Hot Docs 2016 Review: De Palma


Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s feature length interview could have easily been called “De Palma on De Palma.” It features prolific director Brian De Palma, now in his late sixties, in front of a blueish coloured fireplace mantle for its entire duration as the man, in his own casual way, walks through his filmography in order. He offers stories and offers opinions, slags a few people and ideas, and expresses varied regrets, bon mots and tangents along the way.

The experience is delightfully simple, involving cutting away to film clips to underscore what is being discussed, with the editing offering only an occasional hint that there are two younger indie directors on the other side of the camera.

De Palma’s 40 year career, from shoe-string indie pictures to Hollywood blockbusters. De Palma discovered Robert De Niro in college (and made the noteworthy pre-cursor to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Hi Mom! in 1970 – it is noteworthy in that Hi Mom! is quite excellent! In his twenties he directed a late career, quite addled, Orson Welles along with a cantankerous Tommy Smothers in a film called Get To Know Your Rabbit and would go on to direct a slew of movies both big and small with many of the biggest actors of the day: Sissy Spacek, Cliff Robertson, Geneviève Bujold, John Travolta, Melanie Griffith, Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks, Jean Reno, Tom Cruise, and a music video with The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen (yes, that music video, so you can thank De Palma or blame him for giving to the world, Courtney Cox.)

I don’t believe a lengthy review of this documentary is entirely necessary, as De Palma is a blunt man who does not mince words. Perhaps Hollywood’s most significant acolyte of Alfred Hitchcock, De Palma makes no bones about borrowing from the ‘Master of Suspense’ at every turn: from the macguffin concept, to doubles, lurid voyeurism, and a fascination with the ‘bomb that is about to go off’ style of storytelling. De Palma has always taken shots he loves (the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin for instance) and tried to build on them in modern stylish ways. It is no surprise that in kind, Quentin Tarantino happily and regularly pilfers from De Palma in a similar fashion. It is the nature of cinema, of art itself really. De Palma just did it with a bit more blood and sleaze and split screens.

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Cinecast Episode 326 – Functionally Retarded, Yet Infectious

As it turns out, we discover as a very welcome surprise that this is Kurt and Andrew’s 300th episode together. So there’s reason enough to celebrate here. Kinda. But if you’re more into movies rather than nostalgia and landmarks, there’s plenty to get into with this episode. We have five, count ’em five, theatrical reviews to get to as well as our respective festival titles and experiences to mention. All of this spirals into a very important homework assignment for the week. Matt Gamble comes aboard to talk about Ridley Scott’s meandering. We get into all manner of awesome, including Robert Redford’s double takes, Polanski spelling it out, Elijah Wood is perpetually twelve years old and Judd Apatow’s version of a Richard Linklater film. All of this and a helluva lot more in another mega-episode that spans nearly four hours.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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Mamo #327: Zero-G is Ruined

Do we have a show? You bet your britches we have a show. We talk Big Kahuna and Movie Club, Carrie and The Descent, Oblivion and Gravity, Agents of SHIELD and TV, rep cinemas and the future of exhibition, and maybe some other things too. Mamo is like Pringles: once you pop, you can’t stop.

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Cinecast Episode 304 – Beware Movies That Are Named After Songs

A ‘Biggie Size’ episode of the Cinecast has Matt Gamble return to heap copious praise upon Mad Men and Game of Thrones. Never one to disappoint, he gets into fisticuffs with Kurt over the Evil Dead remake and ancient tomes made out of human skin. Andrew moderates like a champ and tries his utmost to keep the other two from fondling each others buttons in a delightful display of homoerotic movie-nerd posturing. Ahem. Before that business, there is a pleasant conversation on Derek Cianfrance’s A Place Beyond The Pines, as well as some home-theatre (and Blu Ray) discussion. It appears that Kurt will finally be joining movie fandom in the 21st century by going BLU. The Watchlist has a little Dwayne Johnson, a little Matt Damon, as well as the Activist Dude and “Food Insecurity” in America. We also talk a bit about the trailers for the Carrie remake as well as Elysium.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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Trailer: Carrie redux

While Chloe Moretz and Julianne more lack the flat out ‘otherliness’ of Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, the Carrie remake (of Depalma’s 1976 classic) seems to be sticking true to the beats of the original tale while bringing us into the 21st century where cellphones and cyber bullying co-exist with psychical humiliation, and studio cinema has a way of putting ridiculously attractive collection of twentysomethings all in the same highschool. How will a rampage of butchery and revenge by loners and daughter of a zealous religious nutter be taken in our ‘school shooting every couple of months’ world? I predict the film will be good, perhaps too safe for its own good, but not great – and very likely completely ignored by the general public. Your mileage may vary. The trailer is below. It uses a creepy remix of the classic Shirelles song to great effect and it is great to know that head-bashing as a trailer cutting rhythm works quite well here as well, albeit note quite at the level of the masterpiece trailer for A Serious Man.

Playing Horror Catch-up Vol 2

Another swath of horror films seen over the past couple of weeks, including a few that I’ve been meaning to see for a very long time: yep, I finally get to cross Carrie, The Wicker Man, and Eyes Without a Face off my to-watch list. Interestingly, I haven’t had any films this month jump out and become favorites immediately this month; Carrie comes the closest, but I have some reservations even with it. I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve seen, but I’m still waiting for one to completely knock me off my feet. Only a few more days, October! Get on it!


I’ve had Carrie on my horror to-watch list every October for about three years – in other words, as long as I’ve had a horror to-watch list. I finally got to it! And despite its reputation and that I knew the basic beats of the menstruation-bullying-to-prom-night-revenge plot, the film still had a lot of surprises for me, most of them good. First off, Carrie’s mom is CRAZY – it’s a little disheartening to find yet another crazy Christian immortalized on celluloid, but I think it’s pretty obvious that she is totally off the deep end, not only extremely strict on Carrie’s interactions with boys, but insistent that natural biological functions are markers of specific sexual sins and that Carrie’s telepathic ability is a sign of demon possession. Although, to be fair, the film doesn’t really explain where that comes from. Anyway, what makes the film strong and memorable is the focus on Carrie, whose transformation into queen of the prom is utterly beautiful and utterly heartbreaking because you know what’s in store for her – the lead-up, though, is so well-done (if a bit retroactively cliched) that you ache for her to have her perfect night. The denoument had me a little baffled, I will admit, though, and undermines Carrie’s deserved revenge; I’m still not sure what I make of it. Plus De Palma has a tendency to go for flashy shots when he doesn’t need them – the writing and acting here is strong enough that he could afford to save those flashy moments for really striking scenes, giving them greater impact. Still, I enjoyed the film very much, likely my favorite of the month so far.
1976 USA. Director: Brian De Palma. Starring: Sissy Spacek, William Katt, Piper Laurie, John Travolta.

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Film on TV: January 3-9

The Producers, playing on TCM on Sunday

I threw in some stuff on Sundance this week, including Mammoth and Summer Hours (both on Monday) that I haven’t seen but have heard good things about, so I’m hoping I get to check those out. Also note that IFC is playing the Coen Bros. version of The Ladykillers late Wednesday/early Thursday, while TCM has the original version Thursday night – rather apropos given recent conversations about the Coens and remakes. There are a few other newly featured things scattered throughout, the most notable being Mel Brooks’ hilarious send-up of the business of Broadway in The Producers (the original version) and Martin Scorsese’s biopic of Howard Hughes, The Aviator.

Monday, January 3

6:30am – Sundance – Mammoth
A favorite among a few Row Three writers, though not unanimously, this film from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson gives a three-faceted look at the modern world, contrasting an American businessman, his family, their Filipino maid, and her family.
2009 Sweden. Director: Lukas Moodysson. Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, Marife Necesito.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 12:30pm)

8:40am – Sundance – Grizzly Man
Werner Herzog’s fascination with the duality of nature’s beauty and destructiveness continues into documentary, as he brings the story of grizzly researcher Timothy Treadwell to the screen.
2005 USA. Director: Werner Herzog.
(repeats at 2:40pm)

10:40am – Sundance – No One Knows About Persian Cats
A pair of Iranian rock musicians, unable to perform their music publicly because the government won’t give them a permit, try to put together a final underground gig to raise money to escape the country – it’s based on the actual story of the two people playing the musicians, so there’s an intriguing intersection of reality and fiction.
2009 Iran. Director: Bahman Ghobadi. Starring: Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad, Hamed Behdad.
(repeats at 4:@5pm)

6:15pm – Sundance – Summer Hours
In what sounds like a very beautiful and meditative film, Olivier Assayas explores a French family as the matriarch prepares for her own passing and then the actions of her family after she does. It got the Criterion treatment almost immediately upon release, which is enough for me to get excited on its own, but I’ve also heard really good things about it.
2008 France. Director: Olivier Assayas. Starring: Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Renier.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 5:40am on the 4th, and 9:25am on the 8th)

8:00pm – IFC – Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Easily one of the most absurd, random, hilarious, and quotable comedies of all time. A more hapless bunch of Round Table knights couldn’t be found, and Monty Python has never been better than they are here.
1975 UK. Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones. Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones.
Must See
(repeats at 1:30am on the 4th)

9:30pm -TCM – Morocco
My knowledge of the Josef von Sternberg-Marlene Dietrich cycle of films is woefully slight, but the one I have seen (The Blue Angel) was pretty impressive, so itís an oversight I intend to fix at some point. Dietrich here takes a leap of androgyny with her tuxedo-clad cabaret numbers, while an extremely young Gary Cooper is along for the ride as a Legionnaire.
1930 USA. Director: Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Adolphe Menjou.

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Film on TV: December 13-19

Fish Tank, playing Wednesday on Sundance.

Mostly repeats this week, but some great ones. TCM closes out the Moguls and Movie Stars series, reaching the end of the classical Hollywood studio system, and has a bunch of 1960s greats on Monday and Wednesday to go along with that, plus Cabaret on Tuesday, Ingrid Bergman’s first American film on Friday, Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe on Saturday, and the always enjoyable Grease on Sunday. But if you only watch one thing this week, and you have the Sundance channel, please catch Andrea Arnold’s amazing Fish Tank on Wednesday night. It’s due out on DVD from Criterion in February, so this is a great chance to see it early if you missed its limited theatrical run earlier this year.

Monday, December 13

3:35pm – Sundance – Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman
As an architectural photographer covering modernist architecture during the mid-twentieth century, Julius Shulman captured some of the most iconic images ever of homes and other buildings, basically creating an entire generation’s perception of Los Angeles and Palm Springs especially. This well-designed documentary is a great primer on his life and work, and through his work, on modernist ideals and architecture itself. Definitely worth a look if you’re interested in photography, architecture, modernism, or Los Angeles.
2008 USA. Director: Eric Brickner. Starring: Julius Shulman, Dustin Hoffman.

7:00pm – Sundance – Eraserhead
David Lynchís first feature is a weird post-apocalyptic dreamscape of a film ñ what, you were expecting something normal? When you can have industrial decay and mutant babies?
1977 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart.
(repeats at 3:30am on the 14th. and 10:00pm on the 18th)

8:00pm – TCM – Moguls & Movie Stars: Fade Out, Fade In
TCM’s History of Hollywood wraps up this week with the 1960s, the end of the classical studio system period. As the moguls who basically created Hollywood in the 1920s began losing control of the studios, the system itself broke down, mirroring the upheavals in the society around them and allowing an influx of new, young talent that would take us into New Hollywood and beyond. But that’s beyond the scope of this documentary series. This is one of the most exciting decades in film history for me, and TCM has programmed a nice collection of films to go along with it, representing socially conscious prestige pictures, lower budget cult films, and two of the films that truly signaled the beginning of the New: Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider (on Wednesday).

9:00pm – 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.

12:00M – TCM – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Aging stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford play an aging child star and her sister in Robert Aldrichís cult favorite. Hard to think of better casting for a story like this.
1962 USA. Director: Robert Aldrich. Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Wesley Addy, Maidie Norman.

2:30am (14th) – TCM – The Magnificent Seven
Homage comes full circle as American John Sturges remakes Akira Kurosawaís The Seven Samurai as a western – Kurosawaís film itself was a western transposed into a Japanese setting. Sturges ainít no Kurosawa, but the story of a group of outcast cowboys banding together to protect an oppressed village is still a good one, plus thereís a young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the cast.
1960 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson.

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Film on TV: November 15-21

sunrise.jpgSunrise, playing on Monday on TCM

This week’s installment of TCM’s Moguls and Movie Stars film history series takes on the golden age of silent cinema, with some great films to go along with it, including Sunrise, early John Ford western The Iron Horse, and films starring Garbo and Valentino on Monday, then silent comedy – Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd – on Wednesday. Get your stop-motion fix with Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts, then check out the convoluted but visually stunning Night Watch, both on Tuesday. And TCM has a trio of Peter Weir films on Friday, just in time for our discussion on his career as director. And there are a few other newly featured ones scattered throughout our mainstays of repeats.

Monday, November 15

7:45am – IFC – Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
French writer/actor/director Jacques Tati specialized in nearly-silent physical comedy that reminds one at times of Chaplin or Keaton, but with a slightly more ironic French flair about it. In Mr. Hulotís Holiday, a trip to the seashore turns out to be anything but relaxing.
1953 France. Director: Jacques Tati. Starring: Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, Micheline Rolla.
(repeats at 1:15pm)

11:00am – TCM – Summertime
I havenít seen this David Lean travelogue drama, but Kurt and rot were talking about it in some comments recently, and made me more interested in it than I ever have been before. So maybe Iíll check it out.
1955 USA/UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Rosanno Brazzi.

3:45pm – TCM – The Big Heat
Director Fritz Lang came out of the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s, so itís not surprising that he ended up making some of the better noir films, given film noirís borrowing of Expressionist style. Glenn Ford is a cop working against his corrupt department, but the parts youíll remember from the film all belong to Gloria Grahame in a supporting role as a beaten-up gangsterís moll. Her performance and Langís attention to detail raise the otherwise average story to a new level.
1953 USA. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame.
Must See

5:30pm – TCM – The Lady fom Shanghai
Most of Wellesí films, no matter the genre, feel a little noirish in mood, but The Lady from Shanghai is the real thing, complete with fatalistic hero who gets dragged into a murder plot by a femme fatale (Rita Hayworth). And noir set-pieces don’t get much better than the chase sequence set in a bewildering hall of mirrors.
1948 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth.

8:00pm – TCM – Moguls & Movie Stars: The Dream Merchants
TCM moves into the golden age of the silent era, showcasing the height of cinematic artistry before sound came in and forced everyone to relearn how to make films.

9:00pm – TCM – Sunrise
One of the finest artistic achievements in cinema history – the story might be a little flimsy/far-fetched these days, of a man tempted away from his wife by a loose woman but later reconciled – but the use of cinematography and expressionist art direction to create a mesmerizing mood has rarely been matched since. A breathtaking experience still.
1937 USA. Director: F.W. Murnau. Starring: George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston.
Must See
Newly Featured!

12:00M – TCM – The Iron Horse
One of director John Ford’s earliest films, in the genre where he would stake his most enduring claims to cinematic greatness. I’m really looking forward to seeing this for the first time.
1924 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: George O’Brien, Madge Bellamy, Charles Edward Bull.
Newly Featured!

12:15am (16th) – IFC – The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Any half-decent film about three drag queens driving a bus through the Australian outback in outlandish costumes (and sometimes lipsynching to opera while sitting in an enormous shoe strapped on top of the bus) pretty much has to be fabulous, and this one is. Hugo Weaving is the one with the secret former marriage and son, Terence Stamp the aging one who tends to be somewhat bitter but can also be the consummate lady, and Guy Pearce is the flamboyant youth. As they move through the Outback toward their next proposed gig as lipsynching dancers, they run into mechanical difficulties, bigotry, and interpersonal conflicts that get into more thoughtful territory than you might expect.
1994 Australia. Director: Stephan Elliott. Starring: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp, Rebel Penfold-Russell.

2:30am (16th) – TCM – Flesh and the Devil
Not my favorite Garbo film, but it is a good example of her silent melodramas, and it is opposite her most common leading man, John Gilbert. So it’s a good one to check out if you’re interested in seeing one of the most popular screen couples of the era.
1926 USA. Director: Clarence Brown. Starring: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert.

4:30am (16th) – TCM – Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
I haven’t seen this Rudolph Valentino film yet, but any excuse to see a film from one of the first great screen heartthrobs is worth a look.
1921 USA. Directors: Rex Ingram. Starring: Rudolph Valentino, Alice Terry, Pomeroy Cannon.
Newly Featured!

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Film on TV: November 1-7

M, playing on TCM on Sunday.

The thing I’m most excited about this week is the beginning of TCM’s seven-part Moguls and Movie Stars series on the history of Hollywood, starting tonight with a segment on early film, followed by a bunch of, well, early films. But if you’re not as into that as I am, there’s still plenty of other stuff. Like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a 1950s version of the Wyatt Earp story, playing Tuesday on TCM. And underground Iranian film No One Knows About Persian Cats on IFC on Tuesday. And catch most of the Rat Pack in Ocean’s Eleven on Saturday. Let horror bleed over into November with IFC showing Carrie on Sunday. And for sure don’t miss the Fritz Lang triple-feature on Sunday night, because those are some of the best films ever made.

Monday, November 1

6:15pm – TCM – While the City Sleeps
The head of a New York newspaper dies, leaving it in his son Vincent Price’s hands to choose someone to promote: managing editor Thomas Mitchell, lead reporter Dana Andrews, or a couple of other people. The way to get the job? Get the scoop on the serial killer taking out women around the city. It gets a little plot-heavy at times, but it’s so full of classic character actors and the noirish feel that director Fritz Lang does so well that it’s still very worthwhile.
1956 United States. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Ida Lupino, George Sanders

8:00pm – TCM – Moguls and Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood
If you’re interested in the history of film, TCM is starting a series tonight providing an overview of American film history from the very beginning (Edison films in the late 1890s) through the 1960s, one episode a week. Tonight is the dawn of early film, with “Peepshow Pioneers,” followed by collections of films from Thomas Edison, D.W. Griffith, Georges Melies, early silent Shakespeare adaptations, and a 1910 Mary Pickford short. They have the full schedule both for these short programs and for the series as a whole at the official site.
Newly Featured!

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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: New Hollywood Marathon



My largest and most glaring gap of cinematic knowledge, at least of American film, is easily the 1970s. I grew up watching the films of the Hollywood studios’ golden era, the 1930s-1950s, and of my own generation, the 1990s-current, but have only sporadically caught the films in between. Given that many of the greatest and most iconoclastic American films of all time come from the 1970s, I have decided that enough is enough, and this year I am going to eliminate my New Hollywood list of shame, which includes: The Godfather Part II, M*A*S*H, The Exorcist, Five Easy Pieces, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Badlands, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, and others.

easy-riders-raging-bulls.jpgBecause my knowledge of the whole era is a little superficial, I’m reading Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Generation Saved Hollywood to give myself a background in the history and temperament of the era, and watching the films he discusses while I’m reading. And I figured, might as well share my journey through New Hollywood as I go. The list of films you’ll find after the cut is culled from Biskind’s book and Wikipedia’s entry on New Hollywood, leaving out some that I have already seen.

One thing that has fascinated me as I worked on creating this master list is how varied the films are – drama, comedy, action, satire, war, crime, romance, horror, western, science fiction, concert film and period piece are all among the genres represented. What they have in common: 1) a willingness to push the boundaries of what cinema was allowed to do and to explore themes of sexuality, antiheroism, and isolation that were previously taboo, 2) a sense of brashness and raw vitality brought by the eager young filmmakers wresting the reins from entrenched studios, 3) a tendency to focus on character and script rather than plot, and 4) a knowledge of and appreciation for cinema itself, from the masters of Golden Age Hollywood to the imports coming from Europe and Japan.

This quote from Biskind’s introduction I think sums it up nicely:

[The 1970s were] the last time Hollywood produced a body of risky, high-quality work — work that was character-, rather than plot-driven, that defied traditional narrative conventions, that challenged the tyranny of technical correctness, that broke the taboos of language and behavior, that dared to end unhappily. […] In a culture inured even to the shock of the new, in which today’s news is tomorrow’s history to be forgotten entirely or recycled in some unimaginably debased form, ’70s movies retain their power to unsettle; time has not dulled their edge, and they are as provocative now as they were the day they were released. […] The thirteen years between Bonnie & Clyde in 1967 and Heaven’s Gate in 1980 marked the last time it was really exciting to make movies in Hollywood, the last time people could be consistently proud of the pictures they made, the last time the community as a whole encouraged good work, the last time there was an audience that could sustain it.

And it wasn’t only the landmark movies that made the late ’60s and ’70s unique. This was a time when film culture permeated American life in a way that it never had before and never has since. In the words of Susan Sontag, “It was at this specific moment in the 100-year history of cinema that going to the movies, thinking about movies, talking about movies became a passion among university students and other young people. You fell in love not just with actors but with cinema itself.” Film was no less than a secular religion.

A few Row Three contributors have already shown an interest in writing about some of these as well; if you’d like to watch and share your thoughts about any of them, please do! See also the list at the bottom, which includes several films I’ve already seen and don’t intend to rewatch and write about, but someone else certainly could. If you’re not a R3 contributor and would like to join in, just email me and I’ll post your reviews with credit.


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