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Norman Lear goes to Kennedy Center, Pentagon Papers go to the movies



At the movies

“The Greatest Showman,” a musical that tells the story of P.T. Barnum, opened on Dec. 20. The 19th-century popular entertainment entrepreneur is played by Hugh Jackman.

The film’s 10 songs were written by the team of Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, both 32 and on a hot streak. Their show “Dear Evan Hansen” swept this year’s Tony musical categories. They also won the best song Oscar. Three “Showman” songs were released in October and one, “This Is Me,” is turning into a big hit. It’s been nominated for the Golden Globe for best original song.

A bunch of other films open on Friday, Dec. 22, including “The Post,” a historical drama about the role of the Washington Post in publishing the Pentagon Papers, secret government reports on the Vietnam War, in 1971. Meryl Streep stars as publisher Katharine Graham (Graham’s father was Jewish, but she was raised in her mother’s Christian faith). Tom Hanks plays Post editor Ben Bradlee. Appearing in big supporting roles are Alison Brie, 34, as Lally, Graham’s journalist daughter; David Cross, 53, as top Post editorial writer Phil Geyelin; and Michael Stuhlbarg, 49, as Abe Rosenthal (1922-2006), top editor of the New York Times.

Daniel Ellsberg (played by Matthew Rhys) was the military expert who gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and portions to the Washington Post. It’s often assumed that Ellsberg, now 86, is Jewish. His parents were born Jewish but became Christian Scientists, and Ellsberg was raised in that faith.

The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, 71, and co-written by Josh Singer, 44 (co-winner of the screenplay Oscar for “Spotlight”).  Spielberg and Singer just received Golden Globe nominations for “The Post” (director and screenwriter, respectively).

A different kind of film, “Bright,” is a fantasy-action movie that posits a world where mythical creatures (elves, etc.) really exist. Capsule plot: Human LAPD officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is paired with Orc Deputy Nick Jacoby (Joel Edgerton). “Orcs” are troll-like beings. The pair finds an ancient magic wand with incredible power. Ike Barinholtz, 40, plays another human cop. The original screenplay is by Max Landis, 32, the son of director John Landis, 67 (“Blues Brothers,” “Animal House”) and John’s wife of 37 years, top costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, 65.

“Father Figures” focuses on fraternal twin brothers (Owen Wilson, Ed Helms) whose eccentric mother (Glenn Close) raised them to believe their father died when they were young. When they discover this is a lie, they set out to find their father and learn much about their mother. The supporting cast includes Oscar-nominee June Squibb, 87, and Harry Shearer, 73. This film marks the directing debut of Lawrence Sher, 47. He’s long been one of the best comedy film cinematographers around (“The Hangover” and many others).

“Pitch Perfect 3” follows the new adventures of the Bellas, a female a cappella singing group. Now all college grads, they reunite for an overseas USO tour. Hailee Steinfeld, 21, returns as singer Emily Junk. The “singing guys” aren’t in this sequel, so we won’t see 2016 Tony Award winner Ben Platt, 24, romancing Emily again.

Kennedy Center Honors

The Kennedy Center Honors, for lifetime achievement in the arts, were presented on Dec. 3 and CBS will broadcast the gala awards ceremony at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 26. The honorees are dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, singer Gloria Estefan, hip-hop artist LL Cool J, musician-singer Lionel Richie and legendary TV writer-producer Norman Lear, 95 (creator of “All in the Family” and many more hit series). Here’s one little-known footnote: Lear is probably the last World War II vet the center will honor. He flew 52 missions as a gunner and radio operator on a bomber plane and was highly decorated.

Fun without the gelt

Listen, a Jew has to make a living, and if most Americans are toy-buying crazy in December, well why not try and sell them a toy? This year’s hottest-selling toy was invented by a Jew. L.O.L Big Surprise! is a group of toys that come packed in a ball-like package and kids really have to work to get all the toys out. The concept is based on popular YouTube videos of kids opening presents. L.O.L. has been advertised only on YouTube. The inventor, Isaac Larian, 63, a Persian Jew, came to this country in 1971 virtually broke. The Power Ranger figures and Bratz dolls have made him a billionaire.

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Pakistan round-up: Rs 40bn irregularities in Imran’s Covid package, & more



Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities have crossed Rs 50.5 trillion, an addition of Rs 20.7 trillion under the current government alone.

In June 2018, every Pakistani owed Rs 144,000, which increased to Rs 235,000 by September 2021, an additional burden of Rs 91,000 or 63% during PTI’s tenure.

The State Bank of Pakistan released the debt figures till September 2021, a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan described the increasing debt as a “national security issue”.

Pakistan will soon get $3 billion as loan from Saudi Arabia as the cabinet has approved an agreement to keep the amount in the country’s central bank.

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Tensions run high as Swiss vote on Covid vaccine certificate law | Switzerland



People in Switzerland are voting on a Covid vaccine certificate law, after a campaign characterised by unprecedented levels of hostility in a country renowned for its culture of compromise.

As in much of Europe, Switzerland has seen growing anger over restrictions aimed at reining in the pandemic, and pressure to get vaccinated.

But in a country where there are referendums every few months in a climate of civility and measured debate, the soaring tensions around the vote have come as a shock. Police increased security around several politicians who have faced a flood of insults and death threats.

The polls close at noon (11am GMT) on Sunday, with the results expected within the following hours as the vast majority vote by mail before polling day.

Voters are deciding whether to approve amendments to the Covid law which, among other things, provide the legal basis for a Covid certificate that says if a person has been vaccinated or has recovered from the virus.

Opponents say the certificate, which has been required since September for access to restaurants and other indoor spaces and activities, is creating an “apartheid” system.

Final opinion polls showed about two-thirds of the voters supported the Covid laws.

Police blocked the square in front of the seat of government and parliament in Bern on Sunday, anticipating protests after the result.

Observers have warned that the vote could exacerbate tensions, and even spark a violent backlash among the anti-vaccine crowd if results do not go in their favour.

During the campaign, fences were erected around the buildings to protect them during anti-vax demonstrations.

They were often led by the “Freiheitstrychler” or “Freedom ringers” – men dressed in white shirts embroidered with edelweiss flowers and with two large cowbells suspended from a yoke resting on their shoulders.

Some of the demonstrations have led to violent clashes with police, who have used rubber bullets and teargas to rein in the crowds.

The referendum comes as the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, first detected in southern Africa and classified as a variant of concern, has rattled countries and markets around the world.

It is the second time in less than six months that the Swiss have been called on to vote on the government’s response to the pandemic. In June, 60% of voters approved prolonging national measures.

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James Austin Johnson is already the best ‘SNL’ Trump [POLL RESULTS]



James Austin Johnson only just joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live” this fall, but he’s already made a big impression. The comedian not only played President Joe Biden in the opening sketch of the season but he’s also portrayed the former president, Donald Trump, to rave reviews. After decades of Trump impersonations on the late-night sketch series, fans have voiced their overwhelming support for the most recent one.

Johnson collected the vast majority of votes in our “best ‘SNL’ Trump” poll results, with a whopping 61% of the vote. The actor has only played him twice on “SNL,” though he has cultivated his impression of Trump for many years through viral videos. In a distant second place, Alec Baldwin collected 22% of the vote. Baldwin played Trump through his turbulent presidency and even won an Emmy for his performance in 2017, with additional nominations in 2018 and 2021.

Darrell Hammond came in third place at 10%, despite playing him for the longest period of time. Phil Hartman, the original Trump impressionist for “SNL,” placed in fourth at 3% of the vote. Johnson, Baldwin, Hammond and Hartman are the best-known Trump portrayers on the show, with all others playing the businessman in an episode or two.

Among that smaller group, Jason Sudeikis received 1% of the vote (though he won our “best ‘SNL’ Biden” poll), followed by Leslie Jones and Vanessa Bayer at 0.5%. Taran Killam, who actually played him in three episodes, and John Cena failed to collect a single vote in the poll.

Considering Trump has left office, it is likely that we will see less of Johnson’s impression on “SNL,” though they have already found a way to integrate him into multiple Judge Jeanine Pirro (Cecily Strong) cold opens.

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