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In a year pandemic-related stay-at-home orders affected millions, a recent Harris Poll survey reported that more Americans now watch streaming services than traditional TV. With 85 percent of U.S. households now subscribed to Netflix, Disney Plus, their rivals, or several, it reveals how this unprecedented year has accelerated trends already in process.

By now, most of the world has been fatigued (if not traumatized) by the pandemic and its related restrictions. As streamers try to capture more viewing time and loyal subscribers, big-budget films formerly planned for theaters have made it to the small screen—including “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max and Pixar’s “Soul” on Disney Plus released this past week.

During New Year’s Eve weekend, much of the nation will face stormy weather while Times Square in New York City is being closed over COVID-19. It looks like another night in. Even if board games or a good book don’t hold interest, no need to re-watch what you’ve already seen. Here are five notable films you may have missed that released this year.

On Netflix

  1. ‘Mosul’ (War/Action, TV-MA, 102 minutes)

After conquering the box office with “Avengers: Endgame,” co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo kept getting asked: what will be your next film? The two brothers turned to war thriller “Mosul,” which premiered in November on Netflix.

As they describe it, the true story has long been a passion project: “The Nineveh SWAT Team combed the streets of their broken city searching for loved ones, spending their blood trying to pry their hometown from the deadly grip of ISIS.”

It’s an unflinching, first-person, shaky-camera dramatic war narrative akin to award-winning film “The Hurt Locker,” except this time Iraqis are not terrorists or helpless refugees. They are the protagonists of “Mosul,” Iraqi men who have spent years fighting ISIS to defend their families. In a story that depicts one front in complex, years-long Mideast conflicts, the Nineveh SWAT Team goes block-by-block to clear their cherished city of hidden enemies.

  1. ‘Enola Holmes’ (Mystery/Dramedy, PG-13, 123 minutes)

Families found the top streaming service a decidedly mixed bag this year, with French documentary “Cuties” creating an uproar and other titles like “The Baby-Sitters Club” revealing conflicts over values. For those who stuck with Netflix for “The Crown,” “The English Game,” or other quality dramas, fast-paced family film “Enola Holmes” offers a smart, classy mystery that follows the first case of Sherlock Holmes’ teenage sister.

It turns out the fictional detective’s sibling is equally good at solving puzzles and detecting the smallest of clues. Like the novel it’s based on, the film takes liberties with the Arthur Conan Doyle stories and casts the pair’s mother as a suffragette organizer. Watch for “Enola Holmes” cast members Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”), Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech“), and Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel”) to reportedly return for several sequels.

On Disney Plus

  1. ‘Clouds’ (Family Drama, PG-13, 123 minutes)

In a year of hard losses for many families, inspirational film “Clouds,” which deals honestly with grief and the will to live, has helped millions of viewers. It recounts the true story of Minnesota teen Zach Sobiech, who takes up songwriting after receiving a terminal diagnosis and sees his songs top the global iTunes charts. His mo ther Laura was closely involved in helping craft this biopic, and their Midwest town has rallied around the family.

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Director Justin Baldoni, a practicing Baháʼí believer, sought to accurately portray the Christian core of the Sobiechs’ story, including miraculous aspects of their journey. “Life is going to be hard,” he told me in an interview. “But, ultimately, all of us have a choice: Can we find hope and light in the darkness? To think, contemplate, and meditate on mortality is to ask ourselves how we want to live and how we want to spend our time.”

  1. ‘Hamilton’ (Musical, PG-13, 160 minutes)

Winner of 11 Tony Awards and even the Pulitzer Prize, unconventional musical “Hamilton” ran for only 18 months at two New York City theaters with its original cast. Considering tickets cost hundreds or (in some cases) thousands of dollars, only a select few Broadway fans ever saw it live, although millions made the cast album a best-seller. Even touring versions sold out.

With theaters shuttered this year, Disney worked with producers to move up the streaming release to July 3. Fans could only quote a song lyric: “How lucky we are to be alive right now.”

This taped Broadway performance of “Hamilton” has been among 2020’s most-watched films. However, some viewers unfamiliar with the hit soundtrack did not immediately connect with the music, driven by a variety of hip-hop styles along with traditional show tunes. Those who delved into the historic events behind “Hamilton,” as well as producers’ reasons for their creative choices (as recounted in a companion documentary), have come to appreciate this musical as a celebration of the American founding.

In Limited Release

  1. ‘Minari’ (Family Drama, PG-13, 115 minutes)

Currently playing in select theaters, this drama that earned top honors at Sundance has significant Oscars buzz. Korean-American director Lee Isaac Chung adapts his life story in “Minari,” named for an edible Korean herb that can grow in any environment. It follows an immigrant family, led by a determined patriarch portrayed by Steven Yeun (“The Walking Dead”), who move to rural Arkansas to start a farm and improve their lives together.

This story of living the American dream avoids clichés with well-rounded family relationships—between father and son, husband and wife, and mother and grandmother. Residents in their rural community stumble over some cross-cultural interactions, but also help the family out during various trials.

Eye-opening and intimate, “Minari” presents a cinematic experience rarely seen in Hollywood, affirming the value of fighting for one’s family. It opens in February in wide release.

Josh Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy for several media outlets including The Stream. His articles have appeared in The Daily Signal, The Christian Post, Boundless, Providence Magazine, and Christian Headlines. A graduate of the University of Colorado, he previously worked on staff at The Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family. Josh and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area.



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Convicted fundraiser who tried to work his way into Biden’s inner circle sentenced to prison

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Amajor Democratic bundler, who raised large sums for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and consorted with Joe Biden, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for what prosecutors said was a “mercenary” political influence scheme.

Imaad Zuberi, a Californian businessman was sentenced Thursday for schemes to funnel foreign money into U.S. political campaigns, then take millions of dollars for himself.

The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. Assistant Attorney Daniel J. O’Brien said Zuberi was “purely a mercenary, funneling money to whomever he believed would do his bidding.”

Among the many unsealed court records, Zuberi was seen photographed with Joe Biden and Barack Obama when they were Vice President and President. He was also pictured with former President Bill Clinton and former presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. He took pictures with former Republican Rep. Paul Ryan when he was speaker of the House as well as the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Also included in the Times report was a hacked email chain released on WikiLeaks. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook messaged colleagues saying, “I’m OK taking the money and dealing with any attacks.” Jennifer Palmieri responded saying, “Take the money!”

He also attended Hillary Clinton’s election night party in New York City in 2016 as well as serving as a co-chair of The Trump Presidential Inauguration Committee.

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Zuberi made more than $950,000 in unlawful donations to the political committees of Obama, Clinton, McCain and others. Zuberi’s activities extended as far as a recent attempt to work his way into the Biden circle, according to Politico.  

In addition to the money he made, Zuberi also raised $270,000 for Hillary Clinton and $1.3 million for President Obama.

Zuberi, 50, pleaded guilty to a “three-count information charging with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)” for making false statements on a FARA filing as well as tax evasion and illegal contributions to political campaigns. He also pleaded guilty in a separate case earlier in June 2020 to a count of obstruction of justice.

“Zuberi turned acting as an unregistered foreign agent into a business enterprise,” Assistant Attorney General for National Secretary John C. Demers said in a Department of Justice news release.

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Cruz responds to pictures of him on Mexico flight, with Texas struggling from deadly winter storm

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Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz confirmed Thursday that he flew earlier this week to Mexico with family members, following the emergence of pictures appearing to show him in an airplane cabin and at a check-in counter, as fellow residents to recover from a deadly winter storm.

Cruz said in a statement that he accompanied his daughters on a flight Wednesday night to Mexico because they had the week off with school canceled.

“Wanting to be a good dad,” said Cruz, who also stated he is returning to Texas on Thursday afternoon.

The storms has been connected to at least seven deaths in Texas and knocked out power to as many as 2.5 million residents. The number of residents without electricity as of Thursday morning was down to less than 1 million, officials said.  

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“My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas,” Cruz also said. “We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm.”

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South Carolina House passes bill that would prohibit most abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected

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The South Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 79-35 to pass legislation that would prohibit most abortions. 

The bill must pass through a procedural vote in the House on Thursday prior to heading to GOP Gov. Henry McMaster who has indicated that he will sign it, according to the Associated Press. Two Republicans voted against the legislation while two Democrats voted for it. The state Senate passed the measure last month. 

The bill requires doctors to carry out an ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat and if a heartbeat is identified an abortion can only be performed in certain circumstances.

The legislation would not penalize a woman for obtaining an unlawful abortion, though the individual responsible for performing the abortion could face consequences.

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The outlet reported that other states have approved similar or even more stringent abortion prohibitions which could be implemented if the Supreme Court throws out the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. All of the other states’ abortion bans are currently entangled by court challenges and if the South Carolina bill is approved it will likely face litigation that prevents it from going into effect, according to the AP.

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