Academy Pledges ‘Action’ Over Will Smith Oscars Slap

US actor Will Smith (R) slaps US actor Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 27, 2022. PHOTO: Robyn Beck / AFP


The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences has pledged to take “appropriate action” over Will Smith’s shocking assault of Chris Rock at the Oscars ceremony, amid reports that its board of governors would meet Wednesday.

The group is under pressure to do something in response to the slap, which was seen by millions around the world, overshadowing Hollywood’s most important night of the year.

In a letter sent to Academy members, the leadership of the body that awards the Oscars said it was “upset and outraged” over the incident.

“Sunday’s telecast of the 94th Oscars was meant to be a celebration of the many individuals in our community who did incredible work this past year,” said the letter, signed by President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson.

“We are upset and outraged that those moments were overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behavior on stage by a nominee.”

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Attendees at the ceremony watched Sunday as Smith stormed onstage and hit Rock, who had cracked a joke about his actress wife’s closely cropped hairstyle.

Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia, a condition that causes her to lose hair.

The audience was initially unsure if the powerful slap was part of a skit, until Smith shouted profanities from his seat.

Rock managed to keep the gala on track, but the atmosphere at the event had shifted unmistakably.

Moments later, Smith won the Oscar for best actor, giving a tearful speech in which he claimed: “Love will make you do crazy things.”

Smith subsequently apologized to Rock in an Instagram post, but the Academy remains under pressure to censure him.

“To be clear, we condemn Mr. Smith’s actions that transpired Sunday night,” the letter to members said.

“As outlined in our bylaws, the Academy’s Board of Governors will now make a determination on appropriate action for Mr. Smith.

“As governed by California law regarding members of nonprofit organizations like the Academy, and set forth in our Standards of Conduct, this must follow an official process that will take a few weeks.”

Trade title Variety reported that the board would be meeting on Wednesday. A spokesman for the Academy declined to comment on the report.

Rock, who has not spoken publicly since the episode, was due to perform to a sold- out crowd in Boston later Wednesday.

Tickets for the show were being advertised on secondary markets for hundreds of dollars above their face value.

Ticketing site TickPick said Monday it had sold more tickets for Rock’s tour in the preceding 24 hours than in the whole previous month.


How Black-And-White Became Hollywood’s Favorite New Color



Black-and-white is the hot new trend in Hollywood, where directors of Oscars-contending films such as “Belfast” and “The Tragedy of Macbeth” are embracing monochrome for its storytelling power.

Kenneth Branagh’s childhood drama and Joel Coen’s Shakespeare adaptation are among a batch of recent acclaimed movies shot either entirely or mainly without color, as filmmakers seek to tap into the medium’s inherent sense of historical authenticity and humanizing intimacy.

“Color allows you brilliantly to describe people, but black-and-white allows you to feel people,” Branagh said of his deeply personal drama about violence in 1960s Northern Ireland, which is up for seven Oscars on Sunday including best picture.

While a “sweeping landscape of a desert or a mountain range” can be made epic by color, “an epic dimension of black-and-white photography, on a massive screen, is the human face.”

The choice “makes for a poetic dimension to things that can otherwise seem a little banal,” he told AFP.

Meanwhile, “Tragedy of Macbeth” cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel told The New York Times the effect was “meant to bring theatricality” and give the film a timeless quality. Its star Denzel Washington is in the running for best actor.

Monochrome movies have of course continued to exist since they fell out of mainstream favor during the 1950s, when cheaper color technology enabled more directors to emulate the bright tones that had dazzled audiences years earlier in “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind.”

In 2012, “The Artist” — a film that was not just black-and-white but also silent — won best picture at the Oscars, while the likes of “Roma” and “Mank” have won Oscars for best cinematography more recently.

But this year’s colorless contingent has grown.

“We all got together… it was a DGA [Directors Guild of America] meeting,” joked Mike Mills, whose family drama “C’mon C’mon” starring Joaquin Phoenix also comes in grayscale, and was nominated at this month’s BAFTAs.

“I love black-and-white. I’m super pretentious. I watch a lot of black-and-white films — they’re my heroes’ films, right? I just adore them,” Mills told AFP.

In “Passing” — whose star Ruth Negga has been nominated for a batch of awards, winning at the Film Independent Spirit Awards earlier this month — the format is used to tackle the issue of racism.

Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut explores “racial passing,” as two childhood friends of mixed racial heritage have a chance encounter in 1920s New York while both are pretending to be white.

“It wasn’t just a stylistic choice. I felt that it was a conceptual choice — to make a film about colorism… that drains the color out of it,” Hall said at its Sundance film festival premiere.

“We look at faces, and then we immediately put them into these categorizations… the categorizations become important, but they are also in some senses absurd.

“Nobody is actually black-and-white. Film isn’t black-and-white. It’s gray.”

– ‘Crazy abstraction’ –
So, why are directors getting on the black-and-white bandwagon now? Is it simply a coincidence?

Experts have pointed to broader trends such as the rise of Instagram and social media, that may explain why audiences — which in recent times may have seen black-and-white films as “old-fashioned” or “boring” — are now more willing to give it a go.

“Most Americans have become their own filmmakers and photographers with the ability to slap a filter onto an image and render it in grayscale or sepia or heightened color,” wrote Alissa Wilkinson, who covers film and culture for Vox.

“Getting used to seeing color-adjusted images, including black-and-white videos and photos, could make us associate them with the past less. Instead of being bound by history and time, we start to see them as simply aesthetic choices.”

The idea that black-and-white is a choice to deliberately look less real than the color-filled world we actually live in has been embraced by several of this year’s efforts.

“Black-and-white is such a crazy abstraction, so does a great sort of magic trick on the viewer,” said Mills. “‘I’m not in the real world anymore. I’m a little kicked off into a story, into art.'”

And there was a more specific reason for his choice in “C’mon C’mon,” a movie about an absent uncle — played by Phoenix — bonding with his precocious nephew.

“I have this really cute kid — black-and-white helped just take the cute sting off of it.”

Hollywood Holds Vigil For Cinematographer Shot On Movie Set

A man pays respects near a photo of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was accidentally killed by a prop gun fired by actor Alec Baldwin, at a memorial table during a candlelight vigil in her memory in Burbank, California on October 24, 2021.


Shell-shocked friends and colleagues of Halyna Hutchins gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the cinematographer who was killed when Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on a movie set.

Anguish and anger were on display as Hollywood held a vigil for Hutchins, as questions grew over how such a tragedy could have happened, despite rigorous safeguards.

“I had the pleasure of working with Halyna,” said actress Sharon Leal. “She was a wonderful woman and just, we’re all just so shocked.”

Hutchins, 42, was struck in the chest when Baldwin fired a prop gun he had been told was safe on the set of low-budget western “Rust” in New Mexico on Thursday. She was declared dead in hospital hours later.

People attend a candlelight vigil for cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was accidentally killed by a prop gun fired by actor Alec Baldwin, in Burbank, California on October 24, 2021.


Director Joel Souza, 48, who was crouching behind her as they lined up a shot, was also hit. He was treated by doctors and sent home.

Police are still investigating the shooting, and have executed a search warrant at the set, where, among other things, they were looking to see if the rehearsal had been caught on film.

Baldwin has been interviewed by detectives in Santa Fe, and has said he is cooperating fully with the probe.

Attention has also focused on the film’s assistant director, Dave Halls, who handed the weapon to the actor, and on the armorer, 24-year-old Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.

No one has been charged in connection with what police describe as an “ongoing investigation”, and no arrests have been made.

But as scores of Hollywood insiders gathered in a Los Angeles suburb on Sunday, there was palpable anger about what went wrong.

“The low budget productions oftentimes they want to make it look bigger than they really are,” said director Gustavo Sampaio, who worked with Hutchins four years ago.

“So they cut corners and they put safety in the backseat when it really should be at the forefront of everything that’s done on a set.”

That sentiment was echoed by producer Sabrina Oertle.

“I can tell you that as a producer, someone dropped the ball. Somebody decided to go with the bottom line, meaning keep your budget… cheap.”

– ‘No excuse’ –
Calls were growing for a ban on live firearms on movie sets, with a petition on gathering more than 22,000 signatures by Sunday evening.

“There is no excuse for something like this to happen in the 21st century,” says the text of the petition launched by Bandar Albuliwi, a screenwriter and director.

Dave Cortese, a Democrat elected to the California Senate, said Saturday he would be pushing a bill banning live ammunition on movie sets in California

“There is an urgent need to address alarming work abuses and safety violations occurring on the set of theatrical productions, including unnecessary high-risk conditions such as the use of live firearms.”

The hit Los Angeles police drama “The Rookie” decided the day after the shooting to ban all live ammunition from its set, effective immediately, according to industry publication The Hollywood Reporter.

But some industry professionals said the use of weapons on film was not the problem.

Movie armorer SL Huang, writing on Twitter, said she had worked on hundreds of film sets without incident, thanks to the stringent safety protocols and the built-in redundancies.

“A tragedy happening in *this particular* way defies everything I know about how we treat guns on film sets,” she wrote.

“My colleagues and I have been trying to figure out how this could happen when following our basic safety procedures and we keep ending at a loss.

“Which implies… that very basic, very standard safety procedures may not have been followed. And that nobody shut the production down when they weren’t.”

The Los Angeles Times reported this week there had been crew disquiet about safety and working conditions.

The paper, citing crew members who had been on set, said three prop weapons had unexpectedly discharged prior to Thursday’s tragedy.

The production company has not responded to AFP requests for comment.

Alec Baldwin Says ‘Heart Is Broken’ After Fatally Shooting Cinematographer

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 22, 2021 US actor Alec Baldwin attends DreamWorks Animation’s “The Boss Baby: Family Business” premiere at SVA Theatre in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP


Hollywood star Alec Baldwin said his “heart is broken” Friday after he fatally shot a cinematographer with a prop gun on the set of a Western he was filming about an accidental killing. 

The US actor and producer said he was “fully cooperating” with a police investigation into the incident, which also left the film’s director injured and has highlighted concerns about gun safety protocols on film sets.

“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours,” Baldwin tweeted.

He added: “My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”

READ ALSO: [Killed On Set] Famous Hollywood Tragedies

Hutchins, 42, was transported to hospital by helicopter but died of her wounds. Director Joel Souza, 48, was taken by ambulance and later released from hospital, “Rust” actress Frances Fisher tweeted, citing a text from him.

Production of “Rust” — in which Baldwin is playing the lead in a 19th century film about an accidental killing — has been suspended.

Santa Fe sheriff spokesman Juan Rios told AFP that Baldwin came in voluntarily and had “provided statements and answered their questions.” No charges have been filed and no arrests have been made.

Rios told The New York Times that the shooting happened in the middle of a scene that was being rehearsed or filmed.

The Santa Fe New Mexican published pictures of a distraught-looking Baldwin which it said were taken in the parking lot of the sheriff’s office after the tragedy. The paper said its reporter had seen the 63-year-old actor in tears.

Shot on set

Los Angeles-based Hutchins, who was originally from Ukraine and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Artic Circle, was selected as one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019, according to her website.

The Ukraine foreign ministry said its consulate general in San Francisco was working with US authorities and speaking to Hutchins’ relatives assistance.

Hutchins’ union IATSE — which represents film industry technicians including cinematographers — said it was “heartbroken and devastated to learn that one of our members, sister Halyna Hutchins, died yesterday.”

“Creating a culture of safety requires relentless vigilance from every one of us, day in and day out,” it added.

The union’s branch representing prop masters sent an email to members stating that “a live single round was accidentally fired,” and that none of its members were on set at the time, multiple US outlets reported.

IATSE declined to comment on the reports, and the film’s production company did not immediately respond to AFP request for comment.

The New Mexico Film Office also declined to comment on the reports, saying in a statement to AFP: “The safety and well-being of all cast, crew, and filmmakers in New Mexico is a top priority at all times.”

Movie sets usually have stringent rules over the use of prop weapons, but accidents have happened.

Most famously, Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, died during filming of “The Crow” after being shot by a gun that was supposed to fire blanks.

Brandon’s sister Shannon Lee wrote on Twitter: “No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set.”

“It’s time to stop being macho about blanks and end the practice,” tweeted director Ben Rock, noting that gun shot effects such as the loud bang and muzzle flash can be easily added in post-production with modern technology.

The type of firearm used on set is yet to be confirmed.

‘Greatest fear’

Meanwhile, tributes to Hutchins poured in on social media.

“My greatest fear is that someone will be fatally hurt on one of my sets,” tweeted Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.

“My heart goes out to all of those affected by the tragedy today on Rust, especially Halyna Hutchins & her family.”

The shooting took place at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location near Santa Fe which is popular with Hollywood filmmakers.

Baldwin co-produced the film and stars as Harland Rust, an outlaw whose grandson is convicted of murder, and who goes on the run with him.

A leading man on television and in films since the 1980s, Baldwin has starred in high-profile movies including “The Hunt for Red October.”

He garnered new fans for TV comedy “30 Rock” and with his long-running portrayal of Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” a character that irritated the former president, but won Baldwin an Emmy.

Baldwin has also made headlines for his marriage — and acrimonious divorce — to Kim Basinger, outspoken political views and hot temper.

He lives near New York with second wife Hilaria. The couple have six children together.


Hollywood Strike Averted After Unions, Producers Reach Last-Minute Deal

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 26, 2010, the Hollywood sign after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that money had been raised to purchase and protect the land around the historic sign in Hollywood. A strike that could have stopped the filming of some of the world’s most popular television shows and movies has been averted in last-minute talks. PHOTO: MARK RALSTON / AFP


A strike that could have stopped the filming of some of the world’s most popular television shows and movies has been averted in last-minute talks.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), representing some 40,000 behind-the-scenes film workers, said it reached a tentative three-year agreement late Saturday with an alliance representing producers.

In a statement on the union website, IATSE international president Matthew Loeb welcomed the deal as a “Hollywood ending,” adding, “Our members stood firm.”

The agreement requires ratification by union members.

The studio group — the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — confirmed the agreement to CNN but offered no details.

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The union, which represents camera operators, costumers, makeup artists and set designers, had been girding to stop work at midnight Sunday.

The labor protest had drawn widespread support, not just from actors like Julia Louiis-Dreyfus and Samuel L. Jackson, but from politicians including senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

“Good for @IATSE for standing your ground,” comedian Patton Oswalt said on Twitter.

The last-minute talks involved thorny disputes on what the union says are excessive and effectively unregulated working hours.

The proposed contract, according to the union, calls for “significant increases in compensation from new-media companies” and “a living wage for those on the bottom of the pay scale.”

It also provides for daily rest periods for an industry notorious for its long hours.


– Unusual hours –

For as long as Tinseltown has existed, countless workers have given up their social lives to meet the unusual hours demanded by filming.

But that had come to a head recently, with workers airing a litany of grievances on social media.

Instagram account @ia_stories posts shocking anonymous tales of abusive treatment.

“Our first AC (assistant camera) miscarried on our last set in the middle of the day,” wrote one contributor before the new deal.

“She was back the next day… I knew she was screaming inside. I hope you all scream for her. Strike.”

Scott Siracusano, a non-union cinematographer who supported the movement, said many producers saw crews as “expendable assets.”

“This is change that the industry has been needing for a very, very, very long time.”

A strike would have brought the union’s first national walkout since 1945.

Members say they feel a strong sense of loyalty to work that they love.

But a major issue for crews is being forced to work through meal breaks and deep into evenings and Saturday mornings by studios that can keep the cameras rolling while paying only small penalties.

The pandemic shutdown of Hollywood last spring caused many workers to reflect on their work-life balance.

Combined with the growth of streaming platforms, it has also created both a shortage of and a frenzied demand for new content, meaning crews are driven harder and harder.

“With the streamers ordering all these shows — peak TV — production goes year round,” said Los Angeles Times journalist Meg James in an online talk. “So I think you’re seeing a fatigue on the workers’ side.”


‘The Wire’ Star Michael K. Williams’ Death Caused By Accidental Overdose

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 10, 2014 actor Michael K. Williams arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of ‘Robocop’ at TCL Chinese Theatre, in Hollywood, California. Robyn BECK / AFP


US actor Michael K. Williams, who starred as Omar Little in the widely acclaimed television series “The Wire,” died of an accidental drug overdose, authorities said Friday.

The 54-year-old, who played the iconic Baltimore stick-up man in the groundbreaking show, was found dead earlier this month in his apartment in New York.

The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner said in a statement that the cause of Williams’ death was “acute intoxication by the combined effects of fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, heroin, and cocaine.” The death was an accident, according to officials.

The Emmy-nominated actor had been widely hailed for his role in “The Wire,” in which he played a gay armed robber who specialized in holding up drug dealers. He received multiple Emmy nominations for his work on various shows and films.

The series became one of the most popular shows on television and ran through five seasons from 2002 until 2008.

Williams was also well-known for the role of Albert ‘Chalky’ White on the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” among others.

Williams had spoken openly of his past struggles with drug addiction and had told US media that he had spent much of his earnings from “The Wire” on narcotics.

His work playing Omar attracted the attention of a future president, with the-then senator Barack Obama calling Williams’ role in “The Wire” his favorite and “a fascinating character.”

Williams’ role was enhanced by a facial scar he said he received during a New York street fight on the night of his 25th birthday when a man slashed him with a razor.

He told NPR in an interview the pronounced scar actually helped advance his career, as he climbed from being a back-up dancer in music videos for stars such as Madonna and George Michael to getting speaking roles playing rough characters in drama shows.

‘Godfather Of Modern Black Cinema’ Melvin Van Peebles Dies At 89

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 5, 2012 US director Melvin Van Peebles poses during a photocall at the 38th US Film Festival, in the French northwestern sea resort of Deauville.  (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)




Pioneering African-American writer and director Melvin Van Peebles, whose groundbreaking 1971 film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” inspired a younger generation of Black filmmakers, has died at the age of 89.

Van Peebles, often called the “godfather of modern Black cinema,” died Tuesday night at home with his family, his actor son Mario Van Peebles and The Criterion Collection said in a statement.

“We are saddened to announce the passing of a giant of American cinema, Melvin Van Peebles, who died last night, at home with family.

“In an unparalleled career, Van Peebles made an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape. He will be deeply missed.”

With “Sweet Sweetback,” a low-budget film about a sex show performer who ends up killing two racist cops who were beating a Black Panther activist, Van Peebles ushered in an era of “Blaxploitation” films and was an inspiration to a new generation of filmmakers such as Spike Lee and Barry Jenkins.

“I didn’t even know I had a legacy,” Van Peebles told the New York Times in a 2010 interview. “I do what I want to do.”

“Sweet Sweetback,” which Van Peebles wrote, directed, financed and starred in, opened in just two venues but thanks to strong word-of-mouth among Black audiences went on to take $10 million, making it the highest-grossing independent film in history at the time, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Criterion Collection, which is releasing a collection of his films, called it “a landmark of Black and American independent cinema that would send shock waves through the culture.”

– ‘Black images matter’ –
“Dad knew that Black images matter. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what was a movie worth? We want to be the success we see, thus we need to see ourselves being free,” Mario Van Peebles said in the statement announcing the death of his father.

“True liberation did not mean imitating the colonizer’s mentality. It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.”

“I want people to be empowered and also have a damn good time,” the elder Van Peebles said in the 2010 Times interview.

Born in 1932 in Chicago, Van Peebles graduated with a degree in literature and served in the US Air Force, before variously working as an artist, writer, director, musician and novelist. He also studied astronomy.

His first feature, “The Story of a Three-Day Pass,” told the tale of a Black US soldier who is demoted for fraternizing with a white girl in France.

The film got him noticed by Hollywood, with Columbia Pictures signing him to direct the 1970 racial satire “Watermelon Man,” about a white bigot who overnight turns into a Black man.

In addition to his writing and filmmaking, Van Peebles had several shows on Broadway, including the musical “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death,” which earned seven Tony nominations.

“Do the Right Thing” director Lee was among those paying tribute, posting a picture of a signed “Sweet Sweetback” poster on Instagram.

“I am so saddened by the loss of my brother Melvin Van Peebles who brought independent Black cinema to the forefront with his groundbreaking film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” Lee wrote.

“Damn, We Have Lost Another Giant! Condolences To The Peebles Family.”

“Moonlight” director Jenkins said Van Peebles made the most of life.

“He made the most of every second, of EVERY single damn frame and admittedly, while the last time I spent any time with him was MANY years ago, it was a night in which he absolutely danced his face off,” Jenkins said on Twitter.

“The man just absolutely LIVED.”

Penelope Cruz Wins Best Actress At Venice Film Festival

Spanish actress Penelope Cruz acknowledges receiving the Coppa Volpi for Best Actress in “Madres Paralelas” (Parallel Mothers) during the closing ceremony of the 78th Venice Film Festival on September 11, 2021 at Venice Lido. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)



Penelope Cruz took home the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival, the latest success for the all-conquering queen of Spanish cinema.

Cruz won for her starring role in “Parallel Mothers”, her latest collaboration with legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.

It was a surprisingly political turn for the flamboyant filmmaker, exploring the trauma of the 1930s Spanish civil war alongside the tale of two mothers sharing a maternity ward.

It marks a departure into dark historical territory for the director, while still focusing on the themes of motherhood and female relationships that have been central to many of his films.

Cruz described Almodovar as “my safety net” in a press conference ahead of their red carpet appearance in Venice.

“He can ask me to do something that can really scare me but I know he will be there waiting to sustain me,” she said, adding that she was grateful to the director for giving her “so many different, challenging characters”.

Cruz has appeared in seven of Almodovar’s movies, including “All About My Mother” and “Volver”.

She had a busy fortnight in Venice, also starring in the well-received “Official Competition”, a comedy about ego-maniacs in the film business that saw her in a rare appearance alongside Spanish megastar Antonio Banderas.


Spanish actress Penelope Cruz acknowledges receiving the Coppa Volpi for Best Actress in “Madres Paralelas” (Parallel Mothers) during the closing ceremony of the 78th Venice Film Festival on September 11, 2021 at Venice Lido. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)


– Young talent –
Born in Madrid in 1974, she appeared destined for a career in the entertainment, initially studying ballet at Spain’s National Conservatory before winning an acting competition that led to roles on TV and in music videos.

Her break into film came in Spanish director Bigas Luna’s “Jamon, Jamon” in 1992, which received critical acclaim and was notable for its erotic scenes featuring a 16-year-old Cruz and Javier Bardem, who would much later become her husband.

That was followed soon afterwards by “Belle Epoque”, which won the Oscar for best foreign film, and featured Cruz as one of four sisters vying for the love of an army deserter.

The next milestone came in 1997, when she was cast in her first film by Pedro Almodovar.

“Live Flesh” marked the beginning of a decade-long collaboration between Almodovar and the actress which has included roles in another foreign language Oscar-winner, 1999’s “All About My Mother”.

– Hollywood struggles –
Cruz struggled to establish herself in mainstream Hollywood.

She achieved a rare but unwanted feat in 2001 when she received three nominations in the “Golden Raspberries” Oscars spoof for “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” “Blow” and “Vanilla Sky”.

The latter cast her alongside Tom Cruise, whom she ended up dating for three years.

Other flops followed including “Gothika” and “Sahara”.

But she bounced back, picking up an Oscar nomination for the 2006 Almodovar film “Volver”.

And she made history by becoming the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar in 2009 for her part in the Woody Allen comedy “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”.

She was again paired with Bardem in that film, triggering a romance that led to their marriage in 2010.

The fiercely independent Cruz is also wary of being type-cast simply for her striking physical beauty.

“The most difficult thing in the world is to start a career known only for your looks, and then to try to become a serious actress,” she has said.

“No one will take you seriously once you are known as the pretty woman.”

Horror Offers ‘Escape’ From Pandemic Year At Universal Theme Park

Executive producer and director John Murdy gives a tour of “The Bride of Frankenstein” maze he is setting up for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, California on September 2, 2021. – (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)




Universal Studios Hollywood is notorious for its spooky annual Halloween transformation, when a series of ghoulish interactive “mazes” inspired by classic horror films pop up around the California theme park.

While last year’s “Halloween Horror Nights” were canceled due to the real-life terror of Covid-19, organizers are betting that customers in 2021 will be more in the mood for an evening of frights than ever before.

“Horror always does extremely well in the most challenging of times,” creative director John Murdy told AFP on a recent behind-the-scenes tour.

“The ‘Universal Monsters’ movies… when were they made? ‘Frankenstein’ 1931. ‘Dracula’ 1931. ‘The Mummy’ 1932. ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ 1935.”

That remarkable string of seminal spine-chillers is often credited with saving the Universal Pictures studio from bankruptcy during the Great Depression — the worst economic collapse in US history.

“These were huge hit movies in their day,” said Murdy. “Horror always speaks to the present fears of society, and it becomes an escape.”

Visitors — seeking goosebumps and gore, or otherwise — have already been welcomed by theme parks around Los Angeles, which mostly reopened in April after a year in which Covid-19 ravaged the second-largest city in the United States.

California Governor Gavin Newsom chose Universal Studios Hollywood as the site for his June “reopening day” event, which celebrated the ending of nearly all Covid-19 restrictions, although some measures such as mask-wearing have since been restored.

Masks are not a problem inside this year’s Halloween mazes, where most performers are already clad in elaborate face coverings as they transform into zombies, vampires and Frankenstein’s monsters.


View of the part of the sets of “The Bride of Frankenstein” maze set up for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, California on September 2, 2021. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)


– Ladies’ fright night –
One of this year’s mazes, called “The Bride of Frankenstein Lives,” is a brand-new sequel to the 1935 movie.

It imagines that the monster’s undead mate survives the film and works to bring him back to life again in a makeshift lab — donning a handy surgical mask as she carries out her experiments.

“It’s an extra creative challenge,” said Murdy, of the Covid-19 measures.

Along with the usual gallons of fake blood, rumbling sound effects and special smoke and light effects, the maze contains real movie props from a more recent Universal horror — 2004’s “Van Helsing” starring Hugh Jackman as the monster hunter.

Murdy was inspired to give the Bride of Frankenstein her own maze because she only appears for “about five minutes” in the 1935 film.

In a departure from the usual canon of horror movies, “Bride of Frankenstein” is part of a bid to highlight the genre’s often overlooked female characters, featuring terrifying hordes of Dracula’s daughters.

The maze exits into a “scare zone” in which the She-Wolf of London can be found roaming.

Other female-centered installments this year include an “Exorcist” attraction, and a new “Haunting of Hill House” experience based on the Netflix TV series.

“I have a six-year-old daughter, and I wanted to create those female characters for my kids,” said Murdy, who had the help of fellow horror fan Slash from Guns N’ Roses for the maze’s soundtrack.

“Horror teaches us how to deal with our own fears in our everyday lives,” Murdy added.

‘The Wire’ Star Michael K. Williams Dead At 54

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 31, 2021, actor Michael K. Williams poses in Miami, Florida. – Williams, who played Omar Little in the hit HBO series “The Wire,” has been found dead in his apartment in New York City, police said on September 6, 2021.  (Photo by Rodrigo Varela / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)



US actor Michael K. Williams, one of television’s most memorable stars of recent years for his role as Omar Little in “The Wire,” has been found dead in his New York City apartment, police said Monday. 

News of the death of the 54-year-old, who starred as the iconic Baltimore stick-up man in the groundbreaking television series, triggered an outpouring of grief among fans and former colleagues.

The actor’s representative said it was “with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams.”

“They ask for your privacy while grieving this,” said the statement from Marianna Shafran of Shafran PR.

An officer for the New York Police Department told AFP that Williams had been found dead in his apartment in Brooklyn by a family member.

The Brooklyn native had been widely hailed for his role in gritty thriller “The Wire,” in which he played a gay armed robber who specialized in holding up drug dealers.

The series became one of the most popular shows on television and ran through five seasons from 2002 until 2008.

Williams was also well-known for the role of Albert ‘Chalky’ White on the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.”

He received multiple Emmy nominations for his work, including for his turn in the series “Lovecraft Country,” ahead of the 2021 ceremony that will take place in just under two weeks.

Williams was also nominated for his work playing the husband of blues singer Bessie Smith in the 2015 film “Bessie.”

He was additionally a nominee for 2016’s “The Night Of” and for “When They See US” in 2019, about a group of young Black men wrongly accused of rape in Central Park in the 1980s.

“While the world is aware of his immense talents as an artist, we knew Michael as a dear friend who was beloved by all who had the privilege to work with him,” HBO said in a statement.

No official cause of death was given, but several US media quoted law enforcement sources as saying they suspected a possible drug overdose.

Williams had spoken openly of his past struggles with drug addiction, and had told US media that he had spent much of his earnings from “The Wire” on narcotics.

The NYPD told AFP the cause of death will be determined by a medical examiner.


(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 20, 2019 US actor Michael K. Williams attend the The Hollywood Reporter and SAG-AFTRA Celebrate the 2019 Class of Emmy Nominees event at AVRA in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by LISA O’CONNOR / AFP)


– ‘Crushed’ –
News of Williams’ death was met with grief among fans, many of whom considered him one of the most talented actors of his generation.

David Simon, the former Baltimore crime reporter who wrote the show, said on Twitter that he was “too gutted right now to say all that ought to be said.”

“Michael was a fine man and a rare talent and on our journey together he always deserved the best words. And today those words won’t come.”

Tray Chaney, who played a drug dealer on the show, said he was “crushed.”

“No words. I love you bro. RIP to the legend Michael K Williams aka one of the dopest Actors/Brothers in the world,” he said on Twitter.

Bestselling horror writer Stephen King tweeted: “Horrible, sad, and unbelievable to think we’ve lost the fantastically talented Michael K. Williams at the age of 54.”

Williams’ role as Omar Little was enhanced by a facial scar he said he received during a New York street fight on the night of his 25th birthday, when a man slashed him with a razor.

He told NPR in an interview the pronounced scar actually helped advance his career, as he climbed from being a back-up dancer in music videos for stars such as Madonna and George Michael to getting speaking roles playing rough characters in drama shows.

His first big onscreen break came when rapper Tupac Shakur was filming a movie in New York and cast Williams as his little brother after seeing a Polaroid picture of him.


(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 10, 2014 actor Michael K. Williams arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of ‘Robocop’ at TCL Chinese Theatre, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Robyn BECK / AFP)


He was then cast as a drug dealer in Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead,” before landing the role that would make his career in “The Wire,” written by Simon and ex-homicide detective Ed Burns.

His other film credits included “!2 Years a Slave,” “The Road” and “Gone Baby Gone.”

Slasher Film ‘Candyman’ Slices Way To Top North America Box Office

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Candyman.



Universal’s slasher film “Candyman” has topped North American box offices in its opening weekend, with a $22 million take nearly equal to its production budget, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations said Monday.

Analysts said that three-day total surpassed expectations for an R-rated film opening in the Covid-19 era — and with powerful Hurricane Ida depressing attendance in some southern states.

The film, written by Jordan Peele and with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in the blood-spattered starring role, had a budget of $25 million, according to Hollywood Reporter.

Last week’s box office leader, 20th Century’s sci-fi comedy “Free Guy,” slipped to second place, at $13.2 million. The family-friendly film stars Ryan Reynolds as an Everyman bank teller who finds he is a character in a huge video game.

In the third spot, also down one position, was Paramount animation “Paw Patrol: The Movie,” at $6.7 million. Based on a popular kids’ television show, it tells the story of a boy named Ryder and the brave pooches who help him save Adventure City from an evil mayor.


In this screengrab, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II accepts a Critics Choice award on February 2, 2021.

In fourth was Disney’s family adventure film “Jungle Cruise” at $5 million, bringing its North American total just past $100 million. The studio is also offering the movie on its Disney Plus streaming service.

And in fifth was the horror feature “Don’t Breathe 2” from Sony, at $2.9 million.

Rounding out the top 10 were:

“Respect” ($2.2 million)

“The Suicide Squad” ($2 million)

“The Protege” ($1.6 million)

“The Night House” ($1.2 million)

“Old” ($840,000)

‘The Suicide Squad’ Tops North America Box Office With $26M

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 2, 2021, (L-R) Joel Kinnaman, James Gunn, Margot Robbie, and John Cena attend the Warner Bros. premiere of “The Suicide Squad” at Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by KEVIN WINTER / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)



With COVID-19 fears again depressing North American moviegoing, new Warner Bros./DC superhero film “The Suicide Squad” led the weekend box office but took in only $26.2 million, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations said Monday.

The movie, dubbed a pseudo-sequel to 2016’s major hit “Suicide Squad,” again featured A-listers Margot Robbie and Viola Davis, but two big names from the earlier version — Will Smith and Jared Leto — sat this one out. The film’s simultaneous release on HBO Max further hurt its box-office totals.

Hollywood has been struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels. “This is an unforgiving market,” David A. Gross, who runs consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, told Variety.

Last week’s box office leader, Disney’s family-friendly adventure film “Jungle Cruise,” slipped to second spot, taking in $15.8 million for the Friday-through-Sunday period, less than half its week-earlier total. The film, which puts a modern twist on a 1950s theme park ride, stars Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson.

In third was Universal’s psychological thriller “Old,” at $4.1 million. Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps and Rufus Sewell star in the M. Night Shyamalan tale of a group of people who begin to age precipitously while trapped on a secluded beach.

In fourth place, for the second straight week, was Disney Marvel superhero flick “Black Widow” starring Scarlett Johansson, which took in $3.9 million. It now has domestic earnings of $174 million, pushing it past Universal’s “F9: The Fast Saga” as the top-grossing film in North America so far this year.

And in fifth was Matt Damon film “Stillwater” from Focus Features, at $2.8 million. Damon plays a burly American oil worker who travels to France to help his estranged daughter (Abigail Breslin) when she is jailed for a killing she says she did not commit.


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 02: (L-R) Grandson, Jessie Reyez, James Gunn, and Jennifer Holland attend the Warner Bros. premiere of “The Suicide Squad” at Regency Village Theatre on August 02, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Kevin Winter/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by KEVIN WINTER / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)



LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 02: (L-R) Margot Robbie and John Cena attend the Warner Bros. premiere of “The Suicide Squad” at Regency Village Theatre on August 02, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Kevin Winter/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by KEVIN WINTER / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)


Rounding out the top 10 were:

“The Green Knight” ($2.6 million)

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” ($2.4 million)

“Snake Eyes” ($1.7 million)

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” ($1.3 million)

“F9: The Fast Saga” ($1.2 million)