Boxing Day 2013 movie guideTrailers

Friday, 15. March 2019

As Australian as the Boxing Day Test, here’s your guide to the best post-Christmas flicks.

Rated M

162 Minutes

It begins again. Another epic Peter Jackson movie based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels is landing in cinemas.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaugis almost three hours of adventures involving hobbits, dwarves, wizards, elves, menacing orcs, wolf-like wargs, giant spiders and a dragon who lives in a mountain amid piles of gold and jewels.

For fans – and there are many given part one,The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, took $1 billion around the world a year ago – another instalment on Boxing Day is to be relished.

Despite litigation over the trilogy’s profits and reports they are costing a hefty $560 million to make, Jackson keeps rolling out Tolkien movies. New Zealand is still Orcland. Elvish lives!

But non-fans – anyone who thinks Smaug is a dishwasher and the pale orc is a beer – will wonder how the great filmmaker has kept spinning out a slim novel into three huge movies. And how well his second trilogy is shaping up in comparison to acclaimedThe Lord of the Rings.

So here is what you need to know – a primer free of plot spoilers – before seeingThe Desolation of Smaug.

Following on fromAn Unexpected Journey, the new movie continues the quest of 13 dwarves, helped by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), to reclaim the lost Kingdom of Erebor. It sets up the final movie,The Hobbit: There and Back Again, in a year’s time.

LikeThe Two TowersinThe Lord of the Ringstrilogy, this is the awkward middle story in Middle-earth.

“The first movie is generally the setting up and the getting on the road and getting to know the characters,” Jackson has said. “The third one is obviously the climactic episode where you can really just go crazy.

”The middle, in a way, has the least pressure on it, because you’re not having to kick the whole thing off but nor are you having to wrap it up. So you can just sort of have fun with it.”

Rated M

98 Minutes

Moving swiftly on from her extended tenure with the Bond franchise, Dame Judi Dench – that beloved elder stateswoman of stage and screen – reteams with British director Stephen Frears (The Queen) for this warm-hearted affair that paints a damning picture of the Catholic Church.

The story deals with the ”stolen babies” scandal that saw hundreds, possibly thousands, of illegitimate children given up for adoption by the church, without consultation with their mothers. The young, single women were deemed immoral for their transgressions, and were effectively imprisoned. Frears’s film has already ignited fresh debate on the subject, specifically, why church and state have not been held accountable.

Remarkably, given the very serious subject matter, the film exhibits an infectious comedic flair that never goes too far.

Dench plays against type as the real-life character of Irish single mother Philomena Lee. A no-nonsense working-class type with a devilishly quick wit, she has a grown-up daughter, but it’s her son, born out of teen passion 50 years earlier and sold by nuns to an American couple, who remains a closely guarded secret.

British comedian Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the screenplay, stars opposite Dench as journalist Martin Sixsmith, whose fall from grace following a tabloid smear campaign sees him embrace what appears to be nothing more than a women’s ”lifestyle story”.

Although many a jobbing actor could have adequately played Sixsmith, Coogan delivers a solid turn and bounces off his co-star far better than one might expect. That’s largely because he’s exhibiting an unusual degree of restraint, pulling back when ordinarily he would not. Dench, as she did so superbly in 1997’sMrs Brown, works well with comedians playing it straight on screen. Her banter with Coogan is as effortless as it was with Billy Connolly inMrs Brown. The fact that both men – rather, most men in Britain– have a deep admiration and fondness for the great dame helps, too.

Indeed, at this year’s Venice Film Festival, where the film premiered to great acclaim, the press and attending public went positively wild for Dench. More recently, the real Philomena Lee joined her at the British premiere.

All the attention has helped push the issue of forced adoptions back into the public consciousness. Campaigners have been lobbying Dench to support their cause for an independent inquiry into the matter (Coogan has already offered to help). Many women have yet to be reunited with their children, or told of their whereabouts. Some are predicting the issue will be Ireland’s biggest-ever scandal, given its active collusion with the church over the sale of the babies (and the burying of their identities).

Frears himself bounces back from several recent failures and does surprisingly well with this delicate material. There’s his usual commercially minded whimsy at work here, of course, but the film works thanks to the director’s long-standing working relationship with his leading lady and her chemistry with Coogan, here working with Frears for the first time. Given that another great dame (Helen Mirren) triumphed on Oscars night withThe Queen, there’s a certain expectation now that Dench could do likewise withPhilomena(despite substantial competition).

Regardless of how it fares in Oscar nods and gongs,Philomenais that rare delight of a film: immediately accessible to all, with lashings of dry wit to boot, but with a serious story and message at its core that will leave audiences reeling. That Lee herself not only forgave the church for its horrific sins but became an even more committed Catholic after the fact speaks volumes for her capacity for compassion.

Judging by the nuns in Frears’s film, the same cannot be said for them. And unlike other exposes of the church’s unlawful ways,Philomenawill make you laugh, cry and growl with outrage in equal measure. Oscar-worthy, indeed.

Rated PG

114 Minutes

”Me and my friends have been too busy bathing off the southern coast of St Barts with spider monkeys for the past two weeks. Tripping on acid changed our whole perspective on shit.” That’s Owen Wilson as male model Hansel in Ben Stiller’s 2001 fashion industry satireZoolander, living the New Age fantasy of dropping out, heading somewhere exotic and getting your groove on. No one spoofs the quest for authenticity quite like Stiller, because no one is quite so self-consciously phony: born into a family of showbiz professionals — his parents are improvisational comics Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara — he never had the option of not selling out.

Yet every so often Stiller’s palpable unease with himself compels him to switch gears, affirming the very cliches he mocks elsewhere. He’s at it again withThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty, his fifth film as director, and a loose adaptation of the famous James Thurber story, last filmed in 1947 with Danny Kaye.

Rather than the henpecked husband imagined by Thurber, Walter is played by Stiller as another of his lonely, tense nerds, hunched in a jacket the colour of the winter sky. Forced to abandon his youthful plans to see the world, he’s spent most of his adult life working in the basement of the New York office ofLIFEmagazine; to get through the boredom, he regularly zones out, dreaming of adventures where he’s always the hero (rendered as parodies of various movie genres).

Walter’s job description is ”negative asset manager”, which means not that he’s in the financial department, but that he spends his days handling photo negatives, many of them mailed from far-off lands by his hero Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), a Hemingway type who eschews conveniences such as digital cameras. (Walter Mittyis shot on 35-millimetre film, though the footage has undergone a great deal of digital manipulation.)

When a vital negative is lost, Walter cuts loose at long last, crossing the globe in search of the elusive Sean.

But if Walter breaks out of his rut, Stiller never really does. A far cry from the free-form zaniness ofZoolander, this is a comedy by an unrepentant control freak. The aesthetic is fussy and chilly, with a palette centred on blues and greys, and stark gridlike compositions in which the actors seem trapped like rats in a maze. The choice of exotic locations — the Arctic Ocean and the snowy Himalayas — offers further proof that emotionally and otherwise Stiller doesn’t do warmth. Even Kristen Wiig is reduced to a stock love interest, though I did laugh occasionally at Adam Scott as a corporate headkicker, an advanced student of smarm with a major in hostile smirking.

While Stiller may not be a natural optimist, he and screenwriter Steve Conrad strain to deliver an inspirational, live-your-dreams message — missing or wilfully disregarding the point of Thurber’s story, in which the protagonist’s wish-fulfilment fantasies were every bit as banal as his actual, mundane life. A related problem is the lack of what script consultants call ”stakes”. Frankly, who cares whetherLIFEgets its perfect cover shot? Since Walter never acquires any nobler purpose, his mock-heroic journey amounts to little more than an adventure holiday, letting him add a few more ”achievements” to his eHarmony profile.

As a study of modern loneliness and alienation the film is relatively persuasive, but Stiller remains unwilling to grapple with the deeper theme that has long preoccupied him, namely the way that pop culture, represented by websites like eHarmony and magazines such asLIFE, has commodified and made banal the notion of the authentic or transcendent. Mostly, he seems bent on having things both ways: Walter becomes a kind of hero without paying much attention to anybody but himself, while Sean still manages to meet the exact needs of his bosses. Hansel would approve.

Rated PG

108 Minutes

Offering a fresh spin on Hans Christian Andersen’sThe Snow Queen, this long-gestating Disney romp has not only gone to the top of the United States box office, scoring the studio’s best animated opening ever, but it’s also signalled a seismic shift in the animation house’s outlook. For the first time, a female director, Jennifer Lee, is at the reins, albeit alongside a male counterpart, Chris Buck.

Unashamedly family friendly in tone, but with enough twists and turns to keep its audience guessing,Frozenis full of musical numbers, courtesy of Tony winner Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, that manage to feel both contemporary and classic in spirit.

Eternal optimist Anna (Kristen Bell) is on a mission to save her homeland, Arendelle, from a never-ending winter, which was inadvertently set off by her sister, the newly crowned Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel). Rugged mountain ice-seller Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer, Sven, come to Anna’s aid, as does an amusingly naive snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), who wistfully dreams of an endless summer. A tribe of trolls, a snow monster and some dastardly courtiers back at home base all make for an evocative ride that’s never quite as straightforward as it seems.

Granted, this is noWreck it Ralph(which Lee co-wrote), nor does it match the wonderfulTangled. It doesn’t seek to emulate any of Pixar’s finest pictures, either. Rather, this is classic Disney in tone, albeit in a reduxed form that harks back to a more innocent time – one of childlike wonder, attuned to the yearnings of two siblings, one of whom is apparently cursed (Elsa).

The filmmakers seem to have been caught off guard by their newfound success. Both Buck and Lee professed surprise regarding the film’s success in the US.

Will kids and their families similarly flock to see it here? There’s no reason to think not. The film has enough magic, action, adventure and pizazz to appeal to a remarkably broad audience. Take the kids and sing.

Rated M

116 Minutes

As he demonstrated with his last feature, 2011’sBurning Man, Australian filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky, has a way with making the burden of the past impinge on the present.. InThe Railway Man, a story of suffering and forgiveness based on a true story, the distance between Colin Firth’s traumatised military veteran and the events of World War II more than 35 years prior feels minute, as if he’s living them out again and again.

At one point a slap to the face cuts across entire decades, and this melodrama is better at identifying the painful reality of the situation than in addressing it; the closer it moves to a resolution the less impressive it becomes.

Firth plays Eric Lomax, a withdrawn, bookish man in his 50s whose dedication to trains puts him in a carriage in 1980 opposite Patti (Nicole Kidman), a divorcee who pulls him out of his solitude. It’s only when they’re married, however, that Patti realises how damaged Eric is by his imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Photo: WARNER BROS PICTURES.

The first time the past intrudes, Eric literally witnesses the tormentor from his youth, Nagase (Tanroh Ishida), coming to take him away from the hope of his new bride. But for much of the film the storyline moves between the brutally hellish conditions on the Burma railway experienced by a young Eric (Jeremy Irvine) and his latter failure to deal with them.

Patti can neither get through to Eric nor get anything more than parts of his story from Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), a fellow captive seemingly better attuned to peacetime. It is only when it’s revealed that an ageing Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada) has returned to the scene of his crimes that Eric moves forth.

Teplitzky capably handles the international co-production’s sizeable recreation of wartime, but the film’s core is predicated on Firth’s inherent decency. Trying to couch Eric’s eventual encounter with the conciliatory Nagase as a revenge thriller feels slight and somehow insignificant.

Reconciliation between the torturer and his victim doesn’t have the uneasy emotional heft of Eric’s suffering. That is either a slight on the final act or a tribute to the first, but either wayThe Railway Manmakes do with simple satisfaction.

Fast and Furious 7 gets new release date: Vin Diesel

Friday, 15. March 2019

Successful franchise … Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 6. Paul Walker’s final scenes in the sequel could be played by his brother Cody, according to reports. Photo: Giles KeyteFast and Furious 7 has a new release date after the tragic death of Paul Walker.

His former co-star, Vin Diesel, announced on his Facebook page that the film would be released on April 10, 2015.

Diesel, who plays Dominic Toretto in the films, posted on his page on Monday evening, saying: “There was a unique sense of completion, of pride we shared … in the film we were now completing … the magic captured … and, in just how far we’ve come… “.

The message was accompanied with a picture of the two in the last scene they filmed together. He also added “P.s. He’d want you to know first …” at the end of his post.

Walker’s tragic death in a motoring accident last month threw the future of the film into jeopardy, and there was speculation that the project would be totally cancelled.

Australian director James Wan (co-creator of the Saw franchise) will remain in charge of the project, with rumours that Walker’s brother, Cody, will reprise the role of Brian O’Conner for scenes that were yet to be completed.

If that were to be the case, the existing footage of Paul Walker would be used in conjunction with shots from a distance of his brother, using CGI effects when close-ups were required.

This has yet to be confirmed by anybody associated with the film, as Universal Studios said they were assessing “all options available to move forward with the franchise”.

Diesel and Walker were the two leads on the first instalment in the franchise, The Fast and the Furious, in 2001. Since then they have teamed up on four of the films, with Walker being absent from the second movie and Diesel the third.

The unreleased seventh film will also feature Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez and Tyrese Gibson.

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Apple leads US shares to new records

Friday, 15. March 2019

US stocks climbed on Monday, with the Dow and S&P 500 advancing to all-time highs as a distribution deal by Apple Inc with China Mobile boosted the technology sector.

Apple rose 3.8 per cent to $US570.09, its biggest per centage gain in three months, after the tech titan said on Sunday it had signed a long-awaited agreement with China Mobile Ltd to sell iPhones through the world’s biggest network of mobile phone users, a deal that could add billions of dollars to its revenue.

Apple’s gains helped power the S&P technology sector index to a gain of 1.5 per cent, making it the best performer of the 10 major S&P sectors. The stock’s massive market capitalization helped lift both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq. US-listed shares of China Mobile rose 1.6 per cent to $US52.47.

“It is up nicely on this news, and it’s not bad news. But I thought it was something people were kind of already aware of,” said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Equity Management LLC in San Francisco.

Volume was light, with about 4.68 billion shares traded on US exchanges, well below the 6.49 billion average so far this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

This week, volume is expected to be thin, with many market participants out for the Christmas holiday. Equity markets will close early on Tuesday and will be closed all of Wednesday. The light volume could amplify market volatility.

“I’ve got traders calling me up saying, ‘You got anything going on? I’ve got nothing.’ Everyone is looking for something that’s moving. This is just the way it is when it comes to the Christmas holidays,” said Michael Matousek, head trader at US Global Investors Inc in San Antonio, Texas.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 73.47 points or 0.45 per cent, to end at 16,294.61, a record high. The S&P 500 gained 9.67 points or 0.53 per cent, to finish at 1,827.99, a record. The Nasdaq Composite added 44.163 points or 1.08 per cent, to close at 4,148.903.

The Dow also touched an all-time intraday high at 16,318.11, while the S&P 500 climbed to a record intraday high at 1,829.75.

Both the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 got a lift from Facebook Inc , which jumped 4.8 per cent to end at a record $US57.77, in the social networking company’s first day of trading as an S&P 500 component. Facebook also set an all-time intraday high of $US58.32 during Monday’s session.

Both the Dow and the S&P 500 ended at all-time highs, extending sharp gains from last week, the strongest week for major indexes in months.

The rally was fueled by strong economic data and the US Federal Reserve’s decision to begin trimming its stimulus program next month, which removed a major source of uncertainty for the market. The Fed also said its key interest rate would stay at rock bottom longer than previously promised.

“Clearly what the Fed did was right down the sweet spot, and it was quite frankly what the market wanted to hear. But now it is in the market, and we have to wait for new events,” Massocca said.

The S&P 500 has soared 28.2 per cent this year, largely due to the Fed’s stimulus measures, and is on track for its best year since 1997.

In the latest economic data, consumer sentiment hit a five-month high heading into the end of the year, and spending notched its strongest month since the summer, the latest signs of sustained vigor in the economy that are increasing hopes of a strong 2014.

Retail stocks will continue to garner attention in the final shopping days leading up to Christmas. In a sign that this season may be a difficult one for the sector, US consumers shopped less during the final weekend before Christmas despite deeper discounts, according to analytics firm RetailNext.

Target Corp may encounter particular trouble in the wake of a massive data breach. The Wall Street Journalreported that the retailer suffered reduced customer traffic over the weekend, which is one of the busiest of the year. Target’s stock fell 1 per cent to $US61.88.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the New York Stock Exchange by 2,165 to 883, while on the Nasdaq, 1,902 stocks rose and 722 shares declined.


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Cat in strife for Instagram selfie

Friday, 15. March 2019

Geelong footballer Billie Smedts has come under fire for taking a “selfie” at the wheel of a car and sharing the picture with thousands of followers on Instagram.

The picture shows Smedts, 21, snapping himself in the driver’s seat of his utility vehicle on a country road.

The picture, which has since been removed, was captioned: “Driving back to warrnambool for Christmas!!! #goproselfie,”.

The Transport Accident Commission and Victoria Police were in talks with the Geelong Football Club over the incident on Tuesday.

Smedts may face fines and demerit points following an investigation, Road Policing Command Superintendent Neville Taylor said.

“This sends a really bad message to all road users, particularly young people, to think it is OK to do this kind of behaviour,” Superintendent Taylor said.

“It’s not just police who think this is outrageous behaviour – I haven’t spoken to the player as yet – but certainly we’re very pleased with the response we’ve got (from the club) and an indication that they’ll certainly be taking action about it.”

Very disappointed with the Smedt’s selfie. Taking your eyes off the road for 2 seconds at 50km/h, you will travel 27mtrs, effectively blind— TAC (@TACVictoria) December 23, 2013

A Geelong Football Club press release circulated late Tuesday morning stated Smedts “assured the club that the photo was in fact staged, and he was stationary and not driving while the image was taken”.

“Nonetheless the club and Smedts understand that the his actions did not send the correct message to the public,” the statement read.

“I understand that in taking and posting this image that it sends a poor and irresponsible message and I’m sorry for causing that,” Smedts was quoted as saying.

“Road safety is something that is critical and should be taken seriously at all times. Christmas time is a particularly vulnerable time of the year, and even though I wasn’t driving at the time and it was a staged shot, people seeing the photo could have thought it was real and wanted to copy it. That would be dangerous and could easily cause an accident.”

Cats CEO Brian Cook expressed his concern at the stunt. “We take road safety seriously and like many others are disappointed that this image was taken and posted,” Cook said.

“We will continue to educate our players and staff on the importance of road safety. We will further discuss this matter, however it will not be concluded until our player leadership group and playing list returns in early January.”

Superintendent Taylor earlier said he did not think it mattered whether the car was moving at the time as the picture still sent the wrong message about road safety.

No stranger to controversy, Smedts made headlines in April when he and Josh Caddy were arrested at gunpoint after a prank on teammate Jackson Thurlow went terribly wrong.

The pair had intended to scare Mr Thurlow by breaking into his house wearing balaclavas, but went to the wrong house first.

Neighbours reported an attempted burglary and the pair were intercepted at Kardinia Park, although no charges were laid.

Police launched Operation Crossroads in a national effort to prevent road deaths on Monday.

“We know this is the high risk behaviour that causes the loss of lives on the roads and that’s why we wonder when we see this what would make someone think this OK,” Superintendent Taylor said.

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Man flu: it affects manly men, research suggests

Friday, 15. March 2019

“Manlier” men are less resistant to the effects of one strain of the flu, new research suggests.

Those in favour of the existence of the dreaded ”man flu” had been supported by previous findings that women have a stronger immune response than men, but the reasons remained unknown until now.

Scientists from the US and France identified a cluster of genes that had already been linked to poor immune response in males. These genes are responsible for lipid biosynthesis, where a complex chemical compound is made from simpler components. The expression of these genes appeared to be increased by testosterone.

By analysing blood serum in 53 females and 34 males, the researchers discovered men with higher levels of testosterone displayed weak antibody responses to the flu vaccine when working with the H3N2 strain – a serious and prevalent strain globally. Those men with low levels of testosterone and females didn’t show a decrease in their antibody response to the vaccine.

Dr Alan Hampson, Chair of the Australian Influenza Specialist Group, who was not involved in the study, said it was important to recognise the difference between males and females occurred most strongly with the H3N2 strain, but to a lesser extent and not at all with the two other strains studied [B and H1N1], respectively.

“The results when you look at morbidity and mortality of influenza globally are rather mixed,” said Dr Hampson.

“In some places we see there are more severe infections in males but in others we see more severe infections in females and it does differ with age.”

Dr Hampson said the findings were another piece in a very large jigsaw, but should not be encouraging either sex to skip vaccinations, or for females to be offered a diluted dose.

“We know that in some parts of society women are the care-givers who really do become exposed to influenza so it’s good if they do produce a better immune response to the vaccine,” said Dr Hampson.

As to males receiving more sympathy while suffering the flu however, or even the existence of the “man-flu”, Dr Hampson remains unconvinced.

“I think anybody who gets the flu and gets typical clinical symptoms deserves sympathy.”

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