Spike Lee directed the year's classic film. Angela Bassett, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Teyonah Parris, John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson are among those in the cast delivering outstanding performances. It's a messy and lively meditation on violence with a grand sweep and did we mention it's a musical? This is Spike's most sure footed film since INSIDE MAN and it is the year's best. It started streaming on Amazon December 29th (for those who wonder how it made this year's list).
2) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.
Director George Miller extends the franchise to a fourth film -- this time with a cast headed by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. It's an action film that never lets up but it's actually quite a bit more than an action film and it's great to see Hardy finally catch a real break in an American film and to see Academy Award winner Theron be given a meaty role worthy of her talents.
As any office worker knows, there's no escaping this film. It's on coffee mugs, toys are on work desks, etc.
And all the merchandising can make you forget that this is actually a great film -- in fact, one of the year's best.
4) PITCH PERFECT 2.
Elizabeth Banks directed the most successful film of 2015 -- $287.1 million at the box office on a budget of $29 million. The film was a monster. And you have to credit Banks and screenwriter Kay Cannon but you also have to credit the actors Anna Kendrick and, especially, Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine.
We don't care how jaded you are, you've got to fill a bit of excitement when Wilson and Devine face off by the lake and sing "We Belong."
5) 5 FLIGHTS UP.
A couple, married over 40 years old, we're yawning too.
And that's before you notice that the grating Cynthia Nixon is in the film.
But it works -- mainly due to the magic of Academy Award winners Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman as the couple. Also because Nixon is playing a character who is supposed to get on your nerves (and does get on Morgan Freeman's).
Keaton and Freeman work magic together and add so many levels to the characters that the film feels far richer than it probably actually is.
This Salma Hayek action film got dumped on the market and was really just direct-to-video. No one believed in.
But it's actually a strong film, one that stands a good chance of growing in popularity and appreciation with each year.
Hayek's a woman forced into sex slavery and now trying to get out but trapped in an apartment.
Her first plan is to run, meet up with her mother, give her mother money so her mother can protect her daughter.
That plan never comes to be and everything that matters ends up in the building.
It's a tight film and much better than any of the reviews bothered to tell you.
That's also why we're late.
We started working on New Year's Eve and realized we only had six films.
We thought it was too much partying.
We planned to get together on Friday and do the rest of our list.
But all we could really talk about was the passing of Natalie Cole [see "Natalie Cole (C.I. filling in for Ruth)"].
On Saturday night, we tried again.
That's when we had to ask ourselves: Do we just toss four so-so films on our list to have ten?
That sort of trashes this six that we came up with which we actually believe matter.
So we decided to sleep on it yet again.
We're comfortable saying there are only six films that matter?
What about the Avengers sequel?
That sucky movie was best captured in Desmond Evlin & Tom Richmond's MAD MAGAZINE parody with this exchange:
Mother: This it is! The final battle to save Earth! Waves and waves of no-personality metal dudes coming down from the sky! I've never seen anything like this before!
Child: Then you must have missed the First Avengers movie!
Yes, we will buy tickets to see Ben Affleck as Batman but, yes, we're also sick to death of the superhero movies.
When you're 'young' lead is Paul Rudd -- ANT-MAN -- you're scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Grasp that after the next X-Men film, the plan is to recast Wolverine. But Paul Rudd's 'young' enough to kick off a franchise.
Or actor enough?
This is the guy who showed everything he had to offer when he played Phoebe's eventual husband on FRIENDS.
And the sameness of every damn superhero film is really getting old.
If it's not those films destroying films, it's human s**theads Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg as well -- squeezing out their crap across the screen individually and jointly.
We get it, Geezers, you're old.
What you don't get, you're also boring.
The last performance Tom Hanks gave that took a chance was PUNCHLINE.
Spielberg is the director who 'suceeded' in making the life of Abe Lincoln boring -- only Sally Field's performance made sense in that ghastly film.
In the 70s, Spielberg succeeded in snuffing all the life out of film and now, decades later, he and others photo-copy his simplistic morality plays to less and less effect.
Films need to wake up.
Franchising is killing the medium.
Which is not to say that a sequel has to be the death of entertainment.
The latest MISSION IMPOSSIBLE is not a great film.
But it has moments of joy.
It's also freakish in its continued hatred of women -- a 'twist' that enters the franchise at the same time J.J. Abrams does.
The James Bond films constantly reinvent and had SPECTRE come out on DVD in 2015, it would have made our top ten.
The only film of 2015 to really challenge the medium and the audience, Spike Lee's CHI-RAQ, easily topped our list. The other five films are ones we believe in. We consider them strong films, best films of the year that could give a run for the best of a year in any year.
But that's where we're stopping.
We don't see the point in adding four films we don't believe in just to reach a magic number of ten.
Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, December 31, 2015. Chaos and violence continue, US veterans and contractors may get justice over burn pits after all, Basra emerges as a potential new hotspot, Hillary Clinton tries to overcome being a War Hawk, and much more.
2015 ends today and 2016 starts tomorrow.
2015 ends today and 2016 starts tomorrow.
While West/Apostates fill the skies with million dollar fireworks, skies of Iraq/Syria are filled with Jets & Bombs.
The end of the year brings good news and bad news.
On the good news side, Tara Copp (STARS AND STRIPES) reports, "A federal district court on Jan. 21 will consider the scope of a lawsuit alleging soldiers’ exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan led to serious respiratory illnesses and deaths and whether government contractor KBR, Inc. is responsible for the way the pits were operated."
The burn pits?
"While I was stationed at Balad, I experienced the effects of the massive burn pit that burned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The ten-acre pit was located in the northwest corner of the base. An acrid, dark black smoke from the pit would accumulate and hang low over the base for weeks at a time. Every spot on the base was touched by smoke from the pit; everyone who served at the base was exposed to the smoke. It was almost impossible to escape, even in our living units," L. Russell Keith explained to the Democratic Policy Committee November 6, 2009. Keith worked for KBR in Iraq at Joint Base Balad from March 2006 through July 2007. Like many service members and contractors, he was unnecessarily exposed to toxins which put his life at risk.
The Chair of the DPC, Senator Byron Dorgan, noted at the start of that day's hearing, "Today we're going to have a discussion and have a hearing on how, as early as 2002, US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits -- disposing of waste materials in a very dangerous manner. And those burn pits included materials such as hazardous waste, medical waste, virtually all of the waste without segregation of the waste, put in burn pits. We'll hear how there were dire health warnings by Air Force officials about the dangers of burn pit smoke, the toxicity of that smoke, the danger for human health. We'll hear how the Department of Defense regulations in place said that burn pits should be used only in short-term emergency situations -- regulations that have now been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal, Kellogg Brown & Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke."
At that day's hearing, Lt Col Darrin Curtis was among the witnesses and we'll note this exchange he had with Senator Dorgan.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Mr. Curtis, why did you decide to write the 2006 memorandum? And did anyone else at that point share your concerns about the health impact of burn pits?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, Senator, they did. The Chief of Air Space Medicine had the same concerns I did. The memo was initially written so that we could expedite the installation of the incinerators. From my understanding, there were spending limits of monies with health issues and not health issues so I wanted to write the report to show that there are health issues associated with burn pits so that we could hopefully accelerate the installation of the incinerators.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Of the type of burn pit you saw in Iraq in 2006 -- that's some while after the war began and infrastructure had been created and so on except without incinerators -- if something of that nature were occurring in a neighborhood here in Washington DC or any American city, what are the consequences to them?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: At least fines and possibly jail.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Because?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Of the regulations that are out there today.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Because it's a serious risk to human health?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, sir.
Chair Byron Dorgan: You say that when you arrived in Iraq an inspector for the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine -- which is CHPPM -- told you that the Balad burn pit was the worst environmental site that he has seen and that included the ten years he had performed environmental clean up for the Army and Defense's Logistic Agency. And yet in your testimony, you also say that CHPPM has done this study and says adverse health risks are unlikely. So you're talking about an inspector from CHPPM that says 'this is the worst I've seen' and then a report comes out later from CHPPM that says: "Adverse health risks are unlikely. Long-term health effects are not expected to occur from breathing the smoke." Contradiction there and why?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think any organization, you're going to have people with differences of opinion. But at CHPPM, I'm sure that was the same-same outcome there. Cause I don't know if that individual --
Chair Byron Dorgan: (Overlapping) Do you think that CHPPM -- do you think CHPPM assessment that's been relied on now is just wrong?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: (Overlapping) I think -- I think -- Senator, I think the hard line that there is no health effects is a -- is a very strong comment that we don't have the data to say. Do we have the data to say that it is a health risk? I don't think we have that either. But I do not think we have the data to say there is no health risk.
Chair Byron Dorgan: You are a bio-environmental engineer what is -- what is your own opinion? Without testing or data, you saw the burn pits, you were there, you hear the testimony of what went in the burn pits, you hear Dr. Szema's assessment. What's your assessment?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think we're going to look at a lot of sick people later on.
And a lot of people have gotten sick and a lot of people have died.
In October of 2010 the GAO (US Government Accountability Office) released a report [PDF format warning] entitled "AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ: DOD Should Improve Adherence to Its Guidance on Open Pit Burning and Solid Waste Management." The report opens with:
The military has relied heavily on open pit burning in both conflicts, and operators of burn pits have not always followed relevant guidance to protect servicemembers from exposure to harmful emissions. According to DOD, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq generate about 10 pounds of solid waste per soldier each day. The military has relied on open pit burning to dispose of this waste mainly because of its expedience. In August 2010, CENTCOM estimated there were 251 burn pits in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq.
[. . .]
Lawsuits have been filed in federal court in at least 43 states in which current and former servicemembers have alleged, among other things, that a contractor's negligent management of burn pit operations, contrary to applicable contract provisions, exposed them to air pollutants that subsequently caused serious health problems. The contractor has moved to dismiss the suits, arguing, among other things, that it cannot be held liable for any injuries that may have occurred to service personnel because all its burn pit activities occurred at the direction of the military.
Today, the victims and their loved ones have a chance at justice.
A chance at justice.
The federal district court decision to hear the case is big news.
On the bad news side for veterans?
Homeless veterans still exist in the United States. That's news today -- news for being yet another broken promise.
As David Greene (NPR's MORNING EDITION) noted last week, "The Obama administration says it wants to end homelessness among veterans by the end of this year. Well, that is not going to happen." Anjali Shastry (WASHINGTON TIMES) explains, "Despite five years and billions of dollars, President Obama failed to meet his goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, though officials say they have cut the rate by 36 percent and made progress with better care for veterans in communities across the country."
Where to next?
Must every day be about the media insisting that Ramadi -- today for sure! -- has been liberated at last.
Even though it's still not liberated?
Every day, the limited amount of time the world press spends on Iraq is taken up by tales of Ramadi's liberation.
And so much more gets ignored.
IRAQI SPRING MC reports counter-terrorism forces in Diyala shot dead a female civilian in front of civilians and Iraqi troops.
Or how about a new flashpoint developing?
IRAQI SPRING MC notes troops being sent to Basra. This comes as NATIONAL IRAQI NEWS AGENCY notes MP Abd al-Salam al-Maliki is calling for the declaration of a state of emergency in Basra arguing the situation there is turning into a crisis.
Instead of that we get more nonsense on Ramadi supposedly being liberated.
Mosul is supposed to be next for liberation.
Mosul is what Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared. But Ahmed Rasheed and Stephen Kalin (REUTERS) note Falluja is in Anbar Province (as is Ramadi) and that it's closer to Baghdad than Mosul. The two report, "Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for the Hashid Shaabi - a coalition of mostly Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias set up to fight Islamic State - said Falluja would likely come before Mosul.
At GLOBAL INSIGHTS today, the question is "Can Iraq's Prime Minister Al-Abadi hold on?" and the analysis notes the Shi'ite tensions al-Abadi faces:
It is unclear how far this can placate the Shia anti-Western hardliners. He recently met with the senior Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who voiced support for Iraq’s embattled PM. Sadr has deep ties with Iran’s Qom establishment and, as one of the few Shia leaders who stayed in Iraq during the years of Saddam’s rule, is popular within the poor Shia community. The Sadrist Movement supports disbanding of the Popular Mobilization Forces and the integration of Shia militias into the national army.
On the other hand, the Badr Brigades – a Shia militia – is a central part of the Popular Mobilization Forces and its leader, Hadi Al-Amiri, has close ties to the Iranian leadership. Al-Amiri is highly critical of the Prime Minister and will continue to use his resources to counteract his authority. The Badr Organization has powerful influence in Iraq’s military and has even commanded units of the national army on the front lines against IS.
Those Shi'ite militias make a lot of threats. For example, Mustafa Saadoun (AL-MONITOR) reports:
On Dec. 1, the Hezbollah Brigades threatened to pursue and target US forces in Iraq, as "they refuse the help of US forces in the war against IS.”
On Sept. 22, some factions of the Popular Mobilization Units, namely the Hezbollah Brigades, the Badr Organization and the League of the Righteous, issued a joint press release warning that a return of US troops to Iraq would be viewed “as renewed occupation of Iraq by the United States.” They further called on the Iraqi government “not to seek help from US forces.”
Hezbollah Brigades spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini told Al-Monitor, “US soldiers are not welcome in Iraq, either as consultants or as members of the international coalition, because to us such troops are hostile and must be opposed.”
Husseini denied any coordination between the Hezbollah Brigades and the international coalition and the Iraqi government.
The threat of targeting US troops in Iraq was not limited to Hezbollah; the head of the Badr Organization and second-in-command of the Popular Mobilization Units, Hadi al-Amri, issued a press statement Sept. 30 that read, “I informed [Prime Minister] Haider al-Abadi that the United States should only back Iraq with weaponry and refrain from participating in combat operations, because we reject their presence on the ground.”
Along with being a challenge to democratic rule as well as Haider al-Abadi's leadership, these thugs are threatening the population. Bill Roggio and David Daoud (LONG WAR JOUNRAL) report:
The Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), the command assigned by the Iraqi government with organizing militias to fight the Islamic State, has exceeded the scope of its mission by attempting to impart changes in society and culture through threats and force.
This month, the PMF began harassing Christians in Baghdad by suggesting women wear the hijab, or veil, and instructing the religious minority not to celebrate Christmas.
The PMF erected posters in several Baghdad neighborhoods with large numbers of Christians in mid-December, calling for women there to wear the hijab, multiple witnesses said according to Qenshrin. The posters were plastered on “churches and monasteries” in the neighborhoods of “Al Karada, Karadat Maryam, Al Kathmiyeh, Al Sayyideh, Zeinouneh, and Al Ghadir,” the news service reported.
Turning to the US, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Governor Martin O'Mally and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are vying for the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential nomination. Jeffrey Frank (NEW YORKER) notes Hillary's floundering at the most recent debate:
But after serving four years as Secretary of State, facing some of what might be in store for the forty-fifth President, her foreign-policy positions often seem confused, most notably when it comes to dealing with the Islamic State and the politics of the Middle East. You heard that during the pre-Christmas Democratic debate, when ABC’s Martha Raddatz tried to pin down Clinton’s advocacy of a no-fly zone in Syria. “ISIS doesn’t have aircraft, Al Qaeda doesn’t have aircraft,” Raddatz pointed out. “So would you shoot down a Syrian military aircraft or a Russian airplane?” Clinton’s reply was that “I do not think it would come to that. We are already de-conflicting air space.” When Raddatz persisted—“But isn’t that a decision you should make now?”—Clinton said that she favored the no-fly zone “because I think it would help us on the ground to protect Syrians.” She sees the dilemma but seems unwilling to deal with it. Without mentioning Iraq or Libya, Sanders put it clearly when he said, “I worry too much that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change, and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be…. You’ve got to think about what happens the day after.” Clinton didn’t really have a response.
That Democratic Party debate may have had few viewers but it offered tremendous insight. Ava and I addressed that debate two Sundays ago with "TV: The Hillary Clinton Rules:"
Is it really too much to expect that debate moderators will impose rules?
Or that when one chat hog won't shut up, that they cut her off?
And if she continues yacking after she's been cut off, that they only get firmer?
"Secretary Clinton," Raddatz asked at one point as Hillary was refusing to answer the question and attempting to distract by going to a different topic, "could we stick to gun control?"
Shut her down.
Shut any candidate down who cannot follow the rules.
If you're not up to that, you're not up to being a debate moderator.
They're supposed to impose the rules but Raddatz and Muir let Hillary Clinton walk all over them.
"We have to abide by the rules," Muir insisted at one point, before refusing to impose them -- then or at any other time.
In their half-assed way, however, Muir and Raddatz may have provided a public service: Letting the American public see just what a blow hard and ego maniac Hillary has become.
Better they know while there's still a chance to defeat her in a primary.
Today, Sanders met with the press. Kevin Hardy (DES MOINES REGITSER) reports:
"How many hours do we have? I don't want to take you into the new year," Sanders joked. "How do I answer that? What was the most important vote cast in the modern history of America on foreign affairs? Yeah, it was Iraq," Sanders said. "What does Hillary Clinton have to do to convince you that she has significant foreign policy judgment? She cast a vote for the war. I cast a vote against the war."
Sanders, who in a November debate in Des Moines called the Iraq war "one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States," often paints Clinton's vote to authorize the war as a major distinction between the two leading Democratic candidates. In her 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton said that the vote was based on faulty intelligence information from the George W. Bush administration and that she wanted to end the war, but she stopped short of saying she regretted the vote She has since called the vote a mistake.
War monger Hillary Clinton also met with the press today. Daymond Steer (CONWAY DAILY SUN) reports:
Conway Daily Sun Publisher Mark Guerringue asked about her vote to support the Iraq War and her actions as secretary of state during the attacks on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 that led to the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, two of which were with the CIA.
"With Iraq I have said numerous times that it was a mistake to give George Bush that authority, and I certainly believe as secretary of state I more than represented the best interest of our country," Clinton said. "There is nobody who is 100 percent right on every foreign policy call, and I think my record is one I'm very proud of."
Bernie Sanders supporter H.A. Goodman (SALON) comes up with a list of reasons why he can't support War Hawk Hillary and Iraq is at the top of the list:
1. Why is Clinton more capable of leading our nation than Sanders, if it was Vermont’s senator who voted against Iraq and predicted its outcome, while Clinton calls her vote a “mistake”?
Sorry, the Iraq War can’t simply be referred to as a “mistake.” Too much carnage and global instability have resulted from Iraq to ignore Clinton’s Iraq War vote. In addition, Hillary Clinton visited Iraq with John McCain in 2005. During the visit, not only did Clinton say that the insurgency was failing, but also that Iraq was“functioning quite well.”
In reality, Clinton was again wrong. Iraq was already in a devastating civil war before 2005. According to Iraq Body Count, a total of 23,861 civilians had died in Iraq before Clinton’s visit in 2005; a great many the victims of gun violence that Clinton is fervently against.
In contrast, it was Bernie Sanders, not the New York senator, who warned, “Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed and what role will the U.S. play in ensuing a civil war that could develop in that country?” Sanders was able to predict Iraq’s devastating civil war in 2002, while Clinton was still echoing Cheney’s talking points linking Al Qaeda to Saddam.
As The New York Times wrote in 2007, “Clinton’s linking of Iraq’s leader and Al Qaeda, however, was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” Yes, many Democrats forget that Hillary Clinton, like George W. Bush, once linked Saddam Hussain to Al Qaeda.