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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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MN Senate Democrats make final push to legalize marijuana

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MN Senate Democrats make final push to legalize marijuana

A late push by Minnesota Senate Democrats to legalize marijuana failed Wednesday, underscoring that recreational pot use is unlikely to be allowed in Minnesota this year.

Marijuana is legal in Minnesota for certain medical purposes.

Wednesday’s effort, which failed in a procedural vote almost entirely along party lines in the Republican-controlled Senate, can be viewed through the lens of election-year politics.

Two cannabis-legalization parties are active in Minnesota, and Democrats fear that candidates from those parties can peel off some of their voters who feel strongly about marijuana. Wednesday’s maneuver by Senate Democrats, while doomed, can serve as DFLers laying down a marker that they are united in their support for total legalization.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor-controlled House passed a plan to legalize pot last year, with some Republicans voting in favor of it, and Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has said he would sign it if it were to reach his desk.

However, support among Republicans in the Senate has never been strong, and many are stridently opposed. Some Senate Republicans have been amenable to “decriminalization” plans that would lessen penalties for pot and expunge records of those convicted for minor possession. Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, the Republican-endorsed candidate for Governor this year, supports such expungement.

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Melisa Lopez Franzen called such measures “piecemeal” and said they wouldn’t suffice.

Wednesday’s vote in the Senate wasn’t actually on the merits of legalization, but on whether the proposal should be brought to the Senate floor. Every DFLer who voted on the measure voted in favor of that idea, while every Republican who voted cast their vote against it. Two retiring independents, Sens. Tom Bakk of Cook and David Tomassoni of Chisholm, split their votes, with Bakk opposing and Thomassoni supporting.

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Tartan High senior chosen as ThreeSixty scholar for four-year scholarship to St. Thomas

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Tartan High senior chosen as ThreeSixty scholar for four-year scholarship to St. Thomas

Gwynnevere Vang, a senior at Tartan High School in Oakdale, has been chosen as the ThreeSixty Journalism Scholar and will attend the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul on a four-year, full-tuition scholarship.

The honor is awarded each year to one student enrolled in the nonprofit high school journalism program, which draws participants from across the metro area. There are currently four ThreeSixty Journalism Scholars enrolled at St. Thomas.

Housed at St. Thomas since 2001, ThreeSixty Journalism launched at the University of Minnesota in 1971 as the Urban Journalism Workshop, providing basic journalism training to Minnesota high school students, particularly low-income teens and teens of color. The program was part of a nationwide effort to increase the presence of people of color in newsrooms in order to better reflect and serve increasingly diverse communities. The Pioneer Press and Star Tribune are active partners.

Vang, in a written statement, said her career goal is to travel the country — if not the world — telling stories about the earth’s natural beauty and environmental movements. She joined ThreeSixty in summer 2020 and remained active with the program during the school year, completing a TV Broadcast Camp and high school journalism classes while contributing to her school’s online newspaper, the Plaid Press.

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Amber Heard’s sister, friend back her assault claims against Johnny Depp

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Raquel Pennington testifies in a previously recorded video deposition, as a picture of actor Amber Heard is seen on screen in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Wednesday, May 18, 2022.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Amber Heard’s sister testified Wednesday that she found herself in the middle of fights — literally and figuratively — between her sister and Johnny Depp during their troubled relationship.

Whitney Heard Henriquez is the first witness to testify at the five-week civil trial to say she personally witnessed Depp hitting Heard. Depp has testified he never struck Heard.

Henriquez testified the fight occurred in March 2015 — a month after Depp and Heard’s wedding — when Heard found evidence that Depp had already had an extramarital affair.

Henriquez recounted that an inebriated Depp blamed Heard for forcing him into the extramarital encounter.

At one point, she said, she was caught between Depp and Heard as he charged up a staircase to confront Heard. Henriquez said she was struck in the back, and Heard became enraged and “landed one” on Depp, with Henriquez stuck between the two.

One of Depp’s bodyguards intervened and broke up the fight but “by that time Johnny had already grabbed Amber by the hair with one hand and was whacking her repeatedly in the face with the other,” Henriquez said.

It was the only time, Henriquez said, that she personally witnessed a physical assault. But she said she saw the aftermath of other fights, including bruises on Heard.

She said she had the nickname “marriage counselor” for her frequent efforts to mediate arguments between Heard and Depp.

“Clearly not very well,” she said of her mediation efforts.

But she acknowledged on cross-examination that she sided with Depp at times in their disputes, and said she worked to keep the couple together even after she watched her sister be physically assaulted.

“If my sister said that she still wanted to be with Johnny and if I could help with that in any way I was going to support her. I was going to be there for her,” she said.

Henriquez admitted that once, she even joked in a text message that Depp should hit Heard, but she said she didn’t really understand what her sister was going through at the time.

Henriquez also told a story about Depp’s behavior at Heard’s 30th birthday party in April 2016, one of the final fights between the couple. She said people took turns sharing favorite memories of Heard. Depp, who arrived late and intoxicated to the party, decided to tell a story about when he first met Heard as she auditioned for a movie and “she sat on the couch and her perfect (posterior) left the perfect imprint on the couch.”

“We were all kind of embarrassed,” Henriquez said.

Depp is suing Heard for libel in Virginia’s Fairfax County Circuit Court over a 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” His lawyers say he was defamed by the article even though it never mentioned his name.

Also Wednesday, a friend of Heard testified she saw the bruises and cuts left in the aftermath of multiple incidents of abuse inflicted by Depp.

In a recorded deposition played for jurors, Raquel Pennington said she never personally witnessed Depp strike Heard. But she said she saw the injuries, and she took photos of Heard’s face in December 2015 after a fight in which Heard says Depp head-butted her and perhaps broke her nose.

The photo shows a swollen nose, a cut lip, and two moderately black eyes on Heard’s face.

She also took a photo of strands of hair that she said were ripped from Heard’s scalp.

Heard “often had to cover bruises and injuries on her face” with makeup, said Pennington, one of many witnesses whose testimony was previously recorded.

Pennington said she doesn’t really consider herself a current friend of Heard, and that the two grew apart in the last year.

The December 2015 fight is one of several disputed incidents. While jurors have seen the photos taken by Pennington documenting the injuries, they have also seen video of Heard’s appearance on a late-night talk show the next day in which those injuries aren’t visible.

Heard has said the injuries were just covered by makeup.

Raquel Pennington testifies in a previously recorded video deposition, as a picture of actor Amber Heard is seen on screen in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP)

Pennington’s testimony came after Heard wrapped up her time on the witness stand Tuesday, including two grueling days of cross-examination in which Depp’s lawyers questioned Heard about the truthfulness of her allegations of physical and sexual abuse.

Pennington’s testimony provides corroborating evidence to several of the alleged assaults. In addition to the December 2015 incident, Pennington said she saw cuts on Heard’s feet when she returned from a trip to Australia in March 2015. Heard testified that Depp sexually assaulted Heard with a liquor bottle on that trip and that she cut her feet on broken glass from the attack.

And Pennington, who lived for a time in a suite of penthouses along with Depp and Heard, said she was the first person to see Heard during a final fight between the couple in May 2016 that precipitated the couple’s divorce.

Pennington said she interjected herself between the two and Depp knocked her hands away. She said she then covered Heard with her own body on the floor as Depp screamed at Heard to get up. She said she later saw Depp wielding a wine bottle to smash and knock things off the walls and counters.

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