Star Soprano Renee Fleming Returns to Met Opera with 'The Hours'

File Photo: Soprano Renee Fleming sings the US National Anthem prior to the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks in East Rutherford, New Jersey, February 2, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
File Photo: Soprano Renee Fleming sings the US National Anthem prior to the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks in East Rutherford, New Jersey, February 2, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
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Star Soprano Renee Fleming Returns to Met Opera with 'The Hours'

File Photo: Soprano Renee Fleming sings the US National Anthem prior to the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks in East Rutherford, New Jersey, February 2, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
File Photo: Soprano Renee Fleming sings the US National Anthem prior to the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks in East Rutherford, New Jersey, February 2, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A powerhouse trio of American song will interpret the voice of Virginia Woolf on New York's prestigious Metropolitan Opera stage, as the highly anticipated run of "The Hours" makes its world premiere Tuesday.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and Oscar-nominated film explores how threads of English writer Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" tie three women of different generations together, and its darkly moving operatic adaption offers a new vision of the drama that probes themes including mental illness and the alienation from tradition that haunts its protagonists, AFP said.

The production began with a pitch from Renee Fleming, widely considered the leading American soprano of her generation, whose role as the show's Clarissa Vaughan marks her return to the Met after bidding adieu to her trademark role in Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" in 2017.

"It was perfect for opera because of the complexity of the dealing with three periods," Fleming said of "The Hours," whose music was written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts.

"Music gives a kind of a river, on which we can all sort of float -- together or separately," Fleming said of the three-pronged production.

Fleming's Vaughan -- a 1990s-era New Yorker who mirrors the character Clarissa Dalloway, and whose plotline centers on her party-planning for a friend, a renowned poet dying of AIDs -- is joined onstage by the Broadway and opera star Kelli O'Hara, who performs as the depressed 1950s housewife Laura Brown.

Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato plays the struggling Woolf herself.

"The possibilities were so exciting," composer Puts told AFP, saying that "what you can do in music that you can't really accomplish in a film or a book is that you can begin to present the three stories... simultaneously."

"The idea of introducing those stories musically and then gradually bringing them together, until maybe all three of the leading ladies would sing trios together, was a really exciting idea," Puts continued.

"I loved the book so much, and I felt like I had the musical vocabulary for it."

- Extraordinary women -
For Fleming -- who prior to collaborating with Puts on "The Hours" was putting on a song cycle by the composer, which drew from the writings of the artist Georgia O'Keefe -- part of the appeal of both that project and her latest venture was to tell stories of powerful women.

"Too many times in opera, historically, women have been sort of pawns," she told AFP. "They've been victims, they've been really at the center of power struggles when they have no power or no agency."

"I want to tell stories now about women who are extraordinary."

Along with the force of the show's vocals, "The Hours" integrates modern dance in a way not often seen in traditional opera houses, with dozens of performers physically manifesting the characters' emotions.

Choreographer Annie-B Parson -- who's worked with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, David Byrne and David Bowie -- told AFP her process is generally "less about narrative, more about the worlds that I'm trying to create."

"We spent a lot of choreographic currency on how to animate and inhabit the actual physical set and the moving parts," she said; the Met's stage is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, allowing for complex sets including at different levels.

"I liked the idea that these dancer beings would be the sinew -- the interstitial, physical animation of the set," Parson said.

Fleming said productions like "The Hours" can play a vital role in freshening the opera experience and drawing in new audiences, a major goal the Met has been working towards including by staging Terence Blanchard's "Fire Shut Up In My Bones" last year.

The soprano emphasized the need to continue bringing in composers of diverse backgrounds and giving women more and larger creative roles.

The Grammy-winning performer herself was the first woman in the Met's history to solo headline a season opening night gala, in 2008.

"All of our art forms really need to represent our population," Fleming said.

"The Hours" runs at Manhattan's Metropolitan Opera from November 22 through December 15.



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."


Hotels, Flights Booked Out as ‘Swift Effect’ Hits Singapore 

US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift performs during the first night of the The Eras Tour in Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, 16 February 2024. (EPA)
US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift performs during the first night of the The Eras Tour in Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, 16 February 2024. (EPA)
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Hotels, Flights Booked Out as ‘Swift Effect’ Hits Singapore 

US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift performs during the first night of the The Eras Tour in Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, 16 February 2024. (EPA)
US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift performs during the first night of the The Eras Tour in Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, 16 February 2024. (EPA)

The "Swift effect" is about to hit Southeast Asia but Singapore has left some of its neighbors seeing red while it profits from a Taylor-made tourism boom as the star's only stop in the region.

More than 300,000 fans from the city-state and neighboring countries will attend the US superstar's six sold-out Eras Tour shows at the National Stadium from March 2-9.

Ingrid Delgado, a fresh graduate in Manila who is travelling to Singapore for the March 4 show, said she bought a "new shimmering dress" for the occasion but had trouble finding an affordable hotel.

"A lot were booked already, so I had to book a more expensive hotel," she said.

The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts, as well as the Fairmont Hotel, told AFP that demand for rooms during the concert period had risen.

Big spenders have taken up Marina Bay Sands' luxury packages named after Swift's hit songs, such as "Shake it Off" and "Stay Stay Stay".

The hotel's SG$50,000 ($37,230) "Wildest Dreams" package includes VIP tickets, fine dining, a hotel suite, limousine transfers and passes to tourist attractions.

The hotel told AFP all its packages were sold out.

Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines said there had been increased demand for Singapore-bound flights but could not say whether it was solely due to the "Swift Effect".

A large contingent of Malaysian Swifties will be crossing into neighboring Singapore.

"It's a dream come true. I feel excited and nervous," said Harith Arsat, a 20-year-old student who will be making his first overseas trip from Kuala Lumpur.

In the Philippines, budget carrier Cebu Pacific has changed its usual flight number for Singapore-bound planes to "1989" -- the year Swift was born and the title of her fifth album -- for the March 1-9 period.

Red carpet

However, not everyone was happy when Swift's only Southeast Asia stop was announced, including fans and governments in some of Singapore's neighbors.

Travelling to Singapore is expensive for many in the region due to high currency exchanges, to say nothing of ritzy hotel packages.

Some were also unhappy because Singapore provided a grant to help secure Swift's record-breaking tour for the city-state.

Officials from the culture ministry and Singapore Tourism Board, citing business confidentiality, declined to say last week how much was paid, or whether an exclusivity deal had been signed to make Singapore Swift's sole Southeast Asian stop.

That followed reports that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin had told a business forum in Bangkok that Singapore had indeed made such a deal.

The Singapore officials did not address Srettha's comments directly but said Swift's shows were "likely to generate significant benefits to the Singapore economy".

Singapore has been rolling out the red carpet for many international artists, such as Blackpink, Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran, since ending its Covid-19 pandemic curbs.

Coldplay performed six sold-out shows in January and upcoming acts include Bruno Mars, Sum 41 and Jerry Seinfeld.

"Singapore started to open faster than others after the pandemic and its first-mover advantage and concerted efforts to bring in acts, events and conventions has helped," Song Seng Wun, economic adviser for CGS International, told AFP.

"That momentum has been building up."

'Don't lose money swiftly'

Millions scrambled for tickets when they went on sale last year, which led to a rise in online scams targeting desperate Swifties.

Singapore police even released a social media video with the tagline: "Don't lose money swiftly, buy your tickets safely."

Regardless of the dangers, Ericko Dimas Pamungkas, 25, in Jakarta logged in to three devices to get a ticket queue number.

"I got very lucky. I feel like this concert is one of the most important moments for me," he said.

Swift has evolved from a singer with relatable lyrics into a canny businesswoman and the world's biggest pop star, and fans believe there is plenty to learn from the 34-year-old.

"I appreciate Taylor's candidness and what she stands for such as rights, generosity and compassion," said Spencer Ler, a Singaporean pilot who queued for 22 hours to get tickets for his daughter and her friends.

"It's something the girls can learn from."


‘Oppenheimer’ Keeps Devouring Awards with Top Prize at Producers Guild, with Oscars up Next 

Christopher Nolan, nominated for Best Director for "Oppenheimer" which is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, and his wife Emma Thomas, producer of "Oppenheimer", attend the Nominees Luncheon for the 96th Oscars in Beverly Hills, California, US, February 12, 2024. (Reuters)
Christopher Nolan, nominated for Best Director for "Oppenheimer" which is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, and his wife Emma Thomas, producer of "Oppenheimer", attend the Nominees Luncheon for the 96th Oscars in Beverly Hills, California, US, February 12, 2024. (Reuters)
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‘Oppenheimer’ Keeps Devouring Awards with Top Prize at Producers Guild, with Oscars up Next 

Christopher Nolan, nominated for Best Director for "Oppenheimer" which is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, and his wife Emma Thomas, producer of "Oppenheimer", attend the Nominees Luncheon for the 96th Oscars in Beverly Hills, California, US, February 12, 2024. (Reuters)
Christopher Nolan, nominated for Best Director for "Oppenheimer" which is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, and his wife Emma Thomas, producer of "Oppenheimer", attend the Nominees Luncheon for the 96th Oscars in Beverly Hills, California, US, February 12, 2024. (Reuters)

With two weeks to go before the Oscars, "Oppenheimer" looks unstoppable.

Director and producer Christopher Nolan’s tale of the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the birth of the atomic age won the top prize Sunday at the 35th Producers Guild of America Awards — a frequent predictor of Oscar best picture winners — the night after doing the same at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

"Oppenheimer" won the PGA's Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures over the exact same set of 10 nominees up for best picture at the March 10 Academy Awards, including "Barbie,Poor Things" and "Killers of the Flower Moon," whose director, Martin Scorsese, was honored Sunday for his concurrent career as a producer.

The Zanuck Award winner has gone on to take the best picture Oscar for five of the past six years, and 12 of the past 15, including last year with "Everything, Everywhere All At Once."

From the stage at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Hollywood, in the same complex where the Academy Awards will be held at the Dolby Theatre, Nolan thanked his fellow producer Charles Royen for giving him "American Prometheus," the book that led to "Oppenheimer," and "starting a chain reaction that’s spread all over the world."

Earlier in the show, Robert Downey Jr. called it "the highest-grossing film about theoretical physics yet made."

Downey on Saturday won best supporting actor at the SAG Awards, where "Oppenheimer" also won best ensemble, part of an awards season sweep that also included wins at the Golden Globes and Directors Guild Awards.

"Succession" and "The Bear" took the top television prizes at the PGA Awards after doing the same at the SAG Awards and last month's Emmy Awards.

"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," nominated for the animated feature Oscar, won the PGA's animated motion picture award. Its predecessor, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," won the PGA award in 2019 before going on to win the Academy Award.

Scorsese joined Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg and Kevin Feige as winners of the David O. Selznick award for an outstanding body of work as a producer of motion pictures.

Scorsese said the first film he remembers seeing, at age 4, was the Selznick written and produced "Duel in the Sun."

"It was condemned by the Catholic church, and my mother wanted to see it," Scorsese told the audience. "She said, ‘The kid likes westerns, I’m taking him.’"

Scorsese said: "The very first impact of classic Hollywood cinema starts right there for me. Slashes of color, movement, the landscapes, stunning set pieces."

He called them "Proustian sense memories" of early cinema.

"I was frightened by them," he said, "and thrilled."

The 81-year-old said he was grateful for the privilege of getting to spend his life exploring "beauty that’s at the core of what we all strive to do."

Scorsese-produced films include his own "Hugo,The Wolf of Wall Street,Silence" and "Killers of the Flower Moon," along with dozens of films for younger directors including Spike Lee’s "Clockers," the Safdie brothers’ "Uncut Gems" and Joanna Hogg’s "The Souvenir."

Other career achievement awards went to producers Charles D. King and Gail Berman.

King became the first Black winner of the PGA's Milestone Award, whose previous winners include Walt Disney, Clint Eastwood and George Lucas, for historic career contributions to the motion picture industry.

King was lauded for leaving his job as a Hollywood agent in 2015 to found MACRO, a media company dedicated to amplifying the voices of black artists and other people of color.

The company has produced films including 2016's "Fences" starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, who won an Oscar for the role, and 2021's "Judas and the Black Messiah," for which King was personally nominated for an Oscar as a producer.

King thanked "our ancestors who kicked down doors, made sacrifices and blazed a trail for me to be able to do what I’m blessed to do."

Berman, the only woman to have held the top job at both a major film company and television network, was given the Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television. Berman was the driving force behind the creation and airing of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," whose star, Sarah Michelle Gellar, presented her with the award.

"Not a single person on this earth was interested in buying that television show," Berman said. "But I just couldn’t ignore my gut telling me there was something unique there."

The PGA announced an initiative during the show that seeks to provide healthcare coverage for its member producers who are not covered other ways. Members of the actors and writers guilds have long used the unions for health insurance.

"Producers deserve to be covered," PGA Co-President Stephanie Allain said.

The effort involves asking production companies, including major studios and streamers, to include contributions to producers’ health coverage on its production budgets.

Film companies Blumhouse, Legendary and King's MACRO already have signed on.


‘Past Lives,’ ‘American Fiction’ and ‘The Holdovers’ Are Big Winners at Independent Spirit Awards 

Celine Song receives the Best Feature award for "Past Lives" during the 39th Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California, US, February 25, 2024. (Reuters)
Celine Song receives the Best Feature award for "Past Lives" during the 39th Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California, US, February 25, 2024. (Reuters)
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‘Past Lives,’ ‘American Fiction’ and ‘The Holdovers’ Are Big Winners at Independent Spirit Awards 

Celine Song receives the Best Feature award for "Past Lives" during the 39th Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California, US, February 25, 2024. (Reuters)
Celine Song receives the Best Feature award for "Past Lives" during the 39th Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California, US, February 25, 2024. (Reuters)

Celine Song’s quiet romance "Past Lives" won two of the biggest awards at the Film Independent Spirit Awards Sunday afternoon, including best feature and best director. Other big winners were Cord Jefferson’s comedic satire "American Fiction," with Jeffrey Wright winning for lead performer; and Alexander Payne’s "The Holdovers," which won prizes for Da'Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa.

The 39th edition of the show was held Sunday in a beachside tent in Santa Monica, California, and streamed live on IMDb and Film Independent’s YouTube channels and X accounts.

"Thank you so much for letting me share what it feels like to be human, to love and be loved, and thank you for loving our film," Song said in accepting the directing prize.

Her film was among the top nominated at the show, alongside "May December," which won only one award (for Samy Burch's first screenplay) and "American Fiction," which fared better.

Wright won for playing a frustrated author who becomes wildly successful by writing something he hates in "American Fiction."

"You go to these awards shows, you kind of grow tired of them," Wright said. "And then you get one, and it kind of changes the vibe a little bit."

He noted that it was made independently because "nobody wanted to finance it."

The Spirit Awards sit firmly within the larger Hollywood awards season, which culminates with the Oscars on March 10. But with a budget cap of $20 million for nominees, the show celebrates films that sometimes go unheralded, or at least under-nominated, at the bigger shows.

Host Aidy Bryant called it "the only place in the world where $20 million is like no money."

Randolph continued her sweep of the broader season, winning best supporting performance for playing the grieving cook Mary Lamb in "The Holdovers." Not 24 hours ago, right across town, she also picked up the best supporting actress award at the SAG Awards.

"Independent films are the beating heart of our industry, and they are worth fighting for," Randolph said. She did, however, wish that they might have been able to afford heated seats while filming in Boston in the winter.

Randolph beat out the likes of Anne Hathaway ("Eileen"), Charles Melton ("May December") and Sterling K. Brown ("American Fiction") for the prize.

Her co-star, Sessa, later won the breakthrough prize.

"I promise it’s not all downhill from here," Sessa said, thanking his high school acting teachers.

Last year, "Everything Everywhere All At Once" swept the Spirit Awards before going on to do the same at the Oscars. But this year, many top Oscar contenders — including "Oppenheimer,Barbie" and "Killers of the Flower Moon" — would not have qualified.

Kaouther Ben Hania’s film " Four Daughters," which is nominated for the corresponding Oscar, won best documentary. And Justine Triet’s "Anatomy of a Fall," also nominated for best picture at the Oscars, won best international feature over "The Zone of Interest."

"Los Angeles has a special place in my heart. It’s the city of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands," Triet said. "Without discovering them at their films at the age of 20, I wouldn’t have had the desire to make my own films and I wouldn’t be here today."

The Cassavetes ethos actually has its own award, honoring a film made for under $1 million. That prize went this year to "Fremont," about an Afghan translator working for a Chinese fortune cookie factory.

The show had some unexpected background noise, from one man with a loudspeaker conducting a pro-Palestine protest outside the tent that lasted for some time.

"We are at the beach, and people are celebrating their freedom of speech," Bryant said.

The shouting outside disrupted Jim Gaffigan’s tribute to "Jury Duty" and many more winners’ speeches. Comedian Jimmy O. Yang, speaking from the stage to present the best cinematography award, assumed it was a heckler outside.

Later, "Fremont" filmmaker Babak Jalali said he was sure that what was being said outside the tent was much more important than anything he had to say.

The Spirit Awards also honor television. Netflix’s "Beef" won best new scripted series and Ali Wong picked up best lead performance.

Nick Offerman won best supporting performance in a new scripted series for his turn in "The Last of Us." And 11-year-old actor Keivonn Montreal Woodard also won the breakthrough performance award for a new scripted series for "The Last of Us," giving his acceptance speech in American Sign Language.