Thursday, January 12, 2023

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER nears a benchmark and FX is lousy

Fluff from VULTURE about the head of FX, John Landraf:

As it turned out, however, FX — and Landgraf — would find their path to the future just a year later, in December 2017. That’s when The Walt Disney Co. announced plans to purchase most of the entertainment assets of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, including FX. In theory, this moment might have marked the end of Landgraf’s journey as FX guru. Disney CEO Robert Iger could have decided to bail on a fading cable asset or simply put one of his own execs in charge of the network. Instead, Landgraf and most of his bosses at Fox’s TV operation ended up pushing out many of Disney’s key small screen execs. It also quickly became clear that Iger saw FX as Disney’s new premium TV brand, as well as a key part of the company’s emerging plan to charge into the streaming wars by taking full control of Hulu and launching Disney+. Landgraf leaves no doubt about how he judges the effect of the merger on FX’s long-term. “Thank God that Disney bought us and wrapped us into its larger streaming service, and its larger family of linear networks,” he says.

Not that the last five years have been easy. In addition to the steep learning curve that came with adjusting to the massive differences between the Fox and Disney corporate cultures, there was the very messy business of transitioning FX from a programming brand expressed through its three cable networks (the mothership, FXX, and FX Movie Channel) to one which now lives primarily on Hulu. As if that weren’t enough, there was also the whole matter of the pandemic, which slowed down FX’s ability to launch its next generation of hits and played a role in keeping one of its biggest success stories — Atlanta — out of commission for four full years. And of course, rather than Peak TV peaking circa 2017 as Landgraf once forecast, the number of new shows kept growing as more players stepped into the streaming arena: Back in August, the exec predicted 2022 would see yet another record number of original scripted series (surpassing 2021’s record tally of 559).

Landgraf is expected to deliver an update on the Peak TV tally today during his first in-person appearance before the TV Critics Association since the pandemic broke out. But late last month, the man industry reporters have dubbed “The Mayor of Television” spent 90 minutes talking to Vulture about how he and his team managed to get FX across the “abyss” between cable and streaming. Our conversation also covered a wide array of other topics, including the early tension between FX and Hulu staffers, how he defines the FX brand today, the future of linear TV, and why he’s suddenly a fan of streaming ratings.

Landraf is a hit!!!! FX is a hit!!!!!

Nonsense.  FX has Ryan Murphy (NETFLIX also has Murphy) and that's all they have.  The quality of FX has gone down hill.  There's really no reason for it to exist.  Murphy's shows, for example, could all go to NETFLIX (and regular FOX could keep the 9-1-1 shows).  I really feel like the buyout of FOX harmed FOX and FX and all the variations.  

It's like they're NBC.  I'm referring to the test balloon NBC floated a few months ago where they would drop the third hour of prime time.  How cheap are they.  They're already doing reruns on Saturdays.  That's kind of what FOX has become.  It's a minor offering since DISNEY bought them out.  

Landgraf better take his bows quickly.

By the way, Mark Hughes (FORBES) notes, "It’s smooth sailing ahead as Avatar: The Way of Water charts a course for $1.9 billion in worldwide box office this weekend, edging inevitably closer to a $2+ billion finish."

Ha on everyone who claimed the film was a flop.  I loved it.  If you didn't, that's fine, we can disagree.  But I'm talking about the jackals who started braying on day one of full release and insisting the film was a flop.  That includes DEADLINE.  Look at their early reporting and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.  This is the biggest film in years and it's still selling tickets.  If you haven't seen it yet, go see it.  I've seen it about six times now.  My only rule when someone wants to see it?  3D.  I've seen it in 2D and it's great there but now that I've seen it multiple times, I really just want to see it in 3D.


Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, January 12, 2023.  A major event will take place next week in defense of Julian Assange and The First Amendment, in Iraq a trial is taking place today on corruption, and much more.

Starting with this announcement from DEMOCRACY NOW!:

On Jan. 20, Democracy Now! will live-stream the Belmarsh Tribunal from Washington, D.C. The event will feature expert testimony from journalists, whistleblowers, lawyers, publishers and parliamentarians on assaults to press freedom and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Watch here live at 2 p.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 20.

Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and Srecko Horvat, the co-founder of DiEM25, will chair the tribunal, which is being organized by Progressive International and the Wau Holland Foundation.

Members of the tribunal include:

Stella Assange, partner of Julian Assange and member of his defense team

Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower

Noam Chomsky, linguist and activist

Jeremy Corbyn, member of U.K. Parliament and founder of the Peace and Justice Project

Chip Gibbons, policy director of Defending Rights & Dissent

Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof

Margaret Kunstler, civil rights attorney

Stefania Maurizi, investigative journalist, Il Fatto Quotidiano

Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights attorney

Ben Wizner, lead attorney at ACLU of Edward Snowden

Renata Ávila, human rights lawyer, technology and society expert

Jeffrey Sterling, lawyer and former CIA employee

Steven Donziger, human rights attorney

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief, WikiLeaks

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher, The Nation

Selay Ghaffar, spokesperson, Solidarity Party of Afghanistan

Betty Medsger, investigative reporter

US President Joe Biden continues to persecute Julian and, for those who've forgotten, Julian's 'crime' was revealing the realities of Iraq -- Chelsea Manning was a whistle-blower who leaked the information to Julian.  WIKILEAKS then published the Iraq War Logs.  And many outlets used the publication to publish reports of their own.  For example, THE GUARDIAN published many articles based on The Iraq War Logs.  Jonathan Steele, David Leigh and Nick Davies offered, on October 22, 2012:

A grim picture of the US and Britain's legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.
Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.
The new logs detail how:
US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.

A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.

The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee's apparent deat

The Biden administration has been saying all the right things lately about respecting a free and vigorous press, after four years of relentless media-bashing and legal assaults under Donald Trump.

The attorney general, Merrick Garland, has even put in place expanded protections for journalists this fall, saying that “a free and independent press is vital to the functioning of our democracy”.

But the biggest test of Biden’s commitment remains imprisoned in a jail cell in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been held since 2019 while facing prosecution in the United States under the Espionage Act, a century-old statute that has never been used before for publishing classified information.

Whether the US justice department continues to pursue the Trump-era charges against the notorious leaker, whose group put out secret information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, American diplomacy and internal Democratic politics before the 2016 election, will go a long way toward determining whether the current administration intends to make good on its pledges to protect the press.

Now Biden is facing a re-energized push, both inside the United States and overseas, to drop Assange’s protracted prosecution.

Lee Camp spoke with Stella Assange about the risks and persecution Julian continues to face for revealing the truth.

As you listen to Stella describe the inhumane conditions Julian's being held in, you really have to ask yourself why does Joe Biden continue to persecute Julian?  Eric Zuesse (DISSIDENT VOICE) observes, "Julian Assange has been imprisoned by the UK on the demand by the U.S. for over a decade now, though never convicted of anything, but ONLY because he was the world’s most effective champion against censorship and for international democracy and personal accountability. To call either of these countries a democracy is to lie, and to insult the very term 'democracy'."

Okay, now we're going over to Iraq.  There's an issue that we've been ignoring -- my choice to do so.  We'll go into why in a minute.  AL-MONITOR reports:

Iraq has not apologized to Iran after several Iranian parliamentarians slammed Iraq for using the term "Arabian Gulf" as it hosted the 25th Gulf Cup in Basra and asked for an apology.

Alireza Salimi, a member of the Board of Directors of the Iranian Parliament, attacked Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani and the leader of Sadrist Movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, for what he termed a hostile action.

“I advise the Iraqi prime minister and Muqtada al-Sadr to apologize and stop these kinds of contentious actions that are against the interests of the two nations and create disputes between the two nations,” Salimi said according to Iranian media reports. 

Observers and experts, however, said Iraq has so far ignored the complaints because it does not want to become embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with Iran, especially as Baghdad is playing a key role in achieving rapprochement between regional countries, most notably Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

While Baghdad has not officially commented on the “Arabian Gulf” dispute, the Sadrist movement, led by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, rejected Tehran’s summoning of the Iraqi envoy. 

Leading member of the movement, Issam Hussein said on Wednesday that Tehran is not justified in summoning the envoy. 

Moreover, he noted that the move gives Iran’s supporters in Iraq the “green light” to criticize the naming of the tournament. 

He remarked that Iran is “greatly bothered” by the rapprochement between the Iraqi and Gulf people. 

It fears that this rapprochement could develop into an increase in tourism and later development in economic and investment, he added. 

First, as a US citizen, I don't have an opinion on which of the two names Iraq chooses to use for the competition.  Second, I'm not Condi Rice. 

The US government has too often seen Iraq and Iran as twins or as potential twins.  They are neighboring countries.  As we have noted for years now, they will have many disagreements -- and have had many disagreements.  They may act together but they will also act in opposition.

Condi Rice, whenever things were going the way she wanted between Iran and Iraq (at odds) or at any time (like when Moqtada's influence was ebbing) would insert herself into the process.  It was stupid to begin with because the disagreement then becomes with the US.

We're noting it now to explain to all those e-mailing why we aren't obsessing over this news and to again remind that neighbors will always have frictions.  The two countries are not twins.  They aren't individual nations that share a border and will work together on somethings and not work together on other issues.  When government officials in the US fret over Iraq and Iran it's as though they're still addicted to the domino theory.

The above disagreement is not a US issue.  I don't plan to comment on it and say someone's right and someone's wrong, it's not my business and I don't see how it helps.  If outlets from the region choose to run columns or editorials, we may note those.  But this is something that needs to be between those two counties.  And, if that really makes you butt hurt because -- like Condi -- your goal is to drive a wedge between Iraq and Iran, grasp what Condi never could, a chorus of US voices is just going to turn attention towards the US and make it the target of frustration.  So let it play out for that if you just can't support the notion that we don't need to stick our nose into everything.

I picked the morning paper off the floor
It was full of other people's little wars
Wouldn't they like their peace
Don't we get bored
And we call for the three great stimulants
Of the exhausted ones
Artifice brutality and innocence
Artifice and innocence

-- "The Three Great Stimulants," written by Joni Mitchell, first appears on DOG EAT DOG

The trial of an adviser to the Iraq ex-Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Khadhemi on embezzlement charges will take place today.

The suspect is likely Haitham al-Juburi, who has been charged in a wider corruption scandal surrounding the disappearance of $2.5 billion worth of tax revenue. It is the biggest corruption of the previous al-Kahdimi governemnt, involving businessmen and former high-ranking officials. Al-Juburi has already returned $2.6 million, a mere fraction of the total loss.

The scandal has angered Iraqis, many of whom are dealing with poverty, decaying infrastructure, unemployment and a near total absence of public services. Corruption has long been at the core of Iraqi politics. It a serious challenge to Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and his new government, having vowed to lead a crackdown on corruption. The country ranked 157th out of 180 in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index in 2021.

Mustafa's adviser?  Let's drop back to last month when  Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim (WASHINGTON POST) reported:

Kadhimi, who left office in October, came to power in 2020 after mass anti-corruption demonstrations felled his predecessor. His government’s high-profile campaign to tackle graft in one of the world’s most corrupt countries drew widespread international encouragement.

Central to the effort was a series of highly publicized night raids in late 2020 on the homes of public figures accused of corruption, conducted under the authority of the Permanent Committee to Investigate Corruption and Significant Crimes, better known as Committee 29. The architect of the raids was Lt. Gen. Ahmed Taha Hashim, or Abu Ragheef, who became known in Iraq as the “night visitor.”

But what happened to the men behind closed doors was far darker: a return to the ugly old tactics of a security establishment whose abuses Kadhimi had vowed to address. In more than two dozen interviews — including five men detained by the committee, nine family members who had relatives imprisoned, and 11 Iraqi and Western officials who tracked the committee’s work — a picture emerges of a process marked by abuse and humiliation, more focused on obtaining signatures for pre-written confessions than on accountability for corrupt acts.

Those interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters or, in the case of detainees and their families, to protect their safety.

“It was every kind of torture,” one former detainee recalled. “Electricity, choking me with plastic bags, hanging me from the ceiling by my hands. They stripped us naked and grabbed at the parts of our body underneath.”

In at least one case, a former senior official, Qassim Hamoud Mansour, died in the hospital after being arrested by the committee. Photographs provided to The Post by his family appear to show that a number of teeth had been knocked out, and there were signs of blunt trauma on his forehead.

Allegations that the process was riddled with abuse became an open secret among diplomats in Baghdad last year. But the international community did little to follow up on the claims and the prime minister’s office downplayed the allegations, according to officials with knowledge of the issue. Although a parliamentary committee first revealed the torture allegations in 2021 and Iraqi media have raised the issue sporadically, this is the fullest attempt yet to investigate the claims and document the scale of the abuse.

We'll wind down with this Tweet:

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