Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Films (Ann and Stan)

Ann and Stan here doing our annual look at movies.  This is our list of the top ten films that you could download, stream or purchase.  Purchase on BluRay or DVD.  Not on videotape.

But a trip to a music store reminded us that vinyl exists now as a collectible leaving us to wonder whether somewhere in the country there's a purist group pining for the return of VHS or even Betamax?

Hopefully not, but you never know.

What we do know is that these are ten highly satisfying and enjoyable films.





1) "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

Pretty can be nice but it doesn't mean blockbuster as "Twilight" beefcake is learning the hard way.  But Chris Evans is more than a pretty face and he proves it again in the year's best film.  A superhero caper, this isn't.  It's a film that explores our world today.  Strong applause is earned by Anthony Mackie and Emily VanCamp for their roles, to be sure.  But if anyone rivals Evans in this film, it's Scarlett Johansson who makes Black Widow come alive in a way she hasn't in the Iron Man films or even in "The Avengers."   Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo should be directing every Marvel film -- that includes the X-Men.  The return of Bryan Singer should have made "X-Men: Days of Future Past" a great film.  Instead, it's a huge disappointment and the only one who doesn't have to be embarrassed is Hugh Jackman.  Chris Evans' film works because women are extras.  By contrast, each X-Men film these days tends to find women reduced to doing less and less.  The sexism reeks.  And how sad that Singer brought such meaning and relevance to the first two X-Men films now seems to be executing lame retreads while the Russos steal his thunder.




2)  "Malificent."

One of the year's biggest blockbuster hits -- and the biggest live action summer hit that wasn't a sequel -- really made it solely on Angelina Jolie.  She was repeatedly so much better than the material and it's a real shame Disney can't hire quality writers.  But she and basic plot pull you in despite the frequent soggy moments.



3) "The Other Woman."

Cameron Diaz had the distinction of being the best thing in two awful movies ("Annie" and "Sex Tape") but she also had the distinction of appearing in one of the best comedies of the year.  Since "How To Marry A Millionaire," a holy trinity of women has meant solid laughs -- see Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton pairing up for "9 to 5" and Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler teaming up for "First Wives Club"). Cameron, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton continued the hilarity. So far, no teaming of three women has resulted in a sequel or a re-pairing in another film.  We'd love to see Cameron, Leslie and Kate break that rule.



4) "22 Jump Street"

Grab on whatever you grab onto, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return in this hilarious sequel that says Seth Rogan and James Franco, you're silly together but Jonah and Channing are bust a gut hilarious.




5) "Begin Again"

In a better world, this little film that should would have been the little film that could.  It pack a powerful punch and frequently surprises you while always entertaining you.  Why do they make movies?  "Begin Again" answers that question with charm and suspense.  This was probably the best film that most Americans missed in 2014.



6)  "Under The Skin"

This sci fi film is a visual delight and director Jonathan Glazer's been hailed as a new Hitchcock and a new Kurbrick.  But what really makes it work is Scarlett Johansson as the alien.  Scarlett could have had three films on our list had "Lucy" already been released (it comes out on DVD in January).



7)  "Ride Along"

Ice Cube thought "Ride Along" was going to be his film.  And he even got top billing.  But even that couldn't conceal the fact that Kevin Hart walked away with the film.  And left you laughing despite the fact that the script was little more than a rip-off an episode of "Friends."  Whether he'll make strong future choices or not remains to be seen but this movie made Kevin Hart a break out star.



8) "Thor: The Dark World"

Honestly, there is no superhero we'd rather ignore in a comic book.  That said, Thor has been the basis for two outstanding films.  The first one was one of the most layered solo superhero movies (we rank the first two X-Men as the best group superhero films) but the second one took it to a whole nother level.  Forget the genre, this film was amazing all on its own terms.




9) "Let's Be Cops."

If there's any happy ending to the cancellation of the classic sitcom "Happy Endings," it's that it allowed Damon Wayans Jr. to return to the role he played in the "New Girl" pilot which allowed him to reteam with Jake Johnson.  The two have a chemistry on the show that goes beyond the rest of the cast and "Let's Be Cops" mines that chemistry to create a buddy-fake-cop movie that works like nothing has since the 80s.




10) "Fading Gigolo"

John Turturro didn't just direct, write and act in this comedy classic, he also put together an excellent cast and Sofia Vergara especially deserves strong praise for her performance which shows a side that "Modern Family" never has.  Vergara, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber and, especially, Woody Allen help make this film a comedy gem.





This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"


Tuesday, December 30, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, who keeps declaring the death of Iraq (hint: It's not Iraqis), the Yazidis aren't the only religious minority in Iraq, the US State Dept continues to mistake itself for the Defense Dept, a lot of ugly gets aimed at an Iraq War veteran, and much more.



Dar Addustour offers all Iraqis the warm wishes as 2014 turns into 2015 and they hope for peace and prosperity. There are other notes of cheer in the Iraqi media and there are some concerns.  Pretty much the most negative thought is when Khalid al-Quarqghouli (Kitabat) wonders if it's time to see all of Iraq as one big refugee camp?

On the refugee crisis, the UN Tweets:









  • Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports:

    Conflicts in Iraq took a heavy toll on civilians in the country this year, having caused thousands of casualties and displaced more than 2 million people, an official with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday.
    "The ongoing cycle of violence, which contravenes international humanitarian law and has resulted in the continued loss of civilian lives and the destruction of property essential for survival, remains a matter of serious concern for the ICRC," said Patrick Youssef, head of the ICRC delegation in Iraq, in a statement.


    "Most negative" is not to pick on al-Quarqghouli or the opinion expressed.

    It is to provide a context.

    There are serious problems in Iraq -- as a result of the illegal war -- and no one would pretend otherwise.

    But, regardless of the outlet in Iraq, you don't read claims that the country is dead.

    No, for nonsense like that, you have to go to American outlets where you find things like "the year Iraq ceased to exist."  It's penned by CIA contractor/contractee Juan Cole and the fact that TruthDig publishes it really means that 2015 may see the old Ramparts battle -- where one faction accused Robert Scheer of being a disruptive element paid to disrupt paid to disrupt by the government -- re-emerge publicly in Scheer's final years.


    But for right now, everyone should just ponder why it is that Iraqis -- who truly suffer every day -- are not the ones declaring their own deaths.  It's pompous Americans who do that.  Especially pompous ones who supported the illegal war -- as Juan Cole did.

    Let's stay with idiots for a moment.

    Max Blumenthal will probably be named as a stupid ass in the year-in-review.  He won't be the only one.  But it'll be for something different than what we are noting today.

    Blumenthal is among a select few whining about the film American Sniper and its based on Iraq War veteran Chris Kyle,  Kyle was killed (in the United States) in 2013.

    I'm not understanding Max except for the fact that he's clearly trash.

    He's attacking the late veteran and trashing him -- which is something Blumenthal does frequently.  In fact, I have other things to cover in the year-in-review so let's pull it out now and put it on the table.

    Jane Fonda, during Vietnam, was not anti-troops.  She spoke to the troops because she wanted to reach them.  She took part in the GI Coffeehouse movement and many other elements.

    She is wrongly seen as someone who 'spat' on American troops (that myth refuses to die).

    For some on the other side, Jane is a focal point and they try to make her the voice of the left.

    (This despite the fact that, while she can't stop playing aged sexpot and updating the world on her supposed hot sex life -- c'mon, Jane, we know better -- she can't say a word against the ongoing Iraq War.)

    What Jane serves as mostly now is a cautionary tale.

    How far on the left do we go, what is acceptable, etc.

    Here's what's not acceptable: Hating groups of people.

    That's unacceptable.

    And that's all Max Blumenthal has to offer.


    There was some local story about an Iraq War veteran that killed someone or someones.  Max took to Twitter to try to turn into the story of the year.

    When victims of burn pits need help, Max is never there.  Can't use that online presence to help them.

    But when there's something that he thinks can be used to indict the entire body of the US military, he runs with it with like crazy.


    And he's the reason that the right can repeatedly convince people that the left hates service members.

    I support war resisters -- we've covered them more than any other website.  But I've also noted that if I'm going to support those who feel the war is illegal and unethical and wrong, I'm going to support the right of those who feel differently as well.

    Jose or Joanne sent to Iraq by the US government is not the problem and is not the enemy.

    It's amazing that Max Blumenthal can attack a dead man who was sent to Iraq by the US government and did the tasks the US government ordered him to do yet Max Blumenthal can't say one damn word about Barack Obama, US President, and his failure to the end the Iraq War -- remember, that's the 'promise' that got him elected.  (It was never an honest promise and unlike so many temple whores in The Cult of St. Barack, we pointed it out while his lap were flapping on the campaign trail.)


    I got fury in my soul
    Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal
    In my mind I can't study war no more
    Save the people
    Save the children
    Save the country now!
    -- "Save The Country," written by Laura Nyro, first appears on her New York Tendaberry

    I've got fury in my soul and I've got anger.

    None of which I aim at someone who was sent to Iraq.

    I'll blame Bully Boy Bush, I'll blame Barack.

    I'm not going to blame someone who was, in my opinion, betrayed by their own government, misused by the government, etc.

    I fully support the right of any member of the US military to resist the illegal war.  I also support the right to serve in it -- even to believe in it.

    I don't believe in it and I never will.

    But I don't just support people who agree with me and think like me and speak like me.

    And I certainly do not blame those who did what they were ordered to do.

    I am appalled that Blumenthal and his ilk repeatedly attack and blame those following orders and yet protect the ones in power, the ones who give the orders.

    And don't give me your bulls**t that you call out Bully Boy Bush.  It's 2014.  I can't imagine anything easier in the world than calling out Bully Boy Bush.  I also can't imagine anything more stupid since the Iraq War continues and Bully Boy Bush left the White House in January of 2009.

    Big Brave Maxie-Pad Blumenthal can't call out Barack, can he?

    But he can attack those who served in Iraq -- especially if they're dead and can't respond to him.

    I will gladly defend my position -- the war is illegal -- but if I'm calling out someone for their deployment in Iraq, it's because what they personally did amounts to War Crimes.

    That would be Steven D. Green and his ilk who plotted and conspired to gang rape and kill 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and to kill her five-year-old sister and to kill both parents.  They broke into the family's home, they tried to make it appear 'terrrorists' were responsible for their actions.

    These are War Crimes.

    Check our archives, they were called out repeatedly here.

    Maxi can't make the same claim, can he?

    War Crimes?

    Civilians in Falluja, since the start of the year, have been bombed as a means of collective punishment -- these are daily bombings carried out by the Iraqi military.  This is the legal definition of a War Crime.  Max Blumenthal has called that out when?

    So let's not pretend this is about War Crimes because Max clearly doesn't give a damn about War Crimes.

    Chris Kyle was not sent to Iraq as part of the diplomatic corps.  He was trained to be a sniper and he was sent to a war to carry out that duty.

    If you don't like that people were sent to Iraq to be snipers, I don't see why you rail at Chris Kyle.

    You rail at the officials who sent Kyle into Iraq.

    And don't bore us with your empty words against Bully Boy Bush.

    That's about as 'brave' as calling out Tricky Dick Nixon.

    If you're against war, and I am, you call out the people responsible for it.  In 2014, that would mean you'd have to call out Barack Obama.

    Chris Kyle is gone.  He does have a family who is proud of him and they have every right to be.  He did what was asked to do by the government.

    I don't support war.

    But I'm not shocked that someone trained by the government to be a sniper and then sent by the government to Iraq would shoot people dead.  That's not shocking to me and it's not surprising.

    I'm not angry at Chris Kyle or his memory.

    I am angry at the US government and the officials who sent Chris Kyle and so many others into an illegal war.


    I am not a fan of Clint Eastwood's.  I never have been.  I know him loosely and I honestly don't care for him.

    I certainly didn't go on Larry King in the 90s raving about how In The Line Of Fire was a 'feminist statement' -- no, that embarrassing moment came from a woman who's given us far too many embarrassing moment.

    (I'm not referring to Renee Russo who I know and like.  I'm referring to an actress who did not appear in the film.)

    But he has every right as a film maker to make American Sniper and I hope it's a good movie (I won't be seeing it).

    Other people have a right to make films from the same perspective, from opposite perspectives and from anywhere on the political spectrum.

    I raise that point because there are a lot jerks slamming Clint or his film -- not just slamming Chris Kyle -- and yet these same jerks?

    They slammed Kimberly Peirce for Stop-Loss.

    I don't know what world these idiots live in but when an indie director (what Peirce was at the time) gets a film budget from MTV, if any politics are in the movie at all, that's a bonus.

    Peirce didn't go far enough for the malcontents who apparently could have squeezed the money out of MTV and filmed the Camilo Mejia story.

    I think Camilo is a hero.

    (He's a War Resister for those who don't know.  In the US, on leave, Camilo decided not to return to Iraq because the war was illegal.  He had been stop-lossed.  He couldn't be stop-lossed, a fact that the military 'justice' system ignored.  US citizens serving in the US military could be stop-lossed -- their military service extended over their objections.  Non-US citizens could not be.  Camilo wasn't a US citizen at that time.  He tells his story in Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia.)


    Kimberly made a strong film that has done intense business on DVD, Blu Ray and streaming.


    Instead of accepting it for what it was, fringe elements on the left felt the need to trash the film.

    So these same elements are going to trash a film where the lead character wants to self-checkout (but ultimately doesn't) and they're going to trash a film about US sniper.

    Exactly what range of discussion does this fringe element believe remains for film?

    And exactly who do they think, on the left, will even try to make a film when Kimberly -- an acclaimed independent film director, one applauded by the LGBTQ community -- is attacked?

    You're ensuring that no one wants to make a film against the war because apparently nothing will satisfy you and there's apparently no strong aspect on the left that will tell you to pipe down.

    Clint made a film he had every right to make.

    If you're upset that it's not a peace film or an anti-war film, then you're going to have to accept your own blame because as I remember it, we stood alone in defending Kimberly (yes, I know her, I would have defended her regardless and she made a solid film in Stop-Loss which will have more impact long after the Max Blumenthals are gone -- are thankfully gone).

    Let's move over to the US State Dept which has posted the following by John Allen:


    In early June of this year, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters poured down the Tigris Valley. Multiple cities fell. The northern approaches to Baghdad were exposed to ISIL. Iraq was under siege, poorly governed and alone in the world.
    Six months later, and less than three months since the President called for an international effort against ISIL and I was appointed special envoy to the global coalition to counter ISIL, 60 nations met in Brussels on December 3, 2014, to demonstrate their shared commitment to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. It is an expression of the threat ISIL poses to global security that so many partners came together so quickly to confront this emergency. It is also a powerful testament to the importance of American leadership. No other nation could bring together such a diverse coalition to tackle a challenge this complex like the United States.
    At this first ministerial-level meeting in Brussels, the Iraqi government also demonstrated its commitment to becoming a more proactive partner in the fight against ISIL. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi updated the coalition on the unity government's efforts to take important steps to benefit all Iraqis, including efforts to implement significant judicial sector reforms, and to root out decay and corruption in Iraq's security apparatus. Indeed, in recent weeks, Abadi removed two dozen generals and publicly disclosed the results of a government-sponsored investigation revealing thousands of ghost soldiers on the Iraqi military's rolls. And just days before we met in Brussels, Baghdad signed a critical oil deal with the Kurds on revenue management and oil exports.
    Iraq's continued progress toward reform and inclusiveness will be imperative to the coalition's success. There was recognition in Brussels, however, that ISIL is not solely an Iraqi problem. Nor is it solely a Syrian problem. ISIL is an international problem and demands a sustained international response.
    Under U.S. leadership, the coalition is responding to the global threat posed by ISIL with a coordinated global effort. So far, eight coalition partners are taking part in airstrikes over Iraq. Six nations are participating in strikes in Syria. As of early December, there have been more than 1,200 strikes against ISIL targets. And each time we have coordinated coalition air support with Iraqi forces on the ground, ISIL's momentum has been halted and it is now constantly looking over its shoulder for the next attack.
    While the immediate focus remains to degrade and defeat ISIL in Iraq, we and coalition partners will continue to strike at ISIL in Syria to deny them safe haven and to disrupt their ability to project power. We are having an impact in Syria; we have struck at ISIL's command-and-control nodes, supply lines, fighters and leaders, and military and economic infrastructure and resources in Syria. We have also debilitated ISIL's oil producing, processing and transportation infrastructure. This is critical given that the smuggling and sale of oil provides ISIL with as much as $1 million per day.
    Of course, we cannot hope to defeat ISIL through military action alone. Coalition partners are now in leading roles to stop the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, to limit ISIL's financing, and to defeat ISIL where it can do incredible harm: in the virtual space and marketplace of ideas. Nations as diverse as Morocco, Germany, and Kuwait have helped to steer these efforts. And when millions of men, women and children have been displaced by ISIL's barbarism, dozens of nations have stepped up to make significant humanitarian contributions, and will continue to need to do so, in order for the region to regain stability and for innocent civilians affected by conflict to regain hope for the future.
    Across each of these lines of effort, the coalition's ultimate success against ISIL will depend on our commitment, our creativity and our coordination. We also cannot truly defeat ISIL for the long-term if we do not use this unique moment in history to take action as a community of nations to address the underlying political, economic and social issues that have allowed ISIL's toxic and destructive ideology to flourish.
    This is an ambitious task and generational work. But we take on this challenge with a growing and diverse coalition of partners. If we can remain united in this common effort both to defeat ISIL and to lay the foundations for a more stable Middle East, we will have left a legacy that is far more powerful than the defeat of one intolerant and nihilistic group of terrorists. We will have laid the foundation for a world that is more tolerant, more secure and more prosperous. 


    First off, John Allen is actually General John Allen and I'm confused as to why "General" was left out of the byline the State Dept gave to the article (they do note the title in their end note).  And "special envoy"?

    Where's the State Dept's special envoy?

    Forget the general because he's not part of the State Dept and his column really should have appeared at DoD but Secretary of State John Kerry continues to mistake himself for Secretary of Defense.

    Silly me, when we advocated for him for this post, I thought he actually wanted it.

    I didn't think he'd be Ann Wright (who Barack should have nominated for Secretary of State in January of 2009) or anyone that would really fight for peace, but I did think he'd provide some dignity for the diplomatic corps.  And he's not been a total failure -- for example, Hillary had no oversight her entire four years as Secretary of State -- a point those who want to stop her apparent presidential bid should be making loudly right now.  She went through the entire four years without a State Dept Inspector General.  She didn't want one.  She didn't want oversight.  She thought she was above the American people she served.  There's your talking point to rally against her.  By contrast, John committed to Congress that he would have an inspector general and, within a few months, he did.

    But John Kerry needs to stop acting like he's Secretary of Defense (or, worse, Alexander Haig) and start acting like a Secretary of State.

    And the State Dept needs to stop promoting the military and start promoting diplomacy.

    General Allen has participated in many meet-ups on the Islamic State and each conference has gotten press attention.  But when it's diplomatic efforts, why isn't the State Dept promoting those efforts?  That includes stressing them in press briefings before the conferences take place.


    Let's turn now to religious minorities.  No, not the Yazidis.  They're all over -- didn't we love the photo with Samantha Power? surprised they didn't do a selfie.  Now that they have the right-wing p.r. firm (paid for by US war hawks), they're all over the place.  Still they whine that the Palestinians get more attention.

    Nazwat Shamdeen (Niqash) reports:

    As one activist from the Iraqi ethnic minority, the Shabak, says, all of the other segments of society attacked by the extremist Islamic State group have had attention and aid. However the Shabaks, who have lost all their land and who have been targeted by extremists in northern Iraq for over a decade, complain nobody seems to care about them.



    “We are the forgotten victims of the extremists,” says Mohammed Abbas, a political activist and member of Iraq’s Shabak ethnic minority. “All the parts of Iraqi society that have been attacked by extremists from the Islamic State group have gotten a lot of media attention. Except us,” he complains.


    Abbas says that almost all of the land belonging to the Shabaks is now gone. “Even the Yazidis still have the Shikhan district, north of Mosul, which remained untouched by the Islamic State and the Christians still have the city of Qosh. Both those areas are under the control of the Iraqi Kurdish military. But we don’t even have any land anywhere to bury our dead anymore,” Abbas concluded wearily. 



    Previously there were an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 members of the Shabak ethnicity in the northern province of Ninawa where the Islamic State, or IS, group has wreaked so much havoc. The Shabak, who mostly lived in about 50 towns and villages in a crescent slung over the Ninawa Plain, are often Muslim and mostly Shiite Muslim. There are also some Sunni Muslim Shabaks too. Some consider themselves closer in ethnicity to Iraq’s Kurds while others consider themselves to be more aligned with Iraq’s Arabs.


    Even the Iraqi Christians have taken a back seat to the Yazidis.  In fact, not even the annual attention -- limited attention -- Iraqi Christians receive from the press at Christmas matched the non-stop Yazidi coverage.  But again, they've now got a p.r. firm and they've got representative paid to travel to the US, Canada and England to advocate for war.

    Trudy Rubin (syndicated columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer) has long covered Iraq and she focuses on Iraqi Christians in her latest column which includes this:



    The number of Chaldeans (whose church dates to the early Christian era), and of members of other ancient Iraqi Christian sects, has plummeted in recent years amid repeated attacks by Shiite and Sunni Islamists. But the most terrible blow came this year, when Islamic State terrorists sent 200,000 Christians fleeing from their historical heartland in northern Iraq, including the city of Mosul, leaving it empty of Christians for the first time in 1,600 years.
    "As I speak, the process of the eradication of Christians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East continues," the Detroit-based Chaldean Bishop Francis Kalabat told a Senate hearing this month. Ten years ago, he said, there were more than 350 churches in Iraq, but today there are fewer than 40. Many were bombed and destroyed, especially in the historically Christian villages of the north. Community leaders estimate that the Christian population has dropped from more than a million to fewer than 400,000, many of them internal refugees.

    "The United States has a unique role and obligation in this conflict," Kalabat added in a stunning indictment, " ... because the plight of Christians in Iraq today is a direct result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003."



    There will be a snapshot tomorrow.  It will probably be very brief.  After it goes up, our year in review content will start going up.












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