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16 Blocks By Dean Kish Imagine if you will, you are sitting at your
desk and you're a struggling screenwriter and your project is to write
a screenplay using the clichéd techniques such as "slight of hand",
"misdirection", "archetypes" and "caricatures". It's just a test to see
if you can do it.
Well during the writing process you may find yourself drifting towards the "cop genre" because hasn't every cop show or film suffered from over-use of technique at some point or another. So you choose to write a screenplay about cops and just for originality let's make all of them bad and one guy is against the corrupt system. (insert: sarcastic tone here) Now that you have your genre you would probably choose the "buddy-cop formula" because well it's perfect and has been done to death.
After the test is complete, you hear that "over-the-hill" director Richard Donner and star Bruce Willis have read the script by mistake and are interested in making it a film. Well that's perfect both are quite familiar with the "buddy-cop scenario". Donner created the "Lethal Weapon" franchise and Willis starred in "The Last Boy Scout".
But it was a joke, a test to see if you could really use every cop cliché known to man. Then they offer you $4 million for the script. You are dumb-struck and shrug your shoulders and take the money.
If you haven't realized it yet, the script you just sold was "16 Blocks".
Basically "16 Blocks" must have been created something like what I described above. The whole film is just one big over-used and stomped on cliché. First you have the alcoholic cop (Bruce Willis) who is looking for redemption and trying to become a man once more. Second you have the wise-cracking sidekick (Mos Def) who is in trouble with the law and has to deal with this bloated drunk who would rather breathe on him than save him. Then here's a twist, the cop's old partner (David Morse) is this corrupt guy who is trying to cover everything up. Throw these caricatures into "real-time" 2-hour cat-and-mouse scenario and you have "16 Blocks".
There are so many things wrong with this movie it's hard to say what's good. I have to admit I liked Willis, though. His grumbling, bloated cop-drunk is done very well. And the film not for one moment makes him an actual action hero. This man is a loser and the film never apologizes for that fact. It's a solid performance and it's probably the only thing the film does correct and makes sense.
Mos Def has a lot of potential to be a good character actor. "16 Blocks" is not a good example of that. Basically the best way to describe his performance is that it's like watching a Chris Tucker movie after chugging a half bottle of Nyquil. I think the filmmakers were trying for a Chris Tucker or a "48-Hrs" Eddie Murphy but instead just got an overly annoying nasally-congested comic relief. But come to think of it, he wasn't really that funny.
I like David Morse. I am not scared to admit that. After witnessing his sleep-walking performance in this film, I am beginning to change my interpretation of the man. He was a solid actor until he became a carbon-copied duplicate of every villain performance the man has ever done. I know he can change, what do you think? The person who should probably be ashamed the most is Richard Donner. This guy needs to retire from directing and stick to producing. After 2003's "Timeline", I forgave him stating that the man is a legend and brought classic films like "Lethal Weapon", "Superman" and "Maverick". But now I think the man should just stop embarrassing himself and ride off into the sunset. The man is a legend so let's remember him that way.
"16 Blocks" should be studied by screen-writing students as a warning what not to do. If it does garner cult status I bet it will be as a movie geek's drinking game like take 2 shots every time there is a cop flick cliché and take three drinks every time Willis shoots or takes a drink. (1.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer
Aquamarine By Dean Kish For hundreds of years we have been fascinated
with the nautical myth that there are beings in the oceans who are ½
fish and ½ woman. They are always young, beautiful and completely
naive. Some classic films have captivated this obsession. The first
biggest and most memorable film was the classic 1984 comedy "Splash"
which really brought the myth back into the fore-front of our minds.
Next was 1989's "The Little Mermaid" which stole our hearts and
re-launched Disney's animation division.
Probably the most obscure reference and the most bizarre use of the mermaid myth was used in the short-lived TV series, "Maximum Bob" where an ultra right-wing judge (Beau Bridges) marries a psychic mermaid-performer (Kiersten Warren). There are a lot of scenes with Warren in an aquarium and dressed in her fish tail.
OK I have covered the biggest to the most obscure which brings me to "Aquamarine".
"Aquamarine" is a light-hearted preteen comedy about a naive mermaid, Aquamarine (Sara Paxton) who comes ashore to uncover the human myth called love. Helping her in finding this mythical emotion are two best friends, Claire and Hailey (Emma Roberts and JoJo), who befriend the mermaid. It turns out that the friends maybe separated forever when Hailey moves away. Aquamarine promises them a wish if they help her find true love so the girls, desperate to stay together, help her out.
This film is probably not a classic or will be fondly remembered in five years but for the audience it is aimed at it succeeds on many levels. I liked the performances of Emma Roberts and Sara Paxton. I even warmed up to JoJo a little.
What I kept saying as the film went on was how these three girls looked like junior versions of established actors. I felt that Paxton reminded me a lot of a younger Reese Witherspoon and Roberts reminded me some of her aunt, Julia Roberts. JoJo did also remind me of Lindsay Lohan but there isn't much of an age difference between them so you can't really say junior version.
I think that Paxton and Roberts have a lot of potential in their Hollywood careers. JoJo could have a career in film but does she have the ability to manage music and film like say, Hilary Duff. Only time will tell.
"Aquamarine" is a great little film if you have girls who are between 8 and 15 but other than that I can't really recommend it to anyone else. But you have to give it marks for succeeding so well in a pinch demographic. (3.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the independent drama "Lightning Bug", Bret Harrison stars as Green
Graves, a tormented dreamer whose only aspiration is to become a horror
film makeup artist. Graves struggle to reach his goal is plagued by his
unlucky mother, Jenny (Ashley Laurence) and his new highly abusive
stepfather, Earl (Kevin Gage). But Graves does everything in his power
to keep dreaming and to help that dream stay alive is his girlfriend
and amateur actor, Angevin Duvet (Laura Prepon).
"Lighting Bug" is a relentless drama about one boy's struggle to overcome his abusive surroundings. Everything from his alcoholic stepfather, hopeless mother and white trash surroundings are all key plot points to keep this boy in check. What is strange about this film is that it is being marketed as a horror film when really it's an unforgiving drama.
The best part of this film is the stalwart performance by Bret Harrison, who is a relative newcomer to film. He has so much emotion and personal depth in a lot of scenes. He is a great find. I will look forward to seeing more from this kid.
I have always liked Ashley Laurence and her portrayal of a lost white-trash single mother is captivating and so unforgiving that I often forgot it was her.
Another thing I really liked was the film's original music from singer-songwriter Kevn Kinney. It brought so much extra flavor to the film.
The biggest problem with the film is that it never lets up. It is just so depressing and relentless the audience is never allowed to breathe or laugh. I also really got annoyed with the sub-plot involving Laura Prepon's character's mother. This is such a tedious subplot to create even more conflict for the boy. He gets enough at home.
If you happen to see this film, enjoy the performance of Bret Harrison but prepare for a very bumpy and dark ride. (3 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer (email@example.com) DVD Details: "Lightning Bug" will be released from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment on August 9. The DVD features 2 audio commentaries with director Robert Hall and one featuring Ashley Laurence and Laura Prepon. The DVD also includes a music video from Kevn Kinney and some deleted scenes. The DVD itself is smartly packaged and it is amazing how much extra stuff there is here for such an independent film.
Director Alex Proyas, helmer of such cult favorites as 'Dark City' and
'The Crow', steps into the Hollywood limelight with his first attempt
at a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster.
'I, Robot' chronicles the life of Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) who has a techno-phobic view of the world's newest appliance, a life-like robot created by the world's leading technology giant US Robotics. A link in Spooner's past is linked to his phobia of the automaton movement sweeping the nation. According to US Robotics, there will be eventually 1 robot to every 5 humans.
Spooner is called to the offices of US Robotics when a leading scientist (James Cromwell), with a secret link to Spooner, has apparently committed suicide. His death seems to have mysterious circumstances which could link to a robot. With man's complete trust in the new robot technology, it seems too ludicrous to every one except Spooner.
As the mystery deepens, Spooner unravels the very fabric of the robotic giant, locks horns with CEO Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) and learns more about his automated enemy with the aid of scientist Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan). Through the course of these events he may learn more than he could ever imagine.
It is hard to defend a film like 'I, Robot' but I am going to try. For sci-fi purists, Isaac Asimov's legendary work about the robot and how he will intricate into our society has filled the minds of readers for over 50 years. But the similarities between the film presented here and his work are few and far between. Kind of like last week's release of Jerry Bruckheimer's 'King Arthur'. Both films take sacred subject matter and re-invent it with a new twist. I would have to say that 'I. Robot' is better in a lot ways.
At the core of 'I, Robot' beats the soul of Asimov as his 3 laws regarding robots are sacredly left intact and the film does abide by them. Also a lot of the characters have similar names to the people in the text. It is almost like taking Star Trek's 'prime directive' and some of the now classic characters and setting them in a new idea of the future. The core is left intact but in some ways it has been updated and refreshed.
The story, special effects and extremely zealous direction, however, all seem to be brought forth by the collaborators who cobbled this film together. There are influences of 'Robocop', 'Short Circuit', 'Blade Runner' and even the classic comic-book series 'Magnus: Robot Fighter'. Each of these robot influences echo back to what makes 'I Robot' so intriguing, a joy to watch and memorable.
Sure the story does have a lot of sci-fi influences and clichés aside from robot films including 'Star Wars' and 'Planet of the Apes' but don't these benchmark sci-fi films influence everything coming down the turnpike these days. It even has the classic sci-fi cliché of the social outcast claiming there is an invasion coming except no one believes him. But that is not what should bring us into the film.
You really need to give credit to director Alex Proyas because it is his magic as a filmmaker that holds this film together. He knows where to play it straight and where to let his lead actor bring on the charm. Also you really have to admire the man's technical ability. His brilliant inter-laying of robots into the photography is astounding. Proyas is an A-list director in the making and 'I, Robot' shows that he can deliver a big Hollywood film.
I also give credit to Will Smith who starts out being very unapproachable with his character but as the film goes we really become fond of his hero. Smith's Spooner does have a lot of his previous sci-fi heroes inter-laced into Spooner but it comes off as more of a homecoming than an annoyance. In some ways I think Proyas had something to do with that especially in the chase down scene towards the beginning of the film. It almost felt like 'Men in Black' again.
As for Smith's co-stars, Cromwell's Lanning is a throwaway character used mainly for effect, Moynahan is timid and sometimes robot-like but it is a sturdy performance and Greenwood is menacing and a good match to face off against the rebellious Smith.
The reason I was so fond of 'I, Robot' is because for once it was a summer film that didn't apologize for trying to be entertaining. The special effects, the performances and the direction are all what people want to see in the summer and this film is loads and loads of fun. It is a great giant popcorn film with a light layering of message.
My only small problem with this film was that it is supposed to be set in Chicago in 2035. I didn't buy it but if it was 2135, then maybe.
Sure the film doesn't pave new ground but why does every film have to. It is pure summer fun and what is wrong with that.
If you want Asimov and sci-fi purism then you can always read the novels. Stop apologizing and most of all stop belly-aching, just give the film a chance. If you like science fiction films and want to be remembered how much fun they used to be then this picture is the perfect ticket for you. So Says the Soothsayer.
By Dean Kish
You escort your slick two-wheeled engine of doom up to the line. You strap on your helmet as you snarl at your competitor. The sun reflects off your slick leather ensemble as you glide your leg over the mean machine's hardened leather seat. Your hands grasp the handles as you hear a faint squeak of your leather gloves. You are ready for combat.
The revving commences and in a flash you hope to leave your competitor a victim at the line. But instead you watch as your bike stalls and your enemy screeches away. The name of your enemy is `The Fast & the Furious' and you are just left being the `The Fake & the Scriptless'.
And that about sums up the new action film, Torque, which is brought to you by the same producers who did `The Fast & the Furious' and `XXX'.
In the loose-meat storyline housed within `Torque', we find rebel biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) returning to his hometown to face his past demons and reclaim the woman (Monet Mazur) he loves. Ford must first face down a ruthless FBI agent (Adam Scott) and two biker rivals (Ice Cube and Matt Schulze).
The one-note storyline allows for slick two-dimensional performances from the film's leads and forgettable one-dimensional ones from the supporting cast which includes B-movie veterans Schulze and Jaime Pressly.
There are a lot of western and rebel references as the recent world of the biker never seems to translate well to screen. These guys don't drive for the `need for speed' or celebrate in their rebellion but instead they just clunk around like they were lost on paper which it is no surprise that this is the first script from screenwriter Matt Johnson. There are oodles of rookie mistakes in this one.
I kind of felt sorry for some of the actors lost in this film like Henderson, Pressly, Mazur and of course under-rated Max Beesley who once more finds himself in an awful project.
As a B-film I did find some great belly-laughs like at the biker chick showdown between Mazur and Pressly which is probably the worst game of chicken on celluloid. And Pressly's biker chick character is ripped right from a re-run of `Black Scorpion'. It had to be with all that lip lickin'. Roger Corman would adore that character.
I do have to admit that the stunts and some of the `filled-to-the-brim' cheese was fun but for the most part `Torque' should and will be an embarrassment to both the outlaw and speed-freak biker community.
Just forget `Torque' if you can. (1 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bill Pullman stars as Callum Crane, a man who finds himself on the way to a
federal bench position. The very week of the appointment Crane is accused of
assaulting his assistant (Gabrielle Anwar). Crane's life is ruined much to
the dismay of Crane's wife (Joanne Whalley). Crane becomes desperate and
hires a young ex-con (Devon Sawa) to solve his problem by killing his
assistant. Unbeknownst to Crane, the ex-con harbors another secret that
could bring down Crane himself.
`The Guilty' is probably one of the best non-grisly crime thrillers I have seen in a long time. The film has so many twists, turns, shocks and pitfalls that it made me gasp. Pullman is brilliant as the morally distraught Crane. Sawa, Anwar and Whalley compliment him very well with every scene. This could be Bill Pullman's best role to date.
Pullman made another court-room-crime thriller back in 1996 called `Mistrial' which was your typical cable movie fare but his second turn in the genre is pure magic. (112 mins) (4.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.
Sinbad the Sailor, probably the greatest anti-hero of the Arabian Knights, has seen many incarnations over the years. This time a new animated film from DreamWorks delves into the myth with some celebrity voices in tow.
Sinbad (Brad Pitt) is a happy pirate bent on retiring to Fiji after stealing the legendary Book of Peace. The only problem is that his childhood friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes) stands in his way. Sinbad finds himself in a conundrum when he fails to obtain the book and ends up following his friend back to his palace where he is introduced to Proteus's future wife Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
When Sinbad is eventually framed by Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer), the Goddess of Chaos for stealing the Book of Peace, Proteus defends his friend for the crime. Proteus puts his life on the line so that Sinbad can sail into uncharted territory and retrieve the book. Unbeknownst to Sinbad, Marina tags along. Can Sinbad wrestle with a goddess and get through uncharted territory in time to save his friend?
Sinbad has always been an epic character and one of my favorites from classic literature and myth. He has inspired so many other multi-layered adventure characters over the years. I was first exposed to his adventures when I was a child and obsessed with seeing more movies from legendary creature creator, Ray Harryhausen. The Sinbad trilogy from Harryhausen still has a soft spot in my plethora of movie favorites. I loved the magic and vastness of worlds that inhabited Sinbad as a character.
It was that knowledge and foundation that made me so excited about seeing a new incarnation of a classic character. I had the same reaction when Disney re-invented `Tarzan' in their animated film. I was half-hoping that there would be a great musical score like that of Disney's `Tarzan' or `Aladdin' but what I did end up seeing wasn't your typical animated cartoon. That was a whole new blessing unto itself.
DreamWorks's Sinbad was definitely a whole re-envisioning of the character but also quite a bold project on its own. I loved how the film seamlessly melded standard animation and computer graphics. There hasn't been an animated film yet that has been able to make such a successful fusion. The backgrounds were utter eye-candy. I also really enjoyed how smart and delectable the dialogue was between these characters. The humor and drama were very involving and extremely enjoyable. As with every Sinbad movie, you always want to see more far off lands and more creatures. That allure and mystery is alive and well in this version.
What was probably the most interesting was that this was the first time an animated film had a character fall in love with his best friend's future wife or that an executioner is ready with a giant axe to slice off a character's head. Even some of the tongue-in-cheek humor was more aimed at adults than children. I liked that because it acknowledged that you don't have to be under 12 years old to enjoy animated films.
My only wish for Sinbad would be that it had a grander score or a memorable song. I wanted some epic music for such a grand character. A bolder score would have made the animated film feel big enough to encompass what Sinbad is. I liked how DreamWorks used music in both `Spirit' and `Road to El Dorado' but seemed to have dropped the ball for this one.
Sinbad is a charming animated film with the DreamWorks edge but it needed to be bolder and bigger to do justice to such a legendary character. I just wanted more. (4 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
formerly known as `Halo: Charlie's Angels 2'
By Dean Kish
Well director McG's vision of the classic television show returns to the big screen. His breathless trio of Natalie (Cameron Diaz), Dylan (Drew Barrymore) and Alex (Lucy Liu) cascade back into the celluloid arena with a new Bosley and an all new lethal couple. Is the same old business or just more freakish summer-filled saccharine?
In the first film, we were introduced to the Angels with a crazy airplane and boat opening sequence that set the tone for the entire film. It was fun fresh and adrenaline pumped. Then the film featured the old-fashioned intro-sequence and the audience was hooked.
In the sequel `Full Throttle', the trio is back and this time the Angels uncover a secret in their midst while trying to out-smart ex-Angel turned demoness Madison Lee (Demi Moore) and psychotic Irish mobster Seamus O'Grady (Justin Theroux).
Lee and O'Grady's sinister plot surrounds a missing set of rings that hold the secret to unlocking the list of the members of America's Witness Relocation Program. The rings are referred to as `halos'. How does this all connect to the Angels and what is with the new Bosley, now played by Bernie Mac?
`Full Throttle' is probably the purest example of a `freaky summer popcorn movie'. It's fun, full of high-octane and has a killer soundtrack.
I had a lot of problems with the film's opening moments that circle a lot around the `dam sequence' seen in the film's first trailer. It was just so over the top that I cringed at what was going to come next. But as soon as I heard that old Charlie's Angels music and the intro-sequence I couldn't help but smile. It brought back the same old feeling I had when I saw the first one.
I also really liked that there were a lot more references to the series in this film then its predecessor. I really enjoyed Drew's character's angst toward being the only Angel left after the others had moved on. But what really made that whole storyline great was her later being consoled by Jaclyn Smith (Kelly Garrett from the original series), who happened to be the only Angel to survive the entire series and suffered through what Drew's character was imagining. Little things like that just make a TV junkie smile.
My only real problems with the movie were the `cartoon violence' and in some situations I found myself missing Bill Murray's Bosley. I really liked some of the scenes involving Bernie Mac but Murray really brought something that was missing this time out. The best scene for me with Mac was the surfer-beach sequence. I howled with him in his surfer outfit. I guess the film as a whole kind of scaled down the whole Bosley character. Bosley was an intricate part of the series and they seemed to have lost his worth. It is a shame.
When I interviewed Angels' director McG three years ago, I remember him saying that music is one of the key elements if not the most important to him when he makes a film. He envisions a song for every scene. Well the songs he picked for this film really made an impact on me. I really loved how he brought back so many favorites and they didn't disturb the film's flow at all.
Demi Moore's return to the silver screen has been toasted as a grand achievement. I really enjoyed her as Madison Lee and she nailed the part. But standing in her shadows is the performance of Justin Theroux. I loved his performance as Seamus. His performance seems to be a combo of `Jackass' star Johnny Knoxville and Robert DeNiro in `Cape Fear'. It is such an under-rated performance. He was so evil and menacing.
If you can let go of the `cartoonish' violence and just enjoy the ride `Full Throttle' is a great summer ride. (3.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.
One part `The Score', two parts `Ocean's Eleven', a twist of `The Heist' and shake then serve chilled at a European locale. This is the almost recipe for `The Italian Job'.
`The Italian Job' is a film loosely inspired by the cult British film of the same name. In the way that `Ocean's Eleven' was a remake of the Rat Pack classic of the same name, `The Italian Job' borrows a couple elements but never tries to clone the original.
In this version of `The Italian Job', Mark Wahlberg plays Charlie Croker, a protégé to the infamous retiring thief master, John Bridger (Donald Sutherland). It's John's last heist and he hopes to bring in a haul worth $35 million dollars in gold. All John wants is to hug his now grown daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron) and retire into the shadows. But all goes to hell when a vindictive and jealous member of the gang, Steve (Edward Norton), decides to double-cross the team. John's last mission ends in blood-shed and the team loses their 35 million dollar prize. Now it's up to Charlie and the rest of his gang to take out Steve in one giant heist.
`The Italian Job' is a very subtle heavily encased heist film. There is a lot more talking and planning in this film then the actual action sequences. Because the film is laid out that way it makes sense to have assembled such a colorful cast.
In some ways the casting choices are great but the film also has some hang-ups. In the scenes with Edward Norton, you can definitely see his lack of enthusiasm with the role. There could have been so much more tension and poisoned-filled vengeance if Norton would have put more into the role.
The other casting hang-up is the romantic chemistry between Wahlberg and Theron. I really do like each actor a lot but I found it very hard to believe that there was anything more than a brother-sister or colleague kind of relationship. Did I miss something?
The great casting choices actually are in the film's supporting cast. The chemistry between Seth Green's techno-whiz, Napster and Jason Statham's Handsome Rob were pure magic. These two really are the hi-lights of the movie. I really want to see more of both in the future. How about a Handsome Rob and Napster flick?
I really did enjoy the stunts and action sequences of the film. I especially enjoyed the new version of the Mini. To bad those cars weren't in the `The Fast & the Furious'. `Italian Job' could have been in the same league as `The Fast & the Furious' if it would have relaxed a bit. I can just imagine what this film would have been like if it would have been revved up some. (3 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.
What's worse than a leather-faced madman chasing you through the bush with a chainsaw? How about three!!
`Wrong Turn' stars Desmond Harrington as Chris Finn, a man who is late for a very important interview. Finn takes a back country road to avoid a traffic jam and ends up involved in a car accident with three debutantes (Eliza Dushku, Lindy Booth and Emmanuelle Chriqui) and their boyfriends (Jeremy Sisto and Kevin Zegers). The group splits up as they try to find some help. Unbeknownst to them, they are being stalked by an unspeakable horror. Living in the woods around the crash is a family of cannibalistic mountain men who are overtly grotesque from generations of incest. Before the group knows it, they are in a fight for their very lives.
`Wrong Turn' was in one word an utter shock to the system. There hasn't been a film this gory, grotesque and chilling in a very long time. Not since the 1970's `Texas Chainsaw Massacre' has a horror film such as this been made. The best way to describe the experience is that if you took 2001's `Joy Ride' and `Jeepers Creepers' added 1972's `Deliverance' then threw them all in a blender. You may come up with `Wrong Turn'.
The tension in this film is harrowing and relentless as it bats you back and forth. You are exhausted and maybe even queasy when you come out of the theatre. But if you love horror films then you probably have an ear to ear grin as well.
I really liked some of the early editing of this film by director Rob Schmidt, who allows the scares and shocks to come with brilliant accuracy. I also liked how Schmidt barely shows the mountain men throughout the film. The parts we do see are horrific but the filmmaker relies heavily on the chase and shock than on the gore. Schmidt could have easily dived down the gore shoot to hell but he made a wise choice that works in spades.
It's the film's harrowing tension and atmospheric pursuit that overshadows the young stars that make up the cast. Dushku is strong and emulates some of her `Buffy the Vampire Slayer' character, Faith in her portrayal here. Dushku loves to play debutantes with edge and her character here has a lot of it. I wasn't extremely familiar with Desmond Harrington before this film but he plays a good leading man. The rest of the cast play typical generic 20-somethings from the horror film franchises of old. I have always liked Lindy Booth but she has nothing to play with here and the same is goes for Jeremy Sisto. But come on, this isn't exactly an intelligently written and detailed drama.
I liked `Wrong Turn' purely because of its shock value and its no holds barred return to classic horror. It is always in your face and it doesn't let go till the credits. This film isn't for the faint of heart. What a rush! (3.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.
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