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German church hosts galactic service to celebrate Star Wars release

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BERLIN Children carried toy lightsabers to a church in Berlin and some of the congregation dressed up as Darth Vader on Sunday to mark the release of the new Star Wars movie with a service on Sunday.

At the terracotta-brick Zion Church, an organist played the movie series’ theme and Ulrike Garve, a vicar in training, opened the Protestant service with the words “The wait is over – the Force has awakened!”

A screen set up next to the altar showed a clip from a Star Wars movie in which Luke Skywalker fights off Darth Vader and declares to The Emperor that he will never turn to the Dark Side.

Garve and fellow vicar in training Lucas Ludewig, fans of the seven-part epic space movie series, said Skywalker’s actions showed it was important to eschew violence.

Speaking to a packed church with capacity for 500 people, they said this was also a message found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, in which some passages refer to overcoming evil with good.

“The more we talked about it, the more parallels we discovered between Christian traditions and the movies,” said Garve. “We wanted to make churchgoers aware of these analogies.”

Some on social media called the service “sinful” and “disgraceful”. But priest Eva-Maria Menard, who is mentor to the two trainees, said: “We need to address contemporary issues or our faith will not be able to carry us through it.”

(Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Source: R-HMovies


'Concussion' film stirs NFL brain injury debate

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WASHINGTON The film “Concussion,” tracing a forensic pathologist’s quest to expose the truth about brain injuries in the NFL, casts a spotlight on an issue that has roiled America’s most popular sports league.

The movie also may give parents pause, according to the filmmakers and some former players, about allowing their sons to play the violent sport of football.

“I love football. It’s graceful. We have a lot of beautiful football in this film, purposefully,” said Peter Landesman, the director and writer of the movie, due in U.S. theaters on Dec. 25. “We’re not trying to wag our finger and say, ‘Don’t do it.'”

Landesman added, “Sometimes the things that we love in life are the things that kill us. We just have to make difficult decisions about what we do with that.”

Rick Walker, who played nine seasons in the National Football League including on the Washington Redskins team that won Super Bowl XVII in January 1983, said he hopes women, particularly mothers, see “Concussion” because they have the ability at the grassroots level to make the sport safer.

“Dads have already been aware of the situation, and most men will play no matter what,” said Walker, now a sports commentator in Washington. “When you’re young, moms are taking you to Pee Wee and Pop Warner (youth leagues).”

“Mothers can be such a big influence. If they combine their forces, they have the power to bring about change. They will protect their babies. But with dads, it’s always a macho issue,” Walker added.

The movie tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith, who fought the NFL’s campaign to conceal his research on the brain damage suffered by football players who sustain blows to the head during games and practice.

Several dozen of the game’s top players, including Hall of Famers Mike Webster and Junior Seau, have been diagnosed after they died with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive blows to the head. CTE currently is diagnosed only through brain examinations after death.


Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy, said he would be happy if the film spurs conversation on how to prevent brain injuries.

Miller said recent rules changes, such as penalizing helmet-to-helmet hits, have helped reduce the number of concussions in regular season games by 34 percent over the past three years.

“While that number does not represent success in our minds, it certainly is a trend in the right direction,” Miller said.

Miller said when the NFL changes rules or makes it a “point of emphasis” to limit the amount of head contact in a game, colleges, high schools and even youth leagues take note.

The league’s concussion policies came under renewed scrutiny last month when St. Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum was allowed to continue playing after suffering a concussion in a game. The NFL said it would review why Keenum was not taken off the field for evaluation by a team doctor or an independent neuro-trauma physician as required by its concussion protocols.

Some 5,000 former players sued the NFL over brain injuries, claiming the multibillion-dollar league concealed the dangers of repeated head trauma. The players agreed to a settlement that could cost the league $1 billion, but the settlement remains tied up in the courts.

Smith, nominated for a Golden Globe award for his performance in “Concussion,” said that as a football dad, he was conflicted about starring in the movie because he had been unaware before meeting Omalu of the scientific research.

“I had watched my son play football for four years, and I didn’t know. And just as a parent I felt like I had to be a part of this,” Smith said.

Smith said Omalu’s quest for the truth “become our quest also to deliver the truth. People have to know,” Smith said.

In 2011, lawyer Jason Luckasevic filed the first two lawsuits against the NFL on behalf of more than 120 retired players over their brain injuries.

“This is not the story of the guy who is crying the blues about his one concussion,” Luckasevic said. “This is the story of guys like Mike Webster who suffered repeated trauma, practice after practice, day after day, game after game.”

Luckasevic said in light of the movie “people will now have to make their informed choices knowing that football is not really different from boxing, that you can get (brain injuries) from hitting your head thousands of times during the course of a season.”

Walker, who retired from the NFL after the 1985 season, said the league “is filthy rich and needs to focus on the survival of its players.”

All three of his boys played football. “I know I’m happier that they’re no longer playing,” Walker said.

(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Editing by Will Dunham)

Source: R-HMovies


Far above Sweden's Arctic Circle, a ski resort hosts refugees

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RIKSGRANSEN, Sweden Far above Sweden’s Arctic Circle, two dozen refugees stepped off a night train onto a desolate, snow-covered platform, their Middle Eastern odyssey abruptly ending at a hotel touted as the world’s most northerly ski resort.

It was Sweden’s latest attempt to house a record influx of asylum seekers.

No one was here to greet them. Only a few, swaying lights flickered on the otherwise empty platform as women fruitlessly wrapped hijabs around their faces to protect themselves from the mountain blizzard.

“Where are we? Is this the final destination?” said Alakozai Naimatullah, an Afghan who worked as a U.S. military translator. He wore tennis shoes, buried in the snow.

His words went unanswered in the disorder of arrival. Their bare hands frozen, husbands, wives and children bent over to drag plastic bags filled with worldly possessions over a steep, snowy path to hotel lights a hundred metres below.

They joined around 600 refugees, mainly from Syria and Afghanistan, holed up for two months in Riksgransen. It is some 124 miles (200 km) north of the Arctic Circle and a two-hour bus ride to the nearest town – if the road is not closed by snow.

It is an example of the extremes Sweden is going to in order to house some 160,000 refugees this year in a country of 10 million people. Shelters range from heated tents to adventure theme parks, straining resources.

The sun never rises in Riksgransen at this time of year and temperatures can plummet to minus 30 degrees Celsius. But the hotel offers food, shelter and security after a dangerous month-long trip from the Middle East by boat, train and bus.

The jovial hotel manager Sven Kuldkepp has helped arrange temporary classes and free sledges for children. There is a gym and boxing classes for adults. A room once used for meditation has been turned into a mosque. Yoga mats now face Mecca.

But the hotel mostly has the feel of an airport lounge with a delayed flight – with a two-month wait. Riksgransen will be home until the ski season starts in February, but many face more than a year’s wait until they get news of asylum requests.


Some refugees, only a hundred metres from ski slopes, still dream of Syrian beaches.

Wael al-Shater was a chef at a 60-table restaurant called Sky View in Homs, specializing in chicken. He had aspirations and applied to study as a chef in Cyprus, but never got a visa. He had friends in Dubai but didn’t want to live outside Syria.

“Life was so easy. I made $1,200 a month,” al-Shater said. “It was so safe that my friends and I used to drive 60 kilometres to the beach just to have a coffee late at night at two in the morning and return home.”

But war came. His work day was cut in half as fighting erupted in the streets, and his father died of a suspected heart attack during fighting in Homs.

“I could not take him to hospital. He died on the street,” Al-Shater said. He paid $1,200 to be smuggled by boat to Greece some 25 days ago and ended up in Riksgransen with his wife, an English teacher.

“In the end I had no option but to leave or join the killing. Or become a protester and get killed. I had to leave.”

Sitting along dark corridors, refugees’ faces are illuminated by flickering smartphone screens. Some play video games, others Skype friends. Most, like al-Shater, are eager to share memories, using their phones to swipe through photos.

One elderly man showed pictures of his wife and daughter at the beach in the Syrian town of Latakia, a seaside resort and near a Russian military airbase.

Smoking outside in the freezing dark, he raised his face to the sky, as if bathing in Latakia’s imaginary sun.

“Please turn on the sun again,” he laughed.

Another pale, old man had charmed hotel staff with tales of his perfume shop in Syria before he was moved to a Swedish hospital due to a heart ailment.


Trauma and illness abound. Flu and chicken pox already spread through the hotel. But the most common ailment is insomnia, a sure sign, say nurses, of war trauma.

To make matters worse, few refugees venture outside, spending days in rooms. Many fear taking children out in such freezing temperatures, despite tourists spending thousands of dollars to visit a place famed for views of the northern lights.

“This place is like a desert island,” said nurse Asa Henriksson in a makeshift clinic by the spa’s swimming pool. “It is surrounded by a wall of mountains.”

“When the aurora comes, we tell people to go outside, lay down in the snow, and look up,” she added. “The refugees don’t. Many people here think their children could die in this cold.”

There have been cases of bus loads of refugees arriving in the north overnight, having a glance at the surroundings and refusing to get off, insisting on returning to warmer regions.

Some return to southern Sweden while others, like most in Riksgransen, accept their lot. In Riksgransen, many still want to visit the nearest town of Kiruna. They receive around 2 euros a day, some saving for days to buy small toys for children.

Al-Shater still yearns for his homeland.

“There is no human being who does not dream about returning to his country,” he said. “But when it comes to Syria, this is simply impossible. We are planning our future in Sweden.”

(Additional reporting by Michael Georgy in Cairo; Editing by Janet McBride)

Source: R-Entertainment

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