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Putin gives Russian passport to US actor Steven Seagal

President Vladimir Putin has given a Russian passport to U.S. action film star Steven Seagal, calling it a sign of a thaw in relations with the United States.

The 64-year old actor has been a regular visitor to Russia in recent years and has accompanied Putin to several martial arts events.

Seagal also has vocally defended the Russian leader's policies and criticized the U.S. government.

After awarding Seagal citizenship through a presidential decree earlier this month, Putin hosted the actor at the Kremlin on Friday and handed him the passport.

Putin told Seagal he hopes the ceremony, which was shown on Russian state television, is "also a sign of a gradual normalization of the relations between the countries."

Dev Patel sunk his teeth into 'Lion' and didn't let go

Dev Patel knows how special a film like "Lion" is. He's been waiting nearly 8 years, since his breakout in "Slumdog Millionaire," for a role as substantive and soulful as Saroo Brierley, an Indian man who was lost as a 5-year-old, adopted and raised by Australian parents, and who, 25 years later, used Google Earth to retrace his steps to his hometown and his birthmother, not knowing the name of either.

"I read an article about it somewhere, I'm not quite sure where, and I was completely mesmerized," Patel said.

It's why the 26-year-old pursued the part so aggressively, showing up at screenwriter Luke Davies's doorstep before the script was even finished, and, after winning the part, taking a full eight months to prepare. Not only did the rail-thin Patel bulk up to play the sporty Saroo, grow his hair out, and learn a difficult Australian accent, but he also fully immersed himself into the emotional and spiritual reality of the man.

"I traveled the trains in India. I wrote a diary. I went to orphanages. I'd watched every piece of material about (Brierley) out there on Google and YouTube. When I met him I felt like, 'God I've known you for eight, nine, months already,'" Patel recalled. "The first thing I said was, 'You found a needle in a haystack from space. You literally did that.' And he started laughing."

Brierley and Patel had to go much deeper than that, though. This is not a simple boy goes home story. Brierley's traumatic separation from his home and his mother and struggle to survive on his own is contrasted by his then comfortable upbringing in Australia with supportive and loving adoptive parents. His past is something that he represses for years, until it becomes a ghost so undeniable that he must do everything he can to find his mother.

"We sat down and spoke about this idea of guilt. He spoke about astral traveling with me. We got very meta in a way," Patel said. "He could remember these things so vividly because every single night he would walk those streets home to his mother. That's how he could remember it."

It's one of those stranger-than-fiction stories that begs for cinematic treatment.

"I can't say that the majority or even half the movie is sensationalized. It really isn't. It actually happened in real life," Brierley said.

On set, director Garth Davis pushed Patel deeper into Brierley's pain. He had Patel watch the actor playing the 5-year-old Brierley (newcomer Sunny Pawar) so that there were specific memories to draw on. He threw him into big scenes right off the bat (they shot the very last scene first), and he made him do "hippie" mental exercises like staring into a mirror for a half hour before coming to set one day.

"The first two minutes were excruciating, because when you do that, you're usually brushing your teeth or popping a pimple or something and then the next 20 minutes all of a sudden I got sucked into this sort of trance-like state and I couldn't recognize the person staring back at me," Patel said. "I looked like my father, I looked like my mother. And I went to set visibly shaken. I was like 'Garth, I feel like a fool, like I don't know who I am. I think that the task went horribly wrong.' He looked at me and said, 'that's exactly what you should feel. Your body is just a shell but your soul is ever-changing. I was like 'whoa.'"

It was all in service of capturing the essence of Brierley, who Patel knows he doesn't look like.

"I really relate to characters kind of going against the odds and underdogs who show perseverance," Patel said, although he doesn't like direct comparisons with "Slumdog Millionaire."

For Patel, the stories represent completely different journeys — Brierley is a modern Australian man who remembers little of his Indian identity.

Patel is already fully on the awards trail for "Lion." He's done this before, but now has a bit of experience under his belt and is no longer that wide-eyed 18-year-old. He said he's taking advantage of the opportunity to talk to and learn from his fellow actors on the same path.

"The first time around I was so beautifully naive about it. I look at Sunny and I can relate to it. He met Bill Clinton the other day and I don't quite think it dawned on him who the man was he was meeting," Patel said, laughing.

Ultimately, Patel is just grateful that he was able to stretch beyond "your usual quirky best friend character role or like tech extraordinaire."

"Stories like this, they're so few and far between especially for a British Indian guy like myself," he said. "I think everyone faces a stereotype ... I don't want to make it about that. It's just my thought process of throwing absolutely everything at this role. I knew how precious it was."

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

Iranian filmmaker imprisoned for a year over his work

Iranian filmmaker Keywan Karimi has begun serving a year-long prison sentence handed down over footage authorities deemed insulting, his production company confirmed on Thursday.

The charges against the 30-year-old stemmed from a film he directed called "Writing on the City" that focuses on political graffiti in Iran from the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution to the contested 2009 election. He was initially sentenced to six years behind bars after being found guilty of "insulting sanctities" in October 2015.

In February, an appeals court reduced the sentence to one year but kept the requirement that Karimi endure 223 lashes as stipulated in his original sentence.

Speaking to The Associated Press earlier this week, Karimi said he hopes to use the time behind bars to complete the script for his next film.

"Be sure, I'm strong. Inside, and mentally, I'm ready," he said.

Karimi was arrested by the Revolutionary Guard and held in solitary confinement in December 2013 after a trailer for "Writing on the City" was posted on YouTube, according to Paris-based production company Les Films de l'Apres-Midi. It confirmed he began his sentence at Tehran's Evin Prison on Wednesday.

The production company is releasing Karimi's first feature film, "Drum," which premiered this summer at the Venice International Film Festival.

Iranian authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Karimi is one of several artists, poets, journalists, fashion models and activists who have been arrested in a crackdown on expression led by hard-liners who oppose President Hassan Rouhani's more moderate policies and efforts to promote greater openness with the outside world.

Karimi said he is determined to remain in Iran despite the challenges.

"I want to reconstruct Iran based on my dream. Maybe it's crazy," he said. "But I'm thinking about the future, our children's future."

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Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck .

Oscar-winning 'Heaven Can Wait' production designer dies

Paul Sylbert, a prolific production designer who won an Oscar for his work on Warren Beatty's "Heaven Can Wait," died Saturday at age 88 outside of Philadelphia, producer Hawk Koch said Wednesday.

A Brooklyn native and Korean War veteran, Sylbert and his late twin brother Richard Sylbert became some of the most sought-after production designers in the business following arts school, working together on Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" and "Baby Doll." Richard Sylbert, who won Oscars for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "Dick Tracy" in addition to working on "Chinatown" and "Shampoo" died in 2002 of cancer.

Paul Sylbert's career would span over four decades, during which he worked on films like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," ''Kramer vs Kramer," ''Blow Out," and "The Prince of Tides," for which he scored another Oscar nomination.

He also designed for the New York City Opera Company, wrote and directed the 1971 film "The Steagle" and penned a book about his experiences in Hollywood called "Final Cut." Recently, he was on the faculty of the Film & Media Arts Department of his alma mater Temple University in Philadelphia.

Koch, who worked with Sylbert on five films, said "Paul was one of a kind. He was as smart and well-read as anyone I have ever come in contact with, and he was respected by all that knew him. Aside from the work, he loved music, literature, opera, and friends."

Sylbert is survived by his wife Jenny and his two children.

Australian 'Star Wars' actor Peter Sumner dies at 74

Peter Sumner, an Australian actor who had a small but memorable part as an officer on the Death Star in "Star Wars," has died at age 74, his agent confirmed Wednesday.

The actor worked only two days on the 1977 film, playing Lieutenant Pol Treidum. While the name might not ring a bell for casual fans, his line, "TK-421, do you copy" likely will. It was enough to make him a fan convention mainstay. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, which first reported his death, he was also the only Australian actor to appear in the film.

Sumner also appeared in Tony Richardson's "Ned Kelly," the children's show "Play School" and other Australian series like "Spyforce" and "Heartbreak High."

Spike Lee sued for failing to pay union health contributions

Filmmaker Spike Lee and his companies are being sued by the directors of three union benefit plans who contend he didn't make sufficient health and pension contributions.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Lee, Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks and Black Butterfly Productions. It claims an audit found nearly $45,000 in unpaid contributions between September 2007 and March 2010.

The suit said Lee controlled Black Butterfly, a signatory to collective bargaining agreements, and treated its assets, which include the 2008 film, "Miracle at St. Anna," as his own while failing to pay its debts.

"Despite multiple demands, Black Butterfly has failed to pay the claims asserted by the Plans. Black Butterfly refuses, and continues to refuse, to pay the amounts due for unpaid contributions disclosed by the audit," the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs manage plans for the American Federal of Musicians, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Studio Transportation Drivers. They are seeking all unpaid damages, interest, audit costs and legal fees.

Lee is a writer, director and actor. His films include "Do the Right Thing," and "Malcolm X." His most recent movie, "Chi-Raq," is about gun violence in Chicago.

A message left with Forty Acres wasn't immediately returned.

Zemeckis hopes glamour, intrigue will draw 'Allied' audience

In a world of franchises, reboots and comic-book films, the original espionage thriller "Allied" is a comparatively bold gamble for a studio. Glamorous, serious, and classically made (with a healthy dose of CGI), "Allied," from director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight, looks to harken back to a bygone Hollywood of David Lean epics and sweeping romances between larger-than-life movie stars.

In "Allied," the would-be Bogart and Bergman are Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, who slip into sumptuous period costumes and settings to tell the story of a pair of WWII-era spies, in Casablanca and then in England, who fall in love amid the turmoil of war. Their happy existence is put into doubt, however, when Max's (Pitt) superiors inform him that they suspect Marianne (Cotillard), now his wife and the mother of his child, is a double agent.

"It's rare that we can still do movies like this one — very deep love stories with original subjects and surprising stories," Cotillard said. "It is this very entertaining movie with very strong and powerful feelings and real questions about love and war."

Zemeckis was pleased that his leads looked natural and of the time in the clothes.

"Sometimes you put period costumes on contemporary actors and they look like they are dressed up," Zemeckis said. "But they were able to carry those costumes in a way that looks absolutely right.

The costumes, by Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg favorite Joanna Johnston, proved essential for the characters too. Cotillard calls her wares "another layer of the skin." She was also delighted to be sporting garments similar to her childhood idols like Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn.

"I would watch actresses in glamorous movies and it was part of my dream to be an actress," she said.

On set, Cotillard also became a de facto teacher for Pitt, who had to master a French-Canadian accent for his role.

"It was a lot of stress for him, a lot of stress," she said. "He was working every day. I helped him by being very honest. That's the only way you can be pushed to your best. I was very impressed by his dedication."

Pitt, who is going through a divorce from Angelina Jolie Pitt, was not made available for interviews in Los Angeles. The intrigue of one of the most high profile celebrity divorces in recent years also became unexpectedly linked to the film when rumors circulated that he'd had an affair with Cotillard.

It wasn't helped when Paramount dropped the first trailer for the film just a few hours after news broke of the Pitt/Jolie divorce, seemingly suggesting a "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" in WWII angle. Zemeckis insists was a coincidence and not a salacious way to drum up excitement, although he laughs that he knows no one believes that.

However the speculation spun so out of control that Cotillard, pregnant with her second child with longtime partner Guillaume Canet, resorted to issuing a statement to the press denying the rumors.

Cotillard shrugged off a question about what that experience was like for her to go through.

"I had nothing to deal with, seriously," she said. "I said everything I had to say about it. I'm not the one who is in the very complicated situation."

When asked about doing some promotion of the film without Pitt, Cotillard's publicist jumped in that they had nothing more to add on the subject.

"We love the movie. We are very proud of it and we're very proud to share it today with the audience and the media," Cotillard said after the interruption.

Indeed, the audience is a big question for the film, which cost a reported $85 million to produce.

The film turned out to be a bigger visual effects endeavor than Zemeckis originally planned. They didn't have the budget to build everything and, thus they compromised by building a little and using digital set extensions to create the very specific wartime locations in the script.

Zemeckis is no stranger to pushing boundaries in filmmaking, and knows full well how devastating it is when it doesn't connect with audiences. Last year his ambitious "The Walk" made only $10.1 million domestically against a $35 million budget.

"It was horrible," Zemeckis said of the response. "I think it's my best movie. It's disappointing when people don't want to see it."

He's not optimistic, either, about the future of the medium when audiences just don't seem to be interested.

"I just don't know what the future of movies is going to be. It's starting to look more and more like, 'We're done making movies now,' if people don't go. It's a business," he said. "All that filmmakers can do is try to do the best work that they can, but if we're in a situation where the audience is ambivalent and doesn't care, you can't force people to go to a movie. Nothing lasts forever."

Cotillard is a little more positive.

"I'm pretty sure people will still want to be surprised," she said.

___

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

How a bunch of boxes changed the course of a documentary

Lonny Price had just started editing his first documentary when a bunch of boxes showed up. What was in them would change everything.

The director was working on a movie about the making of Stephen Sondheim's 1981 ill-fated musical "Merrily We Roll Along," which closed after just 16 Broadway performances. Price had a unique perspective, having been one of the main stars in the ill-fated show.

While he was working on his film — "Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened ," which opened in New York last weekend and heads to Los Angeles before it shows in more cities in December — Price craved what he didn't have.

He remembered that 35 years ago, when he and his young cast were preparing for their Broadway opening, a film crew from ABC had captured their tryouts and rehearsals for their own aborted documentary.

Price wanted that footage. ABC said it was destroyed. He didn't believe it.

Price hired a specialist who finds lost footage. His forecast was grim: "He said, 'You have a nine percent chance of finding this.' Not even 10 — only a nine percent chance," said Price. "I said, 'I think it's there.'"

After years of filming, Price was two days deep into editing his documentary when 37 boxes of film canisters were delivered from a sprawling site in Connecticut. They contained the raw, behind-the-scenes footage from "Merrily We Roll Along" auditions and rehearsals.

"It was one of the best days of my life," he recalled. Price might now have to stop and absorb the new footage, but he was happy. "It would have been a very different movie obviously if I hadn't found it."

The documentary is as much a look at how the original cast approached the show as what the show did to the cast. Price interviewed them all, including "Seinfeld" star Jason Alexander, to find out what happened after the musical closed.

Many had their theater dreams crushed and left the business, others struggled on. "We all turned out OK and I think we all feel OK," Price said. "I think there's a price you pay to hold onto your dreams and there's a price you pay to give them up."

For a movie that explores youthful idealism, getting that lost footage was crucial. Price had filmed some university students performing the musical to act as stand-ins, but getting his hands on the real first cast — including himself — was priceless.

"It was the Holy Grail," he said.

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

WATCH: Ellen DeGeneres tweets star-studded #MannequinChallenge video from White House

Get ready to see the most epic Mannequin Challenge to date.

>> Watch Michelle Obama's #MannequinChallenge with the Cleveland Cavaliers

>> Mannequin Challenge video tackles Black Lives Matter

>> Mannequin Challenge: Beyonce, Britney Spears, other celebrities get in on the trend

>> Hold it, what is the 'Mannequin Challenge'?

On Tuesday, talk-show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert De Niro, Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen and other famous faces. As the honorees gathered at the White House, DeGeneres decided to commemorate the occasion with her own star-studded contribution to the hashtag that has been sweeping social media.

"I'm in," DeGeneres captioned the video, which has been liked more than 16,000 times on Twitter.

>> Watch the video here

Review: Can you go home again? The lovely 'Lion' says yes

Let's not be cynical, shall we? Let's just enjoy this poignant and true story of a man who became separated from his family in India at age 5, was adopted by an Australia couple and then tracked down his family 25 years after going missing.

"Lion " is really two beautifully-shot films — the tenacious story of 5-year-old Saroo Brierley lost hundreds of miles in eastern India and the less dramatic, and slightly forced, story of that same boy all grown up looking for answers about his past.

Dev Patel, of "Slumdog Millionaire" fame, proves he's a talented, striking leading man, but even he would admit he's delightfully overshadowed by newcomer Sunny Pawar, who plays his 5-year-old self with irrepressible sweetness. "I can lift anything," he says at one point, and proves it by lifting this film.

Luke Davies' screenplay, adapted from Brierley's memoir "A Long Way Home," starts in 1986 with the younger Saroo tagging along with his older brother to scrounge for work. He then falls asleep on a decommissioned train that travels some 1,600 kilometers to Calcutta.

Lost, hungry and scared, the boy isn't even able to seek help since he speaks only Hindi in an area where Bengali is the common language. He scrounges for food, turns a piece of cardboard into a bed and narrowly escapes child abductors before being taken to an orphanage that resembles a prison. It's a grim journey in which few adults are good. The camera doesn't shy away from staring at gritty places and forgotten people.

Salvation comes in the form of Nicole Kidman in a truly appalling '80s wig. She and David Wenham play an Aussie couple who adopt young Saroo and Kidman turns in a very unglamorous, quiet and meditative performance.

Director Garth Davis has got us in the palm of his hand at this point, with Saroo wide-eyed at encountering a plane and a refrigerator for the first time. But the second half of the film slackens somewhat as Patel takes over 25 years later.

He's great as a brooding, haunted man but he has less to work with. If the first half was a compelling, physical journey, the second is one taken solely inside the mind and the film degenerates into long moments showing Saroo's solitary wanderings and sleeplessness. The dense crowds of harsh, urban India give way to the empty, lush expanses of Tasmania.

The adult Saroo seems unmoored from his Indian roots until — like Marcel Proust's madeleine — he encounters a fried cake called a jalebi that triggers childhood memories. Someone helpfully suggests he look at Google Earth — yes, it's actually written into the script. (The company's logo also appears on the screen multiple times, on the movie poster and Google is thanked in the end credits. This is product placement on par with Reese's Pieces in "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.")

Soon, Saroo is pushing away his girlfriend (a very bad idea since it's the marvelous Rooney Mara) and studying satellite images from India by a certain internet company, tracing train tracks from a laptop. He has no idea where he came from and the film nicely uses flashbacks to show partial memories flooding back.

A breakthrough gets him on the right track and soon he's back on a plane, heading to his former home and a bittersweet finale with the people he left behind. It's all thanks to love, tenaciousness and, of course, the good folks at Google.

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"Lion," a Weinstein Company release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "thematic material and some sensuality." MPAA definition of PG-13: Parental guidance suggested, with some material may not be suitable for children. Running time: 119 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

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Online: http://lionmovie.com

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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