Box Office: “Kingsman” and “LEGO the Latest” set to skip past “It”

boxoffice3Mixed reviews — OK pans — aren’t expected to tamp down turnout for “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and “The LEGO Ninjanga Movie” this weekend.

Both are predicted to best “It” in its third weekend of release. But will the clear the mid-30s? $40 even?

Box Office Mojo is bullish on the BS “Kingsman,” which is going to take it in the crotch via word of mouth by Sat. It had a $3.4 million Thursday, largely based on Fox owned Rotten Tomatoes pimping this Fox fiasco with cherry picked pre-release reviews. Take away the pre-Monday reviews, and this dog would have “DANGER Will Robinson!” signs all over it.

$45 million, says BOmojo.  Mojo is also predicting a whopping $35 million for the poorly reviewed pander-to-Chinese audience “LEGO” lamo. 

Box Office Guru is considerably more sober-minded about the two biggest releases this weekend. The Guru is saying $34 million for “Kingsman: The Sequel,” and $29 million for “Ninjanga.” Good news for Hollywood, after the summer that just ended. But “It” is the real cash cow, with another $20 million expected this weekend.

“Stronger,” the first great film of the fall, is only on 500 or so screens, and will crack the Top Ten — no more.

 

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Movie Review: Justin Long suffers as the ex at the wedding who came quite “Literally, Right Before Aaron”

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American romantic comedies that even halfway work are so rare that one which manages a little pathos and maybe five actual belly-laughs should be cut a little slack.

Which could be Justin Long’s motto as a leading man. No, that’s not mean — or any meaner than the “Poor Man’s John Cusack” mantle he’s worn among the movie reviewing classes the past — oh — 20 years or so. And that’s only mean until you think about it and then agree with it.

Long is the hapless ex invited to his longtime love’s San Francisco nuptials, the guy she dated for eight years, “Literally, Right Before Aaron” whom Allison is about to marry.

Allison is played by Cobie “How I Met Your Mother” Smulders. So you can understand the look of distress Adam (Long) wears, first scene to last, in this rom com.

She’s the one who got away. Everybody knows it. They can’t help but rub his nose in it.

“Hey, didya hear what I said to ‘SECOND PLACE’ over here?”

But in a situation that exists ONLY in the movies — going back way before “My Best Friend’s Wedding” — she wants Adam at her wedding, that whole “I don’t want you to hate me…I’m going to be at YOUR wedding, you HAVE to come to mine.”

Really? Quick show of hands, how often has that happened at a wedding you went to? Never mind — DKDC. Because if there’s one thing the movies teach us about this obviously bad idea that so many movie characters go for, it’s that it’s a bad idea for a reason.

Adam consults with friends (John Cho, Charlene Yi, the wisdom of the East?). He goes in spite of their advice. He takes time off from editing a goofy adventures in nature TV series (Peter Gallagher is the screwball host), packs his 1970s VW Beetle (a “car with character”) and heads north. He lies to people he runs into — an old college pal (Malcolm Barrett) and even his mom (Lea Thompson), about his reasons for being there.

And he pines pines pines for Allison, even though he has to see how the “good at everything” hunk Aaron (Ryan Hansen) she’s tying the knot with is a step or two up from him.

Actor-turned-writer/director Ryan Eggold finds his laughs around the periphery of Adam/Long’s perpetual look of sucker-punched shock. There’s the current girlfriend (Briga Heelan) Adam riffs an impromptu proposal to — “What else IS there, right?” — only to break up with her the very next breath.

Cho’s character’s “intervention” involves tough love, bowling and a few dope slaps.

And Luis Guzman makes a third act appearance as the wise Latino cook who offers champagne and pet goldfish homilies to help Adam cope, upon seeing Adam’s stricken face.

“Somebody kill your cat?”

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None of which really fixes him. Because, come on, it’s COBIE SMULDERS. If “How I Met Your Mother” taught us nothing else, it’s that she’s the Queen of Heartbreak — embodying it, or causing it.

And if the movie finds its pathos and laughs around the edges, “Literally, Right Before Aaron” finds its easy if limited appeal outside the Hollywood mainstream, where “Home Again” is somebody’s idea of what a romantic comedy should be these days.

No. As Shakespeare declared, there shalt be no rom-com without a wedding, no wedding without a wedding interrupted and no interruption that isn’t made funnier by the Great Luis Guzman.

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MPAA Rating:

Cast: Justin Long, Cobie Smulders, Lea Thompson, Ryan Dana Delaney

Credits:   A Screen Media release.

Running time:

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Movie Review: Middle-aged Stiller laments “Brad’s Status”

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Ben Stiller gives his most soulful, vulnerable performance ever in his new film, “Brad’s Status.” Writer-director Mike White (“The Good Girl,” “Year of the Dog”) has conjured up a gentle, realistic and melancholy midlife for Stiller to act out, one that cuts awfully close to the bone for him, and us.

Remember Randy Newman’s acrid take on the pointlessness of the purposeful life, “It’s Money that Matters?” “Status” is like that, a further exploration of Stiller’s wasted-life worries of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” or Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young.”

To say that it’s no surprise that Stiller announced he’s divorcing longtime wife Christine Taylor with this film freshly in the can isn’t a cheap shot. The performance is that studied, unsettling enough to let us think Stiller was brooding on this very subject.

Brad Sloan, who narrates his story start to finish, has the sense that “the world was rubbing my nose in something.” And that something is what therapists call “relative deprivation.” He’s not kept up with his high-flying college classmates.

One’s a former White House spokesman and best-selling political writer (Michael Sheen) always on TV. Another’s a rich movie director (Mike White) whose mansion is on the cover of “Architectural Digest.”

There’s the tech guru (Jemaine Clement) who retired at 40 and lives in Maui with two nubile young women.

And a hedge fund manager (Luke Wilson) with his own private jet and designer upper class family finishes off the quartet of envy.

Brad’s starting to realize that running an online non-profit consulting firm in Sacramento — “a secondary market” — mediocrity incarnate, where he’s “surrounded by beta males” — weren’t the best choices. Wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer, where’ve you been since “The Office?”) may be happy and satisfied. But Brad seethes over the lack of status, the absence of luxury in their lives, the petty indignities inflicted on people whom the service sector figures they can dismiss.

Hell, he can’t even upgrade their plane tickets when he takes his musician son (Austin Abrams) to Boston to visit colleges Brad could never get into.

This trip — they plan to hit Harvard, Tufts, Amherst and Williams — is eye-opening for Brad. His boy Troy may be affect a laid-back attitude, but it’s obvious his dad’s been too self-absorbed to be fully tuned in to the kid’s life.

As in, he’s applied to Harvard, and just might get in. The kid dismisses even bothering with Yale. He’s a prodigy and a scholar. Brad? He’s a newspaper journalist laid-off into non-profit work. He desperately wanted to go to Yale.

White may rely entirely too much on interior monologues — Brad fretting that “the world hated me, and the feeling was mutual.” But he’s cooked up a vivid flesh-and-blood portrait of angst for the angsty-Stiller to play. Brad fantasizes the paths he might have taken, about the “easy” lives of those ex-classmates, veers between envy and schadenfreude in his obsessions about them. His “advice” to a Harvard friend of Troy’s (Shazi Raja) is a cry for help, a lament filled with self-pitying white privilege.

“You have enough,” she assures him, a sobering put-down if ever there was one.

And Brad passes on his case of nerves and fear for the stakes they’re playing for to his son, who speaks frankly to the old man, but whose passive exterior can’t disguise his rising concern that Dad is desperate to live vicariously through him.

The old classmates have revealing encounters with Brad, and White and Stiller make us squirm with the discomfort Brad feels at these renewed contacts. Will he accept his place with them, voice his resentment or lash out?

It’s Ben Stiller. What do you think will he’ll do?

But that’s a marvel of this intimate chamber piece of a comedy. White finds ways for Stiller to surprise us, and the veteran actor manages to hide his cards in scene after scene, letting us keep up with him, but never ever allowing us to guess where his emotions will take him next, and what form they’ll take.

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MPAA Rating: R for language

Cast: Ben Stiller, Jenna Fischer, Austin Abrams, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen

Credits: Written and directed by Mike White. An Amazon Studios release.

Running Time: 1:41

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Movie Review: Murder makes a “Friend Request”

The horror trope that “social media can get you killed” has already led to assorted thrillers with the title “Unfriended,” one of them popular enough to warrant “Unfriended 2.” So that working title for the movie that became “Friend Request” had to be abandoned.

But not the basic Spawn of Agatha Christie (and Poe before her) plot — a killer picking off your “friends list,” with, of course, a supernatural twist.

After a stylish opening, which director Simon Verhoeven (son of Michael, director of the German classics “The Nasty Girl” and “The White Rose”) uses the morbidly Gothic animations of our villain to establish her talent, loneliness and twisted state of mind, the picture turns strictly paint-by-numbers, with each “shocking” jolt and death less hair-raising than the one before it.

It’s about the most popular girl in college, stalked by a disturbed classmate whom she then unfriends. Ms. Popularity soon finds her “friends list” shrinking as she loses control of her social media accounts, and as tormentor kills those closest to her — after that tormentor’s death.

Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) lives her life on social media — the parties with her Newkirk (California) College roommates (Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham), her romance with the med student (William Moseley) and the friendship with the tech nerd (Conor Paolo) who never quite got over her. 

Laura’s a psyche major and a nice kid, which is why she accepts the friend request from creepy, pale hoodie-obsessed Ma Rina (Liesl Ahlers). As no good deed in our privacy-ending era goes unpunished, Ma Rina, who manically yanks out her hair (“Trichotillomania,” Laura correctly diagnoses) clings to her one-and-only online “friend.”

 

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Until turning on that friend, and then killing herself, something she video recorded for the whole campus to see. Laura is set up to lose every friend — real and online — she has, one way or the other.

Verhoeven (the German film “Men in the City” is his major credit) has no ear for colloquial English. Whatever morbid jokes the script (which he co-wrote) tries to pass off, he fails to get a take out of his actors that lets the funny line land.

All the frights are of the flash-edit cheap surprise variety, and none of the performers manage to break through the empathy barrier, save for Debnam-Carey, and that’s more a function of the character than a tribute to the performance of the Australian from “Fear the Walking Dead.”

With no real suspense and little empathy, “Friend Request” devolves into your standard horror cast-killer time-killer. There are more frights in the trailers for upcoming Halloween horror films preceding showings of this — “Jigsaw” and “Happy Death Day” among them.

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MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, disturbing images, and language

Cast: Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Conor Paolo 

Credits:  Simon Verhoeven,  script by Matthew Ballen, Philip Koch and Simon Verhoeven. An Entertainment Studios release.

Running Time: 1:32

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Movie Preview: “Murder on the Orient Express” puts the old in “old fashioned?”

It’s always a call for celebration when a major studio puts money and effort behind a picture aimed at an audience over the age of 25. But the second “Murder on the Orient Express” trailer underlines some pretty big questions about the movie. Only one matters.

Is it aimed at an audience that no longer exists? Didn’t Agatha Christie’s fanbase die out with the rest of the WWII generation? Does anyone read her any more?

And her “Ten Little Indians” style of murder mystery is a cliche of a cliche — even with Branagh, Dench, Dafoe, Pfeiffer, Cruz, Depp, etc. in the cast. This feigned Belgian accent intoning “Everyone on board…is a suspect” is hoary beyond belief.

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Movie Preview: Wes Anderson goes a little darker, a lot Japanese with the stop-motion “Isle of Dogs”

Wes Anderson’s latest is set in a Japan where dogs have been exiled to a garbage island, where a 12 year-old dodges the quarantine in search of his pet.

Bryan Cranston is the one voice that stands out in the cast. Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig — the usual hip lineup.

The writing may be uneven, just judging from the trailer. “Living, even at this moment, as a captive prisoner” is redundant. But it looks to be touching and witty.

“Isle of Dogs” arrives next year.

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Movie Review: Sarcastic Salinger becomes a literary icon in “Rebel in the Rye”

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Although there are many ways to tell the story of how a writer’s life informs his or her talent, there’s something to be said for literary biographies that narrow their focus, zeroing on in a signal event that made a writer or made a career.

Truman Capote invents the “non-fiction novel” in “Capote,” which was about him writing “In Cold Blood.” Jane Austen experiences the heartbreak that will circumscribe her life and drive her fiction in “Becoming Jane.”

That’s the best part of “Rebel in the Rye,” the latest big screen attempt to get a handle on the prickly, standoffish genius who gave the world “The Catcher in the Rye.” Because what we’re really interested in is how Jerome David Salinger’s upper middle class upbringing, social limitations (he was half-Jewish) and World War II experiences informed his classic novel about that ultimate outsider — Holden Caulfield.

Actor-turned-writer Danny Strong and J.D. Salinger biographer Kenneth Slawenski manage that “the making of” story rather well. But they then struggle to shoehorn in a lot more of the man — his later years, avoiding the press, living in a remote corner of New Hampshire. While you can’t blame them for wanting to avoid something Salinger loathed — a “Hollywood ending” — the movie makes you wish they’d been clever enough to know when enough is enough, ending at the moment the book is published, blows up and sends the man into seclusion.

Nicholas Hoult (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) makes a less colorful and charismatic Salinger than we might have liked. He looks like Salinger and the script captures a hint of the sarcasm and cockiness that got him tossed from school after school, so sure of his own brilliance and appeal that he knows he’ll be a great writer. And the most eligible famous beauty his age in New York, Oona O’Neil (Zoey Deutch), daughter of the legendary playwright? Why not ask her out?

It takes that first great mentor — writer, publisher and Columbia University creative writing teacher Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey) — to put him in his place and raise the bar on his writing. Their scenes have a light banter to them that hints at the tone the screenplay reaches for, but never achieves.

“You’re not the first wise-ass I’ve taught, you know.”

Jerry may haunt New York’s Stork Club and feed a passion for hot jazz. But he knows that “Uptown, I was a Jew. Downtown, I was a square.” All the encouragement his mother (Hope Davis, quite fine) can give his talent, his cruelly practical father (Victor Garber) takes away.

He’s old enough to know that his father “hides his Jewishness. First phony I ever met was on the day I was born.” But he’s too young to see the capricious, inconstant Miss O’Neil’s textbook “daddy” issues (She went on to marry Charlie Chaplin when he was well-over twice her age).

The film is framed within correspondence, a letter Jerry writes to Whit from “the nuthouse.” And the film sketches in the experiences — from heartache and disappointment to the horrors of D-Day and liberating a concentration camp — that put Salinger there.

Through it all, his imaginary muse, the one character Burnett insists will make him, ferments in Salinger’s head, providing the interior monologue that keeps life’s trials at arm’s length. Holden is the sarcastic misfit who rejects the “phonies” who dominate his world, who sees too much, feels too much, never fits in anywhere, who wants nothing more than to save little kids from this misery, from getting lost in the high weeds and falling off a cliff — to be their “Catcher in the Rye.”

The filmmakers do rather well at underlining or at least hitting on the integral components of Salinger’s art — his early appreciation for the wisdom of children (of his class), his uncompromising refusal to give in, even to The New Yorker, when others want to make his work more conventional, pat and upbeat. But the script is flat and linear, the dialogue mostly out of tune — utterly lacking crackle.

The casting is promising. Eric Bogosian plays Harold Ross, editor and doyenne of the magazine during it’s short fiction golden age. Sarah Paulson plays the agent who indulges Salinger, tries to salve his ego and smooth his rough edges.

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But where’s the wit? And I couldn’t help but wish for the movie to show me less. The complete Salinger has already been revealed in a terrific documentary. The even lower-budgeted “Coming Through the Rye,” about an aspiring writer hunting down Salinger, long secluded, and almost befriending him (Chris Cooper played the grumpy old man) comes closer to the mark at capturing what it was about Salinger’s writing about being young that connects with each generation.

For all the formative creative dots Strong and Salwenski strain to include, that’s something their informative and worthwhile film misses. They show us the rye, but not why Holden catches us and never lets go.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language including sexual references, brief violence, and smoking

Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Hope Davis, Victor Garber, Zoey Deutch, Sarah Paulson, James Urbaniak, Eric Bogosian

Credits: Directed by Danny Strong, script by Danny Strong and Kenneth Slawenski   An IFC Film.

Running Time: 1:49

 

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Movie Preview: Alicia Vikander wears Lara Croftwear with purpose in “Tomb Raider”

Kind of sad when I heard this was happening. Lara Croft did Angelina Jolie no favors. But putting another Oscar winner into the role was meant to be. I guess. Kristen Scott Thomas and Dominic West play her parents, the picture looks less digital and gimmicky than its forebears. But video game adaptations are generally soul-sucking payday pictures, and giving up a year of your peak career to one feels like a sell-out.

The director is the Norwegian who gave us the tsunami thriller “The Wave,” which signifies nothing. Not the same sort of picture. Great name, though — Roar Uthaug.

“Tomb Raider” is due out March 16.

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Movie Review: In “Don’t Sleep,” the title is a plea that’ll fall on deaf ears

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INTERIOR: A dark hallway, the camera tracks into a bedroom where a little boy is having a nightmare.

The title “Thirteen years ago” appears on the screen.

The little boy imagines himself in what looks like a graveyard, macabre figures greet him, direct him and then threaten him.

CUT TO: Interior, a shrink’s office. Zach, an expressionless child actor whom we’ll spare calling out on his limited future in films, has to listen to a smug psychotherapist (Cary Elwes) diagnose what ails him.  Repeated bad dreams? I have the answer!

CUT TO: Back home, where the boy, and then his mother, realize just how off the mark Dr. Feelgood was. The kid is speaking with a demonic growl.

“Don’t Speak” is a drab indie horror tale earning release thanks to a director whose next credit (as a producer) is the “Flatliners” remake. Rick Bieber’s achingly slow story is about the horrors of young Zach’s past assaulting him and all those around him in the present day.

Demons stalk, haunt and attack. Neighbors are sexually assaulted and go mad.

But law student Zach (Dominic Sherwood of TV’s “Shadowhunters”) and his art teacher girlfriend Shawn (Charlbi Dean Kriek of “Death Race: Inferno”) don’t know that as they move in together.

Nor do their neighbors/landlords (Drea de Matteo, Alex Carter), or elderly Poppy (the late Alex Rocco) who lives with them.

But cowled figures turn up — in darkened closets, in rear-view mirrors. Zach starts to wonder what mom (Jill Hennesy) and that long-ago therapist never told him.

As do we.

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Shawn isn’t buying it — “You seem a little delicate these days.”

But Jo, the neighbor (de Matteo of “The Sopranos”) is the first to catch on.

“It’s a CURSE! A curse has come into our home!”

Well, OK. The movie’s pretty uncertain about that, though truthfully, the slack pacing and generally uninspired acting kind of dulled my sense of “What’s REALLY going on here?”

Not that plot much matters.

The South African beauty Kriek made her own deal with the Devil, or in this case, Bieber. She disrobes three times, but gets one moving speech and relationship-saving scene.

You want to see good screen acting? Watch Rocco, in his last screen performance (this was shot more than two years ago), bring pathos to an old man who loses his beloved dog, menace when that old man turns demonic. He’s animated in every scene, giving us something to cling to every time he’s on screen.

Otherwise, there’s nothing here to pull us in, no one to root for/fear for. Whatever Bieber’s gifts to the cinema as a producer — and his name was all over that abortion “Radio Flyer” — here, he’s working by formula, attempting straight exploitation.

And he doesn’t have the knack. “Don’t Sleep” is heartless, fright-free and, yes — sleep-inducing.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, horror violence, some nudity, sex scenes

Cast: Dominic Sherwood, Charlbi Dean Kriek, Drea de Matteo, Alex Rocco, Jill Hennesy and Cary Elwes

Credits: Written and directed by Rick Bieber. A Freestyle release.

Running time: 1:35

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Movie Review: Vedder and Pearl Jam cheer on the Cubs in “Let’s Play Two”

 

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There’s a lot of Ferris Bueller to Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder. That only becomes clear in “Let’s Play Two,” the new documentary about the band’s triumphant performance at Wrigley Field as the Cubs were rolling to their historic World Series win in 2016.

Like Ferris, Edward Louis Severson grew up in suburban Chicago (Evanston, in his case). He loves loves LOVES those Cubs. And whatever else one thinks of the handsome, much-imitated baritone of the Last Grunge Band Standing, the Hall of Fame honored, defender of the Memphis Three, Ticketmaster-hating, selling out shows but refusing to “sell-out,” is surely the poster boy for “righteous dude.”

“Let’s Play Two” is another peak moment for America’s most popular stadium band. Photographer Danny Clinch and a film crew capture Vedder’s Chicago homecoming and the Seattle band’s victory lap in a city which helped nurture them as they were just breaking out in the early ’90s.

There’s backstage banter, a rooftop rehearsal/jam session at the popular Murphy’s Bleachers Wrigley-side pub and a lot of Eddie in Cubs gear, in the stands or in a sky box, diligently keeping a score card. He first visited the park “45 years ago,” when his favorite player was Jose Cardenal.

The concert footage, where the band runs through hits from “Jeremy” and “Better Man,” and much of their back catalog — “Hearts and Thoughts,” etc., isn’t really for the uninitiated. The live soundmix and Vedder’s plummy growl don’t let you decipher lyrics, if you don’t already know them by heart.

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But the many tunes performed are intercut with snippets of the Cubs marching into the playoffs, through the playoffs and toward their first world championship in over a century. And nobody could be happier about that than Vedder.

“Let’s Play Two” doesn’t re-invent or for that matter add anything to the concert doc genre. But for fans, it’s a lovely time capsule, a bunch of 50somethings, still sporting the torn jeans and well-worn t-shirts, leaping about, playing with feeling and getting a joyous job done.

Righteous dudes, one and all.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, alcohol consumption

Cast: Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McReady, Matt Cameron, Boom Gaspar

Credits: Directed by Danny Clinch. An Abramorama release

Running time: 2:01

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