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Director's debut explores 'The Land' with Nas, Badu help

Director Steven Caple Jr. was mentoring some elementary school students at an inner-city park in Los Angeles when he spotted two stray kids hopping a fence with their skateboards. He went to go kick them out of the park and ended up talking with them instead. They spilled that they were selling marijuana to fund their entry into skateboarding competitions and new equipment. It was their ticket out.

That seed of an idea eventually became "The Land ," Caple's feature debut about a group of kids, Cisco (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Junior (Moises Arias), Boobie (Ezri Walker) and Patty Cake (Rafi Gavron), who do just that, but with a sack of Ecstasy they find. The film is currently playing in New York and Los Angeles.

Caple stayed in touch with those kids from the park during his time at USC's film school. Later, he found out that one ended up getting a sponsorship. The other disappeared.

"I started writing it about the kid who made it out, but I switched gears to make it about the kid who didn't because we don't see that too often," Caple said in an interview. "I wanted to tell it from his perspective."

Instead of Los Angeles, the movie is set in Caple's hometown of Cleveland, where he explores a grittier side of a city that rarely gets the Hollywood treatment.

"There's Cleveland and there's 'the land,'" he said during the Sundance Film Festival, where the film had its premiere. IFC Films later came on to distribute.

Caple secured some high-profile talent for a first film right out of grad school, including Michael Kenneth Williams of "The Wire" and executive producers like Nas and Erykah Badu, who also collaborated on one of the film's songs, "The Bitter Land." Badu and rapper Machine Gun Kelly appear in the film, and the soundtrack features songs from Kanye West, Pusha T and French Montana.

While skateboarding is the hook, it also becomes a backdrop as the boys get in over their heads bumping up against more hardened criminals.

"The core of it is these boys just trying to get out," he said.

Most of the different characters are taken from Caple's own life and experiences in Cleveland. They filmed in some of the city's roughest neighborhoods and often heard gunshots and sirens.

"There were times when we were scared, but (the actors) got a real sense of what 'the land' was," he said.

Caple didn't want to make the boys angels, and actually introduces them committing a crime. It was a big point of contention with some of the financiers and advisers who were shown the film in its early stages. They wanted to see them as good kids first before the fall.

"That's not the way that people see these kids. The first perception is they are criminals, that they are thugs," Caple said. "I wanted to introduce you to these criminals first and then later let you fall in love with who they are and see that the people who we call criminals at the end of the day are still just kids."

Some also told Caple that he should have made a film that falls more easily into a specific genre, like "'Fast & Furious' on skateboards," he said.

"It has this grit to it. It wasn't like this movie they could sell overseas and play in China. It wasn't a big film," he said.

But Caple stuck to his premise: a more complicated, nuanced and bleak portrait of these lives. It took a year, but he eventually found support and funding for his vision.

"You have filmmakers like myself and ('Creed' and 'Fruitvale Station' director) Ryan Coogler who are like, 'I'm going to go out and get it somehow,' whether it be a Kickstarter campaign or finding the right crazy people just like myself who believe in a project."

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

Heath Ledger's death 'was totally his fault,' father says

Kim Ledger, the father of "Batman" actor Heath Ledger, said his son's death eight years ago "was totally his fault."

Ledger was found unresponsive in his New York City apartment in 2008 and was later pronounced dead from an apparent overdose. He was 28.

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"It was no one else's (fault) – he reached for them, he put them in his system," Kim Ledger told The Daily Mail Australia. "You can't blame anyone else in that situation."

Kim Ledger also revealed what it was like to come to this realization.

"(It's) hard to accept because I loved him so much and was so proud of him," he told the news outlet.

Kim Ledger said his family tried to help Ledger fight drug addiction just days before his sudden death.

"His sister was on the phone to him the night before telling him not to take the prescription medications with the sleeping tablets," he told The Daily Mail Australia. "He said: 'Katie, Katie, I'm fine. I know what I'm doing.' He would have had no idea."

The autopsy report for the "Brokeback Mountain" star revealed that he had traces of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine in his body at the time of death.

Kim Ledger attributed that to Ledger's many doctors.

"Because he was traveling a lot, he would pop in to a doctor," Kim Ledger said. "In the case of someone with a higher profile, it's often a case of 'what do you want' instead of 'what do you need.'"

Kim Ledger said stress from his acting career caused great anxiety in his son's life.

"There's so much pressure on them to perform so even though your body is telling you that it's not good and needs time, it's like 'just take these painkillers and keep going'," Kim Ledger said. "That was the case with Heath."

Pelosi tracks the mega-donors to political campaigns

As she sat overlooking a hotel lobby in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention this week, Alexandra Pelosi said she spied three of the wealthy men featured in her HBO documentary, "Meet the Donors: Does Money Talk?"

For her sake, it's fortunate that the film premieres Monday (9 p.m. EDT), presumably after everyone has left town.

"I think they expected me to come to them and say they could vet this, and I didn't do that," Pelosi said. "So now all that I'm doing is hiding behind bushes."

Pelosi, best known for her 2002 fly-on-the-wall "Journeys With George" documentary about George W. Bush's first presidential campaign, takes us into the fundraisers to meet the people who write big checks for the people who run for president. She deals in a limited way with the corrosive impact of special-interest spending on government action, but wanted to stay mostly out of Washington and to make sure the story wasn't boring.

"This is not a PowerPoint presentation that will be presented at a Harvard review of campaign finance reform," she said. "This is an HBO documentary for a Monday night, when you're competing against 'Undercover Boss.'"

Many of the big donors wouldn't talk to Pelosi. But a surprising number did. Pelosi, daughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, already knew many of them from accompanying mom on the canape circuit. Some wanted to demystify the process, annoyed at being vilified as the "billionaire class" by Bernie Sanders, and suggest their influence is exaggerated.

The point was made to comical effect by Brad Freeman, who has given more than a million dollars to the Bush family. He got a call from George W. Bush shortly after he was elected, and visions of grandeur danced in his head; Freeman dreamed of a chance to run the C.I.A. Instead, the conversation turned to Bush's cat, which Freeman had taken a liking to. Bush couldn't bring the cat to the White House. Would Freeman want it?

When people wonder what he got in return for his donations, Freeman says ruefully, "I got the frickin' cat."

What's almost sad is the revelation of how much life is like high school, even in the high-rent district.

Elizabeth Bagley, a donor whose loyalty to the Clintons earned her an ambassadorship to Portugal, proudly displays framed pictures of herself with Bill and Hillary. "Elizabeth — you're the best! Love, Hillary," was inscribed on one. A cardiologist, Bruce Charash, also exhibits photos of himself with politicians including President Barack Obama.

"The more you have pictures of powerful people in your office," he says, "the more powerful people think you are."

Billionaire grocery magnate John Catsimatidis talks about wanting to "pee with the big dogs." He gives to candidates from both parties. "I want to be in a position where I make a call, it will be picked up," he says.

"There are a lot of rich people who aren't the most interesting people," Pelosi said. "This is a way of buying friends, of getting people to show up at your parties."

Many donors have strong feelings about issues and want to be listened to. Pelosi talks to broadcasting executive Stanley Hubbard, her first boss, a conservative who rails about "too many tree-hugging fruitcakes" and dismisses global warming.

"I have never, ever called a politician for help," Hubbard tells her. "But yes, I can get in to talk to him. I get access."

Donors who host fundraising parties often get the same stump speeches a candidate gives publicly. For the most part, the donations pay for commercials that are effectively canceled out by ads another rich person buys for an opponent. "Maybe the donors are suckers," Pelosi said. "If you want to see a candidate, you go to a diner in Iowa or New Hampshire and see them for free."

But don't be naive. Billionaire T. Boone Pickens believes his funding of the Swift Boat commercials against John Kerry in 2004 was a significant factor in Bush's re-election. He also thinks that natural gas legislation he supported failed not because of its merit, but because the deep-pocketed Koch brothers were able to spend more than him to oppose it.

Pelosi also profiles people like Vin Ryan, disgusted by democracy's turn. He's taking the seemingly contradictory stance of only spending money on behalf of candidates who support efforts to reduce the influence of money in politics.

Her concluding point: if there's a way to get some of the money out of politics, perhaps it would bring more voters in.

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Online: http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/meet-the-donors-does-money-talk/

Keep track on how much Clinton and Trump are spending on television advertising, and where they're spending it, via AP's interactive ad tracker. http://elections.ap.org/content/ad-spending .

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Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder

Memorial to slain Navy Seal Chris Kyle unveiled in Texas

A memorial for slain Navy Seal and "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle has been unveiled in the West Texas city where he was born in 1974.

Ceremonies were held Thursday in Odessa to unveil the granite-and-limestone Chris Kyle Memorial Plaza, which also includes a bronze statue of Kyle. It is a privately funded memorial.

Several trees from ex-President George W. Bush's ranch near Crawford were purchased by memorial organizers and moved to the site earlier this year.

Kyle and friend Chad Littlefield were killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range. A former Marine was convicted in their deaths and sentenced to life in prison.

Kyle's autobiography was the basis for the 2014 film "American Sniper," starring Bradley Cooper.

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Online:

http://odessachamber.com/chris-kyle-memorial/

Reunions make Marvel's 'Black Panther' especially personal

Two reunions make "Black Panther" an especially personal chapter in the Marvel cinematic universe.

The movie, set to begin filming in January, will mark the third time director Ryan Coogler has worked with actor Michael B. Jordan. They teamed up previously on "Creed" and "Fruitvale Station."

They're joined by Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira, the star and writer, respectively, of the Tony-nominated play "Eclipsed," which concluded its run on Broadway last month. Chadwick Boseman stars as T'Challa, also known as Black Panther.

"They've been doing a really good job of keeping this a secret — even from the cast," Jordan said after his role was revealed to fans at Comic-Con over the weekend. "I'm really excited to get back to working with Ryan Coogler."

Jordan plays the villain in the movie, set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda.

"I'm really, really curious to start diving into a side of my personality that a lot of people don't get a chance to see. It's always cool to show a different side," the 29-year-old actor said.

Coogler, 30, is still polishing the script for the movie, which features the first black superhero in comics, at a time of turmoil in the U.S. over police killings of black men.

"I feel fortunate and excited to be making a film like this. No time better than now," he said.

Though best known for her role in "The Walking Dead," Gurira's "Eclipsed," about five women caught in Liberia's civil war, garnered six Tony nominations. She grew up in Zimbabwe.

"To see an epic story like this told with the Marvel engine, the Marvel abilities — through the personhood, really, of African people — is really, really thrilling," she said. "It's a dream come true for a little African girl who spends her life watching other folks do those types of stories — and gets to see Africans do that story. I mean, that's pretty amazing."

The Oscar-winning Nyong'o credited "God's good grace" with reuniting her with Gurira, "because I had no say in the matter."

"We did a secret jump up-and-down while we were working on 'Eclipsed,'" she said. "I don't mind carrying on the rest of my life with her."

"Black Panther" is set for release in 2018.

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ryanwrd

'Nerve' is a dark thriller for the Pokemon Go generation

The invigorating new thriller "Nerve ," now playing in theaters, goes deep into the psychology of the internet with an addictive game that's so fresh, you wonder whether the filmmakers had a tip that the Pokemon Go craze was on the horizon.

In the film, based on the 2012 Jeanne Ryan novel, Nerve is an app-based game that's all the rage among the kids. You can choose to be a "player" or a "watcher." Players are given dares by anonymous masses of watchers with the promise of cash prizes at the end of each dare, which they have to film themselves doing — not dissimilar to Facebook Live or Periscope.

The dares can be as innocuous as kissing a stranger for five seconds, which is how Emma Roberts' square high school student Vee gets hooked up with Dave Franco's slightly older, slightly untrustworthy Ian. Or the dares can be as dangerous as dead-hanging off a high-rise.

"Nerve" is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the men who brought the world "Catfish," that is-it-real, is-it-fake cultural phenomenon/documentary from 2010 about lying on the internet that birthed the popular television show. They were excited to jump back into the current state of the internet. A lot has changed in six years, and "Nerve" almost makes "Catfish" look quaint.

"There have been a lot of movies that are fantasy or dystopian that take place in this world that you have to imagine. And we look around and we're kind of already living in a sci-fi movie with the technology that exists today and a lot of really simple things we take for granted," Joost said. "We've gone so far beyond '1984' that it feels like we had to tell a story about that."

They collaborated with everyone from teens to a former hacker for the CIA to develop technology that would look and feel believable "five minutes in the future," and also something that wouldn't look as though it required startup money.

The scariest part of "Nerve" is that the game is user generated and promulgated. There is no center to attack once things start getting out of hand. This was a change from the novel, which has a shadowy evil genius controlling everything.

"We realized what was actually more insidious and scarier and much harder to control and confront is if we're the bad guys," screenwriter Jessica Sharzer said. "It's more truthful to the way the internet works."

Beyond the drug-like thrills of the escalating dares, the film feels part "Risky Business" and part "After Hours," as Vee and Ian team up to try to win the game — which is also incidentally a popularity contest. Those with the most watchers get to advance. But the stakes keep going up as more and more dares are completed.

"Just wait. Neither of us think it's necessarily a good idea for the game to exist, but it might be inevitable," Schulman said.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

Review: 'Bad Moms' flirts with anarchy, comes up short

that insidious idea that exists only in commercials and glossy magazines — is a worthy and fresh subject for a fun summer comedy, "Bad Moms" is ultimately rather conventional.

Set in an upper middle class Chicago suburb, "Bad Moms" centers on Amy (Mila Kunis), a perpetually stressed and overworked 32-year-old with a part time job and two super busy pre-teens. Lest you think Kunis is a little too young to have pre-teens, the first line in the movie has her explaining that she got pregnant at 20. The movie is on the defense before it even gets going.

Amy spends her days shuttling her kids (Oona Laurence and Emjay Anthony) from school to soccer practice to Russian lessons. She puts up with grief from her incompetent 20-something boss (Clark Duke), her loser husband Mike (David Walton) and the mean moms of the PTA (Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumolo). She does her son's school projects for him and apologizes profusely to her ungrateful family for being late with the beautiful homemade roast chicken she's made for dinner while her husband sits around like a dope. And she does all of this while still maintaining perfect hair, makeup and clothes.

Her breaking point comes when she realizes her spouse is not only a lazy dope, but also cheating on her with a woman from the internet. This is revealed in an unfunny bit that goes on far too long. But, after kicking him out, Amy decides to just start saying no to things — to four-hour PTA meetings, to insane dietary restrictions at the bake sale, and to working full time when her boss only pays her for three days a week.

She teams up with some similarly disgruntled mothers, including stay-at-home-mom Kiki (Kristen Bell) and single mom Carla (Kathryn Hahn). The actresses help elevate these characters above the stereotypes — especially Bell, who brings a lot of empathy and humor to what could have easily been a train wreck of a part.

The film does have its moments. It's kind of delightful when Amy plops down at the bake sale with a half-eaten container of doughnut holes. But for the most part, Amy's rebellion involves partying, shopping, daytime movies and cruise rides in her husband's fancy convertible. It feels a little bit like a frat bro's fantasy of "Mom's day off."

Perhaps that's because this film is from writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore — the screenwriters behind "The Hangover" and the party movie "21 & Over." It makes me wish they had called on Mumulo, who co-wrote "Bridesmaids," for an assist.

The saving grace is in the oddball friendship between Amy, Kiki and Carla. But everything goes off the rails in the third act. Amy's big moment centers around her trying to get elected head of the PTA over Applegate's character so that her daughter isn't unjustly benched on the soccer team. It contradicts her original point that they work too hard for their kids.

"Bad Moms" had so many opportunities to be great, edgy and insightful, but instead settles for the most milquetoast commentary possible on modern motherhood.

"Bad Moms," an STX Entertainment Release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content." Running time: 101 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

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MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

Bradley Cooper's DNC appearance irks conservatives

Bradley Cooper's appearance at the Democratic National Convention has irked some conservative fans of the actor's portrayal of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in 2014's "American Sniper."

Cooper was spotted by TV cameras Wednesday night seated at the meeting in Philadelphia alongside his Russian model girlfriend, Irina Shayk.

Some Twitter users say they plan to boycott Cooper's future films over his presence at the convention. Another commented that they thought his experience playing Kyle would have rubbed off on him.

The complaints have been mocked by others who say Cooper was simply acting a role when playing Kyle and conservatives shouldn't be surprised.

Cooper earned an Oscar nomination for "American Sniper," which became a blockbuster thanks in part to an enthusiastic reception among conservative moviegoers.

Cooper was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman in Venice film fest lineup

This year's Venice Film Festival will include a stylish thriller from Tom Ford, a sci-fi drama with Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams and a star turn from Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Organizers of the world's oldest film festival announced a 20-strong competition lineup Thursday that includes fashion designer Ford's "Nocturnal Animals," with Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi feature "Arrival" and Pablo Larrain's biopic of the former U.S. first lady, "Jackie."

Venice is an important awards-season springboard — along with the overlapping Toronto Film Festival — and gave Academy Award best-picture winner "Spotlight" its world premiere last year.

Potential awards contenders in Venice this year include U.S. filmmaker Derek Cianfrance's "The Light Between Oceans" — a domestic drama set in a remote lighthouse starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander — and Dutch director Martin Koolhoven's thriller "Brimstone," with Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce.

Films competing for the festival's coveted Golden Lion prize also include American auteur Terrence Malick's documentary "Voyage of Time" and new films from cinema heavyweights including France's Francois Ozon ("Frantz"), Germany's Wim Wenders ("The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez"), Serbia's Emir Kusturica ("On the Milky Road") and Russia's Andrei Konchalovsky ("Paradise").

Other contenders include "The Bad Batch," a cannibal love story starring Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves from Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour, and "La Region Salvaje" ("The Untamed") by hard-hitting Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante.

Also screening at the festival, although not in prize competition, is Mel Gibson's World War II drama "Hacksaw Ridge." The story of a pacifist army medic, it's Gibson's first film as a director since 2006, the year he launched an anti-Semitic tirade during a drunk-driving arrest.

The 73rd Venice festival opens Aug. 31 on the maritime city's Lido island with the world premiere of Damien Chazelle's musical romance "La La Land," with singing, dancing performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

The festival closes Sept. 10 with Antoine Fuqua's remake of the classic Western, "The Magnificent Seven," starring Denzel Washington.

The winner of the Golden Lion and other prizes will be decided by a jury led by "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes.

Damon's company is taking steps to address diversity crisis

Matt Damon is taking steps to address the diversity crisis in Hollywood through his and Ben Affleck's production company, Pearl Street Films, and collaboration with the people behind the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at USC's Annenberg School. They're the latest high-profile names in the industry who are throwing their weight behind the goal of inclusion, including J.J. Abrams and Ryan Murphy.

Damon got a wakeup call with the latest season of HBO's "Project Greenlight," a reality show about the production of an independent movie that Damon and Affleck launched in 2001. What had always been a somewhat under-the-radar look at the trials of making an indie, hit a cultural nerve last year with its focus on a film from a white male director, Jason Mann, about mainly white, wealthy characters. It was even called "The Leisure Class."

On top of that, Damon got some heat for a conversation with producer Effie Brown that was perceived to be racially insensitive. He apologized, but it was clear that the show had become, intentionally or not, representative of an old-guard mentality in a year when diverse representation in film was dominating the conversation.

In response, the team went back to look at who entered the "Project Greenlight" Facebook contest, which allowed filmmakers to submit a three-minute short film for consideration as an upcoming project on the show. In order to enter, contestants were required to have a valid Facebook ID, be over 18-years-old, and not be a "professional director." There would then be a public Facebook vote on the entries, but a panel made the final decision.

Damon assumed their system had cast the widest net possible for submission but was surprised at the results: only two percent of entries came from people of color and eight percent from women, he said.

"That shocked us, because that wasn't the spirit with which we put it out there. It was like 'come one, come all.' But it was predominantly white men who showed up and entered," Damon said in an interview. "That was a real lesson for us."

So the Pearl Street team decided it was time to get together with the folks responsible for the Annenberg study, which has detailed the extent of the crisis of representation in the entertainment industry both in front of and behind the camera, to figure out how they could change things.

"They were like, 'it's crazy that you reached out to us because we identified you as two of the five people in this business who could actually move the needle if you change this stuff in writing,'" Damon said. "We were looking for real ideas — practical things that could help."

One idea that took hold was putting clauses in contracts to make it a priority to look at all the roles on a film and hire with an eye toward equity.

"If you actually codify that, there can be demonstrable changes," Damon said.

As opposed to merely reacting to outside influences, Pearl Street and several other production companies in Hollywood are trying to change things at the very core of the creative process.

"Notable actors or producers working with inclusion experts brings data-driven evidence and expertise to decision-making tables and production sets," said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Director of the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg. "It can be the perfect storm for social change."

At his Bad Robot production company, J.J. Abrams earlier this year implemented a policy to ensure that people are submitted for film jobs proportionally to their U.S. representation.

"It's important to us that the people who are telling the stories and the people who are in front of the camera, wherever possible, are representative of what the country looks like. It doesn't mean that there's a quota or that there are rules we have to abide by," Abrams said recently. "We'll make mistakes, we'll screw up and we'll keep trying things. There's no one right way to do this. But to me, the benefit is to the audience, the people who will start to see stories that won't just feel like the same old, same old."

As for "Project Greenlight," while not getting a fifth season on HBO, the idea of assisting emerging filmmakers has evolved into the digital space. Project Greenlight Digital Studios has hosted a number of contests since launching seven months ago aimed at helping more diverse voices get a start.

For his part, Damon doesn't want to put the cart before the horse. The initiative is still in the very early stages as they craft language to use in contracts.

"I'd rather be judged on our actions," he said. "It's a cool opportunity and we'll see where it goes."

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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