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Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Apollo Theater Celebrates 90th Anniversary at Star-studded Spring Benefit

This combination of photos shows Usher performing at Power 105.1's Powerhouse 2016 at Barclays Center in New York on Oct. 27, 2016, left, and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds performing during the Bourbon and Beyond Music Festival in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 17, 2023.  (AP Photo)
This combination of photos shows Usher performing at Power 105.1's Powerhouse 2016 at Barclays Center in New York on Oct. 27, 2016, left, and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds performing during the Bourbon and Beyond Music Festival in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 17, 2023. (AP Photo)
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Apollo Theater Celebrates 90th Anniversary at Star-studded Spring Benefit

This combination of photos shows Usher performing at Power 105.1's Powerhouse 2016 at Barclays Center in New York on Oct. 27, 2016, left, and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds performing during the Bourbon and Beyond Music Festival in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 17, 2023.  (AP Photo)
This combination of photos shows Usher performing at Power 105.1's Powerhouse 2016 at Barclays Center in New York on Oct. 27, 2016, left, and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds performing during the Bourbon and Beyond Music Festival in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 17, 2023. (AP Photo)

The Apollo Theater, a bastion of Black music and culture and one of New York City's most storied venues, celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.
On Tuesday, the historic theater held its annual spring benefit — its largest annual fundraising effort, this year raising $3 million — with a star-studded event featuring Usher, Babyface, Big Daddy Kane, Jordin Sparks and more.
Sparks opened the night with an impressive medley of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” and Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” Then Kym Whitley emerged as a hilarious host, joking about the producer Babyface, who was being honored, arguing that he should now be known as “Grown-man-face, sexy-face, kiss-your-face.”
Later, she'd offer her own transformative story at The Apollo, sharing with the audience that it was on that stage where she first made an appearance as a stand-up comedian on television. “If you can make it at The Apollo,” she said, “You can make it anywhere.”
Speeches were given by a number of Apollo representatives, including President/CEO Michelle Ebanks, chairman of the board Charles Phillips, executive producer Kamilah Forbes as well as New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
But it was the performances that really got the crowd on their feet. Dancers treated Usher to a choreographed medley of his own songs, from “Yeah!” to “Burn,” “Caught Up" to “Confessions Part II” and beyond.
Usher, who just a few months ago wowed audiences with his own career retrospective while headlining the 2024 Super Bowl halftime show, was presented with the Icon Award.
In his speech, he recalled watching “Showtime at The Apollo” with his late grandmother. “I remember thinking, ‘Man, someday I’m gonna make it to that stage,' and ‘hopefully one day, I’ll get a standing ovation,'” he said as everyone in the audience stood. “I stand before you humbled by your appreciation.”
“You know, they say if you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere," he continued, referencing Whitley's comments from earlier. “Well, if you can make it to The Apollo, you can do anything.”
Fat Joe and Kwanza Jones, formerly winners of The Apollo's famed Amateur Night, came out and led the crowd in a singalong of Babyface's 1989 hit, “Soon as I Get Home.” They were tasked with introducing the super-producer, who had been presented the day prior with the inaugural legacy award at The Apollo Theater's 2024 Walk of Fame ceremony.
“I never imagined I would get this,” Babyface said during Monday’s ceremony. “I never saw myself actually, you know, being here at The Apollo. I didn’t want to perform here because I didn’t want to get booed, but I didn’t get booed,” he laughed. “I’m so glad that I came here for The Apollo.”
On Tuesday, his acceptance speech mostly ditched the jokes to express gratitude. “To be here at The Apollo — what's so hard for me to find the words, because if I’m honest, I just never saw myself as like being on The Apollo stage. I was always the guy behind the scenes and writing songs for everyone else,” he said. “I am just in awe to be considered as part of this.”
“I'm just going to thank everybody. Normally I stand up here, I'm funnier than this,” he continued, “Usually, I am. But I'm just, I'm really just so taken by this, and I just want to thank you for the bottom of my heart. I appreciate it.”
The night ended with a series of singers coming out on stage to serenade Babyface with some of the most famous songs he produced: Toxi Braxton 's “You Mean the World to Me,” Eric Clapton's “Change the World," Whitney Houston's “I'm Your Baby Tonight” and so on.
Standouts included Karyn White doing her own “Superwoman,” Johnny Gill getting everyone out of their seats for his “My, My, My” and of course, Babyface himself closing the night out with “Whip Appeal.” They're called classics for a reason.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Movie Review: In ‘Deadpool & Wolverine,’ the Superhero Movie Finally Accepts Itself for What It Is 

Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds attend the premiere of "Deadpool & Wolverine" in New York City, New York, US, July 22, 2024. (Reuters)
Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds attend the premiere of "Deadpool & Wolverine" in New York City, New York, US, July 22, 2024. (Reuters)
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Movie Review: In ‘Deadpool & Wolverine,’ the Superhero Movie Finally Accepts Itself for What It Is 

Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds attend the premiere of "Deadpool & Wolverine" in New York City, New York, US, July 22, 2024. (Reuters)
Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds attend the premiere of "Deadpool & Wolverine" in New York City, New York, US, July 22, 2024. (Reuters)

If one thing is certain about “Deadpool,” it’s that its titular hero, for reasons never explained, understands his place in the world — well, in our world.

Indeed, the irreverent and raunchy mutant is sure to belabor his awareness of the context in which he lives — namely an over-saturated, increasingly labyrinthine multibillion-dollar Marvel multiverse which spans decades, studios and too many films for most viewers to count.

From its inception, the “Deadpool” franchise has prided itself on a subversive, self-aware anti-superhero superhero movie, making fun of everything from comic books to Hollywood to its biggest champion, co-writer and star, Ryan Reynolds.

It’s no surprise then, as fans have come to expect, that the long-anticipated “Deadpool & Wolverine” further embraces its fourth wall-breaking self-awareness — even as it looks increasingly and more earnestly like the superhero movie blueprint it loves to exploit. That tension — the fact that “Deadpool” has called out comic book movie tropes despite being, in fact, a comic book movie — is somehow remedied in “Deadpool & Wolverine,” which leans into its genre more than the franchise’s first two movies.

Perhaps this gives viewers more clarity on its intended audience. After all, someone who hates superhero films — I’m looking at you, Scorsese — isn’t going to be won over because of a few self-deprecating jokes about lazy writing, budgets for A-list cameos and the overused “superhero landing” Reynolds’ Deadpool regularly refers to.

But this time around, director Shawn Levy — his first Marvel movie — seems to have found a sweet spot. Levy is surely helped by the fact that the third film in the franchise has a bigger budget, more hype and, of course, a brooding Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

That anticipation makes their relationship, packed with hatred and fandom, all the more enticing. Their fight scenes against each other are just as compelling as their moments of self-sacrificial partnership in the spirit of, you guessed it, saving the world(s).

Speaking of worlds, there is one important development in our own to be aware of ahead of time. The first two “Deadpool” films were distributed by 20th Century Fox, whose $71.3 billion acquisition by the Walt Disney Co. in 2019 opened the door for the franchise to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Deadpool & Wolverine” takes full advantage of that vast playground, which began in 2008 with Robert Downey Jr.’s “Iron Man” and now includes more than 30 films and a host of television shows. The acquisition is also a recurring target of Deadpool’s sarcasm throughout the movie.

Although steeped in references and cameos that can feel a bit like inside baseball for the less devoted, “Deadpool & Wolverine” is easy enough to follow for the casual Marvel viewer, though it wouldn’t hurt to have seen the first “Deadpool” and Jackman’s 2017 “Logan,” a harbinger of the increasing appetite for R-rated superhero violence. The Disney+ series “Loki” also gives helpful context, though is by no means a must watch, on the Time Variance Authority, which polices multiverse timelines to avoid “incursions,” or the catastrophic colliding of universes.

A defining feature of “Deadpool” has been its R rating and hyper violent action scenes. Whether thanks to more money, Levy’s direction or some combination of the two, these scenes are much more visually appealing.

But “Deadpool & Wolverine” does succumb to some of the deus ex machina writing that so often plagues superhero movies. Wade Wilson’s (the real identity of Deadpool) relationship with his ex (?) Vanessa is particularly underdeveloped — though it’s possible that ambiguity is a metaphor for Deadpool’s future within the MCU.

The plot feels aimless at points toward the end. One cameo-saturated battle scene in particular is resolved in a way that leaves its audience wanting after spending quite a bit of time building tension around it. While there are a few impressive stars who make an appearance, audiences may be disappointed by the amount of MCU characters referenced who don’t make it in.

The bloody but comedic final fight scene, however, is enough to perk viewers back up for the last act, solidifying the film’s identity as a fun, generally well-made summer movie.

The sole MCU release of 2024, “Deadpool & Wolverine” proves it’s not necessarily the source material that’s causing so-called superhero fatigue. It also suggests, in light of Marvel’s move to scale back production following a pandemic and historic Hollywood strikes, that increased attention given to making a movie will ultimately help the final product.