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►  How Hollywood’s decades-later sequels stack up

Harrison Ford appears destined to reappear as much-aged versions of the characters that made him a star: Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and now Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard. These decades-later followups rarely match the box office power of the original when inflation is taken into account.

That pattern was evident with both Star Wars (38 years between “A New Hope” and “The Force Awakens”) and Indiana Jones (27 years between “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”). Now Blade Runner 2049, with its 35-year gap between Blade Runner and the newly released sequel, hopes to avoid that fate. It’s off to a slow start, taking in a disappointing $31.5 million in its opening weekend in North America, according to an estimate by ComScore.

Movie studios have made the reboot tactic commonplace: Take an old franchise steeped in fan nostalgia, revive it with an ample budget for stars and modern special effects, and hope to score big. “Blade Runner 2049” cost $150 million to produce, not including marketing costs, and the opening box office take fell short of expectations, despite glowing reviews from critics. It still might be the rare example of later-date followup that outperforms the original at the inflation-adjusted box office, in larger part because 1982’s “Blade Runner” wasn’t a huge success and gained a hardcore following only after its initial run.

These followup films are often sold as soft reboots. Rather than resetting the series entirely, they maintain the storyline continuity from previous films, either as a prequel or sequel often set many years away from the original. The category includes revamps of such cult films as “Blade Runner” and “Evil Dead” as well as extensions of commercial powerhouses such as “Star Wars” and “Rocky.“ Few of these films following decades after the original title totally bomb at the box office, helped by preexisting fan bases loyal to the franchise.

But a look at inflation-adjusted ticket sales data, which includes sales from multiple releases, casts doubt on the ability of these soft reboots to pull in more viewers than the initial title. Most come up short at the domestic box office compared with their hugely successful predecessors.

It’s not that these next-generation films aren’t commercially successful-they’re just going up against some of the biggest hits of all time. In unadjusted sales, in fact, many will come out on top of the originals, thanks to wider distribution.

“Jurassic World,“ the sequel to “Jurassic Park” released 22 years later, was the No. 2 movie at the box office worldwide in 2015. “The Force Awakens” topped global charts at more than $2 billion in global sales. The new “Planet of the Apes” trilogy has fared well, too, nearly a half century after Charlton Heston first crashed on a world full of aggressive gorillas.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” may be the most critically acclaimed of all these new tales. George Miller’s new narrative in the barren dystopia of 1979’s Mad Max was rewarded with six Academy Awards and hauled in $378.4 million at the global box office. It far outpaced the original, too, since the first film never enjoyed blockbuster status.

Many of these new films, such as 2015’s “Terminator: Genisys,“ took advantage of an international market that wasn’t available when the original came out. The first Terminator, which came out in 1984, made about 51 percent of its box office haul overseas. Its wildly popular sequel, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,“ made about 60 percent of ticket sales overseas. By the time “Genisys” appeared, markets outside the U.S. accounted for about 80 percent of its global gross.

Then there are the failures. The much-hyped new “Ghostbusters,“ released in 2016, didn’t gain much traction and was severely outperformed by the the 1984 film despite showing in thousands of additional theaters. A 2017 full reboot of “The Mummy,“ a franchise that has been reset numerous times since the 1930s, flopped at the box office despite casting Tom Cruise in the lead.

There are plenty more reboots to look forward to (or dread). Dwayne Johnson is set to star in a remake of the 1986 cult classic “Big Trouble in Little China.“ A new “Cliffhanger” film is in the works, although there’s no word yet if Sylvester Stallone will rejoin the mountain climbing franchise as he did in “Rocky Balboa” and “Creed.“ Sci-fi saga “The Matrix” is reportedly coming back for more slow-motion action sequences as well.

Oh, and Harrison Ford still has a few roles from the 1980s he could renew.


►  The porgs are becoming the new stars of ‘Star Wars’

Just in time for the holidays, the porgs are having their moment in the Ahch-To sun.

This week’s release of the latest “Last Jedi” trailer lets us hear just what a screaming space porg sounds like - as we see the furry critter riding in the Millennium Falcon with the “walking carpet” that is Chewbacca.

That briefest of teaser shots launched an armada of memes, and one of the most impressive responses mixes that porg peal.

Volpe Music has re-created John Williams’s triumphal “Star Wars” theme by making it sounds as if the porgs are singing. The result seems to be the first Porg Symphony.

The porgs were also featured prominently in the kickoff to Tuesday’s “Late Show With Stephen Colbert.“ In the comedic short, BB-8, the then-new mascot of a droid in 2015’s “The Force Awakens,“ now wallows in its diminished resident cute Star Wars creation status, as REM’s “Everybody Hurts” cuts like a lightsaber.

Every “Star Wars” film offers adorable critters and droids, largely as reassuring comedic relief from all the masked baddies roaming the galaxy with menace. And Disney chairman Bob Iger personally helped greenlight BB-8 as a character.

Now, to introduce a new alien species to the franchise, director Rian Johnson and his team drew direct inspiration from Ireland’s Skellig Michael, the remote isle that stands in for Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker’s hideout while in exile.

As the filmmakers told Entertainment Weekly, these space-puffin puppets were created in the creature shop of Neal Scanlan after Johnson saw the island seabirds while scouting locations for the final scene in “Force Awakens.“

“If you go to Skellig at the right time of year, it’s just covered in puffins, and they’re the most adorable things in the world,“ Johnson told EW, adding: “So the Porgs are in that realm.“

Ahch-To is also home to the Caretakers, a species of prehistoric-looking female aliens who reportedly loom like an order of nuns.

So far, alas, the Caretakers lack the porgs’ commercial appeal.

Perhaps that will change when “Last Jedi” lands December 15. But we highly doubt it.

Arts & Entertainment News

The Free Press WV

►  ‘Kingsman’ is again at your service, with blood-spattered zeal

Early on in “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,“ we watch as a criminal mastermind encourages her newest hire to bite into a burger made from the flesh of a man who double-crossed her. The recruit sits at a diner counter, tentatively holding the burger in his hands while looking at a pair of legs sticking out of a nearby meat grinder.

The repulsiveness of the sight gag is softened by its absurdity - just one reminder of many that this is a movie calibrated to cross the line, though always in service of a laugh.

The follow-up to “Kingsman: The Secret Service,“ a hit action comedy inspired by a series of comic books by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, “Golden Circle” has many of the ingredients of the 2015 film: Buckets of blood, expletives aplenty, cartoonish action and cute puppies in peril. It even resurrects a couple of characters - fan favorites who were presumably corpses at the end of the earlier film. (No spoilers here, though both can be spotted in the trailers.)

Also returning is our hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a reformed ruffian who’s now a fixture in the dapper Kingsman crew - a group of undercover crime fighters headquartered behind the fake facade of a Savile Row tailor’s shop. For reasons best kept under wraps, Eggsy and his colleague Merlin (Mark Strong) end up working together on a major mission. The only way they can complete the assignment is to team up with their American counterparts, the Statesman, whose front is a Kentucky whiskey distillery.

All this is just an excuse to add Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Pedro Pascal to the mix, along with cowboy hats, lassos and thick Western accents. The well-dressed Brits don’t have much in common with their tobacco-spitting American cousins, except for a desire to bring down an international drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore). Wide-eyed and childlike, with a sweet voice and a passion for bad puns, Poppy also delights in siccing her deadly robot dogs on insubordinate employees.

Her latest scheme involves deliberately tainting her own product, causing even weekend pot smokers to develop a blue rash - closely followed by mania, paralysis and a dramatic, bloody demise. She’ll happily send in drones with an antidote - but only if the American president (Bruce Greenwood) agrees to legalize drugs.

One snag: The president sees this crisis not as a problem, but a solution to the war on drugs, which would be a lot easier to fight with all the users dead.

Can a movie this cynical still be hilarious? Apparently, yes. As troubling as such plot details are, the laughs just keep coming, although most of them are in predictably poor taste. Some of the best punchlines come courtesy of Elton John - playing himself in an extended cameo as Poppy’s catty hostage. He even gets his own kung-fu-style fight scene, carried out while wearing dazzling platform shoes.

The action sequences are reliably spectacular, even if they don’t adhere to the laws of physics. Returning director Matthew Vaughn slows down and speeds up the punches and kicks, ensuring that the audience will be able to tell exactly what’s going on. It’s a happy respite from the kinetic visual gibberish common to most current action films, which all too often rely on seizure-inducing quick cuts.

The action is one of the few things here that actually makes sense, in a film that’s light on logic. You expected realism? Surely not. “Kingsman” is essentially a live-action cartoon, one that aims for an audible reaction, and little else. That may not be the world’s loftiest goal, but whether it results in a gagging eww or a chuckle, it’s a plan that usually succeeds.

•••

Two and a half stars. Rated R. Contains copious violence, drug use, strong language throughout and some sexual situations. 141 minutes.

Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.


►  ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a sequel that honors and surpasses the original

The sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” is beloved - and rightly so - not just for its compelling narrative of the lonely hunter, but for the package that the futuristic fable came wrapped in. Based on a 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott’s 1982 film was notable for its screenplay of oblique, muscular poetry (by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples); a cynical and gorgeously gloomy film noir sensibility; and philosophical musings about what it means to be human.

“Blade Runner 2049,“ the superb new sequel by Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”), doesn’t just honor that legacy, but, arguably, surpasses it, with a smart, grimly lyrical script (by Fancher and Michael Green of the top-notch “Logan”); bleakly beautiful cinematography (by Roger Deakins); and an even deeper dive into questions of the soul.

Set 30 years after the action of the first film, “2049” focuses, like Scott’s tale, on a blade runner: a cop whose mission it is to track down and “retire” bioengineered humanoid “replicants” that were once used as slave labor - “skinners,“ or “skin jobs,“ in the parlance of the film - and who have since gone on the lam after being found to disobey orders. In the world of 2049, there are now two kinds of replicants, in addition to people: the old, rogue versions, and a newer, more subservient variety designed by a godlike industrialist (Jared Leto), who refers to his products, tellingly, as good and bad “angels.“

One key character isn’t even real, at least not in the traditional sense, but a hologram.

When we first meet the film’s L.A.P.D. hero, called K (Ryan Gosling), he is on the job, a routine assignment that might be considered an assassination if the target of his lethal mission were human, or his cause unethical. And maybe they are. Who knows? Those open-ended questions loom large in both films, along with some new ones here.

While dispatching his victim, K discovers something that, in the words of his supervisor (Robin Wright), “breaks the world.“ That might seem a strange way of putting things, in a city that already seems pretty broken. The Los Angeles of “Blade Runner 2049” is one that alternates between smog, lashing rain and an ashlike precipitation that may or may not be snow. The city is surrounded by mountains of trash, and farther out beyond that, a radioactive wasteland.

But there’s a precarious balance to this world of us-and-multiple-thems, and K’s find - which opens a new and, for him, more personal mystery - turns the film from a manhunt, or whatever you might call it that K does, into a character’s search for his own past.

If this synopsis sounds like it’s dancing around a more explicit summary of who’s who and what’s what, it is. Some critics who were invited to press screenings of “2049” were asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement, singling out several characters and plot points as spoilers to be avoided. Reporters from The Washington Post were not asked to sign this, but because the film contains many genuine pleasures and surprises, large and small, it really is best to know the least about this film.

What can be said: There are returning characters, including Harrison Ford’s blade runner Deckard, from the first film. He’s in the trailer, but Deckard’s precise role in this ambitious coda of a gumshoe opera should - and will, in these pages - remain unspoken. The special effects are impeccable, and they include sequences that blur the line, evocatively, between what’s real and unreal. The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, both of whom worked on the sonically aggressive “Dunkirk,“ is loud and at times assaultive here, modulating from a quietly anticipatory ear-tinkle to the blast of a foghorn. At close to three hours, “Blade Runner 2049” is a long film, but it’s unlikely that true partisans will notice, or mind.

What is “Blade Runner 2049” about? It may help to know that two characters are named Joi (Ana de Armas) and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). More can’t be revealed about how each one fits into this unashamedly allegorical action movie. But the deepest mystery in this tale of robots gone bad isn’t who - or what - is synthetic, but why we need to tell ourselves that something we can’t see - a memory, an emotion, a conviction - is real. The question, in short, is this: What makes some lives worth living, and some beliefs worth dying for?

—-

Four stars. Rated R. Contains violence, some sexuality, nudity and crude language. 160 minutes.

Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.

Arts & Entertainment News

The Free Press WV

►  Prince tapes moved to California; 2 heirs angry

Two sisters and heirs of the late rock superstar Prince said Wednesday they’re angered that the contents of his vault, including master tapes of unreleased music, have been removed from his Paisley Park studio complex and shipped to California.

Sharon and Norrine Nelson, Prince’s half-sisters, told The Associated Press they are prepared to take legal action to bring the music back to Minnesota. The company running the estate, Comerica Bank & Trust, said the recordings are safe at a reputable storage company in Los Angeles.

“We want the music back home in Paisley Park where it belongs,” Sharon Nelson said.

Norrine Nelson called it “extraordinary and unconscionable.”

The recordings are regarded as among the most valuable pieces of an estate that court papers have suggested is worth around $200 million.

Sharon Nelson said she was told September 29 by a “Paisley Park representative,” whom she wouldn’t identify, that around four trucks pulled up to the studio-turned-museum in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen in early September and removed the contents of the vault.

“It’s just as though Prince passed away again,” she said. “That’s how I felt. I was really devastated by that.”

Norrine Nelson said the music had been safe in Minnesota for more than 40 years and would be again if it’s returned.

The sisters said Comerica, which is serving as the personal representative, or executor, of Prince’s estate, hasn’t told them exactly where the music was taken or why. They said they believe Comerica was obligated to notify them and give them a say under orders earlier this year by Carver County District Judge Kevin Eide, who is overseeing the estate case.

Comerica defended its decision in a statement.

“In an effort to ensure the preservation of Prince’s audio and visual content, Comerica selected the premier entertainment storage and archive company, Iron Mountain Entertainment Services,” the statement said. “On four separate occasions, Comerica discussed the process with the heirs and any suggestion otherwise is not accurate.”

Prince left no will when he died in April 2016 of an accidental overdose of painkillers. The judge this May declared Prince’s six surviving siblings his heirs, but they’ve split into two camps during the legal wrangling. Sharon and Norrine Nelson and their brother, John R. Nelson, are on one side and Prince’s full sister, Tyka Nelson, and his half-brothers Omarr Baker and Alfred Jackson on the other. An attorney for Tyka Nelson and Baker did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Eide’s orders putting Comerica in charge give the company considerable authority over how to run the estate and exploit its assets to benefit the heirs, and don’t require it to notify or seek approval from them for routine matters. But one order does require Comerica to give them 14 business days of notice before entering into transactions worth more than $2 million to give them a chance to object. The sisters said they believe that language should apply to such a major step as moving the music out of Prince’s vault.

If the reason for moving the tapes was to put them closer to the recording industry to prepare for more releases of Prince music, the sisters said there was no need. They pointed out that Prince’s studios at Paisley Park remain state-of-the art.

But Comerica said the recordings are safer with Iron Mountain.

“After reviewing the storage conditions at Paisley Park and out of concern regarding the consequences of a fire or other loss at the facility, Comerica determined that it was necessary to transfer the audio and visual content to a secure location where all of the original content could be securely stored and digitized as a safeguard against the destruction or loss of any original content,” the company said.


►  Review: A family tale told artfully in ‘Meyerowitz Stories’

Your first response to “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” may very well be: Adam Sandler is good — REALLY good — in his sensitive, nuanced portrayal as Danny, the outsider son in the Meyerowitz brood.

The opening scene finds Danny in the driver’s seat beside Eliza, his teenage daughter (Grace Van Patten), as he tries to score a parking space in New York City. A devoted father who will soon lose Eliza to college, he is a tangle of tenderness, wistfulness and pent-up rage at the wheel in this fruitless search.

That’s just the beginning of a bittersweet, often very funny family portrait written and directed by Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha,” ″The Squid and the Whale”). Available Friday on Netflix and in theaters, it’s brought to life by an all-star ensemble also including Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, Judd Hirsch and Candice BerGeneral

Hoffman plays Harold, the paterfamilias of the sprawling Meyerowitz clan. A willful, grandiose sculptor plagued by failed ambitions, he molded his three adult children in sharply different ways that each still keenly suffers from.

Danny, a disappointment to Harold who fell flat as a musician, continues his futile effort to court his father’s approval. Danny’s sister Jean (Marvel) nurses the wounds of Harold’s lifelong neglect. Meanwhile, their half brother Matthew (Stiller) has tried to flee Harold’s smothering attention by moving to Los Angeles, where he prospers as the opposite of an artist: a top-tier financial adviser.

Of course, the Meyerowitzes have more in common than they may want to accept.

“It’s hard to have a relationship and a child,” says Matthew, who has a checkered marital record, to his dad. “I imagine you felt that, too.”

“No, not really.”

“Dad, you’ve been married four times!”

“Three,” Harold fires back. “The first one was annulled.”

At that moment, Harold is married to Maureen (Emma Thompson), who, when she isn’t drinking, seems inherently a ditz.

“Where’s the gourmet hummus?” Harold asks her as he searches through the kitchen.

“Upstairs,” she replies, to which he responds reasonably, “Why?”

These “Stories” are divided into five titled sections beginning with, yes, “Danny Meyerowitz was trying to park.” But as the action stretches over several months, with many complications and cross-currents, an overarching question persists: Is it ever too late to stake out one’s own boundaries and nail down one’s identity?

That task is perhaps most difficult for Harold, who, now, in the autumn of his life and career, has more trouble than ever with the painful possibility that his achievements as a sculptor were no greater than the insufficient recognition he received for them.

His delusions of grandeur are put to a severe test when he encounters L.J. Shapiro (Judd Hirsch), a fellow artist and nominal friend who has enjoyed the level of success Harold still feels is his due.

But the notion that he might have always been second-tier continues to gnaw at his offspring.

“If he wasn’t a great artist,” one says to another, “he was just a prick.”

They may wonder what the truth is, and you may, too. But the film withholds any simple answers on the folly or nobility of chasing an artistic dream.

Yes, Harold may have been a high-toned hack. And he begat Danny, the once-promising pianist who was felled by fear of performing for an audience (“The reward wasn’t worth the self-hatred,” he says).

Danny’s daughter Eliza, off at college, carries the Meyerowitz gene as a would-be filmmaker. She is arguably the family’s most grounded, level-headed member, and though her student films may strike you as rather, um, odd, she seems joyously creative and fulfilled. Maybe that alone spells artistic success.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Meyerowitz family copes with immediate crises and long-smoldering conflicts. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say they make some headway. And despite the fact that the film, with a running time of nearly two hours, is a bit too leisurely in delivering insight to its characters, they reveal themselves, scene after scene, as people you are likely to be pleased spending time with.

As for the actors, they are uniformly splendid. If singling out Adam Sandler seems patronizing, so be it. Thanks to him in particular, “The Meyerowitz Stories” is a happy reminder that, when graced with a fine script and director, an actor can be just as surprising as the character he plays.

“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” Netflix in association with IAC Films. Not rated. Running time: 112 minutes.

___

Three and a half stars out of four.


►  Trump threatens NBC but experts see no real risk to licenses

Donald Trump is threatening NBC’s broadcast licenses because he’s not happy with how its news division has covered him. But experts say his threats aren’t likely to lead to any action.

The network itself doesn’t need a license to operate, but individual stations do. NBC owns several stations in major cities. Stations owned by other companies such as Tribune and Cox carry NBC’s news shows and other programs elsewhere. Licenses come from the Federal Communications Commission, an independent government agency whose chairman is a Trump appointee.

Trump tweeted Wednesday, “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

He returned to the topic Wednesday night, tweeting: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

NBC spokeswoman Hilary Smith had no comment. The FCC did not respond to messages seeking comment.

These days, license renewals are fairly routine. A station could be deemed unfit and have its license stripped if it were telling lies and spreading fake news, as Trump claims. But Harold Feld of the consumer group Public Knowledge says that’s tough to prove.

“The reality is it is just about impossible to make that showing,” he said. “All this stuff is opinion.”

Feld said he can recall just two instances in the past 20 years when there has been a renewal challenge. One involved an owner of radio stations who was convicted of child molestation, and the other when someone died as part of a radio station’s contest. Both lost their licenses.

Although yanking a license is rare, just the threat could put pressure on NBC’s news coverage.

“The words ‘license renewal’ are ones which have had a chilling effect in the past on broadcasters,” said lawyer Floyd Abrams, an expert on the First Amendment, citing Richard Nixon’s attempts to sway news coverage as president. “The threat, however unlikely, is one that broadcasters will have to take seriously.”

The National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group, said it was contrary to First Amendment principles “for any government official to threaten the revocation of an FCC license simply because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist.”

Following his tweet, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write and people should look into it.”

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican who has been occasionally critical of Trump, took him to task in a statement released Wednesday night. “Words spoken by the President of the United States matter,” Sasse said. “Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect, and defend the First Amendment?”

The president has long railed against mainstream media organizations, deriding them as “fake news.” He has also said he wanted to “open up” libel laws so he can more easily go after press outlets for stories he feels are inaccurate. That would require a constitutional amendment or reversal of Supreme Court precedent on the First Amendment.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is a Trump appointee, but experts say he can’t pull a license just because he feels like it. Renewals come up every eight years, and challenges are heard by an administrative law judge.

The judge’s decision can be overruled by political appointees at the FCC, however. And the agency could start a special proceeding to revoke a license, said Erwin Krasnow, former general counsel of NAB.

Even so, Krasnow said a challenge is unlikely because of the First Amendment and because the Communications Act governing the FCC doesn’t allow for censorship.

Pai’s past statements also suggest he wouldn’t use the agency’s powers to regulate news coverage. In a September speech, he noted that, while people want the FCC to take action against cable news channels like Fox News, MSNBC or CNN because they disagree with the coverage, “these demands are fundamentally at odds with our legal and cultural traditions.”

Feld, who is a frequent critic of Pai, said the chairman is a fan of deregulation and “the last person in the world who would want to revive the license challenge process.”

“NBC can sleep easy knowing Ajit Pai is chair,” Feld added.

Both Democratic FCC commissioners touted freedom of the press in opposition to Trump’s tweet.

“Revoking a #broadcast license on such grounds will only happen if we fail to abide by the First Amendment,” tweeted Mignon Clyburn. “Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. Hope my @FCC colleagues can all be on the same page with respect to 1st Amendment,” wrote Jessica Rosenworcel.

Arts & Entertainment News

The Free Press WV

►  Weinstein scandal reminds us how few women hold top roles in Hollywood

The firing of film titan and studio co-founder Harvey Weinstein on Sunday, after a New York Times story published allegations of years of sexual harassment, is getting billed as a potential landmark event for the culture of the movie industry.

Bloomberg News, citing civil rights advocates, reported that the scandal has the “potential to be a watershed moment for Hollywood,“ encouraging more victims of alleged sexual harassment to come forward. The executive producer of the HBO series “Girls,“ Jenni Konner, told the New York Times that “I see this as a tipping point, [the] moment we look back on and say, ‘That’s when it all started to change.‘“ A Vox headline said the Weinstein revelations were “the tip of a huge Hollywood iceberg – that may be starting to melt.“

Perhaps it will. Yet some industry observers and legal experts say such optimism could be premature. The courage of harassment victims to speak out may certainly help propel more change – or at least more women to come forward. And whatever media zeitgeist, business conditions or generational shift helped what is said to be a long-whispered story get told could surely bring about more disclosures. But translating explosive headlines into lasting industry change will also require Hollywood to finally reckon with the low numbers of women who hold leadership roles in front of and behind the camera.

“It’s only a tipping point if structural things happen that change behavior,“ Debra Katz, a Washington attorney who represents plaintiffs in harassment suits, said in an interview. “And structural things absolutely [means] having more women in top roles with the ability to put women in roles where they’re directors, producers and have genuine autonomy and power.“

Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, editor-at-large Kim Masters made a similar point. While studios with corporate parents may be less willing to tolerate bad behavior today than in the past, she wrote, “until women are properly represented in front of and behind the cameras and in executive offices – and the statistics are grim – Hollywood won’t truly cure itself of this particular sickness.“

The statistics are indeed bleak. According to research from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, just four percent of directors among the top box-office movies over the past nine years were women. Less than 21 percent of those films had a female producer, and just 13 percent of those films’ writers were female. Only 31 percent of speaking roles for actors in these popular movies were given to women, a figure that has hardly budged over the past decade.

After two years of Oscar nominations that did not include minority actors, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expanded the invitations it sends for membership and set a target early last year to double its female and minority rosters by 2020, after years of keeping the number of invitations relatively small. Even if all the new invitees accepted, however, female membership would rise to 28 percent, the New York Times reported in June. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has even been probing the industry’s failure to hire more directors.

Meanwhile, research from the Center for the Study of Women in Television in Film at San Diego State University found that women made up only 29 percent of protagonist characters in major 2016 films – and that less-than-a-third figure is a historic high. In 2016, women made up just 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers who worked on the 250 highest-grossing domestic films – a decline of two percentage points from the year before. Even among independent films screened at high-profile film festivals, that research finds, the number of male directors far outpaces women.

Martha Lauzen, who conducts the research at San Diego State, doesn’t have high hopes for a quick reshaping of Hollywood’s top ranks in the aftermath of the Weinstein revelations.

“I have my doubts that this one case – as egregious as it may be – will prompt film and television companies to place more women in positions of power,“ she wrote in an email, even if it does help make the case for doing so over the long term. “It would be very unusual for a large industry to pivot abruptly as a result of the bad behavior of a single individual, though, of course, it’s no secret that he is not the only producer to engage in this type of harassment even today.“

She said that if more women emerge in the coming weeks to share their stories, however, and the scandal expands to other power players, it could pressure studios for real change. “I think the impact this story will have depends on whether it begins and ends with Harvey Weinstein or evolves to encompass other individuals and the larger issue of sexual harassment in Hollywood.“

(Weinstein, the Times reported, has denied many of the charges through a former adviser but also made a statement where he apologized for his behavior.)

Attorney Katz drew an analogy between the male-dominated venture capitalist industry in Silicon Valley and the producers in Hollywood, both of which hold the purse strings, and noted the all-male board of Weinstein’s studio. “It’s the same thing. If you are beholden to them to [fund] for your companies and start-ups and they’re the only game in town, they exercise the power,“ she said. “When women break into exclusive clubs, it changes the dynamic.“


►  Marvel cancels comic book deal with Northrop Grumman after Twitter backlash

Marvel Comics, the entertainment empire behind the X-Men, the Avengers and the Incredible Hulk, has canceled a planned advertising partnership with defense contractor Northrop Grumman following a wave of negative attention on Twitter.

Marvel teased the partnership Friday morning in a tweet that promised more details in a presentation the following day at the New York Comic-Con festival. A retro-style comic book cover temporarily posted on Marvel’s website featured a team of “Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus” super heroes fighting alongside Marvel’s popular Avengers superheroes. The cover was quickly scrubbed from the company’s website, but not before it went viral on Twitter.

Twitter users ridiculed Marvel, accusing it of partnering with “death merchants.“ Some pointed out that the Marvel character Iron Man, alias Tony Stark, had been the billionaire CEO of a company that built advanced weaponry but had turned his back on the weapons business after seeing its effects. Angry fans called out specific Marvel executives, and at least one suggested publicly protesting the issue at Marvel’s Comic-Con booth.

The company soon tweeted that it would no longer be holding the event and later issued a statement explaining that the partnership had been canceled entirely.

“The activation with Northrop Grumman at New York Comic-Con was meant to focus on aerospace technology and exploration in a positive way,“ Marvel spokesman Jeff Klein said in a statement. “However, as the spirit of that intent has not come across, we will not be proceeding with this partnership, including this weekend’s event programming.“

A Northrop Grumman spokesman said that Marvel, not Northrop, had backed out of the partnership. “This was part of our broader effort to reach new audiences and bring attention to the value of science and technology,“ Northrop Grumman spokesman Tim Paynter said in an email. “We are disappointed that Marvel chose not to proceed with the partnership.“

For Marvel, it’s been a week of unfortunate missteps leading up to what should have been a successful promotional event. The company had to pull its presentation of its new “Punisher” series with Netflix, a blood-spattered revenge story featuring a gun-toting armed vigilante, after the promotion coincided with the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas last week.

For Northrop Grumman, the experience illustrates the limits of defense contractors’ efforts to distance themselves from the violent nature of what many of their products are intended to be used for. As far back as the 1930s, the term “merchants of death” was used by journalists and politicians to refer to companies that supplied the military. President Dwight D. Eisenhower later coined the term “military industrial complex” in his 1961 farewell address, when he warned of the dangers of leaving the industry’s influence unchecked.

The U.S. nuclear arsenal, for example, has been a major driver of Northrop Grumman’s business since the company’s inception. The company’s predecessor, Northrop Corporation, developed the B-2 long-range stealth bomber, which would probably be among the U.S. military’s first options to deliver a thermonuclear warhead to a foreign country in the event of nuclear war.

The company is working to develop the U.S. military’s B-21 Raider, an opportunity it advertised during last year’s Super Bowl. And it is in the throes of an advertising blitz for a $100 billion opportunity to replace the Pentagon’s stock of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, which make up the ground-based leg of the U.S. nuclear counterattack capability.

“Northrop Grumman is a very capable company, but the bottom line is they make products that kill people,“ said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant with the nonprofit Lexington Institute. “And that’s a hard sell in popular culture.“

The partnership with Marvel was likely an attempt to highlight the softer side of Northrop’s work and brand it as multifaceted technology company. Outside of its weapons development business Northrop holds large information technology and cybersecurity contracts with civilian agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, for example. The company has recently become involved in so-called precision medicine initiatives to better understand diseases through complex data analysis, work that it has been keen to promote.

Marvel’s statement on the matter implied that the purpose of the partnership was “elevating, and introducing STEM to a broad audience.“ It is unclear exactly how the company planned to do that. A Northrop Grumman spokesman did not respond to a request to release the full advertising materials it had planned to use in the promotion.

Some industry observers saw the advertising spot as an attempt to appeal to a new market outside the traditional classified beltway networks.

“It’s clearly an attempt to use pop culture to attract a talented demographic,“ said Chris Taylor, chief executive of government contracting market research firm Govini. “In this case, the effort failed, but I would imagine we’ll see more of these attempts.“


►  Paltrow and Jolie accounts may have sealed Weinstein’s fate

They waited years to speak, but two of Hollywood’s most powerful women might have helped seal the fate of Harvey Weinstein.

Both Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie added their first-person accounts of uncomfortable experiences with Weinstein to the ever-growing list of accusations against the movie mogul from women alleging decades of systematic sexual harassment and assault. The accusers have come from everywhere — actresses you’ve heard of, actresses you haven’t, models, assistants, employees, a reporter and young women who found themselves in the orbit of the powerful executive.

But, as the story often goes, no one expected it to go this high.

Speaking to The New York Times, in the paper’s second round of Weinstein exposés, Paltrow describes a now familiar-sounding scene of her at age 22 being asked to meet Weinstein, who had just cast her as the title character in the adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma.” She was summoned to Weinstein’s hotel room, where he proceeded to touch her and suggest a massage in the bedroom.

Jolie also remembered Weinstein making advances in a hotel room early in her career. She never worked with him again.

The damning accounts came just hours after The New Yorker published its own explosive investigation into Weinstein’s conduct that included three accusations of rape: One from Italian actress and director Asia Argento. There were accounts of harassment from Mira Sorvino and Rosanna Arquette and others too. The New Yorker also reported that 16 former and current executives and assistants at The Weinstein Co. and Miramax either witnessed or knew of Weinstein’s unwanted sexual advances: “All sixteen said the behavior was widely known within both Miramax and the Weinstein Company.”

It is a list that continued to grow Tuesday as the minutes ticked by. After the one-two punch of the Times and The New Yorker articles Tuesday, more accusations followed too. One from a former actress who recounted Weinstein meeting her wearing a bathrobe with nothing on underneath at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, the other from actress Heather Graham, who says he implied she would have to sleep with him for a role.

A representative for the mogul vehemently denied allegations of non-consensual sex in a statement to the magazine.

“I can’t think of a movie-business scandal of this scale,” author and entertainment writer Mark Harris tweeted on Tuesday. “It pushes into and implicates every corner of the industry.”

The entertainment industry, which Weinstein ruled for so long, is quaking at the revelations from Paltrow, Jolie and others.

“These are people who everyone knows and everyone respects,” said Anne Thompson, the editor at large of IndieWire. “I thought he was done before.”

Paltrow might have been early in her career when she met Weinstein in that hotel room, but she was hardly an unknown in Hollywood circles.

“Gwyneth Paltrow is a child of Hollywood,” Thompson said. “She’s Steven Spielberg’s goddaughter. This is someone who all the powerful people in Hollywood know very well as a family friend.”

Tuesday’s revelations might be the death knell for the era of Harvey Weinstein.

After last week’s initial report from the Times, which spotlighted accounts from Ashley Judd and sexual harassment settlements given to people like Rose McGowan, condemnations trickled in from Hollywood and Washington D.C. But as the days went by and accusations both continued and escalated, it soon turned into a flood. Now President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Bob Iger, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Judd Apatow, Judi Dench, Glenn Close and more and have all come out with statements against him and in support of the women who are speaking out.

Even Weinstein’s wife of 10 years, Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman, said Tuesday that she plans to divorce him. The company he helped co-found not only fired him, but its board of directors, including his brother Bob Weinstein, stated that Weinstein’s “alleged actions are antithetical to human decency” and that they had no knowledge of this conduct. The University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts rejected a $5 million pledge from Weinstein that was intended for a female filmmaker endowment.

Weinstein, it seems, has no one left on his side but his lawyers, and possibly Lindsay Lohan, who said in an Instagram story late Tuesday that she feels “very bad” for him.

For now, everyone is waiting to see where the chips will fall and who will be implicated or exposed in what The New Yorker described as a “culture of complicity” that could extend far outside the confines of Miramax and Weinstein Company employees.

Weinstein himself has not commented since the initial Times expose published last week. Others are wondering whether accusations will come out against more powerful men in the industry, or if real changes might start to be implemented.

“I worry that when predators like Weinstein go away, the whole web of obstacles for women in business remains,” wrote actor Alan Alda on Twitter. “Still lots of work to be done.”

The same thing is on the mind of Cathy Schulman, the president of the advocacy group Women in Film, who says that the culture that allowed Weinstein to operate for so long is related to the vast underrepresentation of women in Hollywood in all aspects of the business.

“One thing I haven’t seen is a lot of statements from the big corporations. I haven’t seen the studios and networks and agencies make comments. At the end of the day, what are they going to do? It’s those people who make decisions about which content to finance. Are they going to make a change because of all this? That’s the big question mark,” she asked.

“Frankly if everyone is going to speak up and it’s going to be yesterday’s fish wrap and let’s wait for a hiatus and bring the guys back, then what have we really done?”

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