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‘The Mauritanian’ is an earnest but uninspired look at one Guantanamo ordeal

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Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
Updated 6:48 AM ET, Fri February 12, 2021

(CNN) — The sobering history of detentions at Guantanamo Bay has already been well documented, yielding a so-so movie last year in “The Report.” “The Mauritanian” thus feels like an earnest but uninspired movie that only marginally advances the ball, assembling a stellar cast in the service of one detainee’s terrible ordeal, while its marquee stars largely take a back seat to Tahar Rahim in the central role.

Rahim plays Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian whose contacts with Al-Qaeda resulted in his arrest in 2002, with the US government fingering him as a major recruiter for the terrorist group. That led to incarceration in Gitmo and subjection to what euphemistically came to be called “harsh interrogation techniques,” otherwise known as torture.
Even a suspected terrorist is entitled to a defense, albeit under unusually intrusive conditions. Enter attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), who takes up Slahi’s cause, prosecuted by straight arrow Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch, adopting a good ol’ Southern accent), who had lost a close friend in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”), from a script based on Slahi’s memoir “Guantanamo Diary,” the movie oscillates among those key players, with Foster joined by Shailene Woodley as a young associate assisting her, and Zachary Levi as Couch’s friend who might have information pertinent to Slahi’s trial.
    The most harrowing material focuses on Slahi, snatched from his home when the movie begins, who somehow manages to maintain his sanity in the face of abuses designed to push him to the brink of losing it.
    In perhaps the strongest wrinkle, that includes bonding with an unseen prisoner with whom he chats through a partition, despite uncertainty whether he can be trusted or represents another means of manipulating him.
    There have been many tales about the indomitable nature of the human spirit, and Rahim (who also stars in the upcoming Netflix series “The Serpent”) earns his place on the roster of such roles, as Slahi speaks about how he has “trusted in American justice” — an act of faith called into question by his experience. Yet the film is also the story of attorneys who stood to uphold those hallowed principles as they were bent and broken in the name of combating terrorism.
    As noted, the government’s actions in response to the Sept. 11 attacks have been widely debated and condemned, though “The Mauritanian” has the advantage of coming at them from a very specific angle and with enough distance to provide greater perspective.
    The overall effect, however, is more dutiful than stirring. During a pivotal scene, Hollander and Couch meet to discuss the case, with the defense lawyer asking the fundamental question regarding his expressed certainty about her client’s guilt: “What if you’re wrong?”
      “The Mauritanian” is a bit of a throwback — a solid, old-fashioned piece of entertainment, but not a great movie. But in its objective to present what being wrong meant for our view of “American justice” and democracy, that’s one thing that the film gets very right.
      “The Mauritanian” will premiere Feb. 12 in US theaters. It’s rated R.

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      The third ‘Spider-Man’ film finally has a title

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      By Sandra Gonzalez, CNN
      Updated 6:49 PM ET, Wed February 24, 2021

      (CNN) — Until Wednesday, rumors about the title of the third Spider-Man film have been a web of lies. But the truth has been revealed.

      Tom Holland will swing into theaters in December in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” Sony and Marvel have confirmed.
      The film will be the third installment of the Holland-led franchise that has also included “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
      Director Jon Watts, who directed the first two, returns for this film.
        Earlier this week, cast members Holland, Zendaya and Jacob Batalon presented a series of fake titles (like “Spider-Man: Home Slice” and “Spider-Man: Phone Home”) on social media, drumming up speculation that the official title would soon be revealed.
        The film is set to be released December 17, 2021.

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        DWI charges dropped against Bruce Springsteen, who pleads guilty to just drinking in the park

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        By Evan Simko-Bednarski, CNN
        Updated 12:54 PM ET, Wed February 24, 2021

        (CNN) — Bruce Springsteen pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges he imbibed alcohol at New Jersey’s Sandy Hook National Recreation Area, despite knowing it was prohibited.

        “I had two small shots of Tequila,” Springsteen said in a virtual appearance before New Jersey Federal Court.
        The plea came after federal prosecutors agreed to drop charges that Springsteen was operating a vehicle under the influence and driving recklessly, charges Assistant US Attorney Adam Baker said the government would not be able to prove.
        “The evidence we reviewed indicates that after the defendant’s arrest, he submitted to a breath test at the ranger station, and his BAC reading was .02, which as the court is aware is well under the legal limit of .08,” Baker said.
          Noting that the prohibition on alcoholic drinks at Sandy Hook was two years old, and noting Springsteen’s otherwise clean criminal record, Judge Anthony Mautone sentenced The Boss to pay a $500 fine plus $40 in court fees.
          While Springsteen has often sung about driving “suicide machines” down the New Jersey Turnpike, bragged of having his “carburetor, baby, cleaned and checked — with her lines blown out she’s running like a turbo jet,” and sang of being “sprung from cages on Highway 9 — chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and stepping out over the line,” Mautone remarked on the singer’s clean driving record.
          “I have in front of me the driver’s abstract of this defendant, going all the way back to 1973,” Mautone said. “There’s three violations in the whole abstract. In fact, two of them aren’t even violations and the third one is use of a hand-held cell device. Rarely would you see a driver’s abstract so devoid of any entries as I see before me, Mr. Springsteen.”
          Springsteen was arrested at Gateway National Recreation Area on November 14 and charged with DWI, reckless driving and consuming alcohol in a closed area, according to a spokesperson for the National Park Service.
          That night, a source close to the singer said earlier this month, Springsteen took a shot of alcohol with fans in the park after taking a photo with them. The source added that Springsteen is known to take photographs with fans. “That’s typical Bruce,” the source said.
          One officer said they observed Springsteen “consume a shot of Patron tequila and then get on his motorcycle and start the engine,” according to a probable cause statement obtained by CNN.
          Springsteen told the officer he had consumed two shots of tequila in the previous 20 minutes, according to the probable cause statement.
          “SPRINGSTEEN smelt strongly of alcohol coming off his person and had glassy eyes,” the officer said in the statement, adding he “was visibly swaying back and forth while I observed his eyes.”
            Springsteen, according to the officer, took 45 steps during the “walk and turn” test “instead of the instructed 18.”
            Prior to the screening, the officer said he approached Springsteen and informed him alcohol was prohibited in the park and asked whether Springsteen was leaving, to which “he confirmed he was going to drive out of the park,” the statement said.

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            BTS covers Coldplay and more on MTV Unplugged debut

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            By Chloe Melas, CNN
            Updated 10:15 AM ET, Wed February 24, 2021

            (CNN) — BTS made their debut on MTV’s Unplugged Tuesday night and played some of their greatest hits.

            The international K-pop sensation, which is comprised of Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook, performed “Telepathy” for the first time live, along with “Blue & Grey” during Tuesday night’s broadcast. BTS, which stands for Beyond The Scene, broadcast live from Seoul, South Korea.

            The group recently told CNN that they felt they needed to give their audience new music amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
            “If everything went according to plan, we’d be on tour right now, but the pandemic has changed everything,” Suga said. “So we thought about what we can do, and what we can do best at this point, in this situation. Everyone is going through such a difficult time, so we wanted to cheer them up.”

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            Taylor Swift’s re-recorded ‘Love Story’ is back on top of the charts

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            By Sandra Gonzalez, CNN
            Updated 9:08 PM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

            (CNN) — Taylor Swift’s re-recording of “Love Story” is now a success story.

            “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” debuted at No. 1 on this week’s Hot Country Songs chart, according to Billboard.
            The song is shockingly Swift’s first No. 1 debut on that chart. It is also her 8th career No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart, the last one being 2012’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
            “Love Story” was originally on Swift’s album “Fearless,” which was released in 2008. Swift has been hard at work re-recording that album after losing the rights to her master recordings predating 2019’s “Lover” after they were sold to a company owned by music manager Scooter Braun. (Braun’s company sold them in late 2020.)
              Swift’s re-recording — titled “Fearless (Taylor’s version)” — will be released April 9.

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              Mandy Moore welcomes baby boy with husband Taylor Goldsmith

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              By Marianne Garvey, CNN
              Updated 6:19 PM ET, Tue February 23, 2021

              (CNN) — Mandy Moore has welcomed her first child.

              The “This Is Us” actress took to Instagram on Tuesday to announce that she and her husband Taylor Goldsmith, lead singer of the folk rock band Dawes, are now parents to a baby boy.
              “Gus is here,” Moore captioned a picture of the baby in an adorable blue onesie. “Our sweet boy, August Harrison Goldsmith. He was punctual and arrived right on his due date, much to the delight of his parents. We were prepared to fall in love in all sorts of brand new ways, but it goes beyond anything we could have ever imagined. M + T.”
              In January, Moore told Romper that she had high expectations for her child.
                “I want to raise an intelligent, feminist, loving, compassionate young man, who respects women, and who understands boundaries,” she told the publication.
                  Moore also sang her husband’s praises, saying he was born to be a dad.
                  “I think he’s been suited to be a father pretty much his whole life,” she said. “He’s been gearing up for this. Like in the morning, it’s funny, I’ll reach for my phone and he’ll reach right for whatever baby book he’s reading.”

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