Box Office: “X-Men” x-out $82, “Alice” looking at $40

box“X-Men: Apocalypse” is headed to a healthy Memorial Day opening weekend based on Thursday night/Friday numbers.

It’ll have $68 million tallied by Sunday, $82 million by midnight Monday, per  That’s in line with expectations. Word of mouth won’t cool it off but so much. It’s a comic book movie. They’re foolproof.

“Alice Through the Looking Glass” is riding its bad-to-awful reviews to a still respectable $40 million through Monday night. It cost more than that, but international BO should put it comfortably in the black.

Johnny Depp, however, may have dealt his reputation a fatal blow. Abuse allegations? Audiences do not forgive that.

“Angry Birds” has lost half its opening audience, and “Captain America” is finally running out of steam, even though it’s still in the top five.




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Movie Review: “The Phenom”


“The Phenom” is a sensitive, unconventional baseball tale rendered in the muted tones of dread, a young player’s fear of letting everyone down.

It’s about a rookie pitcher (Johnny Simmons) trying and failing to cope with the pressures of a fat contract, a brutishly demanding mentor/father, the girl he left behind and his own very public failure — a flurry of wild pitches in a key game — on national TV.

That’s a lot to ask of an 18-19 year old. So Hopper Gibson’s been sent to see a “mental coach,” a sports psychologist played with understated whispers by Paul Giamatti.

Hopper’s sessions on the couch are laced with flashbacks — distracted in class in high school, teenage flirtations, that magic moment when the scouts discovered him and the day he showed his mother “the castle” he bought her with his signing bonus.

Then, there’s Dad. Growing up in tiny Port St. Lucie, Florida, everybody knows Hopper and worse, knows his family. Hopper Sr., given a tattoos and a ferocious prison mullet cut with a performance to match by Ethan Hawke, knows the game. He once had promise, too.

He ridicules the kid, amused that baseball scouts are interested “in a little toothpick like you.” He insults his intelligence.

“I think you don’t have any homework. You don’t have the BRAINS to have homework.”

But in between prison stints and eruptions of rage, the old man’s given the boy every overbearing lesson the game taught him.

“Never show emotion on the mound.”

Simmons, of “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” makes Hopper both a convincing pitcher (no small feat) and shy, soft-spoken and thoughtful, even when he’s passing on Dad’s nasty “everybody uses everybody” lessons to his leftist, smart and underwhelmed by his impending fame girlfriend (Sophie Kennedy Clark).

There’s a lightly comical scene where he has dinner with her and her left-of-liberal parents, who surprise him with their suggestions that common sense dictates he pursue the riches the game might dangle in front of him over the enriching and maturing and broadening experience of college.

Writer-director Noah Buschel (“Neal Cassady” was his debut) conjures up a serene and unhurried character study, a 90 minute film so unhurried that it feels much longer. Simmons’ Hopper seemingly on simmer throughout. We see the trials of his public failure, the press scrum circling him like chum in the water. We hear about another pitcher who cracked up and killed himself and fear for the kid’s future.

A clever musical cue sets the mood. Buschel uses Mozart’s wistful and sad Piano Sonata #11 throughout the picture — in the score, a piece being practiced by a horn player in the high school band, and a ballpark organist’s between-innings scene-setter. It tamps down the tempo and puts us in Hopper’s frame of mind.

He’s in his glory, but it’s all coming apart. It’s all this kid can do to tamp down his emotions, get a handle on his fears and calm himself. Maybe a little Mozart would help. And sessions with a shrink.


MPAA Rating: unrated, implied violence, alcohol use, sexual situations

Cast: Johnny Simmons, Ethan Hawke, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Paul Giamatti
Credits: Written and directed by Noah Buschel. An RLJ Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:30

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Weekend Movies: Will bad reviews beat down “X-Men”, “Alice”?

x2A sequel and a franchise finale opened late Thursday.

But bad reviews greeted “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” And weak ones are waving in front of “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

So will what looked like a blockbuster weekend, on paper, best a bust?

One of my indicators is simple interest in reviews of the films. I track this by online traffic here, and while there’s been an ongoing interest in “X-Men,” which I panned three weeks ago, “Alice” looks like an absolute bust.

Box Office Mojo forecasts that Memorial day will belong to the “first class” of “X-Men,” one more time. A three day take of $67 million is forecast.

The typically more accurate Box Office Guru thinks $93 million for what it actually a four day movie weekend. Which explains why Mojo often gets these things wrong. They post screen counts, but they can’t count “Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.”

Mojo figures over $40 for “Alice.” Again, adding up three days. Guru goes to $52.

Those tracks are in sync with each other. I do wonder if the reviews and comic book fatigue will set in on one and the lack of Tim Burton will hurt the other.




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Movie Review: “Me Before You”


With her Angry Birds eyebrows and toothpaste advert grin, Emilia Clarke can lay claim to the most animated face this side of Jim Carrey.

And she animates it, boy does she work it, in the romantic tragi-comedy “Me Before You.”

Every frame the “Game of Thrones” alumna is in, she’s furrowing her brow into a caterpillar catfight, peeling back her lips and grinning til it hurts.

And we feel her pain. Boy, do we ever.

“Me Before You” is a goofy, giddy, doomed romance and female wish-fulfillment fantasy.

Clarke plays a plucky working class lass hired as caregiver to a rich, handsome quadriplegic man determined to end his life.

Every girl’s dream, right? It’s not for me, but then again, it’s not exactly FOR me.

Sam Claflin is Will Traynor, dashing heir to a castle, extreme sports enthusiast, Londoner and ladies  man.

Or that WAS his life. Before the accident. Now, he can’t do anything for himself, or seemingly anyone else. He’s gone through a string of day nurses. Chatty Louisa (Clarke) has just lost her job at the bakery. He lets his parents (Janet McTeer, Charles Dance) hire her. Mighty generous of him.

He’s brusque. What does he do all day?

“I don’t do anything, Miss Clarke. I sit.”

He’s rude, quick to dismiss her.

“Go and raid your grandma’s wardrobe or whatever it is you do when you’re not making me tea.”

Louisa suffers, shows up to work, bright-eyed and pony-tailed, in one outlandishly colored outfit after another, and tries to stay positive.

“Tell me something good,” she says, repeating a life lesson of her dad (Brendan Coyle of “Downton Abbey”).

Living in a castle, waited-on all day, with access to as much metallic electronica as his ears can stand, Will still cannot do that. He’s resolved not to live this way. Can this grinning cherub change his mind? As she pushes him into a series of adventures/trips?


me2.jpgJojo Moyes, adapting her own novel for the screenplay, serves up the cliches, but almost no dialogue, points of view or plot points that smack of originality. Yes, throwing “The Bucket List” into the mix plays like a cloying afterthought.

Some films (and plays) about the suicidal (‘Night, Mother”) make us understand the morose eagerness to end it all. Others (“Whose Life Is It Anyway?”) are built on characters and performances of such intense brio that we question the decision, even as we understand what a circumscribed life would mean to such a person.

Young Claflin (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) makes this choice seem more out of the blue. Thinking about it, we get it. But his version of bitterness/acceptance has no real bite.

The script is out of balance, wandering off into “Educating Rita” territory as Lou is exposed to things only the truly rich (and class conscious) typically experience. Not good news for her boorish personal trainer boyfriend (Matthew Lewis).

The comedy clicks more than the romance. Because Moyes taps into something patronizingly stereotypical with this weeper. If boys fantasize about unearned, unlimited power of comic book characters, girls (the stereotype says) go all gooey at the idea of chaste (or not-so-chaste) romance with a matinee idol dangling the promise of fabulous wealth. Decades after “Pretty Woman,” Moyes has doubled-down on a cliche, even as she’s watered down the “sex for hire” come-on.

But first to last, there’s perky Ms. Clarke, wearing a more natural hair color than “Game of Thrones” allows, demanding that we grin with her, making us giggle at her character’s outfits and hoping that we suffer as she does when confronted with the depths of her challenge.

We do suffer. Not a lot. But we do.



MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material

Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Charles Dance, Janet McTeer, Vanessa Kirby, Brendan Coyle
Credits: Directed by Thea Sharrock, script by Jojo Moyes, based on her novel. A Warner Brothers/New Line/MGM release.

Running time: 1:50

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Movie Review: “The Man Who Knew Infinity”


“The Man Who Knew Infinity” is a standard-issue, overcoming-the-odds bio-pic.

The hero must rise above poverty, a lack of education, racism and cultural guilt to reach the pinnacle in his field.

The twist here is that this time, our hero isn’t a haunted musician, tormented ballplayer or tortured artist. He’s good with numbers.

Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) plays Srinivasa Ramanujan, a struggling amateur mathematician in Madras who considers himself lucky to land a job as a clerk to a British engineer just before World War I.

It is not the Brit (Stephen Fry) who sees “great potential” in the young man, but the  Indian (Dhritiman Chatterjee) who hired him. He will clerk during the day, and “explain your theorems to me,” complex and novel, to his supervisor after work. 

Ramanujan is newly married to the illiterate but supernaturally beautiful Janika (Devika Bhise) and must take care of his overbearing, superstitious mother, who lives with them as well.

But Ramanujan has these numbers in his head, these Big Ideas he simply must get out. They “must not die with me.” No degree, living in a backwater of the British Raj, “I’m doomed, like Galileo.”

He must publish or he most certainly will perish.

Yes, he’s a bit sure of himself. That’s why he writes to the great Trinity College don G.H. Hardy in Cambridge. Sending a sample of his work gets him an invitation. The Indian among Academics invites skepticism and racism. The vicious ones call him “a little wog,” and even the more tolerant can’t help themselves.

“Don’t let it ruin your meeting with Gunga Din.”

inf2But Hardy, played by Jeremy Irons with a minimum of eye contact and an Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum layer of anti-sociability, isn’t dissuaded. He and his favorite colleague, Littlewood (Toby Jones) will train and give the Indian prodigy some discipline to go with his brilliant intuition.

The obstacles hurled in the way of Ramanujan include the racist hostility of the college establishment, the dismissal of the Royal Society, a meddling ninny of a mother, the hoary melodrama cliche “the bloody handkerchief,” and World War I.

Patel, who is piling up impressive credits, makes a reliably earnest too-focused young man. Irons smokes and pontificates and rails against injustice. Jones provides the tiniest bit of levity, Fry is given nothing to do and assorted lesser known players take on the utterly generic villain roles.

The glory in Matt Brown’s film is the odd moment of discovery — not mathematical, but romantic, such as when Janika learns that her husband has left behind marks which she doesn’t understand yet make her feel closer to him while he is in England.

The problem with the movie is it all feels like something we’ve seen before, many times before. The novelties aren’t outweighed by the dramatic tropes, characters and plot contrivances we recognize for their function if not their actual role in this piece of history most of us don’t know.

That over-familiarity, and the simple fact that math is awfully hard to dramatize, undercuts “The Man Who Knew Infinity”  just as surely as any jealous, racist mathematician who stands in the hero’s way, a classic bio-picture “type” we know too well to expect him to actually foil our hero in the end.



MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements and smoking

Cast: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Toby Jones, Stephen Fry, Devika Bhise

Credits: Written and directed by Matt Brown, based on the Robert Kanigel biography. An IFC release.

Running time: 1:48

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“The Infiltrator” features Bryan Cranston and one other “Seinfeld” veteran

Can you find him?

There’s Benjamin Bratt and Amy Ryan and Diane Krueger and John Leguizamo, co-starring with hot-property Bryan C., onetime dentist and Jewish convert Tim Whatley. On “Seinfeld.”

“The Infiltrator” looks gritty and ’80s drug trade generic, save for BC, who seems a little old for his undercover agent role. It opens this summer.

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Movie Review: “My Father’s Vietnam”


Personal, first-person documentaries often walk a fine line between illuminating and indulgent. And Vietnam War films, especially documentaries, were a played-out genre twenty years ago.

But Soren Sorensen’s “My Father’s Vietnam” manages to be both personal and informative, a memoir of a time now fading into ancient history as remembered by those who lived through it.

Sorensen’s father Peter is the subject of the film, a man who took his son with him to Washington when the boy was ten. He did pencil rubbings of two names on the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Maya Lin’s masterfully moving and stunningly simple tribute to the war and those who died there. Soren saw his dad’s eyes well up with tears.

“I was hardly old enough to comprehend it,” the son narrates.

His film is about his father’s experience of the conflict, and memories of those two names he tracked down on the wall. The younger Sorensen visited those who loved or served with the two dead soldiers, has them read from the letters (Loring Bailey, Jr. was an aspiring writer and his letters are articulate and beautifully detailed) they sent home.

Peter Sorensen, speaking to his son, reminds us that history has over-simplified Vietnam. Young men enlisted in the military as part of a long family tradition, to “do their part” in a way the small towns they grew up in expected them to. Peter felt “It was a bogus war,” even then. But he’d do his part.

And they wanted some control over what they ended up doing in the armed forces, unlike a draftee. Peter Sorensen’s strategy was “beat the clock.”

“The National Guard was closed-out, unless your name was ‘Bush.'”

He’d enlist, stretch out his time in officer candidate school, and maybe Nixon’s “secret plan to end the war” would kick in and save him the overseas trip.

In 1968, people wanted to believe that.

Instead, he was put in combat engineers, then re-assigned as public information officer — a Hemingway buff and aspiring journalist getting his chance to cover the war from the military’s point of view for military publications.

Loring Bailey Jr. and Glenn Rickert were people he knew In Country. And they died.

The younger Sorensen’s film covers familiar ground, and spends a lot of time with Bailey’s surviving brother-in-law, Rik Carlson. He was a war protester who refused to serve (did time in an Army prison for it), and the film reminds us of what a tiny minority groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society and Weather Underground actually were.

Nowadays, we believe EVERYbody was against the war. Sort of like the way a previous generation of France figured EVERYbody was in the Resistance.

Dad’s combat zone photos are used liberally throughout the film, along with newsreel footage, all of which breaks up the sometimes emotional interviews with those who remember how their loved ones or comrades died and the day and way they found out about their death.

The passage of time works to the film’s favor, as a lot of this history and personal experience, while hardly unique, feels fresher without having 40 other documentaries very much like it coming out every year.

So even though “My Father’s Vietnam” isn’t that much different from anybody else’s father’s Vietnam, it reminds us, without the dispassionate remove of historians and generals, of what that time was like for those who lived through it, and those who didn’t.



MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Peter Sorensen, Loring Bailey Sr., Rik Carlson, Glenn Rickert Jr.
Credits: Written, directed by and edited by Soren Sorensen. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:22

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Movie Review: “Alice Through the Looking Glass”


Oh, Alice, we’re not in Wonderland anymore. Not so much, anyway.

That cheeky screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Maleficent,” “The Lion King”) has stripped all the wonder out of it. And “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” which has precious little to do with the rhyming collection Lewis Carroll penned with that title, is a dreary, joyless affair.

Poor overmatched director James Bobin (“The Muppets”) ladled on the gloom for this 3D eye candy epic. And not even the cackling Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen can save it.

“OFF with his head!”

alice2In order to get back to Wonderland and reprise all the characters that made Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” a Disney blockbuster, Woolverton had to create an older, pre-feminist Alice (Mia Wasikowska) action heroine, out to save her “best friend,” the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) from dying of sadness.

Alice must time travel back to the day when his family was killed. To do that, she must steal a gadget from Time himself. Time is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who fiddles around with an accent/impersonation (well after casting, wardrobe fittings and shooting his first scenes) until he settles on the Viennese snarl of Christoph Waltz.

Yes, I will bide my time until the nick of time and give Disney two actors for the price of one!

Time chases after Alice, but runs afoul of her Tea Party pals. Who proceed to pun the poor chap to tears.

“Time is on my side,” says the March Hare, having a seat next to the guest.

“You’re late,” they all hiss at the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) .

No, he purrs, settling in on a shoulder. “I’m right…on Time!”

There’s a nasty sibling rivalry back-story between the Red Queen and White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to settle.

And Woolverton wastes a staggering amount of Time (hah!) cooking up “real” names or alternate names for everyone from the Hatter (Tarrant Hightopp), the queens (Iracebeth and Mirana), the Caterpillar (the late Alan Rickman voiced Absolem).

The effects and costumes are so elaborate that virtually every scene consists of somebody all dolled-up and digitized, standing stock still to deliver their lines. Because if Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Matt Lucas of TV’s “Little Britain”) move more than an inch or two, the effect will not work.

There’s little spark between Depp and Wasikowska here. Depp’s makeup is even more involved than in the first film, and lines like “You’re bonkers, aren’t you? All the best ones are,” are few and far between.

The eye candy is dazzling, but nobody told Bobin how under-lighting most scenes would deaden the 3D. To say nothing of making note-taking in the almost uninterrupted darkness damn near impossible. Mutter.

The best bit of Woolverton invention is the least Carroll-like of all. We meet Alice in the opening, years after her childhood, and she’s an intrepid ship captain, outrunning Malay pirates (in junks) by heeling her vessel so that it can snake through a shallow, rocky passage and escape.

“Hard a’port!” she commands.

And the ship? It turns and heels to starboard. Silly Land Lubber Woolverton. Not as easy as plagiarizing “The Lion King” from “Kimba,” a Japanese cartoon, is it?



MPAA Rating:PG for fantasy action/peril and some language

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Rhys Ifans
Credits: Directed by James Bobbin, script by Linda Woolverton, loosely based upon the Lewis Carroll books. A Walt Disney release.

Running time: 1:53


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Movie Review — “Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words”


Wit, provocateur, satirist and social gadfly — “I’m famous,” Frank Zappa liked to say, “but most people don’t know what I do.”

He made his living as a performer and band-leader of the Mothers of Invention, conjuring up dissonant orchestrations, and hilariously catchy and often off-color ditties about not eating “Yellow Snow,” a “Valley Girl,” a “Disco Boy” or “Dinah Moe Humm.”

Zappa’s fame was built on controversies, public appearances, against-the-grain social and political stances and interviews. Nobody gave interview like Frank.

That’s how Thorsten Schutte (Zappa would LOVE that name) built his film, “Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words.” It’s a documentary concocted out of decades of film and TV interviews — some confrontational, some awkward, often quite funny.

Because Zappa’s real gift might have been comedy. His bemused cynicism burst through his lyrics and permeated his public persona. He could turn to the camera and deadpan a bigger laugh than most stand-ups. And so he does, early and often, in this 90 minute celebration of his life and music.

It’s not all laughs. There was his battle with those — Tipper Gore, et al — who wanted age-appropriate ratings on records, prompting a funny exchange in a Congressional committee hearing. The Royal Albert Hall tried to cancel a symphonic multi-media show once they realized he’d be showing nude images and himself flipping the bird in film footage projected on stage. And we see his last TV interview, dying of cancer, not quite defiant, but snarky to the end.

Schutte creates a public picture of the man, who could play the music snob with the best of them, a musician Above It All, especially that sell-out pop music thing.

But here he is, on “The Mike Douglas Show,” on “What’s My Line?”, shilling and selling.

“Who you jivin’ with all that cosmic debris?”

He was always good for a laugh, Mephistophelian goatee, lustful leer and all. That was obvious from the start, his first national exposure, on Steve Allen’s show. He’d written music for two bicycles, recorded electronic noises and improvised big band blurts. He was young, clean-shaven and wearing a suit. But the sarcasm, the wink-at-the-audience drollery at putting on the show’s host? Vintage Frank. Just two composer/polymaths ribbing each other — a hoot.

The film is a celebration, so even though we catch him on stage at his most sexist (“Dinah Moe Humm”) and borderline homophobic (“Bobby Brown Goes Down”), that corner of his reputation is not explored. The sexually compliant females which he inserted into his songs, joking about rape (in character), the British talk show in which he praised groupies for delivering “the ultimate gesture of worship — human sacrifice”, the man could certainly provoke.

His defense, that it was all in the name of satire (more like Randy Newman’s “Short People” than Andrew Dice Clay’s “in character” stage act) rings true but a little hollow. His body of work points to a tolerant gadfly ahead of his time in a lot of attitudes and stances. Maybe not that far ahead, though.

But “Eat That Question” captures him at his most articulate, most colorful and most playful, an entertainer who lived his life performing one long, droll eye-roll at music, musicians and the “plastic people” who consume it.


MPAA Rating: R (nudity, profanity)

Cast: Frank Zappa, Steve Allen, Katie Couric, many others
Credits: Directed by Thorsten Schutte. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:30

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Movie Review: “Five Nights in Maine”


Oscar winner Dianne Wiest and “Selma” star David Oleyowo clash ever-so-quietly around the edges of grief in the short and somber “Five Nights in Maine.”

The debut feature of writer-director Maris Curran aims for cryptic, and she gives us only little morsels of back story to cling to. But a fine cast almost compensates for that, with Wiest and Oleyowo exploring the guilt — earned or unearned — that follows a loved one’s early death.

Fiona (Israeli actress Hani Furstenberg) was Sherwin’s wife. We’ve met them playing, adorably, in bed. We’ve seen her go to the pool for exercise.

And then there’s the phone call — a fatal car crash. Sherwin (Oleyowo) collapses into mourning, followed by a sullen withdrawal from the world.

Fiona’s estranged mother has called. Sherwin’s sister tries to fend her off. But no, there’s no getting around it. He must pull himself together, pack Fiona’s ashes, leave Atlanta and visit the woman his wife’s last phone message said they needed to see “before it’s too late.”

Lucinda lives in the coastal woods in a farmhouse. She’s a tactless grump. She’s had cancer. She’s entitled.

“Was she drunk?” she wants to know of her daughter.

“No, she was a GOOD driver.”

“Not THAT day.”

Over his five days there, flashbacks and other hints detail the state of Sherwin and Fiona’s marriage, their karaoke courtship (“I Wanna Dance with Somebody”) and parenthood plans. But there was trouble.

That might explain why there’s just a little too much easy familiarity between Sherwin and Lucinda’s nurse, charmingly played by Rosie Perez with all of the shrill edges rubbed right off.

Sherwin bristles at the occasional brusque brushoff by Lucinda and starts to understand what drove the daughter away from both her and this isolated, provincial town where he’s plainly the only person of color.

Curran went to the trouble to set and shoot her film in Maine, but makes little use of the place, other than showing us a swimmin’ hole, and the sort of woods that hunters might enjoy but a city fellow, hearing gunshots, isn’t going to appreciate. A character even mentions a lighthouse they can see. Do we see it? No. They could’ve shot this in Georgia like everybody else these days.

The writer-director’s determination to not give up her clues readily and not push the pacing makes for a slow, unsatisfying 82 minutes.  The friction never truly ignites into a blaze, and the dawdling way the story unfolds unwinds whatever tension might have arisen. “Five Nights” gives us only about two nights worth of movie, and far less to chew on than the stingy-with-story director would have us believe.

MPAA Rating: unrated, adult situations, profanity, alcohol consumption

Cast: David Oyelowo, Dianne Wiest, Rosie Perez, Hani Furstenberg
Credits: Written and directed by Maris Curran. A FilmRise release.

Running time: 1:22

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