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Kathryn Bigelow on VR after her first try: 'I love it'

As a filmmaker drawn to the most visceral forms of cinema, it was probably inevitable that Kathryn Bigelow's high-adrenaline curiosities would lead her to virtual reality.

The Oscar-winning director on Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival premiered her first VR experience, "The Protectors: Walk in the Rangers' Shoes," an eight-minute, 360-degree plunge into the lives of the Garamba National Park rangers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bigelow directed it with Imraan Ismail, a virtual-reality veteran, and the two used the nascent, immersive medium to give a full sense of the dangers the 200 ragtag rangers face daily in guarding the Delaware-sized park, including its hundreds of perishing elephants, from the constant plundering of poachers and gunmen.

"The most important thing was to put a human face on this issue," Bigelow said in an interview alongside Ismail in the back room of a Tribeca restaurant. "My hope was that if the eyes of the world realized and recognized the kind of sacrifice they're making, then perhaps not only could they be better equipped but it also might raise recruitment."

National Geographic will release the film May 1 on the VR app Within, and on YouTube and Facebook360 the following week. It's a co-production of the VR company Here Be Dragons and the film production company Annapurna Pictures — making it a kind of fusion of both worlds.

Even in its brief eight minutes, viewers of "The Protectors" will readily recognize the same cinematic command Bigelow brought to her Academy Award winner "The Hurt Locker" and her most recent film, the Osama bin Laden hunt thriller "Zero Dark Thirty."

"The Protectors" follows the rangers through the tall grass, on the trail of poachers and in an apparent fire-fight with attackers. In one memorable shot, a helicopter lands right on top of the viewer.

Bigelow's virtual reality debut left her excited for its journalistic potential to inform and foster empathy.

"I love it," Bigelow said of the medium. "I think it's all about content, though. It's not tech first; it's content first.

"It opens up corridors to awareness and information about social geopolitical issues that you would otherwise have very little access to," she added. "That's the beauty of journalism is to bring you to environments, stories, profiles of people that you otherwise have little or no access to. I think what's beautiful is the piece is that it's very objective. Here are these men and these are their thoughts. It's very intimate and yet what they're doing is so profound."

A number of big-name filmmakers have recently tried their hand at VR, including Jon Favreau and Alejandro Inarritu, who's to debut a virtual reality work next month at the Cannes Film Festival.

But Bigelow, 65, may be the most significant of the bunch because of her interest in getting as close as possible to her subjects and in combining storytelling with journalism. She often works in tandem with journalist-screenwriter Mark Boal, including on their upcoming feature film, "Detroit," about the 1967 riots.

Ismail, too, has a journalistic sensibility. His award-winning "The Displaced," a New York Times VR film Ismail co-directed, followed three children refugees from Syria, Ukraine and Sudan.

With "The Protectors," he said: "Hopefully we're able to tell some of that story and make this complex, abstract position something a little more granular that you can grasp. And you can be like: 'That guy, I feel for him."

So does Bigelow see great potential in virtual reality?

"Hard to say," she responds. "I think so, if the desire to use it is content-driven and you want to have it be an experiential, totally immersive, empathetic understanding of the subject, then, yes, 100 percent. Not that film can't do that. Film, of course, can do that. But the beauty of this is there is a kind of 'x factor' that it provides."

"What's exciting is how physical it is. The sound is dictating your movement. It's like, 'Oh, the helicopter is landing on top of you and then a guy is jumping out the back of it.' It pulls you around," said Bigelow. "It's not passive. I always think, though, (in movies), there is engagement. The screen asks you to lean in and you ask the screen to interact and you kind of meet in the middle. But what's great here is there is no passive opportunity to experience this."


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at:

Greece's tireless king of slapstick comedy dies at 66

Stathis Psaltis, the gaunt, hyperactive Greek actor who gained a large following starring in dozens of low-budget comedy movies, has died in an Athens hospital. He was 66.

A statement from the state-run Agios Savvas hospital said Psaltis died Friday after being hospitalized five weeks ago for cancer treatment.

Psaltis churned out as many as four movies a year at the peak of his career in the mid-1980s, when the quality of Greece's film industry was in decline.

Fellow actors praised him Friday as a generous and talented colleague, whose standout performances in the theater and cinema never reached a wider audience.

He is survived by his wife, Christina, and daughter, Maria. He is scheduled to be buried in Athens on Monday.

De Niro to receive honorary fine arts degree from Brown

Robert De Niro is among six people scheduled to receive honorary degrees at Brown University's commencement exercises

The Ivy League school announced Friday the Oscar-winning actor is being celebrated "for the intensity he brings to each performance." De Niro will receive a doctor of fine arts degree during the school's May 28 ceremonies.

De Niro has been nominated seven times for an Academy Award, and won twice in 1975 for "The Godfather: Part II" and in 1981 for "Raging Bull."

Others to receive honorary degrees are rapper and actor Daveed Diggs; teacher Donald Hood; businesswoman Indra Nooyi; business executive Richard Parsons; and poet Rosmarie Waldrop.

Brown does not have the traditional keynote speaker at commencement exercises, instead reserving that honor for members of the graduating class.


This story has been changed to show that De Niro has been nominated for an Academy Award seven times, not five.

Yo, Adrian! Pet shop from 'Rocky' films demolished

A Philadelphia storefront featured prominently in the "Rocky" films has been demolished.

The building was home to the fictional pet store where Rocky courted his eventual wife, Adrian. It was featured in several of the films and was a frequent stop on tours designed for Rocky fans.

Tour Guide Ben Caplan tells ( ) he was taking a group there Thursday when he found construction crews tearing the building down.

The building, once a real pet shop, had been empty for several years.


Information from:,

Harvey Weinstein complains of R rating for trans teen film

Harvey Weinstein knows he can be temperamental, and he knows he's not above a good publicity stunt, but he said Thursday his complaints over an R rating for his company's upcoming trans teen family story "3 Generations" are worth the effort on behalf of prospective young trans viewers.

Starring Elle Fanning as a girl who wants to transition, the Motion Picture Association of America assigned the restrictive R based on strong language, including some sexual references. The film, which opens with a limited release in Los Angeles and New York on May 5, also stars Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon.

The dust up is similar to Weinstein's ratings complaint for "Bully" in 2012. The Weinstein Company successfully challenged that film's R rating and the MPAA knocked it down to PG-13.

"I am not complaining about it when we do a horror movie, you know, when we do 'It Follows.' We understand we live by the rules," Weinstein said. "When the movie has something of social importance to say, I think it's important that we stand up. I admit that I'm temperamental but nevertheless I try to fight for good. This is insane."

The MPAA released a statement Thursday saying the rating system is designed to give parents consistent information about the content in a film and that it does update the system as attitudes change.

"None of the ratings indicate whether a film is good, bad, or otherwise, nor is (its) purpose to prescribe social policy," the statement said. "This system has withstood the test of time because, as American parents' sensitivities change, so too does the rating system."

Weinstein has been accused of publicity-seeking through ratings complaints in the past. In this case, he said, an R rating would mean trans youth under 17 without adult accompaniment could not see the story of a New York family struggling with the transition of Fanning's character, Ray.

"Honestly, this is not a publicity attempt," Weinstein said. "If it was I'd just say so because I don't care. I find nothing wrong with seeking publicity. This is issue oriented."

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, sent a letter earlier this week to MPAA officials urging reconsideration of the R rating.

"All that differentiates the film from other PG-13 films is a few instances of strong language," she said in the letter. "The film does not include graphic violence, drug use, or nudity — it merely portrays a modern family."

Review: An uneasy mishmash, 'Unforgettable' is forgettable

That peanut, I have to say, was the only unforgettable thing about "Unforgettable," a truly uneasy mishmash of a movie, in which apparent attempts at addressing serious social themes — there's a domestic violence subplot — dissolve into total camp. Which one can't really enjoy, because it doesn't seem intentional.

The shame is that Rosario Dawson gives an earnest, sympathetic, even moving performance as the victimized character. In contrast, none of her castmates — including Katherine Heigl, trying vainly to find meaning in a ridiculously written part — seem authentic. Somebody didn't get the memo, but who?

In plot setup only, "Unforgettable" shares something with the recent wonderful thriller "Get Out" — both involve sympathetic characters of color invited into their romantic partner's lily-white world, where, let's just say, things do NOT go as planned.

From there, "Get Out" developed into one of the cleverest films in a generation. There's nothing clever about "Unforgettable," unless you can find something sharp — no pun intended — about two sexy women hissing at each other over a fireplace poker. (Many of us might find that depressing.)

Dawson is Julia Banks, a woman trying to escape a troubled past. She quits her job, leaves her supportive BFF behind and heads to Southern California, where her new fiance, David, awaits (Geoff Stults, doing generic handsome guy and nothing more).

Things go south from the start. Julia's attempts to bond with David's young daughter, Lily, are thwarted by his high-strung, resentful ex-wife, Tessa (Heigl.) Although Tessa and David have been apart for a few years, Tessa cannot come to terms with the split, and seeing a woman move in with David sends her hurtling straight toward the deep end.

Denise Di Novi, a veteran producer making her directorial debut here, seems to have had higher aspirations than pure camp, but she and screenwriter Christina Hodson don't help matters (or help Heigl) by making Tessa such a one-dimensional, cartoonish shrew. In an early scene, Tessa, whose lips are fire-engine red and whose hair is white-blonde and perfectly straight, combs her daughter's hair and says, "Now you're perfect, just like Mommy."

Much of her dialogue is similarly obvious and leaden. To show us she misses her husband, the film simply has Tessa watching her wedding video, tears pouring down her face. Or asking her daughter: "Do you miss when Daddy and Mommy lived together?" Maybe Tessa has inherited this lack of subtlety from her mother — poor Cheryl Ladd's role here is even less nuanced.

Once Tessa gets going, she utilizes every weapon in her arsenal to make Julia's life hell. This includes setting up a fake Facebook account and engaging a shady character from Julia's past. It's here where the domestic violence thread comes in, and, well, sorry, but for most of us, this is not a subject that we want to laugh about in any way, shape or form. So if the filmmakers wanted us to laugh — and by the end, it sure seems like they do — well, maybe that theme wasn't a great choice. More likely: we're not supposed to be laughing.

But eventually, everything feels so out of whack that nervous laughter is the only solution.

Or maybe throwing a peanut?

"Unforgettable," a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America "for sexual content, violence, some language, and brief partial nudity." Running time: 100 minutes. One star out of four.


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


Follow Jocelyn Noveck on Twitter at

A look at the 6 films exploring the LA riots, 25 years later

Los Angeles erupted into the most destructive civil disturbance in US history on April 29, 1992, and the 25th anniversary is being marked by six documentaries exploring the roots and lingering impact of the LA riots. All include the 1991 videotaped footage of a group of white police officers relentlessly beating unarmed black motorist Rodney King, and coverage of their acquittal the following year that touched off three days of unchecked violence, arson and looting. Despite similar imagery, each of the films approaches the events through a slightly different lens.

— "Burn Motherf------, Burn " (Showtime): Sacha Jenkins incorporates animation and the music of the early '90s in his film exploring the history of the Los Angeles Police Department and its relationship with LA's black residents. It charts the rise of former police chief William Parker — who was celebrated for his post-World War II modernization of the LAPD and criticized for his separatist attitudes toward communities of color — through the 1965 Watts riots and up to present day with interviews with current chief Charlie Beck and cellphone footage of police shooting an unarmed black man in downtown LA in 2015. Premieres Friday.

— "LA 92 " (National Geographic): Oscar-winning documentarians Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin find the roots of 1992's civil unrest in the Watts riots and the 1991 killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by shopkeeper Soon Ja Du, who was convicted of manslaughter but received no jail time. It tracks the long history of police brutality in black communities and the growing tensions between blacks and Koreans after Harlins' death, and explores the role the riots may have played in the 1992 presidential election. Opens theatrically on April 28 and comes to National Geographic Channel on April 30.

— "L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later " (A&E): Produced by and featuring Oscar-nominated writer-director John Singleton, this film opens with video footage of the 2016 fatal police shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, along with the protests that followed the high-profile deaths of other young black men at the hands of police. Directors One9 and Erik Parker provide a mix of LAPD history, interviews with the men who attacked truck driver Reginald Denny and the perspective of a former lieutenant tasked with responding to the riot epicenter at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues. Premiered Tuesday.

— "L.A. Riots: 25 Years Later " (History Channel): Filmmakers Jenna Rosher and Mark Ford explore the past and present in this film, from the Watts riots to Black Lives Matter. It looks at the history of police relations in LA's black community, exacerbated by drugs and gangs in the '80s and the LAPD's aggressive response, which included destructive home invasions. It explores the political implications of the tenuous relationship between police chief Gates and mayor Tom Bradley, who both left office shortly after the riots. Premieres April 23.

— "Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 " (ABC): Oscar winner John Ridley focuses on racial tensions in the decade leading up to what he calls the 1992 uprising. Interview subjects include neighborhood residents, police officers, jurors who served on the King beating trial, as well as victims, witnesses and perpetrators of the ensuing violence. Ridley also explores LAPD policies, including its use of the battering ram during the crack epidemic of the '80s and banning of the chokehold in 1982. Opens theatrically Friday; airing on ABC on April 28.

— "The Lost Tapes: LA Riots " (Smithsonian Channel): Former newspaper reporter Tom Jennings' film skips interviews and narration in favor of voices and images directly from 1992. The film relies on footage taken by neighborhood residents and Los Angeles Police Department cameras, along with audio from local radio station KJLH, which abandoned its traditional music format during the unrest to take calls from the community about their fears and concerns as the city was torn apart. Premieres Sunday.


Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at .

LA's violent uprising of 1992 returns to TV 25 years later

Toward the end of "L.A. Burning," a new documentary about the fiery and deadly 1992 Los Angeles riots, a man who lived through the turmoil issues an ominous warning about the future.

"If we don't change the way we interact with the police and they interact with us, y'all might as well just welcome the next riot," he says.

The juxtaposition of the historic uprising with today's high-profile police shootings of black men and the Black Lives Matter movement is the crux of six separate documentaries marking the 25th anniversary of the LA riots, which exploded after four white police officers were acquitted of severely beating black motorist Rodney King. The ensuing carnage was the worst civil unrest in US history, leaving 55 people dead and more than 2,000 injured.

Oscar winner John Ridley and Oscar nominee John Singleton are among the filmmakers using the anniversary to re-examine the events that led to the unrest and contextualize them for a new generation. All six films premiere this week.

"Whether there are five, six or seven films, I don't think there can be enough stories," Ridley said in a recent interview. "It's almost stunning, considering the scope and scale of that event, what it meant in the moment and how people still view it, that it's taken this long for these stories to come out."

It's unusual to have six documentaries on the same subject released almost simultaneously, though it could become more commonplace in today's multi-option media landscape. By comparison, two films were released around the riots' 20th anniversary in 2012.

Since then, Rodney King has died. Florida teen Trayvon Martin was shot and his killer acquitted. The Black Lives Matter movement was born. And the nation transitioned from the leadership of its first black president, Barack Obama, to the uncertainties of Donald Trump's administration.

"I look at the conditions across our country right now and I'm thinking we certainly didn't learn much in the last 25 years," retired Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Michael Moulin says in "L.A. Burning." He was on duty in South Los Angeles when the riots broke out and appears in several of the new films.

Besides the six documentaries marking the riots' anniversary, a digital story archive and a virtual-reality project aim to make sense of the events for today's viewers.

Anniversaries often inspire reflection, and the proliferation of outlets airing documentaries has created more opportunities for filmmakers interested in exploring the past, said Todd Boyd, a professor of cinema and media studies at the USC School for Cinematic Arts. He points to the O.J. Simpson murder case, which was the subject of narrative and documentary retellings in 2016, 21 years after Simpson was acquitted.

"As time passes, people look back on certain eras or events and reconsider them for a new age," Boyd said. "We're in a moment now where people are reconsidering that early '90s era, whether it's the Rodney King beating, the riots or O.J."

Those events all spoke to race relations, which may be as fractious now as they were then.

"I think that people just feel (the riots) are a really important cautionary tale right now," said Molly Gale, a 27-year-old filmmaker developing a virtual-reality project with the Los Angeles Times. "Flash Point: An Immersive 360 Look at Photographing the L.A. Riots," premiering April 29, was "borne out of our own lack of understanding of how huge the riots really were," she said.

"This project is aiming to reach the millennials to make them understand the history of these places they're living in," she said.

Another interactive project, KTown92, focuses on stories about the riots from residents of Koreatown.

Documentarian Sacha Jenkins saw his film "Burn Motherf-----, Burn" as a way to establish historical context for today's police shootings and demands for justice.

"What I was trying to say with the film is this thing goes way back to slavery, and it goes way back to the grievances that African-Americans have had this whole time," he said. "I wanted people to be able to see this and do the math and let that math add up to where we are now."

Filmmaker Mark Ford wrote and directed a movie in 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the riots, "Uprising: Hip Hop and the LA Riots." For the 25th anniversary, he produced two different documentaries, "L.A. Burning" and "L.A. Riots: 25 Years Later."

"Police abuse is as prevalent, if not more, than it was 25 years ago," Ford said. "We all see the images across our social media pretty much every day. As filmmakers, we just want to be part of the conversation as to why this is happening and what are potential solutions."

Singleton, a producer of "L.A. Burning" and an LA native, has been close to the riots for a long time. He left the Simi Valley, California, set of his film "Poetic Justice" for the nearby courthouse shortly after the verdict in the King case was read. Singleton appears in news footage from 1992 and also gives extensive interviews in the new documentary.

"This event affected all of us cross-culturally through the city," he said after a recent screening. "How can we learn from this so there's not another flash point?"


Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at .

'Moulin Rouge' director Baz Luhrmann to speak at Princeton

"Moulin Rouge" director Baz Luhrmann will speak to graduating seniors at Princeton.

Princeton's graduating class chose him as their Class Day speaker next month. The Australian will address graduates and their guests the day before commencement.

The Academy Award-nominated director, screenwriter and producer's films include "The Great Gatsby" and "Romeo + Juliet." His series, "The Get Down," which tells the birth of hip-hop, premiered on Netflix in 2016.

Class Day co-chair Deana Hamlin says Luhrmann's example of pursing one's passions is a "fitting mindset to convey to graduates before entering the real world."

Past Class Day speakers include former Vice President Al Gore and Christopher Nolan, director of the Batman "Dark Knight" trilogy.

Documentary delves into life of music pioneer Clive Davis

Clive Davis celebrated his legacy with the debut of a documentary about his life, along with performances from artists he helped become icons, during the opening night of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Davis, 85, said it was a dream come true to launch "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives" at Radio City Music Hall since he grew up in Brooklyn and didn't visit Manhattan until he was 13.

The music mogul was all smiles at the multi-hour event Wednesday night, as performers like Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Barry Manilow and Earth, Wind & Fire took the stage to pay tribute to Davis.

"All of them fresh from not performing at the inauguration," Robert De Niro, who co-founded the festival, said before the film began, earning laughs and handclaps from the audience.

Jennifer Hudson left the stage to walk into the aisles to dance with the crowd as she sang Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."

"Where is Clive at?" she yelled. Davis earned a loud cheer from the audience when he started dancing.

When Franklin — who closed the show — sang "Natural Woman," she pointed to Davis and sang the lyrics, "He makes me feel." She also called her longtime collaborator a "chieftain" and "humanitarian."

Others shared the sentiment on-screen. "The Soundtrack of Our Lives," directed by Chris Perkel, gave a peek into Davis' personal and professional life. He lost his parents while he was an undergraduate at New York University, and later attended Harvard Law School. After working as a lawyer for Columbia Records, he was promoted to president in 1967, despite not desiring a career in music.

"I had no inkling that music would be my passion of life," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday from his office at the new Sony building in Manhattan. "I had no money after my parents died, so I went through school on scholarships. And I was going to be a lawyer."

He said watching the documentary was somewhat hard, especially scenes with Houston, who died in 2012.

"It was very emotional to see artists that I worked with 20, 30, 40 years ago have the same vivid memories of how we interrelated and what we worked on and issues that arose," he said. "It certainly gives a very compelling picture of the relationship that I had with Whitney Houston and of course that's filled with emotional impact, and it really showed sides of Whitney that no one has ever seen before."

Davis went on to become the world's most popular music executive, discovering talents such as Houston, Alicia Keys and Manilow and creating second acts for legends like Franklin and Santana. He even had a large role in shaping the careers of Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin and Billy Joel.

"What a movie," Manilow yelled before he sang some of his popular hits.

Other performers included Kenny G and Dionne Warwick, who earned a standing ovation after she hit a high note. Whoopi Goldberg worked as the emcee in between the performances.

"No matter who you voted for, fight for the arts in school please," she told the audience. "This is in our hands now."

Davis founded Arista Records in 1975 and J Records in 2000. His documentary will be available on Apple Music.



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