Big star, bigger heart: Matt Damon credits his friends and family with keeping him grounded. Photo: John RussoHollywood should make more original blockbusters. Nobody wants to see a message movie. And Hillary Clinton would make an “amazing” American president.Full movies coverage
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In a whirlwind trip to Australia – delayed by two aborted take-offs from Los Angeles – Matt Damon was firing on all fronts ahead of the premiere of the politically charged sci-fi movie Elysium.

Director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9, about a futuristic world where the wealthy live in a space station orbiting earth, opened on top of the American box office on the weekend in a poor season for one-off Hollywood movies as opposed to sequels. While Iron Man 3 and Despicable Me 2 have been hits, the likes of After Earth, The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim have struggled to find an audience.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m happy that Elysium is doing well – it’s not a superhero movie, it’s not a franchise,” Damon said. “And the more movies like that that are big tentpole movies that succeed, the more encouragement that gives studios to take those swings.

“If you’re going to make these big tentpole movies, at least try to make them original.”

Asked about the hot button topic of refugees – his character joins the sci-fi equivalent of people-smugglers in Elysium – Damon said Blomkamp saw the movie as “entertaining and enjoyable on a popcorn level” while touching on topical ideas.

“I like it when a movie resonates thematically with people,” he said. “Occupy Wall Street happened after we’d already started shooting the movie. We thought, wow, this is kind of a zeitgeist idea – the haves and have-nots.

“I think that gives the movie, hopefully, its soul and makes it something that lives on and isn’t just easily forgotten because it has to entertain.

“A lot of the time when people think of message movies, they just think they have to go do homework. And nobody wants to do that, particularly when they go to the movies.”

Formerly an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama, Damon has fallen out with the President over such issues as the legality of drone strikes and surveillance revelations – saying last week that “he broke up with me”. But he is a fan of fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The star of the Oceans movies and Behind The Candelabra disputed the claims of Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus that a planned Clinton mini-series and documentary would promote her as a candidate for the 2016 presidential election.

“I don’t think that would give her a leg up,” Damon said. “She’s going to have a leg up because of her record and because of who she is. If I thought movies like that would be helpful, I’d be making those movies because that’s the type of candidate that I believe in.”

Would he support her as a candidate?

“I think she’d be an amazing president,” he said.

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Anthony Watmough, Justin Hodges and Boyd Cordner join a host of representative stars sidelined in the lead-up to their teams finals charge.
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Hodges is out for the season after rupturing his Achilles on Sunday, while Cordner is a slim chance of playing again this year after having surgery on his ankle on Sunday.

Cordner will miss at least six weeks, while Anthony Watmough (knee) was awaiting results of scans but will be out of action for one to two weeks at least.

In-form prop Andrew Fifita scared Cronulla after injuring his calf in the loss to Newcastle on Saturday night. Fifita has been placed in a moon boot but officials are confident he will line-up against St George Illawarra on Saturday night.

The Sharks should also be boosted by the return of Anthony Tupou (ribs) and Beau Ryan (knee) for the local derby.

Cronulla and Canterbury have the cleanest bill of health with only Ben Barba missing for the Bulldogs heading into their clash with Gold Coast on Monday night. Provided they get through the rest of the regular season unscathed, the Sharks and Bulldogs will have their top squads available for the finals.

Swelling delayed Canberra five-eighth Terry Campese from having scans on an eye injury, with the full extent of his injury expected to be known on Tuesday.

South Sydney will give Greg Inglis up until kick-off to push his claim to play Manly on Friday night, with the superstar No.1 a strong chance to play his first game since Origin III. Teammate John Sutton is at least two weeks from his comeback.

The Sea Eagles will be without Watmough but are expected to welcome back Justin Horo from a calf strain. The Knights are hopeful Willie Mason and Beau Scott will return before the finals series but Gold Coast won’t have the same luck, missing Luke Bailey, Matt Srama and Jamal Idris for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter has ruled out rushing skipper Robbie Farah back from a fractured finger. Farah will miss at least another game.

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The bitter battle for control of Manly could finally be over after a consortium of sponsors banded together to buy out the Penn faction.
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The Penn family flagged their intention to sell their share of the club, which currently stands at 49.5 per cent, at a recent board meeting. The transfer could happen by the end of the season should a reasonable offer be tabled.

A consortium of current and potential sponsors, including United Resource Management (URM), Hall Chadwick and Mentor1 Financial, are in discussions about putting together an offer to buy out the Penns.

Major sponsor Kaspersky Lab is across the negotiations. It is understood the Penns want about $5 million, while the initial offer is likely to be closer to $4 million. It is hoped that the parties, at loggerheads on just about every issue, will come to terms in coming months.

The balance of power currently resides in the alliance between the other stakeholders, Quantum Energy (37.5 per cent) and the Manly District Football Club (13 per cent).

The Penn-aligned faction of directors – which comprises chairman Scott Penn, his father Rick and former media manager Peter Peters – is currently outvoted 4-3 in the boardroom.

The factions have been at loggerheads for years and their dispute reached a new low when director Darrell Williams, a former Kiwi international, claimed he was racially abused by Rick Penn at a board meeting on April 4. Penn denies any offence was intended to Williams.

The matter is still to be resolved. A subsequent board meeting was abandoned due to the fallout from the incident.

The potential new investors believe the Sea Eagles could be a sound investment. While almost all NRL clubs operate at a loss, the 2011 premiers are projecting they soon will be in the black. The club posted a loss of about $970,000 in its last financial report but officials are confident they can break even this year or perhaps even turn a small profit if they win another premiership. Should there be an ownership transfer, it is likely there will be an expanded board to give each stakeholder their say.

Former co-owner Max Delmege, who tipped in more than $10 million to save the club from financial ruin, said the fans’ interests had to be taken into account.

”Obviously, you need business nous when you come into something like this but it’s more than just a business, and you need to think of the hundreds and thousands of supporters who follow it,” he said. ”From day dot, I’ve always put the players and supporters first.”

URM managing director Anthony Johnston first flagged his interest in becoming a part-owner in an interview with Fairfax Media in October 2011. ”As a supporter and sponsor, we are disappointed that self-interest and agendas have taken focus away from the fantastic efforts of the men in our team that delivered the club another premiership,” he said at the time.

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A cursed St George Illawarra will limp through the final four rounds of the season without their two most influential weapons as the Dragons’ injury plight borders on their worst in a decade.
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State Of Origin stars Josh Dugan (thumb) and Trent Merrin (knee) are the latest additions to the casualty ward, which threatens to rob the Dragons of 935 games of NRL experience for Cronulla’s visit to WIN Stadium on Saturday night.

Dugan was diagnosed with a broken thumb, with the Dragons confirming he will meet specialists on Wednesday. He tweeted on Monday: ”Devastated! There’s a break. Find out later … whether I require surgery or not looking at 3-5 weeks in recovery mode.”

Merrin hobbled from the field late in the Dragons’ two-point loss to Brisbane on Sunday with medial ligament damage in his knee.

He will be sidelined for the rest of the season, also damaging hopes of making a late push for inclusion in Australia’s World Cup squad.

The pair join a long-term list that already includes Matt Cooper (pectoral), Dan Hunt (knee), Gerard Beale (knee), Kyle Stanley (knee) and mid-season recruit Harry Siejka (knee). All are sidelined for the rest of the season.

Chase Stanley (quadriceps), Bronson Harrison (knee), Cameron King (shoulder) and Charly Runciman (hamstring) were also unavailable for the trip to Suncorp Stadium.

When pressed on whether it was the club’s worst injury toll in his time at St George Illawarra, Dragons high performance director Andrew Gray said: ”We’ve had a couple of other years that have probably gone close to this. I think 2007 was pretty bad and 2004, at stages, was pretty bad too.

”We’ve got a lot of collision injuries this year – broken hands, broken thumbs, knee ligaments, shoulder injuries, Matt Cooper’s pec, which is a bit of a freak injury.

”A lot gets said about collision injuries, but there’s not a lot you can do about them. From my experience you tend to get a lot of those when you’re on the back foot in games. The years when you’re winning more than losing you don’t tend to get a lot of them.”

St George Illawarra’s rotten run with injuries hasn’t just been confined to their squad, with Dragons-bound Gareth Widdop dislocating his hip after inking a four-year deal with the club.

Sam Williams has also spent time on the sidelines with an ankle injury after committing his future to the Red V, while Dylan Farrell was knocked out in South Sydney’s loss to Melbourne last Friday night. Gray said he had spoken to Widdop about his recovery, but wouldn’t take a hands-on role in his rehabilitation until he became a Dragons-contracted player from November 1.

”In theory we can’t do a great deal about it,” he said. ”I have been in touch with Gareth and I will have more discussions with him over the next few months, but it’s up to the Melbourne Storm to decide how they look after Gareth at the moment. We can’t really intervene there and we won’t because we wouldn’t like it if another club did that to a player we still had on contract.”

There was some brighter news for the Dragons after Gray revealed injury-riddled utility Kyle Stanley had ramped up his recovery from a fourth knee reconstruction.

”Kyle has just started running and he’s looking fantastic,” Gray said. ”We’ve taken Gerard a little bit slower because he had a lot of damage from his really high-force collision injury. They’re both looking great and they will be ready to go at the start of next season.”

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Watching the Essendon Football Club and James Hird cling so desperately to the last vestiges of their eroding and scandal-torn season would be sad if it was not so shameful.
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Listening to the Hird camp’s repeated and pathetic attempts to hold the AFL accountable for the revelation of the invidious program the coach helped create and failed to control has become tedious and irrelevant.

And witnessing an internationally respected businessman such as Paul Little speak so ill-advisedly before Sunday’s capitulation to West Coast shows how this great game and the aura surrounding its heroes – like Hird – can cloud the clearest of minds.

Perhaps Little was being clever when he declared at Essendon’s pre-match function that ”we remain steadfast in our belief that the players did not take harmful or performance-enhancing substances”. Because the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority report found evidence that illegal substances were given to the players – at least one of which was performance-enhancing.

”We hope … this will mean for the first time we are uninhibited in our ability to set the record straight,” Little said.

This sounds achingly similar to the stand Adelaide took last year before the AFL fined the club, stripped it of draft picks and suspended key executives. And then, suddenly, Adelaide accepted the punishments and was not prepared to submit itself to hard questions.

Little appears convinced that if the club made mistakes it did so without intent and therefore should fight.

It just seems baffling though that anyone who has read the ASADA summary along with the Switkowski report and has taken on board the views of the players’ union should remain so publicly unrepentant.

At any rate, nothing has prevented Essendon from setting the record straight. Former players, ranging from Tim Watson to Mark McVeigh, have been briefed and spoken publicly often yet said nothing which excuses what Essendon allowed to happen to the young men it should have cared for better.

Indeed, Hird for months now has selectively been leaking his increasingly irrelevant and unconvincing side of the story and yet been unable to explain the email and text message trail along with mounting anecdotal evidence linking his name to the pharmacologically experimental program which Essendon tried to keep secret.

For someone who read the play so beautifully as a player he has read this one so badly. We said this in April and we say it again: Hird still doesn’t get it.

Had he stepped aside and worked willingly behind the scenes to salvage his reputation and his career while Essendon moved relatively unfettered through 2013 with its players the primary focus, this quagmire could have been avoided. The narrative of this dirtied season could have been a little cleaner.

He is still trying to hold the AFL accountable for exposing the scandal he helped create, never mind it won’t excuse him and never mind he betrayed and ultimately ended the tenure of his great friend David Evans in doing so. Does he truly think that removing Andrew Demetriou from the judicial process will save him?

Hird’s spin doctor Ian Hanke used the Essendon letterhead to deny the AFL had warned him in late 2011 against the use of peptides. Even though it was true.

He employed Stephen Dank a month or so after that warning and then, early the following year, looked with Evans at investing in AOD-9604. Interestingly, Hird told the joint investigation that he attended the drug presentation at Evans’ bidding, while Evans says he went at Hird’s behest.

But then Hird is not alone in failing to put his hand up, according to the ASADA summary.

In the end he emerges from it poorly but no worse than Dean Robinson, with Danny Corcoran, Dr Bruce Reid and even Mark Thompson also culpable because they failed to stop this dreadful systematic drugs program instigated by Dank.

As Essendon vows to fight against some of the proposed AFL sanctions, there is no doubt the club, among other punishments, will be handed a hefty fine. Some say a multimillion-dollar fine would be meaningless, but not if the AFL divided up the money and distributed it to the other 17 clubs whose seasons Essendon has tarnished.

And Hird? His reputation has been further hurt by his ill-advised strategy and internally even some football department staffers and at least two board members have lost some faith in him.

”It’s been the toughest year that any group of footballers could ever imagine,” Hird said on Sunday evening, ”and the toughest that any group of footballers has had to deal with, and they have been terrific.”

This is so true, but how disappointing the coach could not back up those compassionate words with his own behaviour last year when he failed to show adequate concern for those players.

How devastating that the hero who returned to save Essendon has instead allowed it to be dragged down so low.

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