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by MediaExpert

Obamas Unveil Slate of Series, Documentaries for Netflix

Barack and Michelle Obama on Tuesday unveiled a slate of projects they are preparing for Netflix, a year after the former president and first lady signed a deal with the streaming platform.

The Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground Productions, on Tuesday announced a total of seven films and series that Barack Obama said will entertain but also “educate, connect and inspire us all.”

Higher Ground is producing a feature film on Frederick Douglass, adapted from David W. Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. Also in the works is a documentary series that adapts Michael Lewis’ “Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” the “Moneyball” author’s 2018 best-seller about government servants working under the political appointees of Donald Trump’s administration.

The production company’s first release will be Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s Sundance Film Festival documentary “American Factory,” about a Chinese-owned factory in post-industrial Ohio. Netflix and Higher Ground also acquired Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham’s “Crip Camp,” a documentary about a summer camp for disabled teenager founded in upstate New York in the early 1970s.

The Obamas are also developing an upstairs-downstairs drama set in post-WWII New York titled “Bloom,” and an adaptation of The New York Times “Overlooked” obituary column, about deaths unreported by the paper. A half-hour show for preschoolers titled “Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents” will instruct kids about food.

“We love this slate because it spans so many different interests and experiences, yet it’s all woven together with stories that are relevant to our daily lives,” Michelle Obama said. “We think there’s something here for everyone — moms and dads, curious kids, and anyone simply looking for an engaging, uplifting watch at the end of a busy day.”

The projects are to be released over the next several years.

by MediaExpert

‘Hadestown’ Leads Tony Award Nominations With 14 Nods

“Hadestown,” singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell’s Broadway debut, earned a leading 14 Tony Award nominations Tuesday, followed by the jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud,” built around songs by the Temptations, which received a dozen nominations.

The musical “Hadestown,” which intertwines the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone, bested more familiar names, including stage adaptations of the hit movies “Tootsie” and “Beetlejuice,” which both also got best musical nods. The giddy, heartwarming “The Prom” rounds out the best new musical category.

“Hadestown” also was the only new musical on Broadway directed by a woman, Tony Award nominee Rachel Chavkin, who earned another one Tuesday.

“I’m trying not to swear, but I am so proud of the 14 nominations. There is just not a weak spot on the team. There is no place where we haven’t all been working our asses off to make this show feel as ancient and as `now’ as possible, simultaneously,” she said by phone.


The best-play nominees are the Northern Irish drama “The Ferryman,” from Jez Butterworth; James Graham’s “Ink,” about Rupert Murdoch; Taylor Mac’s Broadway debut, “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus”; Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy”; and Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a personal tour of the landmark document at the heart of so many American divisions.

Des McAnuff, who directed “Ain’t Too Proud,” pointed to the timeliness of his musical, which charts the rise, sacrifices and challenges facing the 1950s group that sang “Baby Love” and “My Girl.”

“I think when people come to the Imperial Theatre, they’ll find that the story is as pertinent now as it was when they lived it,” he said. “It applies to Black Lives Matter and what’s going on in this country in terms of the tensions today.”

Theater veterans were surprised to see Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird”; “Hillary and Clinton,” about Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign; and the stage adaptation of the media satire film “Network” not getting best play nods, though they did earn recognition in other categories.

McAnuff said it has been a strong season for plays and wildly eclectic. “To me, that’s what the American theater’s about,” he said, adding he was surprised that Sorkin wasn’t recognized for his “brilliant” adaptation but “that speaks to the fact that there’s so many worthy works out there.”

The nomination for “Tootsie” means composer and lyricist David Yazbek could be one step closer to getting back-to-back wins. His show “The Band’s Visit” won best new musical last year.

Laurie Metcalf got an acting nod for “Hillary and Clinton” and if she wins the Tony this year, she will be the first person to win acting Tonys three years consecutively. (She won in 2018’s “Three Tall Women” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2” in 2017).

A sweet “Kiss Me, Kate” and a dark “Oklahoma!” make up the best musical revival category; they were the only eligible nominees. The best play revival nominees are “Arthur Miller’s All My Sons,” “The Boys in the Band,” “Burn This,” “Torch Song” and “The Waverly Gallery.”

Ali Stroker, the first actress who needs a wheelchair for mobility known to have appeared on a Broadway stage, earned a Tony nomination for “Oklahoma!”

Nominees for best actor in a play include Paddy Considine from “The Ferryman,” Bryan Cranston in “Network,” Jeff Daniels in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Adam Driver from “Burn This” and Jeremy Pope in “Choir Boy.” Pope is also up for a featured role in “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations.”

The category of best actress in a play includes Annette Bening in “Arthur Miller’s All My Sons,” Laura Donnelly in “The Ferryman,” Elaine May in “The Waverly Gallery,” Janet McTeer in “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” Metcalf in “Hillary and Clinton” and Schreck from “What the Constitution Means to Me.”

Those nominated for best actor in a musical are Brooks Ashmanskas from “The Prom,” Derrick Baskin in “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations,” Alex Brightman from “Beetlejuice,” Damon Daunno in “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!” and Santino Fontana in “Tootsie.”

Patrick Page, who has appeared in over a dozen Broadway shows including “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” “The Lion King” and “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” earned his first Tony nomination for playing Hades in “Hadestown.”

“I think I just appreciate it more than I can say really. It’s something I wanted. It’s hard to want something,” he said. “There have been a lot of times where I have been in the mix and haven’t been nominated. So it’s just a wonderful feeling and frankly a bit of a relief. And especially for such a wonderful show.”

Nominees for best leading actress in a musical are Stephanie J. Block in “The Cher Show,” Caitlin Kinnunen and Beth Leavel both in “The Prom,” Eva Noblezada in “Hadestown” and Kelli O’Hara in “Kiss Me, Kate.”

Leavel, who earned a Tony in 2006 for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” joked by phone that she paced “about 4 miles” waiting for the live announcement: “I got my steps in!” Her musical, about four fading stars whose desperate need for a new stage leads them to protest a small-town prom, earned seven nods. She expects an especially fun performance Tuesday night following the nominations: “It’s just a special evening,” she said. “We get to share this moment. It’s really cool.”

Block, a veteran of Broadway shows such as “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and “Falsettos,” got her third nomination for playing one of three actresses who portray the title character in “The Cher Show.”

“Stepping into the life of Cher each night and getting to tell her story eight times a week is a one-of-a-kind experience I will always cherish. This show has truly changed me,” she said in a statement.

Hollywood A-listers Cranston, Driver, May and Daniels made the cut but some of their starry colleagues did not, including Kerry Washington, Armie Hammer, Ethan Hawke, Joan Allen, Michael Cera, Lucas Hedges and Keri Russell.

For a few theater veterans behind the scenes, the nominations were doubly good: Ann Roth was nominated for creating the costumes for both “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” while William Ivey Long earned nods for both “Beetlejuice” and “Tootsie.”

The awards will be presented June 9 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, airing on CBS. James Corden, the host of CBS’ “The Late Late Show” and a Tony winner himself, will host.

by MediaExpert

Netflix Announces Deal for Film About Thailand’s Cave Boys

Netflix announced Tuesday it is joining with the production company for the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” to make a film about last July’s dramatic rescue of 12 village boys in northern Thailand who were trapped with their soccer coach in a flooded cave for more than two weeks.

Netflix and SK Global Entertainment said in Bangkok they have acquired the rights to the story from 13 Thumluang Co. Ltd,, a company that Thailand’s government helped establish to represent the interests of the boys and their coach, who attended the news conference for the announcement.

Thailand’s Culture Ministry in March first unveiled the deal, announced as a miniseries. Deputy government spokesman Weerachon Sukoondhapatipakat was quoted then as saying that the families of the cave survivors would each be paid 3 million baht ($94,000).

The boys of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach became a center of world attention after they became trapped in the cave on June 23 last year, with doubts they were able to find shelter from rising flood waters that poured in after unexpected rain. They were found by two British divers and brought out by an international crew of experienced cave divers who teamed up with Thai navy SEALs in a dangerously complicated mission that was successfully concluded on July 10.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to thank the people and organizations from Thailand and around the world who came together to perform a true miracle, by retelling our story,” said Ekapol “Ake” Chanthawong, the boy’s assistant coach who shared the ordeal with them. “We look forward to working with all involved parties to ensure our story is told accurately, so that the world can recognize, once again, the heroes that made the rescue operation a success.”

Tuesday’s announcement said 13 Thumluang “has committed to donating 15% of the revenues derived from bringing this story to global audiences to charity organizations that focus on disaster relief.”

Jon M. Chu, who helmed “Crazy Rich Asians,” and Nattawut “Baz” Poonpiriya, a Thai filmmaker, will be directors on the cave project.

“We are immensely proud to be able to support the retelling of the incredible story of the Tham Luang cave rescue,” Erika North, director of International Originals at Netflix, said in a statement. “The story combines so many unique local and universal themes which connected people from all walks of life, from all around the world. Thailand is a very important country for Netflix and we are looking forward to bringing this inspiring local but globally resonant story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to life, once again, for global audiences.”

The rescue was a rare bit of feel-good news from Thailand, which has been mired in political conflict and heavy-handed military rule for more than a decade. The cave rescue also allowed the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who had seized power in a 2014 military coup, to share in some glory.

An independent film about the adventure, “The Cave,” was shot soon after the rescue and is supposed to be released later this year.

by MediaExpert

Elle Fanning, ‘The Favourite’ Director Lanthimos Picked for Cannes Jury

U.S. actress Elle Fanning, French graphic novelist Enki Bilal and the Oscar-nominated director of “The Favourite,” Yorgos Lanthimos, will be among jury members at the Cannes Film Festival next month, organizers said on Monday.

The world’s biggest cinema showcase kicks off on the French Riviera on May 14th, with Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu presiding over the panel that decides on prizes, including the top Palme D’Or award.

Split between four men and four women, the jury for the festival’s 72nd edition will also include Pawel Pawlikowski, the Polish filmmaker and screenwriter named best director at Cannes last year for the impossible love story “Cold War.”

Maimouna N’Diaye, who has directed documentaries and acted in films such as Otar Iosseliani’s “Chasing Butterflies” will also sit on the panel, alongside two other female directors.

Kelly Reichardt of the United States, whose “Wendy and Lucy” starring Michelle Williams was a contender for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard award in 2008, directed 2016’s “Certain Women.”

Italy’s Alicia Rohrwacher won best screenplay at Cannes last year for her film “Happy as Lazzaro,” a satirical fable about a peasant family.

French filmmaker Robin Campillo, who took Cannes by storm in 2017 with “120 BPM – Beats Per Minute,” winning the Grand Prix for his movie about an AIDS activist, will complete the line-up.

Comic book creator Bilal, best known for his Nikopol trilogy of science fiction novels, has also directed feature films, including 2004’s “Immortal,” organizers said.

Fanning, who started working in movies as a child, has starred in several films in competition at Cannes in recent years, including “The Beguiled” by Sofia Coppola in 2017.

The May 14-25 festival will kick off with U.S. director Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, “The Dead Don’t Die.”

by MediaExpert

Woodstock 50 Festival in Disarray After Investor Pulls Out

A planned three-day concert marking the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival was thrown into doubt on Monday after the lead investors said they had canceled the event but organizers said they had no right to do so.

Woodstock 50 was due to take place Aug. 16-18 at the Watkins Glen motor racing venue in upstate New York with a lineup that included rapper Jay-Z, singer Miley Cyrus and rockers the Killers.

It was promoted as a modern version of the August 1969 Woodstock festival, which was billed as “three days of peace and music” and is regarded as one of the pivotal moments in music history.

Investors Dentsu Aegis Network, a unit of Japanese company Dentsu, said in a statement on Monday they “don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand name while also ensuring the health and safety of the artists, partners and attendees.”

“Dentsu Aegis Network’s Amplifi Live, a partner of Woodstock 50, has decided to cancel the festival,” the statement added.

Dentsu had a clause in its contract that gave it the option to cancel the festival, a representative of the investors said.

The producers of Woodstock 50 said that was not the case.

“Woodstock 50 vehemently denies the festival’s cancellation and legal remedy will (be) sought,” Woodstock 50 said in a statement to the Poughkeepsie Journal in upstate New York.

“They do not have the right to unilaterally cancel the festival,” Michael Lang, the co-producer of the 1969 Woodstock festival and the man behind Woodstock 50, told the New York Times on Monday.

More than 80 musical acts, including 1969 festival veterans John Fogerty, Canned Heat and Santana, had been announced as taking part and some 100,000 fans were expected to attend and camp at the Watkins Glen site.

But the festival ran into trouble two weeks ago when the sale date for tickets was postponed. Ticket prices had not been announced.

The festival met delays in obtaining permits, arranging security, water supplies and sanitation, said a source close to the event. Capacity was reduced to around 75,000, cutting into the financial feasibility of the festival, the source added.

The nonprofit Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the current owners of the field where the 1969 Woodstock festival took place, has also scaled back plans for a three-day anniversary event saying in February it will instead host separate concerts by Ringo Starr, Santana and the Doobie Brothers.

by MediaExpert

Pakistan’s ‘Tyrion Lannister’ Longs to Fight in Battle of Winterfell

As the north prepared for the battle of Winterfell, people in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi were surprised to see Tyrion Lannister serving flatbread at a local restaurant.

Waiter Rozi Khan has taken social media in his homeland – where “Game of Thrones” has a strong following – by storm for his uncanny resemblance to U.S. actor Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister in the HBO fantasy series.

Until a few months ago, the 26-year-old had never heard of Dinklage. But his life changed when the son of the restaurant owner he works for spotted the resemblance and posted his picture on Facebook.

“In the beginning, they started calling me Peter Dinklage.

After that I saw his show, and then slowly, slowly I became famous,” Khan told Reuters.

The resemblance goes beyond facial features: both men are also 4 feet 5 inches (135 cms) tall.

“My wish is to work in movies. And my other wish is that I should meet Peter Dinklage,” Khan added.

The eighth and final season of the wildly popular Game of Thrones concludes on May 19.

by MediaExpert

Frenchman Completes Trans-Atlantic Journey in a Barrel

A Frenchman who has spent four months floating across the Atlantic in a custom-made barrel has reached his goal.

“After 122 days and nine hours the meridian positions me in the Caribbean Sea. The crossing is over. Thank you all,” Jean-Jacques Savin, 72, posted on his Facebook page early Sunday.

Savin said that he was drifting toward the United States and looking for a vessel that would take him to the nearest port.

With no engine, sails or paddles, the unusual craft has relied on trade winds and currents to push Savin 4,800 kilometers from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean.

Savin spent months building his bright orange, barrel-shaped capsule of resin-coated plywood that is strong enough to withstand battering waves and other stresses.

The barrel is 3 meters long and 2.10 meters across, has a small galley area, and a mattress with straps to keep him from being tossed out of his bunk by rough seas.

Portholes on either side of the barrel and another looking into the water provide sunlight and a bit of entertainment. The unique craft also has a solar panel that generates energy for communications and GPS positioning. 

As he drifted along, Savin dropped markers in the ocean to help oceanographers study ocean currents. At the end of the journey, Savin himself will be studied by doctors for effects of solitude in close confinement.

He has also posted regular updates, including GPS coordinates that track his journey, on a Facebook page.

He has described his journey as a “crossing during which man isn’t captain of his ship, but a passenger of the ocean.”

Savin’s adventure, which is estimated to cost about $65,000, was funded by French barrel makers and crowdfunding.

Savin had hoped to end his journey on a French island, like Martinique or Guadeloupe. “That would be easier for the paperwork and for bringing the barrel back,” he told AFP when he started.

by MediaExpert

Swiss Prosecutor Rejects Criticism of His Handling of FIFA Probe

Switzerland’s top prosecutor defended his handling of a high-profile investigation into soccer corruption on Saturday amid scrutiny of closed-door meetings he has held with FIFA President Gianni Infantino. 

Michael Lauber, who faces re-election by parliament in June as attorney general, has described two meetings with Infantino as ways to help coordinate his investigation, which treats the global soccer body as a victim rather than a suspect. 

But media reports of a third confidential meeting prompted a preliminary investigation by the watchdog that oversees Lauber’s agency. The head of the watchdog said this week that Lauber had denied any other such meetings as attorney general. 

In an interview with SRF radio, Lauber conceded that there must have been a third meeting that he could not recall. 

“We assume based on internal documents we have seen — diary entries and SMS texts — that it took place,” he said, but insisted this would not derail his bid for re-election. 

“I reject accusations of lying or keeping silent and I see no reason to withdraw my candidacy,” he said, noting that Infantino was at no time a target of the FIFA probe. 

​Lack of records criticized

The watchdog found no fault with Lauber for meeting Infantino in what it calls a complex case, but criticized him for not properly documenting meetings that could one day become subject of lawsuits. Its probe could lead to disciplinary proceedings against Lauber. 

Lauber’s office has been investigating several cases of suspected corruption surrounding Zurich-based FIFA after it filed a criminal complaint in November 2014, when the soccer body’s president was Sepp Blatter. 

FIFA has the status of a private plaintiff in the probe into suspected breach of trust, fraud, embezzlement and money laundering. Lauber’s office is conducting around 25 criminal investigations alongside 15 foreign law enforcement agencies. 

More than 40 entities and individuals have been charged by U.S. prosecutors in connection with the FIFA investigation. Lauber’s office has filed no charges yet in the case. 

In a statement, FIFA said it was interested in the outcome of the investigations and was keen for those who damaged the organization to be held to account. 

“The fact that the FIFA president met the general prosecutor in open circumstances and in full transparency to discuss these matters is simply an illustration of FIFA’s willingness to cooperate and to assist the Office of the Attorney General with its work,” it said. 

FIFA said Infantino, who also did not recall a third meeting with Lauber, and other senior FIFA officials were willing to meet authorities in Switzerland and other countries as many times as necessary until the investigations wrap up. 

by MediaExpert

Orphan Squirrels Find Love in Surprising Paws

In these days, when so much of the news is of fighting and mistrust, it’s nice to hear a story of care and compassion between two groups who are not known to be friends. Here’s Faith Lapidus.

by MediaExpert

Day 2 at New Orleans Jazz Fest: Sunshine and Santana

Sunshine and Santana: Both will be welcome sights on the second day of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

There have been some disappointments in the run-up to the 50th annual Jazz Fest. Both the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac had to cancel for health reasons. Storms then delayed Thursday’s opening, though not for long: By closing time, fans were two-stepping in the mud and a huge crowd was on hand for Earth, Wind & Fire. 


Among them was Zack Buda, 25, of Manhattan who came to New Orleans with his parents, Scott and Hillary Buda, and their friends, Amy and Jamie Bernstein of Brooklyn. 


“They’re exposing me to the music of their time,” said Buda, who used binoculars for a better view of the stage.

Friday’s forecast called for warm, dry weather for the dozens of acts playing on 10 stages, with Santana closing out a main stage in the evening. 


Other highlights include high school choirs raising spirits in the Gospel Tent, Grammy winner Terence Blanchard at the WWNO Jazz Tent and home-grown R&B artist P.J. Morton, known for his solo work and his keyboarding with Maroon 5.

by MediaExpert

‘Avengers: Endgame’ Sets Opening Night Record in US, Canada

Marvel Studios superhero spectacle “Avengers: Endgame” hauled in a record $60 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices during its Thursday night debut,

distributor Walt Disney Co said.

Global ticket sales for the film about Iron Man, Hulk and other popular characters reached $305 million for the first two days, Disney said.