Ann and Stan here doing our usual year look back at films. In 2021, the pandemic continued. And a lot of bombs depressed the country even further. DUNE? Denis Villeneuve had already destroyed BLADE RUNNER when some idiot decided he was the one to reboot DUNE. Then you had Stephen Spielberg apparently now on fumes deciding to remake (ruin) WEST SIDE STORY. In "Why the West Side Story remake flopped," Marcia outlined many of the reasons the film flopped and we think this one is the most important one on her list:
Lack of star power. A bunch of nobodies.
In 1961, the original film came out. West Side Story, at that point, had been a huge hit on Broadway. Jack Warner didn't say, "Let's put the Broadway cast on film!" No. He knew nobodies weren't going to cut it.
Rita Moreno was an often photographed Latina actress (she'd had no real box office on her own and was better known for her cheesecake photos than for her films). She was still better known than the Broadway cast.
But Jack Warner knew that the film needed a star. Someone who people would pay money to see. Natalie Wood was a big name. She'd been a child star. In 1955, she 'grew up' with Rebel Without A Cause and earned an Academy Award nomination. She followed that with one popular film after another (and with the classic The Searchers). West Side Story came out after her massive hit (and Academy Award nominated performance in) Splendor in the Grass. West Side Story came out before her massive hit Gypsy.
Natalie Wood was huge. Where was the huge star that Spielberg cast in his remake?
No where to be found.
Get it? When the first film was made in 1961, while the show was a Broadway success, Jack Warner knew it required a star to carry it on the big screen. Somehow that reality eluded Stephen Spielberg -- maybe his mental state's degrading?
It was a bad film. There were so many of them. But here's our top ten of 2021's best.
Halle Berry scored both in front of and behind the camera with this film (stream it on NETFLIX) which she starred in and directed. It's a big story with lots of elements -- domestic issues, alcoholism, dreams -- failed and ongoing -- and sports -- and director Halle navigates them so well, weaving throughout in a manner that holds you and moves you.
9) THE POWER OF THE DOG.
Jane Campion returns in this film that features Kirsten Dunst delivering her finest performance in years. There's much to admire in this film but there's also Benedict Cumberbatch and we just don't buy him. He's got a real problem of hollow performances. And he and his stretched out face (did he have face lift?) are the weak point of the film. (Stream it on NETFLIX.)
8) THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS.
We loved THE MATRIX. We loved that first film. It was rooted in what appeared to be a world we might live in. The two sequels took us away from that and meant less to us. This film takes the threat back into the world we know -- or what we think is the world we know. And it roots itself in the relationship of Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss). The chemistry between those two characters is still strong and present and we care whether Neo and Trinity will get together. The film has a lot to say about our would and the way we are controlled. Neil Patrick Harris makes a great villain. Everyone delivers and we really need to note Brian J. Smith because we were huge fans of SENSE8. (Stream it on HBO MAX.)
7) THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD.
A strong action film starring Angelina Jolie as a forest ranger who has to protect the son of a whistle-blower. Angelina really delivers in this film but so does everyone. Taylor Sheridan has gotten performances worthy of praise from the entire cast including Tyler Perry and Jon Bernthal (the latter of whom we've not been impressed with before). It's a worthy and impressive credit on Nicholas Hoult's already outstanding filmography. And it's a strong action film that more than holds your attention. We're hoping that this year or 2023 will bring a teaming of Angelina and Channing Tatum in an action film. (Stream it on HBO MAX.)
6) THE MAURITANIAN.
Benedict Cumberbatch is the Stella Stevens of film in the 21st century. He keeps getting cast and delivering the same performance over and over. Hear he sports a strange and weird southern accent that goes to just how miscast he was. Otherwise, this is a first rate film directed by Kevin Macdonald and based upon the 14 year imprisonment of Mobamedou Ould Slahi by the US government. Shailene Woodley, Tahar Rahim and Zachary Levi are standouts but Jodie Foster? If Jodie Foster isn't nominated for an Academy Award, it'll be the greatest snub since the Acadmey ignored Cher in MASK.
It wasn't critics that piled on, it was industry publications like VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. They hated this film and wanted you to believe that Americans did as well. These same trade papers pimped DUNE over and over in their desperate efforts to save that under-performing bomb. Enough Americans paid to see ETERNALS for the film to be the sixth biggest grosser in North American ticket sales. DUNE? Not even in the top ten. Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao directed this film with a sure touch. She's managing both a large cast and many themes and she pulls it off and then some. Strong praiseworthy work from Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Bill Skarsgard, Gemma Chan, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Haaz Sleiman and Barry Keoghan. This film offers thrills and some deeper meanings as the Eternals have seven days to save the earth. (Starts streaming on DISNEY+ on January 12th.)
4) WHAT WOULD SOPHIA LOREN DO?
Raising a family and working outside the home, Nancy Kulik often found herself questioning what the choice she should make was and, at those times, she asked, "What would Sophia Loren do?" Born in America after her parents arrived from Italy, Nancy grew up with Italian cinema and no one shined brighter or intrigued her more than Academy Award winner Sophia Loren. This film not only details how that played out in Nancy's life it also brings Nancy face-to-face with Sophia. Quirky and touching. (Stream on NETFLIX.)
3) SUMMER OF SOUL (... OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED).
Ahmir Thompson (Questlove of The Roots) directed an incredible documentary of the year. It examines the Harlem Cultural Festival held in 1969 which features live performances by Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, The 5th Dimension, Sly and The Family Stone, The Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Blinky Williams and the Chamber Brothers. That footage alone makes the film worth seeing. Thompson also provides context and films interviews (like Mavis Staples reflecting on dueting with Mahalia Jackson at the festival). (Stream on HULU.)
Director TJ Martin delivered the best documentary of the year -- and this was a strong year for documentaries -- if our list was a top fifteen, Andre Gaines' THE ONE AND ONLY DICK GREGORY would make the list. It's a strong documentary but what kicks TJ Martin's documentary onto the list and so high on the list is that this is a reconfiguring of the way we see Tina Turner. A rock legend whose songs will live on for some time, one of the great live performers of all time, she is also someone that we think we praise when we ask her about the abuse she survived. Tina is very upfront about the post-traumatic stress she suffers from as a result of Ike Turner terrorizing her and how questions can be structured in such a way -- and often are -- that she has to relive the abuse. Remember, Stephen Spielberg offered her a role in THE COLOR PURPLE but she turned it down saying she'd already lived it. Tina's life has happiness now and it's the sort of happiness we all aspire to. If you think you know TINA, make a point to check out this documentary. Great documentaries like TINA and SUMMER OF SOUL expand, enlarge our understanding. (Stream on HBO MAX.)
1) SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS.
An amazing, fast paced adventure that is one of the most visually accomplished films of the year. There's really no superlative you can't attach to this film and it gives you a zip the way great films (think GOODFELLAS) do. And give it up for Awkwafina because she delivers and makes the film. Yes, she's great as the love interest. But the most important point she serves in the film is being us, the audience. Her questioning and disbelief echoes the audience in the beginning and as she accepts and witnesses events, we suspend disbelief as well. Simu Liu offers true star power and should be the star of many more films. Destin Daniel Cretton has made an unexpected classic -- and we mean classic film, not just classic superhero film. This is film making at its finest and this could be the first superhero film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Friday, December 31, 2021. The Turkish government continues to terrorize the Kurdistan, Iraq still awaits a new government, Julian Assange remains persecuted and much more.
The editorial board of THE MINOT DAILY NEWS reflects as the year winds down:
Meanwhile, no doubt Afghans who relied on government — both their own and America’s — wish they hadn’t, when President Joe Biden finally did what should have been done years ago and withdrew militarily from the country after 20 years of war. American audiences were also shocked when the end-result of two decades of investment resulted in depressing images of Taliban fighters celebrating as they took over abandoned U.S. military bases in the country. Again, anyone who trusted the longstanding conventional Washington narrative that everything was under control was sorely disappointed.
And at the end of this year, a British high court ordered that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange could be extradited to the U.S. after the Biden administration persisted in seeking his transfer to an American prison. This, despite Yahoo News publishing evidence in September of a CIA plot to kidnap and assassinate him. Although Assange did little that was much different from other media outlets in publishing secrets provided to him by a Pentagon source — much in the same way that former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg provided Pentagon Papers secrets which were published by the New York Times — he faces serious legal jeopardy. All this was occurring as Biden himself hosted a “Summit for Democracy” to defend democratic values, including specifically freedom of the press. Assange’s treatment doesn’t bode well for any bona-fide truth-tellers or free-speech practitioners who may have been relying perhaps a bit too much on the U.S. government to come to their rescue — unless of course they sing Uncle Sam’s tune.
If there’s anything that we should have learned this year, it’s that your own welfare in 2022 depends on you — and all of us — reducing our dependence on those who serve us platitudes about looking out for our best interests.
Julian remains persecuted and, while that continues, everyone is at risk.
What functioning court, aware that the US governmebt had plotted to kill Julian, would declare that Julian could be handed over to the US government?
Back in October, Reporters Without Borders posted the following:
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
October 15, 2021
Attorney General Merrick Garland:
We, the undersigned press freedom, civil liberties, and international human rights advocacy organizations, write again to share our profound concern about the ongoing criminal and extradition proceedings relating to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
In February, members of this coalition wrote to the Acting Attorney General, urging that the criminal charges against Mr. Assange be dropped.We now renew that request with even greater urgency, in light of a recent story in Yahoo News describing alarming discussions within the CIA and Trump administration before the indictment against Assange was filed. The Yahoo News story only heightens our concerns about the motivations behind this prosecution, and about the dangerous precedent that is being set.
As we noted in our earlier correspondence, the signatories to this letter have different perspectives on Mr. Assange and his organization. We are united, however, in our view that the criminal case against him poses a grave threat to press freedom both in the United States and abroad. We were disappointed that the Department of Justice appealed the decision by Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court to reject the Trump administration’s extradition request. Especially in light of the recent news report, we urge you to drop that appeal and dismiss the underlying indictment.
As we explained in our earlier letter, journalists routinely engage in much of the conduct described in the indictment: speaking with sources, asking for clarification or more documentation, and receiving and publishing official secrets. News organizations frequently and necessarily publish classified information in order to inform the public of matters of profound public significance.
We appreciate that the government has a legitimate interest in protecting bona fide national security interests, but the proceedings against Mr. Assange jeopardize journalism that is crucial to democracy. In our view, a precedent created by prosecuting Assange could be used against publishers and journalists alike, chilling their work and undermining freedom of the press.
Major news organizations share this concern. The charges against Assange have been condemned by virtually every major American news outlet, even though many of those news outlets have criticized Mr. Assange in the past.
In light of these concerns, and in light of the shocking new reporting on the government’s conduct in this case, we respectfully urge you to drop the ongoing appeal of Judge Baraitser’s ruling and to dismiss the indictment of Mr. Assange.
(in alphabetical order):
American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International USA
Center for Constitutional Rights
Committee to Protect Journalists
Defending Rights & Dissent
Demand Progress Education Fund
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fight for the Future
First Amendment Coalition
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University
National Coalition Against Censorship
Open The Government Partnership for Civil Justice Fund
Project on Government Oversight
Reporters Without Borders
The Press Freedom Defense Fund of First Look Institute
Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts
Here's Richard Medhurst talking about Julian from yesterday.
Assange Defense Tweets:
Ming The Merciless Tweets:
Turning to Iraq, that's PBS' NEWSHOUR with Simona Foltyn reporting on Turkey's continued 'excursion' into Iraq.
This is huge. The US press has worked overtime to ignore what Turkey's been doing in Iraq.
What Turkey has done to the Kurds is troublesome and outrageous and considering the fact that today's Turkish government still denies they carried out the Aremian genocide from the start of last century, their actions are scary beyond belief. Kurdistan is becoming the new Palestine. The Turkish government, despite being called out by Iraq, attacks Kurds and terrorizes them, burns down forests, bombs villages and farms and has gotten away with being in clear violation of Iraq's national sovereignty. This is outrageous.
And it's appalling that not only are so many corporate outlets silent but that so-called 'radical' outlets -- I'm looking at WSWS -- ignore what's taking place and do year after year. Why? Well WSWS, for example, feels a 'connection' to some in Turkey so they don't want to call out the Turkish government. The term for that is "whoring."
We'll note this from the UK SOCIALIST WORKER:
A murderous US special forces cell called Talon Anvil massacred hundreds of civilians in Iraq and Syria—and top officers systematically covered up its crimes.
The cell controlled a fleet of Predator and Reaper drones that bristled with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs.
A major investigation by the New York Times newspaper says Talon Anvil killed “people who had no role in the conflict—farmers trying to harvest, children in the street, families fleeing fighting, and villagers sheltering in buildings”.
A former Air Force intelligence officer said he saw so many civilian deaths as a result of Talon Anvil’s tactics that he eventually grew jaded and accepted them as part of the job.
But some attacks stood out.
In one, Talon Anvil followed three men, all with canvas bags working in an olive grove near the city of Manbij in Syria in autumn 2016.
The men had no weapons, but the strike cell insisted they must be enemy fighters and killed them with a missile.
Then in March 2017, Talon Anvil sent a Predator drone over a Syrian farming town called Karama.
A Talon Anvil operator typed a message into the chat room the cell shared with intelligence analysts—“all civilians have fled the area.
“Anyone left is an enemy fighter. Find lots of targets for us today because we want to go Winchester”.
“Going Winchester” meant using all of the drone’s missiles and 500‑pound bombs.
A Predator drone dropped a 500‑pound bomb through the roof of a building.
As the smoke cleared, the former officer said his team “stared at their screens in dismay”.
“The infrared cameras showed women and children staggering out of the partly collapsed building, some missing limbs, some dragging the dead.”
During the US-backed attack on Raqqa, Iraq, in June 2017, civilians tried to flee the fighting and “boarded makeshift ferries to cross the Euphrates River.”
The cell ordered strikes that hit multiple boats, “killing at least 30 civilians”.
Instead of ending their murders, Talon Anvil operators “started directing drone cameras away from targets shortly before a strike hit, preventing the collection of video evidence”.
Talon Anvil, which officially never existed, was a unit within the larger Task Force 9.
It coordinated US military operations in Iraq and Syria from 2014 to 2019.
The Times reported last month that Task Force 9’s atrocities included an air strike on the town of Baghuz.
At least 80 women and children were incinerated by 500-pound and 2,000-pound bombs.
All these horrors were known by people at the top of the military.
They took no action because this is how imperialism works—through terror, mass death and contempt for those it has targeted.
Meanwhile the October 10th elections in Iraq have still not resulted in a new government. Akeel Abbas (AL-MONITOR) reports:
The Federal Court’s two decisions, issued the same day, to reject a lawsuit to cancel the October election and certify its results with no changes ended a protracted and bitter legal fight over the results, clearing the way for a political fight over the formation of the next government.
The certification means the constitutional clock starts ticking and deadlines have to be met: Within 15 days of the certification, the new parliament has to convene and elect its speaker. The biggest bloc has to be registered at the same session. Within 30 days of this parliamentary session, the parliament should elect a new president who will task the biggest bloc with forming the government.
President Barham Salih already issued an order Dec. 30 to form the first session of the parliament Jan. 9, according to the constitution’s timeline.
The Shiites have to select the prime minister from among their ranks and agree on the president who is selected from among the Kurds and the parliament speaker who is selected from among the Sunnis.
The Shittes have already started negotiations on the formation of the next government. The latest meeting took place Dec. 29, as leaders of the Coordination Framework led by Hadi al-Amiri met Muqtada al-Sadr at his house in Najaf.
The meeting did not result in an agreement, but it is the start of the process.
As for the position of prime minister, the largest parliamentary bloc usually announces its preferred candidate.
The post is also at the center of heated dispute between Shiite blocs - namely the Sadrist movement, the winner of the elections, and the Coordination Framework, a coalition of pro-Iran factions and the losers of the elections.
Head of the Sadrist movement, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is insisting that his bloc, which won 75 seats, is entitled to naming the premier. The Coordination Framework is, however, insisting on naming the candidate.
Sadr has cited a constitutional article that stipulates that the largest bloc has the right to name the prime minister.
PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi could be reappointed to his post given the support he enjoys from Sadr. Some factions of the Coordination Framework want him out.
Meanwhile, the position of president is reserved to a Kurdish figure. Salih has not hidden his ambition to be elected to a second term.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party, headed by Masoud Barzani, however, is hoping to nominate a new figure to the post, preferably someone from his party or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
As we've noted before, Salih is a member of the PUK. The PUK had an awful showing. This is the continued defeat of the PUK. KDP won the most votes and any presidential nominee should come from the political party that won the most votes.
We'll wind down with this from Jonathan Turley:
For most of us, New Year resolutions are the ultimate exercise of hope over experience, a type of virtue signaling to ourselves in the hope that this year it might actually work. For politicians, it is the same … just without the hope. With the start of 2022 President Biden will lead the nation in celebrations and reflections. He could truly turn over a new leaf with one resolution: to stop declaring the guilt or innocence of people before they are actually investigated or tried.
History has shown that politicians are rarely late to a hanging or a stoning. From the Dreyfus Affair to Leo Frank, the Scottsboro Boys to the Duke Lacrosse team, there is nothing more binding with the public than to join in expressions of disgust or anger. The difference between a politician and a statesman is that the former demands a result while the latter demands a process from the justice system.
Even before winning the White House, Biden refused to wait for the actual facts before reaching a popular conclusion. For example, after the protests in Lafayette Park in 2020, Biden repeated the now debunked claim that the park was cleared with tear gas to enable a photo op for President Trump. From the outset, there was ample evidence undermining that claim, but neither Biden nor many in the media waited for the investigation to establish the facts. (Later, the Justice Department’s inspector general disproved the claim).
Once in office, President Biden continued that “sentence first, verdict afterwards” habit by making comments that conveyed what he wanted to see happen on legal decisions to be made from agencies. Despite being told that it would be clearly unconstitutional, Biden called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to renew a nationwide moratorium on the eviction of renters.
Within days of the shootings in Kenosha, Wis., then-presidential candidate Joe Biden had strongly implied that Kyle Rittenhouse was a “white supremacist” despite no evidence supporting that claim. Even after many claims about Rittenhouse were debunked and the jury acquitted Rittenhouse of all charges, Biden stated publicly that the verdict left “many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included.”
However, Biden’s Red Queen justice approach was most alarming with regards to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who were falsely accused of “whipping” undocumented immigrants on the southern border. Before any investigation was actually started, Biden expressed anger at the agents and publicly pledged punishment: “It was horrible what — to see, as you saw — to see people treated like they did: horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous. I promise you, those people will pay.”
“Those people” are federal employees who have a right to due process and a presumption of innocence, including from the man who heads their branch of government. However, the President of the United States declared them to be guilty as the matter was sent for investigation. That creates an obvious pressure on lower-ranked executive branch officials to reach the same conclusion — to not contradict the President.
The following sites updated: