Oscars: Slovakia Selects ‘A Step Into the Dark’ for Foreign-Language Category

A romantic period drama about the choices people are forced to make to survive in times of political and social terror, A Step Into the Dark, directed by Miloslav Luther, is Slovakia’s nomination for the best foreign-language Oscar category. 

Set during and after World War II, it focuses on the emotional and spiritual damage done to a young physician who was forced to execute innocent people.

Spurring offers of prestigious jobs in postwar communist central Europe, the doctor (Marko Igonda) embarks on a torrid love affair with a married woman as he struggles to come to terms with his past.

Also nominated for the European Film Academy awards — due to take place in Riga in December — the film, produced by Bratislava company Trigon Productions, was released in Slovakia in June and had its international premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival that wrapped earlier this month.

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Oscars: Canada Picks ‘Mommy’ for Foreign-Language Category

Canada has chosen writer-director Xavier Dolan‘s Cannes award winner Mommy as its contender in the best foreign-language film category at the Academy Awards.

The family drama shared the Jury Prize with Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au Langage after debuting in Cannes. The Canadian film portrays a feisty widow, played by Anne Dorval, trying to cope with a problem son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon).

Roadside Attractions grabbed the U.S. distribution rights to Mommy. Canada’s national Oscar selection committee, led by Telefilm Canada, unveiled its pick at a Montreal press conference on Friday.

Canadian French-language films have fared well at the Academy Awards in recent years, with Denis Villeneuve‘s Incendies and Philippe Falardeau‘s Monsieur Lazhar both earning Oscar nominations in the best foreign-language category.

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Oscars: Belgium Picks ‘Two Days, One Night’ for Foreign-Language Category

Belgium has elected, again, to go with the latest from directing brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne in its bid for a foreign-language Oscar nomination.

Belgium’s national Oscar selection committee on Friday picked the Dardennes’ Two Days, One Night to represent the country in the upcoming Oscars race for best foreign-language film.

The drama stars French actress Marion Cotillard (Inception) as a woman who has a single weekend to convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.

Two Days, One Night debuted in competition in Cannes and screened in both Telluride and Toronto. IFC Films picked up the movie for U.S. release, and a domestic bow is planned for Dec. 24.

In addition to the foreign-language category, some pundits are giving Two Days, One Night chances for a best actress nom for Cotillard’s searing performance. The French star won a best actress Oscar in 2008 for playing singer Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan‘s La Vie en Rose.

Belgium has submitted films by the Dardenne brothers for the Oscar campaign before, but the directors, who have won Cannes’ Palme d’Or twice, have yet to receive an Academy Award nomination.

Twitter: @sroxborough

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Oscars: Lithuania Picks ‘The Gambler’ in Foreign-Language Category

A darkly cynical portrait of human greed, Ignas JonynasThe Gambler is Lithuania’s nomination for the foreign-language category at the 2015 Oscars.

Set in a hospital ambulance station where paramedic Vincentas (stage actor Vytautas Kaniusonis), a passionate gambler, comes up with a radical idea to settle his debts, the film focuses on the darkest impulses of ordinary people.

Desperate for money, he hits on the idea of a sweepstakes based on whether hospital patients will survive the week.

The film’s producers, who registered the internet domain deadbook.it for the film — subsequently receiving numerous offers from entrepreneurs seeing the financial potential in such a name — held off on a national premiere for more than a year, until this month, with its local bow due Sept. 24.

The film, also known by its local title Losejas, premiered last year in San Sebastian’s Kutxa-New Directors section and has screened at more than 30 festivals wordwide, including in Marrakech last year in front of a jury that included Martin Scorsese, Marion Cotillard and Patricia Clarkson. Awards include a local prize and special jury mention in Warsaw. 

Wide Management is repping the film internationally and has already sold it to Italy, France, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

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China’s Alibaba Stock Jumps in Market Debut

The stock of Chinese e-commerce giant ‎Alibaba jumped in Friday trading in its market debut.

The stock opened at $92.70 at 11:55 a.m. ET after its opening price was determined in a process that took more than two hours. The IPO had priced at $68 late Thursday. That meant the opening price marked a jump of more than 36 percent from the set price late Thursday.

At noon ET, the stock traded above $99.

The stock market debut is the largest U.S. IPO in history, raising $21.8 billion. Prior to Alibaba, the biggest was Visa, which raised $17.9 billion in 2008.

The stock began trading Friday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “BABA.” Chinese billionaire Jack Ma is the chairman of Alibaba, which earlier this year launched a film unit.

The IPO also infuses about $8.3 billion in cash into the corporate coffers of Yahoo, an early investor in Alibaba. Yahoo continues to own a stake in Alibaba after the IPO. Investors and analysts are looking to see how Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and her team will use its cash.

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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Warner Bros. Producing Prequel to Hit Mexican Toon ‘Top Cat’

Warner Bros. Pictures and Mexican animation house Anima Studios are producing a Spanish-language Top Cat origin story.

The Warner release Don Gato: El Inicio de la Pandilla (Top Cat: The Gang’s Beginnings) will hit Mexican theaters in August 2015. Andres Couturier (Kung Fu Magoo) is directing the film, which will be a reboot done entirely in CGI.

The first Top Cat movie, produced by Anima and Argentina’s Illusion Studios, had a record-breaking opening weekend in Mexico in 2011 and it became the year’s highest-grossing domestic film. Internationally, it was released in 25 countries.

Executive producer Fernando de Fuentes said the prequel is Anima’s most ambitious project to date, with a budget of about US$8 million. Warner Bros. has first-look rights for worldwide distribution.

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Decked Out: Singer Alexa Ray Joel’s Old Hollywood-Meets-Bohemian Glamour

As the offspring of Billy Joel, the third-best-selling solo artist of all time, and supermodel Christie BrinkleyAlexa Ray Joel is no stranger to glamour. The 28-year-old singer prefers vintage silk to sweatpants and a wardrobe made up of “mom’s hand-me-downs.”

“I tend to feel naked without jewelry,” jokes Joel, who for four years has resided in a two-bedroom apartment in a sunlight-filled Soho building in New York. “My boyfriend [restaurateur Ryan Gleason] makes fun of me because we’ll just be watching a movie at home and I’ll need to add earrings.”

Whether it’s her closet or her home decor, Joel says her taste is “a medley of vintage meets bohemian meets old Hollywood with a little edge.” It’s a fitting match for Manhattan’s historic Cafe Carlyle, where she performed for several weeks this year, and will be returning for a six-month residency in 2015.

“Every show I’ve done there has been jam-packed, sold out,” she says of her past run, which featured a combination of cabaret, reworked jazz covers and her own original music. “[The Carlyle] is a prestigious venue, and it’s rare that you’re asked back. Eartha Kitt played there, all these jazz greats.”

Joel hopes that soon, with a commercial under her belt for Gap (she reworked her father’s 1977 hit, “Just the Way You Are,” for the “Back to Blue” campaign) and the success of her live performances, she’ll reach a wider audience.

And while her sound — “Fiona Apple meets Rufus Wainwright,” she  says — is not her father’s, Joel still looks to the musical great for guidance. “You don’t have to stick with one niche. Musically, that’s something I learned from him.” Maybe, this time father knows best. 

Baby Tunes: “I wrote a song called ‘Verona’ about these dreams I’ve had of my future daughter. My father did that for me [with ‘Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)’], so it’s passing on the tradition.”

 

Good Luck Charm: “My mother did this [drawing]. My father isn’t a religious man, but he’s very superstitious. He collected these rosaries of St. Christopher.”

 

Prop Girl: “I have a beautiful collection of fans from Milan and Capri. I use them in my show.”

 

Loungewear: “I don’t own sweatpants. I always walk around in kimonos and robes. I have a collection of vintage ones.”

 

Set In Stone: “This is [a cast of] my mother’s hand and mine when I was a little girl.”

 

Inherited Style: “My favorite pieces are hand-me-downs from my mother,” says Joel, photographed by Douglas Friedman on Sept. 11 at her New York home. “She has given me a lot of vintage Ralph Lauren and Dolce [& Gabbana].”

 

This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of Billboard magazine.

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This Is Why ‘Madam Secretary’s’ Tea Leoni Won’t Look Like Hillary Clinton

Will Tea Leoni, who plays newly appointed Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord in CBS’ new Madam Secretary, embody Hillary Clinton? Politically, perhaps (or not). But you won’t see her navigating Capitol Hill in boxy pantsuits and unmoving hair.

Costume designer Amy Roth sidesteps anything that evokes the potential 2016 presidential candidate’s notoriously clunky image. She relies on such designers as Giorgio Armani, Stella McCartney and The Row to make it clear that while McCord is “not a fashion queen,” she takes a more modern, sophisticated approach to Washington style.

Creator and showrunner Barbara Hall has said Leoni “brings her own political pedigree” to the role. Roth also took her cues from the actress when developing McCord’s style. “I pictured somebody like Tea in the White House,” Roth says, noting that the actress’ grandmother, Helenka Pantaleoni, co-founded UNICEF in 1947 and Leoni herself is a UNICEF Ambassador [since 2001]. “They’re a family that’s used to being of service. So she steps into this very easily.”

Like Leoni herself, McCord dresses with a subtle sophistication. Though it’s miles away from the looks of former Secretary of State Clinton, pantsuits aren’t off the menu. “Is she sitting on a panel? Then she should probably wear pants,” Roth says. “This is a woman who advises the president on foreign affairs. Her wardrobe should reflect her ability to exercise good judgment in all matters.”

The marriage of modest chic with smart sensibility is just one of the ways in which Leoni’s television wardrobe reflects the new rules of Washington power dressing:

Femininity can be powerful.

As a politician, you want to exude confidence and power. Masculinity, however, isn’t required. Condoleezza Rice typically wore skirts and dresses, Roth notes. After a style intervention in the pilot, McCord dons curvy silhouettes, skirts that show a little leg and silk-tie blouses. “She’s not concealing her femininity,” Roth says.

Buttoned-up and traditional is out.

“With the Bush administration, you weren’t allowed in the Oval Office without a jacket and tie. The Obamas represent the new regime,” says Roth. This show reflects the new reality. Sleeves get rolled up and jackets are shed.

Another way McCord’s look differs from former Secretary Clinton: no chunky pearls. “Hillary doesn’t show her neck, not much,” Roth says. “It’s a scarf, it’s pearls, it’s diversions.” Modern Washingtonians, even on the flip side of 50 (or almost), don’t balk at showing their necks.

Leoni, 48, is accessorized with personal choices, like gold acorn earrings that are symbols of peace. She and her onscreen husband, Tim Daly, wear the same, non-gender-specific necklaces, designed by Kate Jones, as symbols of their marriage. “None of it’s meaningless,” Roth says. “Elizabeth and Henry are a team. They are a modern, healthy couple who are equals. They are progressives.”

Unfussy hair trumps overly styled.

At a basic level, Leoni and Clinton have similar hair: shoulder-length cut, blond highlights. “But they’re very different,” says Chris Clark, Madam Secretary’s hair stylist. “[Leoni’s] has many more layers. It’s a casual elegance, not overly styled. We like flyaways. We like it to be a little rumpled at times.” (Leoni’s cut is by Clark; her color is by Marie Robinson of New York’s Marie Robinson Salon.)

And like most politicians, Leoni’s character doesn’t wear Clintonesque headbands, scrunchies or plastic butterfly clips.

“I think Elizabeth’s style is more easygoing than Hillary’s,” explains Roth. “She’s more subtle. It’s a modest sensibility and it’s hip thinking. It’s very progressive to just go in to the job and not make it about you.’”

 

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‘Fashion Police’ to Continue Despite Joan Rivers’ Death

E! will be continuing Fashion Police despite Joan Rivers’ death earlier this month.

The program, which debuted on the NBCUniversal-owned cable network in September 2010 as a platform to critique A-listers’ fashion hits and misses, will return to the network in time to cover the Golden Globes on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015.

The decision to continue the franchise, which includes co-hosts Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne and George Kotsiopoulos, was in part the result of conversations had with Joan Rivers’ daughter and Fashion Police executive producer Melissa Rivers.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Joan Rivers and, for the last two weeks, have turned our attention to honoring her memory on all of our platforms. We have also thought long and hard about what Joan would have wanted as it pertains to the future of Fashion Police,” E! said in a statement issued Friday. “We decided, with Melissa Rivers’ blessing, that Joan would have wanted the franchise to continue. Fashion Police will return in 2015, commencing with Golden Globes coverage on Monday, January 12. No further details will be announced at this time.”

E! set a special day-long “Joan Day” tribute Friday that includes hours of Fashion Police, which started at 7 a.m., and leading up to a new 90-minute episode, Fashion Police: Celebrating Joan, at 8 p.m., that will feature an appearance by Melissa Rivers. Included in the Fashion Police marathon are some of Rivers’ best jokes, her 80th birthday celebration and the last Fashion Police she did for the MTV Video Music Awards and the Emmys.

Joan Rivers died at age 81 on Sept. 4 in New York following a throat procedure. A biography, Joan Rivers: A Life, centered on the comedienne has been scheduled for 2016 by publisher Little, Brown and Company, to be penned by Vanity Fair and New York Times journalist Leslie Bennetts.

Read next:

Joan Rivers’ Final THR Essay: Why Johnny Carson ‘Never Ever Spoke to Me Again’

‘Fashion Police’ Target Joan Rivers’ Worst Outfits

10 Moments When Joan Rivers Was the Most Joan Rivers

Philiana.Ng@THR.com

Twitter: @insidethetube

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China’s Alibaba May Be Readying Major Hollywood Assault

Alibaba’s massive IPO will give a major boost to its plans to expand into the film business, with the Chinese e-commerce giant expected to focus on a move into Hollywood as part of its growth strategy.

Analysts say once the company has finished the work of launching the world’s biggest stock market listing, the industry can expect a major push into movies. Company founder Jack Ma, a huge fan of Forrest Gump, has made it clear he sees a future for Alibaba in entertainment.

“Alibaba has made some investments already in the entertainment industry, including [the acquisition of] a stake in Youku Tudou,” independent e-commerce analyst Li Chengdong tells The Hollywood Reporter. “After the IPO, Alibaba will be so deep-pocketed that it is able to lay out the whole industry chain and make forays into all sorts of businesses.”

Li predicts that Alibaba will put more emphasis on developing good content, using its vast capital to buy intellectual property from Hollywood, as well as make more high-quality domestic movies.

“With sufficient money at hand, everything is possible for Alibaba. It is currently very focused on entertainment as it needs to be somewhat entertainment-orientated to grab public attention,” says Li. “My guess is Alibaba will bring more and more Hollywood stars to China to attend its events, make films and appear in commercials.”

This could also involve a focus on co-productions with Hollywood studios. One of Alibaba’s biggest investors, Japan’s SoftBank, is reportedly already talking to DreamWorks and other studios.

The company has certainly been active in the entertainment business as part of a $5 billion spending spree ahead of the listing.

The Chinese entertainment market is attractive to a company like Alibaba, which has huge penetration through its e-commerce units. China’s box office is on track for $5 billion this year, by some estimates, still growing strongly.

Advances in Internet technology and the coming of age of various forms of technology are transforming the traditional channels of promotion and distribution in the country and reforming such upstream sectors as financing and production, all of which put Alibaba in a good position to expand into entertainment, say observers.

In April, Alibaba bought a stake of nearly 20 percent in leading Chinese online video company Youku Tudou.

In July, it signed a strategic collaboration agreement with Lionsgate to offer its titles in China, including Divergent and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and such TV shows as Mad Men, Weeds and The Royals.

In the biggest push to build its own entertainment business, Alibaba in June bought 60 percent of ChinaVision Media Group in Hong Kong for $804 million and renamed the company Alibaba Pictures Group Ltd. It then poached Zhang Qiang, second in command at China Film Group, to run the new production studio.

Alibaba Film Group plans to invest in eight to 10 films every year, three to five TV dramas and the same number of web-only dramas. The group’s board includes action star Jet Li, who is close to Ma, the former English teacher who founded Alibaba in 1999 and remains its chairman.

Alibaba Film Group has lined up a slate of films with In the Mood for Love director Wong Kar-wai and also has an agreement with Taiwanese director Giddens Ko.

And the company is entitled to 30 percent of the investment return from Stephen Chow‘s blockbuster Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons.

It recently discovered accounting irregularities at the film unit, which have cast a shadow over its entertainment industry ambitions, but they are not seen as a long-term impediment to major expansion, more a reminder to the company to make sure it does its due diligence.

Alibaba has also set up a film investment fund called Yuebao, which is similar to crowdfunding but different enough not to fall foul of Chinese regulations.

Another independent commentator on online issues, Yi Fanghan, said entertainment industry people can expect Alibaba to move to buy other film companies, either by buying stakes or buying them outright, and also to try and produce its own movies.

“Alibaba will start to create content or ideas for films from grassroots people and connect with Internet finance. It will be good for them to produce films, which reflect Internet culture,” Yi said, quoted on sootoo, a social media and news website about online matters.

This summer, Ma spelled out the importance of entertainment in Alibaba’s future strategy when he spent $192 million on a 50 percent stake in Chinese soccer club Guangzhou Evergrande despite happily confessing to knowing nothing about football.

“We’re not investing in [soccer], we’re investing in entertainment,” Ma said at the time. “Alibaba’s future strategies are health and entertainment.”

Twitter: @cliffordcoonan

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Greg Berlanti’s ‘Supergirl’ Lands at CBS With Series Commitment





Greg Berlanti and Ali Adler‘s Supergirl has a home: CBS.

CBS has landed the high-profile DC Comics adaptation, handing out a hefty series commitment, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The hourlong drama, taken out last week, centers on Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin, who was born on the planet Krypton and escaped amid its destruction years ago. Since arriving on Earth, she has been hiding the powers she shares with her famous cousin. But now at age 24, she decides to embrace her superhuman abilities and be the hero she was always meant to be. (The character was previously played by Laura Vandervoort on The CW’s Superman origin story Smallville.)

Photos: Fox’s ‘Gotham': Meet the Characters From the Batman Prequel

Berlanti and Adler, who previously teamed on ABC’s superhero drama No Ordinary Family, will pen the script and executive produce the drama via Berlanti Productions’ Warner Bros. Television-based banner. Berlanti Productions’ topper Sarah Schecter also executive produces.

The Supergirl pickup also means all five of the broadcast networks could have superhero-themed series on the air next season, with DC properties on four of the five. Fox on Monday launches its highly anticipated Batman prequel Gotham — which like Supergirl started with a series commitment; NBC has Hellblazer take Constantine due in October; CW has Flash and Arrow; and ABC, via Disney’s deal with Marvel, has Agents of SHIELD and bridge series Agent Carter. For its part, Netflix also has four Marvel series and a mini, starting with Daredevil.

Photos: Broadcast TV’s New 2014-15 Shows

Comic adaptations are the fall’s biggest bet, with many producers telling THR that the wave comes as superheroes continue to dominate the box office and as the technology to tell such stories has evolved, among other factors. AMC’s The Walking Dead, TV’s biggest drama in the key adults 18-49 demographic, is also based on a comic and the network is tapping that well for a companion series eyed for 2015. Other cable networks — as well as Sony’s PlayStation — have also joined the fray, with comic takes on Powers, Preacher, Outcast, Ronin, Clone, Titans, Scalped and more.

Supergirl now gives Berlanti three shows based on characters from the DC Comics universe. It joins The CW veteran Arrow and upcoming spinoff The Flash. It also comes as Berlanti’s newest drama, NBC’s Mysteries of Laura adaptation, opened to strong viewership this week. Supergirl is Berlanti’s third sale this development season and second at CBS. He also has supernatural procedural The Things They Left Behind based on a Stephen King short story set up at CBS with a put-pilot commitment and FBI thriller Blindspot at NBC with a script plus penalty attached.

Berlanti is repped by WME and Felker Toczek; Adler, whose credits include NBC’s The New Normal, Glee and Chuck, is with WME.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit




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What’s Behind Hollywood’s Renewed Interest in Political Movies

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This story first appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

If a story plays for free on CNN, audiences won’t pay to see it in a theater. This was the mind-set behind Hollywood’s aversion to politically minded movies following a string of box-office misfires such as Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, Green Zone and even the Oscar-winning but low-grossing The Hurt Locker.

But these days, political movies are back. Thanks to Kathryn Bigelow‘s Osama bin Laden thriller Zero Dark Thirty ($133 million worldwide), a dozen or so ripped-from-the-headlines films are about to debut or are in the works, even at the risk-averse major studios.

From competing Edward Snowden projects (one from Oliver Stone) to dueling drone warfare dramas to a pair of films about rescued U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, Hollywood’s slates again are mirroring the day’s most controversial news. Brad Pitt is poised to play disgraced Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who resigned after he made disparaging comments about Barack Obama, in New Regency’s The Operators. And on Sept. 3, Sony said George Clooney will direct an adaptation of Hack Attack, which delves into the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch‘s news empire and the U.K. government. Likewise, on Oct. 10, Focus will release Kill the Messenger from Homeland director Michael Cuesta, which paints an unflattering portrait of the CIA. And Sony’s Kim Jong-un comedy The Interview bows Dec. 25.

At the same time, the Toronto Film Festival showcased an unusually high number of politically heavy films, including Jon Stewart‘s Rosewater, about a journalist jailed in Tehran, and the drone critique Good Kill. And several hot-button projects, such as Truth, about Dan Rather‘s firing from CBS News, and Gavin Hood‘s drone drama Eye in the Sky, were being shopped.

Is the box office ready to support such provocative subjects? Last fall’s Julian Assange film The Fifth Estate flopped with just $8.6 million worldwide. But in the 13 years since 9/11, Americans have become more skeptical of the government’s handling of national security, and the studios are more inclined to back films that question its practices. “9/11 bombarded us with images of the attacks and reports of future attacks, and the status quo was pro-American military might,” says Cuesta. “As a result, the studios backed away from hard-hitting films about the war and national security. Now we’re seeing a willingness to tackle complicated and controversial issues.”

The challenge remains selling these types of films. When marketing based-on-a-true-story plots, executives say the key is enticing audiences without appearing didactic. “You don’t want to market it in a way that feels like some form of leafy green vegetables that you don’t want to eat,” says Gigi Pritzker, who produced Rosewater. “Jon said to me recently, ‘I thought making the movie was the hard part.’ “

Ron Howard received some of the best reviews of his career and a best picture Oscar nomination for 2008’s Frost/Nixon, a retelling of the post-Watergate interviews between British TV host David Frost and President Nixon. Still, the Universal film mustered only $27 million worldwide. “It’s a challenge to market these stories,” Howard tells THR. “But if you make it for the right price, there’s an audience. And when they work, they resonate.”

Unlike in the 1970s, when political-minded films like All the President’s Men, The Parallax View and 3 Days of the Condor could lure audiences year-round, now insiders say that year-end awards buzz is necessary to selling a political film. “If they come out of the gate and people are attaching the word ‘Oscar’ to them, it makes them more of a must-see,” says Phil Contrino of BoxOffice.com. “But if they fall short of that, people tend to stay home.”

The new crop of political films boasts plenty of Oscar veterans including Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) attached to an adaptation of Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA for Sony as well as another Assange film, The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, for Megan Ellison‘s Annapurna Pictures. Oscar-winning writer Mark Boal (Hurt Locker) and nominee Todd Field (In the Bedroom) are developing respective projects about Bergdahl, the Army soldier who was captured by the Taliban and traded for five terrorist suspects. Sony is looking for a top writer to tackle Glenn Greenwald‘s No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State.

The biggest problem — that a film will be dismissed as partisan — also can be its greatest blessing at a time when movies clamor for buzz. With Zero, Bigelow was slammed by the left (for glorifying torture) and the right (for her access to classified documents). The uproar put the Sony movie in the national conversation. Clooney, an outspoken liberal, likely will be attacked when his hacking film premieres. And for Sony, that’s part of the appeal.

(Marisa Guthrie contributed to this report.)

Email: Tatiana.Siegel@THR.com

Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27


 

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Jimmy Fallon’s 40th: James Franco, Seth Rogen and Stevie Wonder Surprise on ‘Tonight Show’





Jimmy Fallon celebrated his 40th birthday on Friday’s The Tonight Show — with a little help from Seth Rogen, James Franco and Stevie Wonder.

The two actors popped out of a cake (shirtless), before Wonder came out from backstage to perform a happy birthday song for Fallon, who said he had no idea who his surprise guests would be.

Wonder stuck around for an interview and made Fallon’s birthday wish come true by performing

Sept. 19, 11:08 p.m.: Updated with Wonder performance of “All Day Sucker.”




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China’s controversial "baby hatches"

June 27, 2014, 7:16 PM|Controversy surrounds the “baby hatch,” a place where desperate parents in China can leave a baby they can’t care for. The increasing number of abandoned newborns has overwhelmed the government system, causing hatches to shut down. One family faces criminal charges after finding out they left their baby to die at a closed “hatch.” Seth Doane reports.

Source Article from http://feeds.cbsnews.com/~r/CBSNewsInvestigates/~3/uDUxHqozzf8/

China’s controversial "baby hatches"

June 27, 2014, 7:16 PM|Controversy surrounds the “baby hatch,” a place where desperate parents in China can leave a baby they can’t care for. The increasing number of abandoned newborns has overwhelmed the government system, causing hatches to shut down. One family faces criminal charges after finding out they left their baby to die at a closed “hatch.” Seth Doane reports.

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Watch: White Sox manager grants sick girl’s wish

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Watch: Gary Carter’s Hall of Fame speech

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Tech Week: Smartphone Privacy, Cyberstalking, Alibaba’s Big Debut

Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma celebrates as the Alibaba stock goes live on Friday.i
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Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma celebrates as the Alibaba stock goes live on Friday.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images


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Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma celebrates as the Alibaba stock goes live on Friday.

Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma celebrates as the Alibaba stock goes live on Friday.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

It was a big Friday for Alibaba, which opened trading on the New York Stock Exchange at the wildly high $92.70 per share. But that wasn’t the only tech news this week, so let’s get to our roundup.

ICYMI

Smartphone Stalking: As the issues of domestic abuse continue to dominate a national conversation, Aarti Shahani digs into a kind of abuse that doesn’t get reported as much: Cyberstalking and controlling your partner, using a number of off-the-shelf tools now available to consumers.

Net Neutrality’s Next Steps: Monday marked the end of the public commenting period on the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal for enforcing a level playing field on the Internet. Here’s a primer on what’s at stake, and what’s next.

The Big Conversation

BABA’s Big Debut: And when we call it big, it’s an understatement. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s initial public offering is among the largest ever. At its Friday closing price of just under $94 per share, the company is valued at more than $230 billion. As Quartz put it, “the company isn’t just the “Amazon of China”—it’s also the Dropbox, PayPal, Uber, Hulu, and more.”

Protecting Smartphone Data: Apple and soon, Android, are embracing a kind of default encryption that will make it technologically impossible for them to turn over smartphone data to police and other law enforcement agencies, even when faced with a warrant. It’s a marketing win for both companies, but cops will find a workaround, writes Wired.

Curiosities

iWatch … Wait, Apple Watch: The iPhone 6 went on sale Friday, but we’re still curious about the implications of the Apple Watch, coming next year. If you haven’t seen this parody of its features, it’s a must-watch.

YouTube

In case you missed it, this Apple Watch parody says a lot of the things we were thinking.

Glass Almanac: New Glassware ‘WBUR’ Brings Boston’s NPR Live Radio To Google Glass

Boston’s NPR news station introduced a new way to listen to its broadcasts, announcing that its live stream and hourly news will be available through Google Glass.

Gigaom: Twitpic says it’s getting acquired but it won’t say by whom

Twitpic had saddened fans and users when it announced it was shutting down its service. But the Twitter companion photo service later said it had been acquired and will continue to live.

Source Article from http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/09/20/349864329/tech-week-smartphone-privacy-cyberstalking-alibabas-big-debut?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

With Alibaba IPO, Yahoo Reaps A Big Reward From Risky Bet

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Yahoo will gain nearly $8 billion from the Alibaba IPO because of its $1 billion investment in Alibaba 2005.i
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Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Yahoo will gain nearly $8 billion from the Alibaba IPO because of its $1 billion investment in Alibaba 2005.

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Paul Sakuma/AP

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Yahoo will gain nearly $8 billion from the Alibaba IPO because of its $1 billion investment in Alibaba 2005.

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Yahoo will gain nearly $8 billion from the Alibaba IPO because of its $1 billion investment in Alibaba 2005.

Paul Sakuma/AP

Yahoo has made a number of bad bets in its up-and-down history. But the decision to buy a $1 billion stake in the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba was hands down a winner.

Alibaba’s successful IPO — its stock shot up 38 percent on the first day of trading Friday — will give Yahoo around $8 billion in return. But it was a masterful move, almost a decade ago, that made this mega-payday possible.

Yahoo Was A Pawn

To those who were watching, Yahoo’s move on Aug. 11, 2005, didn’t seem so masterful.

“At that moment, when you first looked at it, it was: Wow, I wonder if Yahoo knows what it’s doing,” says F. Warren McFarlan, a professor at Harvard Business School.

“And the answer is: They knew part of what they were doing, and the other pieces of it they just didn’t understand,” he says.

McFarlan, who has written about Chinese tech companies for decades, found it curious when the founder of Yahoo, a fellow American named Jerry Yang, came looking for a deal.

Yang was in search of a native Chinese company to help Yahoo build its Web searching business there — someone to deliver contacts and customers and deal with the government. Yang was not betting on the success of that native company when he handed over a check for $1 billion.

“It wasn’t so clear how he was going to get the return out of it,” McFarlan says.

Internet companies are in essence information companies, but the Chinese government was heavy-handed about controlling information, McFarland says. So it wasn’t clear that startups could prosper.

But he doesn’t want to overstate how much attention the deal got.

“In the big picture around the world, it was much more of a yawn,” McFarlan says.

Or a subplot.

The much bigger story was another American giant, eBay, trying to stomp out Alibaba, the scrappy Chinese startup. Many assumed it would be an easy knockout for eBay, but it wasn’t, and Yahoo became a pawn in that fight.

“EBay obviously has been trying to really build and be a successful company in China. I guess with the Yahoo backing this is really representing a big challenge for eBay in China,” CNBC business reporter Maria Bartiromo reported at the time of the deal.

Payoff And Downside

Alibaba did win, decisively, snagging millions of Chinese consumers to its online auction site.

And now Yahoo gets to cash in. The company based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is selling about one quarter of its shares and getting billions of dollars back in return.

Under federal regulations, Yahoo is subject to a quiet period before Alibaba’s debut on the stock market and can’t discuss how it plans to spend all the money it’ll make — whether it’ll give it out in payments to investors or buy more startups. In its last earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Ken Goldman said Yahoo is committed to returning at least half of the after-tax proceeds from the public offering to shareholders.

“It’s not their hard work that generated this return,” says Colin Gillis, an analyst with BGC Partners. “It’s Alibaba’s success that generated this return.”

But there may be a downside for Yahoo. For years U.S. investors couldn’t buy a single share of Alibaba directly, so they had to invest in Yahoo as a proxy. Now with Alibaba on the New York Stock Exchange, investors could dump their Yahoo stock.

“Why would I want to buy the proxy now that I can buy the real thing?” Gillis says.

But he isn’t too worried about that. Yahoo is holding on to a significant stake in Alibaba, and, he says, their stock values will probably track each other closely for a while.

The main downside is in the culture of Yahoo, Gillis says. The Internet company does not dominate Web searches, or sell a hot smartphone or run a popular mobile operating system. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer is a CEO in search of a strategy, but all this cash on hand makes that search less urgent.

“If you’re an employee of Yahoo on the one hand, it’s a blessing because people are not focused in on your core business,” Gillis says. “But on the other hand, you are just a tracking stock. And the way that the stock moves has nothing to do really with the core business.”

New Conventional Wisdom In Silicon Valley

No matter how you size up the long-term prospects, right now Yahoo has a lot of cash on hand.

While Silicon Valley companies — from Google to Microsoft to Cisco — have a long history of investing in other startups, the sheer size of the payoff from Yahoo’s bet is unique.

“It is not common that every investment goes in the tens of billions of dollars,” says Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s chief technology and strategy officer.

Her company and others are crisscrossing the world in search of their Alibabas. In the last decade, the conventional wisdom about why you invest abroad has changed.

“It’s no longer the case that you can develop a product for U.S. or Europe and then take features away and in a way dumb down the product to take into an emerging market,” she says. “I think that’s turned out to be a myth.”

The new wisdom — and certainly a lesson gleaned from Yahoo’s foray into China — is that native companies know what their people want and how to deliver it. And Silicon Valley can tag along for the ride.

Source Article from http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/09/20/349318872/with-alibaba-ipo-yahoo-reaps-a-big-reward-from-risky-bet?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

Turkish Hostages Held By Islamic Militants Are Released

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday that 49 Turkish hostages who were seized by Islamic militants in Iraq have been freed and safely returned to Turkey, ending Turkey’s most serious hostage crisis.

The Turks, including diplomatic staff, were seized from the consulate on June 11, when the Islamic State group overran Mosul, Iraq and stormed the Turkish Consulate there. The hostages included Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz, other diplomats, children and special forces police.

Davutoglu told Turkish reporters during a visit to Baku, Azerbaijan that the hostages were released early on Saturday and had arrived in Turkey. He was cutting his visit short to meet with the hostages in the province of Sanliurfa, near Turkey’s border with Syria.

He did not provide details on the circumstances of their release but said the hostages were freed through the intelligence agency’s “own methods” and that no operation was carried out. He thanked Turkey’s intelligence agency and the Foreign Ministry’s head official for their efforts toward their release.

Turkey had publicly resisted joining a coalition to defeat the Islamic State group, citing its 49 kidnapped citizens.

The United States had been careful not to push Turkey too hard as it tried to free the hostages.

The extremist group has beheaded two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker who were working in Syria as payback for airstrikes that Washington has launched against them in Iraq.

“I am sharing a joyful news which as a nation we have been waiting for,” Davutoglu said. “After intense efforts that lasted days and weeks, in the early hours, our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back to our country.”

“They have crossed into Turkey and I am on my way to see them,” Davutoglu said.

Thirty-two Turkish truck drivers who were also seized in Mosul in June 6 were released a month later. Turkey did not provide information surrounding their release

Source Article from http://www.npr.org/2014/09/20/350034952/turkish-hostages-held-by-islamic-militants-are-released?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

Box Office: ‘Maze Runner’ Scares Up $1.1 Million Thursday Night

Twentieth Century Fox’s dystopian YA film adaptation The Maze Runner is winning the Friday box office race for a projected $24 million to $25 million weekend, less than tracking services had projected but still a solid number. And the landscape could change if Saturday traffic is stronger than expected.

Liam Neeson‘s latest action film, A Walk Among the Tombstones, is looking at a more subdued debut in the $15 million to $17 million range, while Shawn Levy‘s adult dramedy This Is Where I Leave You is projected to take in $11 million to $12 million for the weekend (neither film was costly to make).

Maze Runner, marking the first YA film adaptation largely anchored by teen boys, hopes to launch a new franchise for Fox, which spent $34 million to make the thriller. Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf) Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario and Will Poulter star in the movie, which is playing in more than 3,500 locations, including Imax theaters.

Heading into the weekend, tracking services suggested Maze Runner would shoot past $30 million in its North American debut, although tracking has been notoriously unreliable in recent months. The movie took in $1.1 million from 2,200 theaters as it began rolling out at 10 p.m. Thursday night at the North American box office. In terms of comparisons, dystopian YA film adaptation Ender’s Game pulled in $1.4 million on its first Thursday night in November 2013 on its way to earning $27 million for the weekend.

Maze Runner follows O’Brien’s character as he wakes up with no memory inside the center of a giant maze, an area known as The Glade, surrounded by other teen boys who likewise can’t remember anything. Threatening them all are vicious creatures known as Grievers. The boys look for a way out of the maze, but it isn’t until a mysterious girl arrives that they have a fighting chance. According to pre-release tracking, younger females are most interested in seeing Maze Runner, followed by younger males, a coveted demo.

Wes Ball directed from an adapted script by Noah Oppenheim.

From Cross Creek Pictures, Walk Among Tombstones is headed for a lower opening than Neeson’s other recent action outings, including this year’s Non-Stop which debuted to $28.9 million — although most of those titles were rated PG-13, versus an R for Tombstones (insiders also note Tombstones‘ darker tone).

The movie, costing a reported $23 million to make and playing in 2,712 locations, is based on Lawrence Block‘s best-selling mystery novels and stars Neeson as ex-New York City cop Matt Scudder, who now works as an unlicensed private investigator and is hired by a drug dealer to find the dealer’s kidnapped wife.

Universal is distributing Tombstones in the U.S., while Entertainment One has Canada. Older males, as expected, are most interested in seeing the film, but their wives or girlfriends could try to convince them to see This Is Where I Leave You instead.

This Is Where I Leave You is a marked departure for Levy, who generally sticks to big commercial fare. The dramedy, playing in 2,868 theaters, cost $20 million to make but certainly doesn’t lack star power, boasting a cast led by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne and Jane Fonda.

From Warner Bros. and based on Jonathan Tropper‘s novel, This Is Where I Leave You follows four siblings who reunite at their family home to sit shiva for their father (Tropper wrote the adapted screenplay). The movie made its world premiere earlier this month at the Toronto Film Festival and is projected to open in the low to mid teens.

Several other Toronto titles debut this weekend, albeit in more limited runs, including Kevin Smith‘s Tusk, which A24 rolls out in roughly 600 theaters, and Relativity Media’s British comedy Hector and the Search for Happiness, which debuts in New York and Los Angeles.

Other new specialty offerings include Mia Wasikowska‘s Tracks, from The Weinstein Co., and Amplify’s The Zero Theorem, directed by Terry Gilliam.

Sept. 19, 3:45 p.m. Updated with weekend projections.

Source Article from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/thr/boxoffice/~3/CZDAogBNrGs/story01.htm

Box-Office Milestone: ‘Fault In Our Stars’ Crosses $300 Million Worldwide

Continuing its dazzling run, YA drama The Fault in Our Stars has crossed the $300 million mark at the global box office in a major win for Fox 2000 and author John Green.

Fault in Our Stars, costing just $12 million to make, is easily one of the most profitable titles of 2014 so far, if not the most profitable, and has now surpassed fellow Shailene Woodley YA film adaptation Divergent ($286.3 million).

Younger females have fueled Fault in Our Stars, starring Woodley and Ansel Elgort as two young lovers who meet in a cancer support group. Josh Boone directed from an adapted script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

Overseas, where it is still in release, the movie has earned $175.1 million. Domestically, it has taken in $124.8 million for a total $299.9 million through Wednesday, pushing its cume past $300 million sometime on Thursday.

Fault in Our Stars opened in early June in North America, beating fellow opener Edge of Tomorrow, Warner Bros.’ big-budget sci-fi actioner starring Tom Cruise, in its debut weekend.

Source Article from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/thr/boxoffice/~3/4YhBy9_9OjU/story01.htm

Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Lucy’ Opens Strong in Russia

Luc Besson’s Lucy exceeded Russian box-office expectations, bringing in one of the year’s biggest opening-weekend performances in the country.

The sci-fi/action thriller, released in Russia on Sept. 11, seven weeks after its U.S. release, grossed $9.6 million (363 million rubles) during its opening weekend, surpassing even the most optimistic forecasts. Besson and the film’s star, Scarlett Johansson, are popular in Russia.

Lucy was the top movie of the weekend and had the eighth-biggest opening weekend of the year in Russia.

The opening-weekend figure put Lucy in the same league as the most successful recent Hollywood releases in Russia. Lucy‘s performance surpassed the opening weekend gross of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($9 million or 346 million rubles) and didn’t lag much behind that of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ($10.6 million or 407 million rubles).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is currently the year’s sixth-highest grossing film, with Lucy seen as having a chance to make the top 10 for the year in Russia. Homegrown films gained market share in the country in the first half of the year.

The biggest box-office opening weekend performance in Russia so far this year has come from local movie Viy, which made $15.7 million during its first weekend.

Lucy has also done well in other countries, including in Besson’s French home market.

Source Article from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/thr/boxoffice/~3/ZxZOGlyCBi8/story01.htm

Box-Office Preview: Boys Could Propel ‘Maze Runner’ to Strong $30 Million-Plus Debut

Thanks to keen interest among young moviegoers, The Maze Runner should easily shoot to the top of the North American box office with a debut of $30 million or more. Younger males in particular will play a crucial role if they turn out in force, since they are making fewer trips to the multiplex, unlike their female counterparts.

Maze Runner, marking the first YA film adaptation largely anchored by teen boys, hopes to launch a new franchise for 20th Century Fox, which spent $34 million to make the dystopian thriller. Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf) Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario and Will Poulter star in the movie, which will play in more than 3,500 locations, including Imax theaters.

The story follows O’Brien’s character as he wakes up with no memory inside the center of a giant maze, an area known as The Glade, surrounded by other teen boys who likewise have lost their memories. Threatening them all are vicious creatures known as Grievers. The boys look for a way out of the maze, but it isn’t until a mysterious girl arrives that they have a fighting chance. According to prerelease tracking, younger females are most interesting in seeing Maze Runner, followed by younger males.

Wes Ball directed from an adapted script by Noah Oppenheim.

The weekend’s other two new nationwide offerings, Liam Neeson‘s action film A Walk Among the Tombstones and director Shawn Levy‘s This Is Where I Leave You, are looking at much more modest opens and will cater to an older crowd.

From Cross Creek Pictures, Tombstones is expected to open in the mid teens. That’s lower than Neeson’s other recent action outings, including this year’s Non-Stop, which debuted to $28.9 million, although most of those titles were rated PG-13, versus an R for Tombstones (insiders also note Tombstones‘ darker tone).

The movie is based on Lawrence Block‘s best-selling mystery novels, and stars Neeson as an ex-New York City cop named Matt Scudder who now works as an unlicensed private investigator and is hired by a drug dealer to find the dealer’s kidnapped wife.

Universal is distributing Walk Among Tombstones in the U.S., while Entertainment One has Canada. Older males, as expected, are most interested in seeing the film, but their wives or girlfriends could try to convince them to see This Is Where I Leave You instead.

This Is Where I Leave You is a marked departure for Levy, who generally sticks to big commercial fare. The dramedy cost a modest $20 million to make but certainly doesn’t lack star power, boasting a cast led by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne and Jane Fonda.

From Warner Bros. and based on Jonathan Tropper‘s novel, This Is Where I Leave You follows four siblings who reunite at their family home to sit shivah for their dead father (Tropper wrote the adapted screenplay). The movie made its world premiere earlier this month at the Toronto Film Festival, and is projected to open in the low to mid teens.

Several other Toronto titles debut this weekend, albeit in more limited runs, including Kevin Smith‘s Tusk, which A24 rolls out in roughly 500 theaters, and Relativity Media’s British comedy Hector and the Search for Happiness, which debuts in New York and Los Angeles.

Other new specialty offerings include Mia Wasikowska‘s Tracks, from The Weinstein Co., and Amplify’s The Zero Theorem, directed by Terry Gilliam.

Source Article from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/thr/boxoffice/~3/tyCwRAhQ-7w/story01.htm

Record amount of retardant used to fight massive California wildfire

Firefighters are dropping record-breaking amounts of retardants on a massive Northern California wildfire that is burning explosively because of the prolonged drought.

California firefighters and the U.S. Forest Service together had bombarded the conflagration with more than a half-million gallons of retardant, fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said Friday. That included more than 203,000 gallons in a single day.

Retardant — a water-and-fertilizer mix colored with red dye — are used as an initial attack tool on wildfires to buy time for crews to get to the scene and dig fire lines.

But the fire activity is so extreme it’s pushing through their lines.

“They can slow it down a little bit. But they’re not able to hold it long enough to get ground units in there to extinguish it before it burns through and continues its path,” Tolmachoff said.

The King Fire, which authorities said was deliberately set, has chewed through nearly 120 square miles of timber and vegetation about 60 miles east of Sacramento. It was 10 percent contained.

The blaze in steep terrain forced the evacuation of 2,800 people and burned multiple structures in the White Meadows area of Pollock Pines, but details of the damage were not yet available because officials can’t assess the area until it’s safe to do so. One resident who has been helping carve fire lines with his bulldozer told the Sacramento Bee he lost his home on White Meadows Road when he went to check on it Friday.

“My house got burned. My house is gone. My outbuildings are gone,” Tom Boscow said. “I just wish I’d been here.”

The fire is threatening a key University of California, Berkeley research station that is home to scores of experiments on trees, plants and other wildlife. It is also threatening hydroelectric facilities and power lines that deliver water and electricity to the Sacramento region and some treasured Sierra Nevada recreations areas, the Bee reported. Some power stations and lines either burned or were shut down as a precaution, cutting off energy from three utility agencies’ hydroelectric reservoirs.

The man suspected of setting the fire, Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, pleaded not guilty to an arson charge Friday in El Dorado County Superior Court. He was being held on $10 million bail.

Authorities have not said what evidence they have linking Huntsman to the fire, by far the largest of about a dozen fires burning statewide.

The record retardant drop occurred Wednesday, and Thursday was another heavy day. Authorities reduced drops on Friday because smoke affected visibility for pilots.

Firefighters have used retardant since the 1950s to slow the advance of wildfires, but the practice is controversial because of its potential effect on wildlife. The Forest Service recently adjusted its retardant rules after two lawsuits that alleged the drops were killing fish, damaging watersheds and harming endangered species.

The agency now can’t drop retardant within 300 feet of bodies of water on federal forest land and can’t dump the slurry in certain exclusion zones designed to protect endangered plant species. The only exception is if people are in immediate danger from flames.

Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, said the intended purpose of retardant was to attack “very remote fire” until crews could get to the blaze.

“But now we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the amount of retardant being dumped because we’re not just using it in those remote wilderness areas, but we’re using it on every fire, everywhere, and there are more fires,” he said.

The Forest Service used 12 million gallons of retardant nationwide last year, and 60 percent of it was dumped on California fires, Stahl said.

The federal restrictions don’t apply to California firefighters, and Cal Fire has increased the amount of retardant during the past decade.

Tolmachoff, the state fire spokeswoman, didn’t know how many gallons her agency dropped on fires last year. But she said retardant use was rising because of the addition of bigger DC-10 air tankers, expanding populations in fire-prone areas and the increasing size and frequency of fires caused by drought.

“Our main goal in California is to protect lives and the property and resources, and we put every effort we can into it,” she said.

Source Article from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/09/20/crews-set-1-day-record-for-amount-retardant-used-on-explosive-northern/

SECURITY ALERT Australia on guard after intel suggests ISIS plot

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Sept. 19, 2014: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott briefs media, in Sydney, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, after police said they thwarted a plot to carry out beheadings in Australia by Islamic State group supporters when they raided more than a dozen properties across Sydney. (AP)

Intercepted intelligence indicating Islamic State militants could be planning to attack Australian lawmakers triggered a security alert at  the country’s Parliament building Friday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Australian Federal Police would ramp up security in the Parliament House building in Canberra after agencies intercepted intelligence pointing to attacks against lawmakers, including Abbott, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“There certainly has been chatter amongst the terrorist support networks of an attack on government and people, and Parliament House has been specifically mentioned,” Abbott told a state radio network.

The development comes a day after hundreds of heavily armed police carried out raids in major Australian cities to disrupt an alleged plot by Islamic State militants to snatch people off the streets and behead at least one.

Abbott has approved the deployment of Australian warplanes and 200 special-forces soldiers to Iraq to join the U.S.-led global coalition to attack ISIS insurgents.

The Australian Parliament is designed to be accessible to the public, and is by global standards lightly protected by mostly unarmed security guards.

Abbott’s government plans to introduce new laws increasing police powers to arrest Australians thought to have joined terror groups abroad. Abbott rejected criticism that authorities had overreacted and said he wanted to “wrap up the extended family of the Australian nation in an embrace.”

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal.

Source Article from http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/09/20/australia-steps-up-security-after-alleged-isis-plot-against-lawmakers/

EBOLA CRISIS Lockdown underway in Sierra Leone to battle virus

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An empty street is seen at the start of a three-day national lockdown in Freetown September 19, 2014. Sierra Leone began a three-day lockdown on Friday in an effort to halt the spread of the Ebola virus, as President Ernest Bai Koroma urged residents to comply with the emergency measures. REUTERS/Umaru Fofana

Sierra Leone began a three-day lockdown on Friday in an effort to halt the spread of the Ebola virus, as President Ernest Bai Koroma urged residents to comply with the emergency measures.

Streets in the normally bustling seaside capital Freetown were deserted, barring vehicles carrying police officers and health workers. Radio stations played Ebola awareness jingles on repeat and encouraged residents to stay indoors.

“Today, the life of everyone is at stake, but we will get over this difficulty if all do what we have been asked to do,” Koroma said in a television address late on Thursday.

“These are extraordinary times and extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.”

Ebola has infected some 5,357 people in West Africa this year, killing 2,630 of them, in the worst epidemic of the virus that the world has seen.

At least 562 people have died in Sierra Leone and nearly 30,000 health workers, volunteers and teachers aim to visit every single household in the country of six million in just three days to educate them and isolate the sick.

But the teams were off to a slow start on Friday. Volunteers at the Murray Town Health Center in Freetown said they had not yet received their kits, containing soap, stickers and flyers.

“This means we are going to achieve less than our target for today or stay beyond 6 o’clock this evening to be able to do so,” one of the volunteers said.

Some have questioned whether Sierra Leone’s campaign will be effective.

“Food prices have gone up 30 percent. Many homes that cannot afford (food) are starving,” said Ahmed Nanoh, executive secretary of Sierra Leone’s chamber of agriculture.

“This morning many families are calling on the radio crying because of lack of food in their homes.”

Healthcare workers seeking to contain the Ebola outbreak have often been met with deep mistrust by local communities.

In a tragic illustration of latent fears, a team of eight people educating locals on Ebola risks in neighboring Guinea were killed and their bodies dumped in a village latrine.

An official for the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, Roeland Monasch, said the “Ose to Ose” campaign, which means “house to house” in local Krio, would be helpful.

“If people don’t have access to the right information, we need to bring life-saving messages to them, where they live, at their doorsteps,” he said.

Investors are worried about the impact of the lockdown on Sierra Leone’s iron ore production. In a bid to reassure them, African Minerals Ltd. said it expected no material impact on its iron ore operations.

Source Article from http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/09/20/sierra-leone-capital-at-standstill-as-ebola-lockdown-begins/

Box Office: ‘Maze Runner’ Scares Up $1.1 Million Thursday Night

Twentieth Century Fox’s dystopian YA film adaptation The Maze Runner is winning the Friday box office race for a projected $24 million to $25 million weekend, less than tracking services had projected but still a solid number. And the landscape could change if Saturday traffic is stronger than expected.

Liam Neeson‘s latest action film, A Walk Among the Tombstones, is looking at a more subdued debut in the $15 million to $17 million range, while Shawn Levy‘s adult dramedy This Is Where I Leave You is projected to take in $11 million to $12 million for the weekend (neither film was costly to make).

Maze Runner, marking the first YA film adaptation largely anchored by teen boys, hopes to launch a new franchise for Fox, which spent $34 million to make the thriller. Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf) Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario and Will Poulter star in the movie, which is playing in more than 3,500 locations, including Imax theaters.

Heading into the weekend, tracking services suggested Maze Runner would shoot past $30 million in its North American debut, although tracking has been notoriously unreliable in recent months. The movie took in $1.1 million from 2,200 theaters as it began rolling out at 10 p.m. Thursday night at the North American box office. In terms of comparisons, dystopian YA film adaptation Ender’s Game pulled in $1.4 million on its first Thursday night in November 2013 on its way to earning $27 million for the weekend.

Maze Runner follows O’Brien’s character as he wakes up with no memory inside the center of a giant maze, an area known as The Glade, surrounded by other teen boys who likewise can’t remember anything. Threatening them all are vicious creatures known as Grievers. The boys look for a way out of the maze, but it isn’t until a mysterious girl arrives that they have a fighting chance. According to pre-release tracking, younger females are most interested in seeing Maze Runner, followed by younger males, a coveted demo.

Wes Ball directed from an adapted script by Noah Oppenheim.

From Cross Creek Pictures, Walk Among Tombstones is headed for a lower opening than Neeson’s other recent action outings, including this year’s Non-Stop which debuted to $28.9 million — although most of those titles were rated PG-13, versus an R for Tombstones (insiders also note Tombstones‘ darker tone).

The movie, costing a reported $23 million to make and playing in 2,712 locations, is based on Lawrence Block‘s best-selling mystery novels and stars Neeson as ex-New York City cop Matt Scudder, who now works as an unlicensed private investigator and is hired by a drug dealer to find the dealer’s kidnapped wife.

Universal is distributing Tombstones in the U.S., while Entertainment One has Canada. Older males, as expected, are most interested in seeing the film, but their wives or girlfriends could try to convince them to see This Is Where I Leave You instead.

This Is Where I Leave You is a marked departure for Levy, who generally sticks to big commercial fare. The dramedy, playing in 2,868 theaters, cost $20 million to make but certainly doesn’t lack star power, boasting a cast led by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne and Jane Fonda.

From Warner Bros. and based on Jonathan Tropper‘s novel, This Is Where I Leave You follows four siblings who reunite at their family home to sit shiva for their father (Tropper wrote the adapted screenplay). The movie made its world premiere earlier this month at the Toronto Film Festival and is projected to open in the low to mid teens.

Several other Toronto titles debut this weekend, albeit in more limited runs, including Kevin Smith‘s Tusk, which A24 rolls out in roughly 600 theaters, and Relativity Media’s British comedy Hector and the Search for Happiness, which debuts in New York and Los Angeles.

Other new specialty offerings include Mia Wasikowska‘s Tracks, from The Weinstein Co., and Amplify’s The Zero Theorem, directed by Terry Gilliam.

Sept. 19, 3:45 p.m. Updated with weekend projections.

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Box-Office Milestone: ‘Fault In Our Stars’ Crosses $300 Million Worldwide

Continuing its dazzling run, YA drama The Fault in Our Stars has crossed the $300 million mark at the global box office in a major win for Fox 2000 and author John Green.

Fault in Our Stars, costing just $12 million to make, is easily one of the most profitable titles of 2014 so far, if not the most profitable, and has now surpassed fellow Shailene Woodley YA film adaptation Divergent ($286.3 million).

Younger females have fueled Fault in Our Stars, starring Woodley and Ansel Elgort as two young lovers who meet in a cancer support group. Josh Boone directed from an adapted script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

Overseas, where it is still in release, the movie has earned $175.1 million. Domestically, it has taken in $124.8 million for a total $299.9 million through Wednesday, pushing its cume past $300 million sometime on Thursday.

Fault in Our Stars opened in early June in North America, beating fellow opener Edge of Tomorrow, Warner Bros.’ big-budget sci-fi actioner starring Tom Cruise, in its debut weekend.

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Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Lucy’ Opens Strong in Russia

Luc Besson’s Lucy exceeded Russian box-office expectations, bringing in one of the year’s biggest opening-weekend performances in the country.

The sci-fi/action thriller, released in Russia on Sept. 11, seven weeks after its U.S. release, grossed $9.6 million (363 million rubles) during its opening weekend, surpassing even the most optimistic forecasts. Besson and the film’s star, Scarlett Johansson, are popular in Russia.

Lucy was the top movie of the weekend and had the eighth-biggest opening weekend of the year in Russia.

The opening-weekend figure put Lucy in the same league as the most successful recent Hollywood releases in Russia. Lucy‘s performance surpassed the opening weekend gross of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($9 million or 346 million rubles) and didn’t lag much behind that of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ($10.6 million or 407 million rubles).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is currently the year’s sixth-highest grossing film, with Lucy seen as having a chance to make the top 10 for the year in Russia. Homegrown films gained market share in the country in the first half of the year.

The biggest box-office opening weekend performance in Russia so far this year has come from local movie Viy, which made $15.7 million during its first weekend.

Lucy has also done well in other countries, including in Besson’s French home market.

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