Archive for January, 2009


by Sam Juliano

One of world cinema’s crowning glories, Vittorio DeSica’s seminal neo-realist post-war masterpiece, Bicycle Thieves, was named the greatest film of the movie-rich 1940’s by a comfortable margin, in a polling result announced today by Angelo D’Arminio Jr.  The 1949 film, known in Italian as Ladri di biciclette, chronicles the desparate attempts of a Roman workingman and his young son to locate the stolen bicycle that is so essential to the father in his newly-obtained job as a billposter- a job which is his first of many months, and on which the future livelihood of his family depends.  The naturalistic film records nothing more than this ultimately useless one-day search, but its observations of the relationship between father and son-played by two non-professional actors as is DeSica’s trademark-and its realistic portrait of the poverty-stricken streets, back alleys, brothels and black markets of Rome, have made the film themost famous and identifiable in all of Italian cinema.  The final shot when the man, having himself been driven to steal a bicycle, with his tearful son looking on is apprehended, may well be the most shattering conclusion in movie history.

     D’ Arminio stated that the film held an early lead in the voting and never looked back, as it was named on all but a few ballots of the 28 cast.  Despite the long prominence of the film as an arthouse favorite, the fact that it is in Italian with English subtitles made it’s a prospects for a first-place finish as somewhat of a longshot, especially since the balloting included several voters who resisted including foreign-language cinema on their lists.  But in the end, the serious film lovers carried the day for this emotional powerhouse of a film, one that has unwaveringly affected generations of moviegoers all around the world.

     Bicycle Thieves received 472 points in the weighted ballot system, outdistancing the second-place film, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which garnered 431.  John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath finished third with 407;  the popular Casablanca was fourth with 385, and the beloved It’s A Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra finished fifth with 339.

     Rounding out the Top Ten were: the British The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed with 335; Carl Dreyer’s Danish The Day of Wrath with 303; Japanese master Ozu’s Late Spring with 280; Marcel Carne’s Les Enfants du Paradis with 271, and Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity with 246.

    As with the previous 1930’s poll, which was headed by Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz, the Top 25 films of the decade were presented.  They are:

        1  Bicycle Thieves    (Italy, DeSica  1948 )


        2  Citizen Kane    (USA, Welles   1941)


        3  The Grapes of Wrath    (USA, Ford   1940)


        4  Casablanca     (USA, Curtiz    1942)


        5  It’s A Wonderful Life    (USA, Capra    1946)


        6  The Third Man    (GB,   Reed     1949)

        7  Day of Wrath    (Denmark,   Dreyer   1943)

        8  Late Spring     (Japan,   Ozu   1949)

        9  Les Enfants du Paradis    (France,    Carne    1945)

     10  Double Indemnity    (USA,   Wilder    1944)

     11  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre     (USA,    Huston    1948 )

     12  The Maltese Falcon     (USA,   Huston      1941)

     13  La Belle et la Bete     (France,    Cocteau     1946)

     14  The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp    (GB,   Powell   1943)

     15  How Green Was My Valley      (USA,    Ford    1941)

     16  Out of the Past     (USA,     Tourneur      1947)

     17  Brief Encounter     (GB,    Lean      1945)

     18  Rebecca         (USA,    Hitchcock      1940)

     19  Great Expectations      (GB,    Lean     1946)

     20  Notorious         (USA,    Hitchcock     1946)

     21  The Red Shoes      (GB,    Powell    1948 )

     22  Open City       (Italy,     Rossellini       1945)

     23  Sullivan’s Travels       (USA,    Sturges     1941)

    24  Kind Hearts and Coronets       (GB,    Hamer    1949)

    25  Hamlet      (GB,    Olivier    1948 )


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by Sam Juliano

Frenchman Robert Bresson (1901-1999) is one of the greatest film directors of all-time, yet his output, considering both the advanced age he achieved and his active years was relatively limited.  Meticulous and uncompromising, Bresson was idiosyncratic, disavowing conventional notions of cinema and popular subjects, in favor of personal issues and themes.  Indeed, despite his astonishing range of subject matter, there are perhaps no films more unified or deeply marked by their director’s personality, which in his instance was marked by three major influences: the Catholic church (which manifested itself into the fabric of three of his films: his first Les Anges du Péché, about an order of nuns, his next, Le Journal Un Cure de campagne, which concerned a priest who lost his parishioners and his faith, and Le Procès de Jeanne d’Arc, which dealt with the defining aspect of the heroic religious icon; his early years as a painter, which made their indellible mark on his compositions; and his time as a prisoner-of-war.  Hence, the concurrent themes of free-will vs. determinism, which is integrated into the secular works, the famed austerity that informs his painstaking cinematic canvases, and the various prison motifs and themes, which are fully examined in the two films he shot in prisons.     

Les Anges du Péché (1943) is Bresson’s first feature film, which is a far more conventional film than his later works, as it is talkier and far less reliant on filmic rhetoric, including ‘elliptical editing.’  The film, along with the director’s sophomore effort, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, stands apart from all the subsequent films in that it employs professional actors, who offer more expressive performances than the sullen and seemingly detached (though of course purposeful) amateurs of his later masterpieces.  The use of real actors troubled Bresson, who purportedly cautioned himself against drawing “tears from the public with the tears of your models” instead of what he alluded to as naturalistic settings and characters who are “exactly in their place.”  Still be admitted he was thrilled with the actual performances in the film.      (more…)

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Love on the Dole ****½


by Allan Fish

(UK 1941 100m) DVD2

Down in Hankey Park

p  John Baxter  d  John Baxter  w  Walter Greenwood, Barbara K.Emery, Rollo Gamble  play/novel  Walter Greenwood  ph  James Wilson  ed  Michael C.Chorlton  m  Richard Addinsell  art  R.Holmes Paul

Deborah Kerr (Sally Hardcastle), Geoffrey Hibbert (Harry Hardcastle), Clifford Evans (Larry Meade), George Carney (Henry Hardcastle), Joyce Howard (Helen), Frank Cellier (Sam Grundy), Mary Merrall (Mrs Hardcastle), Maire O’Neill (Nancy Dorbell), Marjorie Rhodes (Mrs Bull), Marie Ault (Alice Jike), Iris Vandeleur (Mrs Nattle), A.Bromley Davenport, Kenneth Griffith, Peter Gawthorne,

I remember where I was when I heard of Deborah Kerr’s death in the autumn of 2007.  I was sat in front of a friend’s PC in Fairview, New Jersey scanning through the BBC website.  Despite her appearance in such films as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, Julius Caesar, From Here to Eternity and The Innocents, it was neither of them that I thought of.  It was rather her appearance at nineteen as Sally Hardcastle in this early, overlooked British classic that presented itself to memory.  The irony was not lost on me that I was so far away from Blighty, and particular from the second home, Salford, where the film and original play and novel were set. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     The 1940’s balloting has concluded after a nearly two-month window for posting “Top 25” lists.  Voting tabulator Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will be adding the numbers over the next few days and will subsequently be announcing the group’s top choices, much in the same way the 30’s poll was managed.  A total of 27 ballots have been cast, most by serious film buffs who possess a wide knowledge and appreciation of world cinema, and who have painstakingly spent their time reviewing and surveying this seminal decade in film.  To those who for one reason or another were unable to cast ballots, but still offered advice, encouragement and expertise, you are all equally acknowledged and thanked.

     As was the case with the 30’s polling, D’Arminio will release the top 25 finishers in numerical order, and anything placing beyond that constrictive number will not be referenced.  It is hoped that the results will be ready before the upcoming weekend.

      The 1950’s poll is due to begin next Tuesday, February 3rd, and will run for eight weeks.  Allan Fish will again provide readers with his own Top 50 countdown in reverse order with already penned essays.

     I want to take this opportunity to thank all who spent time in submitting a list.  Your sense of commitment has been quite a marvel.  To those whom I pestered and cajoled, well, you now know why my inner circle has tabbed me as the “Pollmeister.”  I must say the submissions are incredibly quality-conscious, and I’m sure the results will bare this out gloriously.

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Gaslight ****½


by Allan Fish

(UK 1940 88m) DVD1

Aka. Angel Street

Ze rooooobies!

p  John Corfield  d  Thorold Dickinson  w  A.R.Rawlinson, Bridget Boland  play  Patrick Hamilton  ph  Bernard Knowles  ed  Sidney Cole  m  Richard Addinsell  art  Duncan Sutherland

Diana Wynyard (Bella Mallen), Anton Walbrook (Paul Mallen/Louis Bauer), Frank Pettingell (Rough), Robert Newton (Vincent Ullswater), Cathleen Cordell (Nancy), Jimmy Hanley (Cobb), Minnie Rayner (Elizabeth), Marie Wright (Alice Barlow), Cathleen Nesbitt,

Looking for this classic British chiller on DVD, one has to go to the US Region 1 where it is included as an extra on that for the 1944 Hollywood version.  Just as with the DVD of House of Wax – on which the better original The Mystery of the Wax Museum is found – one is essentially buying for the extras.  MGM bought the rights to this film in the early forties, with Louis B.Mayer wishing to burn all copies so only his intended version with Ingrid Bergman could be seen.  A typical act of that studio, they had tried something very similar with their Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – whose remake again featured Bergman – and thankfully in both cases the vastly superior original versions survive.  Which is not to make the remake sound a bad film, because it isn’t; Charles Boyer and Bergman are very fine replacements for Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard, but that’s just what they remain – replacements, talented understudies.  Also, the décor is far more artificial and removes the essential character of Rough to be replaced by a more romantic character, played by Joe Cotten.   Of all big screen adaptations of the work of Patrick Hamilton, this original is the greatest by some considerable distance. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Jeez, I almost feel strange going back to movies after the weekend’s events, so let’s pick a forties film that tries to offer a ray of hope among the grime)

(USA 1945 128m) DVD2

The Brooklyn Thrush

p  Louis D.Lighton  d  Elia Kazan  w  Tess Slesinger, Frank Davis  novel  Betty Smith  ph  Leon Shamroy  ed  Dorothy Spencer  m  Alfred Newman  art  Lyle Wheeler

Dorothy McGuire (Katie Nolan), James Dunn (Johnny Nolan), Peggy Ann Garner (Francie Nolan), Joan Blondell (Aunt Sissy Edwards), Lloyd Nolan (Officer McShane), Ted Donaldson (Neely Nolan), James Gleason (MacGarrity), John Alexander (Steve Edwards), Ruth Nelson (Miss McDonough), Adeline de Walt Reynolds (Mrs Waters), Mae Marsh, Al Bridge, Charles Halton,

Elia Kazan’s debut film stands as one of the most beloved family sagas of the old Hollywood; a lovingly crafted, detailed, emotional tale of growing up in turn of the century Brooklyn that wrings tears from you like a thumbscrew wrings cries of agony.  In its own way, it’s perfect, and yet these days it’s overlooked, and dismissed as a formative work in its director’s canon.  Why might this be?

            The main reason seems to be that of realism, or the lack thereof.  No-one could ever accuse it of truth, and yet could pre-Code Hollywood have depicted the real Brooklyn of the era faithfully; it seems doubtful.  Hence they aim rather to capture a the rose-tinted and somewhat flavourful essence of time, with its Tin Pan Alley music, streets on which a Model T Ford have never appeared and slum garrets where everyone, though poor, is a character.  Realists will hate it, but it is, after all, an exercise in nostalgia, as indeed it has to be when told through the eyes of a child.  However, unlike a similar film, John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, which also looked at a time and a place through rose-tinted spectacles, they didn’t make it out to be a sort of mythical paradise when it wasn’t – his Wales having not one jot of truth – rather simply looked at a hell through positive eyes, the eyes of not only its heroine, but her father. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1943 73m) not on DVD

All games played in this club are for amusement only

p  Michael Balcon  d  Basil Dearden, Will Hay  w  John Dighton, Angus MacPhail  ph  Wilkie Cooper  ed  Charles Hasse  m  Ernest Irving  art  Michael Relph 

Will Hay (William Fitch), Claude Hulbert (Claude Babbington), Mervyn Johns (Arthur Grimshaw), Charles Victor (Safety Wilson), Lawrence Hanray (Sir Norman), Derna Hazell (Gloria), Lloyd Pearson (Col.Chudleigh), Maudie Edwards (Aladdin), Ernest Thesiger (Ferris), Aubrey Mallalieu (magistrate), Gibb MacLaughlin (butler),

A simple question for a film buff, or so one might have thought, would be “name the first Ealing comedy.”  The average person who only knows of them, not their chronology, might pick Kind Hearts and Coronets or The Lavender Hill Mob, a more shrewd individual might plump for Hue and Cry from 1946.  However, in actual fact, Ealing had been making comedies for years before that, and the jewel of these years was their association with Will Hay through his last handful of films.  Of the films that came out of that partnership, My Learned Friend is unquestionably the best, and least typical.

            William Fitch is a disbarred barrister who now obtains money by false pretences.  Found out and brought up before the local magistrate he has a stroke of luck in that the barrister prosecuting him is a prototype upper class twit, and he gets off thanks to the bumbler’s incompetence.  Later on they meet up for a drink at a nearby pub, but also meeting them there is another onlooker, a recently released offender who reminds Fitch of his inability to defend him and proclaims his nefarious intentions to gain revenge on all those people who put him in prison, including his counsel for the defence. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

I am leaving behind me fifty years of memory.  Memory…..Who shall say what is real and what is not?  Can I believe my friends all gone when their voices are a glory in my ears?  No.  And I will stand to say no and no again, for they remain a living truth within my mind.  There is no fence nor hedge around time that is gone.  You can say go back and have what you like of it…So I can close my eyes on my valley as it was…….-Huw Morgan

The legacy of John Ford’s coal-mining saga, How Green Was My Valley, based on Richard Llewelyn’s novel, is mired in a negative statistic in Oscar history.  It’s is always maligned as the film that beat out the most influential and celebrated film in the history of American cinema – Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane – for the Best Picture prize.  And as such, it is a film that seems to always get the short end of the stick from film historians and some classic films buffs.  Releasing a year after Ford’s masterful The Grapes of Wrath(1940) the film was looked on by skeptics as a glossy Hollywood tearjerker that disavowed important social and political issues in favor of melodrama.  A few modern critics have derided the film’s sentimental story, with one even calling it “a monstrous slurry of tears and coal dust.”  An esteemed colleague takes strong issue with what he calls “phony Welsh accents” and the film’s preponderance of tears.

By and large, though, these negative  opinions have been avalanched in true coal miner fashion by contemporary critics, film historians and audiences who now see How Green Was My Valley as a film about ‘disintegration of family’ and of a culture due in large measure to economic depression, that still evinces its ideological world view that boasts an indominability of the human spirit and a deep nostalgia for the past and of familial bonds and sibling love.

The film is told from the point-of-view of the youngest son of a large coal-mining Welsh family led by a stern traditionalist patriarch and an affectionate but strong-willed mother, the latter of whom favors established work ethic over progressive notions of breaking family traditions to persue an education.  Llewellyn’s famous novel, a revered work of literature focuses on the change in the valley as opposed to Ford’s view in the film where Huw never changes, and becomes in essence a kind of specter, viewing events that will permanently alter the mining valley forever, laying waste to a culture no longer tenable.  In Huw’s statement at the outset of this review, his gaze looks out his window at the desolate slum his valley is today only to dissolve into his imagination’s images of the lush valley of his childhood, which includes the church, the candy shop where he spends his allowance, and the daily and weekly ‘domestic’ rituals of mining families.  The lyrical narration doesn’t hide the literary origins nor the script, which follows Llewellyn’s book closely (some say word-for-word), and this makes for tightening of time and telescoping of events.  It is unavoidable that the long novel needed to be compromised or suppressed for this roughly two-hour film, and the sexual affairs of Hew’s brothers.  Ford’s own especially vital ‘addition’ to Dunne’s script was the film’s coda, in which “idyllic memory” triumphs over “tragic actuality.”  This allows this often downbeat film to wind down on a happy note.  However, looking back, to experience the movie only as a celebration of Huw’s dreamy myopia, denial of reality and adhesion to tradition is to experience only Huw’s point of view, not Ford’s view of him.  The novel was more concerned about changes in the valley.

The visual style and design of How Green Was My Valley is such that most of the film occurs in flashback.  Huw’s adult off-camera voice narrates, scenes are shot from the visual point of view, scenes frame Huw at their compositional focal point.

Getting back to the crucial opening narration, as the adult Huw surveys the desolation his valley has become, he resorts to ‘memory’ and harsh reality is swept up for a dream, a dream he will no doubt experience for all eternity.

How Green Was My Valley is actually a succession of frightening tragedies, failures and work demotions.  Of course, the rather puritanical and  closed-minded Morgan family stifled discussion and even discussion among family members and close friends was often accomplished in secrecy, like the taboo divorce of Huw’s sister Bronwyn.  (Earlier on in the opening monologue, Huw relates the very moment he falls in love with while as a child, “seeing her coming around the corner with basket and bonnet.)     The scenes in the film that seem to be the most fondly remembered are the ones involving family loyalty, sicknesses and tragedies.  In one such scene – my favorite – the mother (Sara Allgood) comes downstairs after a long recuperation and is reunited with son, still restricted to his own bed, but so overwhelmed by the mother’s sudden appearance, he places his hand over his heart.  Assisting mightily here is the beautiful score by Alfred Newman, which culls every extra bit of emotion from these already stirring segments.  The mother and son were taken ill after joining the unions in fighting the strangling tactics of the mine owners, who were cutting wagers to allow the cheapest men to come over to the mines, replacing those who knew no other line of work.  Their simultaneously recovery after a close call, and their first glimpses of one another would melt the hardest of hearts, but it’s a scene of deep sociological significance within the framework of the inherent strength of working-class families.

Says Tag Gallagher in his volume John Ford, “More sociology would scarcely make How Green Was My Valley better, for it is not at all trying to be a movie about labor or even about coal, but rather about psychosis and the dialectics of individuality within family and social change.”

Arthur Miller’s poetic black and white cinematography makes phony Hollywood sets (Wales is brought to California) gleam, and the picture has a lovely painterly feel, that beautifully evokes time and place, and its often a visual feast.

The best performance in the film was given by Donald Crisp as the unstinting patriarch, who would rather see some of his sons leave the house rather than to be questioned over a miner’s strike that turns violent.  I am told Crisp’s accent is right and his charismatic performance conjures up all we can imagine or remember of this moral and hard-working man, who valued discipline above everything else.  Sara Allgood his wife is effective as a wife who will stand by her husband through thick and thin, and young Roddy McDowall makes a lasting impression as the impressionable young Huw.  Both Maureen O’Hara  and Walter Pidgeon share more conventional roles, but they have their effective moments.

The false happy ending of course is preceded by the deeply-moving narration (by Hew), as Donald Crisp’s body is raised from a mine collapse through an elevator.  He says “People like my father can never die…they’ll be loved forever”    This seems a fitting epitaph for a magnificently crafted film that is unquestionably one of its creator’s finest hours and work that stirs the embers of human emotions.

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by Allan Fish

(Hungary 1947 100m) DVD1

Aka. Valahol Európában 

Alas, poor Kuksi

p  Laszlo Szirtes  d  Géza von Radványi  w  Béla Balázs, Géza von Radványi  ph  Barnabás Hegyi  ed  Félix Máriássy, Géza von Radványi  m  Dénes Buday  art  Jószef Pán

Artur Somlay (Piotr Simon), Miklós Gábor (Péter), Zsusza Banki (Éva), György Bárdi (Police commissioner), Ladislas Horvath (Kuksi), Abraham Ronai (Ficsur), Laci Horvath, István Rozsos, Lászlo Kémeny,

If one was to ask a western critic or general cineaste about the influence of Hungarian cinema, it would be reasonable to expect them to discuss Miklós Jancsó, even more so, in that he’s of the current generation, Béla Tarr.  They might go on to discuss the works of Pál Gabor, Márta Meszaros and Istvan Szabo.  However, such discourse, though of course perfectly valid, is rather picking up the story in the middle.  Just as the same would be a mistake repeated with regard to Czech cinema, Hungarian cinema first came to real prominence just after the war with the release of two films: István Szöt’s Song of the Cornfields and this anti-war film from Géza von Radványi, scripted by the great Béla Balázs.  As Georges Sadoul said, “it’s one of the great films of the immediate post-war period.” (more…)

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“Jenny Bee,” one of Craig’s Kennedy’s most revered commenters at his fantastically-popular ‘Living in Cinema’ site today had fellow bloggers breathless and in awe of her defining treament of the Pixar masterpiece, ‘Wall-E’ today on the ‘Watercooler’ thread and its deeply-moving effect on so many critics and moviegoers.  The film was the year’s most critically-praised.

Explore the piece for yourself here…


WALL-E is at its heart a celebration of humanity’s ingenuity, creativity, and capacity to overcome even our worst selfish, slothful impulses and grow into something better, for the sake of something bigger than our own bloated selves. It’s about the power of one, the power of two, the power of many. WALL-E himself is as much a human invention as the mess he was created to clean up; his character traits (resourcefulness, curiosity, loneliness, dilligence, loyalty, friendship, love, rashness, courage, the ability to learn) are a direct reflection of our own. Eve, too, is a product of us, directly or indirectly. It’s a story, not new, but told in new ways, that reminds us through hyperbole and metaphor of how much we, today, now, need to remember to cherish life in all its forms and have the courage to trust and reclaim our own creative spirit.

WALL-E tells this story in a dazzlingly beautiful technical feat of animation that on a somewhat meta level itself makes the same thematic case: Look what beauty we can create, how warm and imaginative this technology can be, bringing us closer together and to our best selves. We mortals cannot be underestimated, and neither can the possibilities of animation. The art direction, animated cinematography, editing, sound, all the technicals are top shelf.

And as a bonus for film critics, WALL-E simultaneously draws from eight decades of cinematic history–most notably, from the dawn of cinema–to quietly honor film’s most powerful and poignant role in our lives, that of sustaining us in the dark times and reminding us, through whatever improbable means (Hello, Dolly, of all films, is the one highlighted), of what’s really important. It’s a film rich in symbolism and layers of meaning that is steeped in film history and makes a strong argument for film’s future.

The screenplay gives equal weight to humanity’s dual talents for destruction and construction, using the current gathering environmental crisis as a trope that grounds the otherwise sci-fi fantasy in relevance to our immediate future. The real villains in the picture aren’t mutinous AI, but the demons within ourselves that compel us to consume more and more and faster and easier and forget what it is that makes us human, that creative spark and need to forge a path ever forward.

Meanwhile, it has a timeless love story between a bumbling but charming and well-intentioned Chaplin-esque male and a fierce and feminist female who connects to her softer core self, each of whom changes and grows better for knowing the other during the course of the film. That’s what real romance does, makes us better people individually and as a couple for discovering that soul-sustaining partnership. It is a love that was never programmed to be, and yet, must be.

It’s a film that like the best of sci-fi asks, “What if?” and then takes us on a bleak path that does not have to be. It’s a film that channels the deep undercurrent of hope, even amidst the darkest of crises–the death of our planet and the devolution of our species–and has a resounding echo of the rallying cry of a very frightening 2008: “Yes we can!”

To top it off, and almost as asides to its other many treasures, WALL-E also contains significant amounts of humor that don’t rely on fart jokes and pop culture allusions, a misshapen band of merry Island-of-Lost-Toys-esque robots who discover they still have value, a prolonged and joyfully magical cinematic sequence of robots in love spiraling through space, and an endearing cockroach who just won’t die.

 It’s one heck of a great film, in my opinion.

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