The Wakanda Usurper

Black Panther

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke, John Kani

Marvel successfully diversifies its Avengers universe with an inventive self-sustaining Black Panther film. The Black Panther aka T’Challa who becomes king of the technologically advanced yet exclusive central African kingdom of Wakanda after his father T’Chaka played by South Africa’s John Kani is killed in an assassination.

Creed director, Ryan Coogler assembles an all-star cast for Black Panther including Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) as Black Panther’s love interest, the beautiful and noble Nakia as well as Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) as Zuri along with Angela Bassett as Black Panther’s regal mother and Queen of Wakanda, Ramonda.

Black Panther has to fight off the likes of a crazy South African mercenary Ulysses Klaue dubiously played with a terrible accent by Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes) attempting to steal smuggled vibranium from Wakanda at a buying exchange in Busan, South Korea, a scene in the film which is both brilliantly shot and innovatively orchestrated with a virtual reality car chase sequence.

Back on African soil, T’Challa soon realizes that the real enemy is the American born Erik Killmonger wonderfully played by Michael B. Jordan (Fantastic Four). With the able assistance of his cheeky sister Shuri fantastically played by British-Guyanese star Letitia Wright, Black Panther manages to fight Killmonger in a noble duel about the paternal claim to be the future King of Wakanda.

Director Ryan Coogler ingenuously incorporates lots of African tribalism and cool technology into Black Panther however he does take the superhero genre too seriously by unashamedly politicizing it. This is the Avengers after all, which Spiderman has just joined. Superhero movies are meant to be pure escapism, which is precisely why director Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnorak was such a refreshingly funny movie.

What remains to be seen is how effectively Black Panther will be blended into the mainstream Avengers films with the new Avengers: Infinity War opening soon. Chadwick Boseman is not as convincing as the main hero, Black Panther as his counterpart Michael B. Jordan who relishes playing the ruthless villain.

Lupita Nyong’o holds her own and kicks some butt in Black Panther as does rising star Letitia Wright who is an actress to watch out for. Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown has a minor role while Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) is suitably untrustworthy as Black Panther’s best friend and Wakanda protector W’Kabi.

Whether the much hyped Black Panther’s initial success in African cinemas is translated commercially to international audiences globally remains to be seen, yet the effort and rejuvenation of the highly anticipated Black superhero genre is applauded and provides starring roles for a host of African-American stars who have been clamouring for their own identifiable superhero film.

Marvel fans that enjoyed Captain America: Civil War and The Avengers franchise will certainly appreciate Black Panther, despite some uneven performances. At least now there is a guaranteed diversity of fans attending Comic-Con especially since its coming to Johannesburg in late 2018.

For all its vibrant celebrations of African culture, Black Panther gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

 

Hostages of Fortune

All the Money in the World

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, Timothy Hutton, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris, Andrew Buchan

Gladiator and Blade Runner director Ridley Scott returns to the big screen with a true life Italian kidnap drama All the Money in the World starring Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners) as oil billionaire J. Paul Getty whose 16 year old grandson J. Paul Getty III expertly played with a nuanced vulnerability by Charlie Plummer, is kidnapped in Rome in the summer of 1973, based on actual events.

Paul Getty III known as Paul whose mother Gail Getty superbly played by Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea, My Week with Marilyn) who should have received another Oscar nomination for her role in this film, is caught in a precarious situation when she cannot physically pay the $17 million ransom demanded by the thuggish kidnappers.

Gail Getty desperately pleads with her immensely wealthy father-in-law who categorically refuses to pay the ransom for the reasons that if he had to pay $17 million for every grandchild of his that got kidnapped, it would dent his already vast fortune. Ruthless, selfish and thoroughly frugal, J. Paul Getty made his vast fortune through drilling for oil in Saudi Arabia in the late 1940’s.

Similar to his Oscar nominated performance as Tolstoy in The Last Station, Christopher Plummer adds gravitas and respectability to the role of Oil Tycoon J. Paul Getty who surrounded himself with priceless antiquities and an expensive art collection worth millions on his massive Getty’s estate in England, but did not have the compassion to pay for his grandson’s release which would have secured his safe return from a truly nefarious mafia style gang of kidnappers in Calabria, in Southern Italy.

Gail Getty enlists the help of security broker Fletcher Chace played by Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Departed) as they both along with the Italian police try to expedite the safe return of Paul Getty. What follows is a tense kidnap drama in the style of Daniel Alfredson’s Kidnapping Mr Heinken.

With cinematic panache, director Ridley Scott makes full use of his Italian locations with extensive shots of Rome and its ancient Ruins along with the frenetic buzz of the Italian capital augmented by the ever present paparazzi as they hound the Getty family in what was to become one of the most sensational kidnap dramas of the 1970’s.

Gail Getty’s ex-husband, J. Paul Getty II played by Andrew Buchan, goes from heading up his father’s European oil empire to becoming a heroin addict in Morocco and is virtually out of the entire negotiation. The negotiation is a fiercely contested battle of the wills between Gail Getty and her ruthless father-in-law. She is desperate to get her beloved son Paul back in one piece.

Supporting actors include French actor Romain Duris as a sympathetic kidnapper Cinquanta as well as Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People) as the Getty’s financier Oswald Hinge.

Christopher Plummer and Charlie Plummer (no relation) are both brilliant as grandfather and grandson. Michelle Williams is fantastic as a desperate mother caught in this prolific dynasty but who conveys increasing helplessness in not being able to rescue her resourceful teenage son.

All the Money in the World is a captivating, stylish and gritty kidnap drama expertly directed by Ridley Scott and receives a film rating of 8 out of 10.  

 

 

Victory at Any Cost

Darkest Hour

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Samuel West, David Schofield, Joe Armstrong, David Strathairn

Oscar nominee Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) gives an Oscar worthy performance in his nuanced portrayal of cantankerous British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill whose face is completely transformed to look like Churchill thanks to the superb makeup and prosthetic by Kazuhiro Tsuji.

Acclaimed director of Atonement Joe Wright is the perfect candidate to steer this compelling political war drama Darkest Hour as the story meticulously tracks the events from Churchill’s inauguration as prime minister, including a particularly refined scene between the PM and King George VI wonderfully played by Ben Mendelsohn to the anxious events leading up to the ingenuous evacuation of British troops from the beaches at Dunkirk, successfully anticipated and engineered by Churchill himself and the British sea going public.

If Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk is a stunning depiction of that crucial maritime military evacuation, then Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is the companion film showing the political and administrative events which lead to that escape from the invading Nazi forces which were aggressively sweeping across the European continent in May 1940.

The fact that both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are vying for Best Picture at the 90th Oscars is a testament to how exceptional both films are made. Joe Wright should have got an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

At the heart of Darkest Hour is Gary Oldman’s finest onscreen performance, a superb acting tour-de-force in which he completely embodies every aspect of Winston Churchill from his unconventional drinking habits to his affectionate if often tumultuous relationship with his level headed wife Clementine superbly played by Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient).

Oldman’s performance rarely falters and actually improves as Darkest Hour progresses, a performance with such gusto and insight that all audiences will see is Winston Churchill, a seasoned politician, a risk taker and a man who had the entire fate of the British nation in his sometimes shaky hands, yet who realized the gravity of the approaching invasion of the Germans at the beginning of World War II.

Churchill’s doubt about whether the British must fight Hitler to the bitter end or sue for an untrustworthy peace is conveyed in an extremely relevant scene between him and the king who politely suggests that perhaps as prime minister, Churchill should seek advice from the British public, encapsulated in a jingoistic scene whereby he discusses the grave decision with commuters on the London underground before stepping off at Westminster.

Aided by theatrical costumes by Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina) and a sumptuous production design, Darkest Hour is an epic film made all the more riveting by a staggering performance by Gary Oldman who must surely get the long awaited recognition he deserves for his limitless acting talent and his pivotal contribution to world cinema.

Darkest Hour gets a Film rating: 9.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended for viewers that love historical biographies such as The King’s Speech and The Iron Lady.

2017 Berlin Film Festival

2017 Berlin International

Film Festival Winners

The 67th annual Berlin International Film Festival was held from 9th to the 18th February, 2017

The Berlin International Film Festival known as the Berlinale takes places annually in February and is regarded as one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

Opening Night Film: Django starring Reda Kateb and Cecile de France

Golden Bear for Best Film: On Body and Soul  directed by Ildikó Enyedi

Silver Bear for Best Director:  Aki Kaurismäki for The Other Side of Hope

Silver Bear for Best Actor:  Georg Friedrich for Bright Nights

Silver Bear for Best Actress:  Kim Min-hee for On the Beach at Night Alone

Silver Bear for Best Script: Sebastián Lelio and Gonzalo Maza for A Fantastic Woman

 

 

Californian Honour

Den of Thieves

Director: Christian Gudegast

Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Curtis Jackson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Brian van Holt, Evan Jones, Kaiwi Lyman, Dawn Olivieri

First time director Christian Gudegast who was one of the screenwriters on another Gerard Butler film London has Fallen recasts Butler as the tough talking LA cop in the Californian crime drama Den of Thieves which is heavily influenced by the far superior Michael Mann directed thriller Heat.

Gerard Butler plays Big Nick O’Brien who heads up an elite team of L. A. detectives who are hell bent on busting a sophisticated crime ring which robs banks headed up by Merriman wonderfully played by Orange is The New Black’s Pablo Shreiber (13 Hours, The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi).

Merriman along with his second in command Enson Levoux played by Curtis 50 cent Jackson (Get Rich or Die Trying) put in place an elaborate plan to rob the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank where they not only print new dollar bills, but also destroy old money, hoping to steal $30 million dollars before it gets incinerated.

What follows is a fascinating cat and mouse game between Merriman and O’Brien, which director Gudegast teases out the plot for maximum tension to create a gritty crime film that stretches from the seedier sides of L. A. to Long Beach, where there is no honour among thieves.

All the while, there comes between the two main protagonists, a nonchalant middleman and occasional barman Donnie Wilson wonderfully played by O’Shea Jackson Jr, (son of rapper Ice Cube), clearly taking inspiration from Kevin Spacey’s Oscar winning turn in Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects.

If audiences are looking for a macho action film, then go and see Den of Thieves.

There is a sufficient amount of action, plot twists and bromance to keep the action going, particularly the malevolent rivalry between O’Brien and Merriman which propels the crime caper to a tantalizing and violent climax shot in a Los Angeles traffic jam on a sun-drenched Californian underpass.

Den of Thieves gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is worth seeing particularly aimed at male viewers.

 

History’s First Draft

The Post

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Michael Stulbarg, Matthew Rhys, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie

Before Julian Assange, before Edward Snowden, there was the Pentagon Papers.

A top level government study on how the Americans had been involved in Vietnam way before the infamous Vietnam War and how during that bloodletting fiasco, the Americans realized that they were losing the war in South East Asia, yet still continued to send troops in to fight the Viet Cong.

The leaking of the Pentagon Papers, firstly by the New York Times and then more pertinently by The Washington Post during the Nixon administration is the source of Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg’s fascinating film The Post starring two Oscar winners, Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) as owner of the Post, Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks (Philadelphia) as Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/ who seizes on the story of a decade and pushes for his newspaper to release the classified documents despite the possible legal or financial consequences.

Streep as usual, is superb as the doubtful and affluent socialite Katherine Graham who inherits her father’s newspaper The Washington Post upon her husband’s death and then is forced into an invidious position when she is called upon to make the critical decision on whether to let the newspaper publish the Pentagon Papers at a time when New York investors are eagerly awaiting The Washington Post Company’s IPO (Initial Public Offering) on the American Stock Exchange, which could hugely benefit the fortunes of the struggling newspaper.

Spielberg packs a lot into The Post, and it would be advisable for viewers to read up thoroughly about that crucial historical period in 1971 which was so decisive and widely regarded as the turning point of American press freedom. All these events occurred prior to the Watergate scandal.

The publication of the Pentagon Papers ultimately changed the American public’s sentiment on the viability of troops in Vietnam and the legal outcome after the Supreme Court ruling elevated Katherine Graham to a media doyenne, a feminist and a massively influential woman who changed the business world’s view on how a single woman can influence and transform a media empire.

There is a solid supporting cast of actors in The Post to add gravitas to a riveting tale of journalistic bravery, including Sarah Poulson as Bradlee’s wife Toni who gives her own feminine perspective on why what Katherine Graham was doing was vitally important and brave. Other supporting actors include Bob Odenkirk, Matthew Phys, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons and Tracy Letts.

In the age of the Internet, Fake News and a 24 Hour news cycle, The Post is a critical film to watch and be discussed and is especially relevant in 2018 as back then in 1971, which basically implies that at every historical junction, the media must always hold the country’s government accountable. After all, the news is History’s First Draft.

My only criticism is that screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer should have contextualized the dramatic events more efficiently so that a 21st century audience could appreciate the bravery of publishing critical information without fear or favour.

The Post is brilliant viewing and a highly recommended film about press freedom under a sinister government which makes the film’s ending all the more relevant. The Post receives a film rating of 8.5 out of 10.

Read more on Katherine Grahamhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Graham

Read more on Ben Bradleehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Bradlee

 

 

 

Seducing an Amphibian

The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, David Hewlett, Martin Roach

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro reinvents cinematic magic realism in this darkly sublime fantasy adventure The Shape of Water featuring a stand out performance by British actress Sally Hawkins and character actor Michael Shannon.

Set in a covert government laboratory in Baltimore in the early 1960’s at the height of the cold war, The Shape of Water deftly weaves an extraordinary and compelling story of a young mute woman Elisa Esposito played by Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky, Blue Jasmine) who along with her co-worker Zelda Fuller played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) play observant cleaners in this secret facility ruled by the vain and cruel manager, Richard Strickland, wonderfully played with an ambivalent menace by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Revolutionary Road).

Elisa lives with a repressed homosexual Giles who is struggling to reignite his graphic design business. Giles is played with an exuberant flair by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Visitor).

What is so magnificent about The Shape of Water is the brilliant script co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor and the intriguing plot is underscored by a tantalizing musical score by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat who also provided the fantastic original score for director Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Highlighting the duplicitous Cold War, is the fastidious scientist Dr Robert Hoffstetler beautifully played by character actor Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Trumbo, Miles Ahead).

Eliza, the sexually charged mute cleaning lady develops a sensual bond of the most unusual nature with the Amphibian man played by Doug Jones, who is both exotic, dangerous and restorative. This Amphibian was discovered in the South American jungle and worshipped as a God by the indigenous tribes only to be snatched by sinister American agents to be used as a guinea pig in a space race against the murky and nefarious Soviets.

The Shape of Water is an intelligently woven allegorical tale about the exotic entering a decade of American consumerism which was as paranoid as it was dictatorial: the 1960’s. Set against the Cold War, this augmented paranoia is heightened through various well placed TV images of the rising tensions of the civil rights movements permeating in the background, along with many other counter-cultural movement which eventually undid the 1960’s completely and changed America forever.

Visually, The Shape of Water is rich with symbolic imagery and director Guillermo del Toro relishes in mixing the brutal with the gorgeous.

The love of cinema shines through in The Shape of Water, which I consider to be del Toro’s best work with the exception of his Oscar winning foreign language film, Pan’s Labyrinth.

The performances by a mostly ensemble cast are exemplary in a film that will dazzle the senses aided by exceptionally high production values and a quirky story which is both lyrical and tragic.

Highly recommended viewing, The Shape of Water gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.

 

 

The Whims of Powerful Men

Molly’s Game

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Graham Greene, Chris O’Dowd, Justin Kirk, J. C. MacKenzie

The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut in Molly’s Game featuring a powerfully hard core performance by Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) who is basically in every frame of the 2 hour and 20 minute expose of the decadent world of illicit high stakes poker.

Chastain plays Molly Bloom a savvy and smart young woman who in a bid to escape the clutches of her persuasive and pushy father Larry Bloom, a stand out performance by Oscar winner Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves), leaves Colorado and heads to Los Angeles where she starts working for a slimeball misogynist Dean Keith played by Jeremy Strong who asks her to set up and run a regular Tuesday night poker game with a $10 000 buy in.

Soon the shrewd and street smart Bloom takes the poker game away from Keith and sets up her own High Class games at a luxurious suite at a Beverley Hills hotel aided by the dubious Player X played by Canadian actor Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno).

Sorkin tells and retells Molly’s rise and fall from power through a series of carefully crafted narrative flashbacks in between scenes with Molly Bloom and her New York defense attorney wonderfully played by Idris Elba (The Mountain Between Us, Star Trek Beyond).

With Sorkin’s trademark flair for snappy dialogue and producing a distinct visual style of his own, Molly’s Game is a fascinating portrait of a young woman who gets dangerously and illegally caught up in the world of high stakes poker where she eventually becomes subjected to the whims of vain and powerful men, most of whom are gambling addicts and would think nothing of sitting at a poker table until dawn betting their fortunes away just to prove who is a winning player.

Within this highly competitive masculine world, Molly Bloom gets indicted for organizing poker games with among others the Russian mafia in New York as well as Hollywood film stars, producers, rock stars and East Coast Trust fund babies.

Jessica Chastain is stunning in Molly’s Game and keeps the pace of this lengthy film, portraying a decadent Madame who presides over a glamorous boudoir for men to gamble, drink and flirt with gorgeous supermodels or as her book publisher says, she was the keeper of a very expensive and indulgent man cave.

At the heart of the story, which could have been edited in sections, is Molly’s complex relationship with her father who she was always goading from her rebellious teenage years to her earlier childhood attempts at becoming an Olympic ski jumper in Salt Lake City.

If audiences enjoyed The Social Network and Steve Jobs, then they will love Molly’s Game, a decadent tale of one woman who bet her good name and reputation on the house.

Molly’s Game gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is worth seeing for a remarkable performance by Jessica Chastain who really proves her talent as the heroine in this gritty, seductive tale about greed and power.

 

 

Parental Misguidance

Father Figures

Director: Lawrence Sher

Cast: Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, Glenn Close, Ving Rhames, J. K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, June Squibb, Kat Williams, Ryan Cartwright and Ryan Gaul

Considering how packed the cinema was on a Sunday afternoon, one would have expected Father Figures to be a really funny family comedy.

Unfortunately, first time director Lawrence Sher’s Father Figures is very lightweight and not nearly as hilarious as such classic films as The Hangover despite pairing Owen Wilson and Ed Helms together as non-identical twins who go on a quest from Columbus, Ohio via Miami to upstate New York in search of who their biological father really was.

As brothers, Peter and Kyle Reynolds they couldn’t be more different.

Dr Peter Reynolds is a conservative surgeon who has to contend with a failed marriage and a teenage son who doesn’t communicate with him. Ed Helms (The Hangover) plays Peter Reynolds perfectly while Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris, The Internship) plays the blonde Hawaiian Kyle Reynolds who supposedly made his fortune off a BBQ sauce recipe and is now chilling back living off the imagined royalties.

The premise for the two brothers to go on a trans-America road trip is when their mother Helen, a briefly seen Glenn Close, whose presence in the film adds some credence to the otherwise inane plot of Father Figures. Maybe the Oscar nominated star of Dangerous Liaisons and Albert Nobbs decidedly to play comedy for a change.

Although it is wonderful to see Glenn Close on screen in a maternal role especially to two forty something men who are desperate to discover who their biological father is.

What follows is a episodic journey around America whereby Peter and Kyle get to know each other as well as an assortment of fatherly figures ranging from the shady con-man Roland Hunt played by Oscar winner J. K. Simmons (Whiplash) who is still living with his own mother played by Oscar nominee June Squibb (Nebraska) to veterinary doctor Dr Walter Tinkler played by Oscar winner Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter).

Kyle and Peter also land up on a train track with an unsuspecting hitchhiker played by Katt Williams as well as being caught up in a family brawl with Irish brothers Liam and Sean O’Callaghan played by Ryan Cartwright and Ryan Gaul.

Despite, the acting talent and the normally funny Ed Helms and Owen Wilson, Father Figures fails to lift off as a truly believable story – the only relatable part was the constant sibling rivalry between brothers and genuine conflict which ensues.

Father Figures is an extremely lightweight comedy which doesn’t take itself or the characters too seriously. The film gets a rating of 5.5 out of 10. Recommended for audiences that enjoy low brow jokes and some contrived comic situations which do not come across as original or particularly witty but are merely inserted into the plot to create some generated and thoughtless laughs.

75th Golden Globe Awards

75th GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS

Took place on Sunday 7th  January 2018 hosted by

the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in Beverly Hills, California

GOLDEN GLOBE WINNERS IN THE FILM CATEGORIES:

Best Film Drama: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Film Musical or Comedy: Ladybird

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

Best Actor Drama: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Best Actress Drama: Frances McDormand – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy: James Franco – The Disaster Artist

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy: Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney – I, Tonya

Best Foreign Language Film: In the Fade directed by Fatih Akin (France/Germany)

Film Directors & Festivals
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