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WATCH: Broncos’ Pat Surtain II intercepts Chargers’ Justin Herbert in the end zone

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WATCH: Broncos’ Pat Surtain II intercepts Chargers’ Justin Herbert in the end zone

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‘Flee’s stark animation matches grim tale of peril, struggle

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‘Flee’s stark animation matches grim tale of peril, struggle

MOVIE REVIEW

“FLEE”

Rated PG. At Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Grade: B+

“Flee,” an animated documentary directed and co-written by Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen, tells the harrowing true story of Amin Nawabi, a gay Afghan man who as a boy escaped from the mujahedeen with his family in the 1980s. The story of Amin’s journey from Kabul to Copenhagen rivals such fictional childhood escape tales as “The Painted Bird.” “Flee,” of course, also resembles Ari Folman’s great 2006 Academy Award-nominated “Waltz with Bashir.”

“Flee,” which was produced by Riz Ahmed and Nicolas Coster-Waldau, begins with the adult Amin, engaged to be married to his partner and very successful professionally, telling his therapist the story of his life, how he was a “different” boy, who would play in his sisters’ dresses and how there is no word for homosexual in Dari, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan (the other is Pashto).

After the spent and demoralized Russians withdraw from Afghanistan, the mujahedeen seeks revenge against many fellow Afghans, and Amin’s father is taken and disappeared. Amin, his mother, his two sisters and his beloved older brother Saif escape the country with the aid of greedy and sadistic traffickers. Eventually, after great suffering, they end up in a Moscow apartment, hiding from the greedy and sadistic cops and trying with the help of an older brother to get to Sweden. The story is almost relentlessly bleak with the exception of Amin’s crush on Jean-Claude Van Damme especially as the action film star appeared in “Kickboxer” (“1989) and “Bloodsport” (1988).

“Flee” looks like rotoscoped animation. The drawing is rudimentary. Visually, it cannot compare to such 2021 animated releases as “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and “Luca.” But because of its dire, real world content, it has an edge in some people’s minds over the — shall we say? — happier films. I guess there is a point to that reasoning. But for the most part I do not believe that the miserabalist tone of “Flee” makes it instantly superior to films that dare to be fun, antic and droll.

Certainly, Amin has led a remarkable life. In one scene, we see him (Nawabi voices himself ) and his family watching Mexican soap operas to pass the time in their Moscow hideout. It’s Kafka-esque. Later, the adult Amin translates some old journal entries written in Dari into Danish. Imagining what he went through as a traumatically dislocated boy to learn Danish and attend school there is a tribute to human resilience. When Amin has troubling thoughts and is at his lowest ebb, director Rasmussen shows us ghostly figures on the screen. He also enlists archival, live-action footage at times.

“Flee” is no laugh riot to be sure. A-ha’s “Take on Me” plays a crucial role, and the score by Uno Helmersson (“The Painter and the Thief”) is lovely and plaintive. It’s odd that we do not learn the fate of Amin’s mother until we see a caption in the end credits. But “Flee” tells quite a story.

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There’s malice at the palace in opulent ‘King’s Daughter’

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There’s malice at the palace in opulent ‘King’s Daughter’

MOVIE REVIEW

“THE KING’S DAUGHTER”

Rated PG. At Regal Fenway, suburban theaters and VOD.

Grade: B

It’s good to be the king, even if it’s 17th century French King Louis XIV played with joie de vivre, but not very credibly by Irishman and former James Bond Pierce Brosnan. In the cock-eyed, fairy tale-like “The King’s Daughter,” the beautiful heroine is a girl named Marie-Joseph D’Alember (Kaya Scodelario, “Maze Runner: The Death Cure”), who has grown up locked inside a seaside convent, where she has learned to play the cello like a virtuoso and likes to take dips in the sea, even though the mean Abbess (Rachel Griffiths) threatens her with burning her cello.

At about the same time, hunky young sea captain Yves De La Croix (Liam Neeson look-alike Benjamin Walker) has captured a real mermaid for the king, who believes, thanks to his evil court scientist Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber), that the mermaid can give the king eternal life. Unfortunately, this will require cutting out the mermaid’s heart during a solar eclipse. Pardon?

“The King’s Daughter,” which was partly shot on location in Versailles, boasts opulent production values, fabulous costumes, coifs and a first-rate cast. That narration you hear is by Mary Poppins herself, Julie Andrews. That is Chinese star Bingbing Fan, also in the current release “The 355,” as the CG mermaid with magical powers and a baby and male partner back in Atlantis.

The fact that Marie-Joseph is the king’s daughter is a secret for reasons never clearly explained. She becomes the king’s new composer and is inspired by the “song” of the captured sea creature, who is tended by Capt. Yves and lives in a pool beneath Versailles’ fountains and whom Marie-Joseph befriends and with whom she swims. Marie-Joseph and Capt. Yves make a fine-looking couple, on foot and horseback on the grounds.

The king’s confessor Pere La Chaise (William Hurt) is nervous and uncertain about the king’s plans. Are they blasphemy? Marie-Joseph is at first alone at court, where she was summoned. But she makes a new friend in the form of her handmaiden Magali (Scotswoman Crystal Clarke). The Sun King is partial to fruit and wine. He teaches the sylph-like newcomer to court how to dance the minuet. Because the royal coffers are empty, Marie-Joseph is acknowledged by the king and then ordered to marry the super-rich, but vile Duke Lintillac (Ben Lloyd-Hughes).

Director Sean McNamara (“Soul Surfer”) keeps the story ambling along, however predictable it may be. The screenplay by Academy Award-winner Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”), Barry Berman (“Benny & Joon”) and Laura Harrington based on a novel by Vonda N. McIntyre (“Dreamsnake”) is appealingly fanciful and occasionally evocative of the work of the great Alexandre Dumas (yes, there are musketeers). The score by a trio of composers has a decided Disney/pop music vibe. This includes the power ballad over the end credits performed by Australian singer-songwriter Sia.

In the title tole of this middling effort, Scodelario is appealing and convincingly headstrong, and she looks truly fab in her semi-modernized frocks that might have been designed by Cruella herself.

(“The King’s Daughter” contains violence and mature themes.)

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Pozniak: Is CDC Director Walensky failing as a pandemic leader?

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Pozniak:  Is CDC Director Walensky failing as a pandemic leader?

In many ways, Massachusetts resident Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who President Biden selected to lead the Centers for Disease Control, has dropped the ball as a crisis communications leader during the unprecedented COVID pandemic. As a communications professional, let me focus on several major missteps she has made that harmed the credibility of the CDC and the Biden administration.

The Centers for Disease Control, based in Atlanta, is a sub-agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The agency, with more than 12,000 employees, works to protect America from health and safety risks and attacks both foreign and domestic. It is also responsible for effectively communicating health and disease risks to the nation with honest, credible, unambiguous and clear information.

Dr. Walensky has impeccable credentials: a John Hopkins trained physician-scientist with a master’s in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health who served as director of Infectious Disease at the world-famous Massachusetts General Hospital. It is now evident that her academic pedigree and experience running a 50-person hospital department has not prepared her for leading this massive federal bureaucracy and serving as the high profile crisis communicator-in-chief during the COVID public health crisis.

Walensky has been at the center of mixed and misunderstood messaging on the pandemic leading to a level of distrust that is never good during a crisis. As the chief executive officer of the CDC, she has stumbled too many times on a heavily scrutinized stage. CDC officials have had to clarify many of her pronouncements. She has delivered confusing messaging on vaccinations, booster shots, testing, masks and quarantine. As omicron began to hit all 50 states, Walensky embraced a plan to dismantle large parts of the CDC pandemic response team that she later rescinded due to loud opposition from CDC employees.

Walensky has had very little major league communications experience in her position at MGH. Her missteps could have been avoided if she received, soon after her appointment, professional media training by an experienced media coach.

Based on my experience in risk communications during health crises, it is imperative that the chief spokesperson for a health care organization like the CDC be trained to communicate honest, credible and accurate information. It is imperative that the messaging be clearly understood by not only health care professionals and businesses large and small, but by your average American who may only have a high school education.

The messaging by Walensky has often times not been clearly understood. A highly skilled media coach with an extensive track record of successfully training Fortune 100 CEOs during high profile organizational crises is what Dr. Walensky needed to credibly communicate. I state this as someone who has trained and retained media coaches to work with health care CEOs on communicating complex and controversial health care issues.

Another misstep is her lack of a consistent onsite presence at CDC headquarters. Walensky has been spending too much time working remotely from her Massachusetts home. Working remotely might be OK for an insurance or high tech CEO, but not for the CDC director during a historic pandemic. With her employees suffering from low morale and burnout and taking many hits because of confusing COVID and variant guidelines and information, the onsite presence of Walensky is needed more than ever. If hospital CEOs are working onsite during chaos in the hospital delivery system, and Gov. Baker and the mayor of Boston are at their office desks leading a COVID response, the CDC director should do the same.

She needs to be in Atlanta at least 70% of the time, walking the corridors of CDC headquarters to show her besieged employees that she is standing hand in hand with them during this crisis.


Billerica resident Rick Pozniak has spent 40 years as a public relations and communications executive. He now teaches communications at several colleges and at a county house of corrections. The New England Society for Health Care Communications appointed him their COVID public relations expert.

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