Tag Archives: action

House Democrats stage sit-in, demand vote on gun control

Democrats staged a 1960s-style sit-in on the U.S. House floor June 22–23, chanting, “No bill. No Break.” The protest was intended to call attention to Republicans’ inaction against gun violence in the wake of the largest mass shooting in modern history at a gay dance club in Orlando.

House Speaker Paul Ryan responded by shutting off all public access to the scene.

“Speaker Ryan may have turned off the floor cameras in an attempt to silence us, but we will continue to stand up and give a voice to the majority of Americans who demand commonsense gun safety reforms,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a longtime veteran of the civil rights movement, organized the protest along with Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and David Cicilline of Rhode Island.

In the hours that Democrats held the floor, they spoke about an epidemic of violence in the United States. With the blackout on C-SPAN’s coverage — the service does not control the floor cameras — members took videos of each other to share on social media.

California Democrat Eric Swalwell videotaped New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s speech, delivered at about 2 a.m. June 23.

“No other country in the world other than those involved in active wars have gun deaths more than three digits,” Nadler said. … We have 33,000 a year. We’re told this is because of insanity. Because we have mentally ill people. But we don’t have thousands of times more mentally ill people than other countries.”

Nadler said if House Republicans refuse to pass an assault weapons ban or prohibit large capacity clips, they could at least close the loopholes in background checks and bar people on the no-fly list from gun purchases.

Ryan dismissed the sit-in as a political stunt.

He also dismissed the idea of “no fly, no buy,” saying it would deprive people of due process and the constitutional right to possess guns.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate, Democrats continued to press for reform even after failed votes on measures to expand background checks and keep people on the no-fly list from getting guns.

President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton echoed the calls for tighter gun laws. Clinton, early in her campaign, made enacting gun control measures a priority.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, suggested the solution to gun violence is arming more people with guns.

“It’s too bad that some of the young people that were killed over the weekend didn’t have guns, you know, attached to their hips, and you know where bullets could have flown in the opposite direction,” Trump told radio host Howie Carr on June 13, the day after the shooting in Orlando. Later, Trump said he was referring to guards and employees.

Chad Griffin, the president and CEO of the Human Rights Campaign, said the shooting was a “toxic combination of two things: a deranged, unstable individual who had been conditioned to hate people and easy access to military-style guns.”

HRC is the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. In late June, its board of directors adopted a resolution on gun control measures, an unprecedented move for the group.

Americans are divided on gun control.

Polls put those favoring gun control over gun rights at about 50 percent, down from 57 percent in 2000. Those who favor gun rights over gun control increased from about 29 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2015.

When particular gun control steps are considered, however, the picture changes. A Pew poll conducted last August showed:

• 85 percent of people support background checks for purchases at gun shows and in private sales.

• 79 percent support laws to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns.

• 70 percent support a federal database to track gun sales.

• 57 percent support a ban on assault weapons.

“Congress can’t even pass mild, commonsense gun control legislation supported by vast majorities of Americans,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the activist group CODEPINK, which recently staged a die-in at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. “The stranglehold the NRA has on our elected officials is breathtaking, and its effects are devastating to our families and communities.”



Big bucks for big guns

Gun rights groups contributed $33,925 to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who is running for re-election in Wisconsin against Democrat Russ Feingold.

The No. 2 payout was to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, whose campaign has received $29,295 from gun rights groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Since the start of 2015, Senate Republicans have received $304,319 from gun rights groups. During that same period, Democrats have received $7,250.

Public wants more government action against opioid abuse

Two-thirds of Americans believe the federal and state governments should do more to combat the nation’s heroin and prescription drug epidemic, according to new results from the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll.

Only a third in the Kaiser poll said heroin abuse is an “extremely serious” health problem in the United States and even fewer — only about a quarter — said abuse of strong prescription painkillers is an “extremely serious” health problem. This is despite 44 percent of Americans reporting that they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers.

Still, two-thirds of Americans acknowledge prescription pain relief abuse as either “extremely serious” or “very serious.”

The Kaiser poll showed Americans feel the effort to address the growing abuse of opioids is not aggressive enough at any level — not by federal and state governments and not by doctors and users. However, more Americans fault the users than government: About 70 percent said drug users aren’t doing enough to deal with addiction and 60 percent said federal efforts are too small.

In the survey, about 80 percent said the following steps would be at least somewhat effective:

• Increasing pain management training for doctors and students.

• Increasing access to addiction treatment programs.

• Increasing public awareness programs.

• Increasing research about pain and pain management.

• Monitoring how doctors prescribe prescription painkillers.

The poll, conducted in mid-April, also revealed most people don’t know the Affordable Care Act mandates that insurance plans provide mental health benefits and substance abuse treatment under the same copays, deductibles and coverage limits they apply to other medical services.

“This survey is just the latest in a long line of evidence that this out-of-control epidemic is affecting every one of us — no matter our background, no matter where we live,” said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I agree that the federal government must do more and be a better partner with state and local officials who are on the front lines every day.”

Spring mobilization: Democracy is awakening!

The jig is up, and my time has come. I’m about to be arrested. They’ll be hauling me away in mid-April.

Not for doing anything wrong, really. In fact, the authorities will arrest me for standing up for what’s right. Or, more accurately, I’ll be sitting down for what’s right — by participating in a peaceful sit-in at the U.S. Capitol. I don’t yet know the details of the process, but I am certain of why I’m doing it: To help reclaim our People’s democratic rights from the moneyed elites who have bought our elections and deeply corrupted our government.

I’m also certain I will not be alone in the paddy wagon. That’s because thousands of mad-as-hellers will be converging on Washington in mid April to launch a nationwide mass mobilization of people power to halt Big Money’s control of our political system—and I’d like to see you there, too!

But you don’t have to risk arrest to join this democratic moment, for April’s Democracy Awakening will offer a wide variety of ways to protest the plutocrats without leaving your comfort zone. Saturday afternoon, April 16, will feature workshops, teach-ins and art aimed at the connections between voting rights, political money, and the democratic struggles for a healthy living planet, a fair economy, and more. On Sunday, April 17, there’ll be a big, colorful march, followed by a “Rally for Democracy” on the Capitol lawn; and April 18 will be a day for us commoners to team up, sit in, and by other means lobby our congress critters, demanding in person that they end their corporate money addiction. Find out details at DemocracyAwakening.org.

Throughout this People-A-Palooza, there will be an energizing balance of seriousness and fun: how-to workshops, tub-thumping speeches, cultural exchanges, concerts, pop-up musical performances, direct-action trainings, art exhibits and shows, teach-ins, and other activities. Organized by such disparate groups as the Sierra Club, NAACP, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Greenpeace, and the Communication Workers of America, the Democracy Awakening expressly recognizes that progress on all of our issues has been walled in by corporate bribery funds, K-street lobbyists, crony capitalism and nefarious voter suppression. From climate change to the Walmartization of our economy to racial justice, they understand that none of us can advance until we all team up to tear down that wall.

Mobilization now

The time has come. Six years after the Supreme Court’s malignant Citizen’s United ruling, nearly every American plainly sees how our nation’s historic “one person-one vote” political ethic of citizen equality has been buried in a roaring avalanche of money from corporations and the ultra-rich. Moreover, nearly nine years after Wall Street thieves wrecked our economy, the great majority also plainly sees that the Court’s turbo-charge of money politics has produced economic policies that richly reward the plutocratic robbers and coldly abandon the robbed. Americans know they’re being stiffed, for they’re experiencing it personally, and they’re furious at the business-as-usual/politics-as-usual establishment that has done it to them.

This powerful anti-Big Money sentiment is also what has fueled 2016’s establishment-stunning Bernie & Donnie presidential runs, and it’s why we democracy rebels should shift now from complaining about the plutocratic corruption of our country to stopping it. This hyper-political year is the time to move, for (1) the presidential and congressional elections will focus public attention on the political system for months to come, and (2) corporate and political cash will be on full display (from the Koch Brothers’ Billionaire Money Bash to the garish corporate sponsorship of both parties’ national conventions).

While all of the establishment forces have dourly told us commoners that we must resign ourselves to the New Citizens United Order of court-sanctioned rule-by-money, the people themselves have not accepted that. But where could they turn for help, since the leadership of both political parties either enthusiastically welcomed government by and for the 1-percenters (GOP) or — with a wink and a nod — agreed to go along with it (Dems) in exchange for getting their own share of big money donations? For six years, the broad public has been yearning for some one, some thing, some moment, to arise and rescue the founding ideals of 1776.

Well, here it is! And who are our rescuers? Us! You, me, and all the thousands of mavericks around the country ready to fire a new democratic “shot heard ‘round the world.” This will signal to the millions of frustrated Americans that they are not helpless in the face of plutocracy.

The moment is ripe to rally a People’s rebellion and make this election year the turning point for fundamental change. Simply getting such a diverse group of reformers to join hands in such an effort is an auspicious sign that maybe — just maybe — we can bind our forces into an effective populist movement for the long haul, rebuilding America’s democratic promise for the greater good of all.

Given the opportunity, don’t we have to go for it? I hope to see you in Washington!

Speaker, author and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

On the web



An Oscar onslaught for ‘Mad Max’ blindsides Miller

Of the many roads to the Academy Awards, none is as unlikely as the one taken (at ferocious speed, with engines roaring) by George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Whatever one’s concept of “Oscar bait” is, it does not include action-movie dystopias with face-painting kamikazes and blind, fire-shooting metal guitarists who answer to the name of “Doof.”

“There’s a great quote from Hunter S. Thompson where he said that when something turned right for him unexpectedly, it was like falling down an elevator shaft into a pool of mermaids,” Miller says. “It’s been a little bit like that.”

Despite Fury Road being far from the usual Oscar-friendly costume drama, Miller’s fireball of a film heads into Academy Awards on Feb. 28 with 10 nods (second only to The Revenant), including best picture and best director for Miller. Nominated in every technical category, Mad Max stands a good chance of being the night’s most-awarded film.

It’s a gratifying if utterly unforeseen outcome for the 70-year-old Miller, who spent more than a decade trying to get various iterations of a Mad Max sequel off the ground, not to mention months of shooting in the Namibian desert and several years in post-production — along with the bad word-of-mouth that accompanies such delays.

But when Fury Road was finally unveiled in May, the response was rapturous. Here was not the average, bloated summer sequel at all. Here was a blisteringly cinematic movie stuffed with allegorical meaning, with much to say about gender roles and power.

“I treat action movies very, very seriously,” Miller says. “It’s not something like: Here’s a movie with talkie bits and now some action. We were trying to conflate the two.”

The multitude of Oscar nominations for Fury Road speaks to the widespread admiration for the movie’s old-school craft. Though it includes extensive visual effects, Fury Road was shot with real vehicles at a real location. 

Miller is the rare action filmmaker who speaks of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as inspirations.

“It finds its antecedents in those early films, those pre-sound movies where arguably the film language, this very new language we had, was forged,” Miller says. “When I first came to cinema that’s where I first went to with a pretty strong sense of inquiry as to: What is this new language? It’s not much more than 100 years old and we can read it before we can read books.”

The language of Fury Road — an essentially nonstop chase through a post-apocalyptic wasteland — is wildly kinetic. It’s expressed almost entirely through imagery rather than dialogue. Tom Hardy, who inherited the role of Max from Mel Gibson, described Miller’s movie as “if Obi-Wan Kenobi could make an action movie.”

It’s composed of approximately 2,900 shots. The average shot is two seconds and 9 frames. “Film is a mosaic art and this one had many pieces,” Miller says.

The mammoth task of assembling footage from scenes sometimes shot with a dozen cameras fell to Miller’s wife, editor Margaret Sixel. She received daily footage at home in Australia while shooting continued in Africa. She, too, is up for an Oscar.

It’s Sixel’s first nod, but several of Miller’s films have previously been Oscar nominated, including 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil, 1995’s Babe and 2006’s Happy Feet.

It’s a jarringly varied filmography bookended by Mad Max, the franchise Miller first introduced in 1979. The story has remained a constant in Miller’s life, an omnibus onto which to latch ideas pulled from the real world. In the ‘70s, the problem is an oil shortage; in Fury Road, it’s water scarcity.

But for many, it’s the film’s story of female empowerment, led by Charlize Theron’s one-armed warrior Furiosa, that’s makes Fury Road exceptional. Some have called it a feminist action film.

“It was really, really gratifying when people did respond and saw all its resonances and really picked up on it,” Miller says. “The attraction of something like Mad Max: Fury Road is basically allegorical. You’re trying to find those things in the story that seem to be constant in humanity.”

Fury Road, which made $376.7 million globally, was named best film by the National Board of Review, and won four BAFTAs. The American Film Institute named it one of 2015’s 10 best films, hailing it as “a journey of fire and blood through which the action genre is razed to the ground and reborn.”

Fans old and new should take heart: Miller has two ideas for further installments based on the backstories of different characters.

“I always thought that you really don’t know what your film is until some time passes and it’s reflected back at you by the audience,” he says. “That process seems to be accelerated now. It’s been surprising and gratifying.”

Baldwin wants White House to explore options to reduce gun violence

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin joined Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal in leading a group of 24 senators asking President Barack Obama to investigate and pursue all possible options under his executive authority to reduce gun violence.

In a letter to the president, the senators urged him to eliminate a loophole that allows individuals without a federal license to conduct high volumes of gun sales at gun shows, over the Internet, and elsewhere, all without conducting background checks.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, sent a similar letter signed by 114 of his colleagues in the House.

“We stand with you determined to take action to reduce the terrible epidemic of gun violence plaguing this nation. All across the country, communities are ravaged and lives are senselessly cut short by gun violence. Following yet another horrific mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, it is unthinkable that our country can continue to turn a blind eye to these tragedies,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to address an aspect of the high-volume gun seller loophole that allows guns to be sold without a background check by eliminating the ambiguity surrounding the term ‘engaged in the business’ as it pertains to federally licensed firearms dealers.”

The letter said, “Updating the definition of ‘engaged in the business’ to provide more explicit guidance as to which gun sellers are required to obtain a federal firearms license would…help ensure that individuals are not able to continue to exploit ambiguity in the current regulation and sell guns at a high volume without any oversight by ATF and without conducting background checks… This change would be a positive step forward in achieving universal background checks, a policy change that roughly 90 percent of Americans support. It would help ensure that those clearly holding themselves out as gun dealers are held to the same standard as the thousands of responsible gun dealers already licensed with ATF across the country.”

Let your geek flag fly at 42 Lounge’s Cosplay Rave 3.0

When you walk the floor at a comic and entertainment convention, the superstars aren’t the celebrities at the autograph booths. It’s the cosplayers making their rounds on the floor dressed as favorite fictional characters and posing for photographs to show off months of hard work and handcrafted artistry. 

In other words, when cosplayers are in the area, no matter who you are, you’re bound to geek out — at least a little bit. 

For many years, Milwaukee cosplayers (a portmanteau of “costumes” and “players”) had to make a trip outside the city to show off their outfits. Thanks to the 42 Lounge, Milwaukee’s self-proclaimed geek bar, local cosplayers have the chance to dress up, enjoy a few drinks and dance at Cosplay Rave 3.0. 

“Because we’re gearing this towards geeks, you get a lot of that superstar cosplay crowd, kind of all in the same spot, but outside of a convention,” says Anthony Nilles, owner of 42 Lounge.

The event is in its third year, but expanding from the bar to Turner Hall due to its growth in popularity. The original Cosplay Rave in 2013 was effectively a “Halloween in the middle of July,” Nilles says, and a huge success. The follow-up in 2014 was bigger still, with a 90-minute wait to get in. 

Cosplay Rave 3.0 is a bigger deal than your average costume party. Nilles says regular Halloween parties are “amateur nights.’ Cosplay events attract more dedicated fans. 

“(For Halloween), everybody just buys their costume or just wears whatever they’ve got laying around,” Nilles says. “People who are more serious about the cosplay … really have some unique stuff. We had one person that dressed up as a psychedelic, Tron-version of a scout trooper from Star Wars. That was super cool.” 

This year, with a larger venue, the party is going to be bigger than ever. When the doors open, costumed guests can come in and get acquainted with the space. As the drinks are poured and savored, a DJ will spin tunes and, of course, there’ll be a judged costume contest. New this year is the inclusion of special musical guest Freezepop, a synth-pop band featured in the video game Guitar Hero.

“When you start to get a little energy, it moves throughout the crowd very, very quickly,” Nilles says. “I’m hoping that even with the larger venue, we can capture that.”

Nilles says although they host many themed parties every year, Cosplay Rave is their most popular. “It’s really just a bunch of people that love what’s going on, love their costumes, and love the theme and are just having a good time being around each other,” he says. 

Nilles and his customers aren’t offended by being labeled geeks. In fact, they embrace it. Cosplay Rave offers a chance for the city’s geeks to embrace such labeling and to be themselves — by being someone else.

In fact, Nilles says, there’s no better time than now to be a geek. “Not only because of prevailing culture and people getting more comfortable with being a geek, but also having venues like ourselves that are doing things out in public and not trying to hide it in somebody’s basement or behind closed doors,” Nilles says. “It’s like, ‘We’re geeks. We’re trying to do this thing.’ I think that’s really encouraging to a lot more people to let that geek flag fly.”


Cosplay Rave 3.0 will take place at 8 p.m. July 17 at 1040 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. Admission is $24.50 and can be purchased at pabsttheater.org or 414-286-3663. Costumes are encouraged but not required.

Lightning strikes yet again for Chris Hemsworth

Chris Hemsworth is about as ideal a choice to play a Norse god as you could imagine. The strapping 6’3” Aussie has the sandy hair and sculpted features that are perfectly suited to the role of Thor, one of the Avengers dedicated to saving the earth from the forces of evil. 

Those features are back on screen, as Thor returns for “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Marvel Studios’ blockbuster sequel to 2012’s “The Avengers.”

The original “Avengers” ranks as the third highest-grossing film of all time, with a global box-office take of $1.5 billion, and many Hollywood insiders are predicting that “Age of Ultron” could do as well if not better. In its opening weekend, the film took in an estimated $187.7 million, an astounding number topped only by “The Avengers” on its opening weekend ($207.4 million).

Hemsworth has few doubts that the sequel will deliver the goods. 

“I just loved how (‘Age of Ultron’) upped it in a way that wasn’t just bigger and flashier,” Hemsworth says. “I mean, everything had been amplified, but in an intelligent way. All the stories are relevant to what’s going on in the world, as far as the exponential growth of technology and artificial intelligence. … They’re obviously heavily influenced by that tone and that debate. (Director/writer Joss Whedon) has managed to bring all of the Avengers back in and give them a relevant reason to be there.” 

According to Hemsworth, some interesting new layers have been added to Thor. 

“Thor gets to loosen up. … This time there’s more humor in Thor, because he’s been on Earth, (and he’s) a little more accessible,” Hemsworth says. “He’s off Asgard now, so he doesn’t have to be as regal and kingly as he is in that world, which is nice. I enjoy that more. Here you can have a gag with the guys and he can throw away lines and be in a party scene with them in civilian clothes.” 

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” sees Hemsworth re-joined by familiar castmates Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye). In addition, several new players join the Marvel/Disney superhero extravaganza: Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as the twin antagonists Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany as the mysterious Vision and James Spader as the voice of Ultron. 

“Age of Ultron” centers on Tony Stark’s attempt to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, only to see things go awry. As a result, the Avengers crew joins Iron Man in trying to save all of humanity from destruction by the evil artificial intelligence Ultron. 

Hemsworth, 31, grew up in Australia and moved to Los Angeles in 2007 after first achieving fame in the Australian soap, Home and Away. He lives in Malibu with his wife, Spanish actress Elsa Patacky (“Fast Five,” “Fast & Furious 6”) and their three young children: 2-year-old India Rose and year-old twins Tristan and Sasha. 

He’s not the only actor in his family — both older brother Luke, 33, and younger brother Liam, 25, are in the business, with Liam holding down his own franchise role as Gale Hawthorne in the “Hunger Games” series. 

Apart from his several turns as the man-with-the-hammer in “Thor,” “Thor: The Dark World” and “The Avengers,” Hemsworth turned in performances as race car driver James Hunt in Rush (2013) and as a master hacker in the thriller “Blackhat,” released in January. Later this year, Hemsworth re-teams with Rush director Ron Howard in the action/adventure film “In the Heart of the Sea,” about a 19th century whaling ship attacked by a sperm whale that leaves its crew adrift. 

We spoke to Hemsworth about his role in the latest “Avengers” movie, balancing big-budget films with passion projects and keeping his family central in his life.

Chris, the original “Avengers” film was a colossal success. Would you say Marvel Studios has found the right way to approach these stories and give a place for all these characters? It’s mind-blowing. But apart from the action and special effects sequences, Joss (Whedon) is a man of incredible detail about what those guys are going through and it’s incredible to be able to add layers to the characters as they come together again in “Age of Ultron.”

Were you a Thor fan before you started playing the character? No, I knew nothing about Thor before I started work on these films. But it was exciting to start reading the comics and exploring the lore surrounding him. When I began preparing to play Thor the first thing I wanted to work out was how the guy postured, how he held the hammer (Thor’s iconic weapon Mjolnir), and what would happen if he hit someone with it!

With the kind of global recognition you’ve received from playing Thor, do you feel that you’ve secured your place in Hollywood? I’m not as worried I used to be about not finding good work or ending up forgotten. My wife and my manager are very supportive and they help maintain my confidence, but there’s always a little fear factor there. 

Anthony Hopkins told me that at the end of each film he wonders if he will ever do another. There is something unhealthy about that state of mind, but fear can also be a great motivator. If you think you’ve arrived and you’ve got it made, you stop wanting to push yourself and grow as an actor. You’re finished if you have that attitude. 

So how do you see your career evolving these days? I’m reaching the point where I can do both, the big superhero films as well as dramas and other types of stories. “Rush” made people take me more seriously as an actor and I want to be able to continue to do work like that. I only got the role in “Blackhat” after Ron Howard showed (director) Michael Mann the first 45 minutes of “Rush” before the film was released. 

I love playing Thor, and the “Avengers” films have given me a huge standing in the business, but they’re big action films where audiences are drawn mainly to the massive spectacle of it all. I feel I’ve also begun to show that I can do more than be the guy with the muscles in the superhero suit. 

With respect to your bulked-up physique as Thor, is it hard to maintain? Yes! (Laughs) It requires lifting huge amounts of weights and doing lots of reps to get that kind of massive build. But each time I finish playing Thor, I get rid of that bulk and that size, because that’s just for the screen for that character. For Blackhat, I trained in a completely different way. I did a lot of martial arts. 

Do you think people will continue to identify with you because of the work you’ve done as Thor over the course of all the Marvel films? I would like to bring them over to my other films. I’ve enjoyed doing films like Snow White and The Huntsman and we’re going to be doing another one soon. I love the worlds of fantasy and action and I’ve learnt so much from working with directors like Joss and also Kenneth Branagh (who directed Hemsworth in “Thor”). 

Did Branagh ever suggest you try your hand at Shakespeare? (Laughs) Not exactly. But he also knew how anxious I was at that point in my career to prove that I had other qualities other than being regarded as this very physical actor. So one day Kenneth, as a pure exercise, made me memorize a monologue from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and filmed me. I had such a cold sweat doing it. I never realized how much I liked being a guy who works in action films! 

How do you manage to work as much as you have lately while raising a family with three young children? My wife is the real superhero in our family. She’s been really supportive and allowed me to feel free to go out and pursue my career even though that means being away from home a lot. I couldn’t have done that without her blessing. 

What counts most for you in life? Being a good father and a good husband. When I was younger I dreamed about having this kind of life and that’s exactly what I’m living now. In terms of work, a few years ago I would have settled for much less than what I’ve been able to achieve — I never imagined getting to this point in my career. But now I see work as something I do for my family and so that they can enjoy all the advantages and benefits of whatever success I have. 

You have to keep transforming your physique from a film like Thor to a film like Blackhat and now with your new film with Ron Howard, “In The Heart of the Sea.” Is this one of the hardest aspects of your life as an actor? It’s the accordion effect which is the worst part. First I had to gain 20 pounds of muscle mass for “Thor” and then I had to lose all that and then lose another 20 pounds to play my character in “Heart of the Sea.” 

After all that dieting, if I see one more serving of chicken breast with biologically grown broccoli, I swear that I’m going to take Thor’s hammer to the plate.

‘Age of Ultron’ is an Avengers overdose

It will surely stand as one of the most peculiar and possibly ironic entries in a director’s filmography that in between Joss Whedon’s two “Avengers” films there reads “Much Ado About Nothing”: a low-budget, black-and-white Shakespeare adaption sandwiched between two of the most gargantuan blockbusters ever made.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” there is definitely aplenty ado-ing. Too much, certainly, but then again, we come to the Avengers for their clown-car excess of superheroes, their colorful coterie of capes.

What binds Whedon’s spectacles with his Shakespeare are the quips, which sail in iambic pentameter in one and zigzag between explosions in the others. The original 2012 “Avengers” should have had more of them, and there’s even less room in the massive — and massively overstuffed — sequel for Whedon’s dry, self-referential wit.

As a sequel, “Age of Ultron” pushes further into emotionality and complexity, adding up to a full but not particularly satisfying meal of franchise building, and leaving only a bread-crumb trail of Whedon’s banter to follow through the rubble.

The action starts predictably with the Avengers assaulting a remote HYDRA base in the fictional Eastern European republic of Sokovia. They are a weaving force: Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Chris Evans’s Captain America, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

Their powers are as various (supernatural, technological, mythological) as their flaws (Iron Man’s narcissism, the Hulk’s rage, the Black Widow’s regrets). Downey’s glib Tony Stark/Iron Man is the lead-singer equivalent of this super group and, I suspect, the one Whedon likes writing for the most. “I’ve had a long day,” he sighs. “Eugene O’Neill long.”

What “Age of Ultron” has going for it, as such references prove, is a sense of fun, a lack of self-seriousness that persists even when things start going kablooey — something not always evident in other faux-serious superhero films. (See: “Man of Steel,” or rather, don’t.)

In Sokovia, they encounter duplicitous twins: the quick-footed Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the mystical Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The real villain, though, is the titular Ultron, an artificial intelligence that the Scarlet Witch slyly leads Stark to create, birthing not the global protection system he hopes, but a maniacal Frankenstein born, thankfully, with some of his creator’s drollness.

Ultron (James Spader) builds himself a muscular metallic body and begins amassing a robot army to rid the planet of human life. Spader plays Ultron who is too similar to other mechanical monsters to equal Tom Hiddleston’s great Loki, the nemesis of the last “Avengers” film. But Spader’s jocular menace adds plenty. He wickedly hums Pinocchio melodies: “There are no strings on me.”

But the drama of “Age of Ultron” lies only partly in the battle with Ultron. The film is really focused on the fraying dysfunction of the Avengers and their existential quandaries as proficient killers now untethered from the dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. agency.

There’s not a wrong note in the cast; just about anything with the likes of Spader, Ruffalo, Johansson, Hemsworth and Downey can’t help but entertain. But the dive into the vulnerability of the Avengers doesn’t add much depth (is the home life of an arrow slinger named Hawkeye important?) and saps the film’s zip.

All the character arcs _ the Avengers, the bad guys and the new characters _ are simply too much to tackle, even for a master juggler like Whedon. The movie’s hefty machinery _ the action sequences, the sequel baiting — suck up much of the movie’s oxygen.

In the relentless march forward of the Marvel juggernaut, “Age of Ultron” feels like a movie trying to stay light on its feet but gets swallowed up by a larger power: The Franchise.  

White House to appeal ruling blocking immigration order

The White House says the Justice Department will appeal a federal judge’s ruling which temporarily blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

On Feb. 16, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas issued a temporary injunction, giving a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit that aims to permanently stop the orders.

The ruling puts on hold Obama’s orders that could spare as many as five million people who are in the U.S. without legal papers from deportation.

In a statement, the White House said the ruling “wrongly prevents” the president’s “lawful, commonsense policies” from taking effect.

The White House said that the Justice Department, legal scholars, immigration experts and the federal district court in Washington have determined that Obama’s actions are well within his legal authority.

Lame-duck drama | Showdowns over immigration, Keystone XL pipeline

President Barack Obama came back after a massive Election Day defeat to take big leaps on climate change and decisive executive action to protect millions of immigrants from deportation.

Meanwhile, Democrats fended off a bid — led by one of their own but favoring the GOP — to approve the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project during the lame-duck session that ends in December.

Those involved in progressive groups, who in early November were heartbroken by election results, celebrated multiple victories later in November. 

After Obama announced his immigration plan on Nov. 20, EarthJustice president Trip Van Noppen, who just days earlier had cheered the defeat of the KXL bill, said, “We applaud the president for taking steps … to eliminate the threat of deportation for millions of immigrants who have become an intrinsic part of our communities and the nation as a whole.

“Rather than try to tear this initiative down, Congress should step up to its responsibility and enact comprehensive immigration reform for the millions of aspiring Americans whose ability to secure justice is hampered by their immigration status. Immigrants, like many of our nation’s farmworkers who will have put the food on our Thanksgiving tables, play a fundamental role in our country yet remain in the shadows.”

Still, Republican leaders, who warned the president against acting on immigration before the new Congress is seated in January, complained Obama had poisoned the well.

“The president’s decision to issue this executive order is a stunning act of partisanship and polarization,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. “Clearly, he is more interested in playing politics than helping hard-working taxpayers. With this legally suspect and unilateral act, he has poisoned the well on what should be a bipartisan effort and brought relations with Congress to a new low.”

Obama had pledged to act on immigration after the midterm election and, knowing House Republicans would refuse to act, the president on Nov. 21 signed an executive order offering relief from deportation for about 5 million people.

The night before, Obama outlined his plan in a speech to the nation and right-wing Republicans made dire predictions. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma falsely predicted, “The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation. You’re going to see — hopefully not — but you could see instances of anarchy. …You could see violence.”

Later, tea party Republicans launched an effort to insert into any spending bills language barring federal spending to implement the president’s policy. Such a move could lead to another partial government shutdown, something incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have said would not happen.

The president’s executive action on immigration followed his achievement in reaching a landmark deal with China for both countries to cut emissions and reduce pollution.

In November, Obama also pledged $3 billion to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, a new institution under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that channels funds primarily from developed to developing countries to deal with climate change.

No pipeline — yet

Democrats, meanwhile, held back a push to pass a bill approving the Keystone XL project, which would create a pipeline system that would bring oil from the tar sands of Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Republicans and oil-beholden Democrats were maneuvering to bypass the federal review that was extended indefinitely in April, pending the outcome of a legal challenge to the project in Nebraska.

Advocates say the pipeline’s construction would create jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East oil. 

Opponents say the drilling is harmful, much of the oil would be exported and it the project would not create many long-term jobs.

“To talk about 50 permanent jobs as a ‘jobs program’ is nothing more than a cruel and misleading hoax to workers in this country who want and need decent-paying jobs,” said U.S. Sen. Bernie Saunders, an independent from Vermont who often votes with Democrats.

The Keystone bill passed easily in the GOP-controlled House, but came up one vote short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate.

Republicans vowed to bring the bill back in the next session. With 53 or 54 seats, depending on the outcome of a runoff in Louisiana on Dec. 6, they’ll have the numbers to pass the legislation, but probably will not have the 67 votes in the Senate to override a presidential veto.

Immigration action

The president’s executive measures on immigration include:

• Protecting immigrant workers from deportation and making work permits eligible for about 4.1 million people who are in the United States illegally but whose children are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. To be eligible, the parents must have lived in the U.S. for five years.

• Expanding the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program launched by the administration in 2012. The program shields from deportation minors brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

• Lowering the deportation priority for parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents who have been in the U.S. fewer than five years.

• Replacing the Secure Communities program that hands over people booked for local crimes to federal immigration authorities. 

• Committing more resources for patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.

• Loosening eligibility requirements for a waiver program for people seeking green cards. People who entered the U.S. illegally must leave the country for as much as 10 years before seeking a green card, unless they get a waiver.

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