Movie Preview: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” shows the Seth Rogen touch

Well, children aren’t watching these guys any more, are they?

So why not throw Seth Rogen and his partner in the profane Evan Goldberg at this material. Because there’s just not enough “dark” and edgy fanboy content in the movies these days.

Like the song says, they’re” “growing older but not up.” That could be said of Las Tortugas and their fanbase.

Aug. 2.

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Movie Review: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Sony’s effort to wholly blur the line between “comic book” and “comic book movie” comes to something like full fruition with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” a mad cinematic jumble of comic book imagery, comic book mimicry, multiverse plotting and ponderous, pandering fan service.

Where the first film in this animated trilogy was an aesthetically-challenging headache of dot-matrix comic book printing imagery that caused instant eyestrain (in some viewers) by design and flash-imaging seizures in others, the sequel shifts away (somewhat) from the former and doubles-down on the latter, diving into every imaginable incarnation of Spider-Man — the animated TV series, a live action character, a leap into LEGO — with a mad whirl of animation, drawing and painting styles often served up in head-spinning montages that take us through the seemingly infinite smorgasbord of Spideys across all the multiverses.

It can be dazzling, overwhelming and eye-straining as you try to decide what to focus on and why the trio of directors on this project chose to render so many characters in a blurry, unfocused foreground or background. A veritable history of 20th century art and comic booking is painted over sequences, shots and scenes, creating some pretty pictures and some downright ugly imagery, a lot of which doesn’t advance the plot.

Still the “multiversing” of Spider-Man does wonders for inclusion, a real selling point for this trilogy.

“Across the Spider-Verse” fills the screen with famous voices, or in many cases, famous actors with voices most of us couldn’t pick out of a police lineup. Hearing the re-assuring bark of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson on radio and TV across various ‘verses’ is somewhat grounding. This new “nemesis” “Spot” is unmistakably Jason Schwartzman, that school principal is Rachel Dratch. But Oscar Issac, Daniel Kaluuya, Issa Rae, Hailee Steinfeld and Oscar winner Mahershala Ali flesh out a distinguished if vocally-indistinct supporting cast.

Stay through the credits and see who actually did what. Don’t stay for the after-credits scene. There is none. The third film, “Beyond the Spider-Verse,” is coming. That’s all we need to know.

But as this or that Peter Parker or Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Spider-Punk or Hello Spider-Kitty skids across the screen, one can’t help but wonder if the comic books embraced this wrinkle in scientific theory, decades ago, when they ran out of villains and other ideas. And maybe the myriad multiverse movies are doing the same thing just to avoid commiting to a coherent plot with real stakes, real pathos and a narrative that doesn’t rely on periodic bursts of distraction and applause as each iteration of the character, the more obscure the better, makes her or his bow to swooning fans.

“Who’s Doctor Strange? Sounds like maybe he shouldn’t practice medicine!”

Yes, this is marginally more interesting and watchable than the first “Spiderverse.” No, it’s still more of a “feeling” than a film, getting by on razzle and dazzle, not all of which add to the experience in a positive or illuminating way.

Gwen Stacy’s Spider-Woman timeline moves more center-stage as we see her (Steinfeld) coping with the same issues Peter Parker normally does in Spider-tales. Her cop-dad (Shea Whigham) doesn’t know her vigilante hobby, and is sure Spider-Woman is who killed the Peter Parker in her ‘verse.’

A magical hi-tech wristband gadget allows others, and her, to bounce about universes to scores of numerically-differentiated “Earths,” where Spider-Man might be an Indian (Karan Soni) wisecracking through Mumbattan (a Mumbai turned into Manhattan), or street-cockney punk named Hobie (Kaluuya).

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore of “Dope” and TV’s “The Get Down”) is still on “Earth 42,” still just 15, struggling to make it to school meetings with his parents and the principal because of all the crimes and tragedies his conscience won’t let him pass by without intervening.

Miles is still young enough to think he can “save” them all, without having to choose. Much like the writers in your average comic book multiverse or comic book multiverse film adaptation.

Make a choice, kids. That’s life.

When a new nemesis, Spot (Schwartzman) — whom Miles repeatedly dismisses as “random” and worse, as far as super-villains go — emerges, a young scientist/being who loses “face” and yet can travel the multiverses with menacing ease, we arrive at “Across the Spider-Verse’s” buy-in moment.

Miles can’t handle him by himself. Asorted others — Jessica Drew (Rae), vampire Spidey Miguel O’Hara (Isaac), Gwen et al, are summoned as “back-up.”

If you’re thrilled by the mere thought of myriad Spider-interations joining the fight against a pan-dimensional and somewhat comical villain, and you recognize every character who shows up — Peter Parker as a 30something parent (Jake Johnson?), animated TV series Spidey? — this might be just the ticket. For you.

For everybody hoping to see something with narrative coherence, actions with consequences (before the finale), jeopardy and pathos coming from a screen crammed with images and a soundtrack of scrambled one-liners, some of which are funny, this isn’t all that.

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“Spider Man,” when pigs or cats fly? In Tampa

This may start on time. Or not. Apparently, 24 locals somehow went to the wrong theater.

“Tampa” in a nutshell.

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Next screening? “Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse”

An unfortunate aesthetic and technical choice — an attempt to replicate a comic book dot-matrix printing style — rendered the first animated “Spider-Man/Spiderverse” outing painful for some to watch, me among them.

It was literally headache-inducing, even without the multi-verse juvenalia of the plot.

There were also flashing images that were so problematic theaters started posting warnings in the ticket windows about the film.

Perhaps those issues were avoided this time out. I can’t tell from the trailer. But let’s hope so. Review to come Wed. AM.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” opens Friday.

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Movie Preview: A Trippy Kids’ Adventure to “The Secret Kingdom”

June 9, a little “Dark Crystal,” a bit of “Narnia,” a taste of “The Never Ending Story,” and a lot of reptilian CGI critters

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Classic Film Review: The Best “Emma” was named Paltrow (1996)

I’m hard-pressed to think of a big screen version of Jane Austen’s “Emma” that I didn’t adore. I loved “Clueless” and fell wholly into “It” girl Anya Taylor-Joy’s take on the character a couple of years back, “emma.”

The TV adaptations don’t have the pace that suits the material. Whatever the virtues of stretching the bigger story arc and harder-won romance of “Pride & Prejudice” out over several TV episodes, “Emma” is too compact, quippy and quick to endure the longer BBC/PBS et al versions. It’s a lovely surface gloss on Austen and a classic romantic comedy, designed to throw obstacles in front of the couple who cannot see themselves as a couple until they do, with a quick wedding making the finest rom-com finale.

“Emma” seems by design, to be consumed, savored and delighted-in over a single sitting.

For me, the gold standard for this frothiest of Austens is the 1996 Miramax Oscar-bait adapted by Douglas McGrath. He was, for a spell, Woody Allen’s screenwriting collaborator, and only got to write and direct and handful of films himself before his untimely death last year at 64. But “Infamous,” “Nicholas Nickleby” and “Emma” are timeless delights. He co-scripted Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway,” a genuine all-star romp that holds up better than any of Allen’s post “Annie Hall” comedies, including the much-praised “Midnight in Paris.”

When McGrath weighed-in during the cinema’s “Jane Austen Mania” of the ’90s, he made damned sure he found the laughs and he was blessed with a gloriously winsome, coquettish and somewhat “clueless” Emma for the ages, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Yes, she was a “nepo baby” decades before the term caught on. She endured years of whispers about why Harvey Weinstein of Miramax championed her before coming forward and damning him. And while her years as Marvel fanboys’ punching bag were undeserved, her bursts of entitlement and Goop ditziness have made her a more understandable object of fun and resentment in recent years.

But before all that, before the Oscar-winning confection “Shakespeare in Love,” Paltrow was dewy, birdlike innocence, in over her head as Emma Woodhouse, a 21 year-old behind-the-scenes matchmaker for scenic, tony Highbury, a pastoral suburb of Napoleonic Wars era London.

“What is the point of me being almost 22” if it is not to share her worldly wise thoughts of “a perfect match” among her infereriors um peers?

She claims credit for the nuptials of her governness (Greta Scacchi) to the gentlemanly widower Mr. Weston (James Cosmo). She is determined to duplicate her success, no matter what her old “dear friend” might advise.

 “Vanity working on a weak mind produces every kind of mischief,” he warns.

A “new girl,” the innocent Harriet Smith (Toni Collette, radiantly naive) falls under Emma’s influence, and Emma insists Harriet can do much better than the age-appropriate farmer who loves her. Perhaps The Reverend Mr. Elton (Alan Cumming), or the dashing newcomer that everyone has been talking about long before he arrives, Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor)?

Might a demonstrative moment of kindness from Emma’s older “dear friend” since childhood, Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam, one of Colin Firth’s few real rivals in period romances) hint at an interest?

Harriet may think so, but the latter two kind of feel like Emma’s would-be suitors, at least in the matchmaker’s eyes. After all, she has a grand “meet cute” with Frank — her carriage is stuck in the stream, and he’s seemingly reluctant to help.

“Is your horse just washing his feet or are the darker forces at work here?”

As witty as it is, the main reason the 1996 “Emma” scores over all challengers is that cast, which includes the vipress without peer Juliet Stevenson as the new snob in town, Sophie Thompson as the dithering chatterbox Miss Bates, Phyllida Law as her long-suffering, mostly-silent mother and Polly Walker as another beauty introduced to the social mix of Highbury, and a possible rival to Emma.

Paltrow and McGrath’s interpretation of the character and recreation of the mores of the time are spot-on. This is an “Emma” of her era — young, privileged, cosseted and a busybody who sticks her nose in others’ business without noting that her own happiness and chief means of providing happiness to others are being neglected.

The Emma/Knightley banter is Shakespearean level wit.

“The most incomprehensible thing in the world to a man is a woman who rejects his offer of marriage.”

“Better be without sense than misapply it as you do.”

As in other Austen novels’ love-matches, the age difference is both pronounced and of secondary importance to the other considerations of the day. Knightley is described as “16 years older” than Emma, and that excuses his chastising her naive interferences and explains his older brotherly tolerance and familiarity that enable him to get away with it.

She’s a tad obnoxious. He’d be crucified, in this day and age, for constantly pointing it out.

“Badly done, Emma!”

Their ease with each other and affectionately comfortable relationship has an almost-siblings undercurrent. And Paltrow earned her bones as a leading lady in playing that melting moment when she sees Knightley’s chivalry towards Harriet, and her little breakdown when she realizes her connection to him is more than friendship or fraternal devotion.

That’s something the Anya Taylor-Joy “emma.” lacked, despite having the cast littered with rising stars who might someday turn into the next McGregor, Stevenson, Cumming, Collette or Northam. The emotional moments in “emma.” don’t hit you the way they do in “Emma.”

One additional reason for that comes from the one Oscar that the first film won, one more than “emma.” managed. Rachel Portman’s Academy Award-winning score is one of the great pieces of romantic film music. And if Northam doesn’t sweep you up in this film’s finale, if Paltrow’s Emma doesn’t touch your heart, Portman’s melody washes over the proceedings and resistence becomes futile.

“Mr. Knightley, if I have not spoken, it is because I am afraid I will awaken myself from this dream”

Rating: Ever so PG

Cast Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Collette, Jeremy Northam, Ewan McGregor, Greta Scacchi, Polly Walker, Alan Cumming and Juliette Stevenson

Credits: Scripted and directed by Douglas McGrath, based on the novel by Jane Austen. A Miramax release on Amazon, PosiTV, etc.

Running time: 2:00

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Movie Review: Karma comes for “The Machine,” the shirtless funnyman who isn’t

I found an AMC “classic” (an old theater where they don’t fix that which is broken) near me and a matinee showing of comic Bert Kreischer’s “The Machine” that cost me a whopping $5.19.

No, I’m not asking for my $5.19 back, or my wasted time, or even an explanation as to why Sony thought a bloody, dumb and laugh-starved action comedy built around this stand-up’s sole claim to fame would be worth almost two hours of anyone’s life.

Well, it’s not like they could turn back time if I did.

I’m not begrudging Kreischer the cash, and I’m pleased his movie — smuggled into theaters on a holiday weekend (the trailers promised it was coming out May 31) — pulled in a respectable (ish) $6 million on its opening weekend. His fans knew where to find it.

They and many of the rest of us remember the Internet phenomenon that Kreischer ginned-up by recalling a drunken, Russian Mafia-befriending school trip when he was studying Russian at Florida State University.

A clumsy, bad-student mis-translation on his part (Florida…State) led to his billing himself as “The Machine” to his new Russian pals. And he found some shirtless stand-up comedy laughs — in his 40s — recalling the outrageous things he says went down when he was riding from St. Petersburg to Moscow with partying thugs, his fellow FSU students pretty much none-the-wiser–until he helped the Russians rob most everybody on that train.

“The Machine” is a comedy about Russian mobsters seeing this “viral” stand-up story and vowing revenge — actually the return of a pocket watch stolen on that long-ago misadventure.

Fair enough. That has comic possibilities.

But the married-with-two-kids-and-pushing-50 “Machine” is going through a binge-drinking-driven existential crisis. Bert may “make a living ‘creating a scene,’” a pretty good living from the looks of things. Yet he’s stopped doing his act and is in family-counseling because he’s made his teenaged daughter (Jess Gabor) ashamed.

His planned California sweet sixteen party for her is already going wrong in all the bad sitcom ways when Bert’s semi-estranged Florida carpet-kingpin father (Mark Hamill, miscast), the source of his “Daddy issues,” arrives.

And then this Russian mob daughter (Iva Babic) strolls in to threaten his daughter if “The Machine” doesn’t return the watch, which he has no blackout drunk memory of ever having.

Nothing for it but to go with them to try and retrace his tipsy late ’90s steps, with her and assorted oversized Russians, and with his Dad, who was “an Eagle Scout!”

“Vat eez ‘Iggle Scout?”

“It’s like if James Bond was a Mormon.”

In Mother Russia, Bert’s a “folk hero.” There he is, in all his roly-poly shirtless glory, on billboards and the label of a cheap brand of vodka. Gangsters all know the story of “The Machine,” the American who could hold his own in the most alcoholic culture on Earth, join in on slap fights and amuse one and all by imitating catch-phrases from Austin Powers movies.

“Do I make you horny, baby?”

Flashbacks decorate the quest of Bert, his Dad and his Russian minders’ quest for the watch, as we see Bert in his Florida Man attending a “football school” prime, played by Jimmy Tatro.

Those flashbacks recreate many of the scenes from “The Machine” story, which Bert re-narrates, in sections, throughout the movie.

Honestly, I love a good gonzo binge boozing comedy as much as the next guy, but I found almost nothing funny in this.

The recreation robs the story of its reliance on the listener’s imagination, and chopping this long comic anecdote into pieces strips the picture of momentum and makes the Blondie T-shirt wearing Bert’s tale not so far-fetched, unless you’re talking about the idea that anybody was ever amused by it.

Yes, Tatro can act. No, Kreischer can’t. Not really.

The picture’s turn towards the sentimental — after much mayhem and many shootings (this picture has more dead Russians than Kyiv) — is neither surprising nor affecting.

But there’s no begrudging the man the ticket price paid out for this dog. Because the cinema is littered with one-trick comics with one-picture careers, all of them longing for just enough of a bounce to match Larry the Cable Guy or Dane Cook (Remember them?) in terms of longevity.

There are scores of these guys who once got similar shots, and disappeared — guys I can’t remember by name or movie title to save my life. Tucker Max, anyone?

Still, I didn’t enjoy your movie, at all — no big deal. But relish this moment, “Machine.” Maybe you’ll get another. Just watch out for your liver if you do.

Rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language, drug use and some sexual references

Cast: Bert Kreischer, Mark Hamill, Iva Babic, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jimmy Tatro, Martyn Ford, Aleksandar Sreckovic, Robert Maaser and Jess Gabor.

Credits: Directed by Peter Atencio, scripted by Kevin Biegel and Scotty Landes. Sony/Screen Gems release.

Running time: 1:52

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Next screening? “The Machine”

Funny how the trailers had this coming out May 31, and Sony decided to sneak it out Memorial Day weekend instead. It’s doing decent business.

Yeah, let’s go see this. No, I’m not proud.

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Netflixable? “The Year I Started Masturbating”

It’s titled “The Year I Started Masturbating,” it stars “Sleepy Hollow” hottie Katia Winter and it’s SWEDISH.

What’s not to love in this made-for-Netflix sex comedy? A lot. There’s a lot not to love.

It’s a tepid tease of a farce built around a woman’s sexual self actualization, sort of a modern twist on “It’s My Turn” and the Jill Clayburgh films of the ’70s. A couple of giggles, a genuine laugh, maybe two, some half-hearted “growth” and…credits.

Sexy? For a comedy about a just-ditched woman about to turn 40 who is lectured to start listening to her vagina’s monologues, not so much.

I reviewed that German teen sex comedy “Hard Feelings” the other day. It used the same “listen” to your genitals hook and the same confetti gimmick to simulate the thrill of orgasms. Must be something going around Europe right now.

When you’re a Swedish production and a German comedy drifting into the same territory is A) funnier and B) sexier, you’re not doing “it” right. No. Seriously.

Winter plays Hanna, a distracted creative type who can meet a deadline and dance her way to her dinner date, jamming to “Sweet City Woman” in Swedish.

But her date Marten (Jesper Zuschlag) is getting into a taxi. She’s THAT late. Not to worry, they live together and have a little boy. It’s all good.

But it isn’t. We get a hint that she’s a control freak — partly from him. And as he shakes his head at her refusal to quit her better-paying-job than his and almost melts down when he learns she’s spent “Tesla money” on a designer sofa without consulting him, we can see the writing on the wall.

Yes, the sitter calls to interrupt the break-up we see coming. There’s probably a culture joke in there, as the sitter lectures Hanna about the child’s priorities. “He” wants her at home. NOW. But it, like much of what’s supposed to play as light and funny here just doesn’t.

We get a sense that Marten’s pal has been urging him to end it. We see her dorky boss (Henrick Dorsin) hand her Post-It notes with women’s shelter and AA recovery phone numbers on them, assuming “that bastard” back home abuses her or drove her to drink, and Hanna’s best friend also leaps to conclusions about her “finally” dumping Marten.

She’s the last to catch on — at the hospital, where he’s just over-dramatized a cycling accident and is openly flirting with the nurse.

For the rest of the movie, Hanna’s jam — which she hears on earbuds, mournfully sings to herself in a “singing” therapy session and hears from a street accordionist, is “Must Have Been Love, But it’s Over Now,” by the Swedish duo Roxette.

Hanna reluctantly quit her job to save the relationship just before the abrupt dumping. She’s blown a fortune on a sofa, and has no cash. And she quickly runs out of people she can call on for a place to crash.

Only the fiesty young barmaid Liv (Vera Carlbom) seems to see what ails her.

In the words of Olivia Newton John, she’s not listening to her “body talk, body talk.” What Hanna needs, Liv lectures, is to master is the art of self-pleasure.

I don’t know how you fail to make a beautiful actress neither titillating nor amusing as she mimes stimulating herself at the office, or at home with a gadget, but hats off to director and co-writer Erika Wasserman for managing that.

Couples counseling scenes have long been the fodder for rom-coms, as such “professionals” are notorious for taking sides. That’s what happens here, and it’s not the least bit funny.

Even a sexual stimulation tutorial that gets accidentally blasted over the smart speakers at the office doesn’t merit more than a grin, the way it’s handled here.

A hook-up getting the news, in flagrante delicto, that his mother just died in hospice must play funnier in Sweden.

And the little speeches about the psychological, physical and professional benefits of masturbation aren’t clevely written or comically played.

The script makes Hanna a victim, but one with legitimate focus and disinterested-in-him issues. And Marten comes off the way she describes him, a “whiner” (in Swedish, or dubbed into English) and a bit of a whiney bully.

So we’re not rooting for him, we have a hard time rooting for her and we sure as shooting aren’t rooting for “them.”

How you start off with these movie “hooks” and end up with nothing makes “The Year I Started Masturbating” seem almost that long, and a comedy that comes nowhere near to measuring up to its tease of a title.

Rating: TV-MA, sexual situations, profanity

Cast: Katia Winter, Jesper Zuschlag, Henrik Dorsin, Nour El-Refai, Hannes Fohlin and Vera Carlbom

Credits: Directed by Erika Wasserman, scripted by Christin Magdu, Bahar Pars and Erika Wasserman. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:41

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Movie Review: Lithuania faces Soviet Occupation, and finds itself wanting — “In the Dusk” aka “At Dusk”

Lithuanian filmmaker Sharunas Bartas achieves a “Defiance” level of grim, wintry detail in his post-war Soviet occupation drama “In the Dusk.”

The director of “The Corridor,” “Freedom” and “Frost” tells a story of his native land’s countryside in 1948, with World War II finally ended, the fascists defeated and the communists moving in to take over.

Summary arrests, credulous denunciations and abitrary land seizures and “loans” to the “Soviet people” (government) were the new occupiers’ preoccupation. Those fighting back, hiding in the forests, clung to the hope that the Russians would withdraw, that the West — after “Churchill’s speech” at “Fulton” — would come to their aid.

If you remember your Eastern European Baltic States history, that help was a tad tardy.

We see the plight of the people through the teenaged Unte (Marius Povilas Elijas Martynenko) who has come home to the farm to find his father (Arvydas Dapsys) and stepmother (Alina Zaliukaite-Ramanauskiene) estranged and living under separate roofs, his father carrying on with the family cook (Vita Siauciunaite) and fretting over seeing everything he’s worked, suffered and married to attain ripped away from him by the machine-gun-wielding socialists who have come to town.

Will the lad find a way to keep his parents together, maybe hold on to some of the dirt-poor, struggling farm? Or will he join or return to (I couldn’t tell) the partisans who have taken to the woods and don’t seem to be carrying the fight to the Bolsheviks, no matter what they would have everyone believe.

As his father goes into hiding and the partisan-alligned Ignas (Valdas Virgailis) starts parroting socialist talking points (in Lithuanian with subtitles) — “They’re saying people will be given land…taken from those who have too much” and given “to those who have nothing.” — Unte has some considering to do.

The final third of “In the Dusk,” also titled “At Dusk” at certain points of its release, is where all the action is — interrogations, betrayals, shootouts and such.

The first 100 minutes of this midwinter’s tale is like watching snow melt. Bartas holds shots too long, lets scenes go on forever, and takes his sweet time getting to anything resembling a point.

Family intrigues, local rivalries, Russians disgusted by the poverty of the place and yet still determined to ruthlessly shake the locals down, the history here is fascinating, and rendered in what feels like slow motion.

Bartas must not have read Hemingway’s advice about murdering “your little darlings,” as huge chunks of the first two acts add little to the narrative and merely flesh out what we can see simply in situations and performances.

This is, no doubt, a vital piece of Lithuania’s history and well worth recalling with Putin’s fumbling efforts to reconstitute the Russo/Soviet Empire. But wasting this much time getting to the point is a lot like the infighting and recriminations amongst the opposition partisans in the film — hurling your efforts and your ammo in the wrong direction.

And recreating important history doesn’t give you the right to bore the viewer to death before getting around to your point.

Rating: unrated, violence

Cast: Marius Povilas Elijas Martynenko, Arvydas Dapsys, Alina Zaliukaite-Ramanauskiene, Salvijus Trepulis, Valdas Virgailis and Rytis Saladzius

Credits: Directed by Sharunas Bartas, scripted by Sharunas Bartas and Ausra Giedraityte. A Film Movement release.

Running time: 2:08

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