A Box Office K.O.: ‘Creed III’ Debuts to $58.7 Million

Michael B. Jordan, known for his roles in "Creed" and "Black Panther," touches the star with his name on it during a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
Michael B. Jordan, known for his roles in "Creed" and "Black Panther," touches the star with his name on it during a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
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A Box Office K.O.: ‘Creed III’ Debuts to $58.7 Million

Michael B. Jordan, known for his roles in "Creed" and "Black Panther," touches the star with his name on it during a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
Michael B. Jordan, known for his roles in "Creed" and "Black Panther," touches the star with his name on it during a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)

"Creed III" punched above its weight at the domestic box office in its first weekend in theaters. The MGM release knocked "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" out of first place and far surpassed both industry expectations and the opening weekends of the first two movies in the franchise.

Playing in 4,007 locations in North America, "Creed III" earned an estimated $58.7 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday. Going into the weekend, analysts expected the film to open in the $30 million range. The first "Creed" debuted to $29 million in 2015 and "Creed II" opened to $35 million in 2018.

Michael B. Jordan made his directorial debut with "Creed III," which pits his character Adonis against a childhood friend, Dame, played by Jonathan Majors. It’s the first in the Rocky/Creed films to not feature Sylvester Stallone, who chose not to return because of creative differences.

"This is beyond all of our expectations. And we knew that we had something special — we tested the movie and it tested great, but the public responded so resoundingly to it," said Erik Lomis, MGM’s head of distribution. "Everything went right here starting with the movie itself ... It was just up to us not to break it when they gave it to us and we didn't."

Strong reviews helped "Creed III," which is currently sitting at an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, while audiences gave it an A- CinemaScore. The audience was largely male (63%), diverse (36% Black, 28% Latino, 23% white and 13% Asian/other) and young (55% between 18 and 34) according to exit polls.

Over 80% of general audiences said the film was a "definite recommend." With Black audiences, that number ballooned to 89%.

"I've been doing this a long time and that's rarefied air," Lomis said. "People love the movie."

It’s also the most expensive "Creed" film, with a reported production budget of $75 million, compared to the others which cost $35 million and $50 million. Internationally, "Creed III" earned $41.8 million from 75 markets, making its global debut $100.4 million.

It's a big moment for Amazon, who acquired MGM for $8.5 billion last year, and could have simply released "Creed III" on its streaming service with a limited theatrical run. But they chose theatrical, and it paid off.

"Amazon threw their weight behind this movie like only they can do," Lomis said. "They supercharged the campaign with marketing support across all their verticals on the platform and beyond the platform. That shows a commitment to the theatrical business model from Amazon and MGM, which I think should be exciting to everybody."

The company’s next major theatrical release is the Ben Affleck-directed "Air," starring Matt Damon, out next month.

"Ant-Man 3" slipped to a distant second in its third weekend in theaters with $12.5 million from North America and $22 million internationally. The Marvel and Disney film's global cume now stands at $419.5 million.

Third place went to Universal's "Cocaine Bear," which added $11 million in its second weekend in theaters to bring its domestic total to $41.3 million.

Crunchyroll’s "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To The Swordsmith Village" placed fourth with $10.1 million. The series is based on Koyoharu Gotoge’s manga about a boy avenging his family.

Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company's "Jesus Revolution" rounded out the top five with $8.7 million. The film starring Kelsey Grammer as a pastor in the 1970s has made $30.5 million in two weekends in theaters against a $15 million production budget.

Opening outside of the top five was Guy Ritchie’s "Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre," a spy caper with Jason Statham, Hugh Grant and Aubrey Plaza that made $3.2 million from 2,168 locations this weekend. The film, originally an STX release, was in distribution limbo for some time. Lionsgate recently stepped in to oversee the domestic rollout.

The success of "Creed III" bodes well for other releases coming in March, including "John Wick Chapter 4" and "Shazam! Fury of the Gods."

"We’re going to have an incredible March," said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. "It’s going to feel more like summer than spring with hits coming one after the next that will create incredible momentum for the summer movie season."



10 Years on, the Legend of Flamenco Icon Paco de Lucia Lives On

Spanish guitar legend Paco de Lucia, whose talent revolutionised flamenco and brought it to the world stage, died on February 25, 2014. RAFA RIVAS / AFP/File
Spanish guitar legend Paco de Lucia, whose talent revolutionised flamenco and brought it to the world stage, died on February 25, 2014. RAFA RIVAS / AFP/File
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10 Years on, the Legend of Flamenco Icon Paco de Lucia Lives On

Spanish guitar legend Paco de Lucia, whose talent revolutionised flamenco and brought it to the world stage, died on February 25, 2014. RAFA RIVAS / AFP/File
Spanish guitar legend Paco de Lucia, whose talent revolutionised flamenco and brought it to the world stage, died on February 25, 2014. RAFA RIVAS / AFP/File

Spanish guitar legend Paco de Lucia, who died 10 years ago on Sunday, couldn't read music but his talent revolutionized flamenco, causing its popularity to spread around the world.
Wherever he played, he filled theaters and concert halls around the world, from London to New York, Paris and Moscow, San Francisco and Tokyo, shattering the image of flamenco as something complex and only of interest to a fringe audience.
"Flamenco was always marginalized in Spain because it was the music of gypsies, of Andalusians, of poor and working-class people," he once said, referring to the southern Andalusia region where was born and raised.
But his virtuosity brought the dramatic rhythms and passion of flamenco to the most prestigious music halls and this week, the main tribute event was held in New York's Carnegie Hall, bringing together the world's best flamenco artists with others like Panamanian salsa legend Ruben Blades.
The secret of de Lucia's success was his capacity "to make beautiful melodies and then dress these up with the best harmonies," guitarist Jose Carlos Gomez told AFP in the southern port town of Algeciras.
"That's why Paco is so popular both with music connoisseurs and ordinary people."
He died of a heart attack on February 25, 2014 at the age of 66 while he was "playing with his children on the beach" at Playa del Carmen in the Mexican Caribbean where he had a house, reflecting his love of the sea, swimming and fishing.
Such were the passions he had growing up in Algeciras where he was born in 1947, spending his childhood in places like El Rinconcillo beach where AFP met Gomez, a close friend of the family, whose own latest album "Las Huellas de Dios" ("God's Fingerprints") is a tribute to his idol.
It was here that de Lucia used to frequent a beachfront bar called Casa Bernardo where he would drink beer and eat fried fish, which inspired him to write a rumba by the same name.
' Born to play guitar'
Born Francisco Sanchez Gomez to a Portuguese mother and a Spanish father, he was known as Paco -- the short form of Francisco -- "de Lucia" meaning "of Lucia", his mother.
Growing up in a gypsy neighborhood, it was his father, also a guitarist, who introduced him to music and encouraged him to practice for hours.
When he was eight, his father put a guitar in his hands and told him: "I can't send you to school, I can't teach you a career, the only thing I can give you is this guitar," he once said in an interview. The same thing happened to his brothers, Ramon and Pepe, who also went on to have careers in flamenco.
De Lucia took to it so well that it was as if he had "been born to play the guitar," says Gomez, saying he was such a natural that he could concentrate on experimenting and composing more than others.
By the time he was 12, he was earning at flamenco "tablaos" -- the intimate bars that are home to the authentic form of the tragic gypsy lament and dancing. Despite having no formal training, he moved to Madrid at 15 and by 18 had released his first album.
He was the first flamenco artist to obtain a chart topper with his instrumental rumba "Entre dos aguas" which was released in 1973 and saw him bringing flamenco closer to jazz with a sextet including wind instruments and an electric bass, in a major break with tradition.
Also revolutionary was his introduction of a cajon, a Peruvian box drum instead of two or three palmeros (rhythmic clappers) which made flamenco "more acoustic" and "more intimate in terms of staging", explains top percussionist Paquito Gonzalez who recorded an album with him.
'Orphaned by his death'
When de Lucia played in Madrid's Teatro Real in 1975, it stoked controversy for being the first flamenco performance in the Spanish capital's prestigious opera house, but also because he played with crossed legs rather than the traditional posture with the guitar resting on one leg, steeply angled upwards.
He was like "one of those explorers with a machete in hand who went into the Amazon and began cutting down branches and making a path," guitarist Jose Quevedo 'Bolita' told AFP at Pena La Buena Gente, a club in Jerez de la Frontera that draws flamenco fans, of which there are many across Andalusia.
And it was after one drunken night in Jerez that de Lucia and the singer Camaron de la Isla decided to work together, going on to produce several legendary albums.
When Paco de Lucía "became a global star, almost without realizing it, he created what is now the flamenco industry", says Quevedo.
"It was a total turning point which brought about the 'professionalization' of flamenco, creating a more rewarding life for many artists", he said.
And when he died, "the flamenco world felt very orphaned", says dancer Monika Bellido who runs a flamenco academy in Algeciras.
"The whole world loved Paco."


Elton John Items Fetch $8 Million at New York Auction

Elton John performs "(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman during the Oscars show at the 92nd Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Elton John performs "(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman during the Oscars show at the 92nd Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
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Elton John Items Fetch $8 Million at New York Auction

Elton John performs "(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman during the Oscars show at the 92nd Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Elton John performs "(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman during the Oscars show at the 92nd Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Nearly $100,000 for Elton John's monogrammed silver boots and around $2 million for a triptych by street artist Banksy from his collection: the music icon's personal items brought in almost $8 million at auction Wednesday in New York.

Christie's auction house is running a series of eight sales, both in person and online, through February 28 for the collection of the 76-year-old's belongings, including an ivory and gold glam rock jumpsuit from the early 1970s designed by Annie Reavey, which sold for $12,600.

As enthusiastic collectors made bids, John's grand piano fetched over $200,000, while a pair of sunglasses, a key element of the singer's signature look, found a buyer for $22,680, ten times more than the initial estimate.

Most of the items come from the artist's luxury home in Atlanta, Georgia, which had served as a base for his American tours, and which he recently sold.

The legendary musician, known for hits like "Your Song,Rocket Man," and "Sacrifice," for flamboyant costumes and a commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS, wrapped up his farewell tour last year.

John bought the Atlanta home shortly after getting sober in 1990, Christie's said, as the singer found "solace and support in the warm community and recovery facilities" there.

With works by artists Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe and Richard Avedon, the collection, which he built together with his husband David Furnish, shows the couple's taste in contemporary art.

The personal collections of pop culture icons have become a regular feature at the world's top auction houses.

Last September, thousands of items that belonged to late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury sold for 40 million pounds ($50.4 million), Sotheby's said.


A Beloved Fantasy Franchise Is Revived with Netflix’s Live-Action ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

(L-R) Actors Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, Kiawentiio Tarbell, Gordon Cormier, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu and Elizabeth Yu attends Netflix' "Avatar: The Last Airbender" premiere at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, February 15, 2024. (AFP)
(L-R) Actors Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, Kiawentiio Tarbell, Gordon Cormier, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu and Elizabeth Yu attends Netflix' "Avatar: The Last Airbender" premiere at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, February 15, 2024. (AFP)
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A Beloved Fantasy Franchise Is Revived with Netflix’s Live-Action ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

(L-R) Actors Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, Kiawentiio Tarbell, Gordon Cormier, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu and Elizabeth Yu attends Netflix' "Avatar: The Last Airbender" premiere at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, February 15, 2024. (AFP)
(L-R) Actors Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, Kiawentiio Tarbell, Gordon Cormier, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu and Elizabeth Yu attends Netflix' "Avatar: The Last Airbender" premiere at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, February 15, 2024. (AFP)

A new entry in the "Avatar" franchise is about to soar and James Cameron has no part in it.

"Avatar: The Last Airbender" is a completely different fictional world from Cameron's Pandora but the two similarly named dueling sci-fi fantasy properties have kept throwing out new entries over the decades.

On Thursday — two years after the debut of "Avatar: The Way of Water" — Netflix offers "Avatar: The Last Airbender," a multi-part, lush live-action adaptation that mixes adventure and friendship, martial arts and philosophy, all through an Asian lens.

It’s a potentially fraught step because fans of this universe are very protective of the franchise, which began as a beloved cartoon series in the anime style airing on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008.

"When you have an opportunity to be part of a world that is beloved by generations of people, it can be daunting sometimes because it’s a big responsibility," says actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee. "But, at the same time, as performers, you don’t often get chances to sort of dive into worlds like that and to be part of gigantic productions."

"Avatar: The Last Airbender" is centered on a world with four tribes — air, water, earth and fire. Some can manipulate or "bend" their respective elements: hurl giant blobs of water, raise up rocks or zap someone with a wave of flames.

The eight-part saga starts with this world unbalanced — there has been a war for nearly 100 years as the Fire Nation tries to take over the planet, pretty much wiping out the airbenders along the way.

Then a young waterbender named Katara and her older brother, Sokka, discover a 12-year-old airbender named Aang, who has been frozen for a century. They realize that he may be the prophesied Avatar who can control all four elements and unite all four nations.

"I never asked to be special," Aang says early in the first episode. "The world needs you, Aang," he is told by an elder. "I don’t want this power," replies Aang. The elder counters: "Which is why you will make a great Avatar."

"It’s Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey," says Daniel Dae Kim, who plays the leader of the Fire Nation, connecting the series to such franchises as "Star Wars" and "The Matrix". "It makes it relatable to any kid or anyone to say, ‘I don’t have to be born with a sense of destiny.’ Anyone can have that destiny thrust upon them."

Netflix has created a lusciously crafted universe, where our heroes soar over roiling seas aboard bison that fly and armies battle with staffs, mid-air flips and power blasts. Port cities teem with elegant sailing ships, costumes are colorful and pockets of humor and romance leaven the action sequences.

"It’s such a deep show," says Gordon Cormier, born just a year after the original animated show ended its run and who now plays Aang. "Like the cartoon, it has so many character arcs and just amazing stories."

Aang teams up with Katara and Sokka to travel around their world, looking for clues for a way to channel his inner Avatar. There are plenty of slo-mo martial arts face-offs and mind-blowing manipulations of the elements.

Cast members were quick to give credit to showrunner and executive producer Albert Kim for being true to the beloved animated series while developing elements and crafting it for a live-action audience.

"I’m a fan of the original animated series myself and we wanted to do it justice," says Lee. "We wanted to make sure that the OG fans were happy with it, but at the same time, we’re not just giving them beat by beat the exact same thing because it already exists."

Dallas Liu, whose credits include "PEN15" and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," plays the Fire Nation's crown prince and says Albert Kim helped them give the Netflix series its own identity.

"I think we found a very nice balance of staying faithful, but also allowing people who have never seen the show to watch a similar journey that still holds the essence of the original series."

The show is riding a wave of new TV series that embrace Asian culture, including Max’s "Warrior," Paramount+’s "The Tiger’s Apprentice," FX's "Shogun" and "House of Ninjas" at Netflix.

The world of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" has had a live-action treatment before — M. Night Shyamalan's film adaptation in 2010 that many fans deride. An animated sequel, "The Legend of Korra," aired from 2005 to 2008.

In addition to the new Netflix series, an animated "Airbender" theatrical film trilogy and an animated TV series are planned, with the first film of the expected trilogy set to hit theaters late next year. (That could be just in time to compete with Cameron's "Avatar 3.")

But first up is the Netflix series, which has some big issues for parents and their kids to chew on: destiny, growing up fast, whether to hide from danger and challenging yourself. And, of course, the notion of hope.

"We have to give people something to live for," Kitara says at one point. "That’s what the Avatar is — hope. And we need that just as much as we need food and shelter."

That's something Daniel Dae Kim thinks is a notion we can all relate to: "In times like we live in today, hope is a pretty good thing to have. And I think that analogy is something that makes it appropriate for right here and right now."


Taylor Swift Named IFPI 2023 Global Recording Artist of the Year

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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Taylor Swift Named IFPI 2023 Global Recording Artist of the Year

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)

Pop superstar Taylor Swift added another honor to her long list of accolades on Wednesday, winning the global recording artist of the year award for the fourth time from the IFPI, the organization that represents the recorded music industry.

The "Anti-Hero" singer scooped the award for the second year running, and has previously won it 2014 and 2019. The latest is for 2023.

The prize is calculated by looking at an artist’s or group’s worldwide sales for streaming, download and physical music formats during the calendar year and covers their whole body of work, according to the IFPI.

It is presented to the artist who tops the IFPI Global Artist Chart, which Swift has done more than any other artist since its introduction 11 years ago.

"She continues to redefine the limits of global success. Taylor is a singular talent and her commitment to her craft and her fans is truly phenomenal," Lewis Morrison, director of charts and certifications at IFPI, said in a statement.

K-Pop stars SEVENTEEN and Stray Kids came second and third respectively in the chart in what IFPI described as a "record year for Korean artists".

Four K-Pop acts made the top 10 with TOMORROW X TOGETHER at no.7 and NewJeans at no.8.

Other artists to feature in the top 10 include Drake at no. 4, The Weeknd at no.5.

Earlier this month, Swift, 34, set another record at the Grammy Awards, winning the prize for album of the year for an unprecedented fourth time.


Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley Reunite in Sweary ‘Wicked Little Letters’ 

Olivia Colman poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film "Wicked Little Letters" on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in London. (VAP)
Olivia Colman poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film "Wicked Little Letters" on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in London. (VAP)
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Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley Reunite in Sweary ‘Wicked Little Letters’ 

Olivia Colman poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film "Wicked Little Letters" on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in London. (VAP)
Olivia Colman poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film "Wicked Little Letters" on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in London. (VAP)

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley play two very different neighbors in new film "Wicked Little Letters", a comedy mystery based on a real life British scandal from the 1920s, which saw people receiving expletive-laden notes.

Set in an English seaside town, the movie follows Colman's pious and conservative Edith and Buckley's loud and rowdy Irish migrant Rose as they become friends.

When Edith starts receiving anonymous poison pen letters, Rose is arrested and charged with the crime. Other locals begin receiving similar letters, causing a national uproar and ensuing trial.

"I think because of the poison pen letters, the obvious parallel is modern day trolling on a much bigger scale," Colman told Reuters of the movie, in a joint interview with Buckley.

"There's also a parallel between the perception of what a woman should be."

The cast includes Timothy Spall as Edith's stern father Edward and Anjana Vasan as police officer Gladys Moss, who unlike her male superiors, suspects something is amiss and rallies other women to investigate who the real letter writer is.

The film is based on real events that happened in the town of Littlehampton.

"This is true. It was debated in parliament and the newspapers did all cover it, and the whole nation was gripped. Who could possibly be using swearwords like that?" Colman said, adding it was "quite hard to not giggle" on set when some of the letters' profane and absurd language was read out.

Buckley said working with Oscar-winning Colman was one of the appeals of joining the cast. Both starred in 2021 drama "The Lost Daughter".

"It was just the subversion of what you think a British period drama is and these two women that are on either side of a coin who are actually similar in many ways but go on a journey of expressing what they need to express," she added.

Asked if as celebrities it was hard not to read comments about them online, Colman said: "Neither of us are on social media... I think I would care (what people wrote) and that's why I don't want to know. I'm not thick skinned enough to cope with that."

"I don't really want anybody knowing anything about my private life, they see enough of me," Buckley added.

"Wicked Little Letters" is released in UK cinemas from Friday.


Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner’s Divorce Is Finalized, Officially Ending Their Marriage 

Kevin Costner, left, and Christine Baumgartner arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, March 27, 2022, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)
Kevin Costner, left, and Christine Baumgartner arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, March 27, 2022, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)
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Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner’s Divorce Is Finalized, Officially Ending Their Marriage 

Kevin Costner, left, and Christine Baumgartner arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, March 27, 2022, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)
Kevin Costner, left, and Christine Baumgartner arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, March 27, 2022, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)

A judge has declared that Kevin Costner and his wife of nearly two decades, Christine Baumgartner, are now legally divorced, according to court records filed Tuesday.

The couple's marriage ended, and both became single, on Friday, nine months after she filed for divorce, a judgment entered in Santa Barbara County court showed.

In the first months after their split, Costner and Baumgartner fought in court over child custody and support payments and appeared to be headed for a contentious trial. But they reached a settlement agreement in September that allowed them to avoid it.

The two will have joint custody of their sons, ages 16 and 15, and daughter, age 13. A judge in September ordered Costner to pay about $63,000 per month in child support, after she had sought about $175,000 per month.

Costner, 69, and Baumgartner, 48, a model and handbag designer, began dating in 1998 and married at his Colorado ranch in 2004.

It was the second marriage for Costner, the Oscar and Emmy winning star of TV’s “Yellowstone” and films including “Dances With Wolves,” “The Bodyguard” and “Bull Durham.”


Saudi Film Fund Geared toward Advancing Investment in Film Content

Saudi Film Fund Geared toward Advancing Investment in Film Content
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Saudi Film Fund Geared toward Advancing Investment in Film Content

Saudi Film Fund Geared toward Advancing Investment in Film Content

MEFIC Capital launched on Monday the Saudi Film Fund with a total capital of SAR375 million, including a 40% investment from the Cultural Development Fund, underscoring the attractive investment landscape in the Kingdom's film and media sector.

The fund aims to spur investment in this industry and provide financing for innovative content production and distribution projects infrastructure.

The strategic Saudi Film Fund is bound to promote high-quality local production; it marks the first investment by the Cultural Development Fund, in collaboration with MEFIC Capital, who will manage the fund.

Roaa Media Ventures will serve as the technical partner that seeks to facilitate collaboration with leading international studios and create content that highlights Saudi culture and values.

The Saudi Film Fund complements the agreement reached by Cultural Development Fund, MEFIC Capital, and Roaa Media Ventures during the Cannes International Film Festival last year. It is a major investment in the industry, and part of the film sector financing program initiated by the Cultural Development Fund in 2023 under the Digital Content Program (IGNITE) that aims to increase digital content in the Kingdom.

The Saudi film production market has experienced significant growth, with an annual growth rate exceeding 25%. It is the largest consumer market for creative and cinematic content in the Arab world, driven by initiatives from the Ministry of Culture and the Quality of Life Program, part of the goals of Vision 2030.

This growth is proof of the rising demand for local culture and language in cinematic works, influenced by the increasing role of digital broadcast networks as competitors to traditional cinema halls, which boosts the consumption of visual content.


‘Oppenheimer’ Wins 7 Prizes, Including Best Picture, at the British Academy Film Awards 

Irish actor Cillian Murphy poses with the award for Best leading actor for his role in "Oppenheimer" during the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Center, in London, on February 18, 2024. (AFP)
Irish actor Cillian Murphy poses with the award for Best leading actor for his role in "Oppenheimer" during the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Center, in London, on February 18, 2024. (AFP)
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‘Oppenheimer’ Wins 7 Prizes, Including Best Picture, at the British Academy Film Awards 

Irish actor Cillian Murphy poses with the award for Best leading actor for his role in "Oppenheimer" during the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Center, in London, on February 18, 2024. (AFP)
Irish actor Cillian Murphy poses with the award for Best leading actor for his role in "Oppenheimer" during the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Center, in London, on February 18, 2024. (AFP)

Atom bomb epic "Oppenheimer" won seven prizes, including best picture, director and actor, at the 77th British Academy Film Awards on Sunday, cementing its front-runner status for the Oscars next month.

Gothic fantasia "Poor Things" took five prizes and Holocaust drama "The Zone of Interest" won three.

British-born filmmaker Christopher Nolan won his first best director BAFTA for "Oppenheimer," and Irish performer Cillian Murphy won the best actor prize for playing physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb.

Murphy said he was grateful to play such a "colossally knotty, complex character."

Nolan noted that nuclear weapons are "a nihilistic subject and the film inevitably reflects that," telling the movie's backers: "Thank you for taking on something dark."

Emma Stone was named best actress for playing the wild and spirited Bella Baxter in "Poor Things," a steampunk-style visual extravaganza that won prizes for visual effects, production design, makeup and hair and costume design.

"Oppenheimer" had a field-leading 13 nominations, but missed out on the record of nine trophies, set in 1971 by "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

It won the best film race against "Poor Things,Killers of the Flower Moon,Anatomy of a Fall" and "The Holdovers.Oppenheimer" also scooped trophies for editing, cinematography and musical score, as well as the best supporting actor prize for Robert Downey Jr., who played Atomic Energy Commission head Lewis Strauss.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph was named best supporting actress for playing a boarding school cook in "The Holdovers" and said she felt a "responsibility I don’t take lightly" to tell the stories of underrepresented people like her character Mary.

"Oppenheimer" faced stiff competition in what's widely considered a vintage year for cinema and an awards season energized by the end of actors’ and writers’ strikes that shut down Hollywood for months.

" The Zone of Interest," a British-produced film shot in Poland with a largely German cast, was named both best British film and best film not in English — a first — and also took the prize for its sound, which has been described as the real star of the film.

Jonathan Glazer's unsettling drama takes place in a family home just outside the walls of the Auschwitz death camp, whose horrors are heard and hinted at, rather than seen.

"Walls aren’t new from before or since the Holocaust, and it seems stark right now that we should care about innocent people being killed in Gaza or Yemen or Mariupol or Israel," producer James Wilson said. "Thank you for recognizing a film that asks us to think in those spaces."

Ukraine war documentary "20 Days in Mariupol," produced by The Associated Press and PBS "Frontline," won the prize for best documentary.

"This is not about us," said filmmaker Mstyslav Chernov, who captured the harrowing reality of life in the besieged city with an AP team. "This is about Ukraine, about the people of Mariupol."

Chernov said the story of the city and its fall into Russian occupation "is a symbol of struggle and a symbol of faith. Thank you for empowering our voice and let’s just keep fighting."

The awards ceremony, hosted by "Doctor Who" star David Tennant — who entered wearing a kilt and sequined top while carrying a dog named Bark Ruffalo — was a glitzy, British-accented appetizer for Hollywood’s Academy Awards, closely watched for hints about who might win at the Oscars on March 10.

The prize for original screenplay went to French courtroom drama "Anatomy of a Fall." The film about a woman on trial over the death of her husband was written by director Justine Triet and her partner, Arthur Harari.

"It’s a fiction, and we are reasonably fine," Triet joked.

Cord Jefferson won the adapted screenplay prize for the satirical "American Fiction," about the struggles of an African American novelist

Jefferson said he hoped the success of the movie "maybe changes the minds of the people who are in charge of greenlighting films and TV shows, allows them to be less risk-averse."

Historical epic "Killers of the Flower Moon," Leonard Bernstein biopic "Maestro," grief-flecked love story "All of Us Strangers" and class-war dramedy "Saltburn " all won nothing despite multiple nominations.

"Barbie," one half of 2023’s "Barbenheimer" box office juggernaut and the year’s top-grossing film, also came up empty from five nominations. "Barbie" director Greta Gerwig failed to get a directing nomination for either the BAFTAs or the Oscars, in what was seen by many as a major snub.

Britain’s film academy introduced changes to increase the awards’ diversity in 2020, when no women were nominated as best director for the seventh year running and all 20 nominees in the lead and supporting performer categories were white. However, Triet was the only woman among this year's six best-director nominees.

Before the ceremony, nominees, including Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Emily Blunt, Rosamund Pike, Ryan Gosling and Ayo Edebiri all walked the red carpet at London’s Royal Festival Hall, along with presenters Andrew Scott, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba and David Beckham.

Guest of honor was Prince William, in his role as president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He arrived without his wife, Kate, who is recovering from abdominal surgery last month.

The ceremony included musical performances by "Ted Lasso" star Hannah Waddingham, singing "Time After Time," and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, singing her 2001 hit "Murder on the Dancefloor," which shot back up the charts after featuring in "Saltburn."

Film curator June Givanni, founder of the June Givanni PanAfrican Cinema Archive, was honored for outstanding British contribution to cinema, while actress Samantha Morton received the academy’s highest honor, the BAFTA Fellowship.

Morton, who grew up in foster care and children’s homes, said that "representation matters."

"The stories we tell, they have the power to change people’s lives," she said. "Film changed my life, it transformed me, and it led me here today."


And the Winner Is... London Rolls Out Red Carpet for BAFTA Film Awards

Paul Giamatti poses as he arrives at the Nominees Party for 2024 BAFTA Film Awards, supported by Bulgari, at the National Gallery in London, Britain, February 17, 2024. (Reuters)
Paul Giamatti poses as he arrives at the Nominees Party for 2024 BAFTA Film Awards, supported by Bulgari, at the National Gallery in London, Britain, February 17, 2024. (Reuters)
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And the Winner Is... London Rolls Out Red Carpet for BAFTA Film Awards

Paul Giamatti poses as he arrives at the Nominees Party for 2024 BAFTA Film Awards, supported by Bulgari, at the National Gallery in London, Britain, February 17, 2024. (Reuters)
Paul Giamatti poses as he arrives at the Nominees Party for 2024 BAFTA Film Awards, supported by Bulgari, at the National Gallery in London, Britain, February 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Hollywood stars descend on London on Sunday for the annual BAFTA Film Awards, where US historical drama "Oppenheimer", one of the highest-grossing films of 2023, leads nominations for Britain's top movie honors.

The three-hour epic about the making of the atomic bomb during World War Two has 13 nods, including for the night's top prize - best film - which it is the current favourite to win.

Also leading betting odds are the film's Irish star Cillian Murphy, who plays the American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, to win the leading actor prize and Briton Christopher Nolan for best director.

Digital Spy movies editor Ian Sandwell said the local talent in "Oppenheimer" could help its BAFTA chances.

"It's got Christopher Nolan, it's got Cillian Murphy in the lead. I think it would be a massive surprise if that film does miss out," Sandwell told Reuters.

Last year, a German remake of "All Quiet on the Western Front" was the big winner at the BAFTAs, including, in a surprise for many, for best film, beating the 2023 awards season favorite "Everything Everywhere All at Once".

"If there's anything that's going to do that this year it will be 'The Zone of Interest' because it's got a British director, even though it's foreign language, it's a British co-production so it's a local film," Sandwell said.

Jonathan Glazer's chilling movie "The Zone of Interest" - about the commandant of Auschwitz and his family living next to the death camp - has nine nominations.

The other contenders for best film include Emma Stone's gothic comedy "Poor Things", Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon", about the murders of members of the Osage Nation in the 1920s, courtroom drama "Anatomy of a Fall" and "The Holdovers", a comedy set in a boys' boarding school.

Previous BAFTA and Oscar winner Stone is the favorite to win the leading actress category.

"(It) was an absolutely extraordinary performance for any actress to do," Tim Richards, founder and CEO of cinema operator Vue International, told Reuters.

None of the best director contenders has previously won the award, and four out of the six are first-time director nominees, including Glazer and Justine Triet for "Anatomy of a Fall".

Triet is the only woman on the list, with the omission of "Barbie" director Greta Gerwig raising some eyebrows.

"Barbie", the highest grossing film of 2023, has five nominations overall. Known as the BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), the awards ceremony will take place at the Royal Festival Hall on the banks of the River Thames and will be hosted by actor David Tennant.


Dakota Johnson and S.J. Clarkson and Find the Psychological Thriller in ‘Madame Web’ 

Dakota Johnson arrives at the premiere of "Madame Web," Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP)
Dakota Johnson arrives at the premiere of "Madame Web," Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP)
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Dakota Johnson and S.J. Clarkson and Find the Psychological Thriller in ‘Madame Web’ 

Dakota Johnson arrives at the premiere of "Madame Web," Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP)
Dakota Johnson arrives at the premiere of "Madame Web," Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP)

One of the first things that struck director S.J. Clarkson about “Madame Web” was that this was a superhero who did not have superhuman strength. And unlike Batman, she couldn’t just buy herself some. No, Cassandra Webb has a different kind of power: Clairvoyance. This, the veteran television director found interesting.

“I saw the challenge of clairvoyance and the fact that it didn’t necessarily scream action as its biggest virtue,” Clarkson said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “Because then we could explore the fact that you don’t need superhuman strength to be a superhero.”

How does one depict clairvoyance? Well, for that, she turned to the movies, re-watching Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now,” Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” and “Inception” and the Wachowskis’ “The Matrix.”

“I just sort of went across the board looking at movies that had done that, you know, and some horror. I was trying to find that sort of thrilling, scary space,” she said.

“Madame Web” (currently in theaters) is the first of Sony’s Spider-Man spinoffs (including “Venom” and “Morbius”) that is centered on a woman. Clarkson had long admired Dakota Johnson as an actor and was thrilled to get the chance to direct her.

“She has such depth and breadth as an actor. She grounds everything. She finds the nuance and pathos in everything. But she’s also very funny,” Clarkson said. “It was important to me that we didn’t sort of, like, take ourselves too seriously. Yes, it’s a psychological thriller, but there needs to be moments of levity.”

Johnson was excited about the prospect too, even if she never thought she would be in a comic book movie.

“I just loved that it was about a young woman whose power is her mind,” Johnson said. “And I thought that that was really important and inspiring.”

And, perhaps most importantly, Johnson felt safe under Clarkson’s leadership.

“She just had everything under control,” Johnson said. “I didn’t worry for a second that it wasn’t going to be great. Ultimately, like in the edit or even on set, it’s just, she’s so detail oriented and she operates on such a high level ... I just felt really held and I really, you know, trusted her.”

In Johnson, Clarkson said she found an “incredible collaborator throughout,” acknowledging the challenge of having to visually showcase the act of seeing into the future.

“Many of those scenes that she’s in, nothing’s happening. It’s just her reacting and me saying, this is what’s going to happen in the future when we film it, right? It really was a bit like clairvoyance for her in that she didn’t actually get to see it,” Clarkson said. “So to have that sort of partnership in that creative collaboration was imperative and invaluable, and we wouldn’t have what we have without it.”

Clarkson has television credits going back 20 years, to the BBC soap opera “Doctors.” A journeyman director, she’s helmed episodes of “Heroes,” where she first met a very young Sydney Sweeney, “Dexter,” “House,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Succession” and, most recently, all six episodes of Netflix’s “Anatomy of a Scandal,” which she also executive produced. And she’d had some superhero experience too with Marvel’s “Jessica Jones.” She’s found both times that the “richness of the comics” provided her with an extraordinary foundation from which to leap.

“This is an origin story,” Clarkson said. “So for me it was like, how can we get the spirit and the essence of this character, and how can we take the things that we know about her and then work backwards and find out what would make the most interesting, fulfilling story with as much depth and breadth of that character to bring her to where she is today and where we will know that she’s going to be in the future.”

The movie also has some easter eggs for Marvel superfans, including the name of a diner where a crucial showdown happens, and a hat tip to “Madame Web’s” original creators, writer Denny O’Neil and artist John Romita Jr.

But for Johnson and Clarkson, the ultimate goal to was to create something fresh.

“It feels really fun to be a part of something that’s also kind of removed and fresh and a new kind of take on a superhero movie,” Johnson said. “It’s so grounded and it’s more of like a psychological thriller than what I’ve seen superheroes do before.”