‘Just Not That Into You’ gets lots of love

Drew Barrymore and Scarlett Johansson star in the Warner Bros. romantic comedy
Yes, audiences were, in fact, just that into "He’s Just Not That Into You." The star-studded romantic comedy won its opening weekend by a wide margin, grossing $27.5 million, according to Sunday’s early estimates.

That sum exceeds expectations, and it’s on par with the debut totals of distaff draws like “The Devil Wears Prada” ($27.5 million) and last year’s winter hit “27 Dresses” ($23 million). While this is very good news for many folks surrounding the film — from actors like Ben Affleck and Drew Barrymore, who have had mixed financial track records of late, to the people behind “Sex and the City,” whose franchise helped inspire this movie — Jennifer Aniston may benefit most. The “Friends” alumna had never fully caught fire at the box office, but “He’s Just Not That Into You” now represents her second straight box office success, following “Marley & Me,” which has barked up more than $140 million to date. Anyway, needless to say, the film drew a crowd that was a whopping 80 percent female and 60 percent over age 25. They gave it a B+ CinemaScore grade. “Taken” (No. 2) enjoyed a super-strong second outing, with $20.3 million, a miniscule decline of just 18 percent from its big Super Bowl weekend win. The Liam Neeson action thriller has banked $53.4 million in 10 days.

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Meanwhile, the 3-D animated flick “Coraline” came in at No. 3 with $16.3 million, which is a particularly sweet sum for an oddball family film on a crowded weekend. Disappointing, however, was my pick for the weekend winner, “The Pink Panther 2” (No. 4), which brought in a paltry $12 million. That’s a substantially lower gross than anticipated and also significantly down from the $20.2 million first weekend take of 2006’s “The Pink Panther.” And all despite drawing a crowd that was pretty much evenly spread out across all demographics and that gave “The Pink Panther 2” a decent B+ CinemaScore review. Oh well. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” rounded out the top five, with $11 million. And the weekend’s other big new release, the sci-fi flick “Push,” grossed a good-enough $10.2 million at No. 6. Overall, the cumulative box office total was up a huge 36 percent from the same frame a year ago, when “Fool’s Gold” led the way. And things may continue to look up as the week continues and the one-two shot of “Friday the 13th” and Valentine’s Day approach.


Raging Australia bushfires kill at least 35

Firefighters battle a blaze in Labertouche, about 125 kilometers west of Melbourne.
Deadly bushfires raged on in southeast Australia on Sunday despite cooler temperatures and scores of firefighters trying to control the flames.

At least 35 people have died in the fires, authorities said Sunday “Unfortunately those numbers will increase as we move through the day,” said Kieran Walshe, deputy police commissioner of the state of Victoria, told CNN on Sunday, adding that police are investigating possible instances of arson. “We do believe some of the fires are the result of human intervention,” he said. “When you look at the way fires started, you can clearly see it’s not possible for a natural ignition to occur.” Watch how fires, heat threaten residents » A third of the deaths occurred in the Kinglake area about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Melbourne. Still, despite earlier reports, the fires have not posed a significant threat to more populous areas, including Melbourne, as they sweep across rural outskirts of southeastern Australia, Walshe said. Photos: Deadly bushfires rage in Australia » The prime minister’s office confirmed to CNN Sunday that troops will be deployed to help fight the fires. By Sunday afternoon, eight major fires were burning through Victoria, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres, said Daniel Connell, spokesman for the state’s Country Fire Authority. The largest blaze has centered around Kinglake, where 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) have burned down. Another fire ravaged 90,000 hectares in Churchill, about 160 km (100 miles) southeast of Melbourne. Officials say this year’s brush fires in southeast Australia could become the worst since fires in 1983 that killed 75 people. In Victoria, 30 blazes were registered in 30 hours, said Fran Ludgate with Australia’s Fire Protection Association. The Victoria Herald Sun newspaper reported Sunday that at least 100 homes were destroyed over the weekend, critically injuring one person who suffered burns to 50 percent of his body. Sharon Merritt, a technical officer with Australia’s Fire Protection Association, told CNN there had been dry thunderstorms — with no rain — in parts of the region and there were concerns that lightning from them could ignite more fires. “Today is probably the worst day we’ve had for fires,” she said. Walshe said temperatures had cooled overnight into Sunday, but that winds remained a major threat to spread fires. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service asked residents to remain indoors and close all windows, as winds continued to push smoke from the bush into the Sydney metropolitan area. Sue McMahon thought she could stay in her home as wildfires burned, but changed her mind after taking a look at the blackening sky in Victoria. “Combined with the noise and the smoke and the blackness, I don’t think I can do it,” the Tinumbuk resident said. Video from the scene showed people trying to stamp out fires with towels and clothes. In some instances, people waited too long to flee the scene and were trapped in their cars, a police spokeswoman said. Accompanying the flames is one of the most powerful heat waves in memory, with temperatures in parts of Melbourne reaching 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last few weeks. Dozens of heat-related deaths have been reported. By Sunday, the temperatures had dropped to the mid-20s in the area.

The fires were being fought mostly with aircraft, except in areas where homes were at risk, authorities said. In northern Australia, 60 percent of the state of Queensland was flooded, officials reported, and residents were warned to be on the lookout for crocodiles in urban areas.


Iraqi official: U.S. troops shot pilgrims

Iraqi Shiite Muslim pilgrims make their way towards the holy southern city of Karbala on Sunday.
U.S. forces shot two Shiite pilgrims on Saturday night as they walked to Karbala for an upcoming holy day, an Interior Ministry official said.

The victims were a man and a woman, and the man later died of his injuries, the official said. A weapon unintentionally discharged in the area, and two local nationals were reported to have injuries, but “it’s unclear whether the weapons discharge and injuries are directly connected,” the U.S. military said in a news release. The military said the incident is under investigation. The weapon belonged to a U.S. vehicle patrol which had been traveling southeast near Afak — east of the southern city of Diwaniya — on a logistics convoy, according to the military. The couple had been heading to Karbala for al-Arbaeen, one of the holiest days in the Shiite religious calendar. It falls on February 16 this year. The Interior Ministry officials said the shooting took place east of Diwaniya, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) south of Baghdad. Two other pilgrims were killed on Sunday in Baghdad by a roadside bomb, which the Iraqi Interior Ministry said targeted the pilgrims. In recent years, insurgents have targeted pilgrims on their way to Karbala, 60 miles southwest of Baghdad. The pilgrims walk the distance as a demonstration of piety and as part of tradition. Al-Arbaeen commemorates the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and one of the most revered Shiite figures, who died in battle in the 7th century. He is buried in Karbala. Last year, a flurry of attacks on pilgrims killed at least 48 people. In 2007, more than 180 pilgrims were killed in a series of attacks, most by suicide bombings in Babil province, through which the pilgrims pass. Also Sunday, a court official told CNN that the Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at former President Bush will be tried in two weeks.

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Muntadhar al-Zaidi faces charges of assaulting a foreign head of state on an official visit to Iraq. The trial is scheduled to begin on February 19, according to the spokesman for Judge Abdul Sattar al-Beeraqdar of Iraq’s Higher Judicial Council. Al-Zaidi has been detained for nearly two months and his appearance in court will mark the first time he has been seen in public since his arrest. He threw both of his shoes at Bush in mid-December during a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Neither shoe hit the president, and others in the room quickly knocked al-Zaidi to the ground before security officials arrested him. By tradition, throwing a shoe is the most insulting act in the Arab world. Al-Zaidi’s angry gesture touched a defiant nerve throughout the Arab and Muslim world. He is regarded by many people as a hero, and demonstrators last month took to the streets in the Arab world and called for his release. In December, al-Zaidi’s defense team filed an appeal requesting the charge be changed from “assaulting” a head of state to “insulting.” Al-Zaidi’s chief defense attorney, Dhiyaa al-Saadi, said the appeals court ruling left it up to the court trying al-Zaidi — the Central Criminal Court of Iraq — to decide what charges he will be facing. According to the Iraqi penal code, anyone who assaults a foreign head of state is punished by “imprisonment for a term of years,” with the sentence length up to the court. Al-Saadi told CNN in December that his client could face 15 years in jail if convicted. On the other hand, “insulting” a foreign head of state is punishable by a two-year prison sentence and a fine. Al-Saadi said he has been allowed only one meeting with his client, in December, during the nearly two months that al-Zaidi has been in custody. Al-Zaidi marked his 30th birthday in jail last month. One of his brothers told CNN he “in good health and is being treated well.” Al-Zaidi’s employer, TV network al-Baghdadia, keeps a picture of him at the top left side of the screen with a calendar showing the number of days he has spent in detention. The network has been calling for his release.


NZ PM’s mishap is lucky break for charity

John Key wears the cast during a TV interview on Friday.
An Internet auction to sell off the plaster cast that New Zealand Prime Minister John Key wore when he broke his right arm has raised close to NZ$ 20,000 for charity.

The online auction ended Sunday with a winning bid of NZ$18,500 (US$ 9,362), according to the New Zealand shopping Web site TradeMe, which conducted the bidding. The prime minister broke his arm in two places on January 17 when he tripped on some stairs at a Chinese New Year event in Auckland. Later, during a trip to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands for a Pacific Islands Forum meeting, several dignitaries — including Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd — signed Kay’s blue cast. The money will benefit the Fred Hollows Foundation in blindness prevention programs in the Pacific. The TradeMe listing said the foundation estimates there are about 5,000 blind people in the Islands, mainly needing cataract surgery. Another 15,000 suffer from poor vision and need eyeglasses. “I am very surprised it got to that … but I am delighted,” New Zealand’s national news agency quoted Key as saying about the winning bid. The cast, which was removed this weekend, is in “excellent condition,” Key said. “Though I don’t know whether is is $20,000 worth of condition.” Bidders and curious clickers posed more than 180 questions during the auction period. “Does it come with the arm” asked one. Another wanted to know if there was a chance of the the winner and Key “exchanging numbers and hanging out in the future if we hit it off” A third asked: “If I was successful with this auction do I also have ownership and rights to any genetic material that may (have been) left inside the cast and the right to clone it if I choose to” That person was told he or she would have to “negotiate with John’s lawyers for that particular right.” The winning bidder was a headstone maker from Wellington, according to NZPA, the news agency.


Galaxy reject initial Milan bid for Beckham

Milan will have to increase their offer for Beckham to tempt LA Galaxy to part with the England midfielder.
David Beckham will have to return to the Los Angeles Galaxy next month unless AC Milan raise their bid for the England midfielder — the LA Times have reported.

Speaking for the first time on Beckham’s wish for a permanent move to Milan, Tim Leiweke — chief executive of Galaxy owners AEG — told the newspaper that an offer received by the club had been too low and time was running out to meet the Major League Soccer outfit’s valuation. On Wednesday, Beckham expressed his desire to convert his current short-term loan with Milan into a permanent move and walk out on a five-year contract he signed with the Galaxy in 2007. “We need to end the distractions, the circus and the zoo,” Leiweke told the LA Times. “We just received an offer, but it was rejected.” Leiweke said keeping Beckham was still a viable option if Milan failed to match the Galaxy’s asking price, estimated in various reports at between $10 million and $20 million, and if it was in the best interests of the team.

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“If David ultimately is an asset for this team, we want him back,” Leiweke said. “If David has a hunger and a desire to come and help us make the impact on the pitch that we wanted to make with him, but haven’t done yet, then he’s an important member of this team and our intention is to bring him back. “Clearly, if David’s in a position where he wants to finish the season in Milan, and Milan in turn compensates the Galaxy so that we can suffer no damages to our fans or to our team, then we’ll take a look at it. “But we have made it very clear to them that we expect David back here on March 9. They agree and understand we own the contract. They understand the only way we do this is if, when this is all said and done, the Galaxy benefits.” Meanwhile, Beckham will get the chance to win a record-equalling 108th cap for England, after he was named in the squad for Wednesday’s friendly match in Spain. Beckham needs one more appearance for the Three Lions to match Bobby Moore’s best mark for an outfield player and coach Fabio Capello has decided the 33-year-old’s form at AC Milan warrants an instant recall after he was omitted for the win over Germany in Berlin last November. West Ham striker Carlton Cole and Aston Villa midfielder James Milner are the only two uncapped players in the 23-man squad — with Milner one of six Aston Villa players involved.


Doctor loses license in live birth abortion case

Pierre Jean-Jacques Renelique, right, and his attorney, Joseph Harrison, at the hearing.
A doctor’s license was revoked Friday in the case of a teenager who planned to have an abortion but instead gave birth to a baby she says was killed when clinic staffers put it into a plastic bag and threw it in the trash.

The doctor, Pierre Jean-Jacques Renelique, was not present when the baby was born, but the Florida Medical Board upheld Department of Health allegations that he falsified medical records, inappropriately delegated tasks to unlicensed personnel and committed malpractice. Joseph Harrison, the attorney representing Renelique at the license revocation hearing in Tampa, said Renelique has not decided whether to appeal. The state attorney’s office, meanwhile, said its criminal investigation into the incident is ongoing and no charges have been filed. A fetus born alive cannot be put to death even if its mother intended to have an abortion, police said when the incident occurred in 2006. The baby’s mother, Sycloria Williams, sued Renelique, the clinic and its staff in January, seeking damages. She alleges in her suit that “she witnessed the murder of her daughter” and said she “sustained severe emotional distress, shock and psychic trauma which have resulted in discernible bodily injury.” “This is not about a pot of gold,” said Tom Pennekamp, her attorney. “What this is about is right and wrong and making a statement, making sure it doesn’t happen to other young women.” According to the suit, Williams, then 18, discovered while being treated for a fall that she was 23 weeks pregnant. She went to a clinic to get an abortion on the morning of July 20, 2006, after receiving medication and instructions the previous day. Renelique was not at the clinic, however, and Williams was told to wait for him. She was given two pills and told they would make her ill. When she complained of feeling ill, clinic staff members gave her a robe and told her to lie down in a patient room, the suit says. Renelique was still not present when Williams “felt a large pain” and delivered a baby girl, according to the suit. “The staff began screaming and pandemonium ensued. Sycloria watched in horror and shock as her baby writhed with her chest rising and falling as she breathed.”

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A clinic co-owner entered the room and used a pair of shears to cut the baby’s umbilical cord, the suit said. She “then scooped up the baby and placed the live baby, placenta and afterbirth in a red plastic biohazard bag, which she sealed, and then threw bag and the baby in a trash can.” Staff at the clinic did not call 911 or seek medical assistance for Williams or the baby, the suit said. Renelique arrived at the clinic about an hour later and gave Williams a shot to put her to sleep. “She awoke after the procedure and was sent home still in complete shock,” the suit said. Police were notified of the incident by an anonymous caller who told them the baby was born alive and disposed of. “The complainant [Williams] observed the baby moving and gasping for air for approximately five minutes,” according to a police affidavit requesting a search warrant for the clinic. Two search warrants found nothing, but officers executing a third warrant “found the decomposing body of a baby in a cardboard box in a closet,” the suit said. The baby was linked to Williams through DNA testing, the lawsuit said. An autopsy showed it had filled its lungs with air prior to death. Documents from the state Department of Health said its cause of death was determined to be “extreme prematurity.” Fewer than 1 percent of babies are born at less than 28 weeks, according to the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing premature births, birth defects and infant mortality. Infants born at that stage may survive, but require treatment with oxygen, other medical help and mechanical assistance to help them breathe. They are too immature to suck or swallow and so must be fed intravenously. Babies born before about 32 weeks of gestation face the highest risk of health problems, the March of Dimes said. Williams’ lawsuit seeks damages from Renelique, the clinic and its staff. It claims that clinic records were falsified to say only that Williams underwent an abortion. Williams filed the suit individually and “as personal representative of the estate of Shanice Denise Osbourne, deceased,” the suit said. The medical board’s action Friday came at the request of the Florida Department of Health, which filed an order in February 2007 seeking emergency restrictions on Renelique’s license. Department documents list many of the same allegations as Williams’ lawsuit. “Dr. Renelique’s failure to practice medicine with that level of care, skill and treatment that is recognized as being acceptable, as well as his willingness to falsify medical records, poses a serious and immediate danger to the public,” the health department said. Renelique did not respond to the health department or dispute the facts it alleged, department spokeswoman Eulinda Jackson said Friday. Williams has declined to speak publicly about the case, said Pennekamp, her attorney. She suffers from post-traumatic stress because of the experience, he said.


French toxic ship ends global odyssey

The scrapping of the aircraft carrier has been hugely controversial and a major headache for France.
A ship laden with toxic substances is due to arrive in northeast England for recycling Sunday, ending an odyssey that has seen it turned away from at least three other countries.

The French Navy spent years looking for a site that would decommission the former aircraft carrier Clemenceau, now known simply as the Q790. The ship contains asbestos, which can cause cancer. Greenpeace activists boarded the ship off the coast of Egypt in 2006 to prevent it being sent to India to be scrapped. The environmental campaign group said at the time it contained “high levels of asbestos and other hazardous materials.” Two activists climbed the ship’s masts and hung banners reading “Absestos carrier: stay out of India.” The group declared “victory” a month later when then-President Jacques Chirac of France recalled the ship after the country’s Council of State ruled its export could violate European law, Greenpeace said. The ship had earlier been rejected by Turkey and Greece, after the original plan to turn it into an artificial reef was scrapped for environmental reasons, the group said. The British ship recycling company that will scrap it had to apply for special permission from the country’s Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. But the company, Able Ship Recycling, hailed its arrival in the English city of Hartlepool as a milestone. “The dismantling of the vessel will be the largest ship recycling project ever undertaken in Europe,” the company said in a statement. The work will take place at the company’s Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre, where it will produce about 200 jobs in the economically depressed region. Able chairman and chief executive Peter Stephenson said the contract was “crucially important… at a time when there are so many economic problems facing the world — and especially a region such as the north-east of England.” “Recycling the Q790 will be the largest project so far handled by any European yard but, with the biggest dry dock in the world, we have the capacity to undertake the recycling of the vessel,” he added. Launched in 1957, the Clemenceau was the mainstay of the French naval fleet and sailed over a million nautical miles before being withdrawn from active service after almost four decades at sea, the company said. It will join the other three UK and four U.S. vessels also being recycled at the center, Able said. Greenpeace is not opposing the transfer of the ship to England, but press reports suggest local activists are displeased.


U.S. soldiers killed while disabling bomb in Afghanistan

Afghan police destroy poppy fields in Helmand province.
Two U.S. soldiers and three Afghans were killed while the soldiers were trying to disable a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, a local journalist at the scene told CNN.

The U.S. military said it is trying to gather more details about the incident. The soldiers were part of a convoy of coalition soldiers accompanying Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand province, to a village where he intended to talk to residents about alternatives to opium farming. The convoy came upon two bombs stacked on top of each other, said journalist Abdul Tawab Qureshi. When the soldiers tried to disable the bombs, the second one went off, he said. The blast also killed the police chief of the province’s Nad Ali district, Mohammed Nader; a police officer; and a translator. Over the years, opium and heroin, both derivatives of the poppy, have served as a major source of revenue for the insurgency, most notably the Taliban movement that once ruled Afghanistan. Though southern Afghanistan still provides about two-thirds of the world’s opium and heroin, poppy cultivation has dropped by 20 percent to its lowest level since 2006.


Reports: Kidnapped Polish engineer executed in Pakistan

Pakistani Taliban militants offer prayers in Mamouzai area of 
Orakzai Agency in November.
Polish authorities in Pakistan say they are monitoring local reports that Taliban militants have executed a kidnapped Polish engineer.

Piotr Stancza was kidnapped September 28 from the city of Attock in Punjab province. Stancza had been based there for a Polish survey company searching for natural gas. Local reports and TV station Dawn News reported Stancza’s execution Saturday. Polish Embassy spokesman Peter Adams said his offices were aware of local media reports but were waiting to hear officially from Pakistani authorities. He said all efforts had been made by Polish authorities to pressure the Pakistani government to do whatever it could to secure Stancza’s release. “From the Polish side, we did whatever we could, pressuring the Pakistani government on the presidential and prime minister level,” Adams said. “Problem was, this was solely Pakistan’s responsibility. Demands were only towards [the] Pakistan government.”

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Adams said there had been no demands for ransom. The Taliban had demanded the release of Taliban prisoners being held by the government and a pullout of government security forces from the tribal areas. Although there were assurances that the Pakistani government was doing everything it could and that Stancza would be freed soon, Adams said it was never clear what the government was actually doing to secure his release. “We are waiting for confirmation and waiting for any answer [about] how this happened and why did this happen,” Adams said. A spokesman for Pakistan’s interior ministry said that the reports of Stancza’s death have yet to be confirmed and that the case of his kidnapping was a high priority for the government. Shahid Ullah Baig said the government had been working hard to retrieve Stancza unharmed but did not give details. “The Pakistan government is doing its level best to secure his release,” he said, adding, “Human life is more important to us than anything else.” Kidnappings and attacks against foreigners have risen sharply in recent months throughout the country. Most recently, an American working for the United Nations was kidnapped in Quetta, and Peshawar has been the scene of various attacks against foreign diplomats and journalists.


Top Iranian reformer to challenge Ahmadinejad, reports say

Mohammad Khatami, in a photo from October, said Sunday he is running for Iran's presidency.
Ending weeks of speculation, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami announced Sunday that he will run against the hardline incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to Iranian media reports.

“I declare that I will stand for the next elections,” Khatami told reporters on Sunday, according to Iran’s state-run news agency, IRNA. Khatami, a leading reformist, had indicated for weeks that he intended to run in the June elections. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency also reported that Khatami formally declared his candidacy on Sunday. Khatami overwhelmingly won the presidency in 1997, raising hopes that the reformist movement would bring religious and democratic freedoms to the Islamic republic. But the real power in Iran rests in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni. By the time Khatami left office in 2005 — succeeded by hardliner Ahmadinejad — he was unable to make major changes due to the opposition of hardline elements in Iran’s clerical establishment.