Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the press that even if the anti-Muslim videos Trump retweeted from a right wing racist fringe U.K. group are fake, the threat from Muslims is real, so his actions were justified.

Sanders and Trump have been very aggressive lately in their attacks against CNN and CNNI for claiming they promote fake news around the world. What she just did invalidates their already bogus claims and makes them look even worse.

Let's hope she has a presser today.

To recap, earlier this morning Trump created an international firestorm by retweeting anti-Muslim videos by an extremist, far right nut job named Jayda Fransen, who leads the racist U.K. party called Britain First.

Reporters caught up to Trump's press secretary and asked, "Does it matter if it's a fake video?"

She replied, "I'm not talking about the nature of the video. I think you're focusing on the wrong thing. The threat is real, and that's what the President is talking about."

Huh? Using reports and or videos that you know to be fake is the essence of promoting fake news, Sarah.

She continued, "The need for national security, the need for military spending, and those are very real things and there's nothing fake about that."

Another reporter asked, "But that says the means justify the ends"

She replied, "That's not what I said, you're putting words in my mouth."

Yes, that is what you said.

She reiterated that "the threat is real. The threat needs to be addressed. The threat has to be talked about and that's what the president is doing."

The U.S. has been discussing, addressing and taking action on a consistent basis since 9/11 occurred. Whether we agree with the actions our government has taken these last sixteen years has also been debated constantly.

So why does Trump have the need to promote a disgusting figure like far right nut job Jayda Fransen?

Answer that one, Sarah.

And then she can explain why David Duke is so thrilled by Trump's retweets next.

Our country deserves better than the former leader of the Klan gushing, “That’s why we love” the president. pic.twitter.com/641Yn75ac1


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— Muslim Advocates (@MuslimAdvocates) November 29, 2017

PS. Once again, Donald Trump is showing his bigoted hand on the Muslim ban. You can bet lawyers suing the administration on immigration are saving every single tweet.

#WednesdayWisdom The three Muslim videos @POTUS retweeted today (one of which apparently was not Muslim) are exhibits 101, 102 & 103 in showing the intent behind his Muslim ban is not based on country, but based on religion. That would be illegal.

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) November 29, 2017

The NY Times Maggie Haberman told CNN today that "something is unleashed with [Trump] lately," with regards to his recent off-the-wall behavior.

Maggie told CNN's New Day team, "I don’t know what is causing it. I don’t know how to describe it.

Alisyn Camerota asked if she "sees a difference in the past days, weeks?"

Maggie replied,”I think the last couple of day’s tweets have been -- "

"Unhinged?"

She continued, "Markedly accelerated in terms of seeming a little unmoored.”

Alisyn said, "He's retweeting this wildly inflammatory anti-Muslim tweets, why, why. What's the point?"

Haberman listed a few reasons and said his actions give permission "to people who have ant-Muslim sentiments, to act on them."

Cuomo wondered if anybody is telling him to knock it off.

She replied, "There is this myth - that nobody around him ever tells him no. People are constantly saying ‘don’t do things. He’s also still a grown man. He’s the president. They can’t handcuff him. They can’t break his fingers to keep him from tweeting. They do tell him ‘please don’t do this.’ He does these things anyway.”

Trump has seem more unhinged lately, but in the long run, he's the same man who started his presidential campaign by descending down an escalator to call Mexicans rapists and murderers.

He's always acted like an angry and unhinged 70-year-old Fox News viewer who yells at their TV screen.

He's always taken positions that most right-wing AM talk radio pundits have spewed first. That's why Ann Coulter hoped aboard the Trump train immediately.

That's why he made anti-immigration and building a wall his top priority. And the AM talk show hosts are as unhinged on an hourly basis as he is.

We've been horrified by him since day one. And even if he calms down for a while, that's just the interlude to another crazed rant that has boiled up in the interim.

The fact that journalists are becoming increasingly anxious about his actions of late is understandable. As are the reports from inside the White House that the staff just can't deal with him.

Two new reports from the Washington Post and the New York Times suggest Trump might not be a liar, but is actually truly delusional https://t.co/KuR9XliGBPpic.twitter.com/bLh6xgYetg


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— TheResistance Report (@AntiTrumpReport) November 29, 2017

But he's not "suddenly unhinged." It's just that you guys are noticing it's not getting better as he "settles in" to being president. The question for the MEDIA is:

What took so long?

Hey Morning Joe, it's time to suck up to Peggy Noonan!

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Who loves Peggy Noonan?
[Off Camera]: Unanimous.
SCARBOROUGH: Everybody is raising their hand out there.

And now let's blame both sides for Trump's fail on tax and debt negotiation, and all of political history since the '90's!

SCARBOROUGH: ...So Donald Trump is supposed to be the deal maker. "Elect me; I'll make the deal." And yet yesterday in a situation where he needs Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, because as I've said before, yahoos like me always vote against raising the debt ceiling. There's 20 or 30 in the Republican party that won't. He insults the leaders -- taunts them at a key moment.

PEGGY NOONAN: Taunts them at a key moment.

SCARBOROUGH: And anybody who asks me about Washington. What do you need to know about Washington to succeed there? Know that it is not what it seems and that the minority leader in the Senate is usually the most powerful person in Washington. He taunts Chuck Schumer, he taunts Nancy Pelosi, and now he's put in a position where he may have a government shutdown with Republicans owning all of Washington. All the real estate. What are we to make of this leader at this time?

NOONAN: Well, it struck me yesterday as I watched the extraordinary White House meeting with the two empty chairs representing the Democrats who didn't come to the meeting, I just thought, "Obamacare was not successful."

OH, PEGGY.

Yes, she's talking about Trumpcare. But hold up. She continues, and equates the "pushing through of Obamacare" to Republicans on the tax bill...and the Iraq War? And no one on the set of Morning Joe immediately escorted her from the set for a little detox, because she's sitting there and being paid to do exactly what she's doing--both-sidering Donald Effing Trump.

NOONAN: The Obamacare reform, the tax thing not -- or the tax thing a struggle and we'll see how it goes. President Trump is not good at the art of the political deal. He apparently was good at business deals. He has won an election race, but he's not good at making the deals you've got to make to get big legislation through. It seemed to me from day one with President Trump the obvious play was for the Democrats. Trump himself had a base, but they were ideologically mixed.


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SCARBOROUGH: They would follow him wherever he went.

NOONAN: Originally they were afraid of him. They didn't know his power, they were shocked by his victory. There could have been a real coming together moment there. I think the moment was wasted. I don't think the president understood what the play was. I think he was fooled, frankly, by Republicans in the House and Senate into thinking they were the play, they were the people who together they could do everything. But I don't think among many thoughts, I suppose on this, I don't think we are living in the age where any major piece of legislation will be respected and accepted by the American people unless two parties back it, end of story, and he's not there.

SCARBOROUGH: So let's look back over the past 30 years and look what presidents got right and what presidents got wrong. H.W. Bush. The first Gulf War. He threw his arms around Democrats and Republicans. He threw his arms around -- the whole world.

NOONAN: The whole world. He had Syria -- how many allies did we have in Desert Storm?

SCARBOROUGH: And he understood, he understood that he was open for business. The business of making friends. You can look at Bill Clinton, a guy that drove me crazy at times, but by the end we -- you know, I always joked, people would say what was Bill Clinton like? I said you could impeach him on a Thursday and on Friday he'd ask you to go out golfing and never talk about it. Of course never invite me out golfing but we joked about it on the Hill. For Bill Clinton it was never about what was in his rear-view mirror, it was what vote do I need to win tomorrow. But you look at George W. Bush and Karl Rove.

NOONAN: And he did welfare reform so brilliantly. He allowed the Republicans to drag him kicking and screaming to that bill. He tormented them, getting everything he thought he could get to make it better for his base and together they signed it and laughed and went on. That's how you do it. It's not good that we don't do it that way anymore. I think Mr. Obama gets some responsibility here for how he bullied through Obamacare in the same way.

SCARBOROUGH: [quickly changing the subject?] Again, as we move forward, I wanted to talk about George W. Bush and Iraq. Yes, he had Democratic votes, but it was his way or the highway, and Democrats learned that pretty quickly. So the Iraq War when it went badly was owned by George W. Bush. Barack Obama passed Obamacare, everything, and, yes, you can blame the Republicans just like Donald Trump can blame the Democrats. But anybody that knows Washington knows there's always a deal to be made. I don't care who it is. There's always a Democrat you can pick off, there's always a Republican you can pick off. But here we have the third presidency where sort of the balkanization of American politics. And I think you're right, aren't the American people at a point where they're like 'I want to see both sides together. I want a bipartisan bill.'

NOONAN: They don't respect a big bill unless both sides have a piece of it.

MIKE BARNICLE: This is uniquely different, though, this presidency. I mean this is -- you can say all you want about George W. Bush and Iraq or Barack Obama and Obamacare. This is uniquely different. This is an independent contributor, a solo act. He's always been a solo act. He has no sense of what it is like to be on a team, no sense at all. And it's -- this is frightening. We are at a frightening point in our democracy.

Build that lifeboat, Mike Barnicle! Trump is only still sitting in that White House with the protection of the Republican Congress in order to sign the terrible tax cut for billionaires. THEIR BILL. That will destroy the economy, decimiate Medicare, hurt the poor, and explode the deficit. It's a Republican bill and has been on the Republican wish list for at least two decades.

And Peggy can re-write history on Obamacare passage but we. see. her.

Just watched Joe Scarborough & Peggy Noonan describe how Obama rammed through the ACA. History doesn't comport. The desire to seek balance in reporting = false equivalence. Obama tried to obtain bipartisan support from a party that was openly committed to his failure. pic.twitter.com/lDVOInCuz3

— Leniere (@leniere1976) November 29, 2017

During this morning's 700 Club, Pat Robertson weighed in on Matt Lauer's firing at NBC and said sexual misconduct cases has been happening for a long time, but was upset that terrific guys like Charlie Rose had their careers ruined.

This is how the religious right is defending Roy Moore.

Understand the issue of sexual assault, misconduct or however you want to define each instance and then whine soon after.

He told a story about the old version of the TV show Hawaii 5-0, and how some staffers were expected to give out sexual favors to the guest stars.

Robertson said,“That was standard stuff. Now it’s looked on as shocking but, folks, it’s been happening a long time and nobody said anything about it. Now they’re finally wising up, but I just hate to see some of these men’s careers, I mean, guys like Charlie Rose, these are terrific people and I hate to see it happen.”

What about the women who were harassed, Pat?

His co-host said they didn't know much about Lauer's case yet.

Robertson replied, "These guys don’t have a trial, either. They don’t have the rules of evidence to force these accusers to come forward with the preponderance of evidence is what you get in a trial. You don’t have that now, so these people’s careers are being ruined and we just hope and pray that these women are telling the truth.”

Robertson then brought up Roy Moore. He says he didn't do it and the women claim he did. By making the above statement, Pat is implying that Moore is being wronged like that terrific guy, Charlie Rose.

Robertson's co-host then brought up Harvey Weinstein and said with so many women coming forward "you can't even count them then you know where there's smoke there's fire."

Are they saying only five women came out against Roy Moore and that's not enough to cause a fire? How many accusers does it take?

We do know that Robertson is a virulent Trump supporter and he had 16 women come forward.


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Is that enough to cause a fire?

Apparently not for the Christian leaders that support Trump.

What could possibly go wrong here? It wasn't bad enough that under former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's oversight 29 miners died, or that he tried to buy a judge to get out of any consequences.

It isn't, because we live in the era of Trump, where crooks and liars assume they are entitled to run for office.

Blankenship isn't going to let a pesky conviction for conspiracy get in his way, choosing to file his paperwork to toss his hat in the ring alongside West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins, all of whom are running in the Republican primary.

Blankenship was an early sponsor of the Tea Party (Republican) movement in 2009, spending millions to defend unsafe work environments, deny climate change, and more.

As I wrote back then:

Here's something else about Don Blankenship and Massey Energy Company: Blankenship spent over $1 million dollars along with other US Chamber buddies like Verizon to sponsor last year's Labor Day Tea Party, also known as the "Friends of America Rally." Here's Massey's pitch. Note how he makes it sound like he isn't one of the corporate enemies of America.

The Friends of America Rally featured such notables as Sean Hannity, Ted Nugent, and Hank Williams, Jr., and was graced by Blankenship himself going off on a diatribe that seemed strange at the time, but has come to be commonplace these days. It concerned President Obama, Democrats, and any one who doesn't salute God, coal, and apple pie. Oh, and we're also going to 'steal their jobs,' if Hannity is to be believed.

Yep, he's a deplorable. He ought to be one of Trump's faves.

(Report above via WOWK in Charleston, WV)


The superficial checklist for a Disney animation usually contains an important moral lesson, a wacky animal sidekick, an asexual romance and at least one frantic chase scene. But buried underneath the bright color palette often lies a bittersweet tone and a surprisingly deft examination of grief. In films from Bambi to The Lion King to Frozen to, most notably, Up, slapstick antics have sat alongside impactful stories of loss, adding rich emotional texture to a light canvas and teaching a younger audience about death without employing a heavy hand.

In Coco, the studio’s latest collaboration with Pixar, the dead have never been so present, quite literally. The story follows Miguel, a Mexican boy who aspires to be a musician – yet in his family, all forms of music are banned. The reason for this extreme mandate can be traced back to his great-great-grandmother, who was abandoned by her singer-songwriter husband so he could follow his dreams and then instilled a hatred of music in following generations as a result. When the annual Day of the Dead comes about, Miguel rebels from those around him and inadvertently finds himself trapped on the other side, an exciting yet dangerous world inhabited by those who have crossed over. He must try to find his way back to the living while also proving his musical talents.

If it all sounds a bit ramshackle, well, for a while, it kind of is. As with some of Pixar’s other original films, such as Inside Out and Wall-E, there’s a complex universe to set up, and within the first 15 minutes of Coco, we’re bombarded with exposition. But there’s a trademark slickness that sells it and while recognizable tropes are present, there’s something warm and comforting about their familiarity, and it helps that they play out within such fantastical, fresh-feeling surroundings.

The Land of the Dead is one of Pixar’s most visually ambitious worlds yet – a breathtaking vision of interconnected neon-lit boroughs, based loosely on Guanajuato in central Mexico. Its inhabitants are able to cross over to the world of the living if, on the Day of the Dead, someone chooses to pay tribute to them with a photograph while their existence on the other side collapses once all memory of them fades in the real world. Once the slightly exhausting explanation is out of the way, these rules allow for a poignant through-line about the impact we have on those around us once we’ve passed, based on how we choose to spend our lives. Miguel is torn between a love for his family and a love for music, the former worrying that the latter will tear them apart. Coco asks what form of legacy matters the most and whether our personal ambitions can successfully coexist alongside our commitment to loved ones.

Of course, profound existential questions are delivered in a brightly colored package, alive with wit, action set pieces and, most importantly, music. Unlike a large number of Disney’s animated offerings, Pixar films have done away with original songs but Coco’s plot allows for a prominent smattering of catchy tunes. One in particular, the frequently replayed Remember Me, has the potential to join the stacked pantheon of much-loved Disney songs with sweetly sad lyrics about life and loss.

The border between the living and the dead, which operates in a similar way to a customs department, also brings up unavoidable real-world comparisons. Trump’s attempts to defame and deport Mexican immigrants cast an offscreen shadow over these scenes, but Coco is focused less on specific politics and more on something broader. After Moana and Queen of Katwe last year, it’s the latest chapter in the studio’s drive to bring more diversity to their catalogue and using an exclusively Latino cast (including Gael García Bernal and Benjamin Bratt) in a film that will reach such a wide audience feels like another important step.

While there’s a previously mentioned adherence to the Pixar playbook of predictable plot elements, the script does manage one genuinely surprising twist in the third act. As the final stretch approaches, there’s also the requisite tug at the heartstrings although it’s delivered with such devastating delicacy that even steely viewers will find themselves moist-eyed. Coco is a rousing, affecting, fun and much-needed return to form after underwhelming Finding Nemo and Cars sequels and will help to ensure that Pixar’s legacy remains intact.

  • Coco is released in US cinemas on 22 November and in the UK on 19 January

One of the overriding questions one has while enduring a particularly awful film is, with all of the talented out-of-work film-makers in Hollywood, just how on earth did this get made? Did no one take the time to really read the script? Couldn’t someone spot the signs during production? Didn’t anyone try to burn all available copies of the film before it limped onto the screen? There’s a certain sadistic pleasure in not only watching a “so bad it’s good” movie (a hobby that’s grown in popularity in recent years) but also to explore the tortured story behind the scenes.

It’s especially fascinating when the finished product emerges in total earnest, seemingly produced by a team of people blissfully unaware of the horrors they have inflicted on an audience. Not many films conjure up this playful curiosity quite as much as 2003 oddity The Room. It’s a small-budget drama that developed a cult status for its stilted acting, nonsensical plotting and indefinable central figure Tommy Wiseau. It was released in just one theater in LA, with a two week extension paid for by Wiseau himself to ensure that it qualified for Oscar consideration. The compellingly strange details of its production were turned into a book, The Disaster Artist, which has now made its way to its inevitable resting place: the big screen.

Greg (Dave Franco) is a 19-year-old struggling actor living in San Francisco. He struggles not just because of the impossibly competitive nature of the industry, but also because, well, he’s not that good. In acting class, he’s finding it hard to lose himself in a scene, a problem that is quite notably not shared by boisterous classmate Tommy (James Franco). The pair begin to bond, Greg envious of Tommy’s apparent confidence and Tommy jealous of Greg’s “baby face” looks. Tommy is a frustrating enigma: his age, place of birth and source of income remain a mystery, but his enthusiasm compels Greg to stick with him.

After the pair move to Los Angeles, they both try plotting their individual routes into the industry, but Tommy’s eccentricities and Greg’s stiffness mean that their careers fail to take off. After yet another rejection, they hatch a plan: why not make their own movie? Tommy heads to his typewriter and before long, The Room is ready for production, with Tommy playing the lead and Greg nabbing a major part. But as the cameras start to roll, Greg discovers that he’s underestimated Tommy’s quirks and overestimated his talents.

While it’s not entirely essential to have seen The Room before The Disaster Artist, it does elevate the experience, the script answering longstanding questions hardcore fans have had for years. Franco, who, like Wiseau, also acts as director here, has crafted a loving tribute to the film, its fans and also film-making in general. There’s a tendency to cast aside unfathomably bad movies, the belief that their lack of quality then dictates a lack of respect, but Franco has assembled a painstaking recreation and a detailed exploration into a story that might never have been told.

In the past few years, Franco’s career has turned into something of a joke: his tiresome need to provoke and his unfounded belief that he is a master of all trades means it’s all too easy to forget his talent as an actor. But he is staggeringly good here, almost unrecognizable as Wiseau, nailing his strange mannerisms, unusual voice and awkward laugh while also delving deeper to inhabit a man whose deep-rooted insecurities are messily papered over with bravado. It’s easy to laugh at Wiseau, and the film unavoidably does, but it’s harder to make us actually care about him. It’s an affectionately handled portrait of a difficult man, and we share the frustration and sympathy of other characters. As director, he does solid work, but peppers his film with some bizarrely picked pop culture references. Despite the film being set in the late 90s/early 00s, the music is all from the early 90s and, clumsily, a number of posters in the background of scenes are of films released years after.

As the film starts to cover the meat of the story, the production of The Room itself, it becomes giddy, often hysterically funny entertainment. We follow Greg’s increasing horror as he realizes just what he’s got himself into and there’s a sustained series of ludicrous, crowd-pleasing set-pieces in rapid succession. Franco has also recruited a strong cast of actors for the many small roles in the film, including Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Megan Mullally, Hannibal Buress, Judd Apatow, Bryan Cranston, Zac Efron and Ari Graynor.

But the dazzle of the cast and the targeted in-jokes never take away from the film’s core messaging about the importance of believing in one’s own ability as an artist. Rather like last year’s Florence Foster Jenkins, the finale shows that even a really, unarguably bad performance can bring unabashed joy to a crowd, and with awards buzz already circulating around The Disaster Artist, Wiseau might be heading to the Oscars after all.

  • The Disaster Artist is screening at the Toronto film festival and will be released in US cinemas on 1 December with a UK date yet to be announced

At the beginning of I, Tonya, we’re informed that what we’re about to see is based on a set of “irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true” interviews with disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding and ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. It’s a necessary, playful reminder that despite the far-fetched nature of the events in the film, there’s at least a kernel of truth here. Even star Margot Robbie assumed the script was fictitious on first read, unaware of how Harding’s lurid story gripped most of the western world back in the early 90s.

It also acts as an early indication of tone: we’re not about to see an earnest Lifetime biopic, but instead something a little less rigid and a lot more knowing. The format of the film allows for a mixture of interviews with the main players and a chronological retelling of Harding’s life. As a child, she was an undeniable talent on ice but suffered at the hands of an abusive mother (played here by Allison Janney). When she meets Jeff (Sebastian Stan), he seems to provide an escape from the crushing reality she faces at home. The pair quickly get married but Harding faces more abuse from him and outwardly toughens up even more, a refusal to let her treatment at the hands of others define who she is.

As she journeys further into the competitive world of figure skating, Harding finds herself hampered by the snobbery of those who expect someone a bit more refined to be performing in front of them. Battling against her working class background, hoping to be judged by just her talent alone, her strength soon turns into aggression. It doesn’t help matters that another US skater, the more superficially acceptable Nancy Kerrigan, is progressing at a much faster pace than her.

Working from a Black List script by Steven Rogers (whose credits include far softer material like Hope Floats, Stepmom and PS I Love You), director Craig Gillespie is keen to present Harding’s story in an unconventional manner, which is fitting given that her story is such a wild one. It’s a difficult balance, between truth and exaggerated truth, the darkly comic elements resting alongside the story of a woman who suffered physical violence at the hands of both her mother and husband. It’s also easy to fall into mean-spirited, class-rooted ridicule and while there is a certain amount of fun-poking here, there’s also an affection for Harding at the center, a desire to present her as something other than a tabloid villain.

Harding here is an unlikely underdog trying to succeed in a world where she’s been repeatedly told that she’s not welcome. We side with her on her quest but that doesn’t mean we always like her. She’s abrasive and frustrating, two steps back for every step forward. Much has been made of Robbie’s transformation for the role but in truth it’s never an entirely convincing portrayal. The decision to introduce Robbie as the 15-year-old Harding is clumsily ill-advised and while she’s lively and forceful throughout, the process is always a bit too visible. Instead, the standout here is Janney, who gives a towering, monstrous performance as Harding’s vicious mother, spewing foul-mouthed bile in every possible direction. It’s hardly nuanced work but Janney’s natural comic skills have never been utilized with quite such finesse and we mourn her when she’s off screen.

Given the titular focus on Harding, there’s little characterization elsewhere. This is a broad, frequently cartoonish romp that plays like a less effective mishmash of To Die For and Fargo. The blunt, unashamed crudeness does provide some laughs but the tonal shifts are often uncomfortably handled. Gillespie stages some slick skating scenes but a reliance on hopelessly on-the-nose musical choices (Devil Woman, Every 1’s a Winner etc) and the regrettable decision to break the fourth wall at random moments prove distracting. There’s also a curious absentee in the story: Nancy Kerrigan. We merely see her in fleeting glances and one wonders whether this was a narrative choice or based on legal restrictions. It jars and leaves the film lacking sufficient background to the inarguable main event.

The zippy fun of the first half dissipates once we reach the overly familiar scenes of the second, the focus on the harebrained criminal scheme feeling particularly sub-Coenesque. It’s hardly dull but it’s not quite as biting and sharply realized as it could be given the wealth of stranger-than-fiction drama surrounding Harding.

Unevenly told and patchily performed, there’s still a morbid curiosity that keeps I, Tonya at least diverting. It’s brash and shaggy and while Robbie might not quite stick the landing, Janney’s performance is gold.

  • I, Tonya is screening at the Toronto film festival with a release date yet to be confirmed

This article was amended on 12 September 2017. An earlier version misnamed the director Craig Gillespie as Jim Gillespie.

Guillermo del Toro’s new film is a ravishing 60s-set romance, sweet, sad and sexy. It’s about two lonely hearts who like to meet up during lunch break at work, passing food back and forth and listening to records on a portable turntable. Together, they overcome their impediments and start merrily bounding over all the hurdles in their path – such as the fact that lovelorn Elisa is mute, unable to speak since she was a child. Or that her boyfriend has fins and gills and lives underwater, like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The course of true love was never meant to run smooth.

I confess that I’ve been agnostic about Del Toro in the past – filing the Mexican film-maker away as an ideas man; a director who shoots for the moon only to fall slightly short. But I really liked The Shape of Water, which plays in competition here at Venice. It feels less of a fevered artistic exercise than his other recent work; more seamless and successful in the way it orders its material. Yes, Del Toro’s latest flight of fancy sets out to liberally pastiche the postwar monster movie, doffing its cap to the incident at Roswell and all manner of related cold war paranoia. But it’s warmer and richer than the films that came before. Beneath that glossy, scaly surface is a beating heart.

Sally Hawkins gives a lovely, limber performance as Elisa, the cleaner at a shady Baltimore laboratory, swabbing out the toilets alongside the hard-bitten Zelda (Octavia Spencer). “Some of the best minds in the country,” sniffs Zelda disapprovingly, “and they still pee all over the floor in here.” Then one morning a big metal tank is wheeled into the basement. It contains an exotic amphibian, mute like Elisa and recently fished from a South American river. The creature is dangerous – it devours cats and human fingers. But Elisa is entranced and takes to stealing downstairs whenever she has time to spare, placing hard-boiled eggs on the rim of the tank and waiting for the beast to come and eat his lunch.

The Shape of Water isn’t simply a romance, but a B-movie thriller as well – which naturally means the clandestine meetings can’t last. Prowling the corridors, swinging his nightstick, is Michael Shannon’s Strickland, a brutal government goon who styles himself as the monster’s tormentor-in-chief. “That thing we keep in there is an affront,” he barks at the cleaners. “You know what that means?” So Elisa finds herself embroiled in a three-way tug-of-war. Strickland wants to dissect the beast; the Soviets want to capture it. So Elisa embarks on a fraught rescue mission – aided at various turns by the redoubtable Zelda and her middle-aged, gay best friend (Richard Jenkins), who lives in the apartment next door.

Let’s gloss over the notion that a minimum-wage cleaner would be allowed unfettered access to such a fantastical beast, never mind embark on a scheme that involves spiriting him out, into the midst of Baltimore, concealed inside a linen trolley. Del Toro provides just enough spade-work to keep the scheme plausible and his film is stylish and charming; red meat for the senses with some sugar on top.

Egg-celent adventure... The Shape of Water.
Egg-celent adventure... The Shape of Water. Photograph: AP

Who can say whether these two star-crossed lovers will find their own perfect ending? The odds remain stacked against them, while the motto on the wall calendar strikes a cautionary note. “Life,” it reminds us, “is just the shipwreck of our plans.” But in the meantime here they are, lying low inside a flea-bitten apartment, like Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park. Elisa is happy and horny and very nearly free. She used to begin every working day by masturbating in the bath. She now has an exciting new partner waiting for her in the tub.

  • The Shape of Water was screening at the Venice film festival and is released in cinemas in 2018

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President Donald Trump purportedly stepped away from his business interests for the duration of his term as president, but Vanity Fair‘s Tina Nguyen says that foreign governments are granting favors and greasing the wheels for Trump-branded projects around the world.

Anita Kumar at McClatchy reported that the Indonesian government has chosen to build a new road to shorten the drive between the island chain’s main airport and the new Trump golf resort.

In Panama, the national government directly intervened in a lagging sewer project connected to the new Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. The original contractor tasked with constructing the system went bankrupt, prompting the government to use its own money to construct sewage and water pipes connecting to the resort hotel.

“And in other countries,” Kumar wrote, “governments have donated public land, approved permits and eased environmental regulations for Trump-branded developments, creating a slew of potential conflicts as foreign leaders make investments that can be seen as gifts or attempts to gain access to the American president through his sprawling business empire.”

As Nguyen noted, all of this appears to place Trump squarely in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal officials from accepting gifts or anything that might be constituted as a bribe from foreign governments.

However, she said, “Just weeks after Trump won the election, the Argentinian government suddenly granted a permit for a long-delayed Trump Tower development in Buenos Aires. In September, Trump’s Middle Eastern business partners granted a company partially owned by the Chinese government a contract to build a road to Trump World Golf Club in Dubai, seemingly going against his pledge to not engage in foreign business transactions during his presidency. And, of course, there is the ongoing constitutional crisis that is the Trump International Hotel Washington D.C., which critics claim violates the Emoluments Clause on a regular basis.”

Two lawsuits have been brought against the Trump administration alleging these violations, one of which was dismissed by a judge just before Christmas.

Kumar spoke with Noah Bookbinder of the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who said, “If you have a foreign government providing a benefit to the Trump company that is going to violate emoluments clause of the Constitution.”

The president is reportedly receiving boons to his projects — which he claims he handed over to the management of his sons, Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump — from the governments of Uruguay, India and the Philippines.

Read the full McClatchy report here.

Mormon leader Thomas Monson dies aged 90

Thomas S Monson, who served in top leadership councils for the Mormon church for 50 years and became its president in 2008, has died. He was 90.

Monson was a church bishop at 22 and in 1963 the Salt Lake City native became the youngest church apostle ever, at 36. He was a counselor for three church presidents before assuming leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monson died at his home in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, according to church spokesman Eric Hawkins. The next president was not immediately named, but the job is expected to go to next longest-tenured member of the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M Nelson, 93, per church protocol.

Monson’s presidency was marked by his noticeably low profile during a time of intense publicity, including the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Mormon Mitt Romney. His most public acts were appearances at church conferences and devotionals as well as dedications of church temples.

He will be remembered for continuing the religion’s push to be more transparent about its past; his emphasis on humanitarian work; and lowering the minimum age for missionaries.

He will also be remembered for leading the faith’s involvement in the passage of a gay marriage ban in California in 2008. At his urging, Mormons were vigorous campaign donors and volunteers. That prompted a backlash against the church that included vandalism of church buildings, protest marches and demonstrations outside church temples nationwide.

In subsequent years, the church began utilizing a softer tone on the issue. In 2015, the church backed an anti-discrimination law in Utah that gave unprecedented protections for gay and transgender people while also protecting religious freedoms.

But the religion came under fire again in the fall of 2015 when it banned baptisms for children living with gay parents and instituted a requirement that those children disavow homosexual relationships before being allowed to serve a mission. The changes were designed to avoid putting children in a tug-of-war between their parents and church teachings, leaders said.

Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the dedication of the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009.
Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009. Photograph: George Frey/Reuters

The revisions triggered anger, confusion and sadness for a growing faction of LGBTQ-supportive Mormons who were buoyed in recent years by church leaders’ calls for more love and understanding for LGBTQ members.

Monson also continued the church’s push to be more open about some of the most sensitive aspect of the faith’s history and doctrine. A renovated church history museum reopened in 2015 with an exhibit acknowledging the religion’s early polygamous practices, a year after the church published an essay that for the first time chronicled founder Joseph Smith’s plural wives.

Other church essays issued during Monson’s tenure addressed other sensitive topics: sacred undergarments worn by devout members; a past ban on black men in the lay clergy; and the misconception that Mormons are taught they will get their own planet in the afterlife.

The growth and globalization of the religion continued under Monson, with membership swelling to nearly 15.9 million, with more than half outside the US. There were 71,000 church missionaries serving around the world at the end of 2016.

Mormons considered Monson a warm, caring, endearing and approachable leader, said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California.

He put an emphasis on the humanitarian ethic of Mormons, evidenced by his expansion of the church’s disaster relief programs around the world, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

Monson often credited his mother, Gladys Condie Monson, for fostering his compassion. He said that during his childhood in the Depression of the 1930s their house in Salt Lake City was known to hobos riding the railroads as a place to get a meal and a kind word.

“President Monson always seemed more interested in what we do with our religion rather than in what we believe,” Mauss said.

A second world war veteran, Monson served in the navy and spent a year overseas before returning to get a business degree at the University of Utah and a master’s degree in business administration from the church-owned Brigham Young University.

Before being tabbed to join the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Monson worked for the church’s secular businesses, primarily in advertising, printing and publishing including the Deseret Morning News.

He married Frances Beverly Johnson in 1948. The couple had three children, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Frances died in 2013 at the age of 85.

Monson was an avid fisherman who also raised homing pigeons, specifically, roller pigeons who twirled as they flew. He was known for his love of show tunes, Boy Scouts and the Utah Jazz.

The man expected to take Monson’s seat, the 93-year-old Nelson, has been a church apostle since April 1970. Nelson will choose two new counselors from the Quorum of the Twelve who will join him to form a three-person “presidency” that is the top of the religion’s governing hierarchy. Monson’s two counselors were Henry Eyring and Dieter Uchtdorf. They will go back to being regular members of the Quorum unless they are chosen again.

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How Donald Trump’s war on intelligence is destroying American national security

President Donald Trump’s insecurity over losing the popular vote and the salacious allegations in the Steele Dossier have prompted him to lash out at the intelligence community’s claims that Russia influenced the 2016 election. Now that war against the intelligence community is impacting American national security.

A Wednesday Washington Postreport revealed that the National Security Agency is hemorrhaging staff at an alarming rate. Some of these “highly skilled” staffers have become “disillusioned” with intelligence but the leadership and a reorganization effort under the new administration has sent many to update their resumes.

The work these experts do included monitoring a broad array of subjects including the Islamic State, Russian and North Korean hackers, and analyzing the intentions of foreign governments, and they were responsible for protecting the classified networks that carry such sensitive information. Yet, these staffers saying that they want a higher-paying job in the private sector or more flexible hours.

Since 2015, hundreds of hackers, engineers and data scientists have bailed on the NSA, former officials said. Now it’s reaching a level that national security can be impacted. Of the 17 spy agencies, the NSA is the largest and they’re responsible for collecting the information that goes into the presidential daily briefing that Trump doesn’t understand. Over the first year in office, aides have even been forced to tailor the briefing so it doesn’t include anything about Russian interference in the election so as to not anger Trump.

“Some synonym of the word ‘epidemic’ is the best way to describe it,” said former NSA senior researcher Ellison Anne Williams. She left her job at the NSA in 2016 to start her own data-security firm and took 10 NSA staff with her. “The agency is losing an amazing amount of its strongest technical talent, and to lose your best and brightest staff is a huge hit.”

The agency won’t disclose the number of vacancies over the last year, but it said there is 5.6 percent decrease in staff who specialize in science, technology and math. The NSA isn’t the only place the Trump administration has implemented the right-wing war on science. In Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency, scientists became the enemy. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was told never to say the words “climate change.” Losing the experts means new staff are filling the positions without the experience central to the NSA’s mission collecting huge swaths of data and analyzing it.

Former staff have complained that they felt their mission was marginalized by a restructuring of the agency. Others allege the reorganization was “an enormous distraction.” Some even call the pay structure and promotion program part of the problem. According to former staff, it prioritizes seniority over experience or expertise.

Another former employee alleged that the problems began with former contractor Edward Snowden and the arrest of former contractor Harold T. Martin III in 2016. Accessing data and information became more difficult for those trying to do their jobs. The witch hunt searching for leakers made things worse. An environment with collaboration has turned toward suspicion, a former staffer said.

“It comes down to death by a thousand cuts,” said a former employee, adding that people “tend to quit in packs. One person hits their breaking point, and once they leave, the dominoes start falling.”

NSA spokesman Tommy Groves didn’t discount the reports.

“If the price of security becomes that we drive away the very men and women that generate value in the first place, we now have a self-induced mission kill,” National Security Agency Director Administrator Michael Rogers said in a conference speech.

Trump’s attacks on the 17 intelligence agencies that confirmed the Russian interference couldn’t have made morale any better. After meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump swore that Russia didn’t do it.

“He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters in November. “Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Trump has also waged a war with the FBI, calling it “tainted” and alleging it is part of the “deep state” shadow government.

“It is also a possible obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, and it’s obstructing justice by saying to agents, ‘you better not dig too deep, you better not find anything because I will attack you,'” former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks said to MSNBC.

The only way to maintain staff is to tape into the sense of duty “for God and country,” said former threat operations center chief Daniel Ennis. He thinks the agency will recover, because it always has.