Review Category : Entertainment

Review: “Hands of Stone” (R)

L-R: Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro & Ruben Blades in “Hands of Stone”; Rico Torres/The Weinstein Company(NEW YORK) — Roberto Duran, hands down, was one of the greatest boxers of all time. Suffice it to say, a great boxer deserves a great biopic. Hands of Stone is not that, but it’s not bad, either.

The movie’s biggest problem is it sometimes feels like a biopic of Duran’s trainer, Ray Arcel, played by Robert De Niro in what I would consider one of his better performances in recent years. Arcel, like Duran, is a legend. He also narrates the movie, but because of the way the script is constructed, he occasionally upstages the film’s protagonist.

Writer and director Jonathan Jakubowicz employs a number of flashbacks to tell his story. We first meet Duran as an adult (played by Edgar Ramirez) as he fights at New York’s Madison Square Garden. After the fight, his manager arranges for him to meet Arcel. Years earlier, Arcel promised the mob he’d no longer work in boxing (it’s complicated), but he agrees to train Duran for free. In the context of the story, the scene feels a bit disjointed — and later, it seems incongruous with the story’s chronology. And Incongruity is a problem with Jakubowicz’s script.

Jakubowicz also takes us back to Duran’s childhood in Panama, where he takes some historic license with Duran’s family history and entry into boxing, but he still gives us the basics. Duran is a product of Panama’s tense relationship with the U.S. His father was a U.S. soldier who abandoned him at a young age, and he was raised on the streets, stealing food to feed his family and friends. Eventually, the young man convinces a trainer at a local gym to school him, and Duran soon becomes the best boxer in Panama.

Historically, Duran’s defining moments are his two fights with Sugar Ray Leonard (played by Usher Raymond, better known as the singer, Usher). Both fights are depicted in the movie, but the build-up to the first was so bad, I didn’t realize it was about to happen. While the fight choreography is well done, the production values felt and looked cheap. Still, Ramirez’s humanity and machismo carries the day here.

Hands of Stone‘s screenplay has some valiant moments, but a weak structure mostly undermines Duran’s terrific story. What saves this movie are the superlative performances from Ramirez, De Niro, and Ana de Armas, who plays Duran’s wife, Felicidad.

Three out of five stars.

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Review: “Don’t Breathe” (R)

L-R: Dylan Minnette and Stephen Lang in “Don’t Breathe”; image courtesy Screen Gems/Sony(NEW YORK) — The world should’ve known writer/director Fede Alvarez would give us something like Don’t Breathe when he successfully remade Evil Dead three years ago. There was a reason Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell picked Alvarez for that task.

But it’s one thing to have a template for a film and successfully adapt it for fans and a new audience. It’s another to create an original horror story that’s a near masterpiece.

Don’t Breathe is about three terrible people who like to rob homes. Rooting for any of them is, essentially, picking your poison. There’s Rocky (Jane Levy, who also worked with Alvarez in Evil Dead), a broke, single mother who lives with her strung-out mom in a trailer; Alex (Dylan Minnette), the son of a security company owner who gives the group access to the homes because of his access to his father’s keys; and their ringleader, Money (Daniel Zovatto), Rocky’s morally bankrupt, moronic boyfriend.

Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues give Rocky and Alex some likable traits, lest we not be completely turned off, because we need some reason to eventually root for them. Rocky, for instance, just wants a better life for her daughter, and is in a situation that’s for the most part beyond her control. Rocky’s dream is to save up enough money to leave Detroit and move to California, and Alex – who clearly feels guilty about what he’s doing – has a crush on Rocky and hopes to follow her.

They may get their chance when Money’s given a tip about a secluded Iraqi war veteran who may have at least 300 grand in his house, a settlement he won after his daughter was killed by reckless driver.

Turns out the war vet (Stephen Lang) is blind. He also lives in an abandoned neighborhood and owns a very scary dog. Money, of course, thinks this is going to be a piece of cake; the guy can’t see, nobody else is around. Even the least experienced horror fan knows all of this spells trouble, but in Alvarez’s hands, it’s the type of twisted, unpredictable, heart-pounding trouble that will endear this particular filmmaker to fans forever.

While some of the decisions the characters make defy logic, we stay with this story in part because on any given day, the news or your social media feeds have a story about dumb criminals, which is what these three are. The negative is accepting some of the more gross and abhorrent behavior toward women depicted in this film. Within the context of the story, it makes sense but it’s still uncomfortable to watch and not entirely necessary. Fans may argue it’s just a movie and all in good fun, but depicting graphic, over-the-top violence against women, even if they’ve broken into your home and done you wrong, can be avoided. I’m hoping Mr. Alvarez’s fertile creative imagination can do so in the future.

Stephen Lang, as the suffering, blind shut-in, is probably one of the best-cast roles of the year. What he executes in this film shouldn’t be believable, but his collaboration with Mr. Alvarez and company produces a man who is very real.

Issues aside, Don’t Breathe is sure to become a horror classic.

Four out of five stars.

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NASA Will Beam Aboard the Star Trek Universe with “Trek Talks”

2016 ReedPOP(NEW YORK) — Experts from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will beam aboard the Star Trekuniverse for a series of discussions about real-life space exploration, and how Star Trek has influenced humanity’s desire to go where no one has gone before.

The five “Trek Talks” will take place during the three-day expo Star Trek: Mission New York, which runs Sept. 2-4 at the Javits Center in New York City — a little more than a month before October’s massive New York Comic Con.

In a statement obtained by ABC News, Lance Fensterman, global senior VP of Mission New York organizers ReedPOP, said, “NASA’s Trek Talks at Star Trek: Mission New York will give fans the opportunity to be fully immersed in the fascinating ways in which Star Trek has impacted space exploration, from paving the way for new technologies, to fostering an interest in the exploring beyond Earth, and dreaming up alien life.”

The discussions will include topics like, “First Contact: Looking For Life in the Universe,” and “Ugly Bags of Mostly Water: What Will Aliens Really Be Like?” and will feature real-life astronauts, engineers, and scientists, as well as their big-and-small-screen Trek counterparts.

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Maksim Chmerkovskiy Returning to “Dancing with the Stars” — with Ryan Lochte?

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic(NEW YORK) — Maskim Chmerkovskiy, considered the bad boy of the Dancing with the Stars ballroom, will rejoin the cast as a pro dancer on the new season — and he won’t be alone: disgraced Olympian Ryan Lochtehas reportedly agreed to join the cast.

USA Today reports Lochte, who was dropped by several of his sponsors following that well-publicized intoxicated incident during the Rio Games, will be one of 13 celebrity partners who will be announced Aug. 30 on Good Morning America.

Chmerkovskiy, 36, made his announcement live on GMA Thursday. Coming off his successful Maks and Val tour over the summer — in which he starred with his little brother and fellow DWTS vet, Valentin– Chmerkovskiy said he, “wanted this to continue, this feeling, the positivity” from the fans. “There’s so much love out there.”

After winning the Mirror Ball trophy in 2014, Maks vowed not to compete again, though he has since appeared as a guest judge. This time, ’round, however, he’s not necessarily in it to win it, he told GMA‘sGeorge Stephanopoulos and Amy Robach.

“I’m not running after multiple Mirror Balls…I feel absolutely no pressure to win again…” said Maks.

One other big change for Maks this season? He’s expecting his first child, with fellow DWTS pro dancer Peta Murgatroyd. “She’s doing amazing, and getting bigger, and the baby’s kicking…I can’t express it,” he beamed.

Joining Chmerkovskiy on the pro dancer side are Witney Carson, Sharna Burgess, Artem Chigvintsev, Lindsay Arnold, Allison Holker, Sasha Farber, Gleb Savchenko and Chmerkovskiy’s younger brother Valentin.

The new season of Dancing with the Stars premieres Monday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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Department of Homeland Security Investigating Leslie Jones Hack

Heidi Gutman/NBC(NEW YORK) — The hack on Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones’ website, JustLeslie.com, is now a federal case.

According to Deadline, the Department of Homeland Security is reportedly investigating the cyber crime that saw Jones’ private pictures, including nude photos, and other material swiped from her iCloud account and posted on her personal website. As of Thursday afternoon, her website remains offline.

Jones recently quit Twitter for a brief time after finding herself the target of online bullying and racists comments stemming from her participation in Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters.

An ABC News Radio request for comment to the Department of Homeland Security was not immediately answered.

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After Price Surge, Sarah Jessica Parker Stops Plugging EpiPen

Dana Edelson/NBC(NEW YORK) — Sarah Jessica Parker is ending her relationship with Mylan, the company that makes the life-saving allergy medication-injecting EpiPen, after the company raised the price of its product to more than 500 bucks.

The price hike represents a 450-percent increase since the company began selling the product in 2007 — turning it into a “billion-dollar business,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

Parker had taken part in a promotional campaign touting the medicine’s use in counteracting the severe allergic reaction known as anaphlyaxis. Calling the EpiPen a “lifesaving necessity” for people like James Wilkie, her peanut-allergic son with Matthew Broderick, Parker blasted Mylan.

“I’m left disappointed, saddened and deeply concerned by Mylan’s actions,” Parker posted on her Instagram. “I do not condone this decision and I have ended my relationship with Mylan as a direct result of it.”

“I hope they will seriously consider the outpouring of voices of those millions of people who are dependent on the device, and take swift action to lower the cost to be more affordable for whom it is a life-saving necessity,” Parker continued.

Marketing like Mylan’s “Anaphylaxis: For Reel” Initiative in which Parker took part helped make the injector pens seem like must-have accessories for schools and offices all over the country, Bloomberg notes — and in doing so boosted Mylan’s bottom line.

Mylan is currently under congressional scrutiny for the price hike. The company announced Thursday morning they’ll offer a “savings card” to help customers better afford the EpiPen, but stopped short of saying they’d lower the price.

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Terminally Ill “Star Wars” Fan Dies After Getting Wish to See “Rogue One”

Lucasfillm/Disney(NEW YORK) — A 36-year-old terminally ill British Star Wars fan who started a successful Internet push to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story early, has died.

The hashtag #RogueOneWish — retweeted by fans including Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill — led Lucasfilm’s and ABC News’ parent company, Disney, to grant Neil Hanvey’s final wish. Hanvey’s wife Andrea shared on Facebook that her husband saw the film Saturday, and died Monday.

Andrea Hanvey’s now started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the hospice where Hanvey died.

One year ago, 32-year-old terminally ill cancer patient Daniel Fleetwood of Texas successfully lobbied to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens early. Disney arranged a screening in his home November 4, ahead of the scheduled December 18, 2015 world premiere. Fleetwood died November 10, 2015.

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Hollywood’s Highest-Paid Actor, Says “Forbes”

Kevin Winter/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is rock-solid at the box office, enough to make him Hollywood’s highest-paid actor.

The star of the forthcoming Fast 8 earned an estimated $64.8 million in the last 12 months, according to Forbes, more than double what he made last year. Matt Damon, who placed third with $55 million, saw a 120% increase over last year’s earnings, thanks in large part to his starring role in the box office hit The Martian.

Jackie Chan came in second, with $61 million. Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp round out the top five.

Robert Downey, Jr. topped last year’s list of top earners for the third consecutive year, with $80 million. This year, he drops to eighth with less than half those earnings.

Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence earlier this week topped the Forbes list of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses, with $46 million.

Earnings are estimated based on paydays, endorsement deals and the like. Here are the top ten highest-earning actresses, according to Forbes:

1) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, $64.5 million
2) Jackie Chan, $61m
3) Matt Damon, $55m
4) Tom Cruise, $53
5) Johnny Depp, $48
6) Ben Affleck, $43m
7) Vin Diesel, $35m
8) Shan Rukh Khan, Bollywood star, $33m (tie)
8) Robert Downey, Jr., $33m (tie)
10) Akshay Kumar, Bollywood star, $31.5m (tie)
10) Brad Pitt, $31.5m (tie)

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Martin Lawrence Returning to Television in New Showtime Comedy Special

Studio 71/SHOWTIME(NEW YORK) — Martin Lawrence is returning to the stand-up stage in a new comedy special on Showtime that will air in September.

The special, called Martin Lawrence Doin’ Time: Uncut, will be the actor/comedian’s first stand-up special in 14 years, and will feature signature Lawrence impressions that cover everything from “sex and relationships to President Obama, Bill Cosby and Hollywood.”

“I look forward to having my third concert film premiere on Showtime,” said Martin in a statement to Variety . “Fourteen years is a long time between concert specials and I am excited to know that my TV audience will be able to enjoy this show as if they came to see me live.”

Martin Lawrence Doin’ Time: Uncut was filmed live at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles and airs Friday, September 9 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

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Michelle Obama Calls for More Diversity in Entertainment; Says TV, Movies Can Influence Perceptions

Win McNamee/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Michelle Obama is adding her voice to those calling for more diversity in television and film.

While admitting to Variety that she’s a product of pop culture and uses the medium to promote things that matter to her, the first lady finds fault with the entertainment industry for its lack of diversity.

“For so many people, television and movies may be the only way they understand people who aren’t like them,” she says.

Mrs. Obama believes the industry can influence perceptions in the way it did in the ’70s, when TV viewers “developed a love for Archie Bunker, and empathy for George Jefferson.”

Archie Bunker, a white bigot, was the main character in the groundbreaking sitcom All in the Family. George Jefferson, an African-American bigot, was the main character in the All in the Family spinoff, The Jeffersons.

“There are folks who now know black families — like the Johnsons on black-ish or the folks on Modern Family,” said Mrs. Obama. “They make you laugh, and they change how you see the world. And that is particularly true in a country where there are still millions of people who live in communities where they can live their whole lives not having contact or exposure with people who aren’t like them, whether that is race or religion or simply lifestyle.”

“The only way that millions of people get to know other folks and the way they live,” Mrs. Obama says, “is through the power of television and movies.”

The new issue of Variety is available now.

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