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Sony Pictures cancels theatrical opening for 'The Interview'

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: December 17, 2014 - 5:42 PM
James Franco and Seth Rogen in 'The Interview.' Sony Pictures Wednesday announced the film wil not be released. Ed Araquel/AP

James Franco and Seth Rogen in 'The Interview.' Sony Pictures Wednesday announced the film wil not be released. Ed Araquel/AP

Following ongoing online hacks and threats to attack screenings of "The Interview," the Sony Pictures conflict reached a new level of havoc Wednesday afternoon.

After afternoon cancellations of earlier agreements to screen it by four of the nation’s largest movie theater chains, Sony  cancelled the film’s scheduled Christmas Day opening. Earlier in the day the studio withdrew scheduled press screenings. It appears that there are no plans for any type of theatrical exhibition.

The $42 million film, a satiric political comedy, stars James Franco and Seth Rogan as TV journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. It was called “an evil act of provocation against our highly dignified republic” in late November on Uriminzokkiri, a North Korean government-controlled website. While Kim announced "merciless counter-measures" if the film was released, North Korea has denied involvement in the anonymous corporate hacks.

The U.S. movie theater chain leaders AMC, Carmike, Cinemark and Regal announced earlier Wednesday that they had abandoned their bookings. 

"In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release," Sony announced in a written statement Wednesday.

“We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome."

The film debuted at the Ace Hotel theater in Los Angeles for press and film executives last week to uneven reaction. Online critic Jeff Wells wrote after the screening, “I never once laughed. Yes, the opening 20 or 25 minutes is mildly entertaining and yes, at heart 'The Interview’ is anti-Kim, pro-anti-Kim revolution and pre-people power and all that, but it never rises above the level of a good-enough programmer.”

Karen Armstrong: Study faith, stress Golden Rule

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: November 12, 2014 - 1:23 PM

After decades spent studying, researching and writing books about the history of world religions, British author Karen Armstrong (pictured) appears to have arrived at a stunningly simple resolution: follow the Golden Rule.

Armstrong spoke Tuesday night at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul as part of Talking Volumes, a series co-presented by Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio, in collaboratiion with The Loft.

In her new book, "Fields of Blood," Armstrong zeros in on myths and reality surrounding the role of religion in the history of warfare and violence.

With ISIS in the news, interviewer Kerri Miller of MPR asked Armstrong about the situation in Syria and Iraq, and the perception in the West that the violent leaders of ISIS are motivated mainly by their Muslim faith.

"First off, it is a mistake to think that all ISIS fighters are devout jihadists," Armstrong said. "Many are secular" militia, including troops left over from Saddam Hussein's armed guard. She said there had been a story about one ISIS leader who had ordered the book "Islam for Dummies" from amazon.com.

The resurgence of radical Islam in parts of the Mideast today, Armstrong said, is in part a response to the violence used to repress religion and impose a secular state in places like Iran and Egypt in the mid-20th-century.

Another factor, she said, "is a perception in many parts of the Middle East that the West is indifferent to human suffering."

While some have labeled Armstrong an apologist for Islam, she said she abhors the ISIS-sponsored aggression and says that it actually defies Islamic law that forbids violence against civilians and prohibits attacking any country where Muslims are allowed to practice their faith freely.

Armstrong has been a leader in the Charter for Compassion, a global effort to involving elected leaders, clergy and laypeople to sign on to this simple notion: "Do not impose on others what you yourself would not desire." She read an elaboration of that Golden Rule, which is available here.

Armstrong, who turns 70 on Nov. 14, lived in a convent, leaving it after six years, when she was 24. Since then, she remained unmarried and without children. She lives alone and spends much time in study, research, reflection and writing, so that her life today "remains very nun-like," she said.

But Armstrong is no stay-at-home. She travels globally to speak and promote her books. She has given TED talks and is a regular TV commentator. She has made numerous trips to Pakistan, where she has helped promote a chain of progressive schools.

While her topic is a serious one, Armstrong frequently displayed flashes of wit and self-deprecating humor. She acknowledged Britain's once-mighty status as a colonial power, but said "we now view ourselves as the poodle of the United States."

Star Tribune writer Graydon Royce recently interviewed Armstrong, here.

Armstrong's full talk is scheduled to be rebroadcast at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18, on Minnesota Public Radio.

Save Our Symphony group to host public event

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: November 18, 2013 - 12:19 PM
Save Our Symphony Minnesota, a grassroots group of orchestra patrons and others allied with the locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, will present findings from their analysis of orchestra management's  financial, endowment, strategic and operational documents. This presentation will be given at Open Book Target Performance Hall  (1011 Washington Ave. S.) in Minneapolis on Wednesday, November 20th at 7 p.m. The public and press is invited.
The presentation, titled "The MOA Debacle: Unlocking the Truth," will include a brief history of the Minnesota Orchestral Association's finances and the lockout, a detailed examination of its financial records, state and city bond funding for Orchestra Hall projects,  a comparison of MOA financial results to its public statements, and a call to action. A Q & A will follow.

Mariellen Jacobson, the group's treasurer, said topics will include "excessive use of the endowment to 'balance' the budget, red flags that the MOA's auditor should have caught, and misleading 'all is well' statements made to legislators, the city and donors."

Ulitmatley, she said, "We hope to drive constructive resolution through our specific "calls to action for the MOA, musicians, governor, state auditor, state attorney general, legislature, city and individuals."


Vanska resigns: Responses from orchestra musicians and board

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: October 1, 2013 - 10:46 AM
Osmo Vanska in a 2012 photo by Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Responses to the resignation of Osmo Vanska came in Tuesday from both musicians and the board of Minnesota Orchestra:

“The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are deeply saddened by the resignation of our beloved Maestro Osmo Vanska.  Through his tenure, he has led the orchestra to remarkable musical heights.  We enjoyed a truly rare chemistry with him and are deeply grateful to Osmo for imparting his passionate vision, exacting discipline, and the resulting confidence that came from being at the top of our game."


from Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Jon Campbell

We are very sorry that Music Director Osmo Vänskä has announced his resignation, as it has always been our hope that he would see the Minnesota Orchestra through this challenging period. 

We will always be grateful to our generous foundation community for coming forward with additional funding over the last few weeks to enable a proposed contract resolution with musicians that represented our very best efforts to save the Carnegie concerts and Maestro Vänskä’s tenure.  The Board has done everything in its power to reach a compromise with musicians by September 30, and we are very sorry they have rejected all efforts.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä has been an extraordinary conductor, and we are profoundly thankful for his service to the Orchestra and our audiences, and our organization will continue to celebrate his many achievements.   He will hold a distinguished legacy in the history of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Orchestra board releases details of proposal to end lockout

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: August 29, 2013 - 3:36 PM

Minnesota Orchestra management today released details of a proposal to end its lockout of musicians. It is a deal that had been offered previously through the office of Sen. George Mitchell and the release was intended to put the details in front of the public.

Mitchell has been working with board and musicians to achieve ground rules for a mediated negotiation. The board's proposal was an attempt to lift the lockout for two months, allow musicians to work at full pay while they negotiated and if no deal were reached, impose a 22-month contract. Musicians rejected that proposal. Mitchell then offered an idea that the board rejected. It would have allowed for four months of negotations, with a six percent pay cut in the final two months if there is no deal.

The board has been frustrated that in both cases, terms that were offered through Mitchell were leaked to media. CEO Michael Henson said Thursday that "We did not leak them," implying that musicians had done so. Therefore, Henson said, the board was technically stepping outside the Mitchell process and making its proposal public.

Henson said that if musicians agree to the deal, Mitchell would still be engaged to mediate negotations.

Among the terms: musicians would return at their former salaries on Sept. 30 and would "play and talk" for two months.

If no agreement were reached, a 24-month contract would go into effect that would pay the musicians an annual average salary of $102,200. That would represent a 24 percent cut from the average annual salary of $135,000 in the musicians' previous contract, which expired Sept. 30, 2012. 

In a contract offer made last September, the board had proposed an average salary of $89,000.

With benefits, the average total compensation will be $135,000, according to a release issued Thursday afternoon.

The new offer also changes overscale pay, reducing it by a 25 percent across the board, versus a range of 22 percent to 40 percent in the previous proposal. Benefit and vacation packages remain the same in the two proposals.

Under the terms of this revised two-year proposal, the Minnesota Orchestra would accrue a deficit of $2.2 million over the course of the contract. “Our aim was to eliminate our deficit entirely,” said Board Chair Jon Campbell, “but the board has put forward this compromise in the hopes of getting musicians back on the stage and audiences back in Orchestra Hall in time to launch a new season.”

The orchestra requested that the Musicians Bargaining Committee present the new terms to the musicians for a vote by Sept. 9.

Musicians issued a statement Thursday afternoon that criticized the board for "abandoning the mediator they recommended." The statement called for political leaders -- including Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapois Mayor R.T. Rybak -- to step into the fray.

More details of the new proposal are at the orchestra's website.


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