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Blanchett dedicates BAFTA to Hoffman

Cate Blanchett’s chances of winning a second Oscar have been given a boost after she won a third British film award for her turn as a fallen Manhattan socialite in Woody Allen’s tragic comedy Blue Jasmine.

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Blanchett was an almost unbackable favourite to take out the leading actress Bafta and duly beat four other nominees including British stars Judi Dench and Emma Thompson.

The 44-year-old dedicated the win to fellow Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman who died a fortnight ago of an apparent heroin overdose.

The Australian said Hoffman’s monumental talent, generosity and unflinching quest for the truth would be missed by those who loved him.

“You raised the bar continually so very, very high and I guess all we can do in your absence is to try and raise it continually through our work,” Blanchett said when accepting her Bafta.

“So Phil, buddy, this is for you, you bastard, I hope you are proud.”

Blanchett – who previously won Baftas for The Aviator in 2005 and Elizabeth in 1999 – didn’t speak to reporters as she walked the red carpet before the awards ceremony.

She has reportedly been keen to avoid questions about recent sexual abuse accusations directed at Allen by his adopted daughter Dylan with ex-partner Mia Farrow.

On stage, Blanchett didn’t name the director specifically but thanked “everyone” that made Blue Jasmine “so memorable and such a game-changer for me”.

The Australian picked up a Golden Globe for the film in January and has also been nominated for next month’s Oscars.

Chiwetel Ejiofor took out the leading actor award at London’s Royal Opera House on Sunday night for his performance in 12 Years a Slave.

The 1840s slave trade story directed by Steve McQueen also picked up the best film Bafta.

At the start of Sunday’s ceremony host Stephen Fry singled out Blanchett’s performance in the “utterly compelling” Blue Jasmine while making a joke.

“She (Blanchett) plays a woman who finds herself penniless and on the verge of a breakdown after being betrayed by a wealthy, powerful man,” Fry told the star-studded audience.

“It’s loosely based on matters currently unravelling in the French presidency.”

While Baz Luhrmann missed out on a best director nomination for The Great Gatsby his wife, Catherine Martin, won two Baftas on Sunday.

Martin picked up the production design award along with compatriot and Gatsby set decorator Beverley Dunn, before going on to take the best costume design award too.

A host of other Australians nominated for their work in make-up and hair, costume, visual effects, producing and script-writing failed to claim a Bafta.

The British film awards are seen as a dry run for the Oscars which take place in Hollywood on March 2.

Aussie heads up Smithsonian art gallery

Kim Sajet couldn’t believe Americans would allow a Dutch-Australian to run the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.

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But it doesn’t really come up much.

Sajet was born in Nigeria to Dutch parents and moved to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula at the age of three.

After starting as the gallery’s director last April, she is approaching her one-year anniversary in the top job.

Sajet remembers her reaction when a search company told her she would be perfect for the role.

“I said `are you out of your mind?'” she says.

“I said there was absolutely no way that they’re going to appoint a non-American to that job.

“I really thought at some point somebody would bring it up but nobody did.”

Sajet says during two decades in the US she has at times toned down her tendency to call a problem as she sees it immediately, which she views as one of her Australian qualities.

“We are all terribly nice to each other but then it really is about the side conversation later on or the backroom conversation.

“As a Dutch-Australian, because the Dutch are pretty practical as well, you know, I have very much a very open sort of `here’s what I see the problem is and let’s deal with it’.

“That I realise can be very disarming and I’ve had to dial it back a little bit sometimes, certainly in the early years.

“But I have a pretty no nonsense approach.”

Sajet was the director of corporate development at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, between 1998 and 2001.

“I had a Bruegel (Dutch Renaissance painter in the 1500s) on my wall and being Dutch, my mother at that point I think she thought I’d finally made something of my life,” she says, laughing.

Sajet headed what are now known as the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery and Monash Gallery of Art before moving to Philadelphia in 1996.

She visits family and friends in Australia every few years and stopped by the National Gallery of Victoria’s Melbourne Now exhibition last Christmas.

“Australians are very good at contemporary art, contemporary context and they are very good at the ideas part of things,” she says.

She hopes to collaborate with other portrait galleries around the world, including the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, which was the first institution outside the US to show Elvis at 21 from the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery is currently showing American Cool, featuring 100 photographs of cultural icons.

Deborah Harry, lead singer of the American punk rock band, was the ultimate in cool when Sajet was growing up in Australia.

“I remember singing Atomic at the top of my lungs,” she says.

Other names on the cool list photographed by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Annie Leibovitz include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, Madonna and Steve Jobs.

“There really isn’t anybody that I hadn’t heard of before growing up in Australia,” Sajet says.

* American Cool runs at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery until September 7, 2014.

Mystery surrounds headless man: Qld police

Queensland police are hoping a foray into video production will help them solve the baffling discovery of a man’s charred torso on a roadside.

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Complete with graphics, backing music and a voice-over, police have posted a new YouTube video appealing for information about the remains found at Cedar Pocket, near Gympie, on September 19 last year.

It is the second time police have released a video about the mysterious find.

The headless remains, with arms severed at the elbows and nothing remaining below the rib cage, were found burnt on the side of Cedar Pocket Road.

The video calls for information about a woman aged 30 to 50 spotted at the scene standing beside an orange, gold or bronze hatchback.

Detectives say the male victim was caucasian, aged between 25 and 50 and was possibly on medication for high blood pressure.

Officers searched the Cedar Pocket spillway over the weekend, while SES crews scoured the surrounding area.

Detective Inspector Bruce McNab said he hoped publicity about the search and the video would encourage witnesses to come forward.

“We firmly believe someone out there has information that will help us solve this case,” he said.

“We have investigated a number of leads, but need the public’s assistance.

“Someone knows more details about what happened to this man.”

“The video has been produced by the investigators working on the case and is certainly a new approach for us, but one we believe will generate some interest and are hopeful it will result in the information we need,” Insp McNab said.

The video shows a mannequin rotated in front of the camera to show the positions of wounds on the man’s shoulders and back.

Drugs found in the man’s system include irbesartan, used to treat high blood pressure, and quinine, which treats cramps, restless leg syndrome and malaria.

Postecoglou not fazed by Curibita problems

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou is adamant speculation that Curibita, one of Australia’s World Cup venues, is to be dumped as a host city isn’t a concern saying his side will play in the car park if they need to.

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Social media speculation out of Brazil claims Curitiba, Brazil’s eighth largest city, will be cut as host city for this year’s showpiece, with the ground, Arena da Baixada, still under construction.

FIFA is expected to announce on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT) whether the southern city will remain in the World Cup or if it will move the four scheduled group matches elsewhere – including Australia’s June 23 clash with world champions Spain.

Postecoglou visited the ground when he was in Brazil in December for the World Cup draw and said things looked to be on track.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) says it’s yet to be told whether the Socceroos’ World Cup fixture against Spain will be relocated.

But Postecoglou says the possibility of having to change venues doesn’t faze him in the slightest.

“I’ve put absolutely zero thought into that. I’ve got more important things to worry about,” Postecoglou said on Monday.

“We’ll play in the car park if we have to; we’ve just got to be ready to play.

“When I was there in December, the stadium was almost complete so I’m really surprised that they’re still having some issues.”

Postecoglou will fly out to Brazil on Tuesday to inspect the Socceroos’ training base in the small coastal city of Vitoria and is more concerned things are on track there.

“We’ve kind of had updates as to how they’re progressing but I’d rather see it with my own eyes just to make sure they’re sticking to all the timelines we’ve said and doing it the way we want.

“So I’ll be there Wednesday and Thursday so hopefully everything is on track but it seems to be.”

The FFA said via the Socceroos’ Twitter account it was yet to hear anything from the world governing body about a decision over Curitiba.

“We are aware of rumours surrounding Curitiba being cut as a #Brazil2014 venue but have received no confirmation from FIFA #GoSocceroos” it posted on Monday morning.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke had previously warned Curitiba that it faced being dropped if it could not show by Tuesday that the stadium’s construction was back on track.

FIFA originally set a deadline of December 31 for all 12 of Brazil’s venues to be ready, but was forced to drop it with six stadiums still unfinished at that stage.

Flapping over the Cuckoo’s Nest

It’s a simple game developed for phones by Dong Nguyen which over the last few months exploded with popularity, earning its creator over $50,000 before being unexpectedly shut-down on the 10th of February to the dismay of bored commuters everywhere.

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I speak, of course, of Flappy Bird.

Since Nguyen removed the game, several conspiracy theories have emerged about why the game was unceremoniously yanked from the market. These range from copyright claims from Nintendo (based on the pipes looking similar to Super Mario Brothers), threats from players claiming it was “too hard”, and the frankly laughable one that Nguyen is simply using this all as a ploy to increase exposure around the game.

The truth, though, is much lesse dramatic. Nguyen simply took the game away because he was dissatisfied with “how people were using my game.” He claimed they were “overusing it.” The overuse Nguyen claimed can be traced to the multitude of Facebook posts that popped up daily especially on my news feed – people were addicted to Flappy Bird much like people were and still are addicted to Candy Crush Saga.

Nguyen was  receiving threatening messages on social media. Some told him to “die in a hole.” Nguyen took these in jest mostly but they would have worn him down over a period of time.

Twitter is a great tool for instant communication but in many instances it can be abused – especially when addicts have a means of singling out their “pusher”. In this case, the “drug” of choice was a game. In his article for the Daily Dot, entitled “Why You Can’t Stop Playing Flappy Bird”, Greg Stevens points out that these applications fill our “natural and intrinsic, even biochemical, drive to achieve things.”

Usually people fulfil this desire by attempting new things or presenting themselves with a new challenge. Others get it through playing games like Flappy Bird. The game gives players their release of dopamine and adrenaline – thus why these games, or even console based games are addictive to the point of obsession sometimes.

It is telling that the most addictive and popular games are the most simple – Flappy Bird or Candy Crush Saga  – because of the fact they present a challenge but not a difficult one. They give the player a simple concept of trying to navigate the bird through several obstacles to obtain a high score after running the gauntlet of emotion – frustration, tension, anger and success.

The basic design draws you into the world where it can be difficult to break free – it reminds you of a simpler time of gaming when Mario and Sonic ruled the landscape. Flappy Bird and related games tap into nostalgia and the heartstrings of the audience. It’s because of this that some people have been selling their phones with the now defunct game installed for four to five figure sums.

That’s a staggering figures for something that was a simple game about a bird travelling through obstacles.

In his article, “Flappy Bird Is Dead – But Brilliant Mechanics Made It Fly”, Keith Stuart argues that “video games are about precarious balance – they are machines of compulsion,” which need to strike an détente between ease of use and the complexity of a challenge.

Flappy Bird is dead. People must accept that.

Irrespective of Nguyen’s reasons to to pull his creation, the whole ordeal serves as a reminder that these games are simple applications on your phone. Play them, but don’t forget to take on new challenges in life – not just the thrill of the next level.

Plus, it stops clogging up people’s Facebook feeds.