Film on TV: Feb 20-26

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The Good, the Bad, the Weird, playing Sunday on IFC
 

Thirty Days of Oscar continues on TCM, providing a great cross-section of Oscar nominated films; this week in their prime-time travelogue, they hit Austria, Argentina, Washington D.C., Arizona, and more. Most things are repeats, but IFC manages to bring us The Last King of Scotland on Wednesday and The Good, the Bad, the Weird on Sunday, while Sundance has Waltz with Bashir on Sunday, and even TCM has new ones up its sleeve (in more ways than one), with L.A. Confidential late Sunday, early Monday.

Monday, February 20

6:15am – IFC – Moulin Rouge!
Baz Lurhmann admittedly has a love-it-or-hate-it flamboyantly trippy aesthetic, especially in the informal Red Curtain trilogy which Moulin Rogue! closes. And sure, it’s over the top; sure, the story is fairly routine; sure, the acting is so-so. I love it to pieces anyway.
2001 USA. Director: Baz Lurhmann. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo.
(repeats at 1:15pm)

10:45am – TCM – Spartacus
An historical epic of a Greek slave rebellion brought to the screen by the passion and personal investment of Kirk Douglas, but with some of the stylistic flair of director Stanley Kubrick (still relatively early in his career). Lots of great actors fill out the supporting parts with scenery-chewing glee, making every scene a whole lot of fun to watch – but there are a whole lot of scenes, and it does kind of drag by the end.
1960 USA. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Nina Foch.

2:15pm – TCM – Ben-Hur
Charlton Heston is the titular character, going through pretty much everything a Jew in the first century could expect – mistreatment from the Romans, being sold as a galley slave as punishment for a minor offense, fighting for his life as an arena chariot racer, and becoming convinced by Jesus of Nazareth’s promises of hope and a better kingdom to come. Ben-Hur practically defines the word “epic,” and remains one of the best of the sword-and-sandal films so popular in the ’50s and ’60s.
1959 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith, Cathy O’Donnell, Martha Scott.
Must See

10:00pm – TCM – The Third Man
Novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) searches for his elusive, possibly murdered friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in post-war Vienna. A little bit of American film noir, a little bit of European ambiguity, all mixed together perfectly by screenwriter Grahame Green and director Carol Reed.
1949 UK/US. Director: Carol Reed. Starring: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles.
Must See

12:00M – TCM – Amadeus
A Best Actor Oscar went to F. Murray Abraham for his portrayal of conflicted Antonio Salieri, hard-working court composer in 18th century Vienna, whose music and status is threatened by obnoxious genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The film is rather fictionalized, especially in the antagonism between the two composers, but it makes for powerful narrative.
1984 USA. Director: Milos Forman. Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Roy Dotrice, Jeffrey Jones.

Tuesday, February 21

6:00am – Sundance – Police, Adjective
Part of the Romanian New Wave of slow-burn dramas and crime films, this one looks like an interesting take on the police procedural, though it garnered some mixed reviews during its run on the festival circuit.
2009 Romania. Director: Corneliu Proumboiu. Starring: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Irina Saulescu.
(repeats at 11:15am)

12:15pm – TCM – The Pirate
A flop when first released, The Pirate looks more and more like a potential cult classic all the time. Gene Kelly is an entertainer who impersonates the dread pirate Mack the Black Mococo to get close to Spanish heiress Judy Garland in a period Caribbean seaport. It’s over-the-top, has some of Cole Porter’s most outlandish songs, and is somehow immensely, compulsively watchable.
1948 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Walter Slezak, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, the Nicholas Brothers.

3:45pm – TCM – Captain Blood
This was Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s first of eight films together, and it’s one of the best. Flynn is the eponymous captain, a dentist named Blood who gets captured by pirates and ends up escaping and taking over the pirate ship himself. Full of swashbuckling and derring-do.
1935 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Guy Kibbee.

8:00pm – Sundance – L’Auberge Espagnole
A French student moves into an apartment with six other people in Barcelona. The interactions of these roommates with diverse cultural backgrounds and personalities forms the basis of the film as a whole, which may be short on plot but is great on the interpersonal relations and conversations that the French are so good at putting on film.
2002 France. Director: Cédric Klapisch. Starring: Romain Duris, Judith Godrèche, Kelly Reilly.
(repeats at 3:15am on the 22nd)

9:45pm – TCM – Flying Down to Rio
In this first Astaire-Rogers outing, they’re actually supporting leads Gene Raymond and Dolores Del Rio – the less said about them and the actual story, the better. But Fred and Ginger do have a couple of good numbers (notably the Busby Berkeley-esque “The Carioca”).
1933 USA. Director: Thornton Freeland. Starring: Gene Raymond, Dolores Del Rio, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers.

11:30pm – TCM – Down Argentine Way
A throw-away musical, to be sure, but about as good an example of a 20th Century-Fox’s trademarked 1940s candy-colored Technicolor musicals as you could desire, with Betty Grable strutting her stuff alongside Don Ameche (as a Latin racehorse owner – yeah), and even Carmen Miranda and Charlotte Greenwood (best known as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!) getting in on the action.
1940 USA. Director: Irving Cummings. Starring: Don Ameche, Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, Charlotte Greenwood, J. Carrol Naish, Henry Stephenson.
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3:30am (22nd) – TCM – Only Angels Have Wings
I’ve never gotten into Only Angels Have Wings as much as I have into other Howard Hawks films – why I don’t know. It has elements I like – Cary Grant as a daring pilot making dangerous cargo runs in exotic locales, Jean Arthur in an uncharacteristically dramatic turn, and a sighting of a young Rita Hayworth. Just doesn’t seem to come together in a memorable whole for me.
1939 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Richard Barthelmess, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell.

4:00am (22nd) – IFC – Monty Python’s Life of Brian
After dismantling the King Arthur legends, Monty Python turn their attention to the Bible itself, satirically suggesting what might happen if a random 1st century baby got mistaken for the Messiah. Irreverent and hilarious, though not as consistently so for me as Holy Grail.
1979 UK. Director: Terry Jones. Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin.

Wednesday, February 22

6:15am – TCM – The More the Merrier
A World War II housing shortage has Charles Coburn, Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur sharing an apartment; soon Coburn is matchmaking for McCrea and Arthur, and we get a wonderful, adorable romance out of it.
1943 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Jane Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn.

7:30am – IFC – Cache
Very deliberate but intensely thought-provoking film from director Michael Haneke, delving into issues from privacy and surveillance to war guilt and revenge. It’s a difficult film, and one that stretches the limits of the suspense thriller, but if you’re willing to go along with it, it’s well worthwhile.
2005 France. Director: Michael Haneke. Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou.
(repeats at 1:45pm)

10:15am – TCM – Born Yesterday
Judy Holliday nabbed an Oscar as the showgirl wife of an uncouth tycoon crashing around Washington DC with his newfound wealth – he hires William Holden to teach her to be a lady, but things don’t quite turn out as he expected.
1950 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford, William Holden.

12:00N – TCM – Dr Stangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Trust Stanley Kubrick to find the funny side of the Cold War. Peter Sellers plays multiple parts, including the President, an insane general who wants to nuke Russia, and the limb-control-impaired doctor of the title. It’s zany, it’s over-the-top, it’s bitingly satirical, and it remains one of Kubrick’s best films in a career full of amazing work.
1964 USA/UK. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott.
Must See

8:00pm – TCM – Strangers on a Train
Guy Haines is a tennis star all set to marry into a posh, loving family, if it weren’t for that pesky and annoying wife he’s already got – a problem that fellow train-passenger Bruno has a solution for: all Guy has to do is kill Bruno’s troublesome father and Bruno will take care of Guy’s wife. This criss-cross setup begins one of Hitchcock’s best films, full of memorable shots and set-pieces, not to mention one of the most mesmerizingly psychotic performances in all of cinema in Robert Walker’s portrayal of Bruno.
1951 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Patricia Hitchcock, Leo G. Carroll, Laura Elliott.
Must See

8:00pm – IFC – The Last King of Scotland
Forest Whitaker won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator General Idi Amin, but the title refers not to him, but to Amin’s personal doctor (James McAvoy) who gradually realizes the lengths to which Amin will go to seize and retain power.
2006 UK. Director: Kevin Macdonald. Starring: James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson.
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8:00pm – Sundance – Inspector Bellamy
What turned out to be Claude Chabrol’s final film is another conversation-driven mystery of the sort he’s well-known for, as Gerard Depardieu plays the eponymous detective who gets drawn into a case while he’s supposed to be on vacation.
2009 France. Director: Claude Chabrol. Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Clovis Cornillac, Jacques Gamblin.
(repeats at 2:45am on the 23rd)

10:00pm – TCM – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Frank Capra puts on his idealist hat to tell the story of Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), an inexperienced young man appointed as a junior senator because the corrupt senior senator thinks he’ll be easy to control. But Smith doesn’t toe the party line, instead launching a filibuster for what he believes in. Wonderful comedienne Jean Arthur is the journalist who initially encourages Smith so she can get a great story from his seemingly inevitable downfall, but soon joins his cause.
1939 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Eugene Pallette, Thomas Mitchell.
Must See

12:15am (23rd) – TCM – All the President’s Men
The Nixon and Watergate scandal is presented as a mystery almost, from the point of view of Woodward and Bernstein, the rookie Washington Post investigative reporters who broke the story. The film unfolds like a very good procedural, balancing the fact-finding itself with the roadblocks Woodward has to overcome at the paper because of his youth and inexperience. Not a showy film, but a really well-made one with excellent performances from Redford and Hoffman.
1976 USA. Director: Alan J. Pakula. Starring: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook.

Thursday, February 23

5:45pm – TCM – Mister Roberts
Henry Fonda is the title character, an XO on a cargo ship who often butts heads with the captain (James Cagney), who runs the ship with an iron fist. The tone is a satisfying combination of comedy and drama, and with a cast that also includes William Powell in his last role and Jack Lemmon in one of his first, you can hardly go wrong. Though John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy share credit for the film, it’s mostly Ford – LeRoy was brought in to finish it when Ford had to undergo emergency surgery, but he tried to emulate Ford’s style as much as possible.
1955 USA. Director: John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon, Betsy Palmer, Ward Bond.

8:00pm – TCM – The Bridge on the River Kwai
British prisoners of war are commanded to build a bridge over the River Kwai for their Japanese captors – a task which becomes a source of pride for old-school British commander Alec Guinness. But American William Holden is having none of that and makes it his mission to blow the bridge up. One of the great war films.
1957 USA/UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Alec Guinness, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa.

8:30am – IFC – The Protector
Whatever you do, don’t mess with Tony Jaa’s elephants. Consider yourself warned. Here Jaa takes on a city full of gangsters intent on stealing his elephant (and the mystical power they possess); the story here isn’t anything special, but Jaa’s fighting ability and choreography certainly is.
1995 Thailand. Director: Prachya Pinkaew. Starring: Tony Jaa, Nathan Jones, Petchtel Wongkamlao.
(repeats at 2:15pm)

10:15am – IFC – Hero
Jet Li is the titular hero in this Zhang Yimou film, arguably the best of Yimou’s period action-on-wires films (though I’m partial to House of Flying Daggers myself). The story unfolds in flashback as Li explains to a warlord how he eliminated three would-be assassins (who happen to be three of Hong Kong cinema’s biggest stars, incidentally) – but all may not be precisely how it seems.
2002 China. Director: Zhang Yimou. Starring: Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung.
(repeats at 4:00pm)

8:00pm – IFC – Sin City
Frank Miller joined Robert Rodriguez in creating this adaptation of Miller’s graphic novel series, a highly stylized evocation of film noir tropes that’s rather overdone in many ways, but still so visually striking that I really enjoyed watching it. Most of it.
2005 USA. Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson.
(repeats at 10:30pm)

11:00pm – TCM – The Letter
In this cut-above-average melodrama, Bette Davis shoots a man in self-defense. Or was it self-defense? Film noir hadn’t quite come into its own yet by this point, and it plays more like a well-produced domestic drama, but it’s an enjoyable precursor to the grittier crime dramas to come.
1940 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall.

Friday, February 24

10:00pm – TCM – Ace in the Hole
Billy Wilder is known for his cynical streak, and this is pretty much Exhibit A. Kirk Douglas is a reporter, sent to middle-of-nowhere New Mexico after disgracing his paper, who gets wind of a cave-in trapping a lone miner. He pounces on the story, but manipulates everything to create the biggest media circus he can, with little thought of the trapped man’s safety. It’s an indictment both of media self-focus and of those who like to watch it, and aside from the safe ending, it’s lost none of its biting power.
1951 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur.

2:30am (25th) – TCM – Them!
I love a good classic sci-fi film and this one hits all the high points. Radioactive material? Check. Mutant insects? Check. Scientists? Check. Nuclear paranoia? Check. Giant mutant ants (created by radioactivity left by atomic bomb tests in Arizona) start attacking people, first in Arizona, then to Texas and Mexico, and finally in the middle of Los Angeles. A team of scientists works with the police to take the monsters down. One of the better examples of the “atomic mutant” sci-fi films, of which there were many; it builds intensity perfectly (in fact, it’s at least half an hour in before you come close to finding out what’s happening, adding in a very welcome mystery element) and doesn’t spend to long on its obligatory romantic subplot.
1954 USA. Director: Gordon Douglas. Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness.

Saturday, February 25

8:30am – TCM – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Interracial marriage may not be quite the hot topic now that it was in 1967 (although if you check some parts of the American South, you might be surprised), but at the time, Katharine Houghton bringing home Sidney Poitier to meet her parents Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film) was the height of socially conscious filmmaking.
1967 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway.

10:30am – TCM – After the Thin Man
I wouldn’t put this in the category of sequels that are better than the original, but the second in the Thin Man series is certainly a great watch, as Nick and Nora head to Nora’s family estate and discover a mystery there. A young James Stewart is fun to watch, too.
1936 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, Elissa Landi.

12:30pm – TCM – The Maltese Falcon
Humphrey Bogart inhabits the role of Dashiell Hammett’s private eye Sam Spade, creating one of the definitive on-screen hard-boiled detective (vying only with Bogart’s Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, really). Not mention setting the early benchmark for noir films.
1941 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook Jr, Walter Huston.
Must See

4:00pm – TCM – Bullitt
No nonsense cop Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen, holding onto his crown as king of 1960s cool, American class) is tasked with guarding an important witness in a Mafia trial; when his partner and the witness are targeted in a hit, he goes after the killers directly, leading to the justly famous car chase through hills of San Francisco.
1968 USA. Director: Peter Yates. Starring: Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, Robert Duvall.

8:00pm – TCM – The Grapes of Wrath
John Ford’s homage to the dust bowl farmers of the 1930s, taken from the Steinbeck classic, won several awards (including one for Ford) the year it came out. Despite sounding like a downer of a time, it really isn’t – the moody cinematography by Gregg Toland and the undertones of crime and corruption give it a noirish feel that both complements and offsets the social drama of the main story.
1940 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin.
Must See

Sunday, February 26

11:00am – TCM – A Star is Born (1937)
This is not the better-known Judy Garland version, but the non-musical version featuring Janet Gaynor in one of her last roles. Gaynor’s not well remembered now, but she won the very first Academy Award for Best Actress back in 1928, and she holds this story of a hopeful ingenue married to a has-been actor together. I still love Judy’s version better (because I can’t get enough of her singing “The Man That Got Away”), but this one is well worth watching as well.
1937 USA. Director: William A. Wellman. Starring: Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, May Robson.

1:00pm – TCM – Singin’ in the Rain
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly team up for what is now usually considered one of the greatest musicals of all time. Inspired by songs written by MGM producer Arthur Freed at the beginning the sound era, Singin’ in the Rain takes that seismic shift in film history for its setting, focusing on heartthrob screen couple Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (the hilarious Jean Hagen) as the transition into sound – problem being that Lamont’s voice, like many actual silent screen stars, doesn’t fit her onscreen persona. Hollywood’s often best when it turns on its own foibles, and this is no exception.
1952 USA. Directors: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly. Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen.
Must See

3:00pm – TCM – The Bad and the Beautiful
Vincente Minnelli directs Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and Gloria Grahame in one of the best dark-side-of-Hollywood noirish films this side of Sunset Boulevard.
1952 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame.

5:00pm – TCM – A Star is Born (1954)
Judy Garland’s comeback role after several years off the screen remains one of her best, crystalizing both the hope and sorrow that her later life represents. The fact that she’s playing a wanna-be star at the beginning of her career makes it just that much more poignant – and watch out for her rendition of “The Man That Got Away.”
1954 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Judy Garland, James Mason.
Must See

5:45pm – IFC – The Good, the Bad, the Weird
An utterly wacky and awesome Korean reimagining of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, with a somewhat hapless trio (okay, at least one of them is hapless) attempting to get to a treasure before a pair of conflicting armies prevent them. It is ridiculous, action-packed, and did I mention awesome?
2008 South Korean. Director: Jee-woon Kim. Starring: Kang-ho Sang, Byung-hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung.
Newly Featured!

6:45pm – Sundance – Waltz with Bashir
An unusual animation style for an unusual animated film – a sort of documentary, sort of memoir of writer/director Ari Folman’s memories of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. This is one I’ve meant to see for quite a long time, and haven’t managed to do so yet.
2008 Israel. Director: Ari Folman. Starring: Ari Folman, Ron Ben-Yishal, Ronny Dayag.
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8:15pm – Sundance – Wassup Rockers
Small film about a group of teenage Latino skateboarders from South Central LA. They go up to Beverly Hills to skateboard, get caught by cops, escape, meet up with some girls, get in fights with preppy 90210 guys, and try to get home. But the moments that’ll get you are when they’re just talking, to the camera, or to the girls, about their life and what it’s like to live in South Central. It doesn’t go anywhere, really, but it’s a wonderful slice of life.
2005 USA. Director: Larry Clark. Starring: Jonathan Velasquez, Francisco Pedrasa, Milton Velasquez, Usvaldo Panameno, Eddie Velasquez.
(repeats at 1:30am on the 27th)

8:45pm – IFC – From Dusk Till Dawn
An early collaboration between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez (Rodriguez directing, Tarantino writing and acting) mixes crime action with vampire horror. Intriguingly, the film is split almost equally between the two, half an almost Coen-esque crime spree gone wrong, half an over-the-top claustrophobic gorefest. I rather like the first half better, but the second part has its moments, many of them thanks to Keitel.
1996 USA. Director: Robert Rodriguez. Starring: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis.

9:45pm – TCM – What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Perhaps the definition of Hollywood Gothic, with aging stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as aging former actresses. Davis was a child star whose glory was utterly usurped by sister Crawford as they grew up, making her bitterly long for their roles to be switched again. Add in a crippling car accident, psychological abuse, and delusions of continued fame, and you have an engrossing (and deliciously campy) cult film and possibly one of Davis’s best performances ever.
1962 USA. Director: Robert Aldrich. Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Wesley Addy, Maidie Norman.

10:00pm – Sundance – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Sadly this turned out to be Sidney Lumet’s final film before his death. But from what I hear, this is a fine one to have as a swan song, an intense and well-constructed heist thriller – something Lumet was certainly skilled at directing. I have got to get around to checking it out myself soon.
1997 USA. Director: Sidney Lumet. Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney.
(repeats at 3:15am on the 27th)

2:15am (27th) – TCM – The Graduate
One of the classic coming-of-age stories, with Dustin Hoffman in one of his first roles as the recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock. Unsure of what to do with his life after college, he takes advantage of his family’s upper middle-class wealth and does nothing – oh, except for fall into an affair with Mrs. Robinson, his father’s partner’s wife. When Elaine Robinson returns home from Berkeley, Benjamin’s attentions waver from mother and daughter. There’s no question that the film has become a cultural milestone.
1967 USA. Director: Mike Nichols. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross.
Must See

4:15am (27th) – TCM – L.A. Confidential
A recent rewatch confirmed this as one of my favorite films of the ’90s, as it perfectly encapsules the feeling of film noir while telling a damn good story – convoluted but easy to follow, thanks to solid screenwriting and excellent turns by all the actors involved.
1997 USA. Director: Curtis Hanson. Starring: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito.
Must See
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