Hollywood Stars to Partake in Turkish Film ‘Islamophobia’

Actor Mel Gibson. (photo credit:REUTERS)
Actor Mel Gibson. (photo credit:REUTERS)
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Hollywood Stars to Partake in Turkish Film ‘Islamophobia’

Actor Mel Gibson. (photo credit:REUTERS)
Actor Mel Gibson. (photo credit:REUTERS)

In the city of Antalya, southern Turkey, shooting the film “Islamophobia" has kicked off with the participation of many actors, including stars from Hollywood.

The film aims to shed light on the tolerant reality of Islam and to counter Islamophobia that has spread in the West. The filmmaker and cinematographer, Omer Sarikaya, oversees the filming in the historical and tourist sites of Antalya, with the participation of artists and stars from 48 countries.

The final part of the movie will be filmed in the Netherlands, after finishing the scenes in Turkey. American actor Adam Dormi will play the role of “Omar”, the hero of the film while Armenian actress Hripsime Sargsyan plays the role of “Nina”.

Hollywood stars including Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, Jackie Chan and Mel Gibson are also taking part as honorary guests in the film, which highlights the values ​​of peace and security advocated by Islam.

Turkish filmmaker Omer Sarikaya told the Anadolu news agency that the film crew has come a long way in terms of the project, which focuses on "Peace and Forgiveness," noting that 85 percent of the film will be shot in Antalya and the rest in the Netherlands.

He added: “In this movie, we are keen to define the tolerance and mercy of Islam for the whole world, and we will prove that terrorism is not linked to Islam," noting that all the film’s revenues will be allocated to relief work and humanitarian aid around the world.

Sarikaya continued: “Representatives from more than 18 countries are now working with us, and actors from more than 48 countries will join us to work on proving the reality of Islam to the world, and that it is the religion of security, mercy, compassion and peace.”

He also said that the film will be screened for the first time in 2018, and will be preceded by concerts and events, in Antalya, and later in the United States.

For his part the star of the film, Dormi said that the movie contains very important messages, as it seeks to refute the prior and faulty judgments about Islam. Dormi pointed out that among the film’s goals is defining the tolerance of religions, and breaking prejudices and false allegations that raise people's fears around the world.

Sargsyan also said the film sends important messages to humanity, and that she will be honored to partake in any film that contributes to the dissemination of the values ​​of beauty and peace.



EU Film Festival Screens 16 Films in Saudi Arabia

EU Film Festival Screens 16 Films in Saudi Arabia
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EU Film Festival Screens 16 Films in Saudi Arabia

EU Film Festival Screens 16 Films in Saudi Arabia

The 2nd edition of the European Film Festival will be held in Saudi Arabia to screen 16 films. The even will run from 7 to14 June at the VOX Cinemas, Sahara Mall in Riyadh.

The festival is organized by the Delegation of the European Union in Riyadh, in collaboration with embassies of EU member states and the Arabia Pictures Entertainment company.

The 16 films are from Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

The festival aims at facilitating cultural exchange, promoting European cinema, and enhancing communication between Saudi and European filmmakers through specialized events.

Among the festival’s guests are Directors Nuno Beato from Portugal, Sébastien Tulard from France, and Isabel Fernández from Spain, who will meet with filmmakers and fans for an open dialogue.

All the films and side events will be held at the Vox Cinema, the official sponsor of the festival in partnership with Ecole Camus, Alliance Française, the Goethe Institute, and the embassies of France, Portugal and the Netherlands.


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.


Movie Review: Who Let the Beasts Out? New ‘Transformers’ Tries but Fails to Energize the Saga 

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Wheeljack and Arcee in a scene from "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts." (Paramount via AP)
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Wheeljack and Arcee in a scene from "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts." (Paramount via AP)
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Movie Review: Who Let the Beasts Out? New ‘Transformers’ Tries but Fails to Energize the Saga 

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Wheeljack and Arcee in a scene from "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts." (Paramount via AP)
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Wheeljack and Arcee in a scene from "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts." (Paramount via AP)

With the “Transformers” franchise clearly at a crossroads, its latest protectors have turned to their deep bench of characters. But just adding more robots won’t transform this tired series.

“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” returns the franchise to its galaxy-wide self-importance after taking a nice detour with 2018′s smaller “Bumblebee.” We have a new cast of animal robots and a very evil enemy in the planet-eating Unicron, but they’re not used right and the movie limps from fight to fight.

The key to the film is actually a key, some sort of ancient glowing shaft that will open a portal in space and time. Everyone wants it — to go home, to kill planets or to save planets. The audience may also want to use it to beam into a more interesting movie.

Directed by Steven Caple Jr. — using a screenplay by Darnell Metayer, Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber and Josh Peters based on a story by Joby Harold — “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” is a big swing that seems to portend a multi-film arc nestled in time after “Bumblebee” and before the first live-action “Transformers” movie.

The problem with “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” is the same problem faced by all of the installments — balancing the humanity with the metal. “Bumblebee” got the ratios right by bringing the machine down to size.

But a wide gulf between the humans and the giant space robots immediately appears in the new movie, with Optimus Prime being his classic, anal drill sergeant self — “If we are to die, then we will die as one,” he’ll intone. As the movie stutters on, the robots seem to soften only when the beasts show up for the last third — they mourn, get angry, feel protective, love even.

The filmmakers also have tried to bridge the divide with none other than Pete Davidson, who voices the juvenile robot Mirage, a wisecracking, fist-bumping silver Porsche 911 with a less rigid way of expression: “Don’t mess with my boy!” and “Prime, you got to learn how to relax, my man.” It mostly works — best line: “I’m not scared. That’s just engine oil!” — but Davidson seems trapped inside that steel.

The special effects are astounding but sometimes numbing at the same time. The beasts — especially a nostril-flaring gorilla — are gorgeously realized and the baddies look cool as they control elements in space and time, like building sky walkways as they move on them.

Setting the movie in 1994 gives the filmmakers some vintage fun, like adding beepers and references to O.J. Simpson, plus a soundtrack including A Tribe Called Quest and LL Cool J. But even here they get stuff wrong, like using Biggie’s “Hypnotize,” which came out in 1996, and having a character sing “Waterfalls” by TLC a year before it came out.

The Autobots are represented by Optimus Prime (voiced by veteran Peter Cullen), Bumblebee and Arcee (voiced by Liza Koshy). Then there are the Terrorcons, led by Scourge (Peter Dinklage), who controls swarms of horrifying insect robots and says things like: “Rip the flesh from their bones.”

On the puny human side, Anthony Ramos plays an ex-military electronics expert from Brooklyn named Noah, who has a sick younger brother — Dean Scott Vazquez, the best actor of the bunch — and is tempted to criminality to get him proper care. On his first heist, he accidentally gets into Mirage and, after an excellent high-speed chase, meets the rest of the Autobots.

Looking for the portal key, he meets Elena, played by Dominique Fishback, a museum intern with an astonishing ability to recognize everything from a fake Leonardo da Vinci painting to a Nubian sculpture even though she’s never been outside New York. Soon she’ll be roaming ancient tombs in Peru like Indiana Jones.

Real-life friends Ramos and Fishback have talked about their chemistry, but none of it made it onto the screen. Just like the robots, their scenes are overly heightened and overacted, like an intense bubble of distilled humanity between giant robot fights. It’s not clear even what their relationship is — more siblings? Would-be-lovers?

Much too late come the titular stars of the show — the beasts. There’s Optimus Primal, a 13-foot-tall metallic silverback gorilla voiced by Ron Perlman; Cheetor, a cheetah the size of a small truck voiced by Tongayi Chirisa; Airazor, a peregrine falcon who shoots fire, voiced by Michelle Yeoh; and Rhinox, a battering ram on legs, voiced by David Sobolov. The film comes to life with them.

They’ve been hiding out on Earth, too, and a lot longer than the Autobots. They’ve even become sort of fans of us humans: “There is more to them that meets the eye. They are worth saving,” says Optimus Primal.

We Earthlings turn out to have been housing an awful lot of secret sentient robots and this latest clutch arise from the shadows like cicadas at a time when A.I. and ChatGPT are a societal worry. Look, maybe we should be anxious. ChatGPT clearly could have written a better movie.


With ‘Across the Spider-Verse,’ Phil Lord and Chris Miller ‘Blow the Doors Open’ 

This image released by Sony Pictures Animation shows Miles Morales as Spider-Man, voiced by Shameik Moore, left, and and Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, in a scene from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation's "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse." (Sony Pictures Animation via AP)
This image released by Sony Pictures Animation shows Miles Morales as Spider-Man, voiced by Shameik Moore, left, and and Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, in a scene from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation's "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse." (Sony Pictures Animation via AP)
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With ‘Across the Spider-Verse,’ Phil Lord and Chris Miller ‘Blow the Doors Open’ 

This image released by Sony Pictures Animation shows Miles Morales as Spider-Man, voiced by Shameik Moore, left, and and Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, in a scene from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation's "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse." (Sony Pictures Animation via AP)
This image released by Sony Pictures Animation shows Miles Morales as Spider-Man, voiced by Shameik Moore, left, and and Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, in a scene from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation's "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse." (Sony Pictures Animation via AP)

Aside from the inverted skyline, the only giveaway that something is off in one of the most striking images of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is the ponytail that’s sticking straight up in the air.

Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) have just reunited in the “Into the Spider-Verse” sequel. After giddily swinging through New York skyscrapers, they perch themselves on the underside of a clocktower ledge. Their view is ours: An upside-down city, shimmering in the distance.

“Everything is the wrong way, but if feels right,” says Phil Lord, who wrote and produced “Across the Spider-Verse” with Christopher Miller.

In the movies of Lord and Miller, a filmmaking duo since they met in college at Dartmouth, down is frequently up, and up is often down. They’ve turned seemingly terrible ideas — a Lego movie, a “21 Jump Street” movie — into original works of antic, innovative comedy. One of their crowning achievements, the Oscar-winning “Into the Spider-Verse,” took a hatchet to superhero movie conventions. Spider-Man, for the first time, was a biracial kid from Brooklyn. He was also, thanks to a mosh pit of multiverses, just about anyone, or anything, you could think of.

“With that mask that covers an entire body and face, you can imagine yourself in that suit,” says Miller. “The whole goal of this trilogy was to let everybody feel like it could be me, and show as many different types of people — and animals — being Spider-Man as possible.”

It took nearly five years, a crew of a thousand and a cavalcade of Spider-People, but the second chapter of Miller and Lord’s “Spider-Verse” series has arrived. It might be their masterpiece. In “Across the Spider-Verse” — an eyeball-delighting, electrically animated whirligig of color and sound — Lord and Miller set out not just to surpass the high bar of their 2018 original but upend big-studio animation and the more-of-the-same expectations of sequel-making.

“It was an opportunity to show the limitless possibilities of animation in a studio film,” says Miller. “For too long, the studios were mandating that these films all look the same. And we wanted to blow the doors open on that.”

“Across the Spider-Verse” certainly blasted expectations on opening weekend. It debuted with $120.5 million, way above tracking estimates and more than triple what “Into the Spider-Verse” launched with. What was once a quirky minor player in the hulking world of superhero movies has turned into not just a blockbuster but a genuine pop-culture sensation and, maybe, a new high point in comic-book movies.

“When you have the confidence of the audience like I hope we have from the first movie, you sort of want to use it as a springboard to take more chances,” says Lord. “We couldn’t justify doing this with any other story or any other point in our careers. We were like: Let’s swing the biggest bat we can.”

“Across the Spider-Verse,” directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, continues the story of Miles, now a veteran crime-fighter but also a teenager with an increasingly strained relationship with his parents. They remain unaware of his secret identity.

But much isn’t straightforward in “Across the Spider-Verse,” which Lord and Miller penned with David Callaham. There are countless other parallel Earths, each with their own Spider-Person. One is Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man’s traditional love interest who’s now a potent force, herself. Worlds collide, many times over.

There’s also a Spidey collective that keep these universes in balance by making sure certain canonical moments happen for each hero. There may be wide latitude in who can be Spider-Man, but a foundation of formula must be obeyed.

This battle with Canon is in many ways Lord and Miller’s fight, too. They’ve spent their careers deconstructing convention and inverting tropes. They have sometimes pushed right up against Hollywood’s limits. In mid-production on “Solo,” the Han Solo standalone “Star Wars” film, they were famously replaced after a clash over the film’s tone.

“Across the Spider-Verse,” a part two ending in an abrupt cliffhanger, plunges directly into the question: So what is gospel for Lord and Miller? Is anything?

“Who seeks to become an artist in order to be a column that upholds the temple?” says Lord, laughing. “That’s no fun.”

The “Solo” kerfuffle might have been their “Network” moment. (“You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale.”) Instead, Lord and Miller have, if anything, doubled down on their devotion to tearing up Hollywood playbooks.

“We have a natural aversion to the dangers of nostalgia. It can be a calcifying effect on people,” says Miller. “There’s a lot of anger and hate coming out of wanting to preserve things the way they’ve always been. That’s not how society works. We need to keep evolving and making things new and growing. We can’t just perfectly preserve the past.”

“The movies you love were all daring in their time,” adds Lord. “The idea isn’t to copy them. It’s to be as equally daring as ‘Snow White’ or ‘Toy Story’ or ‘Jaws.’”

Their collage-like films, like Michael Rianda’s family road trip “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” are often in some way contemplating humanity in increasingly digital worlds. Lord and Miller were behind the meme-turned-movie “Cocaine Bear” earlier this year.

Set to a modern hip-hop beat and chock-full of ever-changing shocks of color that channel the 2-D art of comic books, “Across the Spider-Verse” summons multiverses with the ease of a keystroke. But it does so far more playfully, disorderly and distinctly un-algorithm-like. Striving for originality, they say, is “how to keep the robots guessing.”

“The AI isn’t going to generate something new and original,” says Miller, who along with Lord, is an outspoken Writers Guild member in the current strike where artificial intelligence is a top issue. “It’s going to just do an imitation of the things that came before it. It’s our job as humans to keep making things new.”

But as dizzying as “Across the Spider-Verse” can be visually, the imagery is ultimately in service of its central characters’ inner lives. To the 28-year-old Moore, Miles’ appeal isn’t that he’s exceptional. It’s that he’s recognizably ordinary.

“There are young Black kids that are just like Miles. Regular, cool, kinda nerdy, weird, loveable kids. Same thing on the Hispanic side,” says Moore. “People want to meet him. My lines at Comic-Con are insane.”

Moore never received a script for either film, just a sense of major plot points. Three times a month, for four years, he would go into a recording booth for six-hour sessions with Lord, Miller and the directors.

“They’ll play with it for hours. We’ll do another session where they lock in on whatever they like the most and then they’ll play with it again. It’s really like they’re having fun, more than anything,” says Moore. “The whole project is being treated like a passion project. It doesn’t feel like someone is watching over them.”

At the same time, “Across the Spider-Verse” grapples with not just the responsibilities of Spider-Man (Miles) but of his anxious, doubting parents (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Vélez) and Gwen’s disapproving father (Shea Whigham). It’s a coming-of age-story, but as Miller says, “the parents have to come of age, too.”

“And what makes someone legitimate?” says Lord. “Do you seek that outside of yourself? Or can you simply seek your own approval? Miles is like all of us hoping for validation outside. But it can never really satisfy you. You have to take it on yourself. Even though the movie ends in a cliffhanger, I think that’s what he achieves. It’s an epic action movie where the story is really internal. He’s the MacGuffin.”

Some of the same questions exist for Lord and Miller, both 47 and increasingly prominent power players with a long pipeline of projects in development. Later this summer they have the R-rated dog comedy “Strays” in theaters. Even a live-action movie for Miles is in the mix.

“You always feel like an outsider even if you’re working inside these big companies,” says Miller. “Otherwise, you become the Empire.”

“Beyond the Spider-Verse,” the third film in the trilogy is due out in less than a year, on March 29. It will bring to a conclusion Miles’ looming battle with Spider-Man Canon. Just how far Miles — and Lord and Miller — are able to stretch the Marvel webslinger will be put to a final test.

Given who’s behind these films, don’t put a lot of money on Canon emerging victorious.


Hollywood Actors Authorize Strike as Writers Still Out 

The iconic Hollywood sign is shown on a hillside above a neighborhood in Los Angeles California, US, February 1, 2019. (Reuters)
The iconic Hollywood sign is shown on a hillside above a neighborhood in Los Angeles California, US, February 1, 2019. (Reuters)
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Hollywood Actors Authorize Strike as Writers Still Out 

The iconic Hollywood sign is shown on a hillside above a neighborhood in Los Angeles California, US, February 1, 2019. (Reuters)
The iconic Hollywood sign is shown on a hillside above a neighborhood in Los Angeles California, US, February 1, 2019. (Reuters)

The Hollywood's actors union voted to authorize a strike if contract talks break down, turning up the heat on major film and television studios already grappling with a monthlong work stoppage by writers.

After voting closed on Monday, SAG-AFTRA said 97.91% of ballots cast supported a strike authorization. Nearly 65,000 members, or about 48% of those eligible, voted on the measure.

"Bravo SAG-AFTRA. We are in it to win it," Fran Drescher, the union's president, said in a statement.

Talks between the 160,000-member union, Hollywood's largest, and the major studios are scheduled to start on Wednesday.

No new negotiations are scheduled with the striking Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents 11,500 film and TV writers. Their walkout has disrupted production of late-night shows and shut down high-profile projects including a new season of Netflix's "Stranger Things" and a "Game of Thrones" spinoff for Warner Bros Discovery's HBO.

Over the weekend, the studios likely averted a second work stoppage by reaching a tentative deal with the Directors Guild of America (DGA). That pact will take effect if DGA members vote to ratify it in the coming weeks.

With the actors, "we are approaching these negotiations with the goal of achieving a new agreement that is beneficial to SAG-AFTRA members and the industry overall," said the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Walt Disney Co, Netflix Inc and other studios.

A strike by actors would lead to a broader shutdown across Hollywood and increase pressure on studios that need programming to feed their streaming services and the fall TV broadcast schedule.

In the negotiations, actors are seeking higher pay and safeguards against unauthorized use of their images through artificial intelligence. Their current deal expires June 30.

SAG-AFTRA leaders said the industry had changed dramatically with the rise of streaming television and the emergence of new technology such as generative AI.

The coming talks "may be one of the most consequential negotiations in the union's history," said chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.

"Inflation, dwindling residuals due to streaming, and generative AI all threaten actors’ ability to earn a livelihood if our contracts are not adapted to reflect the new realities," he said.


Kaley Cuoco, Chris Messina Star in ‘Based on a True Story,’ a Tale of a Killer Idea That Goes Awry

Cast members Chris Messina and Kaley Cuoco attend a premiere for the television series "Based on a True Story" in West Hollywood, California, US, June 1, 2023. (Reuters)
Cast members Chris Messina and Kaley Cuoco attend a premiere for the television series "Based on a True Story" in West Hollywood, California, US, June 1, 2023. (Reuters)
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Kaley Cuoco, Chris Messina Star in ‘Based on a True Story,’ a Tale of a Killer Idea That Goes Awry

Cast members Chris Messina and Kaley Cuoco attend a premiere for the television series "Based on a True Story" in West Hollywood, California, US, June 1, 2023. (Reuters)
Cast members Chris Messina and Kaley Cuoco attend a premiere for the television series "Based on a True Story" in West Hollywood, California, US, June 1, 2023. (Reuters)

In the new Peacock series “Based on a True Story,” debuting Thursday, Kaley Cuoco plays Ava, a woman obsessed with true crime. She consumes these dark stories all day, analyzes the cases with her friends and murder-centric podcasts help lull her to sleep at night.

“Do we have to wake up to murder every morning?” her husband Nathan, played by Chris Messina, asks in a scene.

The series highlights an explosion of coverage of true crime in recent years. It is the subject of podcasts, documentary series, books, and social media posts where amateur sleuths breathlessly weigh in on the latest crime du jour.

In “Based on a True Story,” Ava hatches a plan to start a podcast — hosted by the couple — to interview a serial killer. She is confident that it will be lucrative and add excitement into their otherwise middle-aged monotony.

The choices made by Ava and Nathan in the series, argues Cuoco, are similar to the subjects of actual true crime stories whose fate is determined by one bad decision.

“It happens all the time,” said Cuoco. “That’s why this was very believable to me. They are in a desperate situation, make a really ridiculous choice out of desperation and end up in a very bad place. In my opinion, they’re as bad as the killer by the end of this.”

Cuoco admits to being a fan of true crime herself and likens it to “looking at an accident” on the road. "We're rubberneckers,” she said.

Co-star Liana Liberato, who plays Ava's younger sister, has a list of true crime podcasts to recommend. “Some of my favorites are 'S-Town', 'Root of Evil', ' To Live and Die in LA. ' I'm a little too obsessed. I relate very much to Kaley's character,” Liberato said.

She's not the only one. On the morning of the cast's interviews, Priscilla Quintana, who plays Ava's friend Ruby on the show, woke extra early and tuned into, what else but true crime.

"I woke up at 4:30 a.m., and I didn’t have to be here until like seven, so I cleaned my whole kitchen (and) listened to the newest episode of 'Crime Junkie.' Why is it the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning,” she wondered aloud.

In one episode, Cuoco and Messina's characters attend CrimeCon in Las Vegas — which is similar to Comic-Con but for fans of true crime. It’s an actual event, by the way, that will be held later this year in Orlando.

“I see the addiction of it,” Messina said who doesn't seek out the genre but can get caught up by an episode of say, “Dateline,” like the rest of us.

He likes to use it as his own mental exercise to be prepared if things go south. “For me, it’s always a nice puzzle to figure out how people got into this situation and how can I not. And if I do, how can I be saved?”


‘Girl from Ipanema’ Singer Astrud Gilberto Dies at 83

Brazilian vocalist Astrud Gilberto poses for a photo in New York on Aug. 20, 1981. (AP)
Brazilian vocalist Astrud Gilberto poses for a photo in New York on Aug. 20, 1981. (AP)
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‘Girl from Ipanema’ Singer Astrud Gilberto Dies at 83

Brazilian vocalist Astrud Gilberto poses for a photo in New York on Aug. 20, 1981. (AP)
Brazilian vocalist Astrud Gilberto poses for a photo in New York on Aug. 20, 1981. (AP)

Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, the voice of Bossa Nova whose version of "The Girl from Ipanema" was an international success in the late 1960s, has died at the age of 83, her family said.

Gilberto died on Monday at her home in Philadelphia, her granddaughter Sofia Gilberto said on social media.

"Life is beautiful, as the song says, but I bring the sad news that my grandmother became a star today and is next to my grandfather Joao Gilberto," the granddaughter wrote.

Astrud was married to Brazilian musician Joao Gilberto, the pioneer composer and songwriter of Bossa Nova from the late 1950s, who died in 2019.

He collaborated with US jazz musician Stan Getz in 1963 on the album "Getz/Gilberto" that popularized the new Brazilian sound worldwide.

Joao Gilberto's then-wife Astrud performed the vocals in English, including the duet "The Girl from Ipanema" which became the album's major hit. "Getz/Gilberto" won three Grammy Awards including Album of the Year, the first time a jazz album received the accolade.

Her first solo album was "The Astrud Gilberto Album," released in 1965 and featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim.


Cuba Gooding Jr. Faces Start of Civil Trial in Rape Case

FILE – Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. appears in court, Jan. 22, 2020, in New York. (Alec Tabak/The Daily News via AP, File, Pool)
FILE – Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. appears in court, Jan. 22, 2020, in New York. (Alec Tabak/The Daily News via AP, File, Pool)
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Cuba Gooding Jr. Faces Start of Civil Trial in Rape Case

FILE – Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. appears in court, Jan. 22, 2020, in New York. (Alec Tabak/The Daily News via AP, File, Pool)
FILE – Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. appears in court, Jan. 22, 2020, in New York. (Alec Tabak/The Daily News via AP, File, Pool)

Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. faces the start of a civil trial Tuesday on accusations that he raped a woman in a New York City hotel a decade ago, an encounter that he contends was consensual after the two met at a nearby restaurant.

The trial was scheduled to begin with jury selection in Manhattan federal court as the Oscar-winning “Jerry Maguire” star confronts allegations that he met the woman in Manhattan, persuaded her to join him at a hotel, and convinced her to stop at his room so he could change clothing.

The woman, who has proceeded anonymously but has been told she must reveal her name at trial, said in her lawsuit that Gooding raped her in his room. His lawyers, though, insist that it was consensual sex and that she bragged afterward to others that she had sex with a celebrity.

The lawsuit seeks $6 million in damages. It was filed against a man who authorities say has been accused of committing sexual misconduct against more than 30 other women, including groping, unwanted kissing and other inappropriate behavior.


Putting the K in Hip-Hop: South Korea’s Jay Park

In this photo taken on March 29, 2023, Korean-American entertainer Jay Park reacts during an interview in Seoul. (AFP)
In this photo taken on March 29, 2023, Korean-American entertainer Jay Park reacts during an interview in Seoul. (AFP)
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Putting the K in Hip-Hop: South Korea’s Jay Park

In this photo taken on March 29, 2023, Korean-American entertainer Jay Park reacts during an interview in Seoul. (AFP)
In this photo taken on March 29, 2023, Korean-American entertainer Jay Park reacts during an interview in Seoul. (AFP)

K-pop idol. Used tire salesman. Hip-hop mogul. The course of true success has never run smoothly, but Korean-American entertainer Jay Park has had an unusually bumpy ride to stardom.

The 36-year-old is now one of South Korea's most recognizable entertainers: he's founded two of the country's largest hip-hop labels, released a string of hits and was the first Asian-American to sign with Jay-Z's Roc Nation.

But this success was hard fought, he told AFP in an exclusive interview, with his first shot at fame -- debuting as the leader of a K-pop band -- imploding in a scandal that led him to flee Seoul for his native Seattle.

"I faced a lot of backlash," Park told AFP, adding he was once "kind of blacklisted from the industry".

The problem started with a few throwaway comments posted online by Park -- then in his late teens -- criticizing the intense idol training regime, the K-pop industry and South Korea itself.

A Korean media frenzy ensued, with the fallout forcing Park to quit 2PM, a seven-member boy band under major label JYP Entertainment.

He moved back to Seattle and worked at a used tire shop, but he kept his musical dreams alive, eventually posting a cover of "Nothin' on You" -- a B.O.B and Bruno Mars song -- on his YouTube channel.

"I just wanted to show my fans that I'm doing well, and also I wanted to show people what type of music I'm into, what type of artist I am. So I just put up a cover and it just kind of blew up," he said.

Racking up more than two million views in a day, the song catapulted him back into the music industry and marked "a new start" for Park.

It also allowed him to recalibrate his musical style and shift from pop to rap -- a move that would eventually help transform South Korea's nascent hip-hop scene.

It was not a calculated decision or grand plan, he said, but an attempt to move past restrictive labels.

"If I say I'm a rapper, then I can only rap. But I like to rap, I like to dance, I like to sing," he said, adding that he would be "always grateful to the hip-hop culture" for helping him relaunch his career.

Struggle for survival

Park's story is unusual: it is rare for a K-pop failure to go on to have a successful musical career after leaving one of the big agencies around which the industry is structured.

"It didn't happen overnight. Obviously, it took a lot of work," Park told AFP of his musical comeback.

Hundreds of thousands of aspiring K-pop stars go through the grueling idol training system, notorious for high stress and long hours, analysts say.

Only 60 percent of trainees make it to "debut", industry figures show, and almost all of those that do are signed to big agencies like BTS's HYBE, or its major rival SM Entertainment.

Without that backing, "the chances for survival are really low", said music critic Kim Do-heon.

"There are so many groups that disband," he said.

After Park quit 2PM, he was left to navigate the industry on his own, and has spoken of his struggles with, for example, finding musicians willing to be featured on his first solo album.

But even when the industry odds are stacked against you, Park said, it is still possible to succeed with the right mindset.

"There is a limit to what agencies can do for you, and it seems that grit and determination are what can fill in," he said.

Change the industry

Now Park is trying to change the industry -- or his small segment of it -- for the better.

He has already founded two of South Korea's most prominent hip-hop labels. And now his career has come full circle with his establishment of a third label aimed at producing a boy band.

But he's doing it his way: rather than the exacting training and obsessive levels of control pioneered by the major agencies, Park says he believes real relationships and "freestyling together" are the key to success.

His new trainees will have Park as a mentor -- something he says he longed for when he started in the industry at 18.

"I'm not bitter over anything. I don't hate anybody. I don't dislike anybody. I don't have time for that. I don't have time for thinking about stuff in the past," he said.

"I can't change the past, so what I can change is the future, so that's what I work on."


Hollywood Actors Set Vote to Authorize Strike with Writers Still Out 

People stand above the Hollywood sign under a cloudy sky in Los Angeles, California, US, May 31, 2023. (Reuters)
People stand above the Hollywood sign under a cloudy sky in Los Angeles, California, US, May 31, 2023. (Reuters)
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Hollywood Actors Set Vote to Authorize Strike with Writers Still Out 

People stand above the Hollywood sign under a cloudy sky in Los Angeles, California, US, May 31, 2023. (Reuters)
People stand above the Hollywood sign under a cloudy sky in Los Angeles, California, US, May 31, 2023. (Reuters)

Hollywood's actors union will announce Monday whether their members authorized a possible strike, a move that would turn up the heat on major film and television studios already grappling with a work stoppage by writers.

The SAG-AFTRA union set a Monday deadline for its 160,000 members to vote on whether to give their negotiators the power to call a strike if needed. Talks between the actors union and major studios are scheduled to start on Wednesday.

Over the weekend, the studios likely averted another work stoppage by reaching a tentative deal with the Directors Guild of America (DGA). That pact will take effect if DGA members vote to ratify it.

Actors, in their negotiations, will seek higher pay and safeguards against unauthorized use of their images through artificial intelligence. Their current deal expires June 30.

In a letter to members urging them to vote in favor of a strike authorization, SAG-AFTRA leaders said the industry had changed dramatically with the rise of streaming television and the emergence of new technology such as generative AI.

"We have fully entered a digital and streaming entertainment industry, and that demands a contract that is relevant to the new business model," the letter said.

A spokesperson for the Alliance of Film and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents Walt Disney Co, Netflix Inc and other major studios, had no comment.

The month-long strike by more than 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has disrupted production of late-night shows and shut down high-profile projects including a new season of Netflix's "Stranger Things" and a "Game of Thrones" spinoff for Warner Bros Discovery's HBO.

An actors' strike would lead to a broader shutdown and increase pressure on studios that need programming to feed their streaming services and the fall TV broadcast schedule.

During the last WGA strike in 2007 and 2008, a studio deal with the DGA prompted writers to head back to the bargaining table.

On Friday, WGA negotiator Chris Keyser argued that would not be the case this time.

"Any deal that puts this town back to work runs straight through the WGA, and there is no way around that," Keyser said in a video posted on YouTube.