Cannes: Spotlight on Asian Movies in 74th Cannes Film Festival “I think when women are listening to themselves and really expressing themselves, even inside, about a very, very male culture, we make movies differently. We tell stories differently,” said Gyllenhaal. She recalled watching Jane Campion’s “The Piano” (the lone film directed by a woman to ever win the Palme) as formative and unfiltered. “It just went in straight.” The rise of streaming also took the spotlight. Cannes has refused to select films without French theatrical distribution for its competition lineup. The festival and Netflix have been at odds for several years. On Monday, Thierry Fremaux, festival director, cited Cannes’ record at discovering filmmakers and asked: “What directors have been discovered by (streaming) platforms?” Lee, who made last year’s “Da 5 Bloods” for Netflix, hardly bated an eye when asked about the subject. “Cinema and screening platforms can coexist,” said Lee, who called Cannes “the world’s greatest film festival.” “At one time, there was a thinking that TV was going to kill cinema. So, this stuff is not new.”
Angelina Jolie visits Burkina Faso as U.N. Special Envoy
Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie has visited war-weakened Burkina Faso to show solidarity with people who continue to welcome the displaced, despite grappling with their own insecurity, and said the world isn’t doing enough to help. “The humanitarian crisis in the Sahel seems to me to be totally neglected. It is treated as being of little geopolitical importance,” Jolie told the Associated Press. “There’s a bias in the way we think about which countries and which people matter.” Read: Burkina Faso says at least 100 civilians killed in attack While Burkina Faso has been battling a five-year Islamic insurgency linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State that’s killed thousands and displaced more than one million people, it is also hosting more than 22,000 refugees, the majority Malian. As Special Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Jolie marked World Refugee Day on Sunday in Burkina Faso’s Goudoubo refugee camp in the Sahel, where she finished a two-day visit. She spoke with the camp’s Malian refugees and internally displaced people in the nation’s hard-hit Center-North and Sahel regions. After 20 years of work with the U.N. refugee agency, Jolie told the AP the increasing displacement meant the world was on a “terrifying trajectory towards instability”, and that governments had to do something about the conflicts driving the vast numbers of refugees. “Compared to when I began working with UNHCR twenty years ago, it seems like governments have largely given up on diplomacy ... countries which have the least are doing the most to support the refugees,” she said. Read:Churchill painting owned by Angelina Jolie sells for $11.5M “The truth is we are not doing half of what we could and should ... to enable refugees to return home, or to support host countries, like Burkina Faso, coping for years with a fraction of the humanitarian aid needed to provide basic support and protection,” Jolie said. Malians began fleeing to Burkina Faso in 2012 after their lives were upended by an Islamic insurgency, where it took a French-led military intervention to regain power in several major towns. The fighting has since spread across the border to Burkina Faso, creating the fastest growing displacement crisis in the world. Last month Burkina Faso experienced its deadliest attack in years, when gunmen killed at least 132 civilians in Solhan village in the Sahel’s Yagha province, displacing thousands. The increasing attacks are stretching the U.N.’s ability to respond to displaced people within the country as well as the refugees it’s hosting. “Funding levels for the response are critically low and with growing numbers of people forced to flee ... the gap is widening,” UNHCR representative in Burkina Faso Abdouraouf Gnon-Konde told the AP. Read:Angelina Jolie lauds Bangladesh’s leadership role in Rohingya crisis The attacks are also exacerbating problems for refugees who came to the country seeking security. “We insisted on staying (in Burkina Faso), (but) we stay with fear. We are too scared,” said Fadimata Mohamed Ali Wallet, a Malian refugee living in the camp. “Today there is not a country where there isn’t a problem. This (terrorism) problem covers all of Africa,” she said.
Will Smith opening up, releasing memoir ‘Will’ in November
Will Smith is ready to open up about his life story. Penguin Press announced Sunday that Smith will release his memoir called “Will” on Nov. 9. The actor-rapper shared a photo of the book’s cover art to more than 54 million of his followers on Instagram. Read:Plans for movie on New Zealand mosque attacks draw criticism Smith said he is “finally ready” to release the memoir after working on the book for two years. His book will be published by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House and co-authored by Mark Manson, the author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F(asterisk)ck.” “It’s been a labor of love,” Smith said in his post. Read:‘Conjuring 3’ tops ‘A Quiet Place 2’ as moviegoing returns Smith will also narrate the audiobook of “Will” from Penguin Random House Audio. “Will” looks to tell a story about Smith’s life and career. The book will delve into him being raised in West Philadelphia to entering superstardom as an actor and rapper. He’s a two-time Academy Award nominee and won a four-time Grammy winner. Read:What was with that weird Oscar ending? Smith starred in the “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” “Bad Boys,” “Men in Black” and “Pursuit of Happyness.” He’s won Grammys for “Summertime,” “Men In Black,” “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” and “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
Bangladesh Short Film and Documentary Festival begins Friday
Here's some good news for movie buffs. The third edition of the Bangladesh Short Film and Documentary Festival will begin on June 18. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it will be a virtual event this year, according to Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Read: First-ever Bangladesh European Union Film Festival (BEUFF) kicks off online A total of 119 films -- 81 fictional and 38 documentaries -- will be shown at this year's event that will virtually run till June 25. The Academy is dedicating this year's festival to the legendary filmmaker Hiralal Sen. BSA Director General Liaquat Ali Lucky and Director of the Academy's Theatre and Film Department, Afsana Karim Mimi, shared the details of the festival at a virtual press meet streamed on its Facebook page on June 16. State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid will virtually inaugurate the festival at 5 pm on June 18 as the chief guest. Read:Rehana Maryam Noor: The Bangladeshi Film in the prestigious list of Cannes Secretary of the Ministry of Culture Badrul Arefin, noted filmmaker Amitabh Reza Chowdhury and prominent film scholar-researcher Anupam Hayat will join the inauguration ceremony as special guests, while Mimi will deliver the welcome speech. The inauguration ceremony will be chaired by the BSA Director General. At the virtual press briefing, the organisers said that of the 400-plus films submitted, the 119 were selected by a five-member selection committee. Read: First Bangladeshi film in Cannes' Un Certain Regard: After Matir Moyna, 'Rehana Maryam Noor' makes history Hayat, advisor to Bangladesh Documentary Council Sazzad Zahir, Secretary General of Bangladesh Short Film Forum Rakibul Hasan, film critic Sadia Khalid, and Assistant Director of BSA's Theatre and Film Department Chakladar Mostafa Al Masoud are the members of the committee. A five-member jury will select the best films of the festival. The jurors are Bangladesh Documentary Council President Faridur Rahman, Bangladesh Short Film Forum President Zahidur Rahman Anjan, filmmaker Amitabh Reza Chowdhury, actress Mimi and eminent filmmaker Syed Salahuddin Zaki. Seven separate awards will be conferred on the recipients, based on each of the two categories (fictional films and documentaries). Read: Female filmmakers of Bangladesh have made their mark in the industry The festival will also feature three masterclasses from June 21st to June 23rd at 6 pm. These masterclasses will be conducted by Amitabh Reza Chowdhury, Shabnam Ferdousi and Lawrence Apu Rozario. BSA organised this exclusive film festival in 2016 and 2018 across all the 64 districts of Bangladesh.
‘Conjuring 3’ tops ‘A Quiet Place 2’ as moviegoing returns
The domestic box office is getting back to normal, with moderate wins and sizable second weekend drops. After its triumphant first weekend, “A Quiet Place Part II” fell 59% at the North American box office leaving room for the third movie in the “Conjuring” franchise to take first place. Warner Bros.’ “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” earned an estimated $24 million, according to studio estimates Sunday, making it the biggest R-rated opening of the pandemic. Paramount’s “A Quiet Place” sequel meanwhile earned $19.5 million in ticket sales, bringing its domestic total to $88.6 million. “You normally don’t see two horror movies at the top of the chart. But it was a solid weekend for both movies,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “The movie theaters are coming back and Memorial Day was no flash in the pan ... It feels like summer again.” Read:Top 10 English Comedy Movies released in 2021 “The Conjuring 3” has Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga returning as paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Although there’s a whole extended universe set around these films that have thus far grossed over $1.8 billion, this is the first “Conjuring” since 2016, and the first to be helmed by someone other than James Wan (Michael Graves directed). With an additional $26.8 million from international territories, globally, the R-rated pic has grossed over $57.1 million. “It’s a terrific result,” said Jeff Goldstein, the head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. “We’re continuing to see a ramp up of return to life outside of our homes. It was never going to be a light switch.” In a pre-pandemic world, “The Conjuring 3” might have been considered a bit disappointing—the previous installments both opened around $40 million. But, as Goldstein noted, the third films in a horror franchise often take a hit. It has another caveat too: The film is also currently streaming free for subscribers on HBO Max. Warner Media did not say how many people watched it on streaming over the weekend or how many new customers signed up for the service. It has become more normal than not for films to embrace a hybrid day-and-date release strategy, with the major studios using their biggest titles to drive potential subscribers to their streaming services. “A Quiet Place Part II” had the rare distinction of being exclusively in theaters, but even so it will be a shorter stint than usual before it hits Paramount+. The Walt Disney Co.’s “Cruella,” which opened in theaters last weekend, was also made available to rent on Disney+ for $29.99. The Emma Stone and Emma Thompson pic added $11.2 million from 3,922 theaters this weekend to take third place. Disney also did not say how much it earned from streaming rentals, but the company did note the drop from last weekend was only 48%. Globally, “Cruella” has earned $87.1 million thus far. Read:COVID-19 spurs shutdown of ‘Mission Impossible’ set The animated family film “Spirit Untamed” also opened wide theatrically this weekend in 3,211 theaters to an estimated $6.2 million. The DreamWorks Animation film features the voices of Isabela Merced, Eiza González, Julianne Moore, Marsai Martin and Jake Gyllenhaal. Most family films have gone straight to streaming over the past year and many big studios are opting to continue with the strategy for the near future. Disney and Pixar’s “Luca” is skipping theaters and going straight to Disney+, where it will be free for subscribers on June 16. DreamWorks Animation’s “Boss Baby” sequel is also debuting on Peacock Kids and in theaters on July 2. The North American theatrical landscape is still a bit hobbled by the pandemic. Most Canadian theaters remain closed and around 27% of U.S. locations are still shuttered too. Many chains have also said vaccinated customers can now go mask free in theaters. Hollywood titles have also started performing better than they have been internationally during the pandemic over the past few weekends. In particular, Universal’s latest in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, “F9,” continued to pick up speed prior to its U.S. debut on June 25. This weekend “F9,” which has already grossed $256 million from eight territories, became one of only 19 U.S. movies to have earned more than $200 million in China. Read:Best Bengali Thriller Movies in 2021 And although release strategies continue to differ company by company in unprecedented ways, Dergarabedian said the numbers are promising for the theatrical business even with the at-home viewing options. “Over the past two weeks, the industry has been able to test out theatrical only (“A Quiet Place Part II”), a day and date with a (pay) subscription model (“Cruella”) and a day and date that’s part of a subscription (“The Conjuring 3″). The numbers have been solid,” Dergarabedian said. “As long as we keep getting solid movies released, we’re going to see the box office ramp up week after week.”
From the Beatles to Elton John: Oldest DJ’s storied career
Ray Cordeiro considers himself the luckiest radio DJ in the world. In a storied career spanning over 70 years in Hong Kong, Cordeiro has interviewed superstars including the Beatles and Elton John, and even received an MBE — an order of the British empire for outstanding achievement or service to the community — from Queen Elizabeth. Cordeiro, who holds the Guinness world record for the world’s longest-working DJ, retired last month at the age of 96. “I’ve been talking all my life about music and all, and I’d never thought that I would retire. I never thought that I was getting older,” he said. Read:7 Things That Happened On the ‘Friends Reunion’ Cordeiro was born in 1924 in Hong Kong and is of Portuguese descent. His musical tastes as a child were influenced by his brother who was 10 years older and collected records from groups like the Mills Brothers and the Andrews Sisters. Back then records were breakable, Cordeiro said. “When he’s not home and I played his records, I had to be very, very careful, because if I broke it he would get awfully angry,” Cordeiro said. “I grew up with his music.” In his youth, Cordeiro worked as a warden at a local prison and a clerk at an HSBC bank. His love for music eventually led him to pursue a career in radio, where he joined public broadcaster Radio Hong Kong, now known as Radio Television Hong Kong. It was during a three-month study course in London with the BBC in 1964 that Cordeiro landed the interview that kickstarted his career — with the Beatles, the biggest band in the world at the time. He had some free time after the end of the course before he had to return to Hong Kong and didn’t want to “sit around for two weeks doing nothing.” “So I said, why don’t I grab the chance of finding some peeps, some pop groups or singers that I can interview and bring back (tapes) to Hong Kong,” he said. During those two weeks, Cordeiro traveled to venues where groups were performing and interviewed them afterward. The Beatles had become wildly popular and Cordeiro wanted to interview them the most. Armed with a notebook and a pen, he went to the offices of the band’s record label, EMI, to ask for an interview with the group. Read:Jolie says judge in Pitt divorce won’t let children testify By a stroke of luck, he was told to return the next day for an interview, with EMI loaning him a tape recorder for it. He bought a magazine with a picture of the Beatles on the cover and took it with him to the interview, and got all the members to autograph it. “Altogether I have some 26 signatures of all the Beatles, and it’s probably worth a fortune,” he said.
After pandemic pause, Avengers swing, soar into Disneyland
Now that it’s getting safer to assemble, the Avengers are at last descending on Disneyland. A Spider-Man ride that lets visitors blast bots with virtual webs from their bare hands and a show of strength from the royal guard of Wakanda are among the highlights of the new Avengers Campus at Disney’s California Adventure Park, whose debut was paused for about a year by the coronavirus pandemic before it opens to the public Friday. The Avengers Campus seeks to be an immersive experience that allows guests to become super-heroic across a series of rides, shows and eateries from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “We’re excited to finally open up the gates and let everybody in,” Scot Drake, a portfolio creative executive with Walt Disney Imagineering, said at the park Wednesday. “We had 70-plus years of stories and amazing characters to pull from, 23 epic films, and for us it was, ‘What is the best way to get our guests right in the middle of those stories, right in the middle of the action?” Read:7 Things That Happened On the ‘Friends Reunion’ Central to that aim is “WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure,” which combines classic ride structure with an array of cameras that capture guests’ body motion and allows them to play Peter Parker. They’re asked to help onscreen Spidey Tom Holland fight an outbreak of small, smart and powerful Spider-bots, creations that he and a team of inventive teens developed but lost control of in an old building donated by Tony Stark. The experience resembles the videogame competition of Disneyland’s Buzz Lightyear ride, but the action and the tech behind it are in a different galaxy. With no equipment necessary (though enhancement gadgets for the wrist can be bought next door), riders can blast swarms of the little spider-bots (which can also be purchased next door), and a couple of not-so-little ones. “What was really important to us was to try and make the interface disappear so the guests just had the superpowers themselves,” said Brent Strong, executive creative director of Walt Disney Imagineering. “So in order to do that we did a whole bunch of invention to try and make the technology as un-obvious as possible.” Journalists got to take the ride for a few spins Wednesday. With each pass the experience changes, as guests start to master their web-slinging and figure out they can do more than just blast away with their powers. Read: Ex-'Tarzan' actor among 7 plane crash victims in Tennessee “You can start to grab on to shipping containers, open doors, grow things and shrink things,” Strong said. “We’ve hidden a million Easter eggs and fun little surprises in there.” Elsewhere, majestic music blasts to announce the marching arrival of the Dora Milaje — the royal guard that protects T’Challa in “Black Panther.” With their leader Okoye, the shaven-headed women of Wakanda twirl their spears and explain their principles to give wannabe warriors in the audience a lesson in the fighting arts. The show includes something rare for a day at Disneyland: a moment of silence for the dead. While Okoye tells the crowd she seeks to honor fallen kings and ancestors, the ritual, in a time of many such moments, feels like an acknowledgment of the many deaths during the pandemic that kept the park dark for more than a year. (It also feels like an acknowledgement of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, whose death last year stunned the world.) Disney’s two Anaheim parks reopened with restrictions on April 30 and will reopen at something nearing normal on June 15. The new section was also built to incorporate “Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!” a drop-tower ride with funky tunes in place since 2017. The storytelling on the Avengers campus even extends to the food, including an outlet of the Shawarma joint that Iron Man suggests his allies hit up after the Battle of New York depicted in 2012′s “The Avengers.” It was open for sampling Wednesday and as Tony Stark promised, it is, indeed, good. Read:Jolie says judge in Pitt divorce won’t let children testify Another Avengers Campus is planned for Disneyland Paris. The California version will have major additions. Other heroes, including Thor and Iron Man, will make appearances, and Doctor Strange will work his wizardry in his Ancient Sanctum several times a day. Some of those heroes, in Marvel’s movies, are dead, and for those who follow the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with near-religious precision, it can be tough to tell what time period the campus is set in. The creators say don’t overthink it. We’ve summoned heroes from across all of space and time,” Strong said. “Time is a lot more squishy than any of us think. Trying to put a specific date to it can be challenging. But to us, Avengers Campus is here and now.”
Oprah and CNN: AT&T is merging media business with Discovery
The merger of Discovery and AT&T’s WarnerMedia operations, marrying the likes of HBO and CNN with HGTV and Oprah Winfrey, is another illustration of the head-spinning speed in which streaming has transformed the media world. The companies are essentially placing a $43 billion bet that they’ll still be in the mix when consumers decide how to spend their monthly entertainment budgets. The agreement was announced Monday after AT&T CEO John Stankey and his Discovery counterpart, David Zaslav, worked out the details in Zaslav’s Manhattan brownstone over the past two months. “I think, together, the combination makes us the best media company in the world,” said Zaslav, who will run the new company if approvals are granted, probably sometime next year. Read:Asian stocks follow Wall St lower as inflation worries mount The deal also represents a strategic retreat for AT&T. The hope for the newly merged company is that, with a wider array of material than either can offer on its own, it can join Netflix, Amazon and Disney in the widely acknowledged top tier of streamers. Analysts say it also makes it imperative that services below that tier — think Paramount+ or Peacock — find some way to ramp up or risk being left behind. WarnerMedia and Discovery both launched their own streaming services, HBO Max and Discovery+, within the past two years. It’s still not clear whether the merger will result in a single streaming service or several bundled together, but it will have a vast array of content to offer: scripted and reality TV, movies, sports including the NBA and NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and news with CNN. With consumers figuring out which streaming services they use regularly and which they can give up, that depth means a better chance they will use this new one regularly, said Raj Venkatesan, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia. The average U.S. household spends $40 a month on streaming services. “It either has something for everyone in the family, or is so diverse that it is hard to explain,” said Jim Nail, an analyst for Forrester Research. David Schweidel, a business professor at Emory University, questioned whether consumers will be better off with the deal. “If I do decide to cut the cord and I need three to five services to get what I had before, that bill could easily approach what I was paying for cable before,” Schweidel said. “This may end up hurting consumers.” Read:Amazon’s profit more than triples as pandemic boom continues HBO Max and HBO have a combined global subscriber base of about 63.9 million, and Discovery+ has about 15 million subscribers. That compares with Netflix, which has more than 200 million subscribers worldwide, and Disney+, which counts over 100 million. In a call with investors, Zaslav said he believes that the standalone company could garner “200, 300, 400 million” subscribers at some point in the future, but there were no details regarding a timeline. The deal is a stark reminder of how much the entertainment world has changed, said Tim Hanlon, CEO of the media consultants Vertere Group. “I think most consumers now look at live television as being something of an anachronism,” he said. While it increases the pressure on smaller streaming services like Peacock or Paramount+ to find partners, those two are affiliated with the NBC and CBS television networks — so doing so would require a rethinking of the broadcast industry regulatory process, Hanlon said. It’s the second time this year that AT&T has calved off a major acquisition as it navigates a rapidly evolving media landscape. In February, the company spun off satellite TV service DirecTV for a fraction of the $48.5 billion it paid in 2015. Dallas-based AT&T acquired the former company Time Warner for more than $80 billion less than five years ago in a bid to control both sides of the entertainment process: the broadband and wireless services that help deliver entertainment to homes, and the entertainment itself. But the costs involved in trying to do both became a burden. “That vision clearly has not panned out,” said CFRA analyst Tuna Amobi. The new company will be able to cut costs by $3 billion annually, the companies said, money that could go toward original streaming content. It will house almost 200,000 hours of programming and bring together more than 100 brands under one global portfolio, including DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Eurosport, Magnolia, TLC and Animal Planet. Read:Facing $11B tax bill, Samsung heirs donate mass art trove That likely means layoffs as the companies consolidate. The deal is also likely to force major decisions on familiar brands. For instance, CNN Chief Executive Jeff Zucker said he expected to leave at the end of the year. But with the new company being led by Zaslav — who worked with Zucker at NBC in the 1990s — that equation could change. Zaslav called Zucker an extraordinary talent. “It’s all about the talent, and so we’ll be figuring out how do we get the best people to stay,” he said. Shares of Discovery Inc., which is based in Silver Spring, Maryland, fell $1.80, or 5%, to close Monday at $33.85 after initially jumping to $39.70. AT&T’s shares finished the day down 87 cents, or 2.7%, at $31.37, down from a session high of $33.88.