Russia Planning On Targeting Critics In Ukraine To Be Sent To Camps Or Killed, US Reports 

The United States has officially warned the United Nations that it believes Russia has plans to kill a large number of critics, dissidents, and vulnerable populations in Ukraine after an expected invasion. These vulnerable populations are at risk of being sent to camps, or killed. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied the report this week claiming it was “absolute fiction.” Ambassador Bathsheba Nell Crocker, the US representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, recently made a statement in a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Backelet, that backs up the initial US report. 

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We have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation.”

Crocker also said in the letter that the U.S. believes “Russia would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.” 

The document warns of potential large-scale human rights violations and abuses, especially for protestors who will likely be met with unjust force.

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“We also have credible information that Russian forces will likely use lethal measures to disperse peaceful protests or otherwise counter peaceful exercises of perceived resistance from civilian populations.”

The matter was discussed last week after Secretary of State Antony Blinken brought up the issue with the UN Security Council. Additionally, the US raised concerns over Russia’s treatment of vulnerable populations in Ukraine during a debate at the UN Human Rights Council on December 15th. 

The office of France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, made a statement this past weekend in which he discussed how he brokered an agreement in principle that would have President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet to discuss the situation in Ukraine. 

As of right now there are more than 150,000 Russian troops camped out outside Ukraine. Sources close to the White House claim that the potential meeting between presidents has not changed the reality that Russia has plans for an imminent invasion.


Netflix’s “The Witcher” Eclipses “The Mandalorian” as World’s Most Popular TV Show

The recent launch of Disney Plus was accompanied by a live-action TV show based on the Star Wars universe, which soon became one of the most-watched shows in the world, thanks in part to its adorable alien creature fans have nicknamed “Baby Yoda.” But Netflix, undoubtedly the fiercest competitor to Disney’s new streaming service, has years of experience producing TV shows that capture the attention of critics and audiences alike, and has done so yet again with “The Witcher.” According to the data company Parrot Analytics, “The Witcher” has surpassed Disney’s “The Mandalorian” in popularity, drawing 127 million viewers as opposed to “The Mandalorian’s” 115 million viewers for the week of December 22 to 28. Based on a series of fantasy novels by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, “The Witcher” follows a monster hunter named Geralt of Rivia during his adventures in a medieval world. Though critics gave “The Witcher” a lukewarm reception, audiences flocked to the fantasy show, all but ensuring that Netflix will renew the series for several more seasons.

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A number of factors could explain “The Witcher’s” sudden popularity. For one, audiences may be familiar with the world of “The Witcher” not only from the eight novels that inspired it but from the popular video game series of the same name, sparking their curiosity about how Netflix would handle a live-action adaptation. Additionally, the end of “Game of Thrones” left many viewers unsatisfied, and “The Witcher” provides an opportunity for fans of the genre to immerse themselves in a new fantasy world. Netflix has advertised “The Witcher” prominently, and as of this writing a trailer for the show loads immediately after visiting the website. And while Disney Plus has seen tremendous success in its first few months, many more people have Netflix subscriptions than Disney Plus subscriptions, as the former service has been around for more than a decade. All eight episodes of the show’s first season were released on December 20th in keeping with Netflix’s tradition of releasing all episodes of a season at once to facilitate binge-watching. “The Mandalorian’s” first season also had eight episodes, but these episodes were released weekly, with the season finale premiering on December 27th. The success of both shows demonstrates that both release models are viable for attracting large audiences, though most viewers likely prefer Netflix’s approach as it allows for instant gratification.

Despite the show’s popularity, reviewers had a number of complaints about “The Witcher.” Overall, it holds a 59% approval rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, who criticized the show for failing to establish a convincing, believable fantasy environment and for its “boring” characters. Critics also complained that the show is poorly paced and features excessively convoluted storylines, which are particularly hard to follow for people unfamiliar with the books or video games. General audiences were more approving of the show, as “The Witcher” holds a 93% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Given the series’ high production values, engaging action sequences, and the audience’s familiarity with the source material, it is perhaps not surprising that “The Witcher” ended up being a crowd-pleaser. 

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Unlike “The Witcher,” both audiences and critics approved of Disney’s “The Mandalorian,” as viewers around the world fell in love with the show’s infant alien character. On Rotten Tomatoes, “The Mandalorian” has a 94% approval rating among critics and a 93% audience approval rating, indicating near-universal acclaim. Viewers praised “The Mandalorian” for its compelling characters, its engaging action sequences, and its adherence to the style of the Star Wars universe. Considering that “The Mandalorian” was likely the most successful aspect of the launch of Disney Plus, Disney is likely to continue to produce the series for some time. That being said, as a result of “The Witcher’s” early success among audiences and the vast expanse of narrative content available for adaptation, both shows are likely to continue for many years to come. 

Star Wars Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Popular with Audiences, but not Critics

The third entry in the latest Star Wars trilogy just hit theaters, and while the film undeniably did well at the box office, critics felt that it lacked imagination and it prioritized appealing fans over advancing the narrative. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 86% of viewers liked the new Star Wars movie, whereas only 57% of critics gave it a positive review. This stands in contrast with the previous two entries in the series; both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were well received by critics, earning a Tomatometer score of 93% and 91% respectively, though a majority of viewers disliked the second film, which has an audience score of only 43%. For the third movie, director J.J. Abrams set out to address what audiences perceived to be some of the problems with The Last Jedi; apparently, this effort succeeded with audiences but not with critics, suggesting that the movie sacrifices its artistic potential in service of providing audiences with a predictable spectacle.

Even director J.J. Abrams felt that critics’ assessments of the film were fair. During a Q&A session after a screening of the film, he was asked what he thought about critics’ and audiences’ differing perspectives. Abrams said that both critics and audiences were right, suggesting that much of the controversy comes from the differing opinions on what viewers want out of a Star Wars movie. The prolific director explained that during the production of the movie, he knew that many of the decisions he and his team had to make would please some and infuriate others, so he was not too surprised about the movie’s polarized reception. Abrams directed the first and third entries in the trilogy, and Rian Johnson directed the second movie; in the latest installment, Abrams decided to walk back some of the changes and developments that occurred in the second movie, causing much of the controversy that emerged in the wake of the film’s release.

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One aspect of the movie that was universally praised, through, was its presentation. In particular, the special effects were well-received across the board, and critics and fans enjoyed the musical score, which was composed by series veteran John Williams. Much like the The Force Awakens, however, the movie’s writing was considered by many to be too derivative of previous entries and lacking in imagination. 

Writing for NPR, Bob Mondello acknowledged the tremendously difficult task of satisfyingly concluding a story involving the nine films, the first of which was released in 1977, but criticized the director’s approach of doing so by recycling previously-seen story elements in an homage to the series that ultimately led to a predictable outcome. Matthew Rozsa of Salon liked the film overall, but acknowledged that it wouldn’t satisfy everyone, writing that people who disliked The Last Jedi would probably like The Rise of Skywalker, but people who liked The Last Jedi would probably not, though he conceded that “at times the plot does strain under the weight of its responsibilities.” And Brandon Katz of Observer opined that ending the nine-part series “in a universally satisfying conclusion simply isn’t possible,” but that at the very least Abrams gave fans “a swashbuckling adventure film that sparks the kid inside of you as it delivers a series of big movie moments ripe for broad appeal.”

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In many ways, audiences felt differently. Reviews submitted to Rotten Tomatoes were positive, as viewers found the experience entertaining, praising the use of CGI, the exciting light-saber duels, and the music, though some people complained about the plot. Among the 36,000 reviews, a common refrain was praise for all of the movie’s elements except for the plot, which proved controversial; while some viewers enjoyed how well the movie ties up loose ends, others felt that the story was too convoluted, at times nonsensical, and failed to honor story elements established in the previous eight films. Whatever the case may be, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker proves to be an entertaining and fun Star Wars experience, as long as you can overlook some of the more divisive storytelling decisions.