Tuesday Dec 23, 2014

'Hannibal': Joe Anderson to replace Michael Pitt

Michael Pitt, who played the sociopath Mason Verger in the second season, has opted not to return to the crime series, and Joe Anderson has inherited the role, TV Line reports.Recently seen in "Horns" and the last two "Twilight" movies, Anderson will feature in the third season of "Hannibal"...
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TV

'Hannibal': Joe Anderson to replace Michael Pitt
Tuesday Dec 23, 2014
'Hannibal': Joe Anderson to replace Michael Pitt

Michael Pitt, who played the sociopath Mason Verger in the second season, has opted not to return to the crime series, and Joe Anderson has inherited the role, TV Line reports.Recently seen in "Horns" and the last two "Twilight" movies, Anderson will feature in the third season of "Hannibal" as Verger, the sadistic meat-packing tycoon who becomes one of Dr. Lecter's victims. Without going into too much detail, the casting change shouldn't be a problem in light of what was happening to Verger's face at the end of season two. Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy will return as Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham respectively. Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

Martha Stewart builds 'Downton Abbey' inspired gingerbread house
Monday Dec 22, 2014
Martha Stewart builds 'Downton Abbey' inspired gingerbread house

When the doyenne of domesticity, Martha Stewart, builds a gingerbread house for the holidays, you can bet it’s a showstopper. And this year, Stewart took inspiration from her favorite show, “Downton Abbey” to create a replica of the real-life Highclere Castle in England.The result is an impressive and edible recreation of the Grantham family estate, featuring 65 caramel windows, minute architectural details, and a friendly dog that stands guard over ‘Gingerbread Abbey.’ It took Stewart’s team of two bakers 34 hours, 66 cups of flour, 22 eggs, and 11 cups of molasses to create the cookie estate. ‘Gingerbread Abbey’ was also created to help mark the start of the show's fifth season and its return on PBS in the US January 4. Meanwhile, fans of the British period drama may want to check out a cheeky holiday sketch created for TV fundraiser Text Santa, in which George Clooney and Jeremy Piven made special cameos. Ambitious home bakers can learn how to build their own Downton Abbey in a series of video tutorials that begin with http://bit.ly/1zo3gbV. Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

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

NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Cocker, the raspy-voiced British singer known for his frenzied cover of "With a Little Help From My Friends," the teary ballad "You Are So Beautiful" and a contorted performing style uncannily parodied by John Belushi on "Saturday Night Live," has died. He was 70. His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, said Cocker died Monday of lung cancer in Colorado, where he has lived for the past two decades. Cocker, an interpreter more than a writer, became a star through his dazzling transformation of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends." Featuring a gospel-styled arrangement and furious call and response between Cocker and the backup singers, the song became a No. 1 hit in England and the highlight of his characteristically manic set at the Woodstock festival in 1969. In a statement Monday, Paul McCartney remembered hearing Cocker's cover of the song he and John Lennon co-wrote for Ringo Starr and finding it "just mind blowing," a "soul anthem." "I was forever grateful for him for doing that," McCartney said. "I knew him through the years as a good mate, and I was so sad to hear that he had been ill and really sad to hear today that he had passed away." Cocker's "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" tour and travelling party of 1970, featuring Leon Russell and numerous top session musicians, produced a film and a recording that went gold. But future success was more sporadic, and Cocker suffered from both drug and financial problems. He had a top 10 hit in 1975 on "You Are So Beautiful," his voice cracking on the final, emotional note, and won a Grammy Award in 1983 for his "Up Where We Belong" duet with Jennifer Warnes, the theme of the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." His cover of Bryan Adams' "When the Night Comes" was featured in the film "An Innocent Man" and became a top 20 single in 1990. Cocker, who received an Order of the British Empire in 2011 for his contribution to music, released 40 albums and continued to tour after the hits stopped. His other popular covers included "Feelin' Alright," ''The Letter" and "Cry Me a River," a song previously recorded by one of Cocker's greatest influences, Ray Charles. His voice, at times so worn it seemed in danger of shredding, was just one part of his legend. No Cocker fan could forget his intense, twitchy stage presence, his arms flailing, his hips stretching, his face contorting. Among those watching were Belushi, whose expert imitation became a feature of his early National Lampoon shows and eventually a part of popular history when he joined Cocker in 1976 for a duet of "Feelin' Alright" on "Saturday Night Live." Years later, Cocker told The Associated Press' Mary Campbell that he was playing an imaginary piano and air guitar while singing — the elements that contributed to this unique style. "That was the frustration of not being able to play, really," he said. Cocker was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and was singing with local bands by the time he was a teenager. His early groups included Vance Arnold and the Avengers and the Grease Band, which backed him on "With A Little Help From My Friends." Cocker moved to Crawford, Colorado, a town of fewer than 500 people, in the early 1990s. He and his wife, Pam, ran a children's educational foundation — the Cocker Kids Foundation — that raised funds for the town and schools, and ran the Mad Dog Cafe for several years in town, said Tom Wills, publisher of The North Fork Merchant Herald, a local community newspaper. Wills said Cocker bought about 40 acres of property and built a hillside mansion — which he called Mad Dog Ranch — when he moved to Colorado. A group of Cocker's friends gathered Monday at community radio station KVNF to play Cocker's songs. "He had a long battle with cancer. We're trying to do a little tribute for him," said Bob Pennetta, a real estate agent and board member of the Cocker Kids Foundation. Cocker is survived by his wife, Pam; a brother; a step daughter and two grandchildren. A private memorial is planned. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The Cocker Kids' Foundation, P.O. Box 404, Crawford, CO. 81415. ___ Colleen Slevin and Jim Anderson in Denver and Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this story. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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

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

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

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

Movies

'Hannibal': Joe Anderson to replace Michael Pitt
Tuesday Dec 23, 2014
'Hannibal': Joe Anderson to replace Michael Pitt

Michael Pitt, who played the sociopath Mason Verger in the second season, has opted not to return to the crime series, and Joe Anderson has inherited the role, TV Line reports.Recently seen in "Horns" and the last two "Twilight" movies, Anderson will feature in the third season of "Hannibal" as Verger, the sadistic meat-packing tycoon who becomes one of Dr. Lecter's victims. Without going into too much detail, the casting change shouldn't be a problem in light of what was happening to Verger's face at the end of season two. Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy will return as Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham respectively. Copyright AFP Relaxnews, 2014.

Justin Lin to direct third 'Star Trek' film
Tuesday Dec 23, 2014
Justin Lin to direct third 'Star Trek' film

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The USS Enterprise is about to get a little faster. "Fast & Furious" director Justin Lin is taking the helm of the third installment in Paramount's "Star Trek" franchise. Lin's rep confirmed the news Monday. Lin is no stranger to franchises. He directed several of Universal's "Fast & Furious" films, including the massively successful "Fast & Furious 6," which made more than $788 million worldwide. J.J. Abrams directed the first two films in the rebooted "Star Trek" series. Roberto Orci was the co-writer on those first two films. He was slated to step into the director's chair after Abrams left to work on "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," but he exited that role in early December. Orci will still serve as a writer and producer on the film. It's slated for a 2016 release. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Events

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

NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Cocker, the raspy-voiced British singer known for his frenzied cover of "With a Little Help From My Friends," the teary ballad "You Are So Beautiful" and a contorted performing style uncannily parodied by John Belushi on "Saturday Night Live," has died. He was 70. His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, said Cocker died Monday of lung cancer in Colorado, where he has lived for the past two decades. Cocker, an interpreter more than a writer, became a star through his dazzling transformation of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends." Featuring a gospel-styled arrangement and furious call and response between Cocker and the backup singers, the song became a No. 1 hit in England and the highlight of his characteristically manic set at the Woodstock festival in 1969. In a statement Monday, Paul McCartney remembered hearing Cocker's cover of the song he and John Lennon co-wrote for Ringo Starr and finding it "just mind blowing," a "soul anthem." "I was forever grateful for him for doing that," McCartney said. "I knew him through the years as a good mate, and I was so sad to hear that he had been ill and really sad to hear today that he had passed away." Cocker's "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" tour and travelling party of 1970, featuring Leon Russell and numerous top session musicians, produced a film and a recording that went gold. But future success was more sporadic, and Cocker suffered from both drug and financial problems. He had a top 10 hit in 1975 on "You Are So Beautiful," his voice cracking on the final, emotional note, and won a Grammy Award in 1983 for his "Up Where We Belong" duet with Jennifer Warnes, the theme of the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." His cover of Bryan Adams' "When the Night Comes" was featured in the film "An Innocent Man" and became a top 20 single in 1990. Cocker, who received an Order of the British Empire in 2011 for his contribution to music, released 40 albums and continued to tour after the hits stopped. His other popular covers included "Feelin' Alright," ''The Letter" and "Cry Me a River," a song previously recorded by one of Cocker's greatest influences, Ray Charles. His voice, at times so worn it seemed in danger of shredding, was just one part of his legend. No Cocker fan could forget his intense, twitchy stage presence, his arms flailing, his hips stretching, his face contorting. Among those watching were Belushi, whose expert imitation became a feature of his early National Lampoon shows and eventually a part of popular history when he joined Cocker in 1976 for a duet of "Feelin' Alright" on "Saturday Night Live." Years later, Cocker told The Associated Press' Mary Campbell that he was playing an imaginary piano and air guitar while singing — the elements that contributed to this unique style. "That was the frustration of not being able to play, really," he said. Cocker was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and was singing with local bands by the time he was a teenager. His early groups included Vance Arnold and the Avengers and the Grease Band, which backed him on "With A Little Help From My Friends." Cocker moved to Crawford, Colorado, a town of fewer than 500 people, in the early 1990s. He and his wife, Pam, ran a children's educational foundation — the Cocker Kids Foundation — that raised funds for the town and schools, and ran the Mad Dog Cafe for several years in town, said Tom Wills, publisher of The North Fork Merchant Herald, a local community newspaper. Wills said Cocker bought about 40 acres of property and built a hillside mansion — which he called Mad Dog Ranch — when he moved to Colorado. A group of Cocker's friends gathered Monday at community radio station KVNF to play Cocker's songs. "He had a long battle with cancer. We're trying to do a little tribute for him," said Bob Pennetta, a real estate agent and board member of the Cocker Kids Foundation. Cocker is survived by his wife, Pam; a brother; a step daughter and two grandchildren. A private memorial is planned. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The Cocker Kids' Foundation, P.O. Box 404, Crawford, CO. 81415. ___ Colleen Slevin and Jim Anderson in Denver and Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this story. Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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