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Friday, April 27, 2018

NORTH and SOUTH KOREAN LEADERS Meet to Discuss PEACE, DENUCLEARIZATION

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After World War II, the once Japanese-occupied Korean peninsula was divided into two nations, the north falling in with the Soviet Union and the south with the US. The later outbreak of the Cold War between the two superpowers had a flashpoint in the Korean War, where North Korea invaded south, was driven back, and reinforced by Communist China. Hostilities ended with not a peace treaty but an armistice, leaving the two countries still at war but not fighting, a status that has remained for decades. This week however, sees what appears to be a massive status shift between them.
CNN is reporting and currently updating on a landmark event between North and South Korea this Friday, April 27. This is the Summit between Kim Jong-Un of the Democratic People’s Republic and the western-aligned Republic’s President Moon Jae-in, the first time since 2007 when the leaders of the divided Korean peninsula would meet face to face. Kim Jong-Un does one better by going all the way south, being the first leader of his hermit nation to visit South Korean territory since his grandfather Kim Il-Sung in 1953. The sight of Jung-Un crossing the North-South demarcation line was a momentous action.
The planned summit between Kim and Moon was held in the Inter-Korean Peace House, one of the longtime alternate-use venues for non-military discussions and negotiations between the two Koreas. After signing his name on the guestbook, with additional comments about “a new history”, Kim went in with President Moon to discuss the summit’s three major subjects: a final peace agreement between their nations, bettering bilateral relations, and the particulars regarding North Korea’s announcement of denuclearizing itself. Northern state media agency KCNA noted that Kim was to “open-heartedly” talk about these issues in hope of a future reunification of the peninsula.
Such an occasion, perhaps the closest to being amiable the North Korean leadership has been in a long time, was hard to imagine even the year before, when the hermit nation was stubbornly defying the rest of the world by pursuing its nuclear weapons program, with missile launches and bomb tests. But a few weeks back Kim Jong-Un has done a one eighty in his policy by discussing Northern denuclearization. This has paved the path for this summit with his Southern counterpart Moon Jae-in; though while their respective countrymen, especially the South, are hopeful, there is still some tension present.
Should the North-South Korean Summit have a positive turnout, it would also pave the way for another meeting with a world leader. Sometime in May or June, Kim hopes to meet with US President Donald Trump for the first time. The White House has expressed its hopes for glad tidings.
Photo courtesy of boingboing.net

MEGHAN MARKLE Retires from Acting with “SUITS” Season-7 FINALE Episodes

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It has been quite the eventful year for the British Royal Family. Just on the 23rd of April, Prince William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were blessed with a third child, fifth in line for the throne. Next month, the Duke’s younger brother Prince Harry will be marrying his fiancée, American actress Meghan Markle. Preparations for the wedding have been proceeding apace, with Markle being baptized and confirmed into the Church of England last March. One other step took place on television this week; that is the season 7 finale of “Suits”, where her character makes her exit.
As told in USA Today, the double-episode finale for the sixth season of “Suits” on the USA Network centers on the culmination of the hard-earned happy ending for one of the legal drama’s main protagonists and his love interest, played by Meghan Markle. At the same time, it makes for a prime opportunity to remove these two characters from the narrative, in line with Markle’s decision to retire from acting in order to prepare for the life of being a royal spouse. Actor Patrick J. Adams has also announced his departure from the show and his role as Mike Ross.
Much of the conflict in “Suits” usually involves existential threats to the legal firm built up by Adams’ Mike, initially a law-savvy college dropout, and his litigator friend Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht). Season 7’s closing crisis sees their business threatened by lawsuits; At the same time Mike and Markle’s character Rachel Zane plan their marriage while tackling a class-action suit, leading to a job opportunity that would also take them from New York to Seattle, and a firm specializing in class-action lawsuits. Having decided to take that plunge, Mike and Rachel move up their wedding date; and it is beautiful.
With help from their Pearson Specter Litt colleague Donna Paulsen (Sarah Rafferty), Rachel and Mike get the closest to a dream ceremony they could wish for; and while everybody in their circle is happy for the couple, the mood sobers a tad when Mike tells Harvey that their long and eventful partnership will now diverge. After everything that happened to the two of them, the parting is actually respectful and poignant, and with that the newlyweds leave the scene for good, while their actors can depart without any further fuss.
Despite the loss of one of the main duo along with a major supporting role, USA Network is determined to keep “Suits” going for another season or two. Time will also tell which of the two events – this on-screen wedding and the real-life one this coming May 19, between Markle and Prince Harry – will have the larger number of viewers.
Photo courtesy of bustle.com

BORACAY Rehabilitation CLOSURE Starts NOW

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When President Rodrigo Duterte wants something done, it will get done. He had described the island of Boracay, the country’s primary resort destination to go for foreign tourists, celebrities and even Filipinos who can afford it, as a “cesspool” and demanded its rehabilitation even if it means being closed. The local tourism businesses and local residents protested at the loss of their jobs; the Budget Secretary worried about the loss of revenue, but what has been ordered, cannot be stopped. A date was set to close Boracay, with police and military assistance. Flights schedules were reshuffled. Finally, the day arrived.
CNN Philippines reports that the inter-agency task force assembled and assigned to oversee the environmental rehabilitation of Boracay island has finally enforced the proposed six-month closure of the resort complex on its scheduled date of Thursday, April 26. They have done it even without a tangible backing of a legal order by President Duterte, rather going off only on his verbal instruction. The chief executive had, at the most, only approved the closure duration proposed by the Departments of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources, and Interior and Local Government, three weeks ago on April 4.
With the enforced closure, travel and staying in Boracay has been prohibited to both domestic and foreign tourists. Only island residents with government-issued identification have the freedom to come and go, and only from one designated jetty port. In other cases authorized people can only go there in the event of emergencies, and only after passing approval from the joint task force security committee composed of police and military personnel. Some who live on Boracay’s three barangays have groused at the measures as being overkill, and are also worried at how they would financially support themselves for half a year without the island’s tourism infrastructure.
To cushion the blow for the resort and business employees who have lost their work, officials have moved to place Boracay under a state of calamity, to release a fund totaling P2 billion to be doled out to the affected workers and residents. This officially needs an executive order from President Duterte, though Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo hopes that the order will be signed before April 26 is out. In the meantime, Boracay residents have pitched in with public volunteers and contracted corporations to clean up the locale and dismantle business and commercial buildings that violate environmental and zoning regulations.
If the closure schedule of six months holds true, the tourism industry standstill could see a ₱1.96 billion revenue loss. Secretary Teo hopes the amount of participants in the cleanup could accelerate it to the point that a “soft reopening” might be possible in June or July, rather than September.
Photo courtesy of ABSCBN News

G.R.R. MARTIN Says “THRONES” Book 6 NOT COMING This Year

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In 1996, writer George R.R. Martin saw the publishing of his novel “A Game of Thrones”, a medieval fantasy story about the political upheaval of a kingdom in a world where seasons – especially winter – can last for years. This crisis in a fantastic setting is seen primarily through the eyes of the Stark family, whose members are separated and systematically killed off by conflict over the course of five books, with two more planned by Martin to conclude everything. At least that was the plan, were it not for delays with Book 6, which will “not” be released this year.
As detailed by Entertainment Weekly, it would appear that George R.R. Martin does not think that book six of his “Song of Ice and Fire” series, entitled “The Winds of Winter”, will be published at any time in 2018. Instead, that honor will go to his other literary work, “Fire and Blood”, technically a prequel to the stories in his novels but written as a history rather than prose. While acquiring more backstory to build up the fascinating world of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, this is sad news for fans that have waited since book five came out 2011.
“No, winter is not coming… not in 2018, at least,” Martin announced on his personal blog. “You’re going to have to keep waiting for The Winds of Winter.” It was a refrain that his readership has heard numerous times before. The gap of seven years (and widening) from when “A Dance with Dragons” was published has already adversely affected the plotline of “Game of Thrones”, the book series’ TV adaptation on HBO. Having gone through all book plots in five seasons, the sixth and seventh were all original plotting by the production crew, with 2019’s season eight ending it all.
Reaction to the news on social media showed a wide spectrum ranging from shock, annoyance, anger and tired resignation. This is especially hard for fans that prefer the original books to the award-winning HBO series, some of the more vocal critics disdaining it as fan-fiction by show-runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. A number has made plays on the story tag-line “Winter is Coming” (Stark family motto) and are bemoaning that it might never will. Ultimately there are those who have decided to pick up Martin’s “Fire and Blood”, a 900-plus history of the Targaryen Kings coming out this November.
“The Winds of Winter” at least already has several chapters completed, which George R.R. Martin has released as previous several times before. Following this long-procrastinated novel is a final book, entitled “A Dream of Spring”. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” will premiere its eighth and final season on the following year.
Photo courtesy of DailyExpress

THIRD Royal Baby Born to PRINCE WILLIAM and DUCHESS KATE

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It was a wonderful day for a Royal Wedding on April 29 in the year 2011, when Prince William of Wales, son of Charles, Prince of Wales and third in line to the British throne, was wed to Catherine Middleton, better known as Kate. Having dated since 2003, their marriage proved to be remarkably happy, as evidenced by the birth of their firstborn son Prince George in 2013 and daughter Princess Charlotte in 2015. Nearly three years after her birth, the now-Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have again welcomed a new child, a second son and prince, to the world.
BBC reports that, following her admission into St. Mary’s Hospital in London early this fourth week of April, the Duchess of Cambridge finally gave birth to a healthy baby boy at around 11:01 AM GMT. A few hours, the Royal Couple exited the double-door entrance to St. Mary’s Lindo Wing to greet the crowds that have been gathering at the opposite side of the street since the morning, with the baby prince wrapped in white held in Kate’s arms. The bystanders have already been whipped to excitement by an official crier announcing the birth beforehand. Buckingham Palace also posted a birth notice in its traditional manner, with an easel-mounted placard.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, briefly exited St. Mary’s to pick up Prince George and Princess Charlotte, who got to see their mummy and new baby brother beforehand in private. And then, the awaited moment arrived when the Duke and Duchess made the big presentation just before 6 PM GMT. Following a brief retreat into the Lindo Wing to make the baby comfortable in a carrier, the Royal Couple exited the hospital anew and headed off home to Kensington Palace.
For those wondering why the new Royal Baby is only ever referred to as the Royal Baby here, the reason is because his name has yet to be announced publicly, in keeping with tradition. Kensington Palace, the current official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, has announced that the naming of the new Prince will be done a few days from his birth. This however has not stopped betting circles to place wagers on the possible name. Frontrunners with some major bookmakers are any of the following: Arthur, Albert, Frederick, James or Philip. It should be noted that both Philip and Arthur are in use in the full names of both Prince William (William Arthur Philip Louis) and his father Charles, Prince of Wales (Charles Philip Arthur George).
Congratulations have already come from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and UK Prime Minister Theresa May. On her Twitter page, PM May wished the Duke and Duchess great happiness in the future.
Photo courtesy of The Sun

House Committee Approval of BAYBAYIN as Writing System Meets CRITICISM

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In olden-time days, before Ferdinand Magellan found his way in 1521, the ethnic tribes that comprised the future Filipino people lived in their respective lands throughout the Philippine archipelago. Some of these tribes have gone on to develop their own writing systems for their dialects. One of them, the Tagalog people, adapted the Brahmic script of their trade contacts with India to create Baybayin, which they used from the 13th to 18th Centuries. Baybayin is remembered today in the occasional use of their characters in government agency seals and in pop culture, but a House Bill plans to go further.
ABS-CBN News tells us that the House Committee on Basic Education and Culture has given its stamp of approval for House Bill 1022. Conceived by Pangasinan 2nd District Rep. Leopoldo Bataoil, the “National Writing System Act” seeks to promote Baybayin as an official writing system for the country. The proposal hopes to instill a national appreciation and pride for the classic writing system, as well as to preserve its knowledge and history by encouraging its renewed usage in everyday life. The Department of Education (DepEd), National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and “Baybayin, Buhayin” advocacy supported the bill.
Practical applications for re-establishing Baybayin as a writing system have been laid down by HB1022. First, the proposal legally requires Philippine processed food manufacturers to use Baybayin for their labels, with translations in the modern alphabet. The bill also mandates LGUs to write Baybayin on signage for street names, public facilities, government halls, community centers and even emergency service. Even publications will be obliged to include a Baybayin rendition of their names. Rep. Bataoil has remarked that the importance of Baybayin is incalculable in terms of its part in the preservation and progress of Filipino civilization and must be fostered.
If certain government agencies and lobby groups were ecstatic at the approval of HB1022 at the House Committee, some voices according to CNN Philippines were confused, dismayed, or annoyed at the proposal. Filipino Twitter users have been particularly harsh in their assessment of using Baybayin in modern life to such a degree as laid out by the bill. The most pointed criticism to the implementation of Baybayin is the fact that it was used for the Tagalog dialect only, and is incompatible with other major regional dialects like Kapampangan, which also happens to have its own old-style writing system, Kulitan.
One of the objectives of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts is to preserve antiquated writing systems like Baybayin as cultural treasures, by means of including their history in basic education. Detractors of HB1022 opine that Baybayin, for its historical importance, is mere aesthetics in the modern day.
Photo courtesy of Coconuts Media

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

“AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” Marks End of the Beginning for MCU

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If anybody thought that the hype generated by Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” for theater-goers last February was big enough, you have not seen anything yet. After all, the next movie in sequence for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, from its myth plot nature, the epic length of its cast alone, and the timing of its premiere, destined to be nothing other than a milestone of its franchise. At long last an antagonist that skulked in the shadows has moved to the open; all the different corners of the universal setting have come together; and nothing will ever be the same.
That is pretty much the mood that Marvel Studios has going for “Avengers: Infinity War”, the third MCU film to carry the name of the foremost superhero team in the Marvel Comics stable. (Fans of “X-Men” in the books and the Fox films might take exception to that, though.) This particular movie is coming to cinemas at roughly the same period of the year that the first chapter of the epic franchise, “Iron Man”, premiered back in 2008. In this first decade of the MCU, the producers have strived to put in a little bit of everything that came before.
But what is really the driving force in the story is the long-promised involvement of a character first seen in the mid-credits of the first “Avengers” film in 2012, the “mad titan” called Thanos. After some escalating threats faced and beaten in all MCU movies during the interim, it is significantly impressive that the team behind the cameras – directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – have managed to create a frighteningly unstoppable bad guy, as portrayed by Mark Brolin, “enhanced” by a remarkable application of CGI that convincingly sold Thanos as a flesh-and-blood onscreen presence.
It might be strange to get to discussion of the big bad of “Infinity War” before even mentioning the plot and the good guys’ status. That would be because the story revolves as much around Thanos as with the Avengers, and their fellow movie-side heroes. Normally there would be narrative difficulties in getting the audience to sympathize with a physical godlike entity who wants to exterminate half the total living creatures in the universe using six gems created in the Big Bang as manifestations of the elements of existence. What Markus and McFeely did in the plotting, got really close.
Taking place shortly after the events of 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Black Panther”, “Avengers: Infinity War” starts off with a heavy dose of dread and foreboding bleakness. Without spoiling a lot, Thanos has started to actively search for the Infinity Stones which hold control over the concepts of Power, Mind, Time, Space, Soul and Reality. When inserted into his Infinity Gauntlet, they would allow him to realize his lifelong goal of “balancing” the universe by exterminating half of all life. In acquiring his first two Stones, he sets Thor (Chris Hemsworth) into the path of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
In the meantime, Thanos sends his Black Order henchmen to Earth, where he knows two more Stones reside: Time with sorcerer Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Mind with the artificial being Vision (Paul Bettany). Forced to face this threat are the still-fragmented Avengers, with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) finding himself lost in space with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Strange while Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is forced to somehow track down the public renegade Captain America (Chris Evans). With world governments uncooperative, the trail for assistance leads to the African nation of Wakanda and its king, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
And the personages noted in the previous paragraph barely scratches the surface of so many characters established in the MCU that have a role or two to play in this cosmic-spanning drama of superhero adventure. In fact, some film heroes in the franchise do not even appear in “Infinity War”! Thank goodness for that however, as there would barely be anything left for each face in the screen to have at least one scene of prominence, a herculean management feat pulled off by McFeely, Markus and the Russos. It does get borderline-disjointed a la “Game of Thrones” at some points.
Marvel Studios did say that this “Avengers” movie is like a beginning of the end for the overarching myth arc established from the beginning of the MCU. That has been translated as being a license to the production staff to start “pruning” the cast as it were. Any regular MCU fan used to seeing the heroes pull through will be shocked out of their complacency with “Infinity War”. Never before have the stakes appeared so insurmountable, the battles so close to “total party kill” as now. What is worse, this film was an unfinished story, with “Avengers 4” still coming.
“Infinity War” was originally conceptualized as being a two-part film like the last “Harry Potter” installment. Rewrites led to it being made a standalone, but elements that clue in to the narrative being once split across two installments linger, especially towards the denouement. The obligatory post-credits scene does make a nice call-forward to a future MCU film – which is a prequel – but is apparently going to be instrumental in how the mightiest heroes of Marvel on the big screen (whoever’s still active) will deal with Thanos, who is coming back. We have a year to wait for the cliffhanger conclusion.
Photo courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

Monday, April 23, 2018

New PREVIEW Feature on WIKIPEDIA to Help Avoid Reader WIKIWALKS

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In the year 2001, the world of researching information on the internet was perhaps changed forever with the launch of a free-content online encyclopedia, the words of which could be openly edited. So began the age of Wikipedia, a time when answers to questions were easily reachable at the tap of a keyboard, to information that is constantly updated at best, biased at worst. It also spawned the “wiki-walk”, where a researcher of a particular subject might get sidetracked by clicking article links for hours. Perhaps it is to alleviate that phenomenon, that a new update was implemented: article previews.
As The Verge tells it, over the weekend the online platform of Wikipedia was upgraded with an additional feature. Now, when browsing a featured article on the encyclopedia, when pointing a mouse over a hyperlink text word, a new popup window will appear next to the link, showing a preview window of the article connected to that word. The preview consists of the article’s opening paragraph and its main photo, where available. In that way the surfer would be able to see the initial contents of the linked article and decide whether or not he wanted to click over there.
Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization that owns the Wikipedia domain and a primary segment of the international community expert content contributors to the online encyclopedia, has noted that providing article links with a preview window was “one of the largest changes to desktop Wikipedia made in recent years”. It was conceptualized to help researchers using the platform to keep their browsing relevant to whatever topic they had in mind. Before, Wikipedia users have good-humoredly complained about situations like when a reader of an article about “Skateboarding” clicked links in the text to eventually end up reading about actor “Kevin Bacon”.
To check if the popup previews were proving helpful to readers, the Wikimedia Foundation subjected it to A/B testing in past weeks, giving Wikipedia users the option to deactivate the feature or not. Their statistics have already noted that few wiki readers have turned the new feature off, and furthermore, the amount of article pages they have opened in the course of a day’s visit have visibly reduced due to getting to see what is in a link before they switch over to it. “Mach reader is interacting with the content of more pages while navigating the site,” notes Wikimedia.

CHINA Presents List of 59 Countries with VISA FREE Travel to HAINAN Province for 30 DAYS

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Hainan is an island and the southernmost province of the People’s Republic of China. In olden days the Chinese people traditionally believed that Hainan was the world’s southernmost landmass, and its southernmost shore was called the Tian-ya Hai-jiao (edge of Heaven, corner of Sea), deemed a place of exile for Imperial Dynasty officials that fell out of favor, and later for sympathizers of the Republic in the early days of Communist rule. Today it is a rising tropical tourism destination and duty-free zone, reflected in China’s offering of visa-free tourism travel to the island for several countries, including the Philippines.
CNN Philippines reports that the Chinese State Immigration Administration has just announced a list of 59 countries that will be offered travel access to the island province of Hainan without the need for a visa, for a 30-day period, starting on May 1. The Philippines was one of the countries listed according to the Xinhua state news agency. The State Immigration Administration remarks that the visa-free travel access to Hainan is a move to support reform and an opening-up for the island province in terms of tourism and the economy.
The nations given this visa-free 30-day travel to Hainan are the following: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, PHILIPPINES, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States. These countries were listed in the official tourism page for Hainan.
Perhaps part of the factors leading to the inclusion of the Philippines here might be a recent visit this month by President Rodrigo Duterte to Hainan, particularly its east-coast town of Boao which is the permanent venue for what is considered to be the Asian-centric version of the World Economic Forum, the Boao Forum for Asia. At the same time he also had a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The announcement of the new list of countries with visa-free access to Hainan was made two weeks later.
China giving visa-free travel privileges to Hainan began in 2000, when the Immigration Administration listed 21 countries which received that right for a 15-day stay. In the year 2010 five more nations were added to the list, and they have been increasing over the years.
Hainan province is proving no slouch as a tourism destination, thanks to its tropical climate unlike that of the mainland. In 2017 there has been a recorded 1.1 million international tourists who went to Hainan according to Xinhua news agency.

“DEADPOOL 2” FINAL TRAILER Hits DC-Warner, Marvel Studios, and More

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The next epic installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in on its way to theaters next week with “Avengers: Infinity War”, but the other face of the Marvel movie experience is not to be left behind either. That is “Deadpool 2”, sequel to the surprise 2016 hit “anti”-superhero film starring Ryan Reynolds as the nigh un-killable mercenary who is aware of being on fictional media. This is the latest spinoff to 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” movie franchise, and it is every bit as zany as the original, as seen in its final trailer where the character disses its rival film-verses.
E! News Online has it that the final full trailer for Fox’s “Deadpool 2” has come out Thursday, April 19. And as already inferred so heavily on past previews, this last hype-up for next month’s theater premiere is full to the brim with irreverent one-liners from the comedic-violent title character portrayed by Reynolds. While some scenes repeat the plot points already spoiled by the trailers that came before – X-Force for one – one standout new sequence sees Deadpool fighting the film’s antagonist Cable, where he snarks at the latter’s grim threats by asking, “You sure you’re not from the DC Universe?”
It was signature form for the fourth wall-breaking Marvel character, referencing the popular image of film adaptations for DC Comics superheroes by Warner Bros. Pictures as being serious and dark in the vein of the “Dark Knight” trilogy for Batman and the “Man of Steel” movie about Superman. But Reynolds/Deadpool is not done yet. He also makes some past and present references regarding Cable’s actor Josh Brolin and his film career. At one scene he drops the name of a character from the 1985 film “The Goonies”, where a then-teenaged Brolin was a main cast-member: “Bring it on, One-Eyed Willie!”
And then, there’s Reynolds’ little wink at Brolin’s concurrent film role with Marvel Studios, as the antagonist of “Avengers: Infinity War” even. “Pump the hate breaks, Thanos,” crows Deadpool directly into the camera. It comes across as a take that at Disney, parent of Marvel Entertainment, which is currently in talks with Fox’s own parent company with the view of acquiring the film studio and several other media assets within the next year. The prospect of reuniting the film rights to Marvel’s “X-Men”, to which “Deadpool” is connected to, with the rest of the Marvel Universe, hangs over these words.
Other than Reynolds and Brolin, “Deadpool 2” also stars Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, TJ Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Terry Crews, Lewis Tan, Jack Kesy, Bill Skarsgard and Rob Delaney. The 20th Century Fox film premieres on May 18, close to a month after “Avengers: Infinity War” from Marvel Studios.
Photo courtesy of flickeringmyth.com

DUTERTE Administration Proposes Linking LUZ-VI-MIN by EIGHT BRIDGES with Roadways

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When it was opened in 1973, the San Juanico Bridge connecting the islands of Samar and Leyte in the Visayas was a wonder for Filipino motorists. It was a long bridge that went over a body of saltwater (granted, one of the narrowest straits in the world) to join two landmasses to facilitate land transportation. For the next few decades it has served cross-country motor traffic in the Philippines, while also being seen as a one-off project not replicable anywhere else. But tell that to the Duterte Administration, which is bouncing ideas for eight new bridges to connect the archipelago.
CNN Philippines reports that the national government is planning to put together around P269.19 billion worth of funding to build eight new bridges that would connect major Visayan Islands to one another and with both Luzon and Mindanao to their north and south. Undersecretary Bayani Agabin of the Department of Finance read the official announcement of the project prepared by Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Thursday, April 19, describing it as a significant chapter of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing “Build, Build, Build” general infrastructure program. The bridges will be complimented by new roadways to be laid down throughout the Visayas.
Dominguez’ statement outlined the eight proposed inter-island bridges and where they would be erected. First is a bridge connecting Luzon to Samar Island across the San Bernardino Strait (18.2km); second is a bridge that would either run overhead or through an underwater tunnel across the Surigao Strait (20km) connecting Leyte Island to Mindanao; third is a 5.7km bridge connecting Panay Island to Guimaras; fourth is a series of inter-island linkages totaling 12.3km from Guimaras to Negros; fifth is a 1km bridge connecting Bohol to Lapinig Island; sixth is from Lapinig to Leyte (18km); seventh is a 5.5km link-bridge between Cebu and Negros; and finally a Cebu-Bohol link-bridge that spans 24.5km.
“These bridges will provide growth corridors and ensure that none of the major islands of the Visayas will be left behind in the country’s race to progress,” Dominguez noted in his statement. And seeing as construction will take a several years to finish, these projects will provide longtime employment to Filipinos from construction to engineering and related fields. The brave prediction is that these bridges could reduce national unemployment to 14 percent by 2022, while investments worth $170 million going into the project until that year will stimulate the economy.
Other than the bridge projects and connecting roadways, other major infrastructure projects for the “Build, Build, Build” program in the Visayan regions include one port construction and three airport improvements. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board has approved all these for implementation as soon as resources are ready.
Photo courtesy of conceptnewsportal.com

JEFF BEZOS Reveals Official AMAZON Stat: 100 MILLION PRIME SUBSCRIBERS

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There is absolutely no doubt that Amazon is one of the largest online retailing platforms in the whole world, and that it is patronized by so many people who shop on the internet that it is sometimes negatively described by detractors as a monopoly in everything but name. But while many online denizens could say that Amazon has a lot of customers, nobody could get any official figures to indicate it. The company’s founder Jeff Bezos has never been chatty about statistics for Amazon, although a recent letter to shareholders may see him relaxing on the secrecy, with a number.
Said number is of how many consumers are enrolled in Amazon Prime, the online retail giant’s membership program, with month and annual term options. Jeff Bezos has, according to The Verge, finally broke his statistical confidentiality 13 years after Amazon started operations. The shareholder letter, sent out this Wednesday, April 18, reveals that over 100 million people have subscribed to Amazon Prime, paying either $12.99 monthly or $99 annually in the US (with equivalent currency pricing in 15 more countries worldwide). That is just over the last calculated estimate by analysts in 2017 regarding Prime membership, about 90 million subscribers.
In a way, the figures rattled off by outside analysts and provided by Bezos himself prove the Amazon founder’s own estimate that the previous year may have been the high point of the Prime membership program. According to him, more Amazon shoppers have signed up for Prime in that whole year compared to all the years before. Over five billion distinct products deliveries were also made over Prime in 2017. The subscription gives some great perks for online retailers like free shipping if within two days, discounted pricing and exclusive deals, freebie products, and Prime Video and Music streaming access.
Jeff Bezos was in his usual cheeky manner when he started off his letter to shareholders with some unsolicited business advice. In particular, he wrote of the key value of having “high standards”, and this is reflected in Amazon product sales. While third-party merchants now comprise over half the goods being retailed on the platform, Bezos remarks that products carrying the Amazon brand are still hot sellers, in particular their mobile hardware devices like the Echo smart speaker and Fire tablet computer which reached record sales highs last year. And the founder is confident that Amazon will grow even more.
Photo courtesy of TechTimes

KRISTEN STEWART and AVA DUVERNAY Join “GENDER-BALANCED” Jury for CANNES 2018

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There is less than a month left before the Cannes Film Festival takes off, and preparation details are being publicized as time passes. The latest development announced for the event appears to be timed just right to put a positive spin on Cannes in light of recent happenings that are souring the film fest atmosphere. There was the matter of new regulations that barred Netflix from competing with some of its original films. And then there was the issue raised about the low turnout of female directors for the festival. The organizers look to recover by revealing its jury lineup.
Variety reports that the Cannes Film Festival organizers have announced who would comprise its competition jury for this year. Under the presidency of veteran actress Cate Blanchett, the 2018 festival’s nine jury members include four women to five men, filmmakers and stars from across five continents on Earth. Among them are director Ava DuVernay and actress Kristen Stewart from the US, joined by French actress Lea Seydoux and singer Khadja Nin from Burundi in Africa. This closer gender parity in the jury is done under the initiative of Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux, in light of balancing the gender ratio.
Critics have started taking shots at the 71st Cannes festival due to having only three films directed by women standing for competition. Fremaux had these thoughts in mind when selecting the jury members, saying that he had been in past discussions over the subject with women in the motion picture industry like American actress-producer Jessica Chastain, who was on the jury in the 2017 Cannes under President Pedro Almovodar. “For the last four years, I’ve become much more concerned about the presence of women at the festival,” says Fremaux, noting that other film selection committees have more women these days.
Both Kristen Stewart and Ava DuVernay are active in films nowadays. DuVernay in fact has just recently directed a new film adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” for Disney, which premiered just this March. He became the first African-American woman director to work on a film with a plus-$100 million budget. For her part, Stewart has not rested on her laurels following her famous role in the “Twilight” film saga, and is in fact appearing in three films this 2018.
DuVernay and Stewart with their two other female fellow jury members are joined by French directors Denis Villeneuve and Robert Guédiguian, Taiwanese actor-director Chang Chen, and Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev. Villeneuve directed 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049” while Chang starred in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. The 71st Cannes Film Festival runs from May 8 to 19.
Photo courtesy of latestly.com

Top-Anticipated 2018 Summer-Film Survey Sees Contest between Ryan Reynolds and Chris Pratt

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The time period for summer blockbuster films is almost upon us, and this 2018 the selections are among the most potentially box-office breaking movies yet to arrive in cinemas. No less than two superhero films, one modern-day sci-fi adventure and a space opera western are all vying for ticket sales. When sorted out on a list of the most highly-anticipated summer films for this year, a rather funny trend emerges. There is a three-way contest in theaters involving three movies and two actors. One of these actors is competing against himself, as he is in two films from different studios.
USA Today has it that there is something of a tug-of-war going on involving two Marvel superhero films and the latest chapter of a famous dinosaur-centric franchise. It also pits Hollywood superstars Ryan Reynolds and Chris Pratt…and Chris Pratt, head to head against one another. All this is clear from a recent survey done by ticketing site Fandango.com with 4,500 of their regular movie-going customers, about what they think is the most hyped blockbuster coming this summer. The movies noted are scheduled to premiere in the period between April 27 and Labor Day, most of them sequels to expansive franchises.
Topmost in Fandango’s list is Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Infinity War” which has Chris Pratt in, if not a starring role then a major one. Hot on the movie’s heels is the other Marvel movie, Fox’s “Deadpool 2” starring Ryan Reynolds. Chris Pratt returns to the list with Universal’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”, ranked 4 on the list after Lucasfilm’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. Though it is not a perfect “Top 3” situation, Fandango managing editor Erik Davis is sure that it’s all Pratt vs. Reynolds vs. Pratt for summer 2018, though Pratt fans might split between his two entries.
Granted, while Chris Pratt may have topped the anticipated summer films list here, he has been outdone by Ryan Reynolds when it comes to the fan-favorite actor of those in the anticipated-films list. It understandable: not only is Reynolds one of the most popular stars around these days, his “Deadpool 2” is the bigger-budget sequel to the 2016 film that was his pet project, earning bucket-loads to its comparably paltry budget. Pratt comes second to that list, with the top five actors filled out with Denzel Washington (“The Equalizer 2”) followed by Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans (“Infinity War”).
“Avengers: Infinity War” premieres this coming April 27, “Deadpool 2” on May 18 and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” later on June 22. Other summer films are “Solo” on May 25, Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s 8” on June 8, Disney-Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” on June 15, and “The Equalizer 2” on July 20.
Photo courtesy of publicfigure.com