Nation roundup for September 30


‘Cloudy’ sequel No. 1 in theaters

LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” slurped up the box office.

The animated Sony sequel featuring the voices of Bill Hader and Anna Faris opened in first place and earned $35 million in its debut weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The original “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was showered with $30.3 million during its opening weekend in 2009.

“It’s remarkable that it did as well as and surpassed the first film,” said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony Pictures. “The filmmakers really ratcheted it up in terms of palette and tone. It’s one of those films that just draws you in. The story is fun, and there’s something for the whole family.”

Last week’s top film, “Prisoners,” slid to second place. The Warner Bros. kidnapping thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal nabbed $11.3 million in its second weekend, bringing its total domestic haul to $38.9 million.

Universal’s Formula One tale “Rush,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, drove into the third position with $10.3 million in its second outing after expanding to 2,297 theaters in wide release.

Ex-soldier pleads not guilty in death

NEW YORK (AP) — A former U.S. solder nicknamed Rambo pleaded not guilty Saturday to charges he plotted with phony Colombian drug traffickers to kill a federal agent for $800,000.

Joseph Hunter, stocky and wearing a wrinkled gray prison jumpsuit, was held after the brief appearance in federal court in Manhattan. His lawyer declined to comment.

An indictment unsealed Friday described the 48-year-old Hunter as a contract killer and leader of a trio of former soldiers who were trained snipers. Hunter, a resident of Thailand, was flown Friday evening to New York after he was expelled from Thailand, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

Hunter was charged with conspiracy, attempting to import cocaine and plotting to kill a law enforcement agent. When asked by U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Haas about his plea, Hunter responded: “Not guilty, sir.”

According to the indictment, Hunter served in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 2004 before becoming a contract killer who successfully arranged several slayings outside the United States. Authorities didn’t give details.

An informant within the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency posed as a drug trafficker and proposed to Hunter and his team that they kill a DEA agent and a boat captain providing information to U.S. law enforcement authorities, claiming it was necessary because there was a leak within the narcotics trafficking organization, according to the indictment.

House OKs bill to boost drug safety

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House easily approved bipartisan legislation Saturday aimed at improving the safety of drugs produced by compounding pharmacies that mix customized pharmaceuticals.

The measure, approved on a voice vote, comes almost a year after a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people and sickened hundreds more was traced to a compounding company in Framingham, Mass. Inspectors later found unsanitary conditions at the New England Compounding Center, which has since closed.

The measure, aimed at improving how drugs are tracked from production until they are purchased at a drug store, would clarify what sponsors said was confusion over the Food and Drug Administration’s authority over compounded drugs. It would also require the agency to coordinate its oversight of compounded-drug safety with states.

Compounders could voluntarily register as outsourcing facilities, which would bring them under FDA authority. Registering will let the agency identify who these companies are and what they produce, and allow the FDA to receive reports about any problems.

Companies that remain traditional pharmacies would continue to be overseen mostly by state pharmacy boards.

The Senate is working on similar legislation.

“We are near the resolution of last year’s deadly outbreak,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and an author of the legislation.

Gas prices down as markets calm

NEW YORK (AP) — Gasoline prices have fallen steadily throughout September, and drivers should look forward to even cheaper fill-ups in the weeks ahead.

The national average price for a gallon of gasoline is now $3.42, down from $3.59 on Sept. 1. The price is the lowest it’s been at this time of year since 2010 and is likely to keep falling.

“It’s a layup for me to predict lower prices until Columbus Day weekend,” says Tom Kloza, Chief Oil Analyst at GasBuddy.com and Oil Price Information Service, which tracks retail and wholesale gasoline prices.

Wholesale gasoline prices have fallen faster in recent days than pump prices, so drivers can expect to pay even less as the pump prices catch up.

Gas prices tend to decline soon after Labor Day, but last year they didn’t start going down until mid-October. There are a number of reasons for this fall’s drop in price, experts say.

— Refiners can switch to cheaper blends of gasoline in the winter months as clean-air rules are relaxed.

— Gasoline demand declines in the fall after the summer driving season ends. At the same time supplies rise, because refiners are still making gasoline as they keep operations humming to make heating oil for winter and diesel and jet fuel for shippers.

— This year, refineries have been relatively problem free. There have been no hurricanes, and few unexpected problems at refineries or pipelines, unlike last year.

Even high oil prices haven’t stopped gasoline’s decline. Oil briefly topped $112 in late August as a U.S. threat of military action against Syria made the market nervous about Middle East supplies. The price of oil has since fallen, but remains above $100 per barrel. Still, gasoline has dropped to its lowest price since Jan. 31.

 

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