'Deer Hunter' director Michael Cimino dies aged 77

LONDON Michael Cimino, whose roller-coaster career as a Hollywood film director included Oscar-winner "The Deer Hunter" and legendary box office flop "Heaven's Gate," has died. He was 77.The success of "The Deer Hunter", a 1978 film about the Vietnam War starring Robert De Niro, made Cimino one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood. The film won five Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux tweeted the news on Saturday that Cimino died peacefully, "surrounded by his family and the two women who loved him. We loved him too."The cause of death was not immediately known. U.S. media reports said Cimino died at his home in Los Angeles, citing the Los Angeles County coroner's office. Officials at the coroner's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.According to Variety, friends phoned the police when they could not reach him and he was found dead on Saturday.Word of Cimino's death triggered tributes from admirers including De Niro, who said their work together was something he will always remember. "He will be missed," De Niro said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "The Deer Hunter," which explored the impact of the Vietnam War on a small town of steel workers in Pennsylvania, was also a big boost for the careers of Meryl Steep and Christopher Walken, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times described it as "one of the most emotionally shattering films ever made."But after that movie's runaway success, Cimino followed up in 1980 with "Heaven's Gate," an epic Western that New York Times critic Vincent Canby called "an unqualified disaster." The film came in way over budget at $36 million, three times the average cost of a movie in those days, and Cimino's career never fully recovered."He went from a big Oscar film to suddenly being a pariah - everybody's whipping boy," Kris Kristofferson, who starred in the film, told the Los Angeles Times in 2004. "Everybody who didn't get to do a film blamed 'Heaven's Gate,' saying all the money went to 'Heaven's Gate.'"Born in New York City to a wealthy family, Cimino earned a master's degree in architecture at Yale University. He was a well-known director of TV commercials before directing his first movie, "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot," a crime drama starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges, in 1974. After the flop of "Heaven's Gate", Cimino's comeback film in 1985, "Year of the Dragon," starring Mickey Rourke as a New York City cop, failed to excite either moviegoers or critics.He followed up with "The Sicilian," based on a Mario Puzo novel; and "Desperate Hours," a remake of a Humphrey Bogart film about a fugitive, starring Rourke and Anthony Hopkins. Both films were panned by critics and largely ignored by filmgoers.His final Hollywood film, 1996's "The Sunchaser," a drama about a doctor, played by Woody Harrelson, who is kidnapped by a dying patient, didn't fare any better and marked the end of Cimino's career. (Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky/Clelia Oziel)

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Japan revamps child welfare, but tens of thousands still institutionalized

TOKYO A baby lies in a metal-bar cot drinking from a bottle perched on his pillow in a Tokyo orphanage. There's no one to hold and feed him or offer words of comfort.The director of the institution, nurses scurrying busily around him, says he would like extra time and staff to pay more attention to the 70 babies and toddlers under his care, but it's not going to happen."I wish we could hold them in our arms, one by one," says Yoshio Imada. "Some people call this abuse. It's a difficult situation."Japan last month passed a bill overhauling its 70-year-old Child Welfare Law, recognizing a child's right to grow up in a family setting. It is short on specific, immediate measures, but experts say it's a first step to making institutions a last resort, rather than the default position.A staggering 85 percent of the 40,000 children who can't live with their parents in Japan are institutionalized, by far the highest ratio among rich countries and prompting repeated warnings from the United Nations. Even with the revised law, Japan's goal isn't lofty: family-based care for a third of those children by 2029.The statistics raise the question: where can foster parents be found for tens of thousands of children in need?    "We do the best we can but it's obvious that a one-on-one relationship that foster parents provide is better," says Kazumitsu Tsuru, who heads another infant institution in Tokyo."All children need someone who is dedicated only to them." A major hindrance is a lack of awareness about the fostering system - there are just 10,200 registered foster families, while adoptions are even rarer, at 544 last year. And in a society that treasures uniformity and blood ties, fostered or adopted children are often stigmatized.    A rise in reports of child abuse has also proved a stumbling block. Welfare workers are too busy taking children out of immediate harm. Placing them in institutions is faster than finding a foster family.Too busy with the next victim, welfare workers also have little time to follow up with those children, leaving them to languish for years. STARVED OF ATTENTIONOne foster mother knows all too well how harmful institutionalization can be.Now 16, her foster son lulls himself to sleep by pounding his head against his pillow for several minutes. It's a habit he picked up as an attention-starved child growing up in institutions until he turned six. He is a charming boy, his foster mother says, but erratic.    "When I call him out on something he does wrong, he lashes out at me as if he can do whatever he wants," she says.     "He'll do hateful things and at other times he'll say, 'Mummy, I love you,' in a childish voice that's not normal for a teenage boy. The emotional ups-and-downs wear you out."Another mother describes a child she took in from an institution at age five, just when he was beginning to realize he had no family. He flew into fits of rage at school and was afraid to leave the house. Needing to test his new family's affection, he would ask: "Mummy, what would you do if I died?" At other times, he would beg to be fed milk out of a bottle in his foster mother's lap.The warehousing of Japan's most vulnerable highlights the paradox in a country struggling with a stalled birthrate and ballooning social welfare costs as the population ages. Experts say institutionalization costs three times as much as fostering, and that Japan's tight job market would be better-served by shifting those caregivers to daycare services to allow more women to work."I think the role of infant institutions will change," says Tsuru, adding that, as the primary caregivers, institutions like his could help find babies a match in a foster or adoptive home. "None of us wants to see a child stay longer here than they need to be." (Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Fiat Chrysler to investigate crash that killed 'Star Trek' actor

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said on Monday it would investigate a crash that killed "Star Trek" actor Anton Yelchin in his recalled 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee.Yelchin was killed when the SUV rolled away and pinned him against a fence in Los Angeles, police said on Sunday. Fiat Chrysler in April recalled more than 1.1 million cars and SUVs worldwide because vehicles may roll away after drivers exit, an issue linked to 41 injuries, 212 crashes and 308 reports of property damage, though it had no immediate fix for owners.Yelchin died of accidental blunt force asphyxia, Los Angeles County Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter said in a phone interview Monday. The results of toxicology tests to determine if Yelchin was under the influence of any substances are not due back for at least six weeks, he added. In a May 24 letter to dealers, Fiat Chrysler said it anticipated having the software updates required to fix the vehicles no later than July or August. The company previously had told owners it hoped to come up with a "permanent" remedy by the fourth quarter.The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said late Monday in a statement it is in contact with local authorities and Fiat Chrysler "to understand all of the facts related to this tragic crash, including whether or not this was caused by the current issue under recall."The recall was done at NHTSA's urging, which again warned owners that "until all of these recalled vehicles are fixed, owners should take extra care to make sure their car is in park and turned completely off before exiting."Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said Monday that "while waiting for a recall remedy to be developed, the predictable happened. Anton Yelchin died. How many more people will be killed or injured waiting for a recall remedy of this fatal manufacturing flaw?" Fiat Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said the company would conduct a "thorough investigation" of Yelchin's accident. "It is premature to speculate on its cause at this time," he added.Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman Jane Kim said on Monday that investigators were aware of the recall issue with the Jeep and were looking at whether that played any role in the fatality.Yelchin, a 27-year-old Russian native, would be the first death reported to be linked to the defect. In 2014, a U.S. study said nearly 100 people were killed and 2,000 injured annually from vehicles that rolled away between 2008 and 2011.Fiat Chrysler said in April that the recall was linked to 700 incidents because drivers mistakenly believed they had placed the vehicles in park before exiting. Fiat Chrysler said some drivers might have been confused by the electronic gearshift system, which moves more like a joystick than along a gate path like conventional gear selectors.The company said in April that it planned to update the vehicles to automatically prevent them from moving, under certain circumstances, even if the driver fails to put the vehicle in park.NHTSA, which upgraded a probe into the rollaway injuries and complaints in February, said in April that the shifter was "clearly a safety issue" leading to hundreds of crashes and dozens of injuries. Fiat Chrysler sent a letter to vehicle owners after announcing the recall in April, warning them to make sure the vehicles are in park.NHTSA said in April that testing of the shifter found it was "not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection."Yelchin's death comes a month before the release of "Star Trek Beyond," in which the late actor played Chekov, the young Russian navigator of the starship, USS Enterprise. The cast and creators of "Star Trek Beyond" paid tribute to Yelchin on Sunday, with producer J.J. Abrams posting on Twitter, "You were brilliant. You were funny as hell, and supremely talented. And you weren't here nearly long enough." Yelchin has appeared in numerous films and was in the TV series "Huff," starring Hank Azaria, who wrote on Twitter that he was devastated. "He was a very sweet kid. My heart goes out to his family."Early in his career as a teenager, Yelchin gained wide attention appearing with Anthony Hopkins in the 2001 film "Hearts in Atlantis" and with Robin Williams in 2004's "House of D." (Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles Reporting by David Shepardson)

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Jimmy Page to give more testimony in Led Zeppelin copyright trial

LOS ANGELES Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page is expected to give more testimony in a copyright infringement trial on Thursday where the British band is accused of stealing the opening chords of its classic "Stairway to Heaven" from another band's song.The lawsuit alleges that Led Zeppelin lifted the opening chords for "Stairway to Heaven" from the 1967 instrumental "Taurus" by the American band Spirit.Page, 72, took the witness stand in federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday, where he said he did not recall hearing "Taurus" until recently, after he had been made aware of comparisons being made between the two songs. The British musician also testified that he did not recall opening for Spirit at Led Zeppelin's first U.S. show in Denver in 1968, and said he had never seen Spirit perform live.Page was joined in court by Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, who is also expected to testify in the case. The lawsuit was brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Randy Wolfe, Spirit's guitarist and the composer of "Taurus." Wolfe, also known as Randy California, drowned in the Pacific Ocean in 1997. The case comes just over a year after a federal jury in Los Angeles found recording stars Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had plagiarized Motown great Marvin Gaye in creating their hit single "Blurred Lines," and awarded Gaye's family $7.4 million. Skidmore has said Page may have been inspired to write "Stairway to Heaven" after hearing Spirit perform "Taurus" while the bands toured together in 1968 and 1969, but that Wolfe never received credit.Attorney Francis Alexander Malofiy, representing Skidmore, told a jury in opening arguments on Wednesday that the case centers on an infringement by Led Zeppelin of copyright law, which protects artistic creation.Led Zeppelin attorney Peter Anderson said in opening arguments that the musical riff in question was not unique. "No one owns common musical elements," Anderson said. U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner said in April that a jury might find "substantial" similarity between the first two minutes of "Stairway" and "Taurus," and to let it decide whether Plant and Page were liable for copyright infringement. (Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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Muslim funeral in Muhammad Ali's hometown draws thousands

LOUISVILLE, Ky. A Muslim funeral for Muhammad Ali on Thursday drew thousands of admirers to the boxer's hometown, where mourners prayed over the body of a man who battled in the ring and sought peace outside it. The jenazah, or funeral in Arabic, was held at a convention space in Freedom Hall, the complex where the former heavyweight world champion defeated Willi Besmanoff in 1961 in his last fight in Louisville. An estimated 14,000 people, representing many races and creeds, attended the service, where speakers repeatedly referred to Ali as "the people's champion.""The passing of Muhammad Ali has made us all feel a little more alone in the world," said Sherman Jackson, a Muslim scholar at the University of Southern California. He praised Ali for advancing the cause of black Americans during and after the civil rights movement of the 1960s."Something solid, something big beautiful and life-affirming has left this world," he said of a man who was forced to give up more than three years of his boxing prime for his refusal to serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Ali, known for his boxing prowess, showmanship, political activism and devotion to humanitarian causes, died on Friday of septic shock in an Arizona hospital. He was 74.Imam Zaid Shakir, a founder of Muslim liberal arts school Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, led worshippers in prayers such as "Allahu akbar" ("God is greatest") over Ali's body, which lay in a casket covered with a black and gold cloth.Ali and his family planned his funeral for 10 years, making sure it would honor his Muslim faith while also adapting to the demands of Western media-driven culture. A final goodbye for Ali will take place on Friday, when thousands will gather for an interfaith service at the KFC Yum Center. Luminaries including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and comedian Billy Crystal will attend. "Ali will never die," boxing promoter Don King told Reuters. "His spirit will live on."Among those at Thursday's funeral was a Bangladeshi man named Mohammad Ali who said he flew to the United States to attend the service despite failing health. He showed pictures of his famous namesake visiting his home nearly 40 years ago."If I could not attend the funeral of Muhammad Ali, it would be a sad part of my life," he said. "Today or tomorrow, I have to die. So I took the risk and came down all the way because he visited my home." Ali rose to the top of the boxing world when black fighters were expected to be quiet and deferential. His braggadocio, even before he changed his name from Cassius Clay, startled white America. He further shocked Americans after he joined the Nation of Islam and adopted an Islamic name in 1964. In the 1970s, Ali converted to Sunni Islam, the largest denomination among Muslims worldwide. Late in life he embraced Sufism, a mystical school of the faith.He was admired worldwide and gave U.S. Muslims a hero they could share with the American mainstream. (Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Von Ahn)

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