'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' winning over Lincoln historians

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" won't be in theaters until June 22. But the horror-meets-history thriller that re-envisions our 16th president as an ax-wielding fang-fighter already has an unexpected fan base: historians.

But that fan base didn't develop overnight. When the experts at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., first heard about the fictional book "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," by Seth Grahame-Smith, they were not exactly pleased. Would it make a mockery of the Great Emancipator? Would it ignore Lincoln's pivotal role in history? Would it portray him as a cartoonish figure in a stovepipe hat?

"There was a lot of skepticism, let's just say that," library spokesman Dave Blanchett told The Times.

But "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" appears to be winning over historians with its attention to fact and detail even as it swings wildly into the fantastic and the fictional.

The trailer for the movie was posted online Monday by 20th Century Fox, timed to coincide with  the official observances of the 203rd anniversary of Lincoln's Feb. 12, 1809, birth.

That trailer was a mere morsel for the masses when compared to the banquet served up Friday night at the library.

Director Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted," "Night Watch") and actor Benjamin Walker, who plays Honest Abe, personally introduced several scenes from the movie to library staff and movie critics who flew in as part of a Hollywood junket. Producer Tim Burton couldn't make it, but he sent the next best thing, Blanchette said: a black-and-white digital message with several Burtonesque touches that seemed to thrill those in attendance.

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'Big Miracle': True story behind film about 3 ice-stranded whales

Whale-rescue-lyw686pd

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Hardly anyone is unaware of the plight of the three gray whales that were stranded under the ice near Barrow, Alaska, in 1988 -- especially since the release of a new movie, "Big Miracle," which documents the two-week international effort to save them.

Less known is the precise fate of the whale that didn't make it; it disappeared under the ice as rescuers battled to rescue the remaining two.

But a marine biologist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle thinks he may know the answer. The young whale, he believes, may have been scared off when someone mistakenly played recordings of killer whales, a sound that would terrify a gray whale, or at least create an urgent desire to leave.

"That would have been a fear thing," Dave Withrow, who works with the polar ecosystems program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, told the Los Angeles Times.

The revelation casts a bit of a shadow on the otherwise heartwarming rescue effort that brought together oil men, Russian icebreakers, U.S. government officials, eco-activists and whale-hunting Eskimos together in a saga that gripped television viewers around the world -- and is gaining new attention by way of the film starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski.

The true story was also documented recently by Anchorage Daily News reporter Richard Mauer, who covered the 1988 rescue and dug up his old notebooks to describe the massive endeavor. One of the highlights in his tale is the Soviet icebreaker officer who, at the tail end of the Cold War, invited American reporters aboard his vessel.

"Our whole country is watching, just like everyone else," the officer, Vladimir Morov, said at the time, referring to the phone calls he was fielding from reporters in Moscow.

Mauer also writes in detail about the role of the oil company executive who flew in and tried to move mountains to get heavy oil equipment on scene to help the stranded whales. Played by Ted Danson in the movie, that executive was Bill Allen, who later became famous when he went to prison for paying bribes to a variety of Alaska officials in a corruption scandal that included former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who was accused of failing to report gifts from Allen.

Withrow was one of two NOAA marine mammal biologists and several other agency officials dispatched to the far northern tip of Alaska at Point Barrow, where an Inupiat whale hunter had spotted three young gray whales clinging to survival near a small hole in a sheet of ice that had otherwise closed in around them on all sides.

The whales already had their noses and chins bloodied, in one case to the bone, from ramming the ice to keep their small breathing hole open. The first instinct of some village leaders in Barrow was to shoot the animals and put them out of their misery -- but no one wanted to.

As reporters flew in and started filing stories, Withrow was asked to go up and help clarify some of the misleading information about gray whales that was coming out. Before he left Seattle, he shipped ahead some underwater sound projection equipment and tape recordings of the sound of gray whales breeding in Mexico -- a sound he hoped would lure the stranded whales to new holes that were being dug into the ice to help lure the creatures back toward open water.

He also included recordings of orcas, or killer whales, which prey on gray whales and which Withrow figured might be useful if needed to drive the whales toward safety.

Withrow asked someone to pick up the equipment from the airport and take it ahead to Barrow so it would be ready when he arrived. But when he got there, he found that someone not affiliated with NOAA had already unpacked the equipment and had actually begun broadcasting one of the tapes into the water -- the killer whale sounds.

"They projected something, we think it was the killer whale sounds. And the whales just split," he said.

"The two older ones made it back, and the younger one didn't."

Though it's only speculation, Withrow believes it's likely that the younger whale swam too far away in fear and couldn't or wouldn't come back, doomed under the thickening ice. "It's an incredibly interesting story, but people will never know the answer," he said.

The other enduring mystery in the "Big Miracle" is whether the other two whales survived. A Soviet icebreaker cut a channel to open water in the Chukchi and Bering seas, and Eskimo workers on shore, aided by donated chain saws, succeeded in cutting a series of breathing holes to guide the two whales to the channel.

The guiding part worked -- not so much because of the gray whale breeding tapes, as it turned out, but because of some small pumps donated by a company in Minnesota. The company had developed the pumps for ice fishing, and rescuers found that the sound and turbulence of the pumps acted as a powerful attractant to the whales. It then became relatively easy to attract the whales to new breathing holes as they were created.

At the end of the rescue effort, one of the whales was spotted from a helicopter in the ice-clogged channel that was the final path to safety, Withrow said. The other one was never seen.

Both whales, already weakened from their ordeal, would have had a tough swim through the ice floes and down to safety in California and Mexico.

"None of us actually saw the whales swim through," Withrow said. "People want to know if they actually made it. We don't know. There were reports of people seeing them all along the route, but there's no way of knowing. I'm sitting there three feet from these whales for two weeks and I'm not sure if I could identify them again."

In most cases, he said, gray whales are identified by patterns of barnacles on their skin, and barnacles don't stay the same for long.

"I'm sure people wanted to see them and we'd all like to believe they did, and that's what really happened," Withrow said. "But we don't really know."

What about Drew Barrymore's dramatic dive into the water to help untangle one of the whales, supposedly caught in some fishing net?

Didn't happen, Withrow said.

"We wouldn't have allowed it," he said. "Diving in those conditions where it's 30 and 40 below [zero] is just a really dangerous thing to do. And she wasn't tethered [in the movie], she didn't have a diving buddy, there's laws that would have prohibited it -- no."

[For the record, 6:01 p.m., Feb. 13: This post originally implied that Sen. Ted Stevens had accepted bribes from oil company executive Bill Allen. Stevens was accused of failing to report gifts from Allen.]

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-- Kim Murphy in Seattle

Photo: A gray whale surfaces at a breathing hole cleared by Eskimos near Point Barrow, Alaska, in 1988, a rescue dramatized in the new film "Big Miracle." Credit: Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News


Abraham Lincoln gets a Hollywood reboot -- as a vampire hunter

Abraham Lincoln is known by many labels. The Great Emancipator. The Rail Splitter. The 16th president. Honest Abe. "That guy on Mt. Rushmore." And the face of the $5 bill.

But this summer he'll be reintroduced to America with a new moniker: "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."

20th Century Fox honored Honest Abe on Monday by posting online a trailer for the hotly anticipated summer movie "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."

Compare that with -- yawn -- the various ways the rest of the country is honoring the 203rd anniversary of Lincoln's Feb. 12, 1809, birth. Some schools are giving students the day off; some states are shutting down all city, county and state offices; and no doubt the countless memorials and monuments erected nationwide in Lincoln's honor will see increased foot traffic all this week.

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is a fantasy-fueled horror-thriller that re-engineers Lincoln as a politician who, in his spare time, wields a battle ax in his bid to crush vampires and their slave-owning helpers. Lincoln is also out to avenge his mother's death at the hands of such a supernatural creature.

Benjamin Walker plays Lincoln in the movie, which is based upon the book of the same name by author Seth Grahame-Smith. The fictional tome expresses itself through Lincoln's previously undiscovered journal of his quest for vengeance, a quest that takes him all the way to the White House. (Not familiar with this new history-marries-horror genre? It's also given birth to the likes of "Alice in Deadland," "George Washington Werewolf," "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.")

The film is produced by Tim Burton and directed by Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted," "Night Watch") and you can see both influences in the action-packed trailer, which is creating a lot of buzz online Monday. It's slated for release June 22.

Happy birthday, Abraham Lincoln.

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch


Whitney Houston memorials spring up at N.J. school, church

Whitney houston church
Outside the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, the flag flew at half-staff in the icy wind as Principal Henry W. Hamilton remembered the gangly 15-year-old who lived up the road, and who excitedly showed off her modeling portfolio one afternoon in 1978.

Back then, before the red brick school had been renamed for the future pop queen, Hamilton didn’t expect Whitney Houston to become a star.

 Houston died Saturday in Beverly Hills of undetermined causes. 

“She was in the choir and the chorus. She used to sing at church. But I didn’t expect she’d become a great singer –- the greatest singer in the world,” said Hamilton, who acknowledges he missed the explosive talent that developed in the young girl as she made her way through the halls of this school in suburban New Jersey, where her first classroom, No. 6, is just to the right of the main entrance.

Hamilton isn’t usually at school on Sunday. But after his phone began ringing on Saturday evening with news of Houston’s death, he knew this would not be a normal day for anyone who knew Houston as a child, or who had seen her sing at the New Hope Baptist Church in neighboring Newark.

“Her start was a beautiful, innocent thing,” said Hassan Munford, who attended the school now named for Houston and who grew up in the same neighborhood.

“I remember when she first made it, she brought a red drop-top and drove it down Dodd Street,” Munford said with a smile as he left flowers outside the school.

“You always have your controversies,” he said of Houston’s well-publicized struggle with drugs and her turbulent relationship with ex-husband Bobby Brown. “But at the end of the day, the influence she had on the community –- on the kids and aspiring musicians and singers –- far outweighs the controversy.”

Throughout the day, fans came bearing flowers, candles and heart-shaped balloons to the school and the church, which shares a nondescript street with an auto shop and a tavern and which, on this frigid February morning, was the only building with any hint of life or color.

Parishioners and fans, bundled up in fur coats, down jackets or flimsy sweaters too thin to block the cold, began arriving at the church before dawn for a morning memorial and kept coming throughout the day for additional services.

“Our hearts are very heavy today,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson as he headed into the church to address the third and last service of the day. “The suddenness of it all … we’re just traumatized.”

Every seat was filled inside the 112-year-old church, where Houston sang as a teenager and where her mother, Cissy Houston, and cousin Dionne Warwick also were regulars in the choir.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Houston “a true New Jersey treasure.” 

Hamilton has been principal of the Whitney E. Houston school for 40 years, since the days when it was called the Franklin School. It was renamed for Houston in 1997.

His office is decorated with pictures that include photographs of him and Houston over the decades.

When his phone rang Saturday night and a nephew told him Houston had died, Hamilton initially did not believe it. But it’s never easy to accept when one of your pupils dies, he said.

“It’s hurtful. Sometimes we say, ‘Is there something we could have done to save that youngster?’ ” said Hamilton, admitting that there is only so much the school can do once pupils move on.

"Once she left here, we felt she was on the right path,” he said. “The things that happened later ... that’s show biz. Unfortunately, some survive and some don’t.”

RELATED:

Love and empathy for Whitney Houston in Newark

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--Tina Susman in East Orange, N.J. 

Photo:  At New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where Whitney Houston began her career as a child, a memorial to the singer grew. She died Saturday in Beverly Hills. Credit:  John W. Ferguson / Getty Images 

 

 


Love and empathy for Whitney Houston in Newark

New Hope Baptist Church

As an icy wind sliced the air outside the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., Donna Thorn stuffed another bouquet of flowers between the iron bars of the church gate.

On the surface, Thorn, a short woman in sweatpants and a wool cap, didn't appear to have much in common with Whitney Houston, who as a child sang gospel in the red brick church. On Saturday, Houston was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel room. Thorn's eyes filled with tears and her voice shook as she described her own struggle with drugs and the empathy she had for the dead pop star, who went through the same thing.

The cause of Houston's death has not been determined and an autopsy is planned.

PHOTOS: Stars react

"If you was never an addict you don't know what it's like to struggle and stay clean ... to hit rock-bottom," said Thorn, recalling her own battle to get off drugs as she grew up on the gritty streets of Newark, where Houston was born 48 years ago.

It was "that fast-track life in L.A." that surely did not help Houston, said Thorn, who echoed other parishioners and fans Sunday as they lamented the premature loss of a Newark native who achieved stardom but whose roots remained deeply planted in the area.

"It's a big loss for us here," said Thorn, noting that the city has been "cleaned up" but still battles high crime and depressed neighborhoods. "She came from my hometown, she made it out of Newark, and she was on top of the world."

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was among those who attended the Sunday service at the church. "Our hearts are heavy today," he said before going in. "The suddenness of it all. ... We're just traumatized."

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Adrenaline junkie plans extreme leap -- from space

Felix_Baumgartner
You've heard of skydiving, right? How about space-diving?

Felix Baumgartner is an Austrian skydiver, BASE jumper and adrenaline junkie who hopes to set the record this summer for the highest skydive ever.

If all goes well, Baumgartner will use a pressurized capsule attached to a high-altitude helium balloon for a "stratospheric flight" to more than 120,000 feet. "He will then exit the capsule and jump -- protected only by a pressurized 'space' suit and helmet supplied with oxygen -- in an attempt to become the first person to break the speed of sound and reach supersonic speeds in free-fall before parachuting to the ground," according to jump plans.

The only thing not surprising about this endeavor? Extreme sports elixir Red Bull is sponsoring the whole thing.

The jump is slated for later this summer, above Roswell, N.M. Given the complexities of the effort, no exact date is scheduled. Experts will start by looking for a perfect three-day weather window -- clear skies, perfect temperatures, no winds -- and then choose a jump time.

Clear skies are a must, spokeswoman Trish Medalen told The Times, explaining that Baumgartner will need all the visibility he can get to reorient himself on the way down.

Followers of Baumgartner's career know he has a passion for doing the unthinkable. (He flew across the English channel in 2003 using a carbon wing, hitting 220 miles per hour. You can watch that jaw-dropping video here.)

The upcoming mission, called Red Bull Stratos, is being documented online. The mission is also being chronicled by both the BBC and the National Geographic Channel for a feature-length TV film. The project has been underway for quite some time, but has been gaining momentum in recent days with its formal announcement.

If successful -- and really, what could go wrong? -- the jump aims to set several world records. Baumgartner hopes to become the first person to break the speed of sound and achieve Mach 1 in free-fall, estimated at 690 mph; to set the record for a free-fall from highest altitude (120,000 feet); to set the record for longest free-fall time (five minutes 35 seconds or more) and to set the record for highest manned balloon flight.

The Red Bull Stratos team includes international experts in medicine, science, engineering, aviation, and design, as well as a former NASA crew surgeon. But there are two centerpieces.

One is ice-water-in-his-veins Baumgartner. The other is a man who is little-known to the masses, but is a legend in the aviation community: Joe Kittinger.

Kittinger, who might be the reason the word "daredevil" was invented, holds a variety of aviation records, including longest, highest and fastest skydive, from about 19 miles up. A fighter pilot in Vietnam, he was shot down and spent nearly a year in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton"; he was later inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Kittinger's experience is crucial to the success of the jump, folks associated with the effort say, and he's helping to train Baumgartner every step of the way. He is also slated to be the primary point of contact with Baumgartner during his ascent.

The jump's mission statement takes great pains to point out the jump's contributions to the scientific community, including aiding in the development of protocols for exposure to high altitude and high acceleration.

Of all that and more, we have no doubt. But the real reason we're interested and why all the world's eyes will be trained on Baumgartner's planned jump? It's just stinkin' cool.

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Felix Baumgartner trying out his space suit, specially designed for the jump. Credit: Christian Pondella / Red Bull Content Pool


Toto as state dog of Kansas? Bad idea, PETA says

PETA opposes plan to make Toto, the "Wizard of Oz" cairn terrier, the state dog of Kansas

Toto the dog survived flying inside a Kansas tornado, being abducted by flying monkeys and, of course, bouncing around in Dorothy's bicycle basket, but the little cairn terrier from "The Wizard of Oz" now faces another challenge: He's in the middle of a war between politicians and PETA over whether to make him the state dog of Kansas.

Animal-rights activists from PETA say the proposal by state Rep. Ed Trimmer, who has put a bill before lawmakers, would lead to more puppy mills churning out little cairn terriers for customers eager to have their own official state dog.

"As you know, dogs in puppy mills are typically kept in tiny, feces-caked cages and are never given any love, attention or opportunity to do anything that is natural or important to them -- not even to roll in the grass," PETA wrote to Trimmer this week in hopes of getting him to withdraw House Bill 2513.

"Kansas' animal shelters are already overcrowded -- the last thing they need is a deluge of Totos," PETA vice president Daphna Nachminovitch said in a news release announcing the group's opposition to Trimmer's plan. "If Kansas is set on naming an official state dog, PETA suggests the humble, healthy, and 100 percent lovable all-American mutt."

But the Wichita Eagle reported that Trimmer says he has received plenty of positive response to his plan and doesn't see a causal relationship between it and a proliferation of puppy mills, a major issue for animal-advocacy groups.

In December 2010, 1,200 dogs at a large-scale breeding operation in Kansas were put to death after an outbreak of distemper. An internal government report that year said dogs were dying and living in poor conditions because of lax enforcement of puppy mills nationwide.

States vary in their laws governing puppy mills, and according to the Humane Society of the United States, Kansas requires them to be licensed and subject to inspections. But the state didn't fare well in the Humane Society's latest survey of states' treatment of animals, scoring 23 of 66 possible points and ranking 33 out of the 50 states. California topped the list; South Dakota was at the bottom.

According to the Wichita Eagle, 11 states have officially designated state dogs, so if the legislation, which has yet to come up for debate, were to pass, Toto wouldn't be alone. The newspaper quoted Brenda Moore of the South Central Kansas Kennel Club as among those in favor of elevating Toto's status.

"We've got to find little bits of happiness along the way," she said. "To me, the cairn terrier is as much of Kansas as sunflowers are.”

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-- Tina Susman

Photo: Judy Garland as Dorothy, with the dog playing Toto in "The Wizard of Oz." Credit: Turner Entertainment / Warner Bros.

 more here: http://www.kansas.com/2012/02/02/2199796/peta-opposes-making-toto-state.html#storylink=cpy

 


Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2012/02/02/2199796/peta-opposes-making-toto-state.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2012/02/02/2199796/peta-opposes-making-toto-state.html#storylink=cpy

 


Groundhog Day: Which winter-predicting groundhog will you choose?

Punxsutawney Phil
Groundhog Day is Feb. 2. Are you ready to choose your groundhog?

There's Staten Island Chuck. Woodstock Willie. And, of course, everyone knows Punxsutawney Phil, right?

This year, you'll have plenty of prognosticating groundhogs -- as well as a seemingly endless array of events -- from which to choose to celebrate this important "holiday."

For the uninitiated: Groundhog Day occurs on Feb. 2 each year, when legend has it that groundhogs venture from their dens to check on the weather -- and tell humans what to expect. (No less an authority than Groundhog.org says this tradition dates back centuries, when people looked to animals for certain signs and signals because they believed animals were imbued with otherworldly powers.)

Oddly enough, bad weather on Groundhog Day is better than good weather. 

If the groundhog ventures from its den and sees a shadow -- and you need sunshine for a shadow -- that's a sign we're in for six more weeks of harsh winter weather. But if the critter emerges from its den and sees no shadow (because it's a cloudy day), that means we can look forward to a mercifully short winter.

In recent years, hoopla over Groundhog Day has grown steadily, in no small part because of the 1992 hit movie "Groundhog Day." The film, now celebrating its 20th year, starred Bill Murray as a full-of-himself TV journalist condemned to live Groundhog Day over and over until he gets it right.

Communities across the country now try to get in on the fun -- and the tourist dollar -- by staging elaborate Groundhog Day festivals that involve general merriment and official-looking men in long black coats and top hats.

Punxsutawney Phil, above, is the most famous of the prognosticating groundhogs -- both because Punxsutawney, Penn., has been holding such observances for 126 years and because of Phil's named role in the film "Groundhog Day." 

The community goes all out in a bid for those tourist dollars and because it's just plain fun, offering  more than 80 events. Among them: weddings, the crowning of Little Mr. and Miss Groundhog, an Oreo-stacking contest and, of course, Thursday's 126th annual trek to Gobbler's Knob for Punxsutawney's official prediction at 7:25 a.m.

"Groundhog Day" was not  shot in Punxsutawney, although that's what viewers are led to believe. Filmmaker Harold Ramis  chose Woodstock, Ill., as the backdrop because of its charming town square, which serves as the centerpiece of the movie.

That led Woodstock to roll out its own annual festival featuring Woodstock Willie. (We don't want to stir up groundhog trouble, but we can't help but notice that Woodstock Willie is making an unusual Wednesday night appearance, and will be making his prognostication at 7 a.m.on Thursday. Is  Woodstock Willie trying to get the jump on Punxsutawney Phil?)

And then there's Staten Island Chuck, who resides at the Staten Island Zoo. He's a feisty one, as evidenced by the time he bit Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who was officiating at a Groundhog Day observance.

The Staten Island Zoo claims that Chuck has correctly predicted the duration of winter 80% of the time since the 1980s.

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog, stands on the shoulder of one of his handlers, John Griffiths, at last year's Groundhog Day ceremony. Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press


Super Bowl 2012: Matthew Broderick channels Ferris Bueller in ad

Who says Super Bowl commercials need to wait for the Super Bowl? Honda is getting a jump on game day competition with Monday's release of the full-length version of its hotly anticipated Honda CR-V commercial starring Matthew Broderick.

In the commercial, Broderick conjures one of film's (and his own) most beloved roles -- that scamp Ferris Bueller taking the day off from school and making the most of it. Only this time, it's Broderick who's playing hooky by ditching a day of filming in Los Angeles.

The commercial revisits several key moments from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," including the music, the towel turban, the star's habit of talking directly to the camera, the reckless valet and, of course, the fun-filled day on the run.

Amazingly, Broderick doesn't hit a smidgen of traffic as he makes his way from the beach to the Natural History Museum, back to the beach for a little tai chi (if the timeline is to be believed) and more.

The most famous line from the movie -- "Bueller, Bueller, Bueller" -- is revisited; but this time, the line comes when the valet brings up the Honda for "Broderick, Broderick..."

Fans of the classic 1986 John Hughes film might be disappointed that only Broderick shows up in the commercial. How much more fun would it have been if the commercial had included Mia Sara and Alan Ruck...

Meanwhile, buckle up, America. You're about to be barraged with Super Bowl commercials.

The stakes are higher than they've ever been for Super Bowl commercials. Companies are paying NBC an average of $3.5 million for a 30-second spot, and more than $6 million for a 60-second spot. Even that marquee stage isn't enough. Advertisers want more eyeballs, so they're pulling out all the stops to drum up interest -- and a captive audience.

Our sister blog, Company Town, notes that Kia Motors is currently showing its upcoming Super Bowl Optima ad in movie theaters. That ad features scantily clad supermodel Adriana Lima, Motley Crue and mixed martial arts fighter Chuck Liddell for good measure.

And Volkswagen has rolled out a commercial ... for a commercial.   

The only question is this: Will these early glimpses of Super Bowl commercials help advertisers? Or will "seen-it-already" audiences use the game day replay as an excuse to go in search of more guacamole and chicken wings?

Perhaps any publicity is good publicity. Last's year's big commercial -- Volkswagen's "The Force" -- featured a boy dressed like Darth Vader and using dark powers to (allegedly) start the family Passat. It now has nearly 50 million views online and has won all sorts of honors.

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch


'The Grey' slammed for 'bloodthirsty' portrayal of wolves

The_Gray_Liam_Neeson
"The Grey," the survival thriller starring Liam Neeson as a man who must battle bloodthirsty wolves to survive, is poised to reign at the box office this weekend.

But not if animal rights activists have anything to say about it.

The film stars Neeson as an oil refinery sharpshooter who finds himself fighting the elements and bloodthirsty wolves after a plane crash. As might be expected, harsh outcomes abound for man and beast.

But animal rights activists say the film is folly, and will only add to the persistent misrepresentation in TV, film and literature of the wolf as an aggressive, man-hunting creature. In fact, experts say, wolves fear humans and avoid interaction at all costs.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is among those urging a boycott of the film: "The writers paint a pack of wolves living in the Alaskan wilderness as bloodthirsty monsters, intent on killing every survivor of a plane crash by tearing each person limb from limb."

The Wolf Conservation Center is taking a different approach, using the film as a platform to raise awareness about the perils facing wolves in the wild and how their real-life nature diverges from the Hollywood portrayal. 

"In reality, wild wolves are shy and elusive," the center's website says. "A person in wolf country has a greater chance of being hit by lightning ... than being injured by a wolf."

WolfWatcher.org, meanwhile, is taking Neeson and writer-director Joe Carnahan to task for engaging in on-set bonding by actually eating wolf meat.

Carnahan has downplayed criticism by saying that there are in fact reports of wolves turning on man, but says that ultimately the film is about a man's inner journey to find his survival instincts.

Carnahan himself told our sister blog, Greenspace, that he wants the wolves to be seen in the right light: “I never intended [the wolves] to be the aggressor; I look at them as the defenders. I think these guys are in a very territorially sensitive place. [The humans] were trespassing and intruders.”

Wolfwatcher.org is nonetheless urging wildlife activists to print out fliers describing the true nature of wolves -- such as their desire to avoid humans at all costs -- and hand them out at local movie theaters showing "The Grey."

"This film comes out at the worst of times, when wolves are literally fighting for their lives," the organization says on its site.

The movie, which opened Friday in 2,700 theaters nationwide, is expected to make about $14 million, according to Box Office Guru. Animal rights activists will surely howl, but our review calls this thriller "a solid January surprise."

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Two gray wolves in the wild. Credit: Associated Press / Southern Rockies Wolf Restoration Project


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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