Review Category : Top Stories

Movie Review: “The Maze Runner” (Rated PG-13)

Fox(NEW YORK) — Welcome to the weekly post-apocalyptic dystopian young-adult novel film adaptation review! Featured in this edition: The Maze Runner, a movie and story that finds its roots in Lord of the Flies, Peter Pan, and the more contemporary belief that we’re all screwed.

The Maze Runner starts out by teasing us, immediately throwing us into the action as we witness a tattered young man (Dylan O’Brien, MTV’s Teen Wolf) struggling to find a way out of a large, gated elevator ascending an industrial-type elevator shaft. It’s intense, claustrophobic and intriguing. When he gets to the top, a hatch opens and he’s greeted by a multi-ethnic group of other young men, who help him from the elevator, whereupon he immediately runs — and falls.

Turns out, this young man has no idea who he is (his name is Thomas, he soon learns) or what he’s doing in this place, which is called the Glade: part forest, part jungle, surrounded by four thick concrete walls and with only one large opening that leads to a complex, ever-shifting maze — a door that opens in the morning and closes at night. That maze may, or may not, be the only way out of the Glade, but it’s full of Grievers — giant, spider-like creatures that sting their prey. Even with the danger, a few select young men explore and map the maze. They’re called runners, quite a few of whom went into the maze and never came back.

Other than his name, Thomas may not remember exactly who he is, but his motivation to leave the Glade and find out who put him there is strong enough to compel him to run into the maze with little thought or fear. That courage earns him a place with the runners. But can he find a way out?

The dizzying introduction to this particular world is unexpectedly fantastic. After that, however, it takes a while for The Maze Runner to build the momentum needed to get back to that emotional level. That said, while The Maze Runner isn’t going to make anyone forget The Hunger Games, it’s a well-executed story, and fine performances from O’Brien, Will Poulter as a tough-guy Glade elder, and Ameen Aml as the Glade leader, give it considerable gravitas that, in the end, helps pack that emotional punch.

Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

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Sharks Sign Braun to 5-Year Extension

Len Redkoles/ NHLI via Getty Images(SAN JOSE, Calif.) — Defenseman Justin Braun signed a five-year, $19 million extension with the San Jose Sharks Wednesday that will keep the 27-year-old with the team through the 2019-20 season.

“Justin has emerged as one of our most well-rounded and dependable defensemen,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. “He’s an excellent skater who excels in matching up against the opponent’s top players on a nightly basis and fits in well with our core group of younger players. We feel Justin has just scratched the surface of his talent and we are excited to have him under contract for the next six seasons.”

Braun played in all 82 games for the Sharks last season and set career highs in goals (4), assists (13) and points (17).

Braun was selected with the 201st overall pick by the Sharks in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He has played his entire career with the organization.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook Pens Open Letter Reassuring Users of Commitment to Privacy

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Apple CEO Tim Cook reaffirmed the company’s respect for customers’ privacy in an open letter on Wednesday, stating that the company does not sell customers’ data or provide a backdoor for government agencies to invade users’ privacy.

“Our business model is very straightforward,” Cook writes. “We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you,” the letter reads.

Simply put, Cook says, “our software and services are designed to make our devices better.”

Cook acknowledged that the only part of the Apple brand that serves advertisers is iAd, a network that functions with the iTunes Radio service to help support advertisers. However, Cook notes, iAd “doesn’t get data from health and HomeKit, Maps, Siri, iMessage, your call history, or any iCloud service like Contacts or Mail.” In fact, users can completely opt out of iAd if they choose.

“Finally,” Cook wrote, “I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”

Apple, Cook says, is committed to protecting the privacy of its customers. This commitment is borne our of a “deep respect” for users.

“We know your trust doesn’t come easy,” Cook admitted, “that’s why we have and always will work as hard as we can to earn and keep it.”

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Researchers Say PTSD and Food Addiction May Be Linked

Image Source White/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and food addiction may be linked, researchers say.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, researchers surveyed 49,408 women who found that those women who self-identified as having PTSD symptoms also had the highest rate of self-reporting food addiction symptoms.

Approximately eight percent of respondents reported having many PTSD symptoms, about 73 percent had some symptoms and 19 percent reported none. Among those women with the highest number of PTSD symptoms, 18 percent also self-identified as having food addiction symptoms.

The study’s authors have theorized that those people suffering from PTSD may be using food to cope with psychological stress.

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Obama, Biden Expected to Jointly Launch Campaign Against Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama and Vice President Biden will jointly launch a new campaign on Friday to increase awareness of sexual assaults on college campuses.

The campaign, called “It’s On Us,” is expected to include celebrity and professional athletes making an online and social media push. Notably, the campaign is believed to be aimed at men, as research indicates they are less likely to speak out against violence against women.

In April, a White House task force released a report that noted, “when men think their peers don’t object to abusive behavior, they are much less likely to step in and help.”

The White House is also expected to partner with colleges to help spread the word.

The White House task force is scheduled to unveil a model campus sexual assault prevention policy by the end of September.

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Join Uber

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(NEW YORK) — Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will join a fellow former member of the Obama administration in the coming months as he takes on a voluntary role at Uber.

According to a post to the Uber website, Gates will join the ride-sharing company as chairman of Uber Military, a new program aimed at hiring service members, veterans and family of military members. “Transitioning from military to civilian life can be challenging, but at Uber we understand that veterans are some of our nation’s most talented and skilled leaders,” the post says.

“Over the next 18 months,” the post reads, “we will on-board 50,000 members of the military community to the Uber platform.”

The post quotes Gates as saying he is, “proud to be a part of this unprecedented effort by a single company to ensure that tens of thousands of our nation’s military members, veterans and spouses have access to a unique entrepreneurial opportunity.”

Earlier this summer, former Obama Adviser David Plouffe announced that he would join Uber as senior vice president of policy and strategy.

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Researchers May Have Found Link Between Migraines and Parkinson’s Disease

wavebreakmedia/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Researchers believe that they have linked frequency of migraine headaches to increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

According to the study, published in the journal Neurology, researchers studied data from 5,620 people for 25 years. Researchers say 430 of the study’s participants had migraine headaches with aura in mid-life. Of those who suffered from migraines, 2.4 percent later developed Parkinson’s Disease, while only 1.1 percent of those without migraines developed Parkinson’s.

The study also found that 19.7 percent of those who suffered from migraines later experienced Parinsonian symptoms, compared to 7.5 percent who did not have the headaches.

The study was limited to patients in Iceland, so further research will need to be conducted to determine if the link between migraines and Parkinson’s Disease can be extrapolated to a larger population.

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Pentagon: ‘So Help Me God’ is Optional in Enlistment Oaths

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Air Force opted on Wednesday to allow its members to omit the phrase “so help me God” when reciting their enlistment and appointment oaths.

Recently, an atheist airman was denied re-enlistment after he refused to end his oath with the phrase. The airman was told that regulations required the oath include the phrase.

“In response to a request from the Department of the Air Force, the Department of the Defense’s General Counsel issued a legal opinion today regarding the use of ‘So help me God’ in commissioning and enlistment oaths,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Commander Nate Christensen said Wednesday. “The General Counsel concluded that an individual may exclude the words, ‘So help me God,’ and that the Department may not compel the individual to include those words as a condition of enlistment or officer appointment.”

The change goes into effect immediately.

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Muslims in Same Aid Convoy as Alan Henning Plead for His Release

zabelin/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DAMASCUS, Syria) — The organizer of a British Muslim aid convoy that was with Alan Henning when he was kidnapped in Syria has launched a direct appeal to the leader of the terrorist organization that is threatening the life of the British national.

In a video posted to YouTube, Pervez Rafiq appears in traditional Muslim dress and pleads with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State, vouching for Henning’s innocence and good intentions.

“[Henning] has shown through his actions and love and concern for our brothers and sisters that he is not an enemy of Islam or the Islamic State,” Rafiq said. “We plead with you to show him compassion and mercy as he showed compassion and mercy for the Muslims of Syria.”

Rafiq chokes up as he says, “Please, please, please release Alan.”

Also on Wednesday British television aired what appears to be the last known video of Henning before he was taken hostage in December 2013. In the video, Henning appears determined and enthusiastic about the aid convoy’s mission to help the Syrian people.

“It’s all worthwhile, you see, what is needed absolutely gets where it needs to go — that makes it all worthwhile, no sacrifice we do is compared to what they go through every day on a daily basis” Henning said in the video, reportedly filmed on Christmas Day in a restaurant in Turkey hours before the aid convoy crossed into Syria.

Henning reportedly left his wife of 23 years, Barbara, 45, and two teenage children at home in Salford, Greater Manchester, last Christmastime to join a group of Muslim friends in making what British newspaper The Bolton News described as a 20-vehicle, 4,000-mile journey to Syria to deliver medical supplies to refugees caught up in the country’s civil war. Masked gunmen reportedly stopped the convoy after it crossed the Turkish border Dec. 26 and targeted Henning, separating him from the group.

“He was taking over old ambulances, just helping out as much as he could,” a close friend told the Telegraph newspaper on Sunday. “There were a few of them that went out with him. They were just a group of mates that started it all off. They were supposed to be over there for about six months, but he was kidnapped just a few days after he left.”

Henning was identified as the next ISIS victim at the end of the beheading video of British aid worker David Haines released Saturday. Prior to Haines’ death, an self-described ISIS militant was suspected of killing American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Henning had reportedly previously traveled to Syria as part of two similar humanitarian aid convoys organized by the small, informal volunteer group Aid 4 Syria and the UK Arab Society. BBC journalist Catrin Nye met Henning while making a documentary about such convoys to Syria and told the Guardian how the first trip to Syria moved Henning to do more.

“It had been a life-changing experience,” Nye said. “He had handed out the goods. He described holding the children … and how that really affected him. He told me he had to go back.”

Henning even permanently inked his commitment to the cause, as another convoy organizer told The Bolton News, “He loved the cause so much that when he went on holiday with his family, he had a big tattoo across his arm, saying, ‘aid for Syria.’ He was that dedicated.”

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Two NFL Teams Deactivate Players Accused of Abuse, Another Player Arrested

David Lee/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two National Football League players were deactivated on Wednesday for separate criminal accusations, and police reported assault accusations made against another.

Early Wednesday morning, the Minnesota Vikings reversed course and announced that they would place running back Adrian Peterson on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list, requiring him to stay away from all team activities while he deals with an indictment on charges of child abuse stemming from what he says was discipline of at least one of his children.

An NFL spokesman called the Vikings move, “a good decision that will allow Adrian Peterson to resolve his personal situation and the Vikings to return the focus to the football field.”

Greg Hardy, a member of the Carolina Panthers, was also place on the exempt list on Wednesday. The NFL Players Association called the decision a “voluntary leave of absence.” Hardy was found guilty in July of assaulting his girlfriend and threatening to kill her. Hardy sought and was granted a new trial at the Superior Court level, as is allowed by North Carolina law.

The Phoenix Police Department released an arrest report for Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer on Wednesday. Related to a July incident, the report states that Dwyer was charged with aggravated assault causing a fracture, aggravated assault involving a minor, two counts of criminal damage, one count of preventing the use of a phone in an emergency and assault. Police say Dwyer admitted to the incidents but denied any physical assault.

After the league was criticized in recent weeks for its handling of the Ray Rice situation — initially suspending him two games after accusations of punching his now-wife, then handing down a stiffer penalty after TMZ posted video of the incident — the Arizona Cardinals acted swiftly, announcing on Wednesday night that they had immediately deactivated Dwyer from all team activities. The team said it was made aware of the allegations on Wednesday, and not in July when the incidents occurred.

Both Peterson and Hardy will receive their full salaries while on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List.

Attorney Gloria Allred and a pair of individuals who say they themselves or a relative were victims of violence and abuse at the hands of an NFL player spoke in Georgia on Wednesday, calling for league Commissioner Roger Goodell’s resignation.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association also agreed to a new drug policy on Wednesday, approving the use of testing for human growth hormone, altering the appeals process and modifying penalties to, among other things, allow for players caught using banned stimulants during the offseason to be referred to the league’s substance abuse program. Under the new deal, Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, Dallas Cowboys safety Orlando Scandrick, and St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey will all be reinstated from suspensions, as they tested positive for stimulants during the last offseason.

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