Rock band Queen plus Adam Lambert open first hostless Oscars in 30 years

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Adam Lambert, left, and Brian May of Queen perform at the Oscars on Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
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Best Foreign Language Film nominee for "Capernaum" Lebanese director Nadine Labaki (C), her husband producer Khaled Mouzanar (3rd L) and members of the cast arrive for the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. (AFP / Mark Ralston)
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Rami Malek arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Updated 27 February 2019

Rock band Queen plus Adam Lambert open first hostless Oscars in 30 years

  • Despite the celebrity names, all eyes are on the best picture prize in one of the most eclectic Oscar line-ups for years
  • The winners are chosen by the 8,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

LOS ANGELES: British rock band Queen, featuring “American Idol” star Adam Lambert as lead vocalist, opened the first hostless Oscars show in 30 years on Sunday with a rollicking performance that brought the Dolby Theatre’s celebrity crowd to its feet.

The two active, surviving musicians from Queen’s original lineup — guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor — joined Lambert, filling in as frontman for the late Freddie Mercury, to play two of the band’s greatest hits: “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.”

The familiar guitar and drum riffs brought the star-studded theater audience out of its chairs, with many of the Hollywood luminaries seen singing along.

Queen and Mercury are the subject of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a hit film nominated for best picture and in the running for a total of five categories at this year’s Academy Awards, the 91st edition of the film industry’s highest honors.

Launching the ABC telecast with a live rock band was a virtually unprecedented choice that came about after comedian Kevin Hart, originally picked to host the show, bowed out after a furor over past homophobic material in his standup act and tweets.

Hart’s withdrawal in December left the Oscars without a master of ceremonies for the first time since 1989. That year, the broadcast opened with an 11-minute song-and-dance number, widely derided by critics, featuring Rob Lowe and an actress dressed as Snow White.

In recent years, the opening monologue of the Oscar host has become a platform for gags and jokes lampooning politicians and many of the stars in attendance.

But the Queen performance set the stage for a night that was expected to include a flurry of big musical moments and presentations from such recording luminaries as Bette Midler, Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Lopez, and record producer Pharrell Williams.

Lambert first appeared with Queen’s May and Taylor in 2009 as a contestant on the hit talent show “American Idol” when he performed two of the band’s hits on that program. The trio went on to collaborate occasionally in 2011 and have since toured repeatedly together as Queen + Adam Lambert.

Oscar producers, anxious to boost viewership after a record low US TV audience in 2018, also are under pressure to keep the telecast from running over its three-hour designated time slot.

One short-lived plan to cut down on time, by handing out four of the two dozen Oscar trophies during commercial breaks, was scrapped after a backlash from movie industry heavyweights to the idea.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also quickly abandoned an ill-fated proposal to create a new category of best “popular” movie as a way of boosting Oscar ratings.

Despite the lack of an official show host, Maya Rudolph got in some jabs as she took the stage with two fellow actress- comedians — Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — to present the night’s first award, to Regina King as best supporting actress for her role in “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

“So just a quick update for everybody in case you’re confused: There is no host tonight, there won’t be a popular movie category and Mexico is not paying for the wall,” Rudolph deadpanned, skewering the academy as well as US President Donald Trump’s promise to build a southern US border wall at Mexico’s expense. 

* * * * *

Celebrities began arriving on the Oscars red carpet under sunny skies for an Academy Awards ceremony filled with suspense over the movie industry’s biggest prize and a night of what could be history-making firsts.

Without a host for the first time in 30 years, there’s also curiosity over whether organizers can return the Academy Awards to a must-see television event after a record low audience in 2018.

Lady Gaga, Bette Midler and Jennifer Hudson are all set to perform, along with rock band Queen featuring “American Idol” star Adam Lambert. Tennis champion Serena Williams and talk show host Trevor Noah will also appear on the Dolby Theatre stage in Hollywood in a bid to broaden the show’s appeal beyond movie fans.

Despite the celebrity names, all eyes are on the best picture prize in one of the most eclectic Oscar line-ups for years.

Disney’s “Black Panther,” the first superhero movie ever nominated for best picture, will compete against popular musicals “A Star is Born” from Warner Bros and 21st Century Fox film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” along with racially themed “Green Book” and “BlacKkKlansman” from Universal Pictures.

Black-and-white Mexican film “Roma,” quirky 18th century Fox Searchlight comedy “The Favourite” and independent political satire “Vice” round out the competition

After two months of intense and costly campaigning, award watchers say the winner is anyone’s guess.

“Best picture is probably a toss up between ‘Roma’ and ‘Green Book,’ and I can maybe see ‘BlacKkKlansman’ sneaking in to win,” said Alison Willmore, critic and culture writer at BuzzFeed News.

The winners are chosen by the 8,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

A victory for “Roma,” director Alfonso Cuaron’s sentimental journey back to his childhood, would mark the first Oscar best picture win for Netflix and a sign that streaming services can not only compete with traditional Hollywood studios, but beat them at their own game.

“Roma,” shot entirely in Spanish and with 10 Oscar nominations, is also considered the frontrunner in the foreign language category. No foreign language film has ever won best picture, and no movie has ever won both.

“’Roma’ is a little art-house movie that is impressionistic. It doesn’t have much plot but it does follow the recent pattern of art-house movies winning, like ‘The Shape of Water’ and ‘Birdman’,” said Tom O’Neil, founder of awards website GoldDerby.com.

Lady Gaga is widely expected to take home her first Oscar for her hit song “Shallow,” which she will perform on Sunday in a much-anticipated live duet with co-star and best actor nominee Bradley Cooper.

Gaga is also competing for best actress for her role as a struggling singer in “A Star is Born.” Pundits, however, expect that statuette to go to Glenn Close for “The Wife,” who would finally clinch an Oscar on her 7th attempt.

It could be a momentous night for diversity. Spike Lee is vying to become the first black director to win an Oscar for his explosive take on US race relations in “BlacKkKlansman“; Rami Malek, who has Egyptian heritage, could be named best actor for his performance as the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody;” Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk“) and Mahershala Ali (“Green Book“) are also seen as strong contenders in the supporting actor races.

The Academy Awards will be televised live on ABC television starting at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST (0100 GMT on Monday).


What We Are Reading Today: European Passerines by Tomasz Cofta

Updated 27 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: European Passerines by Tomasz Cofta

Opening up new frontiers in birdwatching, this is the first field guide to focus specifically on the identification of European passerines and related land birds in flight. Showcasing 850 stunning and remarkably lifelike color illustrations from acclaimed bird artist Tomasz Cofta, produced using the latest digital technology, backed up with more than 2,400 photographs carefully selected to show typical flight profiles, it provides detailed and unsurpassed coverage of 205 European passerines and 32 near-passerines. This cutting-edge book brings a new dimension to birdwatching, the concise and authoritative species accounts presenting novel yet essential information on the flight manner of individual birds and the structure and behavior of flocks — features that are key to identification, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. It also includes precise transliterations of flight calls, supported by sonograms, and links to a unique collection of hundreds of online audio recordings. Beautifully designed and written in an accessible style, this book will appeal to birdwatchers of all abilities.


What We Are Reading Today: A Decade of Upheaval

Updated 26 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A Decade of Upheaval

Authors: Dong Guoqiang and Andrew G. Walder

A Decade of Upheaval chronicles the surprising and dramatic political conflicts of a rural Chinese county over the course of the Cultural Revolution.
Drawing on an unprecedented range of sources — including work diaries, interviews, internal party documents, and military directives — Dong Guoqiang and Andrew Walder uncover a previously unimagined level of strife in the countryside that began with the Red Guard Movement in 1966 and continued unabated until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
Showing how the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution were not limited to urban areas, but reached far into isolated rural regions, Dong and Walder reveal that the intervention of military forces in 1967 encouraged factional divisions in Feng County because different branches of China’s armed forces took various sides in local disputes.
The authors also lay bare how the fortunes of local political groups were closely tethered to unpredictable shifts in the decisions of government authorities in Beijing, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. Eventually, a backlash against suppression and victimization grew in the early 1970s and resulted in active protests, which presaged the settling of scores against radical Maoism.


What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Updated 23 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Author: Ahmet Erdi Ozturk

This recently published book explores, from a historical perspective, Turkey’s current political maneuvers and religious leverages in the Balkans under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It presents Albania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia as case studies of Turkey using soft and hard policy instruments in the region.

Author Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, an associate professor at London Metropolitan University and Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow at Coventry University in the UK and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, wrote the book after a study in several Balkan countries that took more than three years to complete and included interviews with almost 130 high-ranking individuals.

It suggests that Turkey insistently interferes in Balkan politics using religion, state power and imaginary identities, dubbed by some as neo-Ottomanism, and that this presence gradually becomes a threat to the secularism and sovereignty of the countries it targets.

The book, published by Edinburgh University Press, not only aids understanding of Turkish-Balkan diplomatic relations, but also the complex relationship between the regime in Ankara under Erdogan and the Muslim communities in the three countries.

Beyond that, it is about more than just Turkey and the Balkans; it also deepens our understanding of how religion can be used as a form of soft power in global affairs. It examines a number of political parties, for example Besa in Macedonia, that are linked to the regime in Ankara and the ways in which they interact with Turkish state apparatus.

The underlying strategy behind the construction of new mosques across the Balkans as a way to turn these countries toward Turkey rather than West is also examined in detail.
 


Britain's Princess Eugenie and husband pick a name for their baby son

Updated 20 February 2021

Britain's Princess Eugenie and husband pick a name for their baby son

  • The baby — a ninth great-grandchild for Queen Elizabeth II — was born Feb. 9 at London’s Portland Hospital
  • Eugenie, 30, is the younger daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York and a granddaughter of the queen

LONDON: Britain’s Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank have named their baby boy August Philip Hawke Brooksbank, Buckingham Palace said Saturday.
The baby — a ninth great-grandchild for Queen Elizabeth II — was born Feb. 9 at London’s Portland Hospital.
Eugenie, 30, is the younger daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York and a granddaughter of the queen. The baby, who weighed 8 pounds, 1 ounce, is her first child and is 11th in line to the British throne.
Eugenie said on Instagram that the baby is named after his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who had Augustus as a middle name.
One of his middle names pays tribute to Eugenie’s grandfather, Prince Philip. The queen’s 99-year-old husband is currently in a London hospital where he was admitted on Tuesday after feeling ill. Hawke is a Brooksbank family name.
The baby is not expected to get a royal title and will be known as Master August Brooksbank.
Eugenie married 35-year-old Brooksbank, a businessman, in October 2018 at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Eugenie posted a picture on Instagram of the couple holding their son, who is swaddled in a blue blanket with a matching cap.
“Thank you for so many wonderful messages. Our hearts are full of love for this little human, words can’t express,” she wrote, adding that the photo was taken “by our wonderful midwife.”
“Thank you to the wonderful essential workers including our midwife who came to discharge our boy,” she said.
The queen and Prince Philip have two more great-grandchildren on the way. Both Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Princess Anne’s daughter Zoe Tindall are due to give birth this year.
The child of Meghan and her husband Prince Harry will become eighth in line to the throne after elder brother Archie, and will push baby August down to 12th in the line of succession.
Harry and Meghan gave up official royal duties last year and moved to California. On Friday the palace announced that the split will be final, with the couple giving up military and charitable patronages they held on behalf of the queen.


Kim Kardashian files for divorce from Kanye West

Updated 20 February 2021

Kim Kardashian files for divorce from Kanye West

  • Kardashian is asking for joint custody of the couple’s four children

LOS ANGELES: Reality TV star Kim Kardashian has filed for divorce from rapper Kanye West after almost seven years of marriage, her publicist told AFP Friday.
The mega-celebrity couple’s divorce proceedings come just weeks after US media reported the pair were living separately and going through counseling dealing with “regular relationship issues.”
Celebrity gossip site TMZ — which broke the news Friday — said the separation was “as amicable as a divorce can be.”
Kardashian, 40, is asking for joint custody of the couple’s four children, it added, with her lawyer Laura Wasser reportedly handing in the divorce papers Friday.
Kardashian’s publicist confirmed the divorce filing but did not provide further details.
The pair, who began dating in 2012 and married in a lavish ceremony in Italy two years later, rapidly became one of the world’s most instantly recognizable couples.
But their union has been dogged for months by reports in the gossip press that their marriage was on the rocks as West has battled with mental health issues and launched an improbable and controversial foray into US politics.
West, 43, has opened up about his struggles with bipolar disorder.
In July last year the mercurial entertainment mogul launched a bid for the US presidency with a rambling speech during which he revealed he had wanted to abort his daughter, and broke down in tears.
He also posted a series of tweets, later deleted, that accused his wife and mother-in-law of trying to lock him up, and suggested he was seeking a divorce.
Kardashian called on the media and public to show “compassion and empathy” following her husband’s erratic behavior.
“Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behavior know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor,” Kardashian said in her lengthy Instagram post in July.
The couple have four children: seven-year-old daughter North, son Saint, five, daughter Chicago, three, and 21-month-old son Psalm.
Aside from family visits, West has been living at his sprawling ranch in Wyoming in recent months, while Kardashian and the children stayed in California.
It would be the first divorce for West and the third for Kardashian, who came to fame with the US reality TV series “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” which followed the lives of her family members in Los Angeles.
Chicago-raised rapper and record producer West has won 21 Grammys. He burst onto the rap scene on his production chops, before delivering a string of critically acclaimed studio albums, selling over 20 million copies.
He has made a very public turn to Christian evangelism in recent years, finally releasing his long-awaited gospel album.
The pair began dating in 2012 while Kardashian was going through divorce proceedings with second husband Kris Humphries.
First child North was born in June 2013, and the couple married the following year at a 16th-century fortress in Florence, Italy after a pre-wedding celebration held at Versailles palace in France.

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