Disney+ Subscribers Surge as Netflix Stumbles

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters
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Disney+ Subscribers Surge as Netflix Stumbles

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

The Disney+ streaming service saw its number of paying subscribers leap beyond expectations in the last quarter, as rival Netflix's client count ebbed, results showed Wednesday.

The number of people subscribing to Disney+ topped 152 million, up some 31 percent from the same period a year earlier, the entertainment giant said in an earnings report.

Disney's bottom line was also boosted by rising revenue from its theme parks, which showed signs of recovering from stifled attendance during the pandemic, AFP reported.

Better-that-expected earnings reported by Disney came as many of the tech titans that flourished during the pandemic curb costs in the face of inflation and people get back to living life in the real world instead of online.

Disney shares were up more than 6 percent in after-market trades that followed release of the earnings figures.

"We had an excellent quarter, with our world-class creative and business teams powering outstanding performance at our domestic theme parks, big increases in live-sports viewership, and significant subscriber growth at our streaming services," said Disney chief executive Bob Chapek.

The 14.4 million Disney+ subscribers added in the recently ended quarter raised the overall number of subscriptions to its streaming services, which include Hulu and ESPN+, to 221 million, Chapek added.

The overall number of subscribers to Disney streaming services topped those of Netflix for the first time.

"Investors will breathe a sigh of relief from Disney’s robust fiscal (quarterly) earnings," said Insider Intelligence principal analyst Paul Verna.

"The streaming figures will be seen as an indicator of the health of the market, especially after lackluster subscriber figures from Netflix and Comcast."

Disney also announced that an ad-subsidized version of its streaming television subscription service will be offered in the United States starting December 8 at a monthly price $3 less than the ad-free offering.

- K-pop and superheroes -
Taking a page from Netflix's playbook, Disney has been investing in shows created in places outside the United States.

The company plans to "step up" investments in such local original content, Chapek said, pointing out a film concert and docu-series focused on South Korean music sensation BTS.

He expressed confidence in Disney theater films in the works, including an eagerly anticipated "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" addition to its Marvel superhero line-up.

A trailer for the Black Panther film logged more than 170 million views in the 24 hours after its release, Chapek said.

"Disney still faces economic uncertainty and intense competition, but performance should at least temporarily put to rest some of Wall Street's gloomier perceptions about the company, and more broadly about the entertainment industry," said Paul Verna, an analyst at Insider Intelligence.

Rival Netflix has reported losing subscribers for two quarters in a row, as the streaming giant battles fierce competition and viewer belt tightening, though the firm assured investors of better days ahead.

The loss of 970,000 paying customers in the most recent quarter was less than expected, leaving Netflix with just shy of 221 million subscribers.

"Our challenge and opportunity is to accelerate our revenue and membership growth... and to better monetize our big audience," the firm said in its earnings report.

After years of amassing subscribers, Netflix lost 200,000 customers worldwide in the first quarter compared to the end of 2021.

Netflix said in its earnings report that it had expected to gain a million paid subscribers in the current quarter.

Netflix executives have made it clear the company will get tougher on sharing logins and passwords, which allow many to access the platform's content without paying.

In an effort to draw new subscribers, Netflix said it will work with Microsoft to launch a cheaper subscription plan that includes advertisements.

The ad-supported offering will be in addition to the three account options already available, with the cheapest plan coming in at $10 per month in the United States.



Kate Winslet’s ‘Regime’ Is Not a Dictatorship — Behind the Scenes, at Least

 This image released by HBO shows Kate Winslet in a scene from "The Regime." (HBO via AP)
This image released by HBO shows Kate Winslet in a scene from "The Regime." (HBO via AP)
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Kate Winslet’s ‘Regime’ Is Not a Dictatorship — Behind the Scenes, at Least

 This image released by HBO shows Kate Winslet in a scene from "The Regime." (HBO via AP)
This image released by HBO shows Kate Winslet in a scene from "The Regime." (HBO via AP)

Kate Winslet is running things — on and off the set of her new TV show, "The Regime."

In the HBO show premiering Sunday, she plays Elena Vernham — also known as The Chancellor, the ruler of a fictional country in Europe, possibly near Poland. Winslet, who is also an executive producer on the show, says she's never been offered a character like this "in her life."

"I’ve never read a script like this before. I’ve never laughed so much at the material that was in front of me, as we did every single day, and I really just felt this was an exciting, challenging, terrifying opportunity for me to step totally out of my comfort zone," she says.

As the show’s worshipped leader, she came face to face with many huge artworks of herself.

"Initially I thought to myself, oh God, that’s so brilliant. I’ve got to have one. And then I got so sick of looking at them that towards the end I just wanted to burn them all," Winslet laughs.

Sometimes, the production team would neglect to warn her of a large, sequined image of her face on set.

"Funnily enough I don’t like looking at me. It’s not a comfortable place to be. So yes, there was a, there was a lot of being confronted with that, this heightened version of myself," she says. "I just had to kind of roll with it."

That’s one of the many major differences between the star and the dictator — who loves to be loved by her people, addressing them regularly and also, occasionally, serenading them with a song ("Santa Baby").

Among her loyal subjects: Guillaume Gallienne, as her husband Nicholas; Andrea Riseborough, who runs the palace, and Danny Webb as one of her many ministers, subservient to her bizarre pronouncements. Martha Plimpton plays a US senator and Hugh Grant is Elena's political rival.

Things in the country are running smoothly — well, as smoothly as they can while Elena deals with her latest hypochondria, paranoia and abandonment issues. Then she hires a soldier, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, in her fight against tiny deadly spores — and begins a relationship with repercussions that shake the regime, and the country, to its core, moving her battles to a much larger scale.

The dark comedy, from "Succession" writer Will Tracy, is billed as a twisted love story about two people who should never have fallen in love, which is "exactly why everybody should watch it," says Schoenaerts.

"The world is full of people that should have never met," he says.

Luckily, off screen, the results were less damaging with lots of laughter on set, Schoenaerts recalls: "It gives us some relief because, obviously, sometimes we really have to go (to dark) places."

And it was much less of a dictatorship than on screen.

"She leads by example," Schoenaerts says of Winslet. "She’s always on time, always prepared, always kind, generous, open and extremely sharp. And she’s a lot of fun to work with."

"The Regime" directors Stephen Frears and Jessica Hobbs both agree that a Winslet set is more like a welcoming theater company.

"It did feel like that," says Winslet, who has appeared in amateur theatrical productions.

Gallienne remembers that Winslet would take time out to talk to any new cast members so that they felt comfortable and part of the team.

"She’s very direct, very honest, but very simple and very kind," he says. "As she says, you know, learn your lines, focus and deliver."

Winslet says that she takes being number one on the call sheet very seriously and tries to lead by example, to "lift the energy every day and just deliver it and show up and, and really be there for everybody."

"As I’m getting older I feel responsibility and gratitude, you know, both simultaneously," Winslet explains. "It’s a really privileged position to be in. And I really respect it."

The self-centered chancellor is a far cry from any real-life figure, if you were wondering, with Winslet describing her character's theatrics as "so enormous and delicious."

"And her hysteria at times, and how volatile she is, how vulnerable she is. I mean, I just couldn’t compare her to anyone," she says.

"I couldn’t say there were things that I actually liked about her," adds Winslet, "but there were things that really just made me laugh."


For Each Best Picture Oscar Hopeful, Film Editors Are Key 

(From L) Mark Orton, Alexander Payne, and Kevin Tent arrive for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 14th Annual Governors Awards at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles on January 9, 2024. (AFP)
(From L) Mark Orton, Alexander Payne, and Kevin Tent arrive for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 14th Annual Governors Awards at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles on January 9, 2024. (AFP)
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For Each Best Picture Oscar Hopeful, Film Editors Are Key 

(From L) Mark Orton, Alexander Payne, and Kevin Tent arrive for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 14th Annual Governors Awards at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles on January 9, 2024. (AFP)
(From L) Mark Orton, Alexander Payne, and Kevin Tent arrive for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 14th Annual Governors Awards at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles on January 9, 2024. (AFP)

Whether they are snipping an actor's lengthy stare, obliging the viewer to process rapid-fire images or creating tension with a pause, film editors who work in sync with directors play a vital role in giving life to a movie -- and its Oscar chances.

"You can't have a good movie with bad editing," Kevin Tent, who is nominated for an Academy Award for his work with director Alexander Payne on best picture contender "The Holdovers," told AFP.

Tent -- who has been part of Payne's filmmaking inner circle for nearly 30 years, including on Oscar contenders "The Descendants" (2011) and "Sideways" (2004) -- compares his work as an editor to that of a chef making a special dish.

After initial filming, "you're getting all these different elements, and you're chopping things and mixing them" to find the perfect recipe to tell the story, Tent explained.

"If you put too much salt in something, it's no good, or if you put too much sugar, it ruins everything," he quips.

For "The Holdovers," which received a total of five Oscar nominations ahead of the March 10 ceremony, Tent certainly found a winning formula.

Payne's film is a touching holiday tale of three lonely souls who end up spending Christmas together at a 1970s-era boarding school -- a crotchety teacher, a cafeteria manager in mourning and a fragile teenage boy.

Tent is vying for the best film editing Oscar with his peers who worked on "Anatomy of a Fall,Killers of the Flower Moon,Poor Things" and "Oppenheimer," the overall favorite for Oscars glory.

Best picture and best editing awards often go hand-in-hand.

For nearly a century, only 11 movies won the Academy award for best picture without also being nominated for best editing. And 40 percent of all best pictures winners also won the statuette for editing prowess.

Director-editor bond

Those statistics show the extent to which editing is indeed the essence of film, even more so than the screenplay or the cinematography.

Legendary directors like Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles said editing was the key to making a good movie.

"'Movies are made in the cutting room' -- many people say that, because it's there where you really have the time to be creative and think about what the movie is, and what it's going to become," explains Tent.

He worked with Payne on "The Holdovers" for nearly a year.

That gave the duo time to cut more than 30 minutes from the film's run time, as compared to their early cut, and find just the right bittersweet, funny-serious tone thanks to test audiences.

The film has been praised for its use of "dissolves" -- overlapping images that allows a new shot to surface while the previous one disappears -- which help to develop the emotional evolution of the characters or the melancholic beauty of winter.

Such precise work requires a director and editor to be exactly on the same page, which is why many directors have editors they bring from film to film.

Thelma Schoonmaker, the queen of editing with three Oscars to her name, has worked with Martin Scorsese since the start of his career more than 50 years ago.

Schoonmaker is one of Tent's rivals for her work on "Killers of the Flower Moon," which is also in the running for best picture. She has regularly mentioned in interviews how closely she and Scorsese collaborate.

"He taught me everything I know about editing. Our sensibilities are the same," she told the CineMontage website in February.

'Midwives' of cinema

Editors are usually hailed for their deep technical knowledge and for their ability not to leave their own stamp on the material, as the director's vision remains paramount.

"The editing cannot be noticeable, or branded -- it's really the craft of adapting someone's work," Laurent Senechal, a nominee for his work on Justine Triet's "Anatomy of a Fall," told AFP.

"We are like the midwives -- we accompany them," said Senechal, who worked on Triet's last three films.

Editing "Anatomy" -- a courtroom thriller about a writer accused of murdering her husband, which earned five nominations including best picture, director and editing -- took 38 weeks, Senechal said, calling the time a "luxury" in French cinema.

That pace allowed the pair to carefully master the desynchronization of sound and image, which helps to propel the ambiguity of the film, which depicts the couple's collapse and the unclear circumstances of the husband's death.

When the couple's son, who is blind, testifies in court, the audience sees images of the husband, who is speaking with the child's voice -- did these images occur in the past, or are they false memories?

"Justine is totally obsessive," Senechal said. "Editing is one of the most essential things for directing."


Director: Oscar-nominated 'Past Lives' Was Inspired by Immigrant Experience

Cast members Greta Lee, John Magaro and Teo Yoo attend a photo call to promote the movie 'Past Lives' at the 73rd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 19, 2023. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo
Cast members Greta Lee, John Magaro and Teo Yoo attend a photo call to promote the movie 'Past Lives' at the 73rd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 19, 2023. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo
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Director: Oscar-nominated 'Past Lives' Was Inspired by Immigrant Experience

Cast members Greta Lee, John Magaro and Teo Yoo attend a photo call to promote the movie 'Past Lives' at the 73rd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 19, 2023. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo
Cast members Greta Lee, John Magaro and Teo Yoo attend a photo call to promote the movie 'Past Lives' at the 73rd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 19, 2023. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

Korean-Canadian director Celine Song said her life as an immigrant inspired the Oscar-nominated film "Past Lives", speaking ahead of its release in South Korean cinemas on Wednesday.
Specifically, she drew on a conversation between her friend vising from South Korea and her husband at a bar in New York, Song told a press conference in the capital, Seoul.
"As a bilingual, I was translating between the two who couldn't communicate and it made me realize I was translating some parts of my identity and history," she added.
"That made me want to make this film."
The film, which centers on two old friends, Nora and Hae Sung, who reunite in New York decades after having parted ways as children in South Korea, has drawn critical acclaim since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last year.
It won a Best Picture nomination for this year's Academy Awards, competing against the likes of "Oppenheimer" and "Anatomy Of A Fall" as well as for Best Original Screenplay.
The film also won the award for best feature at the 2024 Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Song was born and brought up in South Korea before moving to Canada at the age of 12, similar to the main character Nora.
It was a personal choice to make her first feature film autobiographical, she added.
"As one human being, I think it should be something that you deeply believe only you can do or you must do in order to make or write something worthwhile to watch," Song said.


Thousands of Artists Ask Venice Biennale to Exclude Israel

A general view shows gondolas as revellers take part in the Venice carnival, in Venice, Italy, February 4, 2023. (Reuters)
A general view shows gondolas as revellers take part in the Venice carnival, in Venice, Italy, February 4, 2023. (Reuters)
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Thousands of Artists Ask Venice Biennale to Exclude Israel

A general view shows gondolas as revellers take part in the Venice carnival, in Venice, Italy, February 4, 2023. (Reuters)
A general view shows gondolas as revellers take part in the Venice carnival, in Venice, Italy, February 4, 2023. (Reuters)

Almost 9,000 people, including artists, curators and museum directors, have signed an online appeal calling for Israel to be excluded from this year's Venice Biennale art fair and accusing the country of "genocide" in Gaza.

Israel has been facing mounting international criticism, including in the arts world, over its military offensive in the Palestinian enclave, which was triggered by an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel.

Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostage in the raids, according to Israeli tallies. Nearly 30,000 people have been killed and most of Gaza's 2.3 million residents have been displaced during Israel's offensive, Gaza health officials say.

Israel rejects any accusation that its actions amount to genocide.

"Any official representation of Israel on the international cultural stage is an endorsement of its policies and of the genocide in Gaza," said the online statement by the Art Not Genocide Alliance (ANGA) collective.

ANGA said the Venice Biennale had previously banned South Africa over its apartheid policy of white minority rule and excluded Russia after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said the appeal was an "unacceptable, as well as shameful ... diktat of those who believe they are the custodians of truth, and with arrogance and hatred, think they can threaten freedom of thought and creative expression."

He said in a statement that Israel "not only has the right to express its art, but also the duty to bear witness to its people" after being attacked by "merciless terrorists".

The Venice Biennale press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Signatories of the appeal include Palestine Museum US director Faisal Saleh, activist US photographer Nan Goldin and British visual artist Jesse Darling, who won last year's Turner Prize.

Dubbed the "Olympics of the art world", the Biennale is one of the main events in the international arts calendar. This year's edition, "Foreigners Everywhere", is due to host pavilions from 90 countries between April 20 and Nov. 24.


Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer Will Present at the Oscars (Plus Everything Else You Need to Know) 

Oscar statuettes appear backstage at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 2016. (AP)
Oscar statuettes appear backstage at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 2016. (AP)
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Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer Will Present at the Oscars (Plus Everything Else You Need to Know) 

Oscar statuettes appear backstage at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 2016. (AP)
Oscar statuettes appear backstage at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 2016. (AP)

After a winter barrage of award shows — the Emmys, the Golden Globes, the Grammys — the grandaddy of them all, the Academy Awards, are around the corner. The 96th Oscars may be a coronation for “Oppenheimer,” which comes in with a leading 13 nominations, though other films, including “Barbie,” “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Poor Things” are in the mix.

Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s show:

WHEN ARE THE OSCARS?

The Oscars will be held Sunday, March 10, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The ceremony is set to begin at 7 p.m. EDT — one hour earlier than usual — and be broadcast live on ABC. A preshow will begin at 6:30 p.m. EDT. This is your early reminder to set your clocks accordingly — it’s the first day of daylight saving time in the US.

WHO’S PRESENTING AT THE OSCARS?

Last year’s big acting winners are all coming back to present at the show (a tradition), including Brendan Fraser, Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis. The academy also announced that “Scarface” co-stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino are set to hand out awards as well (no word on whether it’s together or not). Other celebrities set to grace the Dolby stage include Zendaya, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Lange, Nicolas Cage, Mahershala Ali, Sam Rockwell and Luptia Nyong’o. More names will be revealed as show day gets closer.

ARE THE OSCARS STREAMING?

The show will be available to stream via ABC.com and the ABC app with a cable subscription. You can also watch through services including Hulu Live TV, YouTubeTV, AT&T TV and FuboTV.

WHO’S HOSTING THE OSCARS?

Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted last year’s ceremony, will emcee for the fourth time. That ties him with fellow four-timers Whoopi Goldberg and Jack Lemmon, and leaves Kimmel trailing only Johnny Carson (five), Billy Crystal (nine) and Bob Hope (11) among repeat Oscar hosts. “I always dreamed of hosting the Oscars exactly four times,” said Kimmel.

WHAT’S NOMINATED FOR BEST PICTURE AT THE 2024 OSCARS?

The ten nominees for best picture are: “American Fiction”; “Anatomy of a Fall”; “Barbie”; “The Holdovers”; “Killers of the Flower Moon”; “Maestro”; “Oppenheimer”; “Past Lives”; “Poor Things”; and “The Zone of Interest.”

WHO ARE THE FAVORITES?

Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is the frontrunner. Nolan, the best director favorite, is also poised to win his first Oscar. The best actress category could be a nail-biter between Lily Gladstone (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) and Emma Stone (“Poor Things”). If Gladstone were to win, she would be the first Native American to win an Oscar.

Best actor, too, could be a close contest between Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”) and Paul Giamatti (“The Holdovers”). Both would be first-time winners. Giamatti’s co-star Da’Vine Joy Randolph is favored to win best-supporting actress, while Robert Downey Jr. (“Oppenheimer”) is expected to win best-supporting actor. His closest competition is considered Ryan Gosling for “Barbie.”

WHAT’S UP WITH THE ‘BARBIE’ SNUBS?

While “Barbie,” 2023’s biggest box-office hit, comes in with eight nominations, much discussion has revolved around the nominations the film didn’t receive. Greta Gerwig was left out of the directing category and Margot Robbie missed on best actress. In those omissions, some have seen reflections of the misogyny parodied in “Barbie,” while others have noted the tough reception comedies have historically had at the Oscars. The nominations for “Barbie” include best-adapted screenplay (by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach), best supporting actress for America Ferrera and two best song nominees in Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For” and the Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt composition “I’m Just Ken.”

ARE THERE ANY CHANGES TO THE OSCARS THIS YEAR?

Though recent Oscars have been marked by everything from slaps, envelope snafus and controversies over which awards are presented live during the telecast, this year’s show comes in with no big changes (besides starting an hour earlier). All of the awards are to be broadcast live (though honorary prizes remain separated in the earlier, untelevised Governors Awards). The academy is adding a new award for best casting, but that trophy won’t be presented until the 2026 Oscars.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO LOOK FOR?

Composer John Williams is nominated for his record 49th best-score Oscar, for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” and 54th overall. Godzilla is going to the Oscars for the first time, with “Godzilla Minus One” notching a nomination for best visual effects. And for the first time, two non-English language films are up for best picture: the German language Auschwitz drama “The Zone of Interest” and the French courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall.”


FX Reaches Back Over 400 Years for Its Next Ambitious Series, Adapting the Hit Novel ‘Shogun’ 

This image released by FX shows Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in a scene from "Shogun." (FX via AP)
This image released by FX shows Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in a scene from "Shogun." (FX via AP)
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FX Reaches Back Over 400 Years for Its Next Ambitious Series, Adapting the Hit Novel ‘Shogun’ 

This image released by FX shows Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in a scene from "Shogun." (FX via AP)
This image released by FX shows Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in a scene from "Shogun." (FX via AP)

When FX sent screenwriter Justin Marks a copy of James Clavell’s hit 1975 novel “Shogun” with the idea of turning it into a series, he initially couldn’t put it down. That’s because he was reluctant to pick it up.

The book about a British navigator shipwrecked in feudal Japan was massive — over 1,000 pages. And old: “It was the book that was on our parents’ nightstand.” Plus it sounded culturally out of step. He assumed it couldn’t be adapted for 2024.

Marks laughs that he “was being a jerk” and judging a book by its cover. With urging from his wife, novelist Rachel Kondo, he eventually picked it up and soon realized why Clavell’s novel was so celebrated.

“When you open it and you go through it, it is a remarkably modern story,” he said. “It really does get to the core of what it is to encounter another culture and to encounter oneself in that culture.”

Marks and his wife plunged into the fish-out-of-water tale and now are ready for the world to see their 10-episode fictional limited series “Shōgun.” Set in Japan in 1600, it’s rooted in the real history of the period, a dangerous time when several warlords jockeyed for ultimate power as European powers warily circled the island nation.

The arrival of a shipwrecked Englishman — John Blackthorne — disrupts the balance in Japan and yet offers intriguing possibilities since he knows important global information. A pawn at first, he rises to become a trusted adviser and ally.

“It really came down to being the story about agency and this story about characters who are trying to exert control over the path of their own destiny in a very chaotic world where you can literally lose your head at any moment,” said Marks.

The series has elements of intrigue and spectacle like “Game of Thrones,” with brutal beheadings, people boiled alive or sliced open with katanas, blood splashing on window screens and fire-tipped arrows.

It also shows the hesitant understanding growing between Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) and Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) and a love story between Blackthorne and translator Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai).

“Maybe fate brought you here for a reason,” Blackthorne is told shortly after shipwrecking in Japan. “Maybe you’ll live long enough to find out what it is.”

Sanada says the cast and creators came at the project hoping to respect the novel but also to ground it in historical reality and make the characters believable. “Our North Star was authenticity from the beginning,” he said.

The series is riding a wave of new TV offerings that embrace Asian culture, including Max’s “Ninja Kamui,” “Warrior” and “Tokyo Vice,” Paramount+'s “The Tiger’s Apprentice,” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “House of Ninjas,” both on Netflix.

The 1975 book “Shogun” sold millions and a 1980 TV miniseries, starring Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune, was watched by 1 in 3 US households, winning three Emmys and three Golden Globes. Both the series and book triggered a wave of interest in feudal Japan, from kids playing with toy katanas to video games to Tom Cruise starring in “The Last Samurai.”

“It’s almost impossible not to continue to read ‘Shogun’ once having opened it,” The New York Times said in its review. “Yet it’s not only something that you read — you live it. The imagination is possessed.”

The new series — with Clavell’s daughter Michaela as a producer — adjusts the story. Sanada said that if the book was “blue eyes watching Japan,” the FX series puts on “Japanese lenses.” Blackthorne is less the hero here than a catalyst, as co-creators Marks and Kondo explore power dynamics.

Those tuning in may feel a whiff of “The Godfather,” another epic in the 1970s with a strong sense of loyalty, family and honor, while violence lurks nearby. There’s also a note of “Succession,” which Marks doesn’t deny.

“There’s always in a writers’ room a show we’re all watching when we’re doing it and ‘Succession’ was that show,” he says with a laugh. “We really were sort of just loving it. And in some ways it probably bled into the mix.”

Perhaps the most enjoyable parts of the series is the moments when both East and West realize they can learn from the other.

At first, Blackthorne calls the Japanese “barbarians,” and they, in turn, use the same term to describe him. But his bravery and expertise with weapons makes him valuable, and he learns about karma and inner calm.

“Do not be fooled by our politeness, our bows, our maze of rituals,” Lady Mariko tells him. “Beneath it all, we could be a great distance away, safe and alone.”

Sanada said it was appropriate that Western and Japanese crew members worked together to create the show. “The making of ‘Shogun’ itself has great drama and overlaps the story,” he says. “This is another good message for now: If we get together, we can create a better future together.”

Marks, who also served as showrunner and executive producer, says the “Shogun” team tried hard to fix mistakes in the novel, but such errors are always going to happen when bridges are built between cultures.

“We’re never going to get to place where we don’t make mistakes. What we do reach, hopefully, is every 40 years, whatever it may be, we reach a point where we just make better mistakes.”


Will Taylor Swift Endorse Him in 2024? Biden Says That’s ‘Classified’ 

US President Joe Biden (R), flanked by host Seth Meyers (L), eats an ice cream cone at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream after taping an episode of "Late Night with Seth Meyers" in New York City on February 26, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden (R), flanked by host Seth Meyers (L), eats an ice cream cone at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream after taping an episode of "Late Night with Seth Meyers" in New York City on February 26, 2024. (AFP)
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Will Taylor Swift Endorse Him in 2024? Biden Says That’s ‘Classified’ 

US President Joe Biden (R), flanked by host Seth Meyers (L), eats an ice cream cone at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream after taping an episode of "Late Night with Seth Meyers" in New York City on February 26, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden (R), flanked by host Seth Meyers (L), eats an ice cream cone at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream after taping an episode of "Late Night with Seth Meyers" in New York City on February 26, 2024. (AFP)

US President Joe Biden made light of conspiracy theories about him and pop superstar Taylor Swift during an appearance on a late night show and had a ready answer to the question of whether she'll endorse him in 2024: that's classified.

During an appearance on NBC's "Late Night with Seth Meyers" on Monday, Biden, a Democrat, joked with Meyers, a comedian, about conspiracy theories that the president and the singer-songwriter are in "cahoots." Meyers said recent polling showed 18% of Americans believed Biden and Swift were somehow working together.

"Can you confirm or deny that there is an active conspiracy between you and Ms. Swift?" Meyers asked Biden.

"Where are you getting this information?" the president quipped, to laughter. "It’s classified."

Swift, whose massive popularity with young people would be a boon for the president as he runs for re-election in 2024, endorsed Biden in 2020, the president happily pointed out.

"You think it might come around again?" Meyers asked.

"I told you, it’s classified," Biden replied.

Biden's appearance on the show, which was taped on Monday and broadcast early on Tuesday, is the latest attempt by the president to connect with younger people and dispel concerns about his age after a special counsel's report raised questions about his memory and mental acuity.

Biden, 81, noted that former President Donald Trump, his likely Republican rival, 77, was close to him in age and has had his own problems with verbal slip-ups.

"You got to take a look at the other guy. He's about as old as I am, but he can't even remember his wife's name," Biden said, referencing Trump's recent appearance at the conservative CPAC conference in which some thought he referred to his wife, Melania, as "Mercedes."

Mercedes Schlapp, a former communications official in Trump's White House, is one of CPAC's organizers. The former president's reference may have been to her.

Biden also sought to address concerns about his age by comparing his policies with Trump's in areas such as abortion. Biden supports women's rights to abortion; Trump has expressed pride in naming three new justices to the Supreme Court during his tenure who later helped repeal the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that had guaranteed abortion rights nationwide.

"It's about how old your ideas are. Look, I mean, this is a guy who wants to take us back," Biden said, referring to Trump. "He wants to take us back in Roe v. Wade. He wants to take us back on a whole range of issues."


Photographer Accuses Taylor Swift’s Dad of Punching Him in the Face on Sydney Waterfront 

US singer Taylor Swift (L) and her father Scott Kingsley Swift (top R) cheer as they watch the Kansas City Chiefs play the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on December 17, 2023. (Getty Images North America / AFP)
US singer Taylor Swift (L) and her father Scott Kingsley Swift (top R) cheer as they watch the Kansas City Chiefs play the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on December 17, 2023. (Getty Images North America / AFP)
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Photographer Accuses Taylor Swift’s Dad of Punching Him in the Face on Sydney Waterfront 

US singer Taylor Swift (L) and her father Scott Kingsley Swift (top R) cheer as they watch the Kansas City Chiefs play the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on December 17, 2023. (Getty Images North America / AFP)
US singer Taylor Swift (L) and her father Scott Kingsley Swift (top R) cheer as they watch the Kansas City Chiefs play the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on December 17, 2023. (Getty Images North America / AFP)

A photographer told police he was punched in the face by Taylor Swift’s father on the Sydney waterfront on Tuesday, hours after the pop star’s Australian tour ended.

Ben McDonald said he provided police with a statement alleging that Scott Swift assaulted him at the Neutral Bay Wharf, where the father and daughter had just come ashore from a yacht.

The veteran paparazzo said he decided to report the attack to police despite not being seriously injured.

“It was just a punch in the chops. It’s a little tender, but I don’t have any bruising and it didn’t require medical assistance,” McDonald said.

“In 23 years, I haven’t been assaulted and punched in the chops, particularly by the talent’s dad,” he added.

Taylor Swift’s representative did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

But a spokesperson for the star told Rolling Stone magazine that at the time of the incident, two people were “aggressively pushing” to get to Taylor Swift, grabbed security and threatened a member of the singer’s staff.

The New South Wale Police Force media office confirmed that police were investigating the alleged assault of a 51-year-old man by a 71-year-old man at 2:30 a.m. Police did not release names, in accordance with their policy for such allegations.

Taylor Swift left the country on a private jet Tuesday, after more than 600,000 fans saw the Australian leg of her Eras Tour at seven Australian stadium concerts.

McDonald said media had been waiting to photograph the star as she walked with her entourage from a jetty to two waiting cars.

“There were about four or five security there and at one point, one of the American security started shoving his umbrella into me and my camera and then Taylor got in her car,” McDonald told the AP.

“Someone else came running at me and punched me in the left side of my face. Initially, I thought it was an Australian security that was trying to be the hero of the moment in the front of the Americans, but as it turned out it was her father,” McDonald added.

McDonald said he realized that his alleged assailant was not a part of the security detail after seeing a photo of him holding Swift’s hand while reviewing photos from the evening. McDonald later identified Scott Swift from an online picture.

McDonald said there had been no cause for violence.

“We didn’t go rushing down the jetty. We didn’t go rushing to the back of the boat. We waited for her to come up. Kept it very civil,” he said.

“But no, they had to be (expletives) and put the umbrellas up and umbrellas over her and then shove the umbrellas into our faces and then make out that we’re the ones making contact with them,” he added.


‘Holdovers’ Star Downplays Oscar Hype After Latest Win at Spirit Awards

US actress Da'Vine Joy Randolph arrives for the 30th Annual Screen Actors Guild awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, February 24, 2024. (AFP)
US actress Da'Vine Joy Randolph arrives for the 30th Annual Screen Actors Guild awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, February 24, 2024. (AFP)
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‘Holdovers’ Star Downplays Oscar Hype After Latest Win at Spirit Awards

US actress Da'Vine Joy Randolph arrives for the 30th Annual Screen Actors Guild awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, February 24, 2024. (AFP)
US actress Da'Vine Joy Randolph arrives for the 30th Annual Screen Actors Guild awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, February 24, 2024. (AFP)

Da'Vine Joy Randolph has won every major prize going this film award season for her supporting role in "The Holdovers" -- but she insists she is taking nothing for granted as the Oscars loom.

Randolph, who stars in the 1970s-set indie drama as a cook and grieving mother stranded at a New England boarding school over the winter holidays, claimed her latest accolade Sunday at the Film Independent Spirit Awards.

Having already won a Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award, a BAFTA and much more, she now seems poised to collect the best supporting actress Oscar, which will be handed out in just two weeks.

"This has been a really surreal, powerful time for me to see dreams manifesting into reality one by one," she told AFP backstage at the Santa Monica award show, which honors low- and mid-budget movies.

"I don't expect anything. I'm not betting on anything. I'm just here present, and every single one surprises me.

"I take nothing for granted. In regards to the Oscars I don't, truthfully. I'm just happy to be invited into the building. No more, no less."

Randolph, 37, who grew up in Philadelphia, is a highly trained stage actor who attended Yale drama school after initially pursuing classical and opera singing.

After turns on Broadway and the West End, she has appeared on the big screen opposite stars such as Eddie Murphy in "Dolemite Is My Name" and Robin Williams in "The Angriest Man In Brooklyn."

But Alexander Payne's "The Holdovers" has propelled Randolph into Hollywood's A-list, with few if any pundits betting against her at the Oscars.

The film is in the running for five Academy Awards overall, including best picture, with Randolph's co-star Paul Giamatti also a strong contender for best actor.

"What am I expecting? I don't know!" she joked after her Spirit Award win.

"The process has been a beautiful one. It's been a really great time."


Indigenous Musician Goes -- Reluctantly -- For Oscars Glory 

Songwriter Scott George, member of the Osage Native Americans Tribe, poses for a picture at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, on February 14, 2024. (AFP)
Songwriter Scott George, member of the Osage Native Americans Tribe, poses for a picture at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, on February 14, 2024. (AFP)
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Indigenous Musician Goes -- Reluctantly -- For Oscars Glory 

Songwriter Scott George, member of the Osage Native Americans Tribe, poses for a picture at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, on February 14, 2024. (AFP)
Songwriter Scott George, member of the Osage Native Americans Tribe, poses for a picture at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, on February 14, 2024. (AFP)

Scott George spends his weekdays providing affordable housing for Native American families in Oklahoma, and his weekends singing at traditional Osage dances.

That schedule will have to be interrupted next month as he travels to Hollywood for the Oscars, where the song he wrote for Martin Scorsese will compete with tracks from Billie Eilish, Mark Ronson and Jon Batiste for an Academy Award.

"I guess you could use the word surreal. But I don't really know what that means any more compared to this," George told AFP.

"Music is -- even though it's something I wake up with every day -- it's something we pursue on the weekends," he said.

George is a proud member of the Osage Nation, whose often tragic history forms the subject of Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon."

The movie, which is up for 10 awards on March 10, tells the story of how the Osage struck enormous oil wealth in the early 20th century, only to be exploited and murdered by their duplicitous white neighbors.

The film was made with the deep collaboration of the Osage people, and filmed on location in their heartland.

Its lead actress Lily Gladstone has Blackfeet and Nez Perce heritage, and the movie's musical score was composed by the late Robbie Robertson, who also is of Native American ancestry. Both are also Oscar nominees.

Scorsese also was determined to have an authentic Osage song at the finale of his epic drama.

George recalls one of his fellow musicians spotting the director in the stands at a ceremonial dance, as they took a break between sets.

"It was like, 'Oh wow, so he's watching us,'" said George. "So when he asked us about the song, or about putting a song in there, we knew what he wanted."

Even so, the initial answer was no. Many Osage songs contain the names of old warriors from two or three centuries ago.

"These are ours. This belongs to us," explained George.

"And so we said, 'Well, we can't give him that. We can do something close, but we can't give him that.'

"So that's where that came from. We started composing our own song for him."

'Poems'

The result was "Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)," a powerful six-and-a-half minute anthem featuring thunderous drums, and lyrics encouraging the Osage people to stand up and be proud after surviving so many ordeals.

The movie and song came at a perfect time for tribal elders, who were embarking on a campaign to educate younger members about their history, and to remind them that "we're still here, we are not relics," said Geoffrey Standing Bear, chief of the Osage nation.

"We're not that trusting of outsiders given our history. But Scorsese and his team showed that trust to us, and us to them," he recalled.

"So when you see our ceremonies, and you see all the different activities, and you hear the music? That's Osage... these songs are poems."

Having made the 15-strong Oscars shortlist, the track was not considered a favorite to earn a best song nomination, meaning the announcement last month was greeted with euphoria by many attached to the film.

"Isn't it great? For me to be nominated for playing an Osage character, it's so important that an Osage person has also been nominated," best actress contender Gladstone told AFP.

But for George, describing his Oscar nomination as an "achievement" does not sit well, because it was "not something I aspired to do."

"I'm comfortable providing music for my people," he said. "Outside of that, it gets a little touchy."

Having now seen his song embraced by Academy voters, George does see it as important that a form of music that had often been "comically depicted in cartoons" is now being recognized.

"I just want the world to see it and understand it, maybe develop an ear for it. Because it's out there. You can go to YouTube and listen to powwows," he said.

"We understand it's got its niche and probably will always just have that niche. But hopefully people will get to hear it, feel the power that's in it.

"Because there's power in it."

Though not yet confirmed this year, it is traditional for all five nominated songs to be performed live during the Oscars ceremony, typically by their original singers.

George has already attended starry events including the Academy's annual nominees luncheon in Los Angeles, where he rubbed shoulders with his "rivals" such as Eilish and Batiste.

"We were on a Zoom call the other day with all of us, and I was a little starstruck. 'Who are these people and what am I doing here?'" he recalled.

"My wife put it best -- 'You've been singing for 45 years, that should put you somewhere.' I guess so."