Movie Review: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Get a Loaded Origin Story, One That’s Worth the Crunch

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Garcia in a scene from "Flamin' Hot," a tale of how a Mexican American janitor came up with the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. (Searchlight Pictures via AP)
This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Garcia in a scene from "Flamin' Hot," a tale of how a Mexican American janitor came up with the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. (Searchlight Pictures via AP)
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Movie Review: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Get a Loaded Origin Story, One That’s Worth the Crunch

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Garcia in a scene from "Flamin' Hot," a tale of how a Mexican American janitor came up with the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. (Searchlight Pictures via AP)
This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Garcia in a scene from "Flamin' Hot," a tale of how a Mexican American janitor came up with the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos get an origin story worthy of any Marvel superhero with Hulu’s totally engrossing “Flamin’ Hot.” It’s the tale of how a struggling Mexican American janitor came up with the idea of adding spice to the cornmeal, forever saving after-school snacking.

Is it true? Probably not. Don’t let that stop you.

You’ll wish “Flaming Hot” was accurate because it’s a winning tale of perseverance, family love, proud heritage and blue-collar success, told with a wink, some Cheetos dust and a ton of love by Eva Longoria, in her directorial debut.

Jesse Garcia stars as Richard Montañez, a one-time Frito-Lay floor-sweeper in southern California who convinced his bosses to make a snack that celebrates the flavors of Mexico despite a seven-layer dip of sceptics.

“New products take years to develop, cost millions to launch and they do not get created by blue-collar hoodlums, who probably can’t spell hoodlum,” our hero is told.

Nevertheless, Montañez persists, cracking the Latino market and repairing his relationship with his abusive father along the way. “I’m the guy who helped bring the world the most popular snack it’s ever seen,” he says in a voice-over.

It’s an unlikely story, for sure. No, really. It’s unlikely. The Los Angeles Times has published allegations that Montañez fabricated his role in the snack’s creation and Frito-Lay says he “was not involved.”

But Longoria and the screenplay by Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez — based on Montañez memoir — will have you cheering when the gnarled red snacks finally zip along on an assembly line and you’ll be ready to gleefully fist-bump Montañez, played understatedly but with deep soul by Garcia.

This is more than just a snack-version “Rocky” story, with the filmmakers exploring the insecurity of factory shift workers, the stress of integrating into white culture, how hard it is for corporations to innovate and the ability to silence the voices in your head that urge you to quit.

In one heartbreaking early scene, Montañez — so poor he waters down the milk for his kids and uses chewing gum to seal holes in their shoes — is wide-eyed at the Frito-Lay factory until he notices all the overcooked chips are tossed. “People are always trying to throw away the brown ones,” he says.

The filmmakers enliven their story with wonderful flights of fancy, like when we see Montañez lose it and beat up a manager with a mop after being called Paco. “Nah, just kidding,” he says in the voice over. “What you think? It was my first week on the job.”

To show the passage of time during the Reagan administration, they’ve also cleverly got a man on the factory floor holding a box reading “1985,” the extruder pumps out “1986” and forklifts carrying boxes that read “1987” and “1988.”

There are a few references to Frito-Lay scientists in the Midwest also working on a spicy flavor, but this is strictly a fist-in-the-air portrayal of Montañez alone, set to a soundtrack of Latin artists like Santana, Los Lobos and Ozomatli.

His heroic arc is more than a little unbelievable, especially when he taps his former drug-dealing pals to start handing out free bags of chips like pushers, and for the many times he jumps up on a piece of factory equipment to deliver a “Dead Poets Society”-like speech.

Dennis Haysbert as a gruff engineer, Annie Gonzalez as Montañez’s loving wife and Tony Shalhoub as the CEO of Frito-Lay all add welcome flavor notes.

It’s the montages that really shine, like the moment in a park when Montañez, eating elote and watching everyone put hot sauce on their food, gets a vision of a spicy snack. “I had been searching for an answer. Or a door to open. And there it was all around me. It had been there the entire time,” he says.

There’s also the sequence when he and his family try every chile combo — poblano, pasilla, serrano, guajillo and habanero included — until they find the right formula, often hovering around their youngest kid as he samples a chip and gives them the green light.

The final product is credited with opening the door to cool new convenience store flavors and for US corporations to finally respect the Latino market. That’s a lot of stuff to put in a bag of chips, even if it’s all made up. But it’s so fun to watch. It burns so good.



All BLACKPINK Members Renew Contracts with Label YG

K-Pop band Blackpink's members, Lalisa "Lisa" Manoban, Roseanne "Rose" Park, Kim Ji-soo and Jennie Kim, pose with their medals following a special investiture ceremony to present them with Honorary MBEs (Member of the Order of the British Empire), at Buckingham Palace in London on November 22, 2023. (AFP)
K-Pop band Blackpink's members, Lalisa "Lisa" Manoban, Roseanne "Rose" Park, Kim Ji-soo and Jennie Kim, pose with their medals following a special investiture ceremony to present them with Honorary MBEs (Member of the Order of the British Empire), at Buckingham Palace in London on November 22, 2023. (AFP)
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All BLACKPINK Members Renew Contracts with Label YG

K-Pop band Blackpink's members, Lalisa "Lisa" Manoban, Roseanne "Rose" Park, Kim Ji-soo and Jennie Kim, pose with their medals following a special investiture ceremony to present them with Honorary MBEs (Member of the Order of the British Empire), at Buckingham Palace in London on November 22, 2023. (AFP)
K-Pop band Blackpink's members, Lalisa "Lisa" Manoban, Roseanne "Rose" Park, Kim Ji-soo and Jennie Kim, pose with their medals following a special investiture ceremony to present them with Honorary MBEs (Member of the Order of the British Empire), at Buckingham Palace in London on November 22, 2023. (AFP)

All members of the megastar girl group BLACKPINK renewed their contracts with YG Entertainment on Wednesday, the company said, ending speculation around their future and driving up shares in the leading K-pop label by over 20 percent.

Rumors surrounding BLACKPINK -- one of K-pop's most successful girl groups -- and their potential future plans have abounded since the quartet's original contracts expired in August, with local reports even claiming in September that member Lisa rejected YG's renewal offer.

But YG announced on Wednesday that all members -- Jenny, Lisa, Jisoo and Rose -- had renewed their contracts with the company for "group activities".

"After careful discussion with BLACKPINK, we signed an exclusive contract for group activities based on deep trust," the label said in a statement sent to AFP.

"With YG's full support, BLACKPINK plans to repay the love of fans around the world with activities commensurate with their global status, including the release of a new album and a large-scale world tour," it added.

BLACKPINK, who first emerged out of South Korea's wildly popular K-pop scene in 2016, has also been recognized for the group's efforts on climate advocacy.

Last month, the members were given one of Britain's most prestigious honors by King Charles III, for their work for the COP26 climate summit in 2021.

Their official YouTube channel has a staggering 92.3 million subscribers, making them one of the most subscribed artists in the world on the platform.

BLACKPINK's other achievements include being the first-ever K-pop girl group to reach the top of the US Billboard 200 chart, and the first Asian artists to headline prestigious music events such as Coachella.

YG, on the other hand, was at the center of the notorious "Burning Sun" entertainment and sex scandal -- which revolved around a Gangnam nightclub of the same name -- that rattled South Korea in 2018.

The label was hard hit when Seungri -- a former member of popular boyband BIGBANG and co-director of Burning Sun -- retired from show business in 2019 amid mounting criminal investigations.

He was later sentenced to 18 months in prison for offering women to potential investors for sexual services, among other charges.

YG Entertainment's shares were up 24.58 percent to 59,800 won in afternoon trading in Seoul.


Taylor Swift Named Time Person of the Year

US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift arrives for the 65th Annual Grammy Awards at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on February 5, 2023. (AFP)
US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift arrives for the 65th Annual Grammy Awards at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on February 5, 2023. (AFP)
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Taylor Swift Named Time Person of the Year

US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift arrives for the 65th Annual Grammy Awards at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on February 5, 2023. (AFP)
US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift arrives for the 65th Annual Grammy Awards at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on February 5, 2023. (AFP)

Time magazine named US pop superstar Taylor Swift as its person of the year on Wednesday, calling the musical force of nature the "hero of her own story."

Swift has smashed industry records this year with both her tour and the film of the globetrotting musical cavalcade that is estimated to bring in almost $2 billion of revenue as her adoring fans flock to see her in the flesh.

"Taylor Swift found a way to transcend borders and be a source of light... Swift is the rare person who is both the writer and hero of her own story," Time editor-in-chief Sam Jacobs wrote in a statement.

"Much of what Swift accomplished in 2023 exists beyond measurement. She mapped her journey and shared the results with the world: She committed to validating the dreams, feelings, and experiences of people, especially women, who felt overlooked and regularly underestimated."

The huge $92.8 million opening earlier this year of Taylor Swift's "The Eras Tour" film set the tone for the 33-year-old "Cruel Summer" singer's 2023.

Advance ticket sales for the movie topped $100 million worldwide, theater operator AMC said, making it the best-selling feature-length concert film in history.

"(Fans) had to work really hard to get the tickets... I wanted to play a show that was longer than they ever thought it would be, because that makes me feel good leaving the stadium," Swift told Time.

This year, Swift's blossoming romance with Kansas City Chiefs player Travis Kelce has also brought the NFL a whole new wave of fans as her hundreds of millions of social media followers checked out her new squeeze.

"For building a world of her own that made a place for so many, for spinning her story into a global legend, for bringing joy to a society desperately in need of it, Taylor Swift is TIME's 2023 Person of the Year," Jacobs said.

Mainstream sensation

The "Eras" tour currently has more than 145 dates.

According to Pollstar, the industry magazine covering the performing arts, each concert generates $13 million in revenue, which would bring the tour total to around $1.9 billion.

No artist or group has previously crossed the symbolic billion-dollar threshold.

Swift's defining tool has proved to be social media, through which she regularly interacts with fans.

Born in Pennsylvania, Swift started writing country songs on guitar in her early teens.

Her father shifted his job in financial services to the country music capital of Nashville to allow her a chance in the industry.

After winning a growing mainstream audience for her introspective country songs, Swift switched to a thoroughly pop direction for her fifth studio album -- "1989," named after her year of birth.

"What makes Swift a cultural phenomenon is not only her musical prowess and versatility but the trademark authenticity she puts on each note and verse," Forbes magazine said in an article published in October.

Time first presented its Person of the Year award in 1927.

Last year's honoree was Volodymyr Zelensky as well as "the spirit of Ukraine" for the resistance the country has shown in the face of Russia's invasion.

Previous selections have included US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Martin Luther King Jr., former German chancellor Angela Merkel, Pope Francis, and climate activist Greta Thunberg.


Norman Lear, Sitcom King Who Changed TV -- And America

 Norman Lear appears during the "American Masters: Norman Lear" panel at the PBS Summer TCA Tour on Aug. 1, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)
Norman Lear appears during the "American Masters: Norman Lear" panel at the PBS Summer TCA Tour on Aug. 1, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)
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Norman Lear, Sitcom King Who Changed TV -- And America

 Norman Lear appears during the "American Masters: Norman Lear" panel at the PBS Summer TCA Tour on Aug. 1, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)
Norman Lear appears during the "American Masters: Norman Lear" panel at the PBS Summer TCA Tour on Aug. 1, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)

Norman Lear was television's prolific genius whose trailblazing sitcoms in the 1970s and 1980s revolutionized US entertainment -- and helped change the way a nation saw itself.

With boundary-breaking shows like "All In the Family" and "The Jeffersons," Lear -- who has died aged 101 -- helped millions of viewers confront their deepest fears, frailties and prejudices, as well as their aspirations, with humor and humanity.

Among his milestones was creating the first African American nuclear family regularly appearing on television: the Evans clan on "Good Times," beginning in 1974.

He injected the sensitive subjects of race, class, inequality and politics like the anti-war movement into his work, breaking the sitcom mold and beaming modern visions of family life into millions of US households.

Lear abandoned the idealistic representation of American families seen on shows like "Leave It to Beaver" (1957-1963) and adopted a more real-world depiction -- and in so doing, he changed the face of television.

"What was new was that we were engaging in reality," the famed creator said in the 2016 documentary "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You."

Fellow comedy star Mel Brooks hailed Lear as "the bravest television writer, director and producer of all time."

Lear's family, in announcing his death, said Wednesday their patriarch wrote about real life, "not a glossy ideal."

"At first, his ideas were met with closed doors and misunderstanding. However, he stuck to his conviction that the 'foolishness of the human condition' made great television, and eventually he was heard."

In the mid-1970s, at the height of his eight-decade career, Lear had five sitcoms airing in prime time -- an era before cable or streaming, when Americans watched television collectively.

Broadcaster CBS estimated at the time that a staggering 120 million Americans watched Lear programming each week.

The six-time Emmy Award winner wrote, produced, created or developed roughly 100 specials and shows including 1980s mega-hit "The Facts of Life" and the long-running "One Day at a Time."

His revolutionary comedy also earned him a spot on President Richard Nixon's so-called enemies list.

Blue-collar comedy

Lear's most explosive creation was "All In the Family," a blue-collar comedy so audacious that its first episode, in 1971, came with a disclaimer.

The half-hour show featured abrasive patriarch Archie Bunker, lovably irascible but bigoted, narrow-minded and clashing with his liberal relatives.

It marked a TV paradigm shift.

"Television can be broken into two parts, BN and AN: Before Norman and After Norman," writer and producer Phil Rosenthal said in the 2016 documentary.

Lear, donning his trademark porkpie hat, also produced or funded such big-screen classics as "The Princess Bride" and "This is Spinal Tap."

But television was his magic medium.

Never far from the surface in Lear's shows were the issues gnawing at American society: misogyny, racism, women's rights and political division.

He dug deep into the exigencies of Black life. And while "Good Times" was intended as a white audience's window into Black America, "The Jeffersons" represented the American Dream for Black people.

Over 253 episodes from 1975 to 1985, "The Jeffersons" portrayed African American success through an unapologetically Black couple "movin' on up" in New York society.

'Enemy' of the family?

Norman Milton Lear was born on July 27, 1922, into a Jewish family in New Haven, Connecticut.

His mother emigrated from Russia, and his father was a salesman who served time in jail and had a bigoted streak that embarrassed his son -- but also served as source material.

Lear attended Emerson College in Boston but dropped out to enlist in the US Army, flying 37 World War II bombing sorties as a radio operator and gunner.

By 1949 he moved to Los Angeles, where he found success writing for TV variety shows.

He also produced films including 1963's "Come Blow Your Horn" starring Frank Sinatra, and in 1967 received an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay for "Divorce American Style."

With "All In the Family" and the TV shows that followed, Lear's influence skyrocketed.

So did his concern about the mix of politics and religion.

Criticism from conservative circles poured in, with televangelist Jerry Falwell calling Lear "the number one enemy of the American family."

Lear pushed back against the burgeoning religious right, and in 1981 founded People For the American Way, a group promoting civic engagement and freedom of expression and religion.

Lear's work ethic was legendary. After his 100th birthday, he collaborated with TV host Jimmy Kimmel on "Live in Front of a Studio Audience!" specials in which star-studded casts performed remakes of classic Lear shows.

A pioneer on multiple fronts, Lear's portrayal of true-to-life traumas sealed his reputation.

In a watershed 1972 episode of "Maude," the title character agonizes over terminating her pregnancy, a plotline that brought the abortion fight to prime time one year before the Supreme Court guaranteed the right to abortion.

Half a century later, Lear -- who married three times and had six children -- told "E! Insider" the issues his sitcoms addressed carry equal resonance today.

"The culture has shifted and changed... but the way families experience life is pretty much the same," he said.


Actors Ratify 3-year Contract, Ending Hollywood's Labor Turmoil

(FILES) SAG-AFTRA members and supporters walk the picket line as members of the Screen Actors Guild strike in New York on July 19, 2023. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
(FILES) SAG-AFTRA members and supporters walk the picket line as members of the Screen Actors Guild strike in New York on July 19, 2023. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
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Actors Ratify 3-year Contract, Ending Hollywood's Labor Turmoil

(FILES) SAG-AFTRA members and supporters walk the picket line as members of the Screen Actors Guild strike in New York on July 19, 2023. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
(FILES) SAG-AFTRA members and supporters walk the picket line as members of the Screen Actors Guild strike in New York on July 19, 2023. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

Members of the SAG-AFTRA actors union approved a three-year contract with major studios on Tuesday, formally ending six months of Hollywood labor disputes that halted film and television production, Reuters reported.
SAG-AFTRA said 78% of those who voted supported the deal with Netflix Inc, Walt Disney Co and other members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
Just 38% of eligible SAG-AFTRA members cast a ballot, the union said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter. SAG-AFTRA represents roughly 160,000 actors and other media professionals.
The new contract provides for pay raises and streaming bonuses that union leaders said amounted to more than $1 billion over three years. It also includes guardrails around the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in filmmaking, though some actors complained that the AI protections were not sufficient.
"This is a golden age for SAG-AFTRA, and our union has never been more powerful," the union's president, "The Nanny" actor Fran Drescher, said in a statement.
SAG-AFTRA members walked off the job in July and reached a tentative agreement with major studios in November. Actors started returning to work immediately after the preliminary deal.
Film and television writers also went on strike this year, walking out ahead of the actors union. After a five-month walkout, the writers approved a new contract in October with 99% of the vote.
Some actors had objected to AI provisions in the contract. The deal requires studios to obtain permission from celebrities to use their digital likenesses and to pay them for the use. Critics argued that the language allows creation of "synthetic performers" that could eliminate the need for many human actors.
The dual strikes shut down a large swath of film and TV production, halted late-night talk shows and forced broadcast networks to fill their fall schedules with repeats and reality shows. Major movies including "Dune: Part Two" and Marvel's "Thunderbolts" also were delayed.
Hollywood studios welcomed the contract ratification, saying the agreement offered "historic gains and protections."
"With this vote, the industry and the jobs it supports will be able to return in full force," the AMPTP said in a statement.
SAG-AFTRA noted that other Hollywood unions representing crew members, musicians and drivers will start negotiations on new contracts next year.
"They will be able to use our groundbreaking gains as leverage in their own bargaining efforts," SAG-AFTRA said.


In ‘Wonka,’ Timothée Chalamet Finds a World of Pure Imagination

French-US actor Timothée Chalamet poses on the red carpet upon arrival for the Premiere of the film "Wonka" at the UGC Normandie cinema in Paris, on December 1, 2023. (AFP)
French-US actor Timothée Chalamet poses on the red carpet upon arrival for the Premiere of the film "Wonka" at the UGC Normandie cinema in Paris, on December 1, 2023. (AFP)
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In ‘Wonka,’ Timothée Chalamet Finds a World of Pure Imagination

French-US actor Timothée Chalamet poses on the red carpet upon arrival for the Premiere of the film "Wonka" at the UGC Normandie cinema in Paris, on December 1, 2023. (AFP)
French-US actor Timothée Chalamet poses on the red carpet upon arrival for the Premiere of the film "Wonka" at the UGC Normandie cinema in Paris, on December 1, 2023. (AFP)

Hugh Grant learned some years ago that if a filmmaker doesn’t make something from the heart, it shows. The films that work best, and are most loved, he's found, are the ones that the directors really meant.

It applied to his romantic comedies with Richard Curtis as well as "Paddington 2." And he’s pretty sure it’s true of "Wonka." The lavish big screen musical about a young Willy Wonka — before Charlie, before the chocolate factory — is dancing into theaters this month with its heart on its velvet sleeve.

Like the "Paddington" movies, "Wonka" was dreamt up by Paul King, a lifetime Roald Dahl fan and a writer and director whom his collaborators somewhat universally agree may actually be Paddington in a human costume. With a beloved troupe of actors, including Grant, Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Colman, Sally Hawkins as well as newcomer Calah Lane, its vibrant costumes and sets and a contagious "let’s put on a show" energy, "Wonka" feels like a modern homage to classic MGM productions of the 1940s.

But King wasn’t so sure about "Wonka" at first. He worried that like so many other "brands," a young Willy Wonka movie was something devised in a boardroom with visions of "12,000 movies and a TV show."

Then he went back to the book, which he’d read so many times as a child that the pages fell out of the spine. This time he found not just a great character in Willy Wonka, an unapologetically flamboyant dreamer whom Dahl also seemed a bit obsessed with, but also a breakthrough about his work.

"I realized how informative Dahl had been to everything that I love about family movies. They’ve got these great heightened characters, but there’s a real beating heart to them," King said. "It was like, oh this is the mothership."

And, with his "Paddington 2" co-writer Simon Farnaby (of "stop that stunning sister" fame), he would spend years toiling over what they’re calling a companion piece to the Gene Wilder "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Chalamet, the wildly popular Oscar-nominated actor of "Call Me By Your Name" and "Dune," wasn’t technically a song and dance man (though his digital footprint from his teen years contains some evidence to the contrary) when he signed on to play Wonka. But King was convinced that he was the perfect person to balance "sincere" and "ridiculous" thanks in part to his memorable (and "hella-tight") performance in Greta Gerwig’s "Lady Bird."

This was a little baffling to Chalamet, who only learned this at the premiere in London. But for him, "Wonka" was a chance to do something a bit different, on a grand scale. He also understands audiences being a little skeptical of any spin-off of a beloved character, but he takes comfort in something Gerwig said while they were making "Little Women."

He recalled her telling him "something like, 'For anybody that’s saying that a lot of versions of this have been made, you know, when it’s done well, no one complains’. I think Paul really did that here."

In addition to "Pure Imagination" and the Oompa Loompa song from the 1971 film, Neil Hannon, frontman of The Divine Comedy, wrote six original songs, while Christopher Gatelli ("Hail, Caesar!") oversaw the choreography.

Though Chalamet grew up surrounded by dancers (his sister, mother and grandmother included), and had done musicals at his performing arts high school, he didn’t fully appreciate the exhaustive rigor of it. He’d trained for "Wonka" for months, but he was still not fully prepared for how taxing "take 13" of a large-scale dance number would be.

"He’s very modest and I think that’s one of the nice things about him," said King, who has compared Chalamet’s singing voice to Bing Crosby.

The sets, overseen by production designer Nathan Crowley ("Interstellar") were also something grand to behold. King wanted the city to look like "the best of Europe." In total, they built more than 50 set across three soundstages, a backlot and an aircraft hanger around Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, in addition to several on-site locations in the UK to give the film its whimsical, but grounded feel. Lindy Hemming ("Paddington") designed the vibrant costumes.

Perhaps the most inspired twist of "Wonka" is Grant, an actor made world famous for his good looks and charm and romantic leads, who is playing an Oompa-Loompa.

King had already introduced Grant to a new generation of youngsters having him as the washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan in "Paddington 2." When he was re-rereading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" he found "Hugh’s voice" coming into his head for the devious little workers.

"They’re so biting and satirical and funny, but they’ve got a real kind of edge to them ... and they take an enormous delight in these children’s demise," King said. "I had this vision of Hugh Grant, you know, this high with orange skin and green hair. And once you have that picture come into your mind, you have to try and get it out there."

Grant is also a self-proclaimed miserable curmudgeon, which he’ll say with a straight face right before saying something completely contradictory. In his interviews, which often go viral, he’s witty and wry and reliably unreliable.

Yet when he talks about King, and "Wonka," and it all being from the heart, something melts away.

"One of the things that made those romantic comedies that I made with Richard Curtis work, apart from the fact that he’s very good at writing comedy was that he meant it. He really cared about love and he was always falling in love, falling out of love and being traumatized by it. But he meant it," Grant said.

"Paul King means all this. The message of Paddington and the message of this one, you know, family matters, the people you share your chocolate with. It’s not a trite, tacked on motto. It comes from his heart."

And it’s easy to believe that Grant, miserable though he may be, actually means it too.


Tom Hanks Brings Love of Space to New Immersive London Show

 Tom Hanks poses at "The Moonwalkers: A Journey With Tom Hanks" immersive show at the Lightroom venue in London, Britain in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on December 5, 2023. (Justin Sutcliffe/Lightroom/Handout via Reuters)
Tom Hanks poses at "The Moonwalkers: A Journey With Tom Hanks" immersive show at the Lightroom venue in London, Britain in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on December 5, 2023. (Justin Sutcliffe/Lightroom/Handout via Reuters)
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Tom Hanks Brings Love of Space to New Immersive London Show

 Tom Hanks poses at "The Moonwalkers: A Journey With Tom Hanks" immersive show at the Lightroom venue in London, Britain in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on December 5, 2023. (Justin Sutcliffe/Lightroom/Handout via Reuters)
Tom Hanks poses at "The Moonwalkers: A Journey With Tom Hanks" immersive show at the Lightroom venue in London, Britain in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on December 5, 2023. (Justin Sutcliffe/Lightroom/Handout via Reuters)

Archive footage of space rockets taking off beam across giant walls in a new immersive show in London, as Hollywood actor Tom Hanks narrates the story of human voyages to the moon.

"The Moonwalkers: A Journey With Tom Hanks" looks at the first moon landings of the Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972 and their successor, NASA's human spaceflight program, Artemis.

The next mission - the Artemis II lunar flyby - is planned for next year and interviews with the four-member team are also projected on the walls at the Lightroom gallery space in London's King Cross area.

"This show is about the wonder of the moon and the amazing creatures that have made it possible for members of their race to walk upon it," Oscar-winner Hanks told Reuters in a joint interview with astronauts Victor Glover and Jeremy Hansen, chosen to fly on what will be the first crewed voyage around the moon in more than 50 years.

"...Men and women are going to go back...very soon and isn't it wonderful that we have the curiosity and the drive in order to do something for which there is no rewarded riches, there's no territory that is going to be conquered," Hanks said. "The only thing that we are going to get is proof that...we can not only imagine the impossible, we can make the impossible possible.”

Joining pilot Glover, who will be the first Black astronaut to be sent on a lunar mission, and mission specialist Hansen are mission specialist Christina Koch and mission commander Reid Wiseman.

The Artemis program envisions building a long-term presence on the moon.

"We've been handed this amazing legacy and hopefully we can just contribute to it, but then hand that stick off to the next mission when it's time for them," Glover said.

Hanks played space commander Jim Lovell in the 1995 film "Apollo 13", about the troubled space mission which was forced to abort a planned moon landing after an oxygen-tank explosion.

Asked if he wanted to go to space himself, he said: “If they need somebody to go up and just keep the windows clean and serve the food and clean up afterwards, I'd be their man."

"There's something about the experience. I think you need time. I know people can go up and they can come down and that's a wonderful thing and that's great. But I think I need a little bit more time up there to ponder the infinite universe.”

"The Moonwalkers: A Journey With Tom Hanks" runs December 6 - April 21, 2024.


‘Past Lives,’ ‘May December’ and ‘American Fiction’ Lead Spirit Award Nominations

 US actor Charles Melton arrives for the premiere of "May December" at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California, on November 16, 2023. (AFP)
US actor Charles Melton arrives for the premiere of "May December" at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California, on November 16, 2023. (AFP)
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‘Past Lives,’ ‘May December’ and ‘American Fiction’ Lead Spirit Award Nominations

 US actor Charles Melton arrives for the premiere of "May December" at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California, on November 16, 2023. (AFP)
US actor Charles Melton arrives for the premiere of "May December" at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California, on November 16, 2023. (AFP)

Celine Song’s "Past Lives," Todd Haynes’ "May December" and Cord Jefferson’s "American Fiction" got a leading five nominations, including best feature, from the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Natalie Morales and Joel Kim Booster announced the nominees Tuesday on a YouTube livestream.

Song’s quietly romantic film, starring Greta Lee and Teo Yoo as childhood friends who reconnect later in life, earned nominations for her direction, script and for both actors. "May December," about an actress preparing to play a Mary Kay Letourneau-like role got nods for Natalie Portman, Charles Melton and screenwriter Samy Burch. MGM’s "American Fiction," featuring Jeffrey Wright as a frustrated novelist, got recognition for Wright, Erika Alexander and Sterling K. Brown. Jefferson was nominated for his script but not for his direction, however.

It was a good morning for A24. In addition to the nominations for "Past Lives," the indie film company received 11 overall for "All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,Earth Mama" and "The Zone of Interest." Kelly Reichardt’s "Showing Up" was also named winner of the Robert Altman Award, which is given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast. Michelle Williams plays a small-time sculptor in the film, leading an ensemble that includes André Benjamin, Hong Chau, Judd Hirsch and Amanda Plummer.

Alexander Payne's "The Holdovers," about a curmudgeonly teacher played by Paul Giamatti, got four nominations including for cinematography, best screenplay, best supporting performance for Da’Vine Joy Randolph and best breakthrough for newcomer Dominic Sessa. Neither Payne nor Giamatti were nominated.

Directing nominees were: Andrew Haigh ("All of Strangers"); Ira Sachs ("Passages"); William Oldroyd ("Eileen"); and Haynes and Song.

The Spirit Awards limit eligibility to productions with budgets of $30 million or less, meaning films like "Oppenheimer,Maestro" and "Poor Things" did not qualify for nominations.

Lead performance nominees include Wright, Lee, Yoo, Portman, Jessica Chastain ("Memory"), Trace Lysette ("Monica"), Judy Reyes ("Birth/Rebirth"), Andrew Scott ("All of Us Strangers"), Franz Rogowski ("Passages") and Teyana Taylor ("A Thousand and One").

Supporting performance nods went to Noah Galvin ("Theater Camp"), Anne Hathaway ("Eileen"), Glenn Howerton ("BlackBerry"), Marin Ireland ("Eileen"), Catalina Saavedra ("Rotting in the Sun") and Ben Whishaw ("Passages"), in addition to the aforementioned Melton, Randolph, Brown and Alexander.

NFL veteran Marshawn Lynch was also nominated for his breakthrough performance in the wild high school comedy "Bottoms."

Films nominated for best international film include both Sandra Hüller films, Justine Triet’s "Anatomy of a Fall" and Jonathan Glazer’s "The Zone of Interest," from Poland, as well as Denmark/Iceland’s "Godland," Nigeria’s "Mama Wata" and Mexico’s "Tótem."

Last year’s big winner was " Everything Everywhere All At Once," which accepted seven awards including best feature, best director and acting prizes for Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan – categories in which it would go on to win Oscars.

Josh Welsh, the president of Film Independent, said the spirit awards look for films and shows that, "demonstrate the uniqueness of vision, original, provocative subject matter, economy of means and diversity, both on screen and off."

The Spirit Awards also recognize television series. The nominees include "Jury Duty," for best series and best ensemble cast, "Beef" for series, Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, and "The Last of Us" which got acting nods for Bella Ramsey, Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman. Billie Eilish was also nominated for "Swarm."

Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant is hosting the show, which will take place on Feb. 25 in Santa Monica, California. The awards will be streamed live on IMDb and Film Independent’s YouTube channels.


Red Sea Shorts, New Saudi Cinema Competitions Kicks Off

Red Sea Shorts, New Saudi Cinema Competitions Kicks Off
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Red Sea Shorts, New Saudi Cinema Competitions Kicks Off

Red Sea Shorts, New Saudi Cinema Competitions Kicks Off

The Red Sea International Film Festival screened the first films participating in the Red Sea Shorts Competition and the New Saudi Cinema Competition.
The event is testimony to the organizers' dedication to nurturing and promoting Saudi cinematic talent.
The films selected for the New Saudi Cinema category, introduced at this year's festival, demonstrate the creative works of the Kingdom's filmmakers, according to SPA.
The festival aims to empower emerging talent, foster opportunities for success and provide a platform for them to exhibit their creations.
The 19 selected films have a duration of 5 to 44 minutes. They cover a diverse range of topics, such as confronting extremism, social adaptation and personal conflict resolution. All the films were produced by Saudi teams, with a majority of the production or filming taking place in Saudi Arabia.
The selected films in the short films category include: Street 105, The Ride, Fishbowl, Kum-Kum, I'm Fine, The Menace from Above, Saleeg, Antidote, Fishy, The Old School, Art Block, Detour, The Last Winter, Khaled El Sheikh: Between the Thorns of Art and Politics, and Fiasco Run.
Program Manager of the New Saudi Cinema at the Red Sea Film Festival Foundation Mohyeeddin Qari emphasized the festival's dedication to representing and celebrating Saudi cinema. He said that the organizers look forward to presenting diverse and inspiring stories from all parts of the Kingdom that showcase creativity and innovation.


20 Years after ‘Sideways,’ Paul Giamatti May Finally Land His First Oscar Nomination

 Paul Giamatti poses for a portrait in New York on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, to promote his film "The Holdovers." (AP)
Paul Giamatti poses for a portrait in New York on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, to promote his film "The Holdovers." (AP)
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20 Years after ‘Sideways,’ Paul Giamatti May Finally Land His First Oscar Nomination

 Paul Giamatti poses for a portrait in New York on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, to promote his film "The Holdovers." (AP)
Paul Giamatti poses for a portrait in New York on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, to promote his film "The Holdovers." (AP)

When Paul Giamatti made "Sideways" with Alexander Payne, he stayed in a little house in the middle of a large vineyard. At the end of a day of shooting, he would drive home in darkness, with the hills of Napa Valley around him.

Giamatti was then a respected character actor, but this was one of his first times as the lead. And he couldn't believe it.

"I remember Alexander saying, ‘You two guys are going to do it,’" recalls Giamatti of himself and Thomas Hayden Church. "And we were like, ‘Seriously?’"

In the years since, Giamatti, 56, has remained a leading man, albeit an unlikely one. His ability to carry a movie is now, well, kind of obvious. That goes for indie gems like "Private Life" and "Win Win" or acclaimed series like "John Adams" and "Billions."

But two decades later, "Sideways" remains lodged in Giamatti’s memory. "I remember every second of making it," he said on a recent afternoon in Manhattan. Wide as his travels have been since – "Hamlet" at Yale, Jerry Heller in "Straight Outta Compton," seven years on "Billions" — he’s not experienced anything quite like the natural, ensemble feel of "Sideways." Until, that is, he reteamed with Payne for "The Holdovers."

"I’ve never done anything like it again," says Giamatti, "except this is the closest thing to it."

"The Holdovers," playing in theaters and available digitally, marks the long-in-coming reunion of Giamatti and Payne. Just as in "Sideways," their alchemy produces something wry and moving. The setting — a 1970s boarding school — has moved from California sunshine to snowy New England.

But a faint connection between the two movies is there. Giamatti plays Paul Hunham, an irascible classics professor, widely disliked by his students, who’s forced to spend Christmas break with a handful of students. The movie, a broad comedy at first, peels away a tender humanistic drama around the trio of Hunham, a bright, less well-off student (Dominic Sessa) and the school’s grieving head cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).

For Giamatti, the bookends of "Sideways" and "The Holdovers" inevitably prompt reflection on the distance he's traveled in the intervening decades.

"All the stuff in between, I mean the life changes, the professional stuff — it’s just insane. My whole life changed. I got divorced. Massive change," Giamatti says. "I never talked to Alexander about this, but I thought there were similarities between the two characters. But it’s a guy 20 years on from the other guy. And probably there’s a lot of me 20 years on going into it."

Hunham, like Giamatti’s struggling writer Miles Raymond of "Sideways," is a prickly misanthrope stuck in a midlife stasis. In Giamatti’s hands, the dialogue of an erudite grouch sings. One example: "What sort of fascist hash foundry are you running?"

"I kind of like this character better, for some reason," Giamatti says. "He’s not as self-pitying. He’s got a little more zest. He, like, enjoys being the a--hole that he is."

Payne and Giamatti have talked for years about making another movie, including a private-eye film ("It’d be so great," says Giamatti) and a Western ("I’m like, I would do anything in a Western"). But it wasn’t until Payne got together with screenwriter David Hemingson with the idea of loosely adapting the 1935 French comedy "Merlusse" that they hit on the right project.

"I wanted to work with that guy again for 20 years," says Payne. "I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of terrific actors, but we had a really terrific professional relationship making ‘Sideways.’ I was waiting for the right thing — and created it. I told David Hemingson: We’re writing for Paul Giamatti."

"He’s just the best actor," Payne adds. "He’s the finest actor. Not casting dispersions on others, I just think there’s nothing he cannot do."

The part of Paul also had connections to Giamatti’s own upbringing. His father, A. Bartlett Giamatti, was an academic. Aside from being president of Yale and commissioner of Major League Baseball, he was a professor of English Renaissance literature. His mother, Toni, taught at the Hopkins School, the New Haven, Connecticut, prep school. The younger Giamatti, himself, attended the boarding school Choate as a day student.

"I think it’s why he was like, ‘You’ll get this character. This is sort of written for you.’ Because he knows I went to a school like that and I had a background like that," says Giamatti. "He even knows I’m interested in Roman history. A lot it was kind of a big gift of like: You kind of know all of this."

Asked for an example of how he and Payne work together, Giamatti describes a scene from "Sideways" when his character runs into his ex-wife and learns she’s newly married and pregnant. Miles, crushed, struggles to keep up a cheery facade.

"We had done three takes or something, and he came up to me and said, ‘Don’t stop smiling. Whatever you do, whatever she says, you can’t stop smiling,'" says Giamatti. "That was one of the best examples to me of how an actor and a director can work together. He saw something I was doing and he just kept pulling it out of me."

On "The Holdovers," Giamatti and Payne had their first argument. In a scene toward the end of the film, Paul is in a tense meeting with the parents of Sessa’s character. In the middle of it, Giamatti decided to sit down — an instinctual choice that, he felt, showed Paul was breaking protocol.

"He came up to me and he said, ‘Talk to me about sitting down,’" recalls Giamatti.

They discussed Giamatti’s reasoning and as they began to shoot it, Payne announced: "Sitting down, I buy it." But by then, Giamatti had rethought it. He asked to try it standing up. Each had come around to the other’s idea. Giamatti decided he liked standing better.

"And that was the biggest disagreement we had," says Giamatti, laughing.

During the actors strike, Giamatti and his castmates (Randolph and Sessa have also been widely celebrated for their performances), weren’t able to promote the film. Normally, missing out on interviews wouldn’t be something Giamatti would lose sleep over.

"But it was funny, I kept saying to my girlfriend, ‘I actually want to be talking about it. I think I’m frustrated that I can’t,'" Giamatti says.

Twenty years ago, Giamatti was surprisingly passed over for an Oscar nomination for "Sideways." This time, many are predicting he’ll receive his first Academy Award nomination, for best actor.

"That would be lovely if it happened. I’m not counting on anything," Giamatti says. "But for the first time, I do feel like putting myself behind it because I’d like it to get acknowledged in some way. Whether it’s me or not, that’s fine. If the movie does, if (Randolph) does, if Hemingson does or Alexander does — it’d be great if somebody does."

If Giamatti is nominated, it would be an overdue acknowledgement of one this era’s finest actors, one who’s long imbued everyman characters with wit and warmth. Calling them "schlubs" wouldn’t do justice for the justice he does them. So good at it is Giamatti that you might mistake the very down-to-earth actor for a regular guy, too.

But don't be fooled. Take Giamatti's new podcast, Chinwag, in which he and author Stephen Asma follow their fascinations with things think Sasquatch. Regular guy?

"I’m not. I’m really into weird (expletive)," Giamatti says, cackling. "I’ve always been into really weird (expletive). I said to my friend, ’I’m tired of not talking about Sasquatch and sitting on the fact that I’m fascinated by UFOs and ghosts.'"


Spotify to Reduce Staff by 17% in 2nd Layoff this Year

FILE PHOTO: Earphones are seen on top of a smart phone with a Spotify logo on it, in Zenica February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Earphones are seen on top of a smart phone with a Spotify logo on it, in Zenica February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
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Spotify to Reduce Staff by 17% in 2nd Layoff this Year

FILE PHOTO: Earphones are seen on top of a smart phone with a Spotify logo on it, in Zenica February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Earphones are seen on top of a smart phone with a Spotify logo on it, in Zenica February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Spotify will reduce its total headcount by around 17% across the company, it said in an email on Monday, after laying off 6% of this staff in January citing higher costs.
In the latest third quarter, the company swung to a profit aided by price hikes in its streaming services and growth in subscribers in all regions, and forecast that its number of monthly listeners would reach 601 million in the holiday quarter.
CEO Daniel Ek told Reuters at that time the company was still focusing on efficiencies to get more out of each dollar.
On Monday, he said a reduction of this size will feel surprisingly large given the recent positive earnings report and its performance.
"We debated making smaller reductions throughout 2024 and 2025," CEO Daniel Ek said in a mail to employees.
"Yet, considering the gap between our financial goal state and our current operational costs, I decided that a substantial action to rightsize our costs was the best option to accomplish our objectives."