Category Archives: movies

Happy To Let The Terrorists Win This One

God, all of this hand-wringing about “censorship” since Sony Pictures announced it was pulling the release of “The Interview!” Smart people, people I respect, are all decrying the decision, but this is one time where I’m gonna say: y’all asked for it. Who thought a comedy showing the U.S. government assassinating an actual, real head of state in an extremely grotesque and graphic fashion was a good idea? It was poor taste all the way around. Maybe a little self-censorship next time, guys?

This wasn’t satire a la Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “Team America World Police.” It was an ill-conceived and un-funny idea from the get-go. Someone should have stepped in long before now; the fact that they didn’t shows how few grown-ups there are in “young Hollywood.”

I’m no fan of the North Korean regime by any means, but I don’t think murder is funny (hey maybe it’s just me!) and I sure don’t think assassinating leaders of foreign countries is funny (sorry, not even Kim Jong Un). When the United States’ international reputation is getting hammered for the CIA’s use of torture, trying to get yuks out of the North Korean leader’s exploding head is in really poor taste. It would be different if they had used a fictitious leader of a fictitious country, but no. They had to push the envelope. Well, sometimes when you push the envelope, the envelope pushes back. Lesson learned.

There’s a lot of nuance to this story that’s being overlooked: the fears of theater chain owners who didn’t want to scare moviegoers away from the multiplex, for one thing, or the fact that Sony’s Japanese owners are far more impacted by North Korea than is America. But the hubris of Hollywood players claiming the moral high ground and crying “censorship” over a puerile buddy comedy filled with butt jokes that was already getting bad reviews is pretty silly. This ain’t “Citizen Kane,” and I’m not sure it’s the best place to be planting your free speech flag.

Movie studios pull the plug on projects all the damn time. I don’t recall anyone crying “censorship” the last time a movie went straight to video, do you?

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Horrible Movies

Last night we watched “Identity Thief” on DVD, which was a truly horrible movie. That got me thinking of all the horrible movies I’ve seen recently, and trust me: there have been a lot. “Iron Man 3” was pretty horrible. So was “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” I’m pretty sure any movie based on a comic book is going to be horrible these days.

Hollywood: WTF is wrong with you?

So I wonder: what is the best most horrible movie you’ve seen recently?

By horrible I mean a movie that is supposed to be good, but isn’t. Movies with a strong cast or a good director or that even maybe got nominated for some awards for some inexplicable reason. I’m not talking true schlock like Saw IV or Friday the 13th Part 1,072. I’m talking a movie that everyone thought would be good until it all went horribly, horribly wrong.

I think by far the worst movie I’ve ever seen which fits that criteria is “Les Miserables.” Good lord, that was torture. Impossibly long, horribly overwrought, no one in the entire film looked like they’d taken a bath. Everyone looked like they smelled. I like musicals, but I didn’t like any of the songs in this one. And every time I thought we’d reached the end and I could finally go to the bathroom I’d find out nooooo! It’s not over yet! That movie was my Gitmo, it broke me, and when I was finally allowed to leave I crawled out of the theater ready to kiss the ground of the parking lot, amazed that I had survived. And you know, I have only myself to blame: after all, the word “miserable” was in the damn title.

The other horrible movie which runs a close second is “Incredibly Loud And Extremely Close.” I hated that movie so much I wanted to punch it. I could not believe it was nomninated for an Oscar. The little kid in the movie was incredibly annoying and unsympathetic, and I kept wondering, “where the hell is the mother?” And then when you find out at the end — spoiler alert ahead — that mom had been following along the whole time, unseen, clearing his path, softening the ground ahead of him like some kind of Holy Ghost, I just wanted to shout, “No fucking way!” I mean, it just defied credibility. Didn’t she have a job? I felt like that was the laziest, stupidest thing in the world — as if the movie wasn’t testing well and someone decided to tack on this 10 minute explanation at the end to make it seem more believable.

So, what’s your favorite horrible movie?

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OMG It’s Oscar Time, Y’all

I was going to say this is my obligatory Oscar post, but it appears in nearly six years of blogging I’ve neglected to write one.

Ooops, my bad. Ah well, this is my chance to rectify that oversight. Let me first say, there may be some spoilers ahead. So consider yourself warned.

Mr. Beale and I are huge movie buffs. Oscar night is like our Super Bowl. We’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees this year, with the exception of “Les Miserables.” However, we saw that “no one’s ever tried it this way before!” promotional featurette so many times, I feel like I’ve seen the movie. Really!

We kept saying we needed to go, and yet, we just couldn’t manage to do it. We finally realized that we just … weren’t interested. Isn’t that awful? I don’t know why, but we just didn’t want to see it. And I really, really love musicals. I loved “Rent” on the big screen. Whenever we go to New York, which is often, I always make sure a musical is on our theater schedule. In January we saw “Once,” which I loved. So, I don’t know why we just couldn’t drag ourselves to “Les Miserables,” except it just looked like a real downer. But plenty of other movies this year were downers, I mean Jesus, “Amour” is about old people who die. Yikes. So I don’t know why we just didn’t want to go.

For me, the Best Picture is one which transports me to another world, touches me on a deep emotional or spiritual level, makes me think differently about something, and uses all the amazing storytelling devices a film maker has at their disposal to make a larger point about our world. While there are a lot of really good films nominated for Best Picture this year, the only nominee that really stood out as Best Picture for me was “Beasts Of The Southern Wild.” That film was magical, mystical, spiritual, beautiful, and everything else I want in a movie. I loved that movie so much I wanted to hug it. It probably won’t win because it was a small, low-budget independent film made by unknowns, but for my money, it should.

A movie which met all of my Best Picture criteria yet wasn’t nominated was “The Sessions.” It really should have been. If you haven’t seen that movie, by all means go. But bring a box of tissues with you, you’ll need them.

“Life of Pi” surprised me. That is one of my all-time favorite books, ever. I thought I would hate the film for that reason alone, as I just couldn’t imagine it ever being turned into a movie. But I thought it was excellent, really, really excellent.

Something about this film really sticks with me and it has to do with that horrific gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a Delhi bus last December. I had read that the young woman and her male friend were on their way home from seeing “Life of Pi” at the theater when the attack occured. That information just breaks my heart in so many ways. “Life of Pi” is an allegory. It’s about human nature’s struggle with the animal savagery that lives inside us all — the very brutality that this woman and her friend met on that Delhi bus. The very savagery that fills our newspapers every day. It bothers me that every discussion of this film focuses on the amazing special effects. The larger message seems to have been lost, even when a shocking news event like what happened in India points us to it in such a huge way.

By the same token, the larger message of a film like “Silver Linings Playbook” seems to be overplayed for me. Okay, I get that it’s supposed to be about mental illness and all that but, erm, it’s really not. It’s a quirky love story and it really didn’t delve much deeper than that.

I just didn’t like that movie all that much. Maybe it hit too many buttons for me; I just felt like these two characters were way too unstable and way too early in their recovery to make responsible relationship decisions. And there really wasn’t much time devoted to exploring their issues at all. I wanted to tell them both to go to a Zen retreat and meditate for a year or something. (Let me add, Mr. Beale adored “Silver Linings Playbook,” and completely disagrees with me. Duly noted.) I wanted to tell Jennifer Lawrence that any guy with these kinds of anger issues is not a guy you want to date.

I also didn’t love “Lincoln.” I liked it, but didn’t love it. Steven Spielberg’s direction always seems a little too emotionally manipulative to me. I am the only person in the world who hated “E.T.”

“Lincoln” had too many obvious awards-baiting scenes for me. Every time Daniel Day Lewis, or any character really, started a speech, it’s as if there were blaring sirens screaming, “ATTENTION MEMBERS OF THE ACADEMY!” The color palette was all cold, gray, and dour, which gave the whole film a washed-out feel to me. I felt like I was supposed to be uplifted by the film, but I never felt that way. That said, I’ve already made peace with the idea of “Lincoln” raking in the awards this year. It just seems like the kind of film that the Academy adores.

We liked “Argo,” but it was like a thriller movie, not really a Best Picture-caliber film. It was interesting for me, since I well remember the Iran hostage crisis, and it was a little time-trip for me. I’ve heard President Carter say that the real heroes of the Argo story were the Canadians, who were really the ones responsible for getting our six embassy staffers out of Iran. It bothers me that the film took those liberties with the story, as if the story wouldn’t be as powerful if the heroes were Canadians.

“Zero Dark Thirty” was kind of the same way, a gripping thriller and really good film but maybe not Best Picture. Liberals are mad at “Zero Dark Thirty” because it depicts torture as actually being an effective way to get intelligence, and the left’s talking point has always been that torture doesn’t work. That doesn’t really bother me about the film, as it does show that faulty intel was obtained through torture and it shows that there were other tools used to obtain intel that were just as effective. I think the left needs to take a steaming cup of STFU and give Kathryn Bigelow a break.

I thought I would hate “Django Unchained,” because I really hate gratuitous violence in films, which means I am not a Quentin Tarantino fan at all, ever, full stop. I usually want to tell him to grow the fuck up, he’s like a little kid. But honestly, the violence in “Django Unchained” was so over the top and the entire film was so stylized and such a caricature that I was able to handle it. I’m not sure it deserved a Best Picture nomination; I think the Academy voters were more attached to the filmmaking than the film.

And that brings us to “Amour,” which I dragged Mr. Beale to when we were in New York. I saw this film after reading the book “Me Before You,” which also takes up the issue of assisted suicide and disabled people. I really, absolutely hated that book for reasons I won’t go into here, but which dovetailed with my view of “Amour.” I just don’t get the European view of people with disabilities. As someone whose mother was incapacitated by several strokes and so who has kind of been through this, I found myself puzzled by Anne’s desire to die. She really seemed to be in pretty good shape for a stroke patient. Hell, my mom was in worse shape than Anne, and we took her to Las Vegas for her birthday. We packed up her wheelchair and took her to movies and concerts and festivals. We made big outings out of a trip to the grocery store. She went all sorts of places, even though she could barely talk and was fed through a tube in her stomach.

I find the European approach to disabled people, at least as depicted in this film and that book, very backwards. Life doesn’t end because you’re in a wheelchair.

Alright, I’m gonna wrap this up. What was your favorite movie of the year?

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>Gawd Bless America

>Now this is a movie I need to see:

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>Another Stupid Year End List

>I’ve never done this before but folks everywhere are compiling their year-end lists of favorites, so I thought what the hell. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. First item listed is my favorite, others are honorable mentions.

I have to qualify my list by saying a couple things mentioned here were released at the end of 2009 — notably the One EskimO album and the Margaret Atwood book. Both came out in September 2009, but they didn’t cross my radar until 2010 so I’m including them here. They’re just that good and fuckit, it’s my list, dammit.

Anyway, tell me what cool music/movies/books/TV crossed your radar this year. I’m always looking for good recommendations.

Music:

1- Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs, God Willing & The Creek Don’t Rise. If he doesn’t win a Grammy for this I’m gonna cry.

• Pacifika, Supermagique
• One EskimO, One EskimO

Books, Fiction:

1-The Passage, Justin Cronin. OMG clearly the best vampire novel ever written, bar none. Do not pick up this book if you haven’t cleared your schedule because you literally will be unable to put it down.

• The Year Of The Flood, Margaret Atwood
• Freedom, Jonathan Franzen

Nonfiction/Memoir:

It’s purely coincidental that both of my pics are music-related (on my to-read list is the Patti Smith memoir, which won the National Book Award. I’m sure I’ll love that, too). Oh, and if you’re wondering why the number of eff-bombs has escalated on my blog in recent weeks, blame Keith Richards.

1- Composed, Rosanne Cash. Loved this book, despite her infatuation with the word “elegiac.” For anyone wanting gossip about her marriage to Rodney Crowell or other kiss-and-tell subjects, you’re barking up the wrong tree. But if you want to know about how music can move a soul, well, this is the book for you.

Life, Keith Richards

Movies:

This was a tough call because we haven’t seen a few biggies yet: “Black Swan” and “Winter’s Bone,” for example. And I’m trying to think if a movie really astonished me this year, in the same way that “District 9” and “Up In The Air” really moved me last year. I loved the three “The Girl…” movies, but the first one didn’t really make sense without the second, and the third was a throw-away. I didn’t love “Inception,” I thought it was an FX movie without any real story or character development. We tend to see documentaries but I missed a couple of the biggies as well. So my list is definitely incomplete.

1- The Social Network

• 127 Hours
• Exit Through The Gift Shop

Documentaries:

1- Casino Jack & The United States of Money. Damn. To think we went from this to the fucking Tea Party. Amazing.

• Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work

Television:

TV really sucked this year. I was disappointed in “Mad Men,” which seemed to kinda run out of steam. “Boardwalk Empire” was promising but I can’t really say it was the best thing I saw all year. Probably the most interesting new show I saw was Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” which actually gave the contest reality show concept a little class. But really for this category I’ve got nuthin’.

Theater:

1- Time Stands Still. Heartbreaking story about two war correspondents dealing with the horrors of Iraq. Absolutely superbly acted. Will probably get ruined when someone inevitably turns it into a movie.

• American Idiot
• Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Magazines

1- Harper’s, my perennial favorite. If you aren’t reading Harper’s you’re just wasting your time.

• Cook’s Illustrated. I know they’re derided as cooking Nazis but I love the recipes and the information.

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Holy Crap We’re Living In A Tim Robbins Movie

I’m not really sure what prompted John Cole of Balloon Juice to dig through the memory hole and find this trailer for the 1992 Tim Robbins political satire “Bob Roberts” but it has caused me great gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair. Well, not really, but watch it and tell me aren’t looking at the modern-day Tea Party:

Here’s the thing. I remember going to that movie with a girlfriend, and sorta liking it and sorta thinking … “Naaah! Too outrageous! Too crazy!”

Seriously. We both were sort of stunned by it for a second, especially the ending (which I won’t divulge here for any who haven’t seen it), and then brushed it aside as waaaay too unrealistic. I mean, especially the whole Revolutionary War costume stuff, which I recall was extremely hilarious and decidedly over the top. No way in hell anyone would march around in tricorn hats and knee britches outside of Colonial Williamsburg, right?

And oh my God. All it took was 18 years and the Gingrich Revolution and here we are. Holy crap. We’re all living in a Tim Robbins movie!

I decided to do some digging in the memory hole myself and see what folks said about the film back then. Here’s the New York Times’ review:

“BOB ROBERTS,” written and directed by Tim Robbins, who also plays the title role, is a very funny, sometimes prescient satire of American politics, and of the comparatively small, voting portion of the electorate that makes a Bob Roberts phenomenon possible. Recent events haven’t completely overtaken the movie, but they do indicate just how wild a satire must be these days to remain on the cutting edge of the outrageous.

In the person of Mr. Robbins, whose performance is a career-defining achievement, Bob Roberts is a smoothly ingratiating, guitar-playing businessman, a self-made millionaire who wants to be the next United States Senator from Pennsylvania. He’s good-looking, but in the way of a familiar television personality, not of a major movie star. His charisma doesn’t intimidate.

He’s young, healthy and sincere. More important, he appropriates gestures and language associated with 1960’s protest movements and uses them in the cause of his own brand of 1990’s right-wing rabble-rousing. He calls himself a “rebel conservative.” He’s the kind of guy who answers a young fan’s letter by cautioning her not to do crack, adding, “It’s a ghetto drug.”

Welcome to the modern Tea Party. So desperate for some cultural relevance that they’ve appropriated the words, language and actions of the ‘60s protest movement, the most culturally revolutionary movement this nation has produced.

But there’s more:

When Bob strums his guitar and sings such upbeat numbers as “My Land,” “Times Are Changin’ Back” and “Wall Street Rap,” he is selling family values and patriotism and assuring his supporters that, in effect, it’s their duty to “take, make and win by any means,” even if they can’t. Among other things, Bob understands the appeal of an ultra-conservative political and economic policy even to those who have nothing: anticipating the day when they do have it all, they want to make sure they will be able to keep it.

Let me remind everyone that this is the New York Times review. The New York Times talking about the “comparatively small” voting block that votes against their own interests and adheres to these fringe right wing ideas. Eighteen years ago they called the scenario presented in this film a “wild” satire. Heh.

And it’s the same New York Times which, 18 years later, now covers the Tea Party as a serious political movement, not a piece of corporate astroturf political theater starring that same “comparatively small, voting portion of the electorate” who are easily manipulated because they’re scared and the economy sucks. What was once written off as a wild satire is now Very Serious front page news.

So all of this time I’ve been yammering on about how the battle is on the cultural front, and here we have this movie from 18 years ago predicting exactly where we are today, and not a damn thing has changed save one thing: the crazy is now mainstream. What was once satire and cartoonish is now Very Serious political thought. Crazy.

If nothing else, it really illustrates how long we’ve been in this political morass. You young kids, I hate to disillusion you, but consider this an inspiration. Clearly my generation fucked things up and didn’t have the brains or guts to change the political landscape, even though apparently we were given ample warning. So, it’s up to you.

And to the Tea Party I have this to say: apparently, we Hollywood Liberal Elites have been making fun of you guys for nearly 20 years. Suck on that!

And to Tim Robbins and the Weinstein brothers and anyone else involved in this film, I would like to remind you: in two years we have a presidential election. And if you don’t re-release this film on Blu-Ray DVD in a special 20 year Anniversary Edition with commentary and analysis and Tea Party references and all that, then I am personally revoking your Dirty Fucking Hippie Membership in the Hollywood Liberal Elite.

Just sayin’.

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>Evening Schadenfreude

>Word from Hollywood is that the release of the “Red Dawn” remake may be delayed indefinitely:

Contributor Patrick Goldstein says the remake of “Red Dawn,” which was filmed in Detroit last summer and fall, will not be released as expected on Nov. 24 of this year and that there is no alternative release date set.

While Goldstein doesn’t quote any MGM sources, he says that the struggling film company doesn’t have the money to distribute the film.

According to another LA Times story in late May, MGM is $3.7 billion in debt and debt holders are struggling to find ways to salvage the company.

Well, that’s a shame. Freeperati from coast to coast are no doubt conjuring up liberal conspiracy theories as we speak. Then again, seeing as how the film stars Connor Cruise, son of Tom, maybe we can find a way to blame the Scientologists. Or, since the new film paints the Chinese as the invading villains, instead of the Russians, maybe we can blame China.

Have no fear, young Wolverines. The new big-screen version of “Atlas Shrugged” might offer solace.

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>Anyone Got A Sandwich?

>Mr. Beale and I saw “Iron Man” this weekend. Two thoughts:

1- This is not a kid’s movie! I don’t know what age is considered the appropriate audience for a PG-13 rating these days but surely it’s not the 6 and 7-year-olds that sat in back of us.

2- Are we a demoralized country or what?

“Iron Man” is the story of a rich defense contractor who learns rather late in life that his weapons don’t just kill “bad guys.” Tony Stark certainly isn’t the typical movie hero: for someone so blazingly smart he’s awfully stupid about a lot of things. For instance, he seems completely unaware that his weapons can and do fall into the wrong hands. Dude, pick up a newspaper for once, will you? Even worse, he’s blithely clueless about how a major defense contractor like himself fits into America’s foreign policy puzzle. It’s like he’s never heard of the MIC.

So I had a hard time buying Tony Stark as the hero. Certain elements of the whole arms-race issue struck me as pathetically sad, for instance, the scene where Stark tries out his new Iron Man suit and we see it has a special device that magically distinguishes civilians from bad guys. Give me a break, people. War is never this easy or clean, and the line between good guys and bad guys is a hazy one.

In fact, the movie never does resolve its central question, which is: if building bigger and better weapons isn’t the answer to our problems in the Middle East, what is? There’s an obvious answer to that, of course, but I don’t think a movie in which Tony Stark negotiates a peace deal with our enemies in Afghanistan and elsewhere would sell many tickets.

Which brings me back to my second question: Are we a demoralized bunch or what? If you look at Hollywood as a cultural reflection of what’s happening in America, then it’s obvious this nation is desperate for a hero. Hollywood is happy to supply them for us this summer, in all sorts of shapes and sizes (but, sadly, not genders. Where action heroes are concerned, women still need not apply.)

Iron Man started things off, but we have a new Indiana Jones movie, Will Smith as “Hancock,” Prince Caspian, and The Incredible Hulk all headed to movie screens this summer. That’s not including trusty stalwarts like Batman and James Bond, too. Surely one of these superheroes can save us!

It’s easy to see why we’re desperate for a hero. We’ve been let down in a hundred different ways, big and small: Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, and warrantless wiretapping, not to mention sleazy sex scandals and corporate misdeeds. There’s the real estate meltdown and the mortgage crisis which has tattered our economy. All is not well, and it would be so much easier if someone in a Lycra suit could just swoop down and save us from this mess.

The problem is that this is the same thinking that got us into this mess to begin with. Remember, it was a tough-talkin’, swaggerin’ George W. Bush who promised to save us from the embarrassment of a presidential blow job last time around. He spoke all the right Hollywood lines about wanting Osama dead or alive. Remember “bring them on”? If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past seven years it’s that Hollywood one-liners are no substitute for an effective foreign policy.

I know there are people who just want to “kick butt” and get on with it. They’ve got itchy trigger fingers and want to blow all the bad guys away. These are the same people who thought invading Iraq was a great idea, who bought that bullshit about how we’re “bringing democracy to the Middle East.” They are the same people who keep getting “terrorists” confused with “insurgents,” and who don’t know their Sunni from their Shia.

Well, grow up, people. You know, it’s bad enough that we have Congressmen and Supreme Court Justices acting like Jack Bauer is a real person. Story lines like this only feed that lizard brain element of the American psyche.

Here’s the thing: the world is complicated. Our relationship with other nations is complicated. America isn’t always the good guy, either. Things are not as easy as blowing the bad guys away and all our troubles are gone. This stuff is hard, and there are no simple answers.

We can no longer afford to indulge in this national fantasy life. There are no heroes coming to save us. We have to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work ourselves, people. That means educating ourselves about our world and this country’s place in it. That means taking the appropriate actions, not just in the voting booth but with our wallets too, with the choices we make every day. It’s not going to be easy or comfortable, in fact it may hurt. But there’s no other choice. The man in the Lycra suit isn’t going to save us because he doesn’t exist.

Because, you all know what a hero is, don’t you? It’s just a sandwich. Nothing more.

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>Programming Note

>“Ace In The Hole,” the cynical 1951 film about a journalist’s manipulation of a tragedy similar to the Utah mine disaster, will air on TCM this Sunday night at 9:15 pm. I wrote about it here.

I definitely recommend watching it, or setting the TiVo if you can.

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>Ace In The Hole

>Watching CNN’s Kiran “Chit-Chat” Chetry and other MSM outlets cover the Utah mine story in agonizing detail, I’m reminded of the wonderful Billy Wilder film ”Ace In the Hole” (later re-released as “The Big Carnival”), which covers a similar scenario.

First released in 1951, the film stars Kirk Douglas as a manipulative news reporter who prolongs the rescue of a man trapped in a cave so he can milk the story for all it’s worth and return to the big time from his exile in Bumfug, New Mexico. It’s inspired by the true story of a trapped Kentucky caver, whose story earned a Courier-Journal reporter a Pulitzer waaaay back in 1925.

You mean, media manipulation, crooked local officials, sensationalist journalists, and gullible Americans aren’t new issues? People were talking about this stuff back in 1951? Even back in 1925? Be still my cynical heart.

Although the film was nominated for two Oscars, it seems to have disappeared from our film lexicon, rarely surfacing on cable TV. It’s almost as if the big media companies don’t want us to see a film about how Americans are manipulated by big media companies.

Heh.

But just last month the film found its first video distributor. You can now rent it on Netflix, for the first time ever.

I highly recommend that you do.

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