Nostalgia is man’s inability to cope with reality: Midnight in Paris, a review

Starring Owen Wilson as Gil, this film is set in modern-day Paris as Gil and his fiancé tag along on a business trip to France with his future mother- and father-in-law. Gil is a successful script writer in Hollywood, but longs for the struggle and fulfillment of publishing his novel. Gil is also obsessed with Paris as a city, and what it must have been like, the magical and creative times, of Paris in the twenties.

After boring tourist trips, and getting a bit toasted at a wine tasting with his fiancé, in-laws, and the pedantic Paul, Gil walks around the city and ends up lost on a small alley road. As the clock strikes midnight with rhythmic chimes, a classic Duesenberg rolls up the street, stops, and the occupants beckon him to jump in. Gil, half-drunk, decides to ride along after not being allowed to decline, and is whisked away on a trip through Paris…in the 20’s.

Before Gil can wrap his head around the scenario, he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the Fitzgeralds. Sitting at the piano in the main room is none other than Cole Porter. He later sits down at a table over wine with Ernest Hemingway, who says he refuses to read Gil’s manuscript, but will put him in touch with Gertrude Stein, the only person he trusts with his writing.

By day, Gil struggles with his in-laws, his fiancé Inez (played by Rachel McAdams), and his own desires that run contrary to those of Inez. She likes that he is paid well to write scripts, and doesn’t want to move to Paris to live in an attic apartment with a skylight. Gil wants his passion, his struggle, and to give a real shot to being a truly great writer.

Gil with Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein

By night he meets Stein, Hemingway, Adriana, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, Degas, T.S. Eliot, and others. Every artist is cleverly and comically fleshed out. I laughed at Dali and his obsession with the Rhinoceros form. I loved Hemmingway’s drinking and his dead pan delivery of great quotes. “You want my opinion on your book? I hate it…Either it is good and I am jealous, or it is bad and I hate it anyway.” Gil rubs elbows with his idols in his romanticized era. Gil always thought he was born too late. Through his meetings with Adriana, he falls for her, and the time.

Adriana and Gil walk the streets of Paris in the 20's

In an Inception moment, on a street corner in 20’s Paris, a horse-drawn carriage arrives and they are beckoned to board. They are now taken back to Adriana’s favorite past era…1890’s Paris. It is here that Adriana wants to stay, and Gil realizes that everyone romanticizes a past time. He can’t stay with her, he wants her time, she wants this one. He can’t stay. They don’t have medicine, it is a great, but primitive time, yet these great artists in the 1890’s yearn for the Renaissance. No one is satisfied with their era. He leaves Adriana in the 1890’s and returns to his time begrudgingly.

Gil knows what he wants, what he needs out of his life, and playing the part for Inez cannot be that life. He decides to stay in Paris, breaking off the engagement, and living his life as a writer now.

Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali

Woody Allen wrote and directed Midnight in Paris. This is a fantasy of magic and nostalgia in the city of lights. Paris at midnight is magical, and the fun and imaginative wares of movie making are on display in this understated and creative film. For a writer, much like Gil, I was just elated with this film. Getting it from Netflix by mail, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to watch it once it was at my house. I’d popped it in the queue because it was Woody Allen and it was recommended 4 1/2 stars for me. I trust Netflix most of the time, and it certainly did not disappoint this time.

So many people, including myself, have a romantic ideal of an era in the bygone past. For me, it is the Sixties in the Hashbury. Beat writers like Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson. The protests, counterculture, the division, the passion, the wars, the fascinating times and writers that inspired me. It is not better than my time, but romanticized by the passage of time and the boredom that comes from living.

It might be my literary bias, but the film and the characters got to me as a viewer. It explored my obsession with times passed. It explored my desire to live my passion despite the struggle, while I still write what I knew people liked, despite that those works are not my proudest accomplishments. I see in Gil the same struggle I have with balancing my love for the work I want to do, and the life people want me to have. That quiet desperation that comes from the conflict of balance is something that struck close to home. I may not be the biggest Owen Wilson fan, maybe the casting could have been better in this role, but the film is a perfect example of the fantastic ability film has to realize the dreams we all have. Forget the theoretical science behind time travel, the butterfly effect, and the details of the sci-fi aspect of the film and just enjoy the Duesenberg ride to a sweeter, awe-inspiring time, and the character driven moments of levity and drama. A fascinating glimpse through the looking-glass of man’s nostalgia, Midnight in Paris is for dreamers, among whom I count myself, and I venture to say that most of you can do the same.

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Suicide Isn’t All Bad: Wristcutters, A Review

Wristcutters: A Love Story

Zia (Patrick Fugit) is depressed when his girlfriend, Desiree (Leslie Bibb), breaks up with him. In his depression, Zia decides to kill himself. He cleans up his place and slits his wrists in the bathroom. Then he gets a job in a pizzeria.

Zia finds himself in a limbo similar to real life, only just slightly worse. After meeting Eugene (Shea Whigham), a rock and roll wanna be that killed himself at a gig, they decide to search out Desiree once Zia finds out she too killed herself. Along the way they pick up Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a hitchhiker looking for the People in Charge because she is here by accident. The film then follows them on their dual journey throughout this world encountering other suicide victims and getting closer to their goal of finding what they seek.

I won’t give you any more than that because I want you to see it, and any more would spoil the film.

Written and directed by Goran Dukic (the only feature film to his credit), it is expertly crafted down to the smallest detail despite a budget of just one million dollars. The opening sequence sets the tone: Music and color. Everything is flat, as if God had turned the saturation down on life. The music is perfectly matched to the tone of the after life. Imagine Bright Eyes tracks on Ritalin. The entire film setting, the dessert matches this tone of color. Nothing bright, nothing new, nothing exciting. Simply muted tones and even the clothing seems to be thrift store chic that has been through the wash a hundred times too many.

The set design is priceless as everything from the bar to apartments feels old, rundown. Nothing is clean. Nothing is new. Rooms look like they’ve never been dusted, everything needs a new paint job. The entire world needs a wash and a remodel. It’s a secondhand world.

Comedy is in the details. A perfect example is supplied in the first five minutes. After killing himself and ending up in the purgatory-like place, he gets the job as in a pizza shop; Kamikaze Pizza. It’s just a brilliant choice that sets the tone for the kind of humor you’re going to get from the movie.

There are things that makes sense when you think of them. If you really want to interpret the design of the film, you can see why nothing can be fixed. Nothing can be nice and new again. It might have been designed this way out of budget concerns, but I like to think that everything just runs down until it breaks. Things just slowly degrade and then just stop working. You can’t fix anything in this place. It is all used and you run it until it fails. Take Eugene’s car for example. The black hole under the seat that sucks up everything that slides underneath it. The headlights that can’t be fixed. Duct tape holding everything together. It is missing almost all of the trim; it’s just the barebones. It’s all falling apart. Things could be improved in the old station wagon, but it is all just shitty. A nice little analog for the idea of depression, suicide, and life.

I love this movie for the well thought out design, the multiple layers of clever storytelling, and the cameo appearances, too. Did I mention Jake Busey, Tom Waits, and THE Will Arnett? Will is a cult leader that killed himself, then became a cult leader in the afterlife.

This film is like if Garden State killed itself. It’s an odd, wandering film with a great soundtrack and great casting. There are little subtleties that you might not catch right away, like the fact that no one smiles. Mikal points it out, but then you realize that up until that point no one had smiled. Not once. There are no stars in the sky. Not one. There is nothing in the movie that doesn’t look like it was abandoned on a curb and marked FREE. Not one.

It is a great movie for those with a dry sense of humor and an appreciation for low-budget, high-concept films. The music is great, the look is perfect, and it is the kind of film that was born to be on a small budget. Giving this kind of screenplay a multimillion dollar treatment would have cheapened it, if that makes sense. Check it out streaming on Netflix.

 Don’t miss the feathers. You’ll see at the end. Enjoy.

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Bronson: A Suggestion

Bronson (2008) chronicles the life and times of Michael Peterson: The UK’s most violent prisoner. His new name, Charlie Bronson came from his short stint of freedom when he worked as an unlicensed boxer. He needed a new and appropriate fighting name. Charlie Bronson was chosen for his gritty performance from Death Wish, which seemed to fit Peterson to a T.

Michael Peterson was first incarcerated for a series of armed robberies, namely that of a Post Office. No one was hurt, no bullets were fired, and no one was killed. For this crime he got an initial sentence of seven years.

Peterson is a shockingly violent prisoner and an all-around fascinating human being. In the book Bronson, the Robin Ackroyd wrote:

Charlie is a lost soul, a man from a different age. Ten thousand years ago he would have been the strongest man in the jungle; two thousand years ago, in Roman times, he would have been the unbeaten gladiator; two hundred years ago he would have been a circus strong man. 

I suppose this is a very appropriate description of this man. To most he would appear to be a manic psychopath with self-destructive patterns who could give nothing back to society.

The film seems to show this side of the man. It shows through brilliant cinematography and utterly appropriate scene design and cut scenes that Charlie sought out trouble and wants nothing but to fight. I think it is further from the truth than the fact that the man just can’t control himself.

As the film explains, as Charlie (played brilliantly by Tom Hardy) himself explains in make-up and three-piece suit on a stage to a crowd of the faceless wealthy, he has been in prison since 1974. As of filming, it totaled some 34 years…30 of it in solitary. 23-hour lockdown in the maximum security that the UK has to offer. Maximum security, 23-hour lockdown…for robbery. 34 years…for armed robbery. OK, I admit that he is still in prison for his misbehaving. He holds the records for roofing prisons, for hostage-taking standoffs, and I believe he also holds the record for most consecutive years served in solitary.

Charlie Bronson has never killed a person. Never, not a soul. He has never raped. He’s no pedophile. No serial killer. Never stabbed, cut, or maimed with anything but his bare fists. 34+ years for fighting? Hey, I and the film leave the morality up to you.

The movie is beautifully made. It is visceral, striking, bloody, and Tom Hardy embodies Charlie both physically to an almost eerie similarity. It is uncanny. Having read Charlie’s writing and seen the film that brings to life his words and mannerisms, Tom recreates a real person in a performance that is rivaled only by Johnny Depp from Fear and Loathing in his role as Raoul Duke.

It is not for the squeamish, but if you’ve got the stomach for a stellar film with a stellar lead, genius cinematography, and a perfectly executed screenplay and script, then I suggest this film.

Take this knowledge with you as you watch. Housed with the worst filth represented rapist, wife beaters, serial killers, pedophiles, sits Charlie Bronson who has done nothing but armed robbery for one week and then fought as often as he could muster after that. Never killed a soul. He continues to serve a sentence in solitary confinement that is about to top 40 years. Bronson is now nearly sixty, and could still kick your ass. He holds a record for most push-ups in one hour. He lifts weights and challenges world records to raise money…for programs outside the prison walls that support youth. Orphanages have received money on his behalf from the sales of his books and the stellar shape he keeps himself in. He may not have been meant for this time, but Charlie will tell you that he is the ultimate survivor, and he survives still in conditions that would break nearly all others. Check out Bronson streaming on Netflix.

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Trainspotting: a suggestion

Talk about a weird ass film. Trainspotting is the story of a drug addict in Edinburgh trying to get out of the scene but constantly being pulled back in through a series of event. Heroin, the drug of choice, rules everyone’s lives. This is both a horrifying, tragic film while it is cartoonishly hilarious and represents that filmmaking style that inspired the likes of Guy Ritchie (Snatch), David Fincher (Fight Club), or even Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream).

Ewan McGregor plays Renton. Along with Spud, Sick Boy, Tommy, and Begbie, make up the main host of characters for this film. From squatting in a practically condemned apartment to cleaning up only to relapse, to selling drugs to some heavy characters, there is nothing this group doesn’t do. They are manic, crazy, dangerous, twisted individuals who seem to want more than the drug life, but simultaneously celebrate it as they wallow in the world they inhabit.

The cinematography is the thing that gets me. The scene of crawling in to the toilet. I loved the scene where Renton lowers into the floor, pulling the rug with him. The freeze-frame style intros, the narration–though sometimes thought to be a cheap story device–works perfectly with Renton and fits the film style in what we see.

A lot of people may have heard of Trainspotting, especially since Ewan McGregor became a star, but not that many people saw it back in the day; it only made 16 million in theaters.  I never saw it then, I was 12, but as soon as I was old enough, I rented it. I recently watched it probably three times last year and will see it again. I like to think that this is a cult classic. There is a heavy fan base, but it is not all comedy. This is heroin and that isn’t pretty. Things get darker, tougher, stranger, and you really care for many of the people you meet. You hope the best, are shocked, and hurt when disaster befalls characters.

I can’t suggest this film enough if you’ve got the stomach for this type of film. It will change your mood after watching it. So be ready. If you’ve got the taste for this kind of movie, then it’s a can’t miss classic that you can see influenced films to come, like Fight Club, Requiem, Snatch, and many more. This film represented the late 90’s well, and it still holds strong some 16 years later.

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Let The Right One In: A Review

This week we are talking vampires. Okay, not sparkly vampire, but we’ve got a love story…it’s just not what you think.

Let The Right One In (2008) is the story of Oskar, a 12-year old boy in a small village, who is tormented by Conny and his minions every day. Oskar fantasizes about getting his revenge one day, but his fear keeps him from fighting back. The bullies are awful little children. Oskar even has a knife he dreams of using to kill them.

Everything changes for Oskar once he has a few chance meetings with the new girl in the apartment next to his, Eli. She is an odd girl who can solve a Rubik’s Cube on command, and her “father” covers the windows of the apartment. Oskar and Eli begin to be friends, despite Eli telling Oskar that they can’t be friends. Once Eli has moved in to town, there begins a series of murders that keeps everyone in town on edge.

Eli is, of course, a vampire. Her “father” is quickly revealed to the viewer as the murderer, collecting the blood from the victims for Eli to drink. He is getting old though, and sloppy. His age has caught up to him and Eli begins doing her own killing, leaving witnesses, and even a poor woman who is not killed at feeding, turning her in to a vampire.

original exhibits more restraint with the blood. I guess Americans just need it bloodier.

I don’t want to give too much away, don’t want to spoil too much. This film is less about vampires and more about a coming-of-age tale of Oskar finding his confidence and the girl who helps him do so. He loves her, though it is never truly spoken. They see one another at night, a long time passes before he discovers her vampirism. The film centers around Oskar and Eli. Lore of vampires is never gone in to too deeply, except when it naturally comes about. I love that this film does not explain to death all the ins and outs of being a vampire.

From the respect of filmmaking, I think this is brilliantly done. The tone of the film matches the pace and mood of the script. Music is sparsely used, almost zero. When it is used, it doesn’t foreshadow action, which often times ruins a scene and can even distract from what is going on. I love the restraint in the music. The cinematography is great with creepy panning shots, wide shots of scenes, and the lighting in most interior scenes is terrifying. There is none of the clichéd shadow shots and over dramatic lighting effects. This film doesn’t try too hard, which avoids the caricature that vampires often fall victim to in cinema: Twilight, Daybreakers, Blade, The Lost Boys, et al.

As for any contrasts from the US and Scandinavian versions, there are a few, and they are pretty stark.

For those that don’t enjoy dubbed audio or reading subtitles, there is the very good (if not superior) Let Me In (2010). Same premise with some differences. Same bullied 12-year old (Owen) and the same 12-year old vampire (Abby). There are some structural differences though. For frame of reference, the setting’s year is vaguely placed during the Reagan administration, placing it in the eighties. The Scandinavian version feels more late 70’s to early eighties, but as far as I could tell there was no clearer frame of reference than clothing, cassette player, and the 45 record player.

Outside of potential timeframe differences are location, but this is a moot point. The settings are the same in their rural nature and cold climate.

The opening scene of the US version is the ambulance occupied by a man who is suspected of murder being rushed to the hospital to treat self-inflicted chemical burns. The original opens on Oskar in his room, and the snow falling. Basically, the US version starts in the middle, and then back tracks with the tired “Two Weeks Earlier” device. This is probably to get the viewer hooked because US audiences, in my opinion, are not as patient as foreign viewers seem to be, based on the structure of their films.

Another huge difference is that there is a detective investigating the man in the ambulance and the series of murders in the area, even after his death. This character does not exist in any manner in the original. There is this whole device of the nosey detective just doing his job that is only partly existent in the original in the form of a concerned friend of a murdered victim.

Among other differences is the complete absence of anyone near the role of Virginia. In the original, Virgina is turned by Eli during an interrupted feeding. This character’s equal is completely absent from the US version, for better or worse. I am not quite convinced either way.

The US film ends the same, starts differently, explores much the same lore and character development (though totally void of the distracting relationship with Owen’s father that Oskar has).

that's a lot of blood, US version

They are different films because of the devices that are used to advance the story in either version. There is more music, foreshadowing, and more gore in the violence in the US version. Much as US versions will do, there is a bit too much detail for the viewer when the foreign version shows restraint in certain ways. Yes, there is violence and a bloody-mouthed 12-year old girl in both versions, and other scenes of blood and murder, but I just felt that the original used this device sparingly, which made the sight of the gore that much more disturbing.

Is one better than the other? I don’t think so. The foreign version used a slower and quieter manner of telling a truly horrifying story that gets under my skin and leaves me with mixed emotions at the end. The US version has the detective I get to like a bit, and creates a bit more tension of being “found out”, but there isn’t anything more in the US version than the original, it’s just different. I say watch them both. I saw Let Me In before I saw Let The Right One In, and what struck me about both films was the basics: The fascinating story, the focus less on defining lore (and Eli’s past), and leaving the focus on the relationship of Oskar/Eli-Owen/Abby.

If you are a horror fan then this is a definite watch. I was riveted through both films, and the very subtle music let the scenes really speak for themselves instead of knowing how you should feel at any moment based on the sound design. I loved these films. There is no list of truths of vampires, but what is true about Eli/Abby is revealed naturally through the film. Neither will spell things out too clearly, though the US version clubs you over the head just a bit more, and uses tired devices to keep you engrossed. Yes, the US version might have taken some queues of subtlety from Let The Right One In, but it’s not distracting. I loved the casting in the US version a bit more than the original, but that is about regional stardom, though the eyes of Eli trump that of Abby, but Abby is a more disturbing character based on her porcelain doll look…maybe this stems from my phobia of creepy kids in films, but you’ll see what I mean. Both vampire girls make my skin crawl, but it is a horror film, after all.

Don’t miss either film. They are both currently streaming on Netflix.

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The Living Wake Review

“Binew was the first to attribute personalities to numbers; something thought to be stupid only years earlier.”

The Living Wake stars unappreciated and unrecognized genius, K. Roth Binew on his last day of life as he has been “diagnosed with a grave and vague disease.” He is accompanied by his man, chauffeur, servant, Mills. Mills is his best, and only friend, besides belligerence and alcohol, and with his last day on Earth tightly scheduled, these two set out to fill the tasks of the day, handing out invitations to the evening’s wake along the way.

Among the tasks of this quixotic dilettante is swearing off the war with his neighbor. He drugs a prostitute to get out of paying her 50 bucks, attempts to get his unpublished books on to the shelves of the public library, and even tricks the town Liquorsmith into trading him the man’s own glasses for a bottle of his finest bourbon before meeting with his childhood nanny, who is some 50 years his senior, for a make out session under the watchful eye of her husband…in the woods.

Binew is a mildly deranged and touched genius. Mills is also a poet, and his authorized biographer who tracks much of what Binew says throughout the day. He even sketches the scene with the prostitute for posterity, hence the 50 bucks since Mills watched.

Binew is not a great writer, dancer, performer, painter, though he has worked it up in his mind that the world must appreciate him in his passing, and that his works must live on in the annuls of history with the greats of literature and art. He is oddly poignant at times in the film, but for the most part everything said and uttered is hilarious and hyperbolic.

Binew himself is as odd a character as the setting of the film. It is a nondescript town set in a nondescript time. Seriously, I really have no idea where or when this film happens. Characters, including Mills, have accents from varying regions of the world. I only assume America because at the end of the film, Binew mentions he has a crisp $20 bill strapped to his genitals for anyone with the gumption to go after it once he is dead.

I love the entire film. Often, I will try a film out, and as I press play I think, “You’ve got 15 minutes to impress me.” With as many films as I watch, I get to experimenting with the obscure, as this film is, and I can be disappointed. I challenge you this: If the first five minutes of this film does not get you hooked, then you need to not only turn it off, but run from your TV. This film is not for you. This is like if Don Quixote and Juno got together with The Royal Tenenbaums at funeral for a Woody Allen film. It’s just really weird.

It’s not a bad thing. I loved every minute. I loved the boisterous and peacockish nature of K. Roth. I loved Jim Gaffigan as his father with cameos throughout. I loved the random thoughts and almost retarded waxings of Binew. I loved the relationship between Mills and K. Roth, and even loved the shit out of the two music numbers, one in the middle and the last just in the closing minutes of the film.

It’s a film that does not take itself seriously, but in the best way. I feared that moment where the movie just got a little too serious and touching, taking me out of the amazing world that had been constructed for me, but it never came. I feel like the writing of this was a competition for the most extravagant and eccentric ramblings they could think of. Pub wisdom and philosophy. Trying to achieve falling just short of genius, which in itself created a film that for me is genius.

It can be a bit slow to many I am sure, but it is all dialogue and subtleties in the acting that drive this film. Setting and brilliantly written dialogue. This film is unendingly quotable.

A few fun facts: This film was made released in 2007 to the tune of $500,000 and made just under $3,000 opening weekend to one screen. Don’t worry, two months later it had made just over $12,000. Whew, it could have been a flop.

I highly recommend this film if you like some of the film mash-ups I suggested. For me, it can be a cartoonish and garish look in to one man’s hope to be remembered when he is gone, while it might be the crazed and drunken ramblings of a hopeless nobody for the purpose of his own ego and pipe dreams of being someone who created and lived and didn’t just pass on as one of the billions who were just swallowed up. This one hits a little close to home, but damned if I don’t love this movie.

“Oh, majestic goat. Die quietly on your stake, and trust your throat will bleat on our plates. Oh, majestic goat. have faith your surrender will sate our tummy-boats, will feed out luncheon splendor. Oh, Majestic goat.”

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Page One Review

Page One is a compelling and revealing look in to one year at the New York Times; the Old Grey Lady. By dumb luck, the documentary is filmed during an incredible and controversial time at the paper. During a round of layoffs, as the news world crumbles around their feet causing people to question whether the paper can survive, and during the publishing of the wikileaks of secret government cables; the viewer gets an unfiltered look in to the behind-the-scenes goings on at the paper.

The film really centers around David Carr, a journalist for the NYT. David is a compelling character to center the film around. He is outspoken, unapologetic, and profound in his writing. David, after years of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and dark times in his life, shines as a traditional reporter in the new media world. The documentary covers the Media Desk, which was created to follow the changes in the media and new industry, including what was happening at the NYT.

It is a fascinating study in the changes in news-gathering, which includes film from symposium about news, and how many new media figureheads seem to resent the NYT and big newspapers for a perceived lack of credibility, which David Carr takes an exception to, and at one presents a web front page from one of the aggregate sites, with all the stories taken from big newspapers cut out…there wasn’t much content left.

David is a great protagonist for the film, the look in to story pitch meetings, and real news gathering, trying to get confirmation on stories, get people to go on record, and the minutia of doing proper journalism which seems to occur mostly through a series of tedious phone calls.

The documentary is fascinating. As a “writer,” I found it to be truly provocative, exciting, and a fascinating look in to the back room hard work that goes on to make a daily publication such as this happen. There are great retrospectives in to some scandals the NYT has endured to compromise its integrity, a little history, and a daily walk through reporting and getting copy from a journalist’s desk to the front page.

It comes from some of the people behind Waiting For Superman; Food, Inc.; and An Inconvenient Truth. Though you can argue that there is a liberal bias to these earlier films, there is enough stark fact and truth to keep it from feeling too much like an agenda-bent film. I highly suggest a look in to the film to see what work goes in to the words, and to maybe make you reconsider your potentially toxic distaste for “lame-stream” media.

Page One is available for online streaming on Netflix, so pop it in to your queue.

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