Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mark Hamill: New Star Wars Is a ‘Gift’

Mark Hamill: New Star Wars Is a ‘Gift’

Mark Hamill: New Star Wars Is a ‘Gift’

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 10:47 AM PDT

Longtime Star Wars fans aren’t the only ones excited to reunite with Luke Skywalker for the upcoming trilogy — even Mark Hamill called reprising his most famous role “an unexpected gift.”

“I already had a beginning, middle and end. I never thought we’d come back,” the 62-year-old actor told BBC News at the U.K. premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy. “I thought even if they did a third trilogy, we wouldn’t be involved, because it is really about the new generation of characters.”

Hamill is joining his original 1977 co-stars Harrison Ford (Han Solo) and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) as well as series newcomers, such as Girls‘ Adam Driver and 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o, for Episode VII in 2015.

“These kids — they are not kids — but they are so talented,” Hamill said. “We are just there to lend our support and grow contractually obligated beards.”


Israel Extends Gaza Truce

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 10:06 AM PDT

Israeli Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz confirmed reports that Israel has agreed to extend a 12-hour truce with the militant group Hamas fighting in the Gaza Strip by four additional hours as the Palestinian death toll tops 1,000.

Steinitz confirmed the decision, which he says was made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s defense minister, on an Israeli television station Saturday, the Associated Press reports.

Prior to the Israeli announcement, a Hamas official had indicated the group was open to continuing the ceasefire. The group has not indicated yet whether it accepts the prolonged truce.

The truce, a result of mediation work from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations head Ban Ki-moon that failed to produce a week-long ceasefire, is now scheduled to last until midnight on Saturday. Steinitz says a cabinet meeting scheduled for later in the day on Saturday will consider another possible extension.

The news of the truce extension arrives as one health official in Gaza said more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in the past 19 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants. Ashraf al-Kidra said authorities found more than 100 bodies on Saturday alone.


Israel Agrees to Extend Gaza War Truce by 4 Hours

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 09:32 AM PDT

(JERUSALEM) — An Israeli Cabinet minister says Israel has agreed to extend a 12-hour humanitarian truce in the Gaza war by four hours.

The minister, Yuval Steinitz, spoke Saturday on Israeli television station Channel 10.

The initial lull agreed to by Israel and Hamas had begun at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) Saturday.

Steinitz confirmed reports that Israel decided to extend it by four hours, until midnight Saturday.

He says the decision was made by the Israeli prime minister and defense minister.

Steinitz says a further extension would be considered at a Cabinet meeting later Saturday.

NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Thousands of Gaza residents who had fled Israel-Hamas fighting streamed back to devastated border areas during a lull Saturday to find large-scale destruction: scores of homes were pulverized, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets.

The 12-hour truce was the only apparent outcome from a high-level mediation mission by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon over the past week. They failed to broker a weeklong cease-fire as a precursor to a broader deal, as they had hoped.

Instead, Israel’s defense minister warned he might soon expand the ground operation in Gaza “significantly.”

In the northern town of Beit Hanoun, residents encountered widespread destruction. Most had fled days earlier, following Israeli warnings that the town would be shelled.

Siham Kafarneh, 37, sat on the steps of a small grocery, weeping. The mother of eight said the home she had spent 10 years saving up for and moved into two months earlier had been destroyed.

“Nothing is left. Everything I have is gone,” she said.

Israel launched a major air campaign in Gaza on July 8 and later sent ground troops into the Hamas-ruled territory in an operation it said was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire and destroying cross-border tunnels used by militants to stage attacks.

At least 985 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded over the past 19 days, according to Palestinian officials. Israeli strikes have destroyed hundreds of homes, including close to 500 in targeted hits, and forced tens of thousands of people to flee, according to Palestinian rights groups.

More than 160,000 displaced Palestinians have sought shelter at dozens of U.N. schools, an eight-fold increase since the start of Israel’s ground operation more than a week ago, the U.N. said.

Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way. Israel has lost 37 soldiers and two civilians, and a Thai worker has also been killed.

Saturday’s 12-hour lull appeared unlikely to change the course of the current hostilities, with both sides digging in.

Israel wants to create deterrence. “At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Friday.

Hamas, in turn, is unwilling to halt fire until it receives international assurances that Gaza’s seven-year-old border blockade will be lifted. Israel and Egypt tightened the blockade after Hamas seized Gaza in 2007.

After the temporary truce took effect at 8 a.m. Saturday, the streets of Gaza quickly filled with residents trying to stock up on supplies or returning to devastated areas to inspect their homes.

Ambulances of the Red Crescent reached the hardest-hit areas, including Beit Hanoun and the eastern Shijaiyah district of Gaza City, to recover bodies.

Eighty-five bodies were pulled from the rubble Saturday, many of them partially decomposed, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Fighters were among the dead, said Gaza Civil Defense spokesman Said al-Saoudi.

In two border areas, ambulances were unable to approach because tanks fired warning shots at the vehicles, the Red Crescent said.

In the southern town of Khan Younis, 20 members of the same extended family, including at least 10 children, were killed by tank fire that hit a building on the edge of town, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

The house partially collapsed and people were buried under the rubble. The family had recently moved into the building after fleeing fighting in a nearby village, said al-Kidra.

Hundreds of men marched in a funeral procession in Khan Younis Saturday afternoon, chanting “there is only God” while carrying the bodies, all wrapped in white cloth and some with bloody stains.

The Israeli military said troops would respond to any violations of the lull and continue “operational activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip.”

The army has so far uncovered 31 tunnels and destroyed half of them. Israel considers the tunnels to be a strategic threat because militants have used them to launch surprise attacks inside the country.

The Israeli government has also begun suggesting that Gaza be demilitarized as a condition for a permanent cease-fire so that Hamas cannot rearm itself. The current war is the third in Gaza in just over five years.

Gaza militants have fired close to 2,500 rockets at Israel since July 8, exposing most of Israel’s population to an indiscriminate threat that has killed three civilians.

In Beit Hanoun, the streets were filled at midmorning with frantic residents, many of whom had walked several miles from temporary shelters to inspect the damage to their homes and retrieve belongings.

Ambulances with wailing sirens and donkey carts loaded with mattresses and pots soon clogged the streets. Two masked fighters, one with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, walked by — a rare sighting since they typically don’t appear in the open.

At the Beit Hanoun hospital, six patients and 33 medical staff had spent a terrifying night huddled in the X-ray department as the neighborhood was being shelled, said director Bassam Abu Warda.

A tank shell had hit the second floor of the building, leaving a gaping hole, and the facade was peppered with holes from large-caliber bullets.

On Saturday, the remaining patients were evacuated, including 85-year-old Nasra Naim.

The elderly woman and a second patient were resting on mattresses on the ground floor of the hospital, amid debris and glass shards.

Naim’s daughter, Naame, said her home was destroyed in the shelling.

“I don’t know where to go,” she said. “They (Israelis) killed our children, they took our land and now they are still following us.”

Two Red Crescent ambulances were hit in Beit Hanoun overnight, killing a medic and wounding three, one critically, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

On Saturday, rescue workers pulled the scorched body of the medic from the wrecked vehicle, which had been hit about 200 meters from the hospital.

“Targeting ambulances, hospitals and medical workers is a serious violation of the law of war,” said Jacques de Maio, head of the ICRC delegation for Israel and the occupied territories.

Hardest-hit were Beit Hanoun neighborhoods close to the border with Israel, areas from where Gaza militants typically fire rockets.

Manal Kefarneh, 30, wept as she inspected her damaged home. On an unfinished top floor, she and her husband had been raising chickens, and she now found some of them dead. They collected the dead birds and replenished water for the living in hopes they will survive the war.

“What did we do to deserve this?” she asked. “All of the Arab leaders watch what’s going on here like it’s a Bollywood film.”

Why the New Game of Thrones Cast Is Keeping the Faith in Westeros

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 09:22 AM PDT

Comic-Con was abuzz — because what is Comic-Con for if not to become abuzz? — with news that HBO had cast several new characters for season 5 of Game of Thrones. What does it mean for the coming season? In the most general sense, exactly what you’d expect: that the storyline is continuing, more or less following the settings and characters used in the source books by George R.R. Martin. But the news does give us some general hints as to what–besides winter–is coming:

Warning: some previous-season spoilers and very general references to upcoming storylines from the books follow:

MORE DORNE. The most glaring implications of the new characters are also the most obvious: much of the new season will involve the late Oberyn Martell’s homeland of Dorne, as we already essentially knew from news of HBO’s scouting locations in Spain. (Or from having read the books.) Among the characters is Myrcella Baratheon (Nell Tiger Free), Cersei and Jaime’s daughter and the guest/hostage of the Martell family (who now look even less kindly on the Lannisters after Oberyn’s skull-flattening). And several of the “Sand Snakes” — Oberyn’s bastard daughters — have been cast, suggesting that vengeance may be afoot. (Many fans were upset that a significant book character, Arianne Martell, was not cast — but again, this was only a partial casting announcement.)

MORE DIVERSITY. One offshoot of the Dorne-heavy announcement is that Game of Thrones — which has leaned heavily on white actors, particularly for the citizens of Westeros — will be adding to the racial diversity of its cast (in keeping with Martin’s description of Dorne as a multiracial region). The new cast include the part-Maori Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) as Obara Sand and DeObia Oparei, a British actor of African descent, as palace guard captain Areo Hotah. (As more characters are cast for the Eastern continent storyline, where the characters have been more diverse, this trend may continue.)

MORE DEITY TROUBLE. Maybe the most interesting announcement to me in terms of season 5′s focus is one character: veteran actor Jonathan Pryce (Brazil) as The High Sparrow — the leader of what is essentially a fundamentalist, populist sect within The Faith of the Seven that has grown in influence amid the troubles of war. One of the fascinating aspects of the source novels that is sometimes lost in the series is the role of religion in each of the various kingdoms — not just in the story’s mythology but culturally and politically. Casting Pryce suggests that season 5 might pay serious attention to the role of The Faith in Westeros’ politics, and to the battle for the people’s hearts and minds that goes beyond the battles on the field. Looks like the gods are going to be busy.

Official: Over 1,000 Palestinians Dead in Gaza War

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 09:10 AM PDT

(BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip) — A Palestinian official says more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing Gaza war as Israel battles Hamas militants.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said that officials recovered more than 100 bodies alone on Saturday.

The higher death toll came as fighting lulled Saturday during a 12-hour truce, the only immediate outcome from a high-level mediation mission by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon over the past week. They failed to broker a weeklong cease-fire as a precursor to a broader deal, as they had hoped.

Instead, Israel’s defense minister warned he might soon expand the ground operation in Gaza “significantly.”

Official: Israel Leans Toward Extending Gaza Truce

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 08:43 AM PDT

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — An Israeli government official says Israel is “leaning toward” extending a 12-hour humanitarian truce in the Gaza war by at least four hours.

The truce was to end at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT) Saturday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the ongoing discussions, said Israel’s government was leaning toward extending the lull.

Israeli media reported that Israel’s Security Cabinet would convene on Saturday night.

Separately, the office of the top United Nations envoy in the region, Robert Serry, said he is urging Israel and Hamas to extend the truce by 24 hours.

Lucy Takes Down Hercules at Box Office

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 08:07 AM PDT

Brains are beating brawn at the box office this weekend: Luc Besson’s Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, is headed for the number-one spot ahead of Hercules, which stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Lucy is on track for a $35 million weekend after grossing $12-14 million on Friday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Hercules, meanwhile, took in $9-11 million for what is shaping up to be a $26-$29 million weekend.

In Lucy, Johansson plays a woman who gains incredible powers after accidental exposure to some powerful drugs allows her to use more than 10 percent of her brain capacity. Johnson plays the titular Roman hero in Hercules, a movie that, according to reviews, may not require audiences to use 10 percent of their brains to watch.

That 10-percent idea is actually a total myth, but the Lucy-Hercules box office showdown will likely be considered the latest evidence for the viability of female-driven action movies.

Although The Heat‘s $39 million opening weekend last year was modest by blockbuster standards, the fact that the buddy cop flick starred two women (Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy) and performed as well as it did kicked off a number of conversations about the puzzling lack of female-fronted movies.

And while Lucy isn’t operating at Hunger Games levels, last year’s sequel, Catching Fire, was a cause for celebration when it earned the biggest Thanksgiving release ever at a time when Hollywood has been slow to pursue a solid female superhero franchise.

Johansson, who also stars as Black Widow in the Avengers franchise, said in March that she hopes a Black Widow spin-off will materialize from her frequent conversations with Marvel.

“I think it would be exciting to be a part of a franchise or a standalone film where the female superhero used those opportunities as more than moments to stop, pause and look sexy, and actually have a lot of a real depth to the story," she told IGN earlier this year. Perhaps Lucy‘s win over Hercules can be a nudge toward marking that happen.


Despite a Crackdown, Iranian Fashion Keeps Pushing Boundaries

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 08:00 AM PDT

In the latest case of Iranian authorities cracking down on fashion they deem “un-Islamic,” a famous clothing design institute called "Khaneh Mode" or Mode House was shut down last week in Tehran. The fashion designer had caused a controversy last month when it held a show with models wearing coats which appeared to be made of the Iranian flag—minus its religious symbols. Nor did it help that the show had allowed men among its audience, which violates conservative Islamic taboos.

This was followed by intense reaction from conservative politicians and religious groups, who cited the show as yet another violation of Islamic mores and traditions, which in turn forced the government to react. "This fashion show did not match the regulations of the Fashion and Clothes Management Workgroup and therefore we have taken legal action,” said Hamid Ghobadi, the workgroup's secretary according to the official ISNA news agency. “The Khaneh Mode institute has been shut down until further notice.”

The workgroup, which was created by an enactment of parliament, is tasked with organizing Iran's emerging fashion industry and making it compatible with Islamic standards. It is headed by a deputy minister of Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and its members are mostly government officials, with a handful of representatives from the fashion industry. Pictures of the show first emerged on Iranian websites in late June and showed men among the audience—until recently was unheard of in the Islamic Republic. The young female models, who wore white leggings, sported loose coats in the green, white and red tricolor of the Iranian national flag.

Iran's fledgling fashion industry has begun to evolve in recent years, with shows on the rise. Most of these shows have permissions from the authorities but also underground shows are on the rise which depict more risqué dresses and even lingerie. However, until recently all shows for female clothes were held behind closed doors with no men allowed inside. The audience was also not permitted to take pictures or film.

Following the furor of religious and conservative groups the designers, Khaneh Mode immediately tried to do damage control with a statement on their website apologizing for having inadvertently offended anyone and reaffirming their commitment to "National and Islamic values.” Nonetheless, the authorities acted a few days later and shut them down.

Javid Shirazi, the director of the fashion house, told TIME in Tehran that that "we are completely committed to working within Iran's native and Islamic framework and we tried to observe these in our show. Inviting men to view shows is permitted since last year so long as the clothes completely cover the body of models and models do not catwalk but walk in a normal and modest manner."

The shutting down of the fashion house is just the latest instance of an endless tug of war between authorities and women in Iran, one that has been fought since an Islamic dress code was enforced in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution. This clash comes to the forefront every summer, when the latest female attire trends pick up with a tendency towards shorter and skimpier coats and ever tighter legwear, which has been epitomized this year in leggings.

The authorities react every year by escalating their “Morality Patrols.” The outcome is a cat and mouse game between more fashionably dressed women and the authorities. The results can be bizarre—women sporting trendy attire will sometimes take taxis from one side to the other side of squares and junctions just to bypass the morality police.

But over time the will of Iranian women has slowly but surely prevailed, with acceptable dress these days now far beyond the harsh codes of the first years of the revolution, when practically no makeup was tolerated and anything less than a chador—a loose robe that covers the body from head to toe—was frowned upon. And with the election of the more moderate Hassan Rouhani as president last year, many hope that the authorities will relax their strict stance on what women can wear in public.

Officially there has been no relaxation, in fact the authorities have tried everything they could think of to counter it. But in practice it's a losing battle.

"Since last year there's been a transformation in the framework of the permits we can get and what we can do," said Shirazi, who sounded upbeat in spite of the closing of his business. "With the great potential this country has and the great desire young Iranians have, there is a bright future for the fashion industry in Iran, and this [the shutting down of Khaneh Mode] is just necessary experience we need to gain to go ahead."

North Korea Fires Short-Range Missile into Sea

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 07:59 AM PDT

(SEOUL, South Korea) — South Korea’s Defense Ministry says North Korea has fired a short-range ballistic missile into waters off its east coast.

The launch is the latest in a slew of missile and rocket tests the North has been conducting in recent weeks.

A ministry official says the missile fired from North Korea’s southwest Hwanghae province on Saturday evening flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles) across the country before landing in the ocean.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department rules, and gave no further details.

The launch comes on the eve of the 61st anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The armistice has yet to be replaced by a peace treaty, thus leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war.

Kevin Love Withdraws From Team USA

Posted: 26 Jul 2014 07:32 AM PDT

Kevin Love has withdrawn from this summer’s USA Basketball roster because of his uncertain NBA status, leaving the Americans without one of their most experienced international players.

Team USA announced the decision on Saturday. Love, who won gold medals at the 2012 Olympics and 2010 world championship and was one of the first players to commit to play this summer, told USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo that he would be unavailable for training camp that starts Monday.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are considering trading Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to acquire the three-time All-Star to pair with LeBron James. A trade could fall apart if Love were to play and be injured.

Colangelo says that the U.S. “can only look to the players we have available.”


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