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The Raid 2 (2014)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
the "best ever?" I dunno. But it is amazing., 20 April 2014

No, it's not perfect, it even has a couple of points where in the midst of suspension of disbelief you go 'huh, really?' And the villain is such a stupid man you almost can't believe it, ruthless he may be.

But I watched this film in part in the context of other action films, especially ones as of late. Evans moves his camera and his actors fast, and edits himself. Somehow though when the hand-held camera ops move things and go hand-held, it has purpose, it has drive, you know where everyone is in relation to one another, and there is not, far as I can tell, a drop of CGI blood spilt.

And it's not for the weak at heart. This is bone crunching, throat slitting, gun blasting, car smashing, set demolishing and head splattering violence. And I think a major point of the movie, in its theme as well as the physical nature of it, is this: you fight someone, or tens, or hundreds of people and kill many of them, it never ends. The violence here is the thrilling "Movie" kind of violence that is fun, but this come a closer to a visceral mania and danger one might see in Peckinpah, as opposed to a Taken or James Bond movie. And its with martial arts too. Oh boy it is.

Evans IS indulging here, maybe more so in the story than the action, which is saying a lot. I didn't expect to get majorly involved with the emotional life of the characters, but these are well drawn people on the whole. Of course there are also the types, the strong willed but (with a code) fair crime boss, his terrible progeny, and sinister side characters. These people are also here to accentuate the hero, Rama, who we are with every step of the way just for how deep undercover he's put into this crime family.

Again, nothing revolutionary with the story, but there is enough there - as there was in the first Raid - to keep a foundation for the action to spring from. And Evans isn't f***ing about here - this is action and fighting that is meant to push the envelope for what you can do in a fight, how far you can take the actors and stunt men until (or maybe it becomes) a cartoon springs forth, including a henchman - and hench-woman - who look closer to being in a Tarantino flick with a bat and hammers ready to kill. brutally.

We believe this main character as a person who really, actually, doesn't want to fight, but the situations he's put in... well, watch your head. Or your arms, or legs, or neck, or feet, or most other body parts. I believed he could do this, as in the first film, and it drove everything else to come. And as just a regular actor he can hold his own, within the dimensions of the script as it is. But what do these never-ending cycles of violence portend? even the ending seems to indicate it just won't stop.

The Raid 2 plunges us through hard boiled genre fiction into a completely corrupt society. And if you don't know how to fight, get out of the kitchen (no, really, get out, those two gentlemen have something they need to so). The Raid 2 is a superb, largely coherent and appropriately bleak example of what the genre can hold, and if it has imperfections in little moments it gets everything else so right that it's hard to carp. Its that overused critical expression - jaw dropping.

"All generalizations are false, including this one.", 19 April 2014

They say 'never forget 9/11'. Of course. I say never forget Rumsfeld, a man who at times seems fairly intelligent (cue up George Carlin's quick follow-up - "AH, he's FULL OF (bleep)!") and other times answers Errol Morris' questions in such a way where Morris just leaves the camera on him for a while afterward. There's almost that sensation looking at him like 'you stare at the abyss...'

And yet, he did offer up his resignation at the time of the Abu-Gharib scandal, which seems for me to be a new revelation - and by the way, this is as much if not more-so a follow-up to Morris' Standard Operating Procedure as it is the Fog of War, the story of the soldiers there doing the torture and the pictures, this time it's the "Captain" - though how genuine this was, and of course how awfully it makes Bush look for not accepting it, is up for debate. There are a lot of shots of the ocean here, at one point an 'ocean of words' even. I feel like this is a superb metaphor for the film and this figure - what do we see when we look at it? Why does it look so calm? Morris never shows an ocean in a stormy mode; just the very calm surface, at one point split right down the middle. But there's so much going on underneath it. Plus aerial shots of the swamps as well.

Morris' direction is impeccable as always, a fantastic, spot-on mix of news footage, many clips from Rumsfeld press conferences like when he first posited the 'known known etc' bit, as if he were giving out a portion of a script for a Jean-Luc Godard movie or some semantic babble (maybe poignant, but still babble). It almost has the effect, if only here and there, of the 'point-counter-point' method used on The Daily Show, showing him saying one thing here, another thing later. This isn't played for laughs, though, unless they are of the most highly uncomfortable, awkward, almost horror-movie variety.

This is someone looking head-on, and Morris has always been the great detective of documentary directors, and seeing how the facts pile up. But even here, what's remarkable, is that Morris puts his voice here more than I've seen him do in past films. And at one point in reaction to Rumsfeld saying he never read documents pertaining to a particularly egregious act of abuse on detainees, he says in incredulity "REALLY?" This film is a burning reminder what a slippery character Rumsfeld was and is. He also had a knack for being efficient back in the Ford and Regan era as an envoy - of course they make light of his meeting with Sadaam in 1983, but more telling is how much Rumsfeld wanted to meet with and did spend hours with one of his 2nd in command and, it's almost the sense, he kind of identified with him - but really his time in Bush Jr's Sec post was where he made his name for better and worse...

Actually, who really "knows" if it's for better, given with everything that he oversaw and approved of - or didn't approve but we can't really know what was approved or not approved (and then one gets into the "more you look the less you know" facet of things, which in this film and filmmaker carries as a an intense underlying ideology, but I digress sort of). It's fascinating to watch him and hear him talk, as much as it is almost creepy every time he gives his s***-eating grin. Not just the smile but the eyes as well.

What is he thinking when he says these things, responding to Morris as he did in his press conferences with questions that he answers himself? Morris uses a visual approach of dictionary terms at many points, as well as Rumsfeld's countless memos, and I got a sense of a man who was very much aware of what he was doing. And, at the end of it all, when Morris asks point blank "Why are you doing this, talking to me?" with "That's a vicious question... I guess you'll never know" I have to wonder if he does, or really doesn't.

The Unknown Known. I never have quite forgotten Rumsfeld over the years since he left his office in 2006, but this film brought back a flesh flood of memories along with that face and old but very much KNOWING eyes. At the end of the day, he is not a stupid man, or at least believes he isn't, has his own rigorous set of logic and follows it. That it also led it into two wars, one still going on, and so so so so many lives lost.... damn.

Troma goes to war, and depending on your expectations it delivers what you expect, 19 April 2014

Troma's War, about a group of refugees from a plane crash stranded on an island with wild Commandos led by a two-headed politician planning the extinction of America... is some ridiculous s***.

But for the first two thirds Kaufman and Herz and company manage to find a balance between the one liners and gags, and the more serious elements (or at least as serious as a goofy cartoon like Troma can get) such as the commandos on the island who are, behind the jokey Schwarzenegger captain who is funny every time he speaks and the (Jesus Christ!) AIDS guy who is out to rape women so they get it, its a war movie that is intentionally BIG and MANIC and just nuts, but with a purpose.

When Troma's War is at its most impressive and eye catching when Kaufman skewers 80s action movies and Regan era militarism. As an ex hippie it's clear he didn't like what he was seeing, in bloated B movies and over the top spectacles, so... why not make his own, the Troma way? Where it lost me a bit was in the last third. There is what feels like a natural climax like two thirds into the movie, where some of the heroes (like Lost they're not all likable but their bond is a plane crash) save the others from being killed and raped and maimed by the commandos. and then it just keeps going. And the acting doesn't get better.

And not that one should be looking for a totally consistent tone in this junk food, but there was a better grasp of what the film was and trying to do for a while. By the time it nears its real climax, there's still some more mayhem, relentless violence, all shot and edited with flair even as its with little to no budget (outside of the special effects - the highlight for me is a montage of soldiers in trees who all get shot down and fall off the same way, tree after tree). But it kind of devolves into dumb (and I mean DUMB for a movie by these f****rs) antics and one liners, though it's almost saved by a side characters stunt from a trunk onto a boat.

I want to like it more - it's shot with more competency than other Troma movies, has ambitious and exciting stunts and effects, and up to a point has some really good music (up to a point as in not too much but still there crappy 80s songs put over scenes unnecessarily) and though some of the acting is cheesy and over the top, some of it really works for it being a ludicrous mockery. There's even some arcs for characters, like the guy who gets his truck onto the boat at the end. And yet there is a line that, sometimes, Kaufman and Herz have to not cross but do a lot of the time which is the film being the same carnage extravaganza with bullets flying and guts spilling and squibs popping like there's no tomorrow and became something like Commando.

But... if you wanna get some buddies together, and are in the mood for some comic book characters and set ups and pay offs (including a British dude who talks like Peter O'Toole and has a shtick with poison darts), this ain't bad. It's just not AS memorable as Toxic Avenger and Nuke em High.

Johansson in the mirror in Scotland, 19 April 2014

"Beauty! Beauty! Beauty! ... Weird! Weird! Weird! Weird!" - Holy Motors.

it's strange to go in and come out of a film like Under the Skin, the third film from Jonathan Glaser (Sexy Beast and Birth), in a multiplex at a mall. I try not to put too much into that a movie has to play here or there, but a piece of work like this, with its slow-burn pace (very slow at times, but I'll get to that), enigmatic alien settings, and rough Scotland suburban/ rural backdrop and atonal music, belongs as much in a Cineplex at a mall as Transformers does at the Quad in New York. But I digress. sort of.

I mention this as coming out of the film and being surrounded by people going about their lives in commerce and eating and other entertainments, I felt like the character in the film, this mysterious woman-being-'other' that has no name but is played by the never-less-than-beautiful Scarlett Johansson. She is going about here... well, picking up men, it seems, and like the spider to the fly she lures them in a web of darkness, disrobes, And leads them into a black under-mass-space where libido is sucked dry and then... we'll, if I could explain it all that would lose the intrigue wouldn't it? Glaser doesn't explain really any of it, and leaves it all up to the viewer. This is actually more than fine, for the most part. We are for the first hour simply following this woman as she drives about, picks up real guys (whether they knew who Johansson was I'm not sure, but these sequences take on the simple and direct quality of a documentary).

We can get a sense of what she is doing as much as a mysterious man in biker gear driving about. but what if she can feel? What will happen if she becomes ensconced in these things called feelings or have tastes or experiences outside of her comfort zone? A turning point, and a scene or set of scenes that will stick with me for a long time, comes when she picks up a man who is, really, a kind of Elephant Man (I had to wonder if he was a real type with the face covered in bulbous scabs or was expert make up, But again I simply believed it and that was enough). She lures him in by the fact that she is a pretty woman engaging on a fundamental level. This scene is very moving but also sinister because we can know what is coming. Does she know what she is doing is rather cruel? For as much as the rest of the movie before and after dives deep into real and abstract alienation, this is where humanity comes through, of compassion and then... well, then she comes upon a mirror and gets a good look at herself. And let's him go.

Its from here that the film takes on its other dimension, and though it never lost me, it does become more deliberately paced (deliberate as in it just follows her walking, sitting, passively, watching others like a man who brings her to his home and does basic things like make dinner, wash dishes, watch TV). It loses the eerie momentum of the first part, but at the same time I wonder if this section of the picture, where this Mystery Alien-cum-sex-terminator will grow on me. There are still things to consider here about how we all see ourselves, what happens when a person outside of their space comes into or tries to come into contact with others.

or... its not that at all. This is one of those strange cinematic experiences that could be called the 'P' word (pretentious) or artsy or indecipherable. I was open to it from the start, even as its opening is even more enigmatic than what is to come with strange black shapes and cylinders and other objects float in an unmentionable space. And what is more impressive at the end is how connected Johansson is in this character even as she is so disconnected from people and places. I could always sense her reacting to things or trying to figure something out, and as much as the director makes this a visual and aural 'trip' like something out of 1970s cult cinema, she grounds it into something we can follow along with. Whether she's always sympathetic or not doesn't matter either; I was fascinated just watching her, as her Other experiences things, tries to, and finds her/It's own methods of sexual politics and seduction ugly when turned around the other way.

In short, Under the Skin is a calm freak out of a movie, made by a master surrealist to unnerve us and show us things we haven't seen quite this way before in a movie. Hell, I can't even say what or how or why she is seducing these men into the, uh, netherworld. But I couldn't look away either. a film like this makes a walk through a mall more alien than anything else in the world.

10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Miyazaki's swan song doesn't disappoint, 1 March 2014

I don't know if I loved it right from minute one, but then it doesn't quite start like any Miyazaki film (well, even with a dream scene). Its a little quieter, more natural, thoughtful and subdued, much like the main character will be through the film. And then earthquake hits. Its unlike anything you've seen in an animated film. It doesn't hype up its suspense or action. it simply shows Its protagonist, Jiro, react to a situation as calm and controlled as possible amid the debris and darkness and chaos, and help a couple of people in need. of course he doesn't know this young woman he saves will be an emotional foundation for his life. But as with any simple but splendid poetry we have a sense of the connection made.

Any other director might just make it a film about the 1920s earthquake that devastated Tokyo. Not Miyazaki. Soon after Tokyo is up and running and Jiro is after his passion which is airplanes. He dreams about them, and more than that dreams about the Italian icon of flying he looks up to as he gives Jiro advice and philosophical points about flying, inspiration and technology. And very soon after the film is more than anything about this man and his process - finding without any grandiose strokes what can make a plane fly quicker, faster, safer, with more agility and s look like no other. And, sometime soon, finding a love all his own.

Miyazaki has said (once again but probably for real this time) that he is done making films with the conclusion of the Wind Rises. If so, that's fine. I'm not sure if it's any sort of culmination of what his career has been or what he's said - Though you could certainly have a double feature with Porco Rosso, also about the wonder of flight but more in an adventure fantasy approach and have a fantastic several hours - and yet it's no less a marvel than anything else he's made. And if anything it just reveals more depths to how he feels for people and can show them in dimensions on screen than ever before. It is a biopic still, and a line here or there may be cornball, but so what. Its a fiercely intelligent film with genuine sentiment and a grace that comes from being a master letting your story unfold without rushing, letting scenes play out for full emotional weight, And ample colors and compositions painted with nostalgia for a mood (if not necessarily a side in history).

And yet you may think going in that there will be some sort of agenda politically speaking as it looks at a man who helped, ultimately, design planes that dropped bombs and shot and killed the US during world war two. It really isn't, or as simple as that. A couple of scenes with a German businessman of a sort voiced by Werner Herzog (yes the one and only, you'll know him when you hear him) lays out the futility in war and conflicts. And Jiro agrees. when someone speaks to him about what planes will be sent to fight whom, he is already resigned. "Japan will burn,' he says more or less. And yet he always stays more pragmatic, more about the work and the hard enough task to make the planes and make them fly high and well. This double edged sword also comes out when he is talking to his Italian guru in his dreams (especially the last one at the end of the war).

With all of this, the Wind Rises is a touching love story that seems possibly very doomed from the start - before getting engaged Jiro is told by Nahoko she has Tuberculosis and he doesn't care, or at least about that deterring him away - and how strong their bond is. How often do we get to see people in a movie, animated or otherwise, act like this to one another with kindness and compassion and a tenderness that (for the most part, maybe there's a bit of that "Japanese Disney" schmaltz but not much) is without any reservation? Not often really, at least like this as told at times without words at all; the high point of the picture is when there is a kind of wordless courtship as Jiro flies a paper plane around and it goes to the girl and she flies it back out as he chase to catch it and it repeats. The moving music, the amiable tone of the whole set piece, the mild peril... I'm at a loss to how much that just works because it feels true.

Did I mention its among the ten most beautifully animated films ever made? And I'm sure that group includes Mononoke and Totoro already. And I know full well a term like 'beautiful" is overused and tired. But Miyazaki crafts his works (or did) by hand with gorgeous, clear lines, water colors and maybe some cgi, and it both serves the story and its own sense of the world it's in: the earthy greens, the shiny clouds and blue skies, the metallic force of the planes, the drab grays of the offices and plane hangers. And yet you are still wrapped up in the tale of this man and those who cared about him or were inspired by and led by him, and is another rarity (easier to pull off in literature, trickier here and Miyzaki just about pulls it off): a mild wind that grows with power and energy, briefly, and then ebbs and flows with reality and, again, thought.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"Then I think about the love that you laid on my table....", 22 February 2014

Ginger Baker just liked banging things around. And as soon as some directed him in the way of drums - and some of the premier jazz drummers of the 1950's, which was kind of the apotheosis of jazz - he was set for life. And this life included being apart of two of the major rock bands of the 1960's (Cream and Blind Faith) along with others, then became a figurehead of African drumming in the 1970's, and then... semi-obscurity, polo, playing with some band that got lost in the shuffle of the 90's grunge scene, polo, ex-wives, polo, and um... I said polo right?

Though Cream was sort of cited as the grandfather or forefather for heavy metal (hey there's Lars from Metallica in the doc), Baker comes off more like a craggly jazz-man-cum-punk-rocker, who didn't give a f**k and even gives the director of his documentary a piece of his mind with his cane! Kind of a prime example of a man who you know you wouldn't want to spend more than two minutes with - hard to feel sorry for a man who wasted all his money, and Cream reunion money no less (I couldn't afford those tickets man!) on horses and dogs (he says they are more trustworthy and loving of humans) - yet he really is just one of the drummers that changed the game for everyone.

Also fascinating to find out a musician from the 60's - and husband and father - who really could have just torpedoed all of his good luck from the era in two decades afterward. A good documentary on what the Brits could call a 'right old nasty bastard.'

2 A.M. (2006)
Korey Coleman's dark comic/dramatic saga of men and women after hours, 12 January 2014

This story - or three of them I should say - which tracks what happens when three guys follow along on their respective girls in sight (one-night stands, a simple question for coffee, an ex girlfriend going to an after-2-AM party) - is the stuff of absurdity and outrageous spectacle in some degree. It could also be called 'The Greatest Drunk Stories Ever Told: The Motion Picture'. That said, what surprised me most was not the comedy portions - that I figured Coleman would perform and direct reasonably well - but the dramatic mid-section where the one halfway decent guy (possibly) gets the girl was performed with conviction and sensitivity.

For a first film, yeah its no Citizen Kane, and not all the attempts at humor are successful. For what it tries to do, as a simple look at these five guys over the course of one night in quasi-GO (or even Reservoir Dogs) style all tracing back around and then looping to a point at the end, it's very good, ambitious even, especially for it being on probably no budget, and Korey himself is a good actor too. I almost wonder if he had done more in that field after this film if things would've been very different with

Stromboli (1950)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Alienated on the volcano, 31 December 2013

I probably shouldn't like this movie as much as I do. The ending, and I mean just the very end is silly and overwrought (preceding this is a lovely little poem of a scene to contemplation and wonder at the world when Bergman wakes up from her delirious crying dreams) and though he's meant to be a non professional actor literally pulled out of town the main guy who marries Bergman's character just isn't that good even as a first/only timer.

But Rossellini's aim here is to depict alienation in a stark form and he achieves it, with that volcano acting like another character - looming, always threatening, could and will blow at any moment and leaving those people below in a state of constant peril in barbaric terms - and the character slowly losing her mind in this predicament. Of course, it's easy to say she could have stayed in the temporary camp she was at in the start of the film (she didn't really love the guy to start with), but really this is just the kick off to what he is best at showing and what his first time star/muse/lover is so strong at portraying: bewilderment and total disillusionment for a better life following the end of ww2.

Another actress could have hammed this up totally - only Anna Magnani, the original choice for the role, could have gone toe to toe - but Bergman is terrific at never having to say it but just being the smartest, least petty person on this island her new husband takes her too while he makes pittance fishing. She is tough and cynical and in another world could be right at home with Bogie.

Here, when she breaks down in tears, which is more than once, it's hard not to feel for her especially as she tries to be civil and find a place for herself in this land of rubble. There's deeper existential stuff going on here, But what I appreciated was how the heaviness of the subject matter was balanced with documentary sequences (or close enough to them) Just showing the locals all fishing and getting their giant tuna and other animals. You feel like you're seeing real work that is hard not to appreciate, and yet still crouched in thks story of a woman lost with herself.

That may be why the ending doesn't entirely work for me- Rossellini means for her to find redemption, but from what? Him? I dunno. and yet there's always striking imagery, and a visual force even in the seemingly simplest of shots - and to go on a volcano, that's some pre-Werner Herzog s*** right there.

Her (2013)
6 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
heart-shaped hard-drive, 31 December 2013

We all want to be loved, and love someone, and this is the simple but solid emotional point that Spike Jonze hits at in Her, like a musician playing a high spirited but melancholy song of sweetness and heartache (something the protagonist even requests his iPod to play).

The film takes place in some point in the future - or, since we are never told exactly when, it could just as well be an alternative reality where people just need that one extra step being already hooked up to their devices - and is about a man who writes love letters and cards to others for a living. He's good at it because, well, it comes from inside him. But coming off a divorce that's left him "confused" as he says, an 'O.S.' Operating System, an artificially intelligent super computer that with a few simple questions is meant to be 'made' for that person, it's tempting enough to try. Going into the film, I thought it would be a sort of 'rom-com' only with a Hal 9000 (and can you say 'wackiness ensues' more than that).

It's more complicated by how much Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, so she sounds like the perfect gal already) is, a side from being a super organizer (she reads and organizes emails and correspondence), an emotional creature. But in a way this dug deeper than something Kubrick just scratched the surface at: if you can really 'be' there for someone, though not in full physical form, what does that do to the real human being on the other end? Joaquin Phoenix, aside from Jonzes delicate and mature screenplay and poetic direction, is the reason to see the picture. He imbues this 'Him' as a kind of sad dope but one that's a genuinely caring and nice fella but not always connected with his own emotions or knowing quite what to say. He is awkward with those glasses and mustache, he plays his oddball video games (an adorable aside in the film, a few times really), but projects a haunted, morose quality without it becoming tired or trite. At the same time he shows the happiness Jonze wants to portray in a relationship, whether it's with his current 'gf'.

Or his once wife (Rooney Mara, and we get to know her so well mostly only through dialogue-less flash backbacks, with some editing input by Steven Soderbergh). He also plays well on some of the moments of comedy that do pop up in the film - it is Jonze, so as it is such a personal film the light and absurd comes in with the gloom - a part of this world But, like us, wondering 'what the hell is this now? Her does science fiction and technological 'if' material so well because of its subtlety. when you watch something like, I don't know, Elysium or even Minority Report, we know it's a future place and the fantasy is big and flashy and sometimes we know we are removed from that experience. Jonze wants this to just be like how it is today, and the sci-to 'catch' is there, for the most part, as a means to explore how we see and feel and experience one another.

I left this film questioning so much how I can approach potentially expanding AI in the future (And now we have systems winning or at least even friggin playing on Jeopardy so it's only a matter of time emotional components are worked out). What does one do with the infinite possibilities with a self aware being. and as in Being John Malkovich, there's always another layer of chaos and wonder that is under the surface waiting to be explored, and in the third act the entire concept of an AI of this magnitude is given a frightening element: being in thousands of places at once but still 'here' at the same time, including love. But it doesn't ever quite 'feel' frightening, and that is a key thing that makes Her special.

Another director might take the narrative into more conventional territory, like if Samantha and her other O.S. beings (which, after a while, they are) took over the world real Skynet style. It's still Tim Twombleys story, his journey into finding some semblance of peace with himself and the world, and if it feels at all like a personal film for Jonze it's because he sticks with that painful, powerful point of it all being about you, your other, and growth (along with the help of pleutonic friend Amy Adams, another fascinating character who we understand almost immediately). Her is must-see stuff, something with pure sentiment (not sentimentality, that edge is so fine to walk on), and an approach visually that also takes this premise and does it seriously, so when a guy is running around and laughing with his little 'pod' of a person, it isn't implausible and a joke, it's simply something 'there' in the world. That's remarkable.

Nebraska (2013)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Alexander Payne's mid west bittersweet suite, 28 December 2013

Nebraska is not the first time that Alexander Payne has put his attention to small-town minutiae and tragic-comic discontent in the middle of the country (and in his native state ), but what it has in common with his About Schmidt mostly starts and stops with it being about an older man with a screwy family (don't we all have 'em?). The unique tenderness felt here about a man duped—or just stubbornly hoping against all other logical odds—that he's won a million dollars comes from Bob Nelson's script, which understands how much resentment and petty vibes nestle under the surface. After taking on memorable roles for 50 years, Bruce Dern (remember him in Marnie?) plays Woody Grant, a hard drinking (even, especially, in his 70's), short-sentence-speaking man, as a man who has so much pain and sorrow under the surface (so much so he hides it with gruff words and actual dissonance as a hard-hearing old man to son Will Forte, also a great player unexpectedly) and such an inner life that he is more than just an irascible old-timer.

Nebraska is a fine film about a father and son coming closer together and a better, even masterful film about what it is to be a man, with an ending that is both funny and brings one to tears at the same time.

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