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Review: Clunky 'Sleight' showcases new lead Jacob Latimore

Key to this is 20-year-old Jacob Latimore, who shines in his first starring role. He plays Bo, a science whiz who performs street magic around Los Angeles. When his mom unexpectedly dies, Bo skips out on the college scholarship he earned to stay home and look after his little sister. The street-magic hustle doesn't bring in enough money, so he sells drugs on the side.

Dule Hill, deliciously playing against type, is Angelo, the local drug kingpin who brings Bo into his fold. Angelo is a classic sociopath: charming, icy and exacting. He metes out justice with bullets and a cleaver.

Bo doesn't like the drug work, but because he only sells cocaine and party pills to club kids in Hollywood, he justifies to himself that it's harmless. His challenge is to juggle his magic dreams and drug-slinging reality while protecting his sister, and Latimore embodies the tenderness, fear and determination such a balancing act requires.

Meanwhile, Bo is devoted to improving his magic skills, which are secretly aided by an electromagnet he's built into his arm.

You read that right: Bo is like a self-made Iron Man, with an electro-charged arm that can move metal objects without touching them.

"Anyone can learn a trick," Bo says. "But doing something no one else is willing to do makes you a magician."

This is how he explains a fierce-looking wound on his arm to his impossibly idealized girlfriend, Holly (Seychelle Gabriel). Holly is the kind of fictionalized female construct that can only exist in the male imagination: She's smitten at first glance, ripe for rescuing and willing to give her hard-earned life savings to a cute magician she just met.

She and the other female characters, including Sasheer Zamata as Bo's caring neighbor, Carmen Esposito as a seen-it-all club manager and Storm Reid as Bo's beloved little sister, aren't developed beyond their relationship to Bo.

"Sleight" is Bo's story, which is why Latimore's casting is crucial. His performance is so compelling that it smooths over the shortcomings in the script, direction and budget. And Hill is a hoot as a man completely off the hinges, even if he almost veers into caricature.

Though the film suffers from pacing issues that make it feel longer than its 90-minute running time, and the drug-dealing subplot is heavy-handed and stereotypical, it's a promising start for first-time director J.D. Dillard, who co-wrote the screenplay with producer Alex Theurer. Dillard is equally unafraid of gore and emotion, and the use of magic here feels fresh.

"Sleight" succeeds with its creation of a modern quasi-superhero in Bo and the launching of an electric new leading man in Latimore.

"Sleight," a BH Tilt release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language throughout, drug content and some violence." Running time: 90 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.


MPAA definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


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Weinstein Co. and MPAA settle ratings dispute

The Weinstein Co.'s transgender drama "3 Generations" has been reclassified with a PG-13 rating after the distributor made slight tweaks to the movie.

The Weinstein Co. said Thursday that it made "some edits to the film as a compromise" after the Motion Picture Association of America gave "3 Generations" an R-rating. Harvey Weinstein criticized that decision. The Weinstein Co. co-chairman has frequently battled with the MPAA over ratings, often with the benefit of generating inexpensive publicity.

"3 Generations" stars Elle Fanning as a teenager who is transitioning. Susan Sarandon plays the youth's lesbian grandmother, and Naomi Watts co-stars as the mother.

The LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, which participated in the making of the film, applauded the ratings change. It called the movie "a film that all families should be able to see."

Roman Polanski's latest movie added to Cannes Film Festival

Roman Polanski's latest film is heading to the Cannes Film Festival.

The French festival announced a few additions to its lineup on Thursday. Polanksi's "Based on a True Story" will play out of competition. The French-language thriller, which Sony Pictures Classics has already acquired for North American distribution, stars Emmanuelle Seigner as a Parisian author who meets a mysterious woman, played by Eva Green, at a book signing.

The film is Polanski's first feature since 2013's "Venus in Fur." A Los Angeles judge recently rejected Polanski's bid to end his long-running underage sex abuse case without the fugitive director appearing in court or being sentenced to more prison time.

Polanski had been set to preside over France's Cesar Awards in February, but withdrew after the protests of feminist groups.

Festival organizers also announced the addition of "The Square" by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund ("Force Majeure") to the Cannes competition.

In VR land rush, creators unlock an 'empathy engine'

On a plain, overcast day in Poland, Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter walks toward the Nazi concentration camp Majdanek.

He stands in the railway car that delivered him and his family to the camp. He walks to the gas chamber and the showers. Some rooms he can't bear to go in. He shares his recollections and tries to remember what he can of his family. All he can really visualize of his sister is the fleeting image of her golden braid of her hair.

Walking with Gutter in Majdanek is an undeniably powerful way to make the Holocaust tangible, and to see it through a survivor's eyes. Now, being Gutter's companion as he revisits his painful past is an experience anyone can have just by putting on a headset.

The virtual reality piece "The Last Goodbye," made from 3-D video and thousands of photographs at Majdanek, is being billed as the first Holocaust survivor testimony in room-scale VR. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the medium's growing ambitions have been on display over the past week.

What "The Last Goodbye" and other works show is that virtual reality, while still very much in its early days, has a potent ability to foster empathy. In transporting you to an intimate space with someone, it gives that old expression, "walk in my shoes," a new, high-tech, physical dimension.

That's literally the concept behind Katheryn Bigelow and Imraan Ismail's "The Protectors: Walk in the Ranger's Shoes," an 8-minute, 360-degree visit with the Garamba National Park rangers. They defend the Democratic Republic of the Congo park from waves of poachers.

Ismail, whose earlier, award-winning VR experience, "The Displaced," followed three child refugees, says of virtual reality: "It enables empathy because it enables a kind of presence in someone else's space. And breaking through apathy."

"For me, it's exactly that. It's empathy," says Bigelow. "Here are these individuals who put their lives on the line in order to thwart the problem. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price. In order to be able to help, you have to be very well informed."

Big names filmmakers and actors are increasingly experimenting in VR, a fast-growing new media landscape that the investment bank Citi last fall forecast will be a trillion-dollar industry by the year 2035. Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") and Justin Lin ("Fast & Furious") have tried their hand in it, and in May, "Birdman" director Alejandro Inarritu will premiere a virtual reality project at the Cannes Film Festival. He has called it an effort to "allow the visitor to go through a direct experience walking in the immigrants' feet, under their skin, and into their hearts."

Jennifer Brea turned to VR for an accompanying experience to her Sundance entry film, "Unrest," about her battle with chronic fatigue syndrome. In the VR experience, the viewer feels what it's like to be bedridden in her room. Brea calls virtual reality "an engine of empathy."

A sense of growth was palpable at Tribeca, which increased the size of its VR arcade this year. Loren Hammonds, a film and experiential programmer at Tribeca, sees a rapidly progressing medium where artists are continually reexamining their notions of how to orient the viewer.

"The rules are being broken," says Hammonds. "There are constantly these sets of rules that keep being presented to creators: you can't move the camera or you can't cut. And the minute someone breaks it and it works, well, no more rule."

Creators, many eyeing the neighboring booths in the Tribeca arcade, acknowledge there's a competitive atmosphere in VR that can feel like a land rush. Technology is one race, and all agree virtual reality is going to get exponentially smoother and crisper. "The Last Goodbye" has been "future-proofed," meaning that more detailed photography and video has been set aside for when the tech catches up, says Patrick Milling Smith, chief executive of VR production company Here Be Dragons.

But storytelling is a race of its own in VR, a medium many call a combination of cinema and gaming. Should the viewer have agency to move and shape their experience? If so, to what degree? How do you guide them?

For inspiration, Baobab Studios co-founder Eric Darnell, an animation veteran who co-directed the "Madagascar" films, has studied how magicians manipulate the eyes of their audiences. Baobab's first VR work, "Invasion!" supplied the viewer a partner — a little white bunny — for an alien arrival.

"Now everyone is doing that," says Maureen Fan, chief executive of Baobab. "But a lot of people debated us on that. We felt that as a user, why are you there if you're a fly (on the wall) verses if you're a bunny? If you have a role to play, how much more do you feel for that character and feel immersed in that world?"

At Tribeca, Baobab premiered the first chapter of an ambitious multi-part series, "Rainbow Crow," in which John Legend voices a mythical, sonorous bird forever changed by a cosmic adventure. "It's about love. It's about inclusion. It's about community," says Legend.

The creators of the choose-your-own-adventure, live-action "Broken Night" wanted to take go further. In it, Emily Mortimer plays a woman with a hazy memory recounting a violent encounter with an intruder in her home. At various points in the story, viewers are given a choice to follow different paths in the story, which they select by looking to one side of the action or the other.

"The problem with live-action VR today is it's not interactive," says co-director Tal Zubalsky. "Kind of the whole promise of VR is to get you to a different place. But if you get there only as an observer and not as a participant, then you're not really there."


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at:

'Wonder Woman' director finds herself in rare summer role

Director Patty Jenkins first expressed interest in making a "Wonder Woman" movie over 10 years ago. She'd just made "Monster," which won Charlize Theron an Oscar, and was doing the rounds at various studios talking about what she'd like to do next. Richard Donner's "Superman" was a film that changed her life, and it occurred to her that there still hadn't been a "Wonder Woman" movie.

"Wonder Woman," Jenkins remembers saying. "Let me make 'Wonder Woman.'"

It happened, though not without a few detours along the way, including a pregnancy, Jenkins almost directing the sequel to "Thor," and another director initially getting the "Wonder Woman" job.

Now Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" is barreling toward its big release on June 2. And unfairly or not, there's a lot at stake. Not only is it the first-ever big screen movie about one of the most popular superheroes of all time, it's also the first female-led superhero movie in over a decade, following the financial disasters of "Catwoman" and "Elektra." On top of all that, it's a rare big budget blockbuster from a director who happens to be a woman. No pressure, right?

The story of "Wonder Woman" is a dozen stories tied into one film. It's the story one director who loved "Superman" getting to realize her lifelong dream of directing a classical superhero origin story. It's the story of an industry taking another long-delayed gamble on a female-led film in a historically male-dominated genre. And it's the continuing story of female directors fighting for a place at the blockbuster table.

This summer there are a number of female-directed films coming out, but most are independent, few are wide-releases and all are one-offs. Among them are Stella Meghie's teen drama "Everything, Everything" (May 19); Lucia Aniello's bachelorette comedy "Rough Night" (June 16); Sofia Coppola's Civil war pic "The Beguiled" (June 23); and Kathryn Bigelow's 1967 riots drama "Detroit" (Aug. 4). Jenkins has the sole tent-pole, an industry term for a big budget movie intended to support a studio's lower-earning films.

In fact, Jenkins is one of the few women who have ever been granted a budget of over $100 million. Bigelow got one for "K-19: The Widowmaker," and Ava DuVernay has one for "A Wrinkle in Time." It's not unreasonable to assume that "Mulan's" Niki Caro and "Captain Marvel" co-director Anna Boden will get that too. But it's a void that's especially notable during the summer, when there are a seemingly endless string of male-directed films with $200 million-plus budgets in theaters each week.

It's not that women don't direct summer blockbusters. In the past ten years of top studio summer releases there's been Elizabeth Banks' "Pitch Perfect 2," Phyllida Lloyd's "Mamma Mia" and Anne Fletcher's "The Proposal," all of which grossed from $287.5 million to $609.8 million on budgets under $52 million. They're just often not afforded blockbuster budgets.

"When the money is there, there are fewer women," said Melissa Silverstein, publisher and founder of the website Women and Hollywood.

Writer, director and actress Zoe Lister-Jones whose indie "Band Aid" also comes out June 2, said she doesn't see the same amount of risk being taken on women as men to handle tent-pole and franchise films.

"That should be the focus of where we look at gender inequity in this industry for female directors," she told The Associated Press earlier this year.

Experience is a Catch-22 for women. Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy got into hot water last year when she said that while finding a female director for a "Star Wars" film is a priority, they want to make sure that they're set up for success. "You can't come into them with essentially no experience," Kennedy told Hollywood trade Variety.

Jenkins is "as stunned as anybody" that there have been so few — especially because she and many of her female peers regularly handle comparable budgets working in television.

"A pilot that you shoot in 9 days for $10 million ends up being a very big parallel to this. It's the same dollar per day," Jenkins said. "So many men have crossed over ... it's the same job, just on a larger scale."

"Wonder Woman," Jenkins said, is even on the higher end of superhero pic budgets — not, as many have reported, in the $100 million to $120 million range.

Jenkins is well aware of the pressure to succeed, not only for her movie and reputation, but for all female directors. It's part of the reason she walked away from directing "Thor: The Dark World" and why she was especially cautious to take on "Wonder Woman." She needed to be sure that she and the studio, Warner Bros., were on the same page as to what movie they were making.

That clarity of vision is what "Catwoman" producer Denise Di Novi said they lacked in 2004. The Halle Berry starrer was a critical and commercial flop, making only $82.1 million worldwide against a $100 million budget.

"One of the reasons that movie failed was we were trying to have a female superhero movie be like a male superhero movie. It was too soon," Di Novi said. "We weren't able to really give it the integrity of being one of the first female superhero movies. We were trying to make it like all the other movies. And it shouldn't have been."

But that's when the buying power of teenage boys dictated everything. Because of hits like "The Hunger Games," and the diversity (and success) of content being produced by Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, Jenkins thinks things are changing.

Even though "Wonder Woman" is only her second feature, Jenkins' work has always been steady. Hollywood has never stopped trying to get her to make films.

There are already talks about a "Wonder Woman" sequel, but nothing she can discuss publicly yet. Dwayne Johnson has her on his shortlist to direct the Disney pic "Jungle Cruise," too, although he's not sure she knows that yet.

"Patty has that really cool edge ... I felt like she could be a really cool choice for a movie like 'Jungle Cruise'," Johnson said. "Plus, you know what? I'm just a big fan."


Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter:

India Bollywood actor Vinod Khanna dies of cancer at age 70

Vinod Khanna, a dashing Bollywood actor turned politician, has died of cancer, a hospital official said. He was 70.

Tushar Pania, a spokesman for Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, said Khanna died Thursday due to bladder carcinoma.

Khanna made his Bollywood debut in 1968 and acted in more than 100 films. His popular performances included "Mere Apne" (My Own), "Mera Gaon Mera Desh" (My Village, My Country), "Gaddaar" (Traitor), "Kachhe Dhaage" (Delicate Thread) and "Amar Akbar Anthony." He acted with top stars Amitabh Bachhan and Dharmendra in several Hindi movies.

In 1982, Khanna temporarily quit the film industry to join spiritual guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He resumed his film career after five years.

He entered politics in 1997 as a lawmaker with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, representing the Gurdaspur constituency in northern Punjab state in Parliament. He also served as junior external affairs minister and culture and tourism minister.

He married his first wife, Geetanjali, in 1971 and the two had two sons, Rahul Khanna and Akshaye Khanna, who also became Bollywood actors. The marriage ended in a divorce, and he married his second wife, Kavita, in 1990. They had two children, a son and a daughter.

Hollywood producer testifies in Robert Durst murder case

A Hollywood producer testified Wednesday that a friend claimed to have impersonated the first wife of real estate heir Robert Durst in a telephone call that prosecutors say took place after the wife was dead.

Lynda Obst, whose films include "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Interstellar," took the stand during a pre-trial hearing for Durst, who is charged with shooting Susan Berman in 2000 at her Los Angeles home.

Obst said that Berman, a mutual friend, confided that she had pretended to be Kathleen Durst in a 1982 telephone call to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Center in New York.

A previous witness has said the woman claimed she was sick and couldn't make it to her first day of a clerkship in pediatrics.

Prosecutors contend that Kathleen Durst already was dead at that point.

Her body never was found but in March a judge in Surrogate's Court in Manhattan officially declared her dead.

Durst isn't charged with her murder but he is accused of killing Berman. Prosecutors contend that he was afraid she would implicate him to investigators looking into his wife's disappearance.

Durst, 74, has pleaded not guilty to murder. A Superior Court judge hasn't determined whether he will stand trial.

On Tuesday, another friend of Berman's, Miriam Barnes, told the court that years earlier, Berman had told her: "If anything ever happens to me, Bobby did it."

Barnes said she never went to police because she feared Durst could harm her.

Testimony is being taken from so-called secret witnesses whose names aren't made public until they appear in court.

Prosecutors have suggested that Durst, who is jailed and has health issues, could use some of his fortune to have witnesses killed. The defense has scoffed at the suggestion.

However, the witnesses' testimony is being video recorded for use in case they are not available for trial.

5 notable films by the late Jonathan Demme

MELVIN AND HOWARD: Among the most memorable films about Howard Hughes, this 1980 release starred Jason Robards as the mysterious billionaire and Paul le Mat as Melvin Dummar, the struggling everyman who encounters Hughes in the Nevada desert. Mary Steenburgen won an Oscar for playing Lynda, Melvin's first wife.

STOP MAKING SENSE: One of the most acclaimed and innovative rock documentaries, this 1984 film drew upon state of the art digital technology as it drew upon a series of Talking Heads concerts at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. Highlights included classic performances of "Burning Down the House," ''Psycho Killer" and "Take Me to the River," among others.

SOMETHING WILD: A joyous screwball comedy from 1986 and another story of strangers bonding. Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels starred in a road adventure featuring shifting identities, unpaid checks and a breakthrough, terrifying performance by a pre-"Goodfellas" Ray Liotta as Griffith's ex-convict husband.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: Once again, strangers meet and the results are unforgettable. The Oscar-winning adaptation of Thomas Harris' grisly novel stars Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling and, in one of the all-time roles, Anthony Hopkins as the flesh-eating Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The film swept all five major Academy Awards at the 1992 ceremony: film, director, screenplay, actor and actress.

PHILADELPHIA: Released in 1993 and one of the first major productions about AIDS, "Philadelphia" stars Oscar-winner Tom Hanks as a corporate lawyer and closeted gay who becomes fatally ill and contends with the fears and phobias that follow. The soundtrack was almost as notable as the story, featuring Neil Young's Oscar-nominated title song and Bruce Springsteen's brooding, Oscar-winning "Streets of Philadelphia."

'So sad he's gone' _ fans react to death of Jonathan Demme


"Jonathan Demme was a great artist, humanitarian, activist & a warm encouraging colleague. I've known very few like him. He will be missed." — director Ron Howard via Twitter.


"Deeply sad to hear my friend, neighbor, and colleague Jonathan Demme has passed on. He was one of the real good guys. I miss you, buddy." — writer Stephen King via Twitter.


"Met tons through the Moonlight run but my man Demme was the kindest, most generous. A MASSIVE soul. He lived in love. And rests in peace." — "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins via Twitter.


"Very sad to hear of the passing of the great Jonathan Demme. Admired his movies, his documentaries, his concert films. He could do anything." — director Edgar Wright via Twitter.


"Sad to hear that Jonathan Demme has passed." — actor Elijah Wood via Twitter.


"RIP Jonathan Demme. Inspiring filmmaker, musical explorer, ornithologist (!), and truly wonderful and generous person." — director Jim Jarmusch via Twitter.


"Jonathan Demme was a gifted and versatile filmmaker. RIP." — actor Michael McKean via Twitter.


"I last saw Jonathan Demme four years ago today. Had no idea till this morning that it would be for the last time. Jonathan was a born movie-maker: he loved people and he loved filming them. Fictional or actual, he caught so many lives and glimpses of lives and framed them for others to enjoy. Jonathan was a true keeper of souls, and now we must celebrate his. He did a lot for me, too — thank you, JD. 'Are you ready for your close-up?' — musician Robyn Hitchcock in a statement.


"RIP dearest Jonathan Demme. The world lost one of its purest, most loving and talented souls today. My heart is broken. I love you." — Christine Lahti via Twitter.


"Jonathan Demme was a singular director who made vitally human films. His 'Something Wild' is a seminal movie for me. So sad he's gone." — actor and writer Pat Healy via Twitter.


"Oh no. Jonathan Demme. One of our great filmmakers one of the most beautiful souls on the planet. Another magical irreplaceable friend gone." — musician Stevie Van Zandt via Twitter.


"Ted Demme and I were worried about making The Ref when his uncle Jonathan Demme said something profound: 'Stop talking and start shooting.'" — Denis Leary via Twitter.


"Heartbroken to hear of Jonathan Demme's passing. Among the greatest privileges of my life was briefly experiencing his kindness and genius." — actor Ben Platt, who appeared in Demme's "Ricki and the Flash," via Twitter.


"Jonathan had a keen ability to meld his passion for music and storytelling in works that showed us the world in a new light. It was an honor to have worked with him on one of his last projects." — Greg Harris, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in a statement.


"I'm devastated to hear about Jonathan Demme's death. He was one of the greatest filmmakers I ever worked with. A total class act." — "Swimming to Cambodia" producer Ira Deutchman, who also helped market and distribute "Stop Making Sense," via Twitter.

Jonathan Demme, 'Silence of the Lambs' director, dead at 73

Jonathan Demme, the eclectic, ever-enthusiastic filmmaker behind the Oscar winners "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia," and the director of one of the most seminal concert films ever made, the Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense," has died. He was 73.

Demme's publicist, Annalee Paulo, said Demme died Wednesday morning in his New York apartment, surrounded by his wife, Joanna, and three children. Demme died from complications from esophageal cancer, she said.

Demme broke into moviemaking under the B-movie master Roger Corman in the early 1970s, and his prodigious, wide-ranging body of work always kept the spirited, agile curiosity of a low-budget independent filmmaker. His hopscotching career spanned documentaries, screwball comedies and tales of social justice.

Yet his most famous films were a pair of Oscar-winners "The Silence of the Lambs," the 1991 thriller starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as an FBI analyst, earned him a directing Oscar, as well as best picture. He followed that up with "Philadelphia" (1993), with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, the first major Hollywood film to confront the AIDS crisis. It remains a landmark film in the portrayal of gay life and injustice, subjects Hollywood has previously largely turned a blind eye toward.

Hopkins, Foster and Hanks all earned Academy Awards for their performances from those films. Demme's sensitive, alert eye help produce countless other acclaimed performance, too, from Melanie Griffith ("Something Wild") to Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married").

"I am heart-broken to lose a friend, a mentor, a guy so singular and dynamic you'd have to design a hurricane to contain him," Foster said in a statement. "Jonathan was as quirky as his comedies and as deep as his dramas. He was pure energy, the unstoppable cheerleader for anyone creative. Just as passionate about music as he was about art, he was and will always be a champion of the soul."

Hanks called him "the grandest of men." ''Jonathan taught us how big a heart a person can have, and how it will guide how we live and what we do for a living," said the actor.

If there was one commonality in Demme's varied filmography, it was music. Demme acknowledged that while he was talentless when it came to playing an instrument, he found he could join the acts he documented with his camera. His deftly observed 1984 film "Stop Making Sense" began with David Byrne with a guitar and a boom box on a bare stage and swelled into an art-funk spectacular.

"I've come to believe, and I kind of felt this when we did 'Stop Making Sense,' that shooting live music is kind of like the purest form of filmmaking," Demme told The Associated Press last year. "There's no script to worry about. It's not a documentary, so you don't have to wonder where this story is going and what we can use. It's just: Here come the musicians. Here come the dancers. The curtain goes up. They have at it and we get to respond in the best way possible to what they're doing up there."

Demme also made films with Neil Young ("Heart of Gold," ''Neil Young Trunk Show," ''Neil Young Journeys"), Bruce Springsteen, the Pretenders, and documented Spalding Grey performing a monologue ("Swimming to Cambodia"). In "Storefront Hitchcock," the British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock performed in a storefront window.

"Jonathan was a born movie-maker: He loved people and he loved filming them. Fictional or actual, he caught so many lives and glimpses of lives and framed them for others to enjoy," Hitchcock said Thursday. "Jonathan was a true keeper of souls, and now we must celebrate his."

Demme last year released his latest concert film, "Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids," on Netflix. Timberlake, a passionate fan of "Stop Making Sense," sought out Demme to direct it. Demme's last fiction film, "Ricki and the Flash," was perhaps his ultimate musical fiction film. It starred Meryl Streep as an aging bar-band rocker.

Robert Jonathan Demme was born on Long Island on Feb. 22, 1944. His father, Robert, was a press representative in the travel industry. After his family moved to Miami, he attended the University of Florida where he wrote movie reviews for the school paper. In 1971, he went to work for Corman, first as a unit publicist on "Von Richthofen and Brown" and later directing his own films: the women's prison movie "Caged Heart"; "Crazy Mama" with Cloris Leachman; and "Fighting Mad," with Peter Fonda as a farmer.

Demme's breakthrough came with the Oscar-nominated "Melvin and Howard" (1980), starring Jason Robards as Howard Hughes. The film is centered on a Nevada service station owner who claims to be the beneficiary of the billionaire.

From early on, music played a central role in his films. In 1986's rollicking road-trip comedy "Something Wild," Jeff Daniels starred a tax consultant drawn into the wilder orbit of Melanie Griffith. The music-stuffed movie included 49 songs.

Demme's strong political beliefs also made its way onto the screen. He directed two documentaries about Haiti, shot ads for the People for the American Way, chronicled a book tour by President Jimmy Carter and directed a music video for Artists United Against Apartheid in 1985.

Some films were misfires. Demme's 1988 adaptation of Toni Morrison's "Beloved," didn't click with critics, nor did his 2004 big-budget remake of "The Manchurian Candidate."

But 2008's "Rachel Getting Married" was a return to form for Demme that seemed to combine many of his talents — for a buoyant humanism, for the joy of music performance, for troubled outsiders, for a natural, documentary-like realism. Hathaway played a young woman released from rehab to go home for her sister's wedding.

Demme most recently directed an episode of the Fox police drama "Shots Fired," scheduled to air Wednesday. He also completed a film for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to debut July 1.

Demme was initially married to Evelyn Purcell, before divorcing. His second marriage was to artist Joanne Howard, with whom he had three children who survive him: Brooklyn, Romana and Jos. His family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Americans for Immigrant Justice.


This story has been corrected to show the name is Robyn Hitchcock, not Robin. Also corrects the title of the film "Swimming to Cambodia" and that Jeff Daniels, not Jeff Bridges, starred in "Something Wild."


AP writer Lindsey Bahr and Mesfin Fekadu contributed to this report. Bahr reported from Los Angeles.

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