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poster_londonfallenUsually when you have an action movie which probably would have been better with Bruce Willis as its star, the sequel tends to need that special touch as well. However, Gerard Butler isn’t bad when it comes to action movie stars, especially when the level of violence starts to bend more towards total ’80s fare.

London Has Fallen follows secret service mega-agent Mike Banning and U.S. President Benjamin Asher, played by Butler (The Awful Truth), played by Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), during Asher’s second term when the British Prime Minister mysteriously dies and the leaders of England’s allied countries come to the funeral. Asher and his team of security of course joins the funeral, but when there, Mike and the president find themselves in the middle of total anarchy, years in the making, when a terrorist organization makes a move to assassinate all world leaders in attendance including Asher. Soon, with the help of U.S. Vice President Allan Trumbull, again played by Morgan Freeman (Deep Impact), we find the force behind the attack is Aamir Barkawi, played by Alon Aboutboul, whom was presumed dead years before in a drone attack which killed most of his family during his daughter’s wedding.

The thing I like about this movie is sometimes its nice to simply have a production driven by blind patriotism, where the main character is spouting a bunch of U.S. War on Terrorism propaganda before he brutally stabs a terrorist in the chest several times over. Yes, sometimes among so much dissension against authority and country, it’s nice to be blindly patriotic and revel in an easier solution; trust no one, kill anything that moves unless it’s the president.

The film was fun; violent but fun. The plot was simple because the movie relied on its total action quality. That being said, the action was superb. There are a ton of cobblestone street chase scenes involving vehicles and motorcycles and on foot. There’s scenes in the London metro system and in MI5 safe houses. Ultimately it was a ton of great scope and on location production. However, in spots, the visual effects lacked. They weren’t a total disaster but it wasn’t exactly what I consider seamless.

The character development was practically non-existent, mostly because characters were developed during this film’s prequel Olympus Has Fallen. The only new aspect of development for the character of Mike? His wife was pregnant and he was contemplating resigning his position so he was no longer in harm’s way. It would have been better if Mike was conflicted during he movie when he had to choose between putting himself in a certain death situation to save the president OR pausing a moment to consider by doing so he may make his unborn son fatherless and his wife a widow. At least one moment where Mike had that thought would have made his character and the movie better. Inner conflict is what this movie lacked.

The other aspect of this sequel involving Eckhart’s president character was the fact that the situation called for Asher to deal a little death himself, and not in drone strikes while sitting in a dark fancy White House war room. It was shooting handguns, semi-auto rifles, etc. It added a level of badassness to the movie which having only ONE action hero would have missed. Of course, unless this U.S. President had military experience, he wouldn’t be able to shoot anyone, but we never got that about his character from either movie, so who knows if that part of his character is believable or not. It sure was cool though.

The worst part of the movie was the ending. Like the first one, we learn the entire coordination of the attack had to be either helmed or at least co-planned by someone on the inside. ***SPOILER ALERT*** This time, it was some 101-pound head of MI5 with whom we didn’t even get enough screen to learn what would possibly drive him to aid such an atrocious attack on multiple world leaders. It really felt contrived, and the way justice was dished out for him was soft and not fulfilling for me at least.

Overall, I think I enjoyed this installment of this so far ridiculous saga more than its prequel, but only because it was in a European location with great locations and scope. Other than that, this movie doesn’t offer much except for one more opportunity to sing, “America, FUCK YEAH!”

 

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poster_wtfI still don’t care for many projects starring Tina Fey. Usually when I see her name above title, I sit on the fence about seeing the movie and eventually abandon the idea. However, given my years as a news and sports journalist, this movie interested me. However, I didn’t pay enough attention to realize what the movie actually was. While I thought it was a comedy, there were very few laughs and nothing but selfish ambition as a theme to this what-turned-out-to-be drama.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is about Kim Barker, played by Fey (Sisters), who takes a position in Afghanistan in the wake of the post 9-11 war on terror. There, she makes a handful of journalists who have turned wartime covered into a college frat party while she attempts to make a name for herself as the journalist willing to put herself in harm’s way to get the story or footage no other TV network gets.

First off, this movie is extremely smart. The writing is very sharp in dialogue and relies on it heavily since the plot is more a slice of life style, which is odd to say since it involves war time journalism. The movie is based on a book by Fey’s true to life character, Barker, who recounted her experience spending those years in Taliban territory. Robert Carlock penned the screenplay who has a long career working with Fey as a contributing writer on Saturday Night Live and Tv’s 30 Rock. He also apparently wrote some of my favorite episodes of Tv’s Friends.

Fey was quite good as Barker, especially when her relationship with her boyfriend, played by Josh Charles (Dead Poets Society), started to dwindle from the physical distance between them. Her performance also got very interesting when her character started a casual romance with vulgar freelance photographer Iain MacKelpie, played by Martin Freeman (The Hobbit saga). Freeman also created a great character for us. He was interesting and despite being obscene, he was also charming and helped us accept Barker becoming attracted to him after a while. My favorite sequence is how Barker uses all her journalistic connections with the military stationed there and Afghanistan officials to organize a rescue of Iain after he is taken hostage by Taliban forces.

Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) also had a few great moments, especially after the drone strike scene which propelled her character’s career. For the most part however, Robbie is going to have to have some sort of breakout role to convince me she should be cast for anything more than eye candy. She is capable, moreso than say Megan Fox, but she’s pretty much spank bank material when she is in any movie for now.

I should also throw out a quick props to Christopher Abbot who played Barker’s cultural liason and translator Fahim, who showed chops in a great scene where he finally quits the news team because he feels Barker will get him killed trying to save her if her antics continue.

The worst part of the movie, and maybe it was simply the way the DVD played on my home system, but the dialogue scenes were TERRIBLY soft and the scenes of wartime conflict were OBNOXIOUSLY loud. So I was constantly having to turn up and turn down the volume to keep up with the story. I was annoying and I’m going to say it had something to do with either the sound design of the movie or the replication of it when transferred to DVD.

The other thing I felt could have been better about the film was its drag. The pace of the movie felt like it could move much faster. Strong scenes were too far spread out from scenes which only helped develop character or were there for fluff or comic relief. It wasn’t so long that I wanted to shoot myself. For the most part, almost every scene gave something important to the overall story, but there were moments where I found myself thinking, Holy crap, how long is this thing? (It’s just under two hours by the way).

Overall, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was surprisingly good, especially when I realized it wasn’t a comedy. There were some laughs, but definitely lacked situational comedy which one would normally find in a movie of that genre. Once I realized it was a drama, I started to panic, thinking, Gawd this is going to suck.

But it didn’t.

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poster_findingdoryFinding Nemo (2003) has to be one of the greatest Pixar movies ever produced, if not THE best. So it is not difficult to imagine any follow up sequel would have a lot of pressure to be even a fraction as good as its first installment. That’s pretty much what we have with Disney/Pixar’s latest Finding Dory; a sequel which albeit good does not even have close to the level of magic Finding Nemo brought to the screen.

Finding Dory revisits the title character, Marlin and his son Nemo one year after Nemo’s epic rescue. Except this time, we learn Dory, still plagued with short term memory loss, is struggling to remember something on a much larger scale, her parents and their whereabouts. With Marlin and Nemo’s help, Dory ventures back across the ocean to find her parents in a marine preserve in California. Dory gets separated but finds friends at the preserve including the escaped octopus Hank and short sighted whale shark Destiny.

The movie had its moments, especially as Dory came closer to finding her parents. But when you have Finding Dory to live up to, you’re practically doomed from the beginning. I didn’t care for how quickly this new film jumped into things without development of where characters were in their timeline. Nemo set up characters so well that if it weren’t for that film, there would be no character development in Dory.

I loved the entire marine preserve as a setting for the story. That “world” they created, voiced by Sigourney Weaver (Aliens), was superbly thought out. It was easy for me to understand where in the preserve the characters were and where they were trying to reach. Sigourney Weaver voicing the public address fact relay for the park truly gave it a mode of realism only hiring Richard Attenborough or Morgan Freeman for the same task could have achieved.

Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Nemo) returned to voice Dory but nothing new came from this performance besides consistency. Vocally, Dory responded to everything in every way we have come to expect. Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life) offered the same with his performance as Marlin. Nothing new to it but consistent to the previous production.

The vocal performance of the show came from Hank the octopus, whom at first I thought was voiced by Lewis Black. I mean why not. The character was almost Lewis Black to a pinpoint. However, the credits rolled and I was overjoyed to discover Ed O’Neill (Tv’s Modern Family) was the voice actor providing his take on the character. The fact that ol’ Al Bundy himself was the voice of the best character in the show really pleased me to no end. The animation on Hank was also impressive, and on a side note, Hank was the one character my kids came out of the cinema truly loving. So much so, my oldest stated she wanted to ask Santa for a Hank toy this Christmas.

The other aspect of the film I enjoyed was Dory remembering bits of her past as the movie went on, giving us a little more insight on Dory. Not that there was more character development, as in learning what makes her tick, but rather where her nuances were created, like her compelling mantra “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” Enjoyed those moments in the film as well.

The best analogy I can give as to how Finding Dory is good but not as great as Finding Nemo is a diamond necklace. While the necklace itself is well crafted, nice to look at makes you feel good, it’s the sparkle of the diamond pendent. Dory is the necklace but Nemo was the diamond.

Overall, the kids and I all enjoyed Finding Dory. I just didn’t think it carried the same magical feeling from Finding Nemo. Starting from that first scene in Nemo, you knew you were in for something truly special. In Dory, I struggled to find that same moment…at all.

 

 

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poster_id2This is the first time my movie corner cohort Brian G. Felts and I had a challenge from different time zones to see who could see a movie released to the cinemas the same day and be the first between us to post a review for it.

Of course, given our month’s theme of Disaster Movies, the perfect release to fit the bill was the sequel to Independence Day, Independence Day: Resurgence. Obviously, since director Roland Emmerich is my wife’s favorite, we both had high hopes for this follow up to the 1996 modern classic sci-fi action disaster film. Yep…high hopes.

In what is the only sequel on Emmerich’s resume, ID2 takes place 20 years after the attempted alien annihilation depicted in the first movie. Having used and learned from the left behind alien technology, the nations of the world have developed what seems to be an indefeatable world defense system and be finally at peace. However, the aliens return with another queen (don’t worry none of us knew there was a queen alien involved last time either but apparently there was) to finish the fight and reap the Earth of its molten core so the aliens have the resources to fuel their ships or some shit like that. Now it’s up to a handful of brainiacs from both the first movie and new characters to figure out once again how to save the day…or this movie which should have been destroyed as well. 

How did I know this was going to be a total shit movie right out of the gate? Easy. There was a seemingly record-breaking 11 writers credited for this movie…11. What the fuck? It takes THAT many people to write a movie and maybe fix a couple story flaws? Did F. Scott Fitzgerald have a team of 10 other writers to put together his classic works of literature? Hell, did it take half that many guys to write 1991’s City Slickers (one of the best written comedies ever)? NO, it took TWO. That was it. Eleven…whew….that’s rich.

Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) didn’t exactly make this his own like the last installment. You could have lifted the Jurassic Park alum out and dropped in Steve Buscemi (every retarded Adam Sandler movie ever; oh and Armageddon) and it wouldn’t have change the dynamic of the film at all. His presence was not what it should have been. 

Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games saga) and Jessie T. Usher (When the Game Stands Tall) were about as good an onscreen action duo as Ben Stiller and a turnip. Their chemistry was extremely stiff and at no time did their backstory provide adversity when it came time to do alien damage. Then why have it at all? If there’s friction between them, it should have been something which kept them from being able to protect others unless things got worked out.

I loved that Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill), who played Hiller’s mother in both films, died during the big disaster sequence. It gave the viewer a sense that no characters were safe especially if it was one who had returned from part one. I did wonder how she went from stripper to Doctor though. Interesting character choice. 

Judd Hirsch’s character should have died as well. He served absolutely no purpose except so few lines of comedy dialogue he couldn’t even be considered a comic relief for the film. He babysat a Gilmore Girl and some other newly orphaned teenish kids and that storyline pretty much enemy no where. He should have died on the boat when the alien ship landed. 

Luckily, Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore character is dead. No more stupid sounding lame speeches which are about as inspirational as Hillary Clinton’s book on cassette reading of Dante’s Inferno. And wouldn’t you know it, this movie found a new speech for him to give, just as lame as his speech in the first, even though he was pretty much the Randy Quaid of the second film. 

As the movie came to its end, I started to have more and more issues with it. Wait, if all their tech is inoperable after the queen is dead, why was the big drill ship able to fly away after they killed her? There was a lot of things like that in this film. Abc=xyz if you establish it in your movie. If you set that expectation, at the end you can suddenly decide abc=xyq4@:)9i$. It’s not fair and leaves the viewer feeling had. It takes them out of the story. Why would you do that?

 Of course the final scene is the worst. Let’s learn in stellar travel so we can attack the aliens head on in their own Galaxy. “Let’s kick some serious alien ass,” Brent Spiner said. There’s another character who had no need to return for a sequel but somehow did. 

Well, for those of you who are a gutten for punishment, yes, there indeed is an Independence Day 3 in development according to imdb.com. I’ll buy the balloons because knowing that sure makes me feel festive….ish.

Overall, Indepedence Day: Resurgence was not the best. It doesn’t do anything knew even though the actual disaster sequences were pretty awesome. To be honest, I felt Aliens was better if you wanted to get into a story involving fighting the queen of an interstellar species.

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This movie is exactly the reason why I don’t watch very many classic films. At least none prior to 1970. It never matters how good the screenplay maybe, the production value is always the equivalent of a sub-par community theater production.

After a noble English family comes together to figure out how to convince one their younger members John, played by Ralph Forbes, to not marry a popular theatrical actress, Miss Elise Hillary, played by Ruth Chatterton. At the advice of her father, the family decides to invite her to stay at the family manor while she finishes up her performing career in preparation of the marriage, hoping she would find their lives boring and not marry John. However, when her finance’s cousin Edward arrives, played by Basil Rathbone, scandal is abound as Edward and Miss Hillary fall for each other, even though Edward is already having an affair with the wife of a member of Parliament.

Falling into the category of “Sucks because it was made when movies sucked,” The Lady of Scandal was riddled with scenes which didn’t carry the story forward half the time. The performances were equal to that of a Betty Boop black and white animated cartoon; melodramatic, unreasonable and just plain contrived. Forbes was one of the worst. Rathbone wasn’t much better.

While this movie felt like watching a bad community theatre production, the movie itself was in fact based on a play by Frederick Lonsdale. A good play? Don’t ask me. Everything was so stiff and awkward and BRITISH, it was difficult to get into the situation as a viewer at all. The lighting and photography were dated as fuck. You can always tell a crappy 1930’s movie when certain shots start getting tunnel vision. That’s when you see the edges of that black circle around the shot, possibly where the film didn’t quite grab the light coming through the camera’s gate. The tunnel comes and goes and it’s SO distracting.

The sound quality, like most movies of this age, was basically the quality of a dusty LP you found in grandpa’s closet and trying to get his old record player to work. Poor sound makes the movie so difficult to hear dialogue. However, the dialogue wasn’t believable anyways, so who cares.

The character of Elise Hillary was played as such a bitch by Chatterton. She hardly smiled through the entire picture and had this “No, I refuse to have fun” vibe about her which really made her a pain in the ass to watch. You really just didn’t like her, and there was no reason to like her. Even at the end of the film when Lady Hillary convinces Edward to call the Parliamentary wife to tell her he is in love with another instead of sending a letter. The film attempted to make Lady Hillary seem noble by calling Edward’s bluff and convincing him the right thing to do, seeing how the Parliamentary wife is recently widowed, would be to go back to Paris and marry the woman with whom he had a longtime affair instead of Lady Hillary herself.

From a moviemaking standpoint, things could not be worse. There were so many continuity errors from scene to scene, it added to the heap of distractions this production had for me. Continuity errors like characters smoking in one shot, and not smoking in another. Or the color of their drink changes between edits. Just terrible.

The timeline was also confusing. After the family first meets Lady Hillary and invites her to stay, there is a time jump of three weeks, noted to us in online text. However, by the end of the film, the dialogue mentions months had gone by. How? I NEVER got that. There were no change of hairstyles or anything to indicate a substantial amount of time. I would like to have seen the relationship between Lady Hillary and Lord Crayle, played by Herbert Bunston, during the first three weeks of her stay. After the on screen graphic told us about that time jump, Crayle was suddenly not as hoity-toity and uptight. He had been affected by Lady Hillary’s presence, but we never got to see why? Or how? He simply came to love her like a daughter of his own. Ummm…okay.

The only thing I found impressive about the movie was the production design. They really did know how to build large scale sets for a sound stage back then instead of using all special effects like today. It was impressive.

Overall, this obscure little film should probably stay obscure. I only saw it, knowing I have a Classic Review to do for Brian and Benn’s Movie Corner every month, and I was flipping through what was upcoming on Turner Classic Movies. At least I recorded and saw this one for free and at least it was only an hour and a half long. I’m starting to dread what I may end up recording for next month’s classic.

 

 

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poster_paulblart2I’m not sure what is with Kevin James doing these Rated PG movies. He’s not the most vulgar guy in the world or even an Adam Sandler level of juvenile humor usually, but his brand of comedy has never really been PG even since his days as a stand-up comic. However, the Paul Blart movies and things like Zookeeper (2011) seem to be nothing less than holding him back.

This latest Paul Blart installment is a perfect example.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 follows the title character, again played by James (Grown Ups), six years after the first Mall Cop story ended. After his wife had left six days from their wedding date and following the death of his mother, Blart and his daughter take vacation in Las Vegas after the mall cop is invited to a conference of security officers the same day Maya, the daughter played by Raini Rodriguez (TV’s Austin & Ally), secretly learns of her acceptance into UCLA. In Vegas, Blart bumbles his way through self awareness until uncovering a criminal plot to heist the Wynn Hotel and Resort of numerous high profile works of art, which Maya witnesses. Now Blart must save his kidnapped daughter from the clutches of mastermind Vincent, played by Neal McDonough (Red 2).

This film’s biggest fault, other than being disgustingly predictable and done before, is Kevin James not taking Paul Blart up another level, and I’m talking Jim Carrey level. Most of the situational comedy could have been laugh out loud funny if Blart could break out of the small mode of realism he was boxed into.

For example, the craps scene; Blart had never played but saw people around the craps table and heard the shooter was hot. He asked the dealer what to do and ended up dropping over $100 on the next throw under the dealer’s recommendation. Of course, because Blart is such a loser, he loses the throw and is out of gambling funds. However, after it happens, he simply accepts his fate and moves on like he’s cool about it. That was a moment when we really could have seen James milk the comedy of that situation for everything it was, but…nothing. There were quite a lot of scenes like that.

However, there were a few moments which were improvised which truly showed how funny James is. An example would be in Act 3 when Vincent and Blart are shouting at each other in the hallway, just before the big gang rumble, arguing over who is the more dangerous and “crazy.”

Another was Blart’s inability to fake his way through the shipping worker’s suspicions simply because the shipping worker was eating an overripe banana which had turned black. That simple exchange probably made me laugh out the loudest. Unfortunately, those moments are about as rare as an honest politician.

The writing was weak. Nothing in this film was original. The script played everything safe and by the guidelines of any UCLA Film School textbook. The production relies solely on James’ comedic ability and without his character being outlandish enough, it wasn’t enough to carry the movie.

Rodriguez’s performance was everything Disney Channel preteen sitcoms aspire to be. McDonough is getting type cast very quickly. But that crazy contest scene was hilarious. Good for him.

Gary Valentine (TV’s The King of Queens) only gets work when Kevin James does. However, I always enjoy it when he has a character role in these movies. I loved his willingness to have the makeup department shave his head to simulate a receding hairline.

From a directing standpoint, this was actually pretty decent for this kind of comedy. I’m not going to say the visual style for telling the story is groundbreaking, but at least it was a little visually different in spots than one would expect from this type of movie. I’ve liked some of director Andy Fickman’s earlier projects including She’s the Man (2006) which was a preteen modern telling the Shakespeare play.

Now for the really bad. This movie, much like the first one, was disappointing and just plain stupid. For about a good 45 minutes all we do is watch Paul be a complete fucking loser. You really just wanted to give the guy a hug. And to be honest, without there being more big laughs from Kevin James, but it was depressing for that aspect. If you have any comedy that makes you depressed for 45 minutes, then your movie is a complete failure.

Overall, that’s the best way to describe this film, a total fail. I did laugh a bit, and it was nice to see Paul Blart as a character grow by the end, but it was shit. Please God, Ala, Budda, Sonny and Sheeba, by the power of Greyskull, make sure producers don’t make a Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3.

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I grew up watching the TV series which followed this movie. In fact, I distinctly remember the final episode of M.A.S.H. Being the first piece of entertainment which actually made me weep. Don’t make fun, I was like 8 years old.

Also since seeing The Player (1992), I’ve been a longtime fan of director Robert Altman who turns out also directed the M.A.S.H. movie from 1970. So given my fanship of the TV series and the director why not see the original movie which I hadn’t before? So here we go.

The movie M.A.S.H. is a slice of life look at a U.S. Army field hospital during the Korean War after a handful of young and spry surgeons are stationed there. Hawkeye, played by Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1), and McIntyre, played by Elliott Gould (TV’s Friends), attempt to keep the pressures of being a combat surgeon at bay with a handful of antics for their own benefit and those whom are willing to let them to what they have to to keep from going crazy.

The first thing I liked about this movie was how it put director Altman and his style on the map. He uses a ton of observational compressed camera shots which gives the film an unusual flat look. But it does well for this movie to make the viewer feel as if they are stationed at the 4077 hospital as well and observing Hawkeye and Trapper John from afar. That style has made The Player and Short Cuts (also Altman works) two of my favorites from this director.

The performances were also of quality. In a style such as Altman’s, it takes a certain skill set as an actor to have your inner dialogue and non-dialogue acting noticed. The camera work tends to muttle performances, especially their faces. Sutherland, Gould, Tom Skerritt (Contact) and Sally Kellerman as Hot Lips O’Houlihan all did extremely well in their roles, particularly Sutherland who had that stupid swamp hat and glasses to hide his face that much more then Altman’s style. Kellerman actually earned an Academy Award nomination for her role as a supporting actress.

It’s probably because of the time period in which I was raised, or the influence of those who raised me, or just because I’ve never been in country in a military unit, or even worked in a hospital in the 1970’s, but the sexism which dripped from that unit was hard for me to see as funny. In fact, even though this movie labeled itself as a comedy, I hardly laughed at all. I simply didn’t find it funny. I didn’t think the chauvinist comments were funny. I didn’t think the situations were funny. I didn’t really find Hawkeye or Trapper John’s antics funny (not like I did with the M.A.S.H. TV series). I just didn’t think it was a comedy.

At the same time, it’s difficult calling this a drama. The whole purpose of the movie was to show a couple soldiers trying to keep things light-hearted to people don’t go nuts with the stress of their place in the war. It’s easy not to respect that. And the movie kept things very light hearted as well. But I can’t even call this a dramedy. A dramedy includes dramatic situations which are found funny from time to time. That’s not this movie as well. It’s simply war-time situations where a couple guys where trying to be smartasses. Have you ever hung out with a smartass who wasn’t really funny, but he didn’t really bother you. You just kind of shake your head at him and know he isn’t really hurting anyone and means well? That’s what it is like watching this movie. It truly is a slice of life picture.

That being said, if you are someone who enjoys plot over characters, this movie is not for you. There is NO plot in the movie whatsoever. The goals of the characters are constantly changing until the surgeons eventually go home. If you don’t find the characters interesting and worth watching, then you will absolutely dislike this film.

Overall, I’m glad I finally got to see this inspiration for one of my favorite TV shows growing up. And I’m glad I got to see it as an adult for the first time. It’s not for everyone for sure. I won’t even say it’s for me that much, but I’m sure glad it made for a long career for Mr. Altman.

 

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